“You’ve gotten sloppy,” Harran teased me as he pressed his staff to mine. I rolled my eyes and pushed him back. “Back in Dovetail, you wouldn’t have let me get this close.”
“Tell me, your highness,” I said, flipping hands and solidly landing on both feet, “do the tribes know their future chief loses to a woman so regularly.” He smiled.
“The women of the tribes would laugh at you, My Lady,” he taunted, “As they kicked you into the mud.” I focused but he’d already gained too much of an advantage and he disarmed me. “Yield?” He asked.
“Yield,” I muttered as he helped me up. We glanced over as we heard people walking past us in the field. It was as it turned out, a furious Annalise, clearly soaked, and a beleagured Eric not far behind her. “Hm,” I grinned, smugly, “apparently their sail did not go well.”
“Apparently,” Harran shook his head. I looked at him. He wasn’t smiling.
“Have you changed your mind?” I asked. He shrugged. “I don’t want to pressure either of you if it isn’t,” I drifted off. If it wasn’t what? What they wanted? It isn’t what Lisette wants. She wants Eric. Or perhaps Tristan though she seems to have let him go at last.
“No,” he muttered, “no it isn’t that. I just don’t want her to be hurt. I care about her, I always have.” I nodded. “It’s frustrating. I think we’d do well together, and I think I may have pushed away my only chance.”
“You were still children when you saw her last,” I pointed out. He shook his head.
“Not at Pantona,” he muttered, “it isn’t important. I won’t press her.” I rolled my eyes and picked up my staff.
“Then you don’t know her at all,” I said, catching his as he tossed it to me. “She isn’t intuitive about this sort of thing. If you want her, really want her, not just to flirt,” I shrugged, “make yourself known. Even if she sends Eric away, it’s only matter of time before the Rastani send one those boys or the leaders scrape together an appropriate nephew.”
“You don’t believe the leaders have put together their best,” he grinned. I punched him in his arm. “I appreciated the Lord of Gerran insisting on her sitting next to him while we stayed there on the ride down. A sixty year old king with four sons already would suit Cammadan fine.” I shook my head.
“I understand twenty years of war and starving out crippled us, but it is pathetic,” I mumbled. He shrugged.
“My brothers will be happy to fill in any gaps I can assure you,” he winked at one guards as we walked passed.
“You’re incorrigible,” I shook my head.
“Don’t know the meaning of the word,” he said. I rolled my eyes again. We stopped as we approached the palace and heard a laugh. I paused and rounded the corner anyway, and froze.
Countess Olivia and Martin were the ones laughing, that wasn’t the shocking part, the shocking part was the way they were holding eachother, and the very clear fact that this was not too old friends sharing a casual embrace.
“Athena,” Martin said, seeing me, his eyes wide. The Countess nearly jumped away. I wanted to do something. Make a joke or something. But I just stared at him. “Prince Harran,” he managed.
“I,” Olivia managed to finally squeak out, “this is not how we intended for you to find out about this.” I nodded, still mute and then my gaze went back to Martin. He wouldn’t make eye contact with me.
“I’m happy for you,” I managed. “Excuse me,” I swallowed and ran away. Why was I angry?
They were both free. And why should she be alone?
I’d told Aaron last night that he would have told me, but I’m sure he has his reasons for not doing it wasn’t that. Harran hadn’t followed me, and I was grateful as I shut my door and took deep breaths.
This was real. It wasn’t some young man who would be gone in a month or two. This wasn’t a tavern dancer or some other distraction.
She was the love of his life, he’d never lied about it. But somewhere, deep in my heart, I’d expected him to find his way home to Uncle Trey. That we’d all be a family again.
And when he grew restless, like he always did, my new family would be just as shattered.
“Athena,” Martin’s voice boomed through the door.
“Go away,” I shouted back. He opened it and walked in. “I didn’t say come in.”
“Don’t be snotty,” he said and sat down. I crossed my arms and stared at him. “Thena, I can tell the difference between your astonishment and anger, so don’t try to,”
“I am angry,” I stopped him. He exhaled, “why shouldn’t I be? I,” I paused. He looked down.
“We didn’t mean for it to happen, Love,” he said, “we’re aware that it’s inconvenient.”
“Inconvenient?” I stared at him, the inadequacy of that word. He nodded. “I had thought, you and Trey,” he exhaled.
“No,” he said simply, “no unfortunately Tristan’s decision drove the final nail in,” I looked at him.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” I asked. He shrugged. “That isn’t an answer, Martin.” He sighed.
“Olivia wasn’t ready to explain it to Aaron and Annalise,” he explained, “and I didn’t want to burden you with a secret from them.” I looked down. “And I knew you’d disapprove.”
“I don’t disapprove,” I mumbled. “I want you to be happy.” He nodded. “But I won’t keep it secret from Aaron, you’re right about that that.”
“Olivia is going to speak to him today,” he said. I nodded. “You’re afraid I’ll hurt her.”
“Or get hurt,” I said. “How long?”
“It started while we were at Pantona,” he said. I nodded.
“Couldn’t you have fallen in love with someone who meant nothing to me,” I asked. He laughed.
“I believe I tried that,” he pointed out. “Many times.” I sighed and looked at him. “I don’t expect you to be happy about it darling, but you aren’t a child anymore.” I closed my eyes.
“Does Tristan know?” I asked. He sighed.
“I didn’t tell him,” Martin said, “but well, Tristan often sees me more clearly than I like.” I nodded. He kissed me on the forehead.
“No more secrets,” I said. “And even if it ends badly,” I swallowed, “I’ll need you.”
“I would die before leaving you behind, Athena,” he said. I looked at him and started crying and he held me close. He was right of course, I wasn’t a child anymore, but in that moment I desperately wished I could be.