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.

Anselm Is Here

I must be spending too much time with Marina since I woke up this morning and headed straight for the library. I keep thinking about what Harran said, about the Westrans and the balance of the Triad.

I never thought of the three of them that way, I’d always thought of it as war, Cornan and Rana against Amina. Maybe I was looking for kindness where there was none for Caleb’s sake. He was buried now which gave me hope that Amina no longer held him, but still.

“Well, this is certainly a sight I never thought I’d see,” I looked up and exhaled, thrilled to see Mastero Anselm. I leapt out of my chair and embraced him, in a way I hadn’t since I was very small. “Relax yourself, Majesty,” he said and I broke away. He knelt them. “In the name of the gods, I pledge myself to your service, Queen Annalise.”

“Your service is accepted with gratitude, Mastero,” I said gravely, “please stand, I’m so glad you’re here.” He smiled and stood up. “I didn’t hear back from you so I didn’t know if you were coming.”

“I almost didn’t but then a certain newly installed Count came banging on my door and said if I didn’t come to the aid of my queen when it was requested I could find another place to die, if it pleased me,” he sighed and I giggled, imagining the scene. “I happen to like the garden I’ve built at Pantona as well my house, plus I don’t see your cousin Marina or Duchess Norvine being to my taste as a landlord, so alas, here I am.”

“Do you think there’s any chance that Amina is going to exploit my grief about Caleb’s death in order to overtake Marina and turn her against me so that she can have Brayton’s child who will be the Dark Sword who destroys me?” I blurted. He looked and me and laughed.

“My goodness, that is quite a lot of information,” he said, “you Dreamed these things?” I nodded and we walked back to the table. “The possibility of Amina trying to create a sword did not escape me, but Lisette, I assure you,” he took my hand, “your birth was the incredible event of many strands of fate intersecting. Even if Marina Sanpierre bore Brayton’s child the chances of that child being a sword,” he sighed. “Your mother was Chosen, your father was the first Prince with the sight in fifty years, they were in love, truly and deeply. And you were shaped, by Count Caleb and myself,” I smiled. “Have you been speaking to him?”

“Not frequently,” I said, “it’s complicated.”

“It is not, in fact complicated, Annalise,” he said. “I am glad I came.” We walked out onto a balcony. The Dome of The University was in plain view. “Blast, I suppose I’ll have to go there.” I looked down. “What, precisely do you hope to gain from discussions with The Shadow Lord, Lisette?”

“Insight,” I said softly. “An understanding of my mandate of what being Chosen is, what it means.” He nodded. “And he is my family, Anselm, my blood, my father’s,” I leaned against the rail.

“You have other family,” he said, “your cousins here with you, both chosen,” I went to speak up, “And Thomas Martin, who perhaps feels even more keenly the import of a mandate than anyone, having failed in his? Hm?” I swallowed. “Brayton will only feed you doubt.”

“I’m glad you’ve come,” I said. “I’m sorry too. I know you didn’t want to come.” He smiled and patted my hand.

“Well, we don’t always get what we want,” he said. “Where is Duchess Marina? I would like to hear her thougths on all this?”

“You’re going to gang up on me,” I said and he laughed following me into the palace.

 

Prince Harran

Prince Harran of the Borderlands had been spending most of his time around the barracks. It made sense, the Border Tribes were less formal than us, and Harran had been chafing at court.

I’d forgotten how much I’d liked him when he visited us at Pantona, with his easy manners and laugh. He was tall with light hair and eyes, and he was tall and strongly built.

“Your majesty,” he said, seeing me approach. He was sharpening a knife.

“Your Highness,” I said and sat down with him. He laughed and pulled his flask from his belt. “Thank you.”

“Tell me Lisette,” he said, “where have you been of late?” I frowned. “You haven’t been here with us.”

“No,” I said softly and took a drink. “Do you think I can still out drink you, Your Highness.” He laughed and shook his head.

“Perhaps,” he said, taking the flask back and drinking himself, “I don’t think we should try now.” I nodded. “So, where have you been?”

“I don’t know,” I said, “with the gods?” He laughed. “I just want to be Lisette, for a moment.”

“All right,” he nodded. “Will you marry me?” I laughed.

“Did you hear me?” I said, “I want to be Lisette. A nameless orphan girl, raised in a country manor on the kindness of some nobles. You wanted to marry Lisette.”

