Tea With The Mastero

“You’re in here a lot,” I looked up from a book I was reading to see the Viscount in the doorway of the study.

“I like it in here,” I said simply and went back to my book. He walked in and sat down opposite me. “Can I help you, Your Grace.”

“Aaron,” he said, pointing to himself.

“If you say so,” I closed the book and met his eyes. They’re startlingly blue. “Can I help you,” he rolled his hand to prompt me, and I sighed, “Aaron?”

“Much better,” he smirked. “No, I was just sent to fetch you. The Mastero wishes to inspect you and your brother.”

Mastero?” I said and slammed the book shut. He nodded. “Why does he want to meet us?”

“Why wouldn’t he?” He shrugged. “He’s like you, thinks everyone is trying to kill her.” I rolled my eyes.

“I don’t think everyone is trying to kill her,” I stood up and stretched. He was watching me. Good. Let him. “You’d have struck by now, for example.” He laughed.

“I suppose I would have,” he said. “I’d be in line for King then, wouldn’t I?” I snorted.

“I think Brightcoast supercedes,” I said, “Lady Marina is very popular.” My voice was flat.

“Ah,” he nodded. “Good to know, come on,” he nodded towards the door and we walked outside. Tristan was waiting, practically vibrating anxiety. He hasn’t said anything to me, but I’ve noticed the way he watches her, how he relaxes when shes’s around.

Watching my brother fall in love has been fascinating. Being Tristan he can’t just be happy about it, I’m sure, and if I asked him he’d deny it, but it’s impossible to miss. We walked quietly through the woods down what was obviously a well worn path.

We entered a clearing with a small cottage and a lake. The air felt heavier, and I realized it was because this was a magic place.

Lisette was in the center of a ring of stones, her legs crossed and eyes closed. There were spheres of water floating and dancing around her. I lost my breath and looked at Tristan. His eyes were so soft, he was smiling fully.

“Oh!” We heard her gasp and the bubbles near her popped. “Oh, you came!” She leapt up and walked over. “I was supposed to make tea, but I lost track,” she ran into the house and then popped her head out of the window, “Come inside, I’m sorry.” I laughed. I’d come to expect this sort of thing from her, Aaron led us in.

“Aaron,” an older man said from a desk in the corner. “I didn’t expect you.”

“Am I not welcome?” He asked. The old man sighed. I liked him immediately. “Mastero Benjamin Anselm, May I present Lady Athena Dugarry and Sir Tristan Dugarry.” He glanced over.

“I made tea,” Lisette said, looking almost giddy, carrying a tray out. Tristan ran to her and took it. She beamed at him.

Oh, so it’s mutual at least, that’s nice.

“Well,” he said and stood up walking over, “Lady Athena.” I nodded.

“Mastero,” I said, “I’m happy to meet you.” He nodded and we all sat down. “My mother spoke well of you.”

“Your mother was a fine woman, your father, well,” he sighed, “he didn’t deserve her.” I laughed.

“She’d have said the same,” Tristan piped in as the tea was settled. “It’s a honor, sir.” He looked at him and nodded. “What were you doing, when we got here, Princess?” Lisette blushed.

“Just meditating,” she murmured. “But when there’s water nearby, I can get into the parlor tricks.”

“She’d do more with some discipline,” Mastero Anselm said. “Are either of you gifted?”

“No,” I said softly. “There was a time when we though I might be. It’s never been in our family though.” He looked at me.

“I see,” he whispered, “why did they think you,”

“How long have you been here?” Tristan interrupted. I nodded gratefully at him.

“I traveled with the King and Queen,” he explained, “they knew someone was going to have to teach this one,” he nodded towards Lisette who stuck out her tongue at him. “Of course the fact that she is unteachable did’t occur to anyone when she was a baby.”

“Weren’t you called back to the University?” I asked. The great institute still stood, even if it’s Masteros had been exterminated.

“Aye,” he smiled, “but I didn’t answer the call, a few of us didn’t. My brothers who went into hiding went deeply, or to Westran.” I nodded. “I am glad you’ve both finally come. Unfortunately, our visit will be short, Lisette and I have work to do.”

“Of course,” Aaron said standing up, “don’t let us keep you.” Tristan and I both stood up too. “See you at home Lisette.” We walked out with soft bows and then silently down the wood path.

“Are you alright?” Tristan asked. I nodded. I was glad he’d managed to change the flow of conversation away from a series of terrifying visions that occurred just after my parents died. “Do you think he approved of us?”

“As much as he approves of anyone,” Aaron said casually. He glanced at me. “You look pale, Lady Athena.”

“It’s nothing,” I said and marched back to the manor quickly.

You will be tested, Daughter of John, the voice had said, at ten I didn’t know what that meant, I still don’t. Or if the test came and went and I failed. I went up to my room and fell against the bed.

Coming here, meeting Lisette, has unsettled things that I thought were long buried.

I don’t like it.

First Test

“Athena,” Tristan said, shaking me awake. “Athena,” I groaned and pulled the covers over my head. “Come on, we have work to do.”

