I’m Yours

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As the sun went down and the fires and songs started up, I was able to find my way to the one where Aaron was sitting. He’d already collected a small band of friends. It made me happy that he was fitting in.

I walked over and sat down. He looked at me and smiled softly.

“Commander,” he said.

“Your Grace,” I nodded. The others laughed quietly. “Do you have a moment?”

“Of course,” he said and we walked away. The moon was full, it was nice. “Athena,”

“Wait,” I said, “I’m sorry. I should have told you, you were right.” He looked at me and grinned. “Do not get used to me saying that.” He laughed and hugged me. “It’s more than most people know. We were making plans to run away together.” He looked at me. “My Aunt Brie, her husband is Rastani, we were going to go to his family, at least until things were settled.”

“I see,” he said. “Do you think he was sincere?” I frowned.

“I didn’t used to,” I said softly, “I thought it was all a trick. That he was telling me what would get me to trust him enough to tell him everything.” I sat down on a rock and Aaron sat with me. “When they brought Martin out into the open, when he had to run,” I swallowed, “when I realized who he was, what he was, I still had to pretend,” I shuddered. “Until he was stationed away, I still had to be with him. Let him kiss me, and touch me,” Aaron nodded, he didn’t move to comfort me. “I hated myself for it. Every night, every kiss, every whisper.”

“Oh, Thena,” he said softly. “I’m sorry.” I swallowed. “If I’d known,” I smiled and took his hand.

“After I talked to him today,” I whispered, “I realized he meant it. He was a spy, he betrayed us, but he did love me. He did want to run away with me, he thought,” I swallowed and started crying. “He thought I would still want to, after all of this, that I would choose him and us. And god help me Aaron, I might have. If what we’d been told was true, if we’d just escorted your mother home and then went back to Dovetail and then I’d found out he actually loved me, I’d have done anything to get away from there, from Brayton.”

“But it wasn’t true,” Aaron said. I looked at him. “It doesn’t matter, Athena, don’t you see that. We’re together, we’ll always be.” I looked at him. “I love you, just let me. How many times do I have to beg?” I sniffled.

“But what if,” I started. He kissed me gently.

“No more what ifs,” he said, “if we die taking the capital, we’ll be together, if we fail and live, we’ll run away together. I like the idea of your aunt’s Rastani in laws,” I laughed. “I’m yours, Athena, forever. Can you say the same?”

“Yes,” I smiled softly. “I’m yours, forever, no matter what.” He kissed me again.

Warren

Life had settled in at camp, Lisette had proved her worth and been made a Lieutenant (officially), and Tristan a Captain to make way for her. I spent most of my days training or working with newere recruits, most of them runaways from Dovetail.

In fact it was a lovely calm morning, discussing when we would move towards Dovetail. The Count and Martin like the symbol of marching in on her birthday. Aaron thinks that’s suicide.

It’s all moot now, but it didn’t make this morning less frighting, when we heard the horns and felt the shill in the air as the shadows descended. I tried to call on my strength, on whatever blessing Cornan could give me and nothing came.

My back pressed against Tristan’s when I heard the hissing voices in my head. I’d never heard them before, just seen them, disguised as men at Brayton’s back.

You are not worthy to be called warrior. One hissed at me. You who are so we you can’t even keep you legs closed. I slashed and dispersed that one.

I would kill you, so called Champion, the next came forward, I swallowed, But my commander has asked for you as a reward.

“Commander?” I asked, and then looked over the hillside and saw him standing there. Warren Davis, clad entirely in the uniform of the black guard, his dirty blond hair slicked back. Tall, strong. I swallowed.

“No, Athena,” Tristan said, as I went towards him. “General,” he called out.

“Tristan you go,” he said. I frowned at them both. “Athena, stay with the Princess.” I frowned, but of course in moments, it didn’t matter because a blinding shock of white light shook the earth and the shadows had dispersed. Lisette ran to the edge of the battlefield and I saw Lady Marina collapsed.

“Are you alright?” Aaron asked. I nodded wordlessly. But I wasn’t. I couldn’t be. How was he so near? How was he commanding shadows? How had I been so blind to what he really was?

“You?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said. “Marina,” he muttered. I nodded. They’d connected, I wasn’t surprised. As I got to know her better, I saw how much they had in common. He ran over to Lisette, and scooped the younger girl up to carry her to camp.

“I want to interrogate him,” I said to Martin, who frowned at me. “Martin!”

“Athena, we need answers from him, we don’t need him dead.” He shook his head. I frowned. “I can feel the anger coming off of you. I don’t blame you, but you wouldn’t be able to control yourself.”

“Fine,” I said and marched away. I got back to my tent and lay down on the bed. I fell to sleep quickly. My dreams were full of memories and images. Warren cautiously sitting beside me one day at dinner. The notes I would find slipped under the door, or with my gear in the training room. His whispers of how we would get away from Dovetail, from Brayton together, his hands on me, his voice gently whispering, “Beloved,” in my ear as he entered me. I woke up then with a start. Aaron was sitting in a chair, tending to and watching a fire. “What are you doing here?”

“Everyone was busy,” he explained, “I didn’t want to be in the way.” I nodded. “Marina is alright. Exhausted, but well.”

“I’m glad,” I said honestly. He nodded. “Is something else wrong”

“Who is Warren Davis?” He asked. I swallowed and sat up.