“I wanted to do a lot of things with Lisette,” he grinned. “She was too young, as was I.” I smiled. “Besides, I didn’t think you were nameless, I thought you were Count Caleb’s daughter, which is why I didn’t simply show up in your chamber and help myself, frankly, because it would have been a grave insult to him.”

“Harran, I don’t know whether to be insulted or flattered,” I shook my head and he smiled. “I might not have turned you away, I did think you were very handsome.” He laughed and stood up, walking over to my bench and sitting beside me. “But you didn’t want to marry Lisette, you wanted to her to bed.” He smiled.

“Hmm,” he nodded. “So I did. Still do, at that.” I swallowed. “But now I’d be worried Tristan Dugarry would chop my head off for it.”

“And now?” I said, “You were sent here by the Chieftans to court me. You’ve done poorly there.” He snorted.

“This is why I wanted you then,” he said, “you fear nothing, Lisette.” I smirked and pulled myself close.

“I don’t fear you,” I said. He nodded. “If I were Lisette, not Queen Annalise, what would you ask me?” He kissed me then and I felt almost giddy.

“I’d ask how long before anyone came looking for you,” he whispered. “But you aren’t Lisette. Lisette wouldn’t come to me like this, she was fearless about life, but shy of men.” I smiled and looked down. “Besides,” he pulled back, “I’m not interested in a woman who’s heart is full of another man.”

“So you want love from me too then,” I said. He laughed.

“No,” he said, “no, if you wanted me, really, me, even just for a night, I would not miss it. But you don’t want me, you want to escape. You want to forget who you are, forget Captain Dugarry, and darling I am not the man for that.” I smiled. “My proposal stands though. It’d be a good match. You’d be Annalise Dovetail, Queen of Cammadan, The Sword of The Goddess and Chieftess of The Border.”

“Would you expand that border?” I grinned. He laughe

“When I rise to Chieftan, Lisette,” Harran grinned, “I will conquer the west for you regardless of if you’re my wife. I will crown you Empress myself, if you wish it.”

“Good then,” I said. “I might still marry you, I haven’t decided.”

“Mm,” he smiled. “Well, I’ll write to the Chieftans and tell them I need to remain to,” he winked, “convince you.” I laughed. “If I were to leave you be, it would not be for a lesser man than Prince Eric or Captain Dugarry. I admire them both.” I smiled.

“I’m sorry, if you felt I was trying to use you, Harran,” I said, cupping my hand on his cheek.

“You are Queen,” he smiled, “to use your subjects is your right.” I smiled. “You needed an old friend, I know you’re short on those at the moment.” I nodded. “How long until Aaron returns?”

“I don’t know,” I said softly, “soon, I hope. Olivia said she might stay in Pantona, which would break my heart but I understand,” I sighed. “I miss them.”

“That’s alright,” he said, “I miss my brothers, and my father,” I smiled and we kissed again. “The gods knew what they were doing with you, I can see that.” I smiled.

“Who do your people honor?” I asked.

“The gods,” he said softly. “We exist by their grace, their balance and triad.” I pressed my lips into my mouth. “Yes, the discussion of the triad would upset you, I suppose, but Rana and Cornan’s balance cannot exist without Amina’s check. The Westerners and The Rastani understand this better than we ever could.” I nodded and stood up. “I’ve upset you.”

“You’ve restored me, Old Friend,” I said, we pressed out hands together one last time. “Thank you.”

Raymond

Marina was studying, or working on the faire or something. Tristan was in the market, with Athena, probably preparing for his departure.

We still didn’t talk about it. Ever. It hurt us both too much. I found myself longing for Aaron. I’d been so caught up in things with Eric and Tristan and my more recent dreams that I hadn’t let myself miss him.

But I wanted to talk to him about everything, about seeing Caleb in the Realm of The Dead, about watching Marina grow happier and healthier as she fell in love with Lefty, about my own swirl of thoughts and feelings with Eric.

We’d slowed things down, after that night on the couch, even the small casual touches had stopped. I didn’t miss it, because he still laughed and smiled and flirted, and I had my nights with Tristan which had only become more intense.

“Your Majesty?” Raymond stepped in to the parlor and I stood up. I’m still not fully comfortable around him. “I’m sorry, was I disturbing you?”