“No,” I said, “we just rode for seven days straight, and we know the manor is safe and I’m very sleepy.” He laughed and tugged on my foot.

“Hey,” he said, “I’m sorry about last night.” I sat up and rubbed my eyes. “It’s not your fault.”

“No, it isn’t,” I said. “You were never involved in the resistance leadership because you never asked to be Tristan, I didn’t block you out and neither did Martin.” He nodded and sat down.

“I know that,” he said, “I just, it was always easy between you two and it isn’t between me and him all the time.” She smiled. “So you know that they moved Marina from the capital too?”

“I do know that,” I said. “Are you relieved?” He looked away. “I know I tease you about her, and maybe I shouldn’t, if you care about her,” he shook his head. “Fine, we don’t have to talk about it, but I’m just saying if you do, I think you made a better choice than I did.”

“I think it would be almost impossible for anyone to make a worse choice than you did,” he grinned. I shoved him. “There’s nothing there, though. We’re friends, I do care about her but, I can’t even think about it,” I nodded. “And we have work to do.”

“Yes,” I said, “but today, I’m going to sleep in a bed and take a bath, like a civilized person.” He laughed.

“Alright,” he said, “I’m going to spar with her, see how behind she is.” I nodded and sank back into bed. “And since you agreed with the countess that we need to make a lady of her, maybe start with embroidery lessons.” I sprang up.

“That’s no fair!” I said, “You could teach her to dance or something.” He snorted and walked out. I sighed and rolled out of bed. Most of our things hadn’t arrived yet, they were a few days behind.

I quickly picked a green uniform dress I’d packed. I didn’t usually wear it for anything except dinners where I was on duty, but it would work for here. I peaked into a mirror and smiled.

A night in a bed had done it’s work, I felt and looked wonderful. I try not to be vain, but when you have a twin who looks just like you it’s hard not to notice when one is very attractive. And playing it down and saying I don’t feels stupid and petty.

I step outside and see the Princess Annalise stepping out of her room.

“Good Morning, Your highness,” I said. She smiled shyly at me.

“Good Morning,” she said softly. “You can just call me Lisette, you know. Everybody does.”

“Everybody doesn’t know who you are though,” I pointed out. She frowned.

“I guess not,” she said as we walked, “still though. I want us to be friends and that would be hard with you calling me, ‘Your Highness,’ all the time.” I laughed. “We were supposed to grow up together.” I nodded.

“There were a lot of supposed tos,” I said softly. She nodded. “You’re supposed to be sparring with my brother.”

“Ugh,” she groaned, “alright, I suppose we’ll go to the study.” I followed her and we met Tristan in the front hall. “Good morning.” He smiled. “Your sister says we’re going to spar.”

“If my sister says so,” Tristan winked. If I had something to drink I would have spit it out. Tristan acting like a human around someone who isn’t me, is not something I’m used to.

“I think you’ll like the study,” she said practically bouncing.

“Are we going to spar in the,” I started and then she flung open a pair of double doors. “Oooh,” I whispered. “The Study,” as she’d called it, wasn’t a small snug room, or even a grand library, but what a large hall, two stories, with an open training floor and several weapons hanging on the walls. I noticed a few battle axes, I know the Count favors them, so I wasn’t surprised. “Tristan,” I whacked his arm.

“Yes, I see,” he grinned. “Swords, Your Highness?” Lisette smiled.

“If you like,” she said, “if there’s something you like better,” she shrugged. “I’m trained on most close combat weapons. My archery needs work, but I’m still better than Aaron.” I nodded and Tristan pulled his sword off his belt. Lisette grabbed one of the practice swords and struck hard and fast. Catching him off guard, but I know my brother, he recovered quickly.

She is good, and she uses her size to her advantage, getting in close for her hits, and when she takes out his knees I actually applaud.

Tristan does not get beaten often.

Ever actually. I can’t even beat him.

“Well, it’s a start,” I said. Tristan grumbled. “I’m hungry, what’s for breakfast?”

Viscount Aaron

From just about the moment he strode in, all confidence and that clear smile, I did not like Viscount Aaron of Pantona.

“Did my mother leave you two on your own?” He asked. “That isn’t like her.”

“She was checking on The Princess,” I said. “I’m sorry your Grace.”

“Aaron,” he said. I frowned. “I’m glad you’ve come, it’s gotten very dull around here.” I swallowed.

“We’re here to protect the Princess,” Tristan said, “not for a visit.”

“Oh and she’s in so much danger here,” The Viscount retorted. “I’m not trying to undermine your mission, Sir Tristan, but I have a feeling however long you’re staying will feel more like a visit.”

“I doubt that,” I said sharply. He looked at me and smiled curiously. “We’ll have to see what she knows. Surely she doesn’t expect to just stroll into Dovetail and sit on the throne?”

“She doesn’t stroll much,” The Viscount said with a shrugged. “She runs, and trips over things, occasionally I’ve seen her skip, but strolling, no, not really her style.” He sat down on the couch and crossed his leg over his knee.