“It doesn’t matter,” I frowned. He looked at me and shook his head.

“You know what, forget it,” he said and walked out. I stood up and followed him.

“Then you know already?” I said. He turned and looked at me. “Who told you? Tristan? The General?”

“My mother,” he said. “But don’t blame her, because she was just warning me to be gentle with you.” I suddenly swelled with affection for the countess. “But you should have told me. You were planning to marry the man and you never once mentioned,” I swallowed.

“What would you have had me say?” I said back. “That the first time a boy whispered I was pretty, I slid into bed with him faster than I could take a breath? That he made it impossible for me to trust anyone because it turned out he was a spy, and he broke my family apart and every moment I was falling in love with you, I was terrified I’d said something that would bring him back around to you, and to Lisette.” He looked at me.

“You should have told me,” he repeated, “I would have understood, at least, then why you were so,” I swallowed. “You were going to marry him.”

“I don’t need to explain that,” I shook my head. “Just because every woman you ever kissed we would see on market days.” I realized we’d walked to the medical tent.

“I wasn’t ever planning to marry any of them, Athena,” he said. His voice had shaken of it’s calm. “That was just you. I love you.”

“I was never going to marry Warren Davis,” I explained, “not when I knew what he was, but I was hurt, Aaron. I love you too.” He frowned and we turned, seeing Marina standing next to us.

“I’m glad you’re feeling better, Marina,” he said and shook his head walked away. I sighed and flopped down on one of the beds again. After talking with Marina I knew what I needed to do, but I wasn’t happy about it.

I walked over to where they were keeping him. No one tried to stop me, which was a blessing. I walked into the tent and stared at him.

“Hello Beloved,” he said softly, his hazel eyes meeting mine. I stared him down. “I was wondering when I would see you.”

“How could you?” I asked him softly. He swallowed, almost flinched. I knew him so well. Every inch of him.

“It was for us,” he explained. I snorted and crossed my arms. “Athena, what Lord Brayton has planned, what he can do, you have no idea. But I can protect you, he’s promised me. Even now, after he takes the throne, we can go away, like we always said.”

“You’ve lost your mind,” I said, “as if I’d go with you, choose you. I’d die first.” He frowned. “You’ve met her. You’ve seen.” He stared me down.

“It won’t matter,” he said. “When he has,” I cocked my head to the side. “If I tell you, what do I get?” I looked away. “So cold, My Lady. You didn’t used to be.”

“I’m sorry, Warren,” I whispered, “I’m truly sorry you traded your soul for nothing.” I turned around and left. Tristan was standing waiting for me. “Don’t start.”

“Just checking on you,” he said. “He’s insane.”

“I noticed,” I sighed. “He thinks I’m going to run away with him.” Tristan stared at me. “We did talk about it, but it wasn’t the sort of thing,” I frowned. “Aaron’s angry.”

“That, I noticed,” he said. “He’s hurt, Athena, but he’ll get over it.” I bumped him with my shoulder. “I’d kill himself if I thought it would help.” I smiled at my brother.

“I know you would.” I said. He smiled and shrugged.

Engagement

Tristan and Lisette are eating with Duke Lestat and Lady Marina, which I guess will become normal. I’m curious what Lady Marina’s reaction will be when she finds out about them. Poor thing.

Meanwhile, I sat through a desperately awkward meal with The General, Aaron, and The Count and Countess. It was almost completely silent until Aaron finally spoke up.

“I thought,” he cleared his throat and looked at me, “I thought perhaps once things are settled I might go back to Pantona in the spring.” I stopped and smiled at him.

“I don’t think it’s up to us,” The Countess smirked. “It will take getting used to being at the whim of the crown again.” Aaron snorted.

“Aaron,” The Count cautioned.

“I’ve been at Lisette’s whim since I was four, I don’t think it will be much to get used to,” he shrugged. I smiled. “What do you think, Lady Athena? About the spring.” Martin dropped his silverware, loudly.

“I like the spring,” I said, “but me going to Pantona would be a great disappointment to my grandfather. He’s always begging me to go to Dorin.”

“You might be better off going to Dorin,” Martin said. I glared at him.

“We enjoyed having Athena at Pantona,” The Countess said, her clear blue eyes meeting his.

“Oh, honestly,” The Count sighed loudly, “Aaron, yes, of course, a wedding in the spring at Pantona would be wonderful, I seriously doubt Lisette would object on any score, except she’d probably miss you both.” I pressed my lips into my mouth. “Athena, we would of course welcome you into the family, in fact, the prospect is thrilling.” I was trying not to giggle. “Thomas, Olivia, if you two could please stop thinking these two need to reenact your own history I would very much appreciate it. I am nothing like either of our fathers, and I have no intention of making my children miserable for my own ambition.” He stood up and stormed out.

“Excuse me,” I said and stood up and walked over to Count Caleb. “Thank you, for that.” He looked at me and laughed. “I didn’t think you’d disapprove of me.”

“No,” he said softly, “I very much do not.” I looked at him. “But somehow when the subject of the lot of you comes up, The Countess and General feel the need to pick at old scabs.” I nodded.

“Are you ever jealous?” I asked, thinking of pretty Kathy Sampson, who I would have to see regularly. Or Aaron’s reaction to my past. He looked at me and smiled.

“No,” he said softly. “Not for a long time.” I nodded. “Aaron wouldn’t even think to be, it’s not in his nature.” I smiled.

