Content Warning: This story contains references to and descriptions of Domestic Child Abuse. If you are aware of or suffering from Child Abuse, please contact your state CPS, (A list of United States CPS Agencies can be found at childwelfare.gov) or if you are in crisis contact the Crisis Text Line at 741-741
7 Years Before Crowning
Tom was pacing in the parlor, unsure what to do next. Trey was simply staring at him.
“Should we wake them up?” Tom asked. Trey shook his head.
“Let them sleep one more night not knowing,” he whispered. “Gods, my father, he’ll want them in Dorin.”
“They can’t go to Dorin,” Tom said, “Trey, Alexia made me swear, that they wouldn’t be pulled off the guard path. And besides which, they’re as much Dugarry as they are Dumanis. Dugarrys are in The Guard.” Trey frowned. “They can live here, can’t they?”
“Here?” Trey said. “Not the palace?”
“The Palace is no place from children these days,” Tom said, “I can’t even think, I need to,” he swallowed, “if he knew, if they knew, Trey, I have to go to Pantona.”
“I’m sure they have it under control,” Trey stood up. Tom looked at him. “She’ll send word, she always does.” Tom nodded but something felt wrong. John and Alexia were dead and had been for nearly a week and there hadn’t been word from Olivia. “We have to focus on the twins, you’re right about that. Athena is headstrong and stubborn already, and Tristan is sullen and quiet, without their parents, without their mission,” Tom’s heart suddenly broke, seeing his partner’s attempt to be strong. Trey had been close to his sister. He pulled him close.
“I know,” he whispered, “but I still have to,” he sighed. “I’m sorry,” he whispered and left quickly. He rode fast, through the flat land, stopping only to change horses and drink and eat a little, but he arrived at Pantona withing a few days.
“Tom,” Olivia exclaimed as he burst into the hall, she ran down the stairs and into his arms. “Oh I’m so glad to see you, we were so worried, is it true?” He nodded and burst into tears finally. She pressed her face into his chest. “Poor John, and Alexia,” she swallowed, “oh and those children, Tom, are they with you? Do you need,” he shook his head.
“They’re with Trey,” he said softly. She nodded and they walked into another room and sat down. “But you’re safe?” He cupped a hand against her cheek.
“Yes,” she said softly. “As is my son, and,” she stopped as a little girl came running in. “Lisette, please give us a moment.”
“Of course, Countess,” she said and curtsied gently, “sir,” she whispered to him and then pitterred out.
“Gods,” he whispered, “it’s like seeing a ghost.” Olivia smiled softly. “But you haven’t seen anything? No one has come or reached out?”
“No,” she said softly, “we’re safe.” He exhaled. “Your probably passed my husband on the road, he was going to make sure the twins and Lady Marina were safe.” He smiled. He’d never expected to grow fond of Caleb Pantona, but he had over the years. “Trey won’t be happy you came here.”
“Because it’s you?” Tom said. Olivia laughed.
“Partly,” she said, “and partly because she was his sister.” He nodded. “You must be exhausted, I’ll get a room set for you. Do you want to see the children?”
“No,” he said, “I’ll sleep and get back. You’re right, he’ll be furious.” She laughed and he touched her face gently, “I just had to see you, I couldn’t,” he choked on some tears. She nodded.
“I know,” she said softly, “I was frantic too, it’s why Caleb went. I can’t, but well,” he nodded and then kissed her softly. “Tom,” she whispered and pulled back, “no.” He sighed and looked down. “I’m sorry, I thought you understood.”
“No, I do, I shouldn’t have,” he sighed, “it would be easier, sometimes, if I didn’t. Then I could have gone on being angry at you.” She smiled and took his hands. “I wish so badly that I didn’t love you anymore, Livvie.”
“Oh, Tom,” she sighed, “I don’t think you do. I think you loved me when I was seventeen, and you love that idea. I love it too. There are plenty of times when I wonder, if,” she sighed, “we’ll always have a maybe, between us. But you have Trey, and now you have to be there for Tristan and Athena. They’re wonderful children, but this will be so hard on them.” He took her hand again and kissed it gently.
“No,” he whispered, “it’s not the idea of it, but that’s there, I love you, I think I always will.” She nodded.
“Mother,” a boy walked in, he was clearly awkwardly between boyhood and manhood, but tall, a little gangly. Tom hadn’t seen Aaron Pantona since he was a small child. The resemblance to Caleb was obvious, but there was more of Olivia in his face than he’d realized. “Lisette said we had a guest, I thought I should say hello.” Olivia sent him a crooked smile.
