Note: So, I’ve been writing quite a few interludes lately, editing old ones, getting to stuff I’ve been thinking about for a while. I’ve decided to commit to posting one once a month. First up, Aaron and Tristan, what’s their deal? They’re friends right? Brothers in Law! Aaron is the best and Tristan is the worst, how do they navigate that?
I sat in the study behind Father’s desk watching him work with Lisette, correcting her sword stance patiently, pushing her curls out of her face, gently smiling when she stuck out her tongue or snapped at him.
Sir Tristan Dugarry was madly in love with my sister and I don’t know how aware he was of it, but she was absolutely clueless. Not that I blame her, it isn’t likely that Sir Tristan declared himself and she’s had precisely one other suitor, and Harran didn’t bother hiding his interest in her. To the point that I think she found it a little intimidating.
But she seems to lean into the ways he touches her, she teases him. She likes him.
“Something interesting?” Lady Athena sat down on the edge of the desk. I looked at her and smiled.
“Not as interesting as you,” I said and closed the book I was working through. Her face screwed into anger. It’s like I enjoy the pain, or something. They’ve been here two weeks and I could have been happily buried in Kathy Sampson, but instead I wind up getting stabbed in the heart by Athena Dugarry every night.
I really should go see Kathy, but all I can think of is that I don’t think Lady Athena would like it.
“And what, your grace,” she leaned closer, “is so interesting about me?” I grinned. She was baiting me.
“Do you really want to know?” I ran my eyes up and down her. She pushed off the desk.
“Pig,” she muttered. The thing is, her body isn’t even the beginning of my obsession with Lady Athena, although it is quite nice. She’s tall and slender and I’m sure all those muscles from her fighting move quite nicely under those short dresses of hers. But she’s sharp witted and committed and the way she softens with Lisette is completely irresistible. I’d give almost anything to have her smile at me just once.
After a quick sparring match she says something to Lisette and they leave, Lisette trotting after her, giggling. Sir Tristan watched them.
“She likes you too, you know,” I said. Tristan looked at me. “Lisette, she likes you. She doesn’t know how to, but she does.”
“It isn’t like that,” he insisted.
“If you say so,” I said. “Your sister,” I started.
“Please, I beg of you, stop wasting your time,” he sighed, “and stop aggravating her. She difficult enough in a good mood.” I laughed. “How can you tell?”
“What?” I said, as I opened my ledger. “That Lisette likes you?” He nodded. “Just watch her, she does.”
“I do watch her,” Tristan frowned. “I have to, it’s my job.”
“I doubt she’ll be assassinated here, but glad you take it seriously,” I smirked. He laughed at that.
“Athena thinks you’re unserious,” he said. I looked at him. “It’s hard to tell how much you care about anything when you’re always making a joke.” I nodded.
“Thank you,” I smiled, “that’s helpful.” Tristan shrugged.
“You’re still fighting a losing battle,” he said and placed his sword back on the rack. “But you might as well be armed for it. Sincerity might at least get her to stop looking at you like you’re cow dung.”
I know I’m in over my head, when I glance over at Lisette asleep in the bed next to me. I’ve been in over my head from the moment I met her. I’m supposed to protect her, watch her, fight for her. Instead it’s this. It’s me completely unable to control myself. It’s not just that I’m thinking about her constantly it’s that I also want to be touching her and know that shortly, I will.
And there’s Marina. Since we’ve arrived at camp it’s like I lost what was left of my mind around her. I kissed her, what was I thinking? I sat up Lisette stirred.
“What’s wrong?” She asked rolling over. Gods, I want her, I love her so much.
“I can’t sleep,” I whispered. She sat up and slid her arms around my neck. “Lisette, I have to tell you something.” She kissed me gently.
“No you don’t,” she whispered. I pulled her closer.
“I swore,” I teased. She rested her hands on my chest.
“Yes,” she said softly, “but I know what you’re about to tell me,” she looked at me. “I can see the way you look at each other.” I pressed my forehead to hers.
“Lisette,” I whispered. “It’s you, though.” She nodded and kissed me. “I need to go for a run, clear my head.”
“I don’t clear your head?” She whispered. I smiled.
“You fill my head,” I whispered. “You fill everything.” She smiled. I kissed her, and she slid back. Cornan himself couldn’t pull me from this woman. She’ll have to do it, and it might kill me.
But for now I run, laps around the lake and let nothing else into my mind but one foot in front of the other. No Lisette and the world in front of her, so she’s looking away from me, no Marina, soft, sweet, always patient, who sees everything.