“No it isn’t,” I said softly. “My grandfather is going to be disappointed.” He laughed.

“I doubt it,” he shook his head, “when he arranged your parent’s marriage I think this sort of thing was exactly what he had in mind.” I sighed.

“It makes Tristan nervous,” I admitted, “me too, but don’t tell him. Grandfather having easy access to her.” He sighed.

“Don’t tell anyone but I worry about it too,” he frowned. “I have a little more faith in your uncle and aunts, but not much.” I nodded. “You don’t need to worry about these things, Athena.”

“No offense your grace, but it’s my job to protect her, so I think I do have to,” I said. He laughed and then we saw Lisette and Tristan walking back over. “Excuse me,” he nodded. “Hello you two, who did it go?”

“I’m tired,” Lisette frowned, kissed my brother and then waved and headed to bed. I smirked at him.

“That well?” I said.

“I told you so doesn’t suit you, Thena,” he frowned. “She’s going to hate me.”

“You deserve it,” I said. “You didn’t mention once in those letters you wrote her that you’d fallen in love with a princess.” I hissed out the last part. He winced.

“It didn’t seem like,” he frowned, “I didn’t know how she felt.”

“You’re an idiot,” I said. “You can congratulate me, though. I’m engaged.”

“Hm,” he nodded. “Did Martin stop sulking then?”

“No,” I grumbled as we walked along and I kicked the road. “But it isn’t up to him. You’ll write to Grandfather?” He nodded. “Do you want me to talk to Lady Marina?”

“Do you think it will help?” He said. “I don’t like the idea of her being angry with me. We’ve always been,” he stopped, “I’m an idiot.”

“Yes,” I smiled at him, “you really, really are.”

Arrival

I challenged Tristan to a race, knowing how soon we’d be arriving at camp, but he refused.

“I don’t want us to be separated on arrival,” he said. I frowned.

“But that worked out so well last time,” I grinned. Lisette giggled.

“Mm, fewer lemon groves and lost princesses in these parts though,” she teased and wrinkled her nose at him.

“And it’s all the worse for it,” Tristan smiled, “still, I think we’d better stay together.” I rolled my eyes, but nodded in agreement. Lisette is quiet, thoughtful I think.

I’m anxious, but also excited to get back to work. And another anxiety has taken root in my stomach. I don’t know what Martin will say about Aaron, having worked closely with his parents for years, he’ll most likely approve. Or maybe I’m fooling myself.

Riding into camp felt comfortable. And while we were being greeted by Lady Marina I was surprised by the change in her. She was even able to make eye contact with Tristan without blushing.

She and Lisette look extraordinarily alike. Lady Marina is darker, and her features maybe a little more delicate, but it’s eerie. Lisette seemed shy around her as well.

Aaron immediately started flirting, I’d be annoyed except I think it would simply amuse him if I was. He’d been joking about it being a fine match, Pantona and Brightcoast, the whole ride. Seeing him with her now it’s even more of a joke.

“Lady Marina,” I said, she looked over at me. “Where is the General?” She smiled.

“General Martin is in the command tent,” she said, “against my better advice I might add.” Tristan laughed. I looked at him and then at Lisette.

“Thank you,” I said and walked through camp, greeting people as I went, before arriving at the command tent and walking in. “Glad to see you alive.” A few of the guards in the tent tensed, as General Thomas Martin looked up from a map.

“Hello Athena,” he said with a sigh, “please give us a moment.” The guards nodded and left. I crossed my arms and stared at him. “I’d rather you give me a kiss hello before the lecture.”

“At the moment I don’t care what you’d rather, you’re a foolish old man who’s going to get himself killed,” I said. He sighed again. “What were you thinking fighting off a shadow attack?”

“I was thinking that I have been fighting shadows since I was younger than you, that if I didn’t Lady Marina would have been captured and turned over to Brayton, and that I was backed up by the best guard in the regiment,” he answered. I looked away. “And I am, as you can see whole, and was well cared for, so,” I continued to glare. “Athena, you cannot possibly still be angry with me.”

“Lady Marina said you should still be resting,” I countered.

“Lady Marina’s skills as a healer are quite good, but she’s still new to it,” he said, “I am fine, but if it will make you feel better, I will go to sleep as soon as the sun goes down.” I nodded. “Now, can you greet me properly my dear?” I shook my head and laughed and went to hug him.

It felt good to be wrapped in his very large arms. He kissed me on the forehead and turned up my chin.

“I did miss you,” I said. He smiled.

“I missed you too,” he said, “tell about Pantona, and The Princess.” I smiled.

“She’s exceptional, Martin,” I said, “I honestly think you’ll be impressed. She’s a better fighter than I could have imagined, smart, and,” I smiled, “I want to follow her. I’m ready to,” he nodded.

“And Tristan?” He asked.

“Tristan is quite fond of her,” I smirked. He raised his eyebrows.

“Really? Our Tristan?” He laughed. “I can honestly say I’m shocked.” I giggled. “And did you like Pantona? I haven’t been there in years, but I remember it being nice country.”

“It’s very nice,” I nodded, “I wanted to talk to you about something,” I swallowed and began fidgeting with my skirts. “The Viscount,” I swallowed, “well, he and I have gotten very close.”

“That’s good,” he nodded, “you’ll likely be working together quite a bit.” I swallowed. “I’m interested in meeting him. The Count and Countess always worry about him.”