“Of course,” she said, “General Thomas Martin, may I present my son, Viscount Aaron Pantona.” The small Viscount bowed and Tom smiled.
“Your Grace,” Tom said standing up and extending his hand. Aaron took it and shook it enthusiastically. “If you’ll both excuse me, I think I ought to go to the inn.”
After arriving back in Dovetail, Tom walked into the house and was immediately blindsided by a tumble of blonde curls tackling his stomach.
“Where were you?” Athena Dugarry looked up at him, her green eyes flashing in anger. “Aunt Brie said we have to go to Dorin and I won’t! They can’t make me. I know that we can’t stay at the palace anymore with Mama and Papa gone, but I won’t go to Dorin!”
“Thena,” he sighed, “you do not have to go to Dorin. Where is your brother?” Tristan was sitting at the dining table and looked up at him. “Come along, and sit,” Athena obeyed, though she looked unhappy about it. The twins identical faces and hair, so like John’s, looked back at him. “I want you both to know first of all that you will always be safe. I won’t let any harm come to you.”
“We know that, Sir,” Trsitan managed, “but we don’t want to leave Dovetail, we told Uncle Trey that and,” he swallowed what was likely a very large sob.
“Good,” he whispered. “And Tristan, Athena,” he took one hand each, “I need you to be brave, I swore to your mother that I would take care of you and I take it very seriously. I’m going to speak to your grandfather and settle things. You are not going to Dorin, not if you don’t want it, and if you do want it, you won’t go without me.” He stood up and Tristan joined him and hugged him tightly. After releasing the boy he saw Trey waiting in the hall.
“How is she?” He asked.
“Coping,” Tom said softly, “thank you, for not just sending them.” Trey shrugged. “I know it’s hard for you to stand against your family Trey, I’m always grateful.” Trey nodded.
“You were right that it wouldn’t be what Alexia and John would want,” Trey said. “Caleb Pantona talked me out of it. He pointed out it would play into Brayton’s hands, and that you’d never forgive me for it.” They both laughed. “I loved my sister Tom, I love you, I couldn’t do something that would cause you so much pain.”
“I know that,” he said, “I shouldn’t have run off, it isn’t fair to you, to them, to whatever it is we’ve had for the past twelve years.” Trey smiled. “But there’s something in me, Trey, I love you, but whenever something goes wrong, in my guts, it’s her.”
“I’ve noticed,” Trey muttered. Tom frowned. “It can’t be like that now. Not with Athena and Tristan with us.” He nodded.
1 Year Before Coronation
“What do you mean she won’t go?” Brie DuCray exclaimed. Trey sighed. “She’s sixteen, she’s a member of this family, she will go to Dorin and be presented.”
“Brie,” Trey said, “if I had any measure of control over Athena don’t you think she’d be in this house rather than in the barracks and I wouldn’t be arguing that she shouldn’t marry that idiotic Davis boy.”
“She’s not marrying him,” Brie said, “Goddess, Father would lose his mind. We can do better.” She sat down. “Alex is cooling on the DuKarras girl.”
“No,” Trey said. “That won’t help anyone.” Brie frowned and the door burst open, Tristan walked in, his face red and flustered. “Tristan this is not a good time.”
“I’m sorry,” he said, “Hello Aunt Brie.” She nodded at him. “I just, the Black Guards came to the Barracks.” Trey walked over and took his shoulders. “I’m fine, Athena is fine.” Brie looked at her brother.
“Why were they there?” Trey said. “Tristan?” He swallowed.
“Martin’s been exiled,” he said. Brie closed her eyes and exhaled. “They know he’s leading the Resistance.”
“Living Gods,” Brie whispered. “But you two?” Tristan shook his head. “I have to tell Drea.” Trey nodded and Brie left. Tristan swallowed.
“He got away safely?” Trey whispered. Tristan nodded. “And you and your sister are both alright?”
“Yes,” Tristan said and collapsed. “He told me to come to you, well, us, but Athena,” Trey stopped.
“Davis?” He said. Tristan nodded. “Goddess.” Trey muttered. “I need to see him.”
“He’s gone already,” Tristan said, “he gave me a letter.” He handed it over.
“Where did he go?” Trey asked. Tristan shrugged. “You don’t know?”
“We’re too close to Brayton these days,” Tristan said, “I don’t know where Camp is. But I’m sure it was to Camp.” Trey nodded.