I get back to camp and Aaron is standing with Count Caleb.
“It’s not up to you,” Caleb says patiently, but Aaron looks angry. “If it were you’d have done what? Kept her at Pantona while the world burned?”
“She’s losing herself in all this,” Aaron sighed, “you can’t even see it! We need more time.”
“There isn’t more time,” Caleb said, Aaron frowned. “Do you really think this is what I want, Aaron? To put you and Lisette in danger?”
“Who knows what you want?” Aaron said sharply and walked over. “How much did you hear?”
“Enough,” I said. He looked even more angry with me.
“I spoke to Marina,” he said.
“Oh,” I whispered. He laughed and shook his head. “I doubt it’s what you think.” Aaron looked at me, those blue eyes of his under his dark red hair.
“Did you kiss Marina?” He asked. I sighed. “Gods, man, you have to get it together. If you were someone else I might kill you.” I smirked at that.
“You could try,” I said. He laughed. “If I fought back at all you’d wind up dead,” I paused, “but then of course Athena would kill me, so I’d be dead anyway.” We started walking. “You told Lisette?”
“Gods no,” Aaron snorted. “Marina asked me not to for one thing and for another, and I don’t need Lisette angry at me for your behavior,” he looked down. “But she deserves better, they both do.” His face is serious.
“I’m aware of that,” I said, “Trust me that I’m trying.” Aaron nodded.
“Oh Gods!” Carolina gasped getting out of the carriage. I looked at Tristan as his wife looked at the house I’d offered, well, the second house, there were three. The first had been a large farmhouse, close to the manor, but this one, nearer town, was more of a cottage, mostly stone, with a wild garden growing over the iron gates.
“She likes it,” I said. He raised an eyebrow at me.
“Obviously,” he noted. “Is it this one Caro?”
“Well, I’d like to see the other,” she said, “but it’s so lovely, what’s it’s name?” She looked at me.
“What do you mean?” I frowned. She pouted a little. How Tristan won this adorable creature alludes me. “It isn’t like in novels, Caro,” I teased, “every house doesn’t have some charming name.”
“Well, it should,” she said as she walked down the lane to the door. Tristan looked at me.
“This is too generous, Aaron,” he said. I shrugged.
“You need to live somewhere,” I pointed out, “and Athena wants you to be here.” We walked up to the door. “It’s really William you should be thanking, he found the places.”
“I’ll skip that particular honor, thanks,” he grumbled. I rolled my eyes.
“You won that fight twice,” I pointed out. He shrugged we stepped in.
“Oh Tristan, it’s wonderful,” Carolina ran into his arms. “Thank you, your grace,” she smiled at me.
“Aaron,” I smiled back. “Please.” She smiled.
“Shall you write some fawning letter to your mother and sister,” Tristan teased her, “asking for your things to be sent here?” She nodded excitedly. “Aaron, really I know you did this for Athena but it means a great deal.” I smiled, from Tristan this qualified as an explosion of emotion.
When we got back to the manor, I saw Athena sitting in the parlor, a map spread out on the table. Lisette and Marina were in Dovetail, we’d be going to join them soon.
“Thena,” I sat down with her. She looked up at me and smiled. “What are you looking at?”
“Maps of Westran,” she said, “you have some good ones.” I smiled.
“We,” I reminded her, “Countess.” She raised an eyebrow.
“Did they pick a house?” She asked. I nodded. “Good, I was worried they’d decide to stay in Dovetail.”
“They might still love,” I kissed her neck gently.
“Aaron, don’t,” she shook her head. I sat back. “I just wish we knew where to start.”
“You know your orders were to not work on this for the next week while we get settled?” I said. She glared at me.
“To quote you, my love, ‘I don’t follow stupid orders,'” she said. I looked at her.
“Athena,” I said. She looked at me, “you need to rest. We all do.” She sighed and leaned back against me.
“I love you,” she said. I smiled. “But Aaron if you keep me from my work I’ll kill you in your sleep.” I laughed and kissed her gently.
“Just tonight,” I whispered, “Mother and Thomas are in Dovetail, Tristan and Caro will move in to their cottage, we’re on our own.” She grinned and kissed me back.
“I hadn’t thought of that,” she mumbled. I laughed. “I did want to ask though,” I nodded. “Should I keep using the whip willow?” I leaned back.
“I hadn’t,” I sighed. “Do you want to?” She sighed. “Thena,” I whispered.