“I don’t think they need to,” I said, “we, well, I, actually,” he met my eyes. “We’re going to get married.”

“I see,” his voice went cold. “He’s proposed?” I swallowed.

“Well, no,” I said. He nodded. “But we’ve discussed it, and, well, once things are settled, with Lisette,” he raised his eyebrows. “Annalise, The Princess, it’s a pet name, it doesn’t matter.”

“I feel like we’ve had this conversation before.” He frowned. I scowled at him.

“This is not like that,” I said, “he’s not like Warren. He wouldn’t,” I looked away. “He’s loyal.”

“I won’t stand in your way,” he said simply, “it isn’t my place to do so, but Athena, don’t make a fool of yourself.” I frowned. “If he’s anything like his father, then a girl from a merchant family, even one as extraordinary as you won’t be sufficient.”

“I’m sorry that’s how you feel,” I said and stood up. “But you’re wrong.” He nodded, I walked out and around camp.

“Lady Athena!” My friend, Elodie Whills walked over to me. I smiled and hugged her.

“Oh Elodie,” I said softly, “I’m glad to see you.” She smiled and smoothed my hair.

“And I, you,” she said. “Is it true that’s she’s here?” I nodded. “Goddess,” she exhaled. “I can hardly believe it.”

“Wait until you see her,” I said. “I swear, you’d follow her into hell.” She laughed. “I think I have to thank you, for helping the General.” She shook her head.

“It was Lady Marina,” she said, “she was with him every second he was unwell. She used magic, as well, I think he might have,” she swallowed. I nodded.

“I’m still glad you were there,” I said softly. I looked over and saw Aaron standing with a few of the guards all laughing. I smiled glad he’d made friends already.

I wasn’t surprised, but I walked over.

“Lady Athena,” one of them said, as all three stood at attention. I nodded and they dispersed.

“Socializing is going to be difficult with you around, isn’t it?” Aaron teased and put his arms around me. “They respect you.” I nodded.

“Yes,” I said softly. “Aaron,” he smiled at me, “I just spoke with General Martin,” he sighed and let go of me.

“Ah,” he said. “He disapproves of me?”

“He has concerns,” I said and we started walking. He nodded. “The promises we made were in Pantona, and here and then in Dovetail, other concerns might come up.” He nodded.

“Other concerns?” He repeated. I nodded. “Such as, ascending duchesses, and the like?” I frowned. “I shouldn’t have teased you about Lady Marina, and I shouldn’t have flirted either.”

“I don’t care about the flirting,” I sighed. “I really don’t, it’s like breathing to you, you can’t help it.” He laughed. “But I’m not,” I looked down. “I don’t think I’m what anyone would expect out of a countess of Pantona, and while I can assure you the Dumanis will be thrilled,” he stopped.

“Athena,” he looked at me, “I love you, I want to be with you. That is the beginning and end of the issue with me.” I nodded. “You are exactly what should be expected in a Countess of Pantona, in that you are the woman I want to marry, and you love my home.” I kissed him. “Does that answer General Martin’s concerns?”

“Yes,” I said softly. “I think it will.”

To The Four Of Us

We’ve been riding for a week, with apparently five more days until we make it to camp. I’ve been trying my best to grip onto the familiar on these sorts of rides. I challenge Tristan to races, I’ve taken to poking Aaron as his parent’s get lost in nostalgia.

But it was this past night when the tents had been set up and the Count and Countess had gone to bed when Aaron walked out to the fire, with a massive bottle of whisky.

“Aaron,” Lisette cautioned as he poured out four glasses.

“Don’t lecture, Your Highness,” he grinned at her, “this is the last time we four will be alone for a while, I think it’s worth commemorating.”

“With the world’s most massive headache?” Tristan grimaced, sniffing his cup. I giggled.

“Sir Tristan, I am offended,” Aaron said, “this bottle was a personal gift to me, not even to the Estate, by Prince Harran of the Westran Border Tribe, and it is very good.”

“Well then,” I said and raised my cup, “to us.”

“To us,” Annalise laughed, and nudged Tristan who chuckled and raised his cup.

“To us,” he grinned. We pressed the metal camp cups to eachother, making a satisfying clink. “To The Chosen.” He kissed Lissette softly and then met my eyes.

“To Queen Annalise,” I said, “Long may she reign.” Lisette blushed and downed her cup at that one. I took a deep sip of mine. It was good, sweet and smoky and didn’t burn.

“Careful,” Aaron said, topping us all off. “When Harran brought this Lisette nearly,” she kicked him. I laughed. “Another time maybe.”

“There is nothing to tell,” Lisette said, “Harran was a gentleman. I may ask him to council, given how respectful of a no name farm girl he was, even when she was drunk and throwing herself at him.” Tristan glowered and took a deep sip of his drink.

“So, Your Grace,” he said after that, “I feel as a man of the guilds I am honor bound to ask,” I snorted at that. “Are you intentions towards my sister honorable?”

“Completely,” Aaron said straight faced. “I intend to compose my suit in writing to you, after Athena consults with General Martin.” I smiled and stood up, sitting in his lap to kiss him.

“I may not accept,” Tristan said. I kicked him then.

“Good luck explaining to Uncle Trey and Grandfather that you refused me becoming a Countess someday,” I said. “They’d kill you where you stand.” Tristan laughed.