“No,” I shook my head. “How can I help you?”

“Marina, that is,” he looked down, “The Duchess,” I laughed and shook my head.

“We’re all cousins, Raymond,” I said, settling at the table and gesturing to a chair for him, “you can call her Marina, and me Annalise, or even Lisette if you like.” He nodded and sat down.

“Yes, well,” he cleared his throat, “she thought it might be possible for me to enter the University.”

“She mentioned the idea to me too,” I said, “it isn’t a bad one, honestly, I wish I’d thought of it.” He smiled. “What do you want to study? Besides Elementals, obviously.”

“Yes, besides that,” he said, “I don’t know. History? Maybe the mythologies, I could help with your mandate.” I nodded. I saw how badly he wanted to be useful. Eric had told me he’d been largely cast aside at home. He didn’t belong on The Prince’s Glory either, not really. Marina had decided we needed to make a place for him.

But he still made me uneasy.

“That could work,” I said softly, “I sent for Mastero Anselm, he might have a few ideas.” Raymond’s face brightened.

“Mastero Anselm is coming here?” He asked. “Truly?”

“Unfortunately,” I mumbled, “I’m out of options. He’s going to be furious with me but there’s nothing to be done.” I stopped. “What do you know about Dreams?”

“I know that when my sister has one we have to shutter the royal apartments because she shrieks like a banshee,” he said softly. “I’ve never had one myself, which is why,” he stopped.

“Why the Mothers rejected you,” I said. He nodded. “I’m sorry, for that. We’ll find something for you, you have my word.”

“Thank you,” he said, standing up and bowing, I smiled and nodded indicating he was dismissed. The conversation had been almost normal but I was still unsettled, I still wanted someone who’d known me before.

I wanted to be Lisette, even for a little while. And then I suddenly remembered that there was someone in the palace who knew me before and smiled.

The Wedding That Wasn’t

I was wandering through a darkened corridor, holding a torch before I realized I was Dreaming. I was fully dressed, as I had been at my coronation, the crown of Cornan on my brow, in a dress uniform of Camadan when I came upon the hall.

“You’ve arrived,”  a hissing voice of a shadow said. “Our Lady will welcome you.” I swallowed and followed it, not sure if I was ready to confront Amina, but knowing I didn’t have much choice.

I followed the shadow to a hall, again lit with torches, and the hissing of shadows surrounding me.

“Ah,” a cool female voice echoed in my mind as I entered the hall, “the guest of honor, or if she wishes, even the officiant.” I turned my head and saw a woman beside me, ghostly pale, dressed entirely in black, her eyes glowing red. “Surely, Your Majesty, you will bless your cousins in their union.” I swallowed and my eyes were drawn to the front of the hall. Marina was dressed as a bride, all in white, veiled and as dignified as she ever looked. Brayton stood beside her.

“Annalise, please,” Marina’s voice called out, but it felt vague and far off, “don’t,” Brayton took her wrist and pulled her to him. I swallowed.

“If you will not bless them,” Amina said and I felt her cold touch on me, “I will unite them regardless.”

“She won’t submit to you,” I hissed, “or him. She’s stronger than you can possibly imagine, even than I am.” Amina laughed coldly.

“Oh my darling Queen,” she said, “of course she’s stronger than you. My sister played both cards she was handed, but she always knew one was the trump, and it wasn’t you, despite our brother having a claim on you as well. Your power pales in comparison to hers, surely you know this.” I looked forward and swallowed, seeing Marina struggle against him.

“I’ve never denied it,” I said, “but you forget, My Lady, I hold the balance, and she  had bent to that.” She nodded. “And she will not submit to you, or your chosen. You will never have your sword, Lady Amina.” She laughed then.

“No, I suppose you don’t deny it,” she said softly, “of course I still hold one you love in my kingdom.” I swallowed as Caleb materialized in front of me.

“Hello, Little One,” he said softly, his voice sounded far away. I knew it had to be true, that Amina held his soul, because I hadn’t felt him and he wasn’t buried yet, but I hated it.

“Caleb,” I said softly. Amina smiled at me. “I’m sorry, I can’t,” I swallowed.

“Don’t be afraid,” he said, “remember everything.” I swallowed, nodded at him and ran to the front and took the Dream Marina by the hands.

“Do not be afraid.” I whispered meeting her eyes.