He looks so much like his father, but this arrogance, it doesn’t suit that face. Count Caleb is kind, if a little cold. I was about to say something else to shut him down when the Countess and Princess came back in and Tristan made an ass of himself pledging his life and sword to her.

I heard the Viscount cough to cover a laugh, which softened me a little.

“Oh for heaven’s sake, Tristan,” I said, breaking whatever trance he was in. He glanced over at me sheepish. The Princess was blushing. I was suddenly furious on behalf of poor, stupid, Lady Marina, who was probably spending her first night at Resistance Camp, mooning and wondering when her brave night was returning.  “Stand up, you’re making everyone uncomfortable.” He glared at me as he brushed himself off. “Countess, I think we should have tea. Tea always makes this kind of thing much less awkward don’t you think?”

“Whiskey can help too,” The Viscount winked. The Princess giggled and sat down. We started to chat a little then. She came to life when a messenger reminded her she had a magic lesson and she ran off.

“What did I tell you?” The Viscount smirked. “Not one for strolling.”

“Leave it, Aaron,” the Countess said sharply. He sunk into his chair. I like that he doesn’t argue with his mother. “Can you see that dinner will be ready on time?”

“Of course,” he murmured. He stopped. “Is there anything you would prefer, Lady Athena?” I gaped at him.

“Aaron,” The Countess said, he laughed and walked away his hands in his pockets, whistling. “I apologize. He has the manners of field hand, I should have done better.”

“They’re so,” Tristan said softly, “young.” I looked at him. I didn’t realize it at the moment but that was it exactly. They seemed so young. But Aaron was older than we were, and Annalise less than a year younger than we.

“The country is different from Dovetail,” she admitted and sipped her tea. “What are you thinking about Lady Athena?”

“What training does she have?” I asked. The countess laughed. “She can fight?”

“Quite well,” she said. “I think even you’ll be impressed.” I nodded. “I could use help making a lady of her though.”

“Does she need that?” Tristan said. I looked at him.

“Not to win,” I admitted, “but to rule, yes, she does. Unless she wants to build court from scratch but I don’t assume that’s the plan.”

“It is not,” the Countess said. “The plan, as you put it, is to take the capital as cleanly as possible, by her birthday, offer clemency where warranted and crown her.”

“Take the capital?” Tristan said. “Her birthday is at the end of the summer. We can’t take the capital by the end of summer, we don’t have the numbers!” The Countess sipped on her tea and then he looked at me. “We don’t! Do we?”

“We might?” I shrugged. “After,” I swallowed, “well you know, after, I stopped getting regular recruitment reports but before that we were near it.”

“Why were you getting recruitment reports?” Tristan asked.

“Because I asked for them,” I said. “The General would have given them to you too.”

“No,” he muttered, “he wouldn’t have.” He stormed out. I sighed.

“Excuse me,” I said and followed after him out into a courtyard, Tristan wasn’t there, but the Viscount was. “Have you seen my brother?”

“He came through with a storm cloud over his head and then asked where he was supposed to be sleeping,” he explained. I sighed and nodded. “Can I help?”

“You’re an only child so you wouldn’t understand sibling rivalry,” I said. He shrugged. “Where are we sleeping?”

“We’ve arranged rooms for you,” he said, “yours is next to Lisette’s.” I nodded. “Did you think we’d put you in the barn, Lady Athena?”

“I don’t know how these things are done in the county, Viscount,” I grinned. “I suppose I ought to find him.” I walked back inside.

Why am I flirting with him?

Pantona

I haven’t spent much time in the midlands before. but I can see why so many people are drawn to it. The fields are green, and the orchards are beautiful and people, with their pink skin and auburn hair are thrilled to come out and greet their Lady.

The hills are even nice. Not the mountains and foothills like home, here they roll and split the horizon, they’re small, and comfy and coming over one to see another farm or village feels like a thrill.

Tristan is unsettled. He has been since we started moving. I never would have thought that he’d be more attached to Dovetail than I am.

“There it is,” Countess Olivia smiled as we crested a hill. A small village, surrounded by farms, headed by a large, though not as large as I would have thought manor house. “That is Pantona.” I exhaled.

“It’s beautiful,” I said. She smiled.

“I know,” she said.

“How much longer is the ride?” Tristan asked. I frowned at him. “Don’t tell me you don’t want a bath, Athena.”

“An hour?” The Countess said, “about.” Tristan rubbed his horse, Elian’s, neck. I leaned against my Rosefire’s neck and looked at him.

“I hate that look,” he muttered.

“I’ll race you,” I said and spurred her on.

“Athena!” Tristan called after me. I laughed, I was surprised when, after losing track of time I arrived in the village with the Countess at my side, and not Tristan.

“We lost him?” I asked. She smiled.

“He’ll find his way,” she said and dismounted as we approached an inn. “Good morning, William,” a boy walked out to greet us.

“Good morning, Your Grace,” the boy, William, I assume. “We weren’t expecting you.”