“Fair enough,” he said, he refilled his cup, “another to us four,” Lisette snuggled closer to him, “and to the others who will join us.” I nodded as we all drank.

I thought of our friend Elodie, who’s come to us as a starving child, an orphan of our grandfather’s lust for power and control. Of Lady Marina, likely sitting beside our mentors bedside as we spoke, caring for him. Of Prince Harran, who I’d never met, but Aaron and Lisette seemed fond of.

We weren’t alone, so soon there would be more. But I understood now, why Aaron had decided tonight belonged to us. I loved him so much for it.

I also can’t believe what a joy it was to watch Lisette get drunk. She never abstained at Pantona, but it was usually just a glass or two of wine at dinner. This was different. It was delightful.

She was confident beyond belief and giggly. She also held her liquor, and for someone so small, I didn’t expect that. Tristan was falling asleep after a while.

“Come one now, my brave knight,” she giggled helping him to his feet, “I believe it is my turn to guard you.” He beamed down at her.

“When I pledged my life, I meant it,” he said. She laughed.

“I know,” she said softly, and guided him to her tent. Aaron laughed and took my hand.

“Aaron,” I shook my head, “we’re both drunk, I don’t think it would be wise.” He sighed and kissed my neck softly.

“Wouldn’t it?” He whispered. “I suppose not. You’re distracted, not just drunk, I like you focused.” I smiled and sat up cross legged looking at him. “What are you thinking, Lady Athena?”

“I am thinking about how a few months ago I’d never even thought about you,” I said, “and now, the thought of not seeing you everyday is unbearable. I’m thinking about how the four of us are about to enter a new world.” He took my hands. “It’s like the sun going down after the most lovely summer day, and I don’t want twilight to end.”

“We’ll go back Athena,” he whispered. “I swear it.” I nodded and kissed him gently. “You’re sure.”

“Absolutely,” I said and stood up, “Sleep well.” He groaned and fell back against the ground. I laughed before slipping into my bedroll and off to sleep.

Communion

I woke with a start again, for the third of fourth time this week. Aaron was already awake and staring at me. I swallowed and rolled over rather than look him in the eyes. We’re leaving soon and we’re both deeply in denial over it.

“I wish you would tell me,” he said softly. “Are they just nightmares, Thena?”

“No,” I said softly. “I don’t think they are.” He was absolutely silent. He can be eerie, when he’s like this. “But I don’t think they’re seeing Dreams either, I don’t know what they are.” I felt his arms circle around me.

“Are you Chosen?” He whispered. I swallowed. I don’t want to be Chosen. The Chosen never get to live happy lives. They never get to come back to these kinds of moments, these days.

If I’m chosen I won’t come back to Pantona with Aaron and have his children, or well, anything.

“I don’t know,” I whimpered, “we thought, when I was little, maybe, but the signs stopped. They’ve only just come back.” I rolled over, and looked at him, ready to see the pity on his face, but there was only a gentle smile.

“It’s alright,” he said softly. I smiled and kissed him gently. “We don’t have to talk about it.” I nodded. “I’m interested in what the ride will be like. I can’t imagine my mother make camp.” I laughed at that.

“Countess Olivia is an excellent camper, Aaron,” I said. He smiled and kissed me again. “I love you.”

“I love you,” he said softly. I smiled and popped out of bed. “You don’t have to train this morning, you know?”

“I do though,” I said and kissed him again, getting dressed, I rushed out to the field, with my spear over my shoulder. I saw Lisette, dressed for travel. My heart caught in my chest. “Well then,” I walked over to her. “It’s today then?”

“Yes,” she said, “I don’t think we can put it off much more.” I hugged her tightly. “I’m excited, is that wrong?”

“No,” I said, “battle is exciting. It’s frightening too, and sad, but it is exciting.” She smiled. “You’ll do fine,” I explained. She smiled at me. “I suppose I’ll start packing.”

“Would you tell Aaron?” She asked. I frowned. I knew they were disagreeing about this. “He won’t be angry at you.”

“I won’t do this with every hard conversation,” I pointed to her with my spear. She giggled. “What does Tristan say?”

“Very little,” she said. “I think he’s nervous though.” I nodded. Tristan had a good deal to be nervous about. He would, at least in part, lose her in Dovetail. Our little Lisette wouldn’t be anymore. Not to mention even if she chose him, she’d have to at least entertain suitors, and I don’t see Tristan being particularly enthusiastic about sharing. “I want you at my side the whole time, Athena.”

“It would take quite a bit to make me leave you.” I said softly. She took my hands and squeezed them. She was going to do very well. She has a quality that makes you want to follow her, and she’ll need it.

The people at camp and in Dovetail are expecting a savior, I don’t know that the Goddess herself will fully satisfying them, but I think that Lisette might be able to unite them. She smiled again and then walked back inside. I swallowed and did something I hadn’t done since my father was buried.

I sat quietly on the ground and filled my fists with dirt. I took a second breath.

“Please, Cornan, Sir,” I whispered, “I am just a soldier, yours to command.”

“I have no command for you yet,” a male voice boomed in my mind, “when it is time, I will not make myself scarce.” I swallowed. “Continue to wield my sister’s Sword for now.”

“Yes sir,” I whispered. “As you speak to me now, is this,” the lump in my throat didn’t allow me to finish. A warm chuckle filled my mind.

