The Keep

Annalise

It’s been a long ride and an I’m not sure what I’m expecting when we arrive at the border keep. I’ve been here a hand full of times in the past few years, and it’s always an awe inspiring experience, it’s two stone towers rising and the wide busy courtyard are soothing after the long ride.

I couldn’t help but split my face into a grin as we rode into the courtyard and I saw Harran standing waiting to greet us. Brea was beside him, but I barely saw her. I dismounted off of Kria and walked up to him as he bowed.

“Your Majesty,” he said taking my hand.

“Chieftan,” I said. I looked at Brea who was sunk into a curtsey. “Lady Brea.”

“My Queen,” she rose up. “We are honored by your presence.” She looked past me to Marina who was standing with Nika, the twins and Prior were a few steps back, along with Aaron. “Duchess, sister.”

“Hello Brea,” Nika said stepping forward and kissing her on the cheek. “Chieftan.”

“Lady Nika,” Harran embraced her. “We’re glad to have you home.” Her eyes were closed, I looked at Marina, who swallowed. “We’re glad to have all of you here.” He looked at me. “I had thought we’d feast right away but as my lady reminds me, you prefer a rest after a long ride.” I smiled.

“I do,” I said. Prior stepped forward and took my arm as I followed Brea through to a room.

“Commander, you know your way from here?” She said, her voice twinkling. I narrowed my eyes at her.

“I do,” he said simply. She curtsied again.

“Please let me know if you need anything further, Your Majesty,” she smiled and swept out.

“She didn’t wait for me to dismiss her,” I grumbled and plopped onto the bed. Prior looked at me indulgently.

“I know you dislike her, but she does have quite a lot to do and probably wants to comfort her sister,” he said. I raised my eyebrows at him.

“Please don’t see the best in her,” I sighed. He laughed and kissed my forehead.

“I apologize, I’ll be short tempered and scowly with her,” he said. I laughed. “Are you going to tell Harran?”

“About?” I asked.

“Annalise,” he sighed.

“I will tell him,” I said. He smiled. “Perhaps not tonight, though. He’s so happy that we’re here and,” he lay down beside me. I cupped my hand against his face. “I don’t want to lose him.”

“I know sweetheart,” he whispered and kissed me. “I’ll let you rest. Several rangers arrived last night, apparently. We’re to be briefed.” I nodded and lay down to sleep for a while. My Dreams were chaotic, they always are this close to Westran. When I awoke, Calla was sitting cross legged looking down on me. “Hello Little One.”

“Chieftan Harran sent me to get you,” she said simply. “But Mama said I oughtn’t wake you. Were you Dreaming?” I sat up.

“I was,” I said. She nodded. “Shall we go to see The Chieftan?” She nodded and I followed her out to the yard. “Has Mama sparred with him yet?”

“No,” Calla said with an exhausted sigh. I laughed. She reminded me of Caleb when she sighed like that. “She said that she’ll only do it when she’s rested.” I nodded. Harran was settled in at a wide table and she ran over to him and he took her up onto his lap. “I found her, Chieftan Harran.”

“So you did, Lady Calla,” he smiled at me. “Hello Lisette.”

“Hello Your Highness,” I said. “Calla, love, where is your Papa?” Calla shrugged.

“I’ll go find him,” she popped off of Harran’s lap and went running.

“You’ve a task on your hands, turning that one into a queen,” he smirked at me.

“She’s energetic,” I said. He hugged me. “Oh, I’ve missed you.”

“I’ve missed you too,” he said. “I was worried you wouldn’t come, given your reaction last time.” I smiled at him.

“Right,” I muttered. “I was surprised.” He raised his eyebrows. “I thought,” he smirked at me, “Well, I didn’t expect you to wait around.”

“Didn’t you?” He said. I frowned at him. “If it weren’t Brea,” he tried, and I sighed.

“I could have reacted better when you told me,” I admitted. “I just,” I exhaled, “she’s so,” he laughed. “Brea.”

“I’m happy that you’ve found someone else you know.” He said. “You could be more generous.”

“I haven’t,” I muttered. He laughed then.

“Prior is far too happy for things to have not moved forward,” he said. “And I know you very well.” I cocked my head at him.

“Nika told you,” I said.

“Of course Nika told me,” he smirked. “What does Tristan say?” I sighed and stretched down onto the table. “Ah, so he’s enthusiastic?”

“He thinks I’m ruining Prior’s life,” I said. “You don’t mind?” He shrugged.

“I like Prior,” he admitted. “And if you’re happy.” I frowned. “You need to write to Eric.”

“I what?” I said. He looked at me. “No, I don’t, it has nothing to do with him.”

“Lisette,” he said. “If you’re getting married he can’t find out from spy networks, or official announcements.” I pouted at him.

“You found out from Nika,” I said.

“Yes, because Nika knows you’re a coward about this sort of thing, and she wanted me prepared,” he laughed. “I am gaining an excellent sister.” I laughed.

“You are,” I said softly. “Harran, I,” I swallowed. “Did I hurt you?” He looked at me. “I mean, what went on between us.”

“Of course you did,” he said, his voice was gentle though, “Lisette, you broke my heart. Not the first time, obviously, but two years of uncertainty followed by an outright rejection was more than a sting.” I looked away. “You wanted Eric and I was there. If your own heart has healed from losing him, I’m glad for you. But you have to tell him that.”

“I don’t know that it ever will,” I said. “Heal, I mean.” He wrapped his arm around me. “What if Prior leaves me too?”

“Is that why you want to marry him?” Harran asked. “To keep him?” I nodded. “Oh Lisette.” I rested my head against his shoulder. “I had them bottle three casks of the whiskey.” I laughed.

“Good,” I mumbled. “I’m going to need a lot of it.” He laughed and pulled me close.

“There you are,” Brea marched over to us. “My parents have arrived, are you going to greet them?” It was phrased as a question but it certainly didn’t sound like she was asking. She looked at me. “Congratulations on your engagement Annalise.” She swirled and left. Harran sighed, his face full of a dopey smile.

“That is what you have to look forward to,” I said, “for the rest of your life.”

“Yes,” he said, with a besotted sigh, “it’s wonderful, isn’t it?” I laughed and shoved him away. I’d missed my friend more than I could have possibly understood before seeing him again.

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