“I was disappointed, last year,” she whispered, “when I wasn’t.” I nodded.
“Me too,” I said. “But you do have a lot of work to do, and a baby,” I drifted off. I wanted to have children with Athena, probably more than anything.
“Your mother managed,” she pointed out. I smiled. “But you’d be alright, if we started right away?” I smiled.
“Why are you so eager?” I asked. She sighed.
“Well, I don’t think Tristan and Caro will be waiting,” she explained. I laughed. “I want our children’s childhoods to be like ours all should have been. On top of one another and growing intertwined. Lisette and Eric’s, Lefty and Marina’s, all of us.” I kissed her.
“That’s a good dream, love,” I whispered.
Caro’s voice screaming about my betrayal is still schoing in my mind when I arrive at the townhouse in Dorin. Maybe I should have gone to the manor, but I need to see her, and I only knew to come because Alex told me. The note is smashed in my pocket.
They’re hearing the challenge. I suggest you come at once. – A
I see Carolina’s eyes full of tears and me wondering why I told her at all. All it did was hurt her. I walked up the steps and inside and was shown to a parlor. The butler returned after a moment.
“Miss Carolina has said she will not see anyone,” he said. Miss Carolina. Not Lady Dugarry. She was making her point.
“Tristan?” Emily walked in. I swallowed. “What are you doing here?” I sighed.
“Alex told me about the challenge,” I said. She raised an eyebrow.
“Yes,” she said, “so that you could be in Dorin and at the guildhall. We expected you stay at the manor.” I looked at her. “Caro is very upset, still.”
“Upset enough to annul our marriage and be Andrei Arrain’s wife?” I asked. Emily frowned at me.
“Obviously, yes,” she said, “though Uncle Geno is leading the hearing so the annulment seems unlikely. The proceedings are embarrassing enough.” I’d tried that argument. It was met with a sharp hiss, More embarrassing than curtseying to your lovers for a year, befriending one of them, loving her?
“What did she tell you?” I asked. Emily sighed.
“What did you tell Athena?” She asked. “She’s my sister, she told me all of it.”
“I’m not proud of myself,” I said and stood up.
“Well, I would think not,” Emily sighed. “But I think she’s being a bit dramatic right now, if I’m honest. She loves you, and it isn’t as though she didn’t go into this with her eyes open about you and Duchess Marina.” She hadn’t though, and I knew it. She’d thought it was over. I’d told her so. I’d been lying, to myself most of all maybe.
The truth was it would never be over between Marina and me.
“The fact is, I had to come here because I need Alex,” I muttered. Emily looked at me.
“Alex didn’t negotiate your contract,” she shook her head. “Athena, oooh,” she stopped.
“The baby has to be born at Pantona,” I whispered. “She can’t travel.”
“Of course,” she sighed. “Sit down, I’ll have them bring tea.” I nodded and then sat. A few minutes passed and Caro walked in.
“I’m surprised,” she said softly. “I would have thought,” I smiled. “Is Athena alright?”
“Of course, about to pop and very cranky, but she’s alright,” I said and stood up and walked over to her and took her hands she pulled away. “Caro,” I sighed. “I’m so sorry.”
“Please don’t,” she said. Her voice was flat and cold. I’d seen her like this but never had it turned on me, I hated it. “I wish you’d stayed away, Tristan.” I looked down. “Surely Lisette has need of you.” I swallowed.
“This is more important,” I said. She looked at me. “You hate me,” I mumbled, “I don’t blame you.” She swallowed. “I’ve missed you.” She frowned. “Caro, what can I say or do?”
“Nothing,” she said. “Tomorrow after the hearing, I suppose I’ll make a decision. My father is being very stubborn.” I nodded.
“I’m taking that you’re here and not his house as a sign in my favor,” I tried. Venom again.
“My father basically sold me,” she hissed, “and is annoyed that the sale was interrupted. Why on earth would I go back to him?” I smiled at that.
“Good girl,” I said. “I’ll go to the manor, I suppose. I can only imagine the scolding I’ll get from my aunts.” That wrangled a smirk.
“If I weren’t so angry at you I’d go with you just to see what shade of purple the old man turns when he sees you,” she said. “You deserve it.” I nodded.
“I didn’t want to lie to you anymore Caro,” I said. She sighed.
“I forgave Marina,” she said, “I’m working on you.” I nodded.
“I should have gone,” Athena said crossing her arms over her chest. Her belly was so round that she could barely do it.
