I was glad it was over, even if it wasn’t really over at all, but at least the rest didn’t have to be in public. I felt awful, for kissing Tristan, for telling him I still loved him.
I didn’t even know I felt that way. I was sure I was over him, but being so close again, it was like everything was back.
“Is everything alright?” Eric asked me as we settled in to dinner. I looked at him. He doesn’t deserve this. He’s been so patient with me.
“I,” my voice cracked, “it’s been a long day.” He nodded. “Would you be very hurt if I said I wanted to be on my own tonight?” He smiled gently.
“No, love,” he said, “of course not.” I exhaled. “You’ll talk to me tomorrow though?” I nodded. “I don’t want to crowd you, on this Anya, but please don’t blame me for being a little fragile where,” he swallowed, “well where certain parties are concerned.”
“I don’t blame you,” I said. He nodded, and I leaned across the space and kissed him. He grinned. Since Franz had come our public interactions had cooled a little. But I was too tired today, I wanted to reassure him, and myself, that I was on the right course. “Feeling less fragile.”
“Greatly,” he laughed. “Do you like her at least?” I smiled.
“I do, actually,” I said, “she suits him. She seems quite serious, which he needs, but not, well,” I sighed, “I don’t know, she’s balanced in a way that I think will help him, and us, come to that.” He nodded. “Thank you, for not pushing. I know this is an impossible situation.” He smiled gently at me.
“It is,” he whispered, “and you’re doing quite well in it.” I smiled. “I’m worried about Lefty, it’s looking more and more like we’ll have to go home, even for a little while, and I don’t think he’ll take it well.”
“You’re worried about Lefty if you go home?” I smirked. “No yourself, and not me?” He sighed.
“If I worry about you my head will explode, love,” he shook his head. “As for me, I’d leave every part of myself that matters here in your care.” I lost my breath. I don’t deserve him, his love, and his patience.
“If you have to go home,” I said softly, “we should be engaged before you do.” He nodded.
“I think that’s sensible,” he grinned. “I’ll do everything I can to make you happy, you know that.” He kissed my hand and I smiled.
“Well, then it’s settled,” I laughed. He nodded and laughed with me. “Eric,” I said, “thank you.” He smiled. “Oh, Goddess, what will Franz do?” Eric burst into a loud laugh.
“Likely insist on a coronation on the spot,” he sighed, “or something else ridiculous that even my brother and sister in law wouldn’t even consider because he’s an idiot.” I laughed. “Which is why I’d have to go home.” I nodded.
“Lisette,” I turned hearing Aaron say my name, “I think when we break up dinner, we all need to talk.” I nodded. “Your highness, you’ll excuse your lack of an invitation?”
“Of course,” Eric’s voice was tight. I frowned. It wasn’t like Aaron and him to be at odds. I looked at them both. Dinner finished quickly and we all broke up, as we usually did, and I found myself in a library, with Aaron, Athena and Tristan.
“Where’s Marina?” I asked. Athena shook her head.
“She went home,” Tristan said gently. I raised my eyebrows.
“What’s wrong?” I said. “You all look like someone died.” Athena swallowed.
“We got a report from Anselm,” Athena said gently and handed it to me. I raised my eyebrows, took it and read.
I do not know what happened, nor do any guards. Brayton is gone from his cell. He is not in the city. I could not tell you what happened. I’m sorry for failing you. Please warn Lady Marina. Please stay safe. I’ll be to you in a few days.
“What do we do?” I whispered. Aaron shook his head.
“We warn Marina,” Tristan said, “obviously, he’ll come for her, as soon as possible.”
“Probably,” Athena nodded, “and we need the Phanians to go, quickly.”
“That won’t be hard,” I said, and sat, “Eric and I agreed to get engaged, tonight, and he wants to go home to settle things with Daniel and his mother after that anyway.” Tristan stared at me. “How did he escape?”
“He’s chosen too,” Aaron said, his voice almost gentle, he sounded more like Caleb than I’ve ever heard. “Do you think that if you, or Marina, or Athena were imprisoned, Rana and Cornan would simply let you rot? Or would they use whatever they could to free you? And as far as we know Amina isn’t bound as they are, since she did the binding.”
“Of course,” I whispered. “I’ll speak to Marina in the morning, I don’t want her panicking.”
“She should know now,” Tristan said firmly. I glared at him. “What if he comes for her tonight?” Athena rolled her eyes.
“As if we could stop him when she can’t,” Athena said, “you just want to make sure she’s not with Lefty.” Tristan glared at her.
“I am engaged, Athena,” he said. I looked down. “Fine, you all gamble with Marina’s life, I have plenty to do.” He stomped out of the room.
“He’ll be fine,” Athena said as Aaron went to speak, “if he tries for her tonight there’s not much we can do that Marina’s household guards and she herself can’t.”
“I know,” I said, “I doubt announcing my engagement will help.”
“Probably not,” Aaron said, “although, who knows? No one has ever known what to do with him.” I nodded.
“I need a minute,” I said softly. They nodded and left. I sat down on the couch and started crying. The room where we were meeting had a large portrait of my parents, I looked up at it and swallowed. “I’m sorry, I thought,” I exhaled, “I wanted to be merciful.” I wept. I didn’t know what else to do.