“Yes, Athena, this is your home soil,” he said warmly. “Do not allow the blood of your mother’s side to pull you from this. You can claim Pantona.” I smiled and released my fist and then I collapsed.

The communing had taken more out of me than I expected. But I was also relieved. I came to in my room and Tristan was standing over me scowling.

“I don’t suppose you’re going to explain yourself?” He said. I frowned at him. “No of course not.”

“I passed out, I’m fine,” I said. He scoffed. “I spoke to the god.” He looked at me wide eyed. “Don’t say anything Tristan, I’m begging you, I still don’t know what it means.”

“Well, fine,” he said, “but you have to tell Martin as soon as we see him.” I nodded. “Does Aaron,”

“He knows I’ve been having odd dreams, but nothing else.” I explained. He sighed.

“Does he know about when we were little?” Tristan asked. “About the fire and the rage?”

“He knows I’ve had the dreams before,” I said. “I’ll tell him, don’t rush me!” He laughed at that.

“Alright,” he said, “I give, but seriously, I won’t keep this secret forever.” I nodded.

The Letter

The Count is back, and they invited William to dinner to celebrate. He’s been making some very pointed remarks about the family to Tristan, which I realize is almost entirely about Lisette, but it even stings me a little, and I’m nowhere near as sensitive as he is.

He doesn’t stay, which is a blessing because then the Count can give me the letter.

Athena,

First of all, stop worrying, I am being well taken care of. Second of all, I did not rush in alone, I was backed up by the Count, Duke Lestat and your Elodie. 

Do you see how well I know you, my love?

I’ve gotten each of your reports from Pantona and I’m glad it’s gone well. I know you are probably angry at me for keeping Annalise from you. I wanted to keep you safe. And her. Your Aunt Andrea wrote again about you going there with them this winter. You cannot keep putting it off, you must decide if it’s a clear yes or no. 

The shadow injury is interesting, it’s drained my energy far more than it harmed my body, but I’ll be back to myself by the time I see you.

Your Affectionate Papa

I looked over at the Count.

“He’s alright, though?” I squeaked. He nodded.

“Lady Marina has been caring for him.” He explained.

“That does not inspire confidence,” I mumbled, “I should answer him.” I got up and left going to the courtyard and started crying in relief. He was safe, but he’d been attacked by a shadow, and the old fool calls it interesting. 

“Are you alright?” Aaron said softly and walked over. I nodded. “Athena, I’ve told you, if it’s easier for you, we can leave this.” I took his hands. “Are you in love with him?”

“What?” I laughed. He frowned. “With General Martin, you mean? No, he’s like a father to me, he’s my family. Like your father and Lisette.” He exhaled. “Besides which, he’s only ever liked one woman, it’s usually men.” He smiled. “I don’t want to leave this.” I slid closer to him. “I want this forever.” He nodded. “He’s a fool though, and reckless and it will get him killed and it will break my heart.” He touched my face. “Your friend Kathy spoke to me today,” I said. He sighed.

“Yes,” he muttered, “William said she went to him too.” I looked at him.

“What did you say to her?” I asked. “Before. What had you promised her?” He frowned.

“It doesn’t speak well of me,” he admitted. “I wanted her, and I did imply a more permanent arrangement.” I shook my head.

“Scoundrel,” I said.

“And I suppose that merchant boy didn’t think he’d have a shot at being Carland Dumanis’s in-law?” He teased. “A farmers daughter is more likely to be my mistress than you leaving the guard to run a fine townhouse in Dorin.” I wrinkled my nose.

“That’s absurd,” I said. “Carlton can’t afford his own house, and he’s under my uncle in Dovetail, not Dorin.” He laughed and we kissed again. “It’s different, and you know it.”

“It is,” he sighed softly. “I’m not proud of myself.” I nodded.

“She said something,” I whispered, “that the only girl you cared about was Lisette.” He sighed.

“I suppose that was true,” he said softly, “but it isn’t now. I care about you.” I smiled.

“It struck me because for so long I only cared about Tristan,” I said, “and Martin I suppose, but now there’s you, and Lisette, and your mother.” He sighed.

“This will all be over soon,” he said, “and I don’t want it to be. Maybe it’s selfish, but I like it here, where we can be together.” I smiled and kissed him.

“We can be together there too,” I said. “I’m going to bed. Do you want to come?”

“I have to talk with my father,” he sighed. “Sleep tight, beloved.” I kissed him and stood up and went to bed.

I dreamed of the camp, of Lady Marina sitting by Martin’s bedside reading out loud to him. I felt calm and soothed. As if someone, or something was assuring me he would be alright.

Spy

I woke up to Aaron sliding into my bed. I wrapped my arms around his neck and kissed him softly.

“I didn’t mean to wake you,” he said.

“It’s alright,” I said softly. “What did your father have to say?” He sighed and sat up and handed me the note.

Aaron,

Whatever she says, no arguments.

I sighed, it wasn’t kind or caring. It was an order. But at least it was something. It wasn’t like Martin to be out of touch this long.

“He’s wrong on this,” he muttered, “she’s not ready. She’s confused and,” I laughed.

“You’re being over protective,” I chided, “she’s ready. I would know. I’d make her an officer if she were one of my recruits.” He smiled and I snuggled into his chest.

“There’s more to it than joining the army, Thena,” he said. I smiled.