“My guests were eager,” she laughed, “William Santino, this is Lady Athena Dugarry.”

“M’lady,” he said.

“Master Santino,” I said offering my hand. I may not like these kinds of things, but I understand them. Surprising me though, William Santino shakes it, doesn’t kiss it.

“I’m glad to meet you,” he said. “Your Grace, if you’d like I can look after the horses and send them up to the manor.”

“Thank you William,” she said, “is everyone well, as far as you know?”

“Yes ma’am,” he said. “The Viscount, he is expecting you?”

“Yes,” she laughed. “Do you mind a walk, Lady Athena?” I shook my head and we wandered through the village and then to the manor. When we arrived at the house Tristan walked up beside a girl, maybe a year or two younger than us. She’s dark skinned, and I have a sudden realization.

“Oh,” I exhaled. “Oh, Your Grace,” I whispered.

“Still think Thomas and Caleb don’t trust you?” She grinned.

The girl, Lisette, as she was introduced, Annalise, as I knew almost immediately. She was dressed like a peasant boy, and Tristan was smiling at her. Of course he was. She’s exactly his type.

“I’ll go change,” she said after hugging the countess.

“We should go inside,” Countess Olivia said softly. I nodded and we walked into a small but well appointed parlor. Tristan looked back and forth between us. “What did you think of our Lisette, Sir Tristan?”

“She seems very nice,” he said. “It was kind of you to take her in.” The Countess nodded.

“Kindess is a word for it,” she said. I was just staring at her, my mouth agape.

“Athena, are you alright?” Tristan asked.

“But she’s dead!” I said. The Countess exhaled. “She died! She died fourteen years ago!” Tristan stared at me. “She’s the Princess, you idiot.”

“Oh,” he said, “Oh!” The Countess nodded. “I knew she wasn’t dead.”

“No you didn’t,” I said. “Everyone, everything we’ve done, our whole lives, our parents! It was all a lie.”

“We never said she died,” The Countess said. “We let people believe whatever they want. You assumed she’d died, Tristan assumed she lived.” I sighed. “I should check on her, and find my son.” Tristan nodded and went and stood by the window.

“You could have backed me up,” I muttered and sat down.

“I make a habit of not doing that when you’re wrong,” he said. I looked at him. “This is what we’ve been fighting for, Athena, what Mama and Papa died for. To keep her safe.” I looked at him. “They didn’t lie to us. They didn’t tell us where she was, if she died, they didn’t tell us, it wasn’t a lie.”

“I hate when you’re right,” I mumbled and then smiled at him. He shook his head. “So you like her.”

“I spent all of fifteen minutes with her,” he muttered, “don’t be ridiculous.”

“But you like her,” I goaded.

“Quit it,” he said. I laughed.

“Oh, hello,” A young man walked in. We both stared at him. He was dressed in farmers clothes, but they were clean, and seemed little worn. He had auburn hair, and blue eyes and looked almost exactly like his father, if well, twenty something years younger. “You must be Athena and Tristan Dugarry, I’m Aaron.” He look around and then plopped onto one of the couches.

Countess Olivia

“She gave you a handkerchief?” I said with a loud laugh as we rode out of the city. Tristan scowled at me. “You cannot be serious? Like in a fairy tale about knights and ladies?”

“Don’t make fun of her,” he said. “Ma-Lady Marina care about me, about us, and our mission.” I sighed and rolled my eyes.

“She’s in love with you,” I said. He frowned.

“Don’t tease, it’s cruel,” he whispered.

“I’m not the one being cruel in this situation, Tristan,” I said softly. He frowned. “If you don’t have feelings for her, it’s wrong, cruel to use your word. She’s young and silly and she might be our queen one day.”

“It isn’t like that,” he said, “between us. You don’t know her, you’ve never bothered to try.” He had me there. “And maybe I do I have feelings for her.”

“If you say so,” I said and rode ahead a bit to where our charge was sitting, side saddle and serenely beautiful. “Is everything, to your liking, Your Grace?”

“Quite,” She smiled at me. I didn’t know the Countess as well as I should, after Tristan’s barb about Lady Marina Sanpierre, that stung a little. But I’d always felt an odd loyalty to General Martin, who’d raised me, to give the Count and Countess a wide berth. The Countess had chosen the Count over the General when they were young. “I’m sorry to take you away, I know your life in Dovetail is full.” I looked oddly at her. “I haven’t traveled without Caleb in a long time, it made me nervous. Thomas was kind enough to volunteer you and your brother.”

“You’re lying,” I said. She winked. “I mean, I know that’s what we told Lord Brayton, but,” she shrugged. “Is this about Lady Marina? Are we preparing to challenge,” she shook her head.

“Lady Athena, I assure you,” she said, “you’ll know everything you need to soon.” I nodded as we kept riding. I wonder sometimes about her, about her marriage and the choices she made. Lady Olivia Bano is treated almost like a legend, when people whisper about her. Like a Princess in a Story, courted by three suitors, one a king, one a hero and one a country lord. When a shadow swept over the king’s domain, and the hero felt called to defend it, the country lord swore to protect her and take her away and so she chose him. I doubted it was so simple, nothing in real life is.

