The Cave

Annalise

I woke up early and walked down to the beach where Eric was waiting with a small boat. I smiled at him, as he worked through the rigging.

“Athena said I had to make sure you weren’t trying to kidnap me,” I raised my eyebrows. He flipped down and laughed.

“I am not,” he said and pulled me close. “But I’m surprised she didn’t try to come along.” I kissed him.

“She knows better,” I said as he helped me on board. “Where are we going?” He winked.

“A surprise,” he said. I sighed and we sailed around the cliffs. It felt nice and there was something wonderful about watching Eric sail. He’s so at home in it. He keeps looking back at me and smiling, and he finally stopped the boat and I looked at him.

“It’s a cliff,” I said looking up.

“We aren’t there yet,” he shook his head. I looked around. “Can you swim?”

“We had a lake at Pantona,” I said, “and a Sea Goddess has chosen me as her vessel in this world, so I think I can manage.” He grinned and then stripped off his shirt and pants, revealing only a pair of tight shorts. I looked down at my own overdress and skimpy shift.

“Are you coming?” He asked. “You’re welcome to stay.” I sighed and shook my head pulling off the overdress and shift, leaving only my linen underthings and a thin chemise. He looked me up and down. “Even better than I imagined, Your Majesty.” He dove off the boat and I quickly jumped in to join him. “You’re going to have to hold your breath.”

“Alright,” I said and we both inhaled deeply, diving down, I followed him below the water line and saw an under water cave we emerged and I took a gulp of breath. I swallowed and paddled close to Eric.

“Look around, Annalise,” he said softly. I glanced up and saw a glimmer of sky above us and but it wasn’t at all dark, just glowing. The stone was glowing. It was absolutely beautiful.

“Oh,” I said softly.

“You see why I wanted you to see it?” He asked. I nodded. He swam closer to me and kissed me. I pulled myself into him. “Anya,” he whispered. I smiled and noticed a small ledge. I swam to it and got pushed out, he followed me and we kissed again. I was desperate for him.

“Eric,” I mumbled, as he lay down next to me and traced a finger down my side. We kissed more, and I wrapped my leg around him.

“You’re so beautiful,” he said. “Gods, how are you so beautiful?” I reached down to grip him. “Not here.” I frowned and sat up.

“Why did you bring me here, then?” I said and dove back into the water.

“I wanted you to see it,” he said, “I thought, I don’t know, you’d enjoy yourself.” I lowered myself below the water.

“I was,” I said. He dove in after me. “If you don’t want me, I don’t know what else to say.”

“Of course I want you,” he said, “Goddess, Annalise, how could you think,” I sighed. “I thought you understood, though.”

“I understand that every time we get close you make an excuse,” I said. “It’s never the right time or place, Eric, but do you want me?” I swam close to him and wrapped my arms around his neck.

“More than anything,” he whispered, “but well,” I looked away.

“You still don’t trust me,” I said.

“It isn’t a matter of trust,” he insisted. “I don’t want to ruin this.”

“Fine,” I said. “I think we should go back.”

“Anya,” he sighed.

“Don’t call me that,” I said and dove under the water swimming back out to the boat. We sailed back in silence and I gathered my clothes, redressing and heading back to the palace without speaking to him. I glanced at the training field and hugged myself.

If Eric didn’t want me, that was fine. It wasn’t as though I didn’t have other options.

“How was your sail?” Marina said walking in. She looked at my face. “Oh dear, what did he do?” I rolled my eyes as she pulled out a dinner gown and held it up for me. I shook my head.

“It’s what he didn’t do,” I muttered, “I’m tired of trying with him.” She sat down with me.

“So stop trying,” she said softly. I looked at her. I knew it broke her heart. If Eric left that meant Lefty would leave too. “I don’t want you to be miserable Annalise.” She went back to the wardrobe and pulled out a soft satin gown, a light grey color, more tightly and low cut than most of the others. “But maybe even letting him see what he’s missing could help?” I grinned.

“Funny, I had the same thought,” I said. She nodded and handed it to me. I walked over behind a screen to change. “Can you see that Prince Harran is seated with me tonight?” She laughed.

“Of course,” she said. “I’ll brush out your hair too, if you’d like. No braids.” I closed my eyes and sighed. We’d both been adopting more Phanian styles as we’d been south. I’d become particularly attached to my tight, long braids.

“No,” I said, “I like them.” I stepped out and she gasped. “I haven’t really worn it, it’s good?”

“It’s phenomenal,” she said. “And these,” she clasped a set of pearl bracelets, one on each wrist, and then a small delicate silver chain around my neck. I sit down as she coils my braids into an impressive knot on top of my head and then set an array of diamond clips shaped like stars as a crown around it.

“You know that you’re way too good at this, I don’t know how I’m going to get by when I have to give someone else a turn as Lady In Waiting,” I said. She shook her head and put her chin on my shoulder.

“I’ll be a dragon training them.” she grinned. I laughed. “Come on, time for you to dazzle.” I looked at her.

“You aren’t dressed.” I frowned.

“I’m going to town with Damian,” she said, “with your permission of course.” I nodded. “You’ll be wonderful.” She squeezed my hands. I walked down the hallways and then the stairs and stopped in the hall to the mumbles and curtsies.

“Well look at you,” Harran smiled walking up to me. I grinned. “I’m told we’re sitting together.”

“Yes,” I said softly. “If you don’t mind?” I offered my hand and glanced over my shoulder, seeing Eric talking with Duchess Norvine and starting to walk over. I made eye contact with him and he stopped, Harran took my hand.

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