“Not yet there isn’t,” I said. “We have to win before anything else.” I kissed him softly. “But you saw the note, Aaron, no arguments.” He laughed.

“He meant with him, love,” he said, rolling me onto my back, “not with you.” I grinned and we kissed again. “He told my mother that he’d be back soon.” I nodded.

“Won’t you be glad to see him?” I asked. He frowned and picked at the sheets. “Aaron,” I whispered.

“When he’s here, I feel,” he sighed, “out of place. Like I don’t quite count,” I ran my hands through his hair. “It’s not that I don’t love my father, just,” he sighed, “there’s nothing for me when he’s here.” I pressed my forehead to his.

“There’s me, now,” I said. He smiled gently.

“Yes there is,” he smiled. “And thank the gods for that.” We made love again. This time softer. He’s sweet, like this, gentle. I didn’t expect it. I also didn’t expect to like it. With Warren everything was rushed and I wasn’t much of a consideration. With Carlton, it was hard edged, urgent and fiery. “Would you stay?” I smiled. “If I asked, if we,” I said, “could you be here?”

“Are you proposing?” I asked. He shrugged.

“Not quite,” he said, “I’m proposing to propose. If it’s not what you want, I won’t bring it up again, and we can just, have what we have, for as long as we have it.” I looked at him.

“It is what I want,” I said softly. “But there’s a lot of work to do.” He nodded. “And I want to live here, someday. I’ve been happier here than I’ve been anywhere.” He smiled.

“We have a house in Dovetail too,” he said excitedly, “although, I suppose you’ll need to be in the Palace.” I laughed and kissed him gently. “I’ll ask properly. Do I need to write to your grandfather? I know the guilds have ways of doing this,” I smiled and stretched.

“No,” I said, “Tristan’s permission will be more than sufficient for the family.”

“Will he give it?” Aaron said. I laughed.

“I think so,” I said and kissed him. “He likes you.” We drifted off to sleep. I woke up before him in the morning and got dressed and decided to go to the inn where Wilcott was. I needed an answer to something that was bothering me. Annalise trusted that innkeeper, I was pretty sure I could too. I walked down into the village.

The girl who Aaron had been arguing with saw me from a cart and walked over. I sighed.

“I don’t suppose there’s anything I can say that would please you,” I frowned.

“When you leave and go back to Dovetail or is it Dorin?” She said. “Do you think you’ll hold on to him?” I swallowed. “He gets distracted you know, and Lady Lisette is really the only girl he cares about.”

“You don’t know me,” I said simply, “I’m sorry that you got hurt. But you don’t know me.” She stepped back. “If you’ll excuse me.” I walked towards the inn, agitated, and then inside.

“Lady Athena,” William smiled. I nodded. “Can I help you with something?”

“This may sound silly,” I said, “there was a messenger, last night.” He nodded. “He mentioned he was going to another inn, and”

“If there’s something you need,” he said, “I can do my best to get it.” I looked down.

“It’s silly, I thought I’d hear from someone,” I said. He nodded.

“They were messages from the Count?” He said. I nodded. “If something serious had happened to, this person,” I smiled, “I’m sure he’d have told you.”

“You know more than you let on,” I said. He nodded.

“It helps me to be of use,” he explained, “my uncle sent me here for a reason.” I nodded. “Again, Lady Athena, if there’s something you need.”

“No,” I smiled. “Thank you.” I wandered back outside and found a spot to sit.

Beloved

After dinner, Aaron suggested a walk, which surprised me, but I smiled and nodded. It felt silly, we’d decided to go to bed, but I liked the slowness of it, the quiet, and just being with Aaron.

We walked down to the lake and sat down. I kissed him gently.

“If when we leave,” he whispered as I slid against his chest, “you change your mind, or things change between us, I just want you to know, I’ll never regret loving you.”

“Mm,” I cooed and we kissed again. “I love you too,” we kissed harder then and slid softly into the grass. I could see the stars above me as Aaron straddled me and slid my arms over my head.

“You’re sure?” He asked.

“Yes,” I nodded, “You?”

“Oh, absolutely,” he grinned and kissed me again.

I was giddy with the kisses when I slipped his vest off, and then his shirt. He grinned and undid the front laces of my bodice. He was very adept at this, which was refreshing. So few boys, no matter how experienced they thought were, actually knew what they were doing. We undressed each other as smoothly as we could and I whimpered as his fingers found their way inside me.

“Aaron,” I said softly.

“You’re beautiful,” he muttered and kissed down my body. I reclined happily as he kissed between my thighs. I gasped with pleasure and arched up into him.

“Oh gods,” I sighed happily as I finished. He smiled crawling back up onto me.

“More?” He asked and we kissed deeply. I nodded and he pressed into me. I lost track of time as we made love, lost in the pleasure of him inside of me.

He said he would never regret me, the idea that I resisted loving him. I couldn’t regret him either. We finished and he rolled off of me and we lay, content, looking at the stars. Something soft, and true passed between us as he took my hand.

“I think we did well enough,” he grinned and rolled onto his side. I shook my head.

“Always so arrogant,” I sighed and sat up, finding my shift to pull over my head.

“In such a rush, m’lady?” He teased sitting up and nipping at my neck, I giggled, “I should have known you’d abandon me once you had your way.” I laughed and kissed him.

“I expect a repeat performance in my bed once we return,” I said gently. He smiled.