“They don’t trust me anymore,” I said softly. She looked at me again.

“Oh, no, Athena,” she said, “you are not the first of us to make a mistake.” I nodded. “You loved him?”

“I thought I did,” I whispered. “But I didn’t even know him. Not really.” Warren Davis destroyed my trust, blew up my life and took my virginity. But I did not love him, if I loved him then there is something very wrong with my heart.

“I hope that you two will stay in Pantona,” she said, softly. “At least for a bit. We ought to have had you long ago.” I smiled at her.

“I wouldn’t have come,” I admitted. She laughed.

“Yes, I know,” she said, “you’ll never forgive me on Thomas’s behalf. You can forgive Trey though?”

“That’s different,” I said, “I was the reason for that.” She reached out and took my hand.

“So much your fault,” she said, “for one so young. Your Uncle’s and Thomas’s intransigence was not your doing. Your mother’s wish was that you be free to pursue your own heart. Now if that heart wants one of those pretty merchant boys your grandfather sends down to Dovetail every spring and fall, so much the better.” I giggled. “But I don’t think it is. You’re too much your father’s daughter. John knew duty, he knew Cammadan and the family,” she looked at me. “If the plan was to crown Lady Marina, would you serve her?” I looked at the Countess then.

“With every breath in my body,” I said softly. “But if in the next year we all do nothing? And I’m asked to serve Brayton, I’ll flee to Dorin so quickly your head will spin and if my grandfather won’t have me, I’ll cut my wrists.” The Countess nodded.

“And that,” she whispered, “Lady Athena, is why we trust you.”

Training

Just because we’re supposed to be leaving in a day doesn’t mean that I can rest. First of all it would give us away, and also, leaving Dovetail always makes me antsy. It has every since our parents died.

I’m out in the training yard, kicking the ass of some new recruit from the coast. He can’t keep up with me, and Tristan is looking on from the other side of the training field. He’ll say that me wiping the floor with this boy is bad for morale.

As the boy lands on on his back, he finally squeaks,

“I yield, Lady Athena,” I smile and help him up.

“You did well, Everett,” I said, “you’ve improved.” He frowned. “I’m serious, I didn’t expect the blow on the left side and the staff clearly suits you better than a sword. Keep working. You may even beat me one day.”

“I doubt that My Lady,” he said, but he was beaming. Tristan and I have different ideas about what motivates the guards.

I walk over to my brother who’s shaking his head.

“He wants to see us,” he’s grimacing. I nod.

“Well, we’re leaving,” I muttered, “I assumed as much.” He nodded. “I’m going to change.”

“You’re going to have to decide someday, Thena,” he said, “if you want to be a warrior or a lady.” I flipped my hair in his face and he sputtered it out.

“I do not,” I replied, “this is Cammadan. We have a long standing tradition of both.” He sighed loudly. “Besides, he likes me pretty, and it helps us all if we do as he likes.” Tristan grumbled something and stalked off. I went to the apartment and washed my face and glanced in a mirror.

The thing about surviving in Lord Brayton’s court is that you have to shine but not glow. Too much attention and you’re a threat, but not trying at all singles you out as well. I pulled my training tunic off and slid a simple burgundy dress over my head. I didn’t want to keep Brayton waiting, which meant anything more elaborate was out of the question. I brushed my hair quickly and slid a belt with one ceremonial guard’s dagger around my waist.

I met Tristan at the door to the throne room. He’d changed too, out of his tunic into a more casual Guard’s jacket.

“You look presentable,” I grinned. He shoved me and I laughed but steadied my face as we walked in.

The great Throne Room of Dovetail Palace was, allegedly, once a place of light and glory. But Lord Brayton and his black guards do not care for light, or transparency, or glory. Just darkness and secrets and fear. The large windows have been covered in tapestries for almost as long as I can remember.

I have a few memories of chasing a curly haired, dark skinned toddler about as the sun darted in and out of the glass, but I breath deeply to bury that. My memories of Annalise help no one. The Princess died before we could ever protect her.

“Lady Athena, Sir Tristan,” the soft, and ice cold voice of Lord Brayton Dovetail broke through the darkness. “Thank you for coming.”

“We are at your disposal,” Tristan said shortly and wish a bow. I swept into a deep curtsy as well.

“Of course,” Brayton grinned. “I worry about you both, being abandoned by the general must have been painful.” My hand twitched. It would be my death but it would be so easy to grab  my dagger and put it through his heart.

For Annalise.

For my parents.

For Martin.

“We serve the crown and the throne,” I managed, though the word choked me. “May The Princess return and sit upon it one day.”

“Yes, yes,” he said, “we pray for my cousin’s safety.” I nodded and stood. “Count and Countess Pantona have requested your services if you are willing.” I glanced over and noticed the Count and Countess, in their green clothes, their auburn hair clean and brushed, both of them too dignified for anyone’s good.