“What would I fear?” She whispered and then I felt the knife in my back, which was wielded by Brayton.

I awoke and gasped.

“Lisette,” Tristan’s voice reached me, when I realized I was screaming, “Lisette, shh, it was dream, you’re safe, you’re with me.” I looked up at him and swallowed as he pushed my hair off my face. “It’s alright love.” He whispered and kissed my forehead. “What did you See?”

“Amina,” I said softly, “and Brayton and Marina and they killed me.” He nodded. “That isn’t new, I dreamed it so many times.” I sighed and leaned back against the pillows. “I need a drink.” I popped out of bed and walked into the parlor. Marina was already on the couch. I went to her and we talked. Tristan seemed angry at us both, but Marina asserted that this wasn’t about him.

She was of course right. He had nothing to do with the card game between Amina and Rana that resulted in the strange balance Marina and I found ourselves in. He’d said it himself, that if Cornan were to choose a champion it would probably be Athena, not him.

He didn’t like that. He doesn’t like being passive. I know it’s why he’s leaving. He can’t do anything here and it’s killing him. It’s killing all of us.

A Gesture

I fought with Marina. I hate it. She’s not wrong that I’m putting her at risk more than anyone, but I can’t just put Brayton to death. I wish she understood, there’s no one else in the world who I think even could. Tristan has made eye contact with me a few times, which is comforting but not, well, entirely welcome at the moment.

I haven’t told him about what went on with Eric earlier. I haven’t told anyone, because I want it to be mine, at least for a little while.

“What has your attention?” Eric asked sitting next to me. I smiled at him. “Where’s Duchess Marina?” I sighed and looked down.

“She wasn’t feeling well,” I said simply, “and also I did something she wasn’t happy about.” He nodded as the food was placed down, I nodded so everyone could begin. He nodded.

“Did you try apologizing?” He asked. I looked at him. “You’re not so much a queen that you can’t apologize are you? Even my brother, who believe me, condescends to no one, apologizes occasionally.”  I laughed. “Goddess, Annalise, haven’t you ever had an argument with anyone before.”

“Only with Aaron and that was usually his fault,” I said, “so he apologized.” He laughed. “You don’t want to know what it was about?”

“I’m pretty sure I can guess,” he said, glancing towards the doors. I blushed.

“It wasn’t that,” I said, “it was much more serious, but it doesn’t matter.” He nodded. “She’ll probably be hungry.”

“Yes,” he smiled, “she probably will.” I nodded. After everything broke up, I asked for a plate to be put together and we carried it up. Lefty came too, teasing us both, and happily slipping into Marina’s room when I left her. I sat on the couch and Eric plopped down next to me.

“Thank you,” I said softly. He smiled and pushed my hair out of my face.

“Of course.” He said softly. “What were you fighting about?” I sighed.

“We think Lord Brayton has lost the blessing of Amina and Marina wants me to schedule his execution,” I explained, his eyes got large. “But I have this feeling, based on my dreams that I’m not supposed to do that. I don’t know, it’s all very confused.” He kissed me. I pulled myself close. His hand rested on my waist as I pulled myself onto his lap.

“Annalise,” he whispered, pulling away. “We shouldn’t.” I swallowed. “I told you I won’t share.” I nodded.

“I’m sorry,” I said and pulled away. “But you’ll wait for me?” He smiled.

“Of course,” he whispered, “forever.” I got a chill then. I wanted him so badly, and invoking the vision, that vision, only made it harder to not touch him. We heard a giggle from the other side of the door. “Is she,” he sighed, “Lefty isn’t used to, well, nice girls, should we say.”

“I’ll go rescue her,” I smiled. It had the added bonus of separating me from Eric, the air between us felt charged now.

The Plan

As we walked to the temple I couldn’t help smiling at Eric’s company. Tristan asking if I was falling in love with him filled my mind.

Was I? I do like him, so much, and I can’t ignore how easy it feels, which doesn’t feel like love, as I’ve known it with Tristan. I glanced at Marina who was blushing as she talked with Lefty.

“We need to give them time alone,” Eric said. I laughed and shook my head.

“I don’t think she’ll like that,” I said. He raised his eyebrows. “It’s complicated, but last time, with, someone else, she felt rushed.”

“Hmm,” he said, “but surely, a walk back to the palace?” I laughed again.

