I swallowed sitting beside Harran’s brothers as he and Brea exchanged their vows. He looked unbelievably happy. The blue and green gown I’d had made and the veil wrapped around my head felt itchy and like my body was rejecting it. Rian looked at me and smiled.
Harran had told me once that when he’d come to me Rian had attempted to court Brea. He seemed to be the only person besides me who wasn’t over the moon. Did he love her? Had they been together at all? Had she tried to love him and failed the way I had Harran?
Prior smiled at me and I felt my cheeks flush. He’d warned me about how he was out here, but he’d undersold it. Last night I’m surprised we hadn’t woken the whole keep with our activities in bed. And against the wall. And on the floor by the fire. And in the bath.
If Prior was at all insecure of his position in my life, he was making himself indispensable in pleasure alone.
Harran was vowing to love and honor Brea, and she was radiant, dressed in a white robe. As Nika had said, she was veiled, but it was lighly draped over her long dark hair, rather than wrapped like Nika’s or the one I was wearing.
“And so before the gods, and your tribes,” Lady Anaia said, binding their hands, “I bind you to one another. As long as your hearts beat, may you bring one another joy.” They kissed to seal the bond and we applauded.
After we were sitting at the feast and Prior came and sat beside me.
“You did well,” he grinned. “I only saw you grimace at the bride twice.”
“Most people weren’t looking at me,” I said. He leaned close to me. “Prior.”
“Everyone was looking at you,” he said, “at least everyone who’s sane.”
“You are clearly not,” I shook my head with a giggle and kissed him. “I can’t imagine you want more after last night.” He grinned. “Prior,” I said, “I can’t leave.”
“Yet,” he said, “I intend to have you every night for the foreseeable future, Annalise.” I smiled. “Now, what was that about leaving?” I rolled my eyes.
“I’ll be missed,” I said and stood up with my goblet to go have it refilled. “But if you want to go prepare for me,” he laughed and pulled me into his lap. “I need more whiskey.”
“You do not,” he pressed a kiss against my neck. “You need me.” I sighed and leaned back into him and heard Brea giggle as Harran lifted her up and music was playing. I suddenly realized what he was doing.
“Prior,” I whispered. He hummed into my hair. “I adore you for what you’re trying to do, but you cannot distract me from having feelings about this wedding with sex.” He turned my head and kissed me.
“Are you sure about that?” He whispered. I laughed.
“Yes,” I stood up. “I am.” I walked over and poured more into my goblet. Aaron walked over and looked at me. “Prior is trying to distract me with sex.”
“Well that won’t work,” Aaron said. I nodded.
“I know, I’ve outgrown that sort of thing,” I smiled.
“No you haven’t,” he snorted, “it won’t work because sex distraction is what you did with Harran.” I kicked him and he laughed. “Lisette, you’re handling this better than any of us thought you would.” I sighed.
“Thank you,” I said softly. “I don’t know how you thought I’d be handling it, because I don’t think I’m handling it well at all.” He slipped his arm around my shoulder. “If Eric announces that he’s marrying some debutante his sister in law picked out I’m not going.”
“You’ll go if you’re invited,” Aaron snorted.
“I will not,” I said. “And I’m not inviting him when I marry Prior. I’ve decided it’s cruel, to have former lovers at your wedding.”
“Mm,” Aaron nodded. “You have to invite him.” I sighed. “Well, you have to invite Elana and Daniel and then you have to welcome whoever they send. Which might not be Eric.”
“You aren’t being helpful either,” I said. “At least Prior’s tactic is fun for me.” We looked at Harran. “He looks so happy.”
“He’s in love,” Aaron shrugged.
“Not possible,” I shook my head with a smirk, “being in love doesn’t make you that happy. Being in love is torture. It’s having your heart pulled out of your chest over and over.” He looked at me and laughed. “In my experience.”
“When we were young,” Aaron said softly, “and Harran came to Pantona, I was furious with Father.” I looked at him. “It was such a risk, Lisette.” I smiled. “I was ranting and shouting about your safety and your future, and what was he thinking? And how could we trust this person?” I laughed.
“You were jealous,” I said. He shrugged.
“You were mine,” he said, “and you were following Harran around like a puppy and he liked it far too much.” I smiled. “But I remember what my father said,” I looked at him, “Aaron, we didn’t save her to keep her in a cage, we saved her so that she could live.” I smiled.
“I miss him so much,” I said softly. “He’d be so proud of you, Aaron. He’d be absurd about Calla.” He threw his head back.
“Her feet wouldn’t have touched the ground yet.” He grinned. I laughed. “We didn’t save you to keep you in a cage. But I feel like you’ve put yourself in one.” I looked at him.
“I’m not in a cage,” I said. “I do need some air though.” I rushed outside and exhaled my hand on my belly. Maybe I had had too much whiskey.
“Annalise?” I turned and saw Brea. “Are you alright?”
“I don’t know,” I whispered. She nodded and walked over. She helped me to a bench and sat me down. “Your guests.”
“Please,” she said, and waved her hand dismissively, “half the reason to marry a man like Harran is because he can handle that sort of thing.” I laughed.
“You look beautiful,” I said softly, my breath was still shallow. She nodded.
“Well, yes, I’m me,” she said. “You’re alright, keep breathing,” I nodded. “He was so glad you agreed to come. We were worried that you wouldn’t.” I looked at her.
“Really?” I said. She nodded.
“I know I’m not your favorite person,” she said. I smiled. “And I hated you for years before I ever saw you.” I laughed again. “I am absolutely serious. When he came back from Pantona all he could talk about was Lisette, this amazing girl. Ask Nika, I was furious. Who was this Cammadie girl, how dare she make him fall in love with her?” I smiled. “It took me two years to get him to see me again. And then the word came, you weren’t some farm girl who he’d shared puppy love with you were the queen. And you wanted him.” I looked at her. “I hated you for wanting him. I hated him for going to you. I hated the gods for making you queen, I hated my family for trying to comfort me.” She exhaled. “Oh and poor Rian, I hated him the most.” I looked at her. “Rian, coming to me, sitting next to me at feasts, greeting me every time we arrived. Trying to make me smile.” She exhaled. “Oh I hated him so much for that.” I swallowed. “But I’m not,” she exhaled, “I don’t get to be angry, to hate that way. I’m the shiny, bright light, I shine so that Nika can be seen.” She swallowed. “She gets to be angry and grumpy and hate people.” She looked at me. “So I smiled, and I twinkled and I hated you.” I laughed.
“I can take it,” I smirked.
“I know,” she stood up. “Meanwhile you have your own Rian to deal with.” I raised my eyebrows. “Prior Chastain is a good man, Annalise, but he isn’t the man for you.” I sighed.
“Why does everyone keep saying that?” I said.
“Because it’s true,” Brea shrugged. “And you know I’m being honest because I hate you.” I smiled. “Now come on, because I cannot allow Nika to continue this ruse that she and Marina are alright.” I stifled a laugh. “What happened there?”
“Oh nothing particularly exciting,” I said as we drifted back into the hall. “Nika found her snuggling with Tristan and reached her breaking point.”
“Ah yes,” Brea said with a nod. “I could have seen that coming.” She looked at me. “I once swore to curse Marina if she ever hurt my sister.”
“Please don’t,” I said, “trust me, loving Tristan is enough of a curse.” She laughed. “I am happy for you.” She smirked at me. “Well, I’m happy Harran is happy.”
“Try not to choke,” she grinned.