“We’d be honored,” Tristan said, glancing at the count who nodded, “to perform any service to true lords of Cammadan.” I heard a gentle squeak from behind us.

“You have something to say, Lady Marina?” Brayton purred.

“N-no, My Lord,” she managed stepping forward, “I didn’t mean to, only, Tr-Sir Tristan,” she looked down, “and Lady Athena would be so missed, here, at court.” She’s such a little fool. I know I should try to like her better, as she will, with all luck, be my queen someday but she makes herself so ridiculous.

Especially when it comes to my brother.

“Of course,” Brayton said, “they will be. None the less, I cannot deny such loyal courtiers a simple request, even for your comfort my dear.” She curtsied and stepped back. “Lady Athena, you have no objection?”

“None at all, My Lord, and why would I?” I asked. She’s an idiot but I do pity her, so I bat my eyelashes and seem as though his interest flatters me.

“Well, Commander Davis could complete his mission any day,” he said, “surely you wish to greet your intended?” My spine stiffens.

“Commander Davis and I both serve at your pleasure, sir,” I managed, not retching. “I know he will forgive my absence.”

“Of course he will,” he said, “Countess, will you accept your body guards?”

“Gladly, My Lord,” Countess Olivia of Pantona said. She winked at us and I smirked.

Early Rising

“Good morning, beautiful,” I groaned and pulled the covers over my head. “Athena, love, the sun’s coming up.” I groaned and stretched rolling over. Carlton DuJarms smiled at me. “You look like an angel.” I grinned and pulled him close and kissed him.

“But you know I’m not,” I whispered. He laughed.

“Gods, I’m going to miss Dovetail,” he moaned as I straddled him.

“Oh, do you not think that you’ll have nights like last night back in Dorin?” I whispered in his ear before nipping it. I like Carlton, he’s dumb as a rock but he knows his way around a bed. He’s decent with a sword too.

“Unlikely,” he said, “I don’t think many of the debutantes are interested in our activities.” I laughed and stood up, looking for my underdress. “You could come back with me.”

“Ha,” I snorted, “no I can’t.” I only half belong to the same world as Carlton, the world of the merchants, of clans with carefully calculated marriage contracts to maintain market dominance and balance, of complicated social rituals and long journeys.

The other half of my life, as a member of the royal guard and household was even stranger, since there wasn’t, at the moment, a royal family, and I was spending my time fighting for there to be one.

“Why not?” He said. “I know I don’t have much, but I think your grandfather would accept it.” I looked at him and smiled and kissed him.

“No, Carlton,” I said softly. “I know my grandfather would accept it. He’d be overjoyed if I moved into his house and you showed up and begged permission to court me. He’d invite every merchant in Cammadan, even the ones he hates to the wedding, but it won’t happen.” I pulled on my overdress and fastened my sword around my waist.

“So what’s the problem?” He asked. I leaned down and kissed him.

“Carland Dumanis is not my only family,” I said. “My brother, and the general need me here.” It wasn’t only that, but serving family would be something he could understand.

“Oh,” he said, “when I come back in the fall, can I see you?” I smiled.

“I’d be disappointed if you didn’t,” I said. I walked down the stairs. I was hoping to slip out before anyone awoke.

“Well, this is a nice surprise,” a low voice from the breakfast room of the townhouse called. “Good morning, Niece.”

“Good Morning, Uncle Trey,” I said walking in, this was my Uncle Tristan’s (Called Trey by the family) house, Carlton was one of his apprentices. “I can’t stay, I have to get back to the palace.” He nodded, a sly smile on his face. “He’s unharmed, but thinks he’s in love with me, I apologize for any longing you may have to deal with.”

“My dear, I would prefer you found your amusement elsewhere,” he sighed. I blushed. “I won’t lecture you, I’ll leave that to my namesake.” I groaned. “We leave in two days, I’d like to see you both before we do.”

“Alright,” I said and kissed him on the forehead and walked out the door.

I love my city, and Dovetail waking up in the morning is one of the best things about it. I nodded and curtsied to various people greeting me. “Good Morning, Lady Athena,” “Cornan bless The Princess, m’lady,” but the further I got from The Market, the greeting became more formal, a nod or salute, sometimes nothing at all.

The great Palace of Dovetail was haunted.

Inside the gates I slipped into the barracks, a large, slightly less ornate building where the royal guard stays and then into the apartment I share with my twin brother Tristan. I grabbed by sword, and blocked a blow I saw coming and then kicked my attacker in the chest.

He grabbed my arm and flipped me over onto my back. Standing over me was practically a mirror of my own face. The same thin, if a little too long nose, the same light dusting of freckles and the same emerald green eyes.

“Yield?” A light smile danced on his face.

“Never,” I hissed playfully and grabbed his ankles pulling him down. He laughed.

“You’re late,” he said. I sighed and nodded as we both stood up. “Who was it?”

“Carlton,” I said, “they’re leaving in a few days, Uncle Trey wants us at dinner before they do.”