“Alright,” I said. “Athena,” I called out and she rode up next to us. “Surely your Grandfather would be happy to see you and Tristan, since you’re in town.” She laughed and nodded.

“He would, certainly,” she said and glanced at Tristan. “And as we’ll have some time.” I nodded and she walked away.

“I don’t see how that will help,” Eric frowned.

“If Tristan and Athena go to the Market, you and I will have to stay behind at the temple,” I explained. He nodded. “We’ll have to let Sir Raymond know, but I doubt he’ll object.”

“Object to what?” Raymond said. Eric rolled his eyes and I smiled. “What wouldn’t I object to?”

“Making sure Marina and Lefty can be alone,” I said. He sighed.

“Oh, that,” Raymond said with a sigh. I couldn’t help but laugh, Marina and I discussed how at a base level his aura reminds of Brayton but as I get to know him, I like my young cousin more and more. “Yes of course, I’ll go along with whatever, I think she’s too good for him though.” He marched ahead and I looked at Eric who was laughing.

“He’s so serious,” he sighed, “I know I’ve said I’m doing my best for him, but I don’t think it’s ever going to be enough.” I nodded.

“Marina has an idea,” I said, “I can grant entrance to the University for visiting scholars.” Eric looked at me. “Raymond was denied a chance to study in Phania, right? The Brothers rejected him?”

“Yes?” He said. “That’s why I took him on. Well, and because Elana asked. She worries about him.” I wanted to know more about Queen Elana, about their relationship.

“He could be a Mastero,” I explained, “if he wanted, or just study and gain a degree like my uncle did.”

“I think he’d like that,” Eric said, “I don’t know if Elana would, or the people of Tumona, they might like a Lord again. They’ve been in a lurch since your Grandfather died.” I smiled. He took my hand. “Annalise, I’m glad you asked me to come today.” I smiled.

“I’m glad too,” I said softly. “Have you done it? The ritual?” He shrugged.

“Not really,” he admitted, “when my father died, but I was only three, so my memory was simple, not fully formed. My mother’s though, always stayed with me.” I didn’t ask, it seemed personal. “Will you miss the Dowager Countess, and the Count?” I laughed.

“Very much,” I said, “Aaron more, frankly, Olivia and Caleb were always coming and going our whole lives, but I always had him, even when I only had him.”

“In that way in I’ve been lucky,” Eric said, “I got to bring Lefty with me.” I smiled. I was glad he understood. He always understands. We’d reached the temple. “Shall we?” I nodded and smiled, walking behind him. I noticed Lefty stayed behind. I didn’t comment. I knew they were more conservative about men being in the temple in Phania.

After we shared our memories, and dismissed Marina and Lefty, (Under the pretense that they had to fetch the twins,) I sat happily on the temple steps with Eric. He looked at me and smiled.

“What?” I asked.

“I keep picturing that little girl with a dagger,” he said, “I think I would have been afraid of her.” I smiled.

“I was quite fierce,” I said, “then you aren’t afraid of me now?” He shook his head and I leaned in and kissed him. He placed his hands around the sides of my face and pulled us closer.

“Goddess, I was wondering when we were going to get to that,” he whispered and I giggled. “I hope I wasn’t a disappointment.”

“You weren’t,” I said softly. “Have you,” I swallowed, “is there anyone else?” He smiled.

“There have been girls,” he said, “but nothing permanent,” I nodded. “I hope you don’t insult my intelligence by thinking I don’t,” he sighed, “understand that isn’t the case for you.”

“I try to be as subtle as possible,” I said softly. He nodded. “Do you mind it very much?”

“I don’t like it,” he said, “and I think I’d be within my rights, if things progressed to ask you,” he brushed his thumb under my chin and I smiled, “I don’t want to share my wife, Annalise, and if that’s impossible for you when it comes down to it, I’ll do my best to move on.” I nodded and kissed him again. We broke apart hearing a throat clear.

“I suggest we go back to the Palace,” Athena said with a grin. “If it pleases you both, Your Majesty, Your Highness,” I glared at her. Eric cleared his throat and excused himself. “Well that’s interesting.”

“Shut up,” I said and stood up brushing myself off. “Don’t tell Tristan!”

“Oh don’t you worry, I’ll let you handle this,” she said practically bouncing down the steps. “But just watching the whole situation is going to be a lot of fun for me.”