“How precisely did you plan to do that?” I asked. She glared at me. “Do you want me to go in your place?”
“Are you insane?” She said. I shrugged. “You hate merchant politics.”
“Yes, but I’m good at politics,” I reminded her. “And Tristan is my brother too.” She frowned.
“You’ll miss her,” she said gently rubbing her belly. I sighed. “Or him, but I think she’s a girl.” I smiled and sat down and kissed her on the head.
“I hope so,” I said. she looked at me.
“You don’t want a son?” She teased.
“No,” I shook my head, “Pantona boys are trouble.” She giggled. “I have enough trouble.” She sighed.
“What if we lose Caro,” she mumbled.
“It won’t happen,” I said softly. “If I have to drag Annalise up there to tell Angelo DuKarras and Andrei Arrain that it’s the Goddess’s own will that Caro and Tristan are married I’ll do it.” She sighed.
“I don’t know if that would be enough but it’s quite thoughtful,” she said. “I was careless about the contract. I was distracted.”
“You were not careless,” I said. “DuKarras is annoying.” She laughed. “Your Uncle will side with them.” She nodded. There was something she wasn’t telling me. I knew she would in her own time. “I can go, if it’s what you want.”
“After,” Athena whispered, leaning back against me. “After she’s here.” I smiled.
The hearing was in our favor, I was furious the whole day, and Caro was still barely speaking to me, but it was one less obstacle.
“Sir Tristan?” Some boy working under Uncle Trey walked into the office they’d set up for me. I knew I had to leave again soon, with or without Caro. I looked at him. “The Count of Pantona is here.”
“What?” I said. “You mean a messenger from my brother in law?” The boy shook his head.
“No, the count,” he mumbled, “Mistress DuCray is with him in south parlor.” I nodded, if Aaron was with Charlotte that was good. They’d argue over cattle prices for hours.
I walked in the parlor.
“I can’t force them to sheer twice a year, Lotte,” Aaron pointed out, “or to sell to you and not keep the wool for themselves.”
“Your father would have found a way to meet the demand,” she said, “I can take my business to Wyatt Allred,” she looked over, “Hello Tristan.”
“Hello,” I said, “I was thinking cattle, didn’t the Forresters have several multiple births this year?” Charlotte looked at him and raised her eyebrows.
“They aren’t selling,” Aaron said firmly, “and by all means, see if Wyatt will meet your wool needs, I’ll double the price when you come crawling back.” He looked at me. “I have news,” he was smiling.
“Is Athena alright?” I asked, though I suppose if she wasn’t, he wouldn’t be smiling.
“Extremely,” he said, “where’s Caro?” I frowned. “Never mind, may I present the official birth and naming of Viscountess Calla Alexia Annalise Johanna Olivia Pantona,” he handed me a scroll. I smiled back at him.
“No Thomas?” I raised my eyebrows. He laughed. “Was he angry?”
“He’s in love,” Aaron said, “we all are.” I hugged him.
“Congratulations,” I said, “truly. I’m happy for you.”
“Good,” Aaron smiled, “now where’s Caro? I want to celebrate for a few days and then bring you both home.” I swallowed.
“I sent for her,” Charlotte said.
“Sent for?” Aaron looked confused. “I thought the challenge was settled.”
“It is,” I said, “it’s a bit more complicated, but Caro’s been with Emily and Alex.” But then she came running in.
“Oh Alex, Charlotte told me in her note I’m so happy for you!” She threw her arms around his neck. “What did you name her? I know you’d both discussed your father’s names. Johanna is lovely.”
“She’s Calla,” he said and Caro nodded excitedly, “and her mother is eager for her Aunt and Uncle to see her.” She looked uneasily at me.
“Of course,” she said softly. I looked at her. “Aaron, Alex has some Brightcoast wines, but he said he also has a store of his father’s armis if you want.” Aaron smiled down at her. He and Athena had a real taste for the cold clear Rastani spirit.
“I promised him some whiskey too,” he sighed, “I should see that it was delivered.” He left.
“He doesn’t know?” She asked me. I shook my head. “I’m surprised. I’m happy for them.”
“I have to go out ranging soon anyway,” I said. “If you don’t want to see me you could still go.” She shook her head and took my hand. “Caro.”
“I want to go home Tristan,” she said. “Can’t we?” I smiled and kissed her.
“Of course,” I said, “whenever you want.” She nodded. “So you forgive me?”