“I don’t think that’s going to happen,” Tristan said and sat down. I narrowed my eyes. “We have a mission.”

“How?” I asked. I didn’t understand how, no one commanded us at the moment, our mentor and guardian, General Thomas Martin was exiled, and we didn’t report to Lord Brayton.

“Countess Olivia requires an escort,” he said. I groaned. “I thought you liked the Countess.”

“I do,” I said. “But escort duty?” He shrugged. “Just the Countess? Not the Count?”

“Apparently, he is staying behind,” he said.

“That is exceedingly odd,” I said. Count Caleb and Countess Olivia of Pantona rarely did anything separately, let alone travel. “Alright.”

“You know you can do better,” Tristan said. I looked at him and smiled. “Trey’s boys are all idiots.”

“You have to say that because you’re my brother,” I said.

“No, as your brother, I have to lecture you about you’re bringing the family dishonor and how dare he presume and blah blah blah,” he grinned.

“That would be if we were merchants,” I said.

“If we were merchants,” he agreed.

Author’s Note: Back To The Start (Again)

Hi Everyone! Reenie here.

I write this, but you probably know that.

Tomorrow we’re going to start a new(ish) chapter around here, this time retelling the time we’ve covered from Athena’s perspective. This was a really hard decision for me to make, whether to take a break altogether, or move along, or come from another angle.

I’m immensely grateful to everyone who’s come along so far on this journey. There’s been a lot of experimenting and shifts and decisions, and I know I’ve become a better writer because of it.

Here’s a secret that I’ve never told anyone, when I get writer’s block, I go back to my first fiction writing love, which is fanfiction. I still play around with fic occasionally, just for fun. I haven’t posted anything in years. Even when I did post in was in the more obscure corners of that world. (I was writing Harry Potter fic like everyone else, but I was TERRIFIED of that fandom, so I kept to my quiet little Wicked and Mighty Ducks corners.)

When I get too hamstrung here and don’t know where to go, I write what amounts to fanfiction for Cammadan. The threads of this world are bound on the great spinning wheel (where Cornan and Rana are currently held prisoner) and occasionally I will jump onto a different thread and see where it leads. What if Marie had lived to raise Annalise, exiled in Phania? What if instead of bonding as siblings, Aaron and Annalise fell in love? What if Tristan chose Marina? And on and on.

But what really helps me break through is what I call, “The Guides.” I’m not really good at new ideas. My training is in analysis and production. I’m really good at remixing, at indentifying patterns and executing someone else’s creative ideas. So, none of my characters are really new. And I’ve found assigning a “guide” to each of them from work I love and then letting them talk it out, helps me focus on what they want.

Marina’s guide is Samwise Gamgee

Annalise’s is  Steve Rogers

Aaron’s is Leo McGarry

Tristan’s is Joey Potter

Lefty’s is Dick Grayson

Eric’s is Han Solo

Athena’s is Kara Thrace

I could go on, but I won’t. So, when figuring out what to do next, Annalise and Steve had a long talk about taking that next step, about getting up when it feels like your world crumbled, about the only constant being change. Marina and Sam discussed what home actually is, what loyalty actually is, how to fight without fighting, how to be strongest when holding someone else up. Tristan got a lecture about how delaying choice causes fractures that will never fully heal between between people. And Athena. Athena was reminded, by Space Jesus herself, that she is supposed to fight, the push forward and find her destiny.

And I realized I needed to tell the story of how she gets there.

So tomorrow, we start with Athena. I love her and I hope you all will too.

Heartbroken

I don’t think I’ve ever seen Marina rush through undressing me so quickly before. I have a feeling that I am about to be 30 gold pieces richer. I wish I could laugh, or tease her about it, but she’s vibrating at such a high frequency, and all I can think about is that Tristan is going away.

It’s been less than a year and the idea of life without him feels unbearable. I try sleeping, it doesn’t happen, so I do something I haven’t done since I was very small. I go to the basin that’s been set up in my bedrooom. I swept the small amount of water out, and grabbed the vial of sea water from the North Sea that Duchess Norvine gave me.

I’ve never done anything this selfish with magic before. Anselm would have been furious, and it feels somehow, dark, and wrong. I swallow and pour the water into the basin and focus, swirling it.

“Please, let me see her,” I said softly.  The image of a beautiful young woman, with long golden hair appeared. She was brushing it and humming to herself.

She was wearing a red night dress.

“I’m trying Caro,” a male voice comes from outside and she turns, her eyes narrowed. I know the voice.

“Are you, Alex?” She said and stood up and walked to a door, looking out onto a terrace and courtyard.

“Yes,” he rolled his eyes. “could have set you up in Dovetail a year ago, you know.” She frowned.

“Only until your grandfather and uncle died,” she hissed. “I don’t want any part of merchant life and you know it.”

“Tristan’s your man then,” Alex Dufrey muttered. “His wife will have to enter the guard and so will any children. If this works out you’ll be good and out, I promise.” Her face softened then.

“And he’s really coming?” She asked. He nodded.