“I live to serve,” he whispered and went for his pants. We dressed as quickly as we could between kisses and casual touches. He pushed my hair off my face and I smiled. “Are you alright?”

“Yes,” I said, “I love you, I just, trusting you, trusting anyone, I need to move slowly.”

“I understand,” he smiled. “But I’m glad you’re letting me in.” I smiled as we walked towards the manor and then saw a man on a horse galloping up. He was dressed in a green tunic and a black leggings. Aaron frowned and went for the dagger at his belt.

“No,” I said softly, blocking his arm, “he’s resistance.”

“You’re sure?” Aaron said. I nodded and walked up.

“Wilcott,” I said jogging up.

“Captain,” he grinned and dismounted. His eyes glances up and down me and I crossed my arms. I must have been showing my bliss, but I wouldn’t blink. He saw Aaron following after me. “Your Grace, messages, from your father. For you, your mother and the ward.” Aaron nodded and took them.

“Come in and eat something, please,” Aaron said.

“That’s alright,” Wilcott said, “it might bring too much attention. I have a room at an inn down the road a few hours.”

“Thank you, Wilcott,” I smiled. “There isn’t anything for me?” My breath was caught. He looked down.

“I’m sorry, no,” he muttered. I nodded. Something was very wrong. He remounted. “We’ll see you soon, I hope.”

“If the wind is good,” I nodded. An old written code from the resistance. He rode off. Aaron looked at me.

“I need to read this,” he sighed, “and my mother, and Lisette,” I nodded. “I’m sorry, I know,” I smiled and kissed him.

“This will always be our life,” I smiled. He laughed. I walked inside and up to my room and flopped onto the bed.

Why hadn’t Martin written me back? Something must be wrong.

Champion

After talking with Aaron I felt more at peace but I thought of the blast of light I’d shot at Carlton. Combined with the memories of those strange dreams, I couldn’t shake that the world was shifting under my feet.

And there were dreams again. They weren’t seeing Dreams, I don’t think. They were just oddly specific, times and places I couldn’t know. Martin holding a great sword I’d never seen before a charging army of shadows, and then kneeling before a boy with eyes like Annalise’s. A woman on a pure white horse, charging bareback towards the sea, with an army at her back, a golden crown on her head.

Soon, Athena, a voice echoed in my mind, You will be tested, you will be my champion.

But my days had gotten better, smoother. I’d fallen into the rhythm of life at Pantona. Up early, train with Lisette and Tristan, and sometimes Aaron. Breakfast the four of us. Write a report to send off to the resistance and Martin. Ride and inspect the farms and village with Aaron.

Kiss Aaron.

Laugh with Aaron.

Be held by and hold Aaron.

Dinner.

Sleep.

Terrifying and odd dreams.

Repeat.

There was of course that day, when I was dressing for dinner and there was a knock on the door.

“Come in,” I said, expecting Lisette, or maybe one of the servants, but instead a baffled and rumpled Tristan walked in. “Hello there,” I said. He nodded and sat down. “Are you alright, you look like you got whacked in the head.”

“I,” his throat scratched, “I think I made a mistake.” I raised my eyebrows.

“Alright,” I said, “of what nature?” He frowned and stood up and kicked the wall.

“Damnit,” he said, “with Lisette, I told her, and well, she said it first, and then we,” I sighed, understanding immediately.

“Well, I don’t understand how that’s a mistake, Tristan,” I grinned, “I’m happy for you.”  He glared at me.

“What about the family? Our duty?” He said.

“What about them?” I shrugged. “It has nothing to do with them. You love her, she loves you. Enjoy yourself for once in your life, darling brother.”

“Grandfather will want to use her,” he muttered, “like he does everybody.” I nodded. “I can’t make that easier for him.”

“Then don’t,” I said, “being close to her means we can make it easier for him or harder for him.” He nodded. “Didn’t we already discuss this? He’ll try regardless, it’s who he is. He’ll despair a good match for either of us at this point.” He looked at me.

“You’re still in play,” he said, “unless Aaron’s been much more straightforward than I realized.” I frowned. He hadn’t been. We were being so careful, taking our time. Marriage had never come up.

“I do love her,” he said, “I didn’t expect it, I just want to be around her all the time.” I laughed.

“I’ve noticed,” I said. He smiled. “I have to tell you something, it’s odd, but,” he sat down. “I’ve been having those dreams again,” he sighed. “I wrote about them to Martin but he hasn’t answered and now The Mastero left.”

“You should tell Lisette,” he said, “maybe, I don’t know, Athena, there’s something about her, it’s not just the magic.” I nodded.

“Well, yes, you lost your virginity to her, so I would imagine there’s something,” I stuck out my tongue. He snorted and pick up a pillow and tossed it at me.

“I’m never telling you anything ever again,” he sighed. “See you at dinner,” he stood up and walked out. I smiled and bit my bottom lip. I was thrilled for him. I’d never seen him so happy, but he was still Tristan, he’d find the most miserable way to be happy.

I walked downstairs and saw Aaron waiting in the hall. I suddenly realized it was time to take my own advice. I took his hands and kissed him gently, but long and deep

“That’s quite a hello,” he smiled. I giggled. “Everything alright?”

“After dinner tonight,” I said, “do you want to,” he exhaled.

“You do not have to ask me twice, Thena,” he mumbled and pulled me close. I smiled.