“Leaves in the morning,” he said. “You could say thank you, Carolina.”

I smashed my hand against the water and fell against the bed. I don’t know why I thought it would make me feel better. It didn’t. I felt worse. She was using him to escape. I hated her. I hated Alex DuFrey. I hated Tristan. I hated Eric. I hated the stupid gods. I hated the crown all of it.

I started sobbing. I thought about the what if. I thought about if I was Lisette. Would I have even met Tristan? Would I have stayed in Pantona, married William and lived quietly and content running the inn? Or would I have run away with Harran?

It didn’t matter of course. It was a stupid game. Tristan and I had played it for too long and it had broken both of our hearts. It might break Eric’s. It might break the beautiful Carolina’s.

We couldn’t know how much wreckage our pretending would bring.

I cried then, for I don’t know how long and but they were bitter, angry selfish tears, I cried until I hear a horse leaving the palace and ran out to the balcony watching Tristan speed away on Elian. I hear the door creak and realize that Lefty has slipped out and Marina comes and joins me and hold me while I cry more.

Hello, Goodbye

I was dressed for dinner and on my way down to the ball for Marina’s winter festival when I saw Tristan. I walked over to him and swallowed.

“You’re going?” I whispered.

“Yes,” he said softly, I took his hands. “Soon, at least, I knew we’d discussed it, but everyone is back now, and,” he sighed, “I don’t know exactly when, it depends on my grandfather.’ I nodded and hugged him tightly.

“I know why you have to go,” I whispered, “but I wish I could change it.”

“Lisette,” he said softly. “Don’t tempt me.” I looked up at him. “Of course you can’t help it.”

“Hello you two,” Athena said, “Tristan, The General wants to speak to you, something he wants done when you go up North.” He nodded and we let go. “You know he’s going tonight?”

“Yes,” I whispered, “I mean, I gathered. What do you need?” She smiled. “What?”

“Aaron wants to announce our engagement tonight,” she said, fiddling with a necklace, which I now saw had Pantona’s crest. “Officially.” I nodded.

“I’ve given my permission,” I said and we walked towards the ballroom, “do you need something else from me?” She bit her bottom lip.

“Well, yes, sort of,” she sighed, “I want to negotiate the contract, you see.” I laughed.

“Oh,” I said, “I didn’t realize.”

“I know it seems silly, but well, we’re Dumanis,” she sighed. “It’s important to me. I don’t have much of a dowry, but my aunts assure me there’s some and,” I smiled.

“Alright,” I said. “Thena, I still don’t see a problem.” She sighed.

“With Tristan going, Martin is going to sit down for me, and Aaron,” she shrugged. I stared at her.

“You want me to negotiate Aaron’s side?” I said. She nodded. “Why isn’t he asking me?”

“Because he thinks the whole thing is nonsense,” she said, “and he thinks you’re too busy.” I frowned.

“It is not nonsense,” I said, “and if it’s important to you then we’re going to do it.” She smiled. “Now, do I look dignified?”

“Oh, always,” Athena smiled and straightened my sash, “come along your majesty, we have revels to attend.” I laughed and we entered the ballroom. With all the fanfares and greetings finished, I invited Marina and Aaron to start the dancing, something they were both thrilled to do.

“Your Majesty,” Elodie walked up to me, I smiled at her and noticed Mercy Williams with her. I’d noticed them spending a lot of time together, “Mercy and I have a wager, along with Captain Dugarry,” she nodded at Athena.

“Mercy already spoke to me,” I said, Mercy giggled. “I’ll put ten gold on tonight.” Elodie laughed.

“I personally think it happened months ago and she’s being discreet,” Mercy straightened up. “She was always good about secrets.”

“No,” I said watching Marina grab Lefty after the dance and pull him into a corner. “It’s tonight, I’m almost sure.” They smiled and walked away. Betting on when Marina was losing her virginity was exactly dignified, but it wasn’t as though we weren’t all exceptionally happy for her.

“Your Majesty,” Eric walked up and offered his hand, “if I may?” I smiled and nodded. He wasn’t in uniform which was different for him. Instead he was in a blue long jacket, a clean white shirt without a tie, and tan linen pants. It suited him. “You look beautiful.”

“Thank you,” I said as we danced. “Eric, I,” I swallowed, “I think I need to apologize to you.”

“You don’t,” He said. “Annalise, I,” he smiled, “I know when it thaws you’re going south, and I’d like to come with you, if you want me.”

“Of course I do!” I said. “I thought that was settled.” He laughed, and glanced at a table where Raymond was chatting to Mastero Anselm. “I might suggest letting Raymond stay here though. The Mastero will be.” He laughed.

“We might spare the Mastero,” he said. “I have feelings for you, you do know that.” I nodded as the song ended. He kissed my hands.

“I have feelings for you too,” I said, “it’s only that I’m hopeless about doing anything that everyone wants me to do.” He laughed and nodded.

“I see that,” he said, “I shall try to make myself a less desirable match then.” I giggled.