“Why are you so close to Brayton these days?” Trey asked. “Surely there are more useful places for you to be.” And safer. He thought to himself.
“We need to stay close,” Tristan said quietly, “Lady Marina, well.” Trey sighed. He’d seen though never met the “Little Duchess” as she was called. And Tristan talked about the girl enough. “He’s taken an interest in her.”
“I see,” Trey frowned. “It’s a practical move. Brightcoast is large territory. And she’s the heir, after The Princess.” Tristan nodded. “Don’t stay too long, if they’re looking for you, you should be wherever you’re supposed to be.” Tristan nodded and Trey hugged him close. “Stay safe, my boy, please. I couldn’t take it,”
“I know,” Tristan whispered and left swiftly. Trey opened the letter.
Know that no matter what comes next for me, I will love you always. Please look after them while I’m gone. I can’t stand the idea of the three of you alone.
Countess Olivia Pantona smiled sadly looking over the goings on at the large ball. They were so young, and there was so much still to be done.
“Countess,” Trey Dumanis walked over to her holding two glasses of sparkling wine. “If you’ll permit me.” She smiled and took it.
“Thank you, Master Dumanis,” she said softly. “I understand we owe you some thanks. It all would have been more difficult without you.” He smiled and looked down.
“You know better than most,” he said, “how difficult it is to say no.” She smiled. “I am sorry about your husband. Caleb was a good man.” She swallowed and nodded.
“Yes he was,” she said and nodded towards Aaron who was dancing with a laughing Athena. “It seems we’re going to be family soon.”
“Yes,” he said, “my father couldn’t be happier.” She laughed.
“I can imagine,” she said, “he may find Aaron less pliable than he’d like however. Like a good country boy he has a skeptical view of The Guilds. He’s seen a few tenants get fleeced.” Trey smiled.
“Of course,” he said and glanced across at where Tom was standing. “It’s strange, having him back.” Olivia smiled at him coyly.
“Is he back?” She raised her eyebrows. Trey looked at her. “I am in mourning, Tristan, you have nothing to fear from me.”
“Olivia, you were married for thirty years and it didn’t matter to him,” Trey shook his head. She sighed. “I know you never encouraged him, it’s only, I spent most of my life in second place. I can’t keep at it until I die.” She nodded and raised her eyebrow again.
“You didn’t answer the question,” she smiled.
“He was,” he admitted, “just the once.” She giggled happily. “You’re behaving like a child, by the way, not a dignified dowager.”
“With Alexia gone, someone needs to tease you, your other sisters have always been useless at it,” she said. He smiled. “I never wanted to be between you two.”
“I know that,” Trey said softly. “You still are though.” She nodded.
The burial had been harder than Tom expected, though he remained in awe of Olivia, she’d barely cried. He thought back to the night in camp, when he’d stopped himself from going to her, despite hearing her wailing. It’s why he’d come today even if it was not the most sound judgement.
Tenants had been coming in and out of the manor all day, and now it was quiet, he, Les and Olivia sat quietly in the parlor. Aaron had gone to the study with William Santino, “getting hideously drunk, most likely,” Livvie had said mischievously.
“You’re sure of that?” Les asked. She sighed and put her feet up on ottoman.
“It is the usual outcome when Aaron and William spend any amount of time together,” she said with a soft smile. Tom looked at her. “Granted it isn’t usually here, it’s at the inn, but still.”
“Why not here?” Tom asked. She sighed.
“Caleb didn’t really approve,” she said, “not of William, he liked him, but of Aaron’s, other activities in the area.”
“Farm girls,” Les laughed, “kitchen maids,” Olivia nodded. “The odd merchant girl if I recall correctly.”
“Precisely,” Olivia sighed. “No man will respect a lord who’s bedded his and half his neighbor’s wives.” Tom snorted. “He was so happy about Athena, Tom, really.”
“I know,” Tom said softly. “We’re happy too, really. But I worry about her, she can be rash.” Les smiled softly.
“She’ll settle,” he said, “all of them have endured so much. I hope peace suits them.” He paused. “I hope it suits us at that.” Olivia reached out and took his hand and squeezed it. “I think I need to sleep. Thank you for this, Livvie. It helped.”
“I’m glad,” she said, “I know I’m not Caleb, but I am here.” He smiled and nodded at Tom before leaving. “He might miss him more than I do.”
“He’s always been sentimental,” Tom said, “and being so isolated these past sixteen years couldn’t have helped.” She nodded and he walked over to her. “Do you miss him?”
“Yes,” she said. “I think I will more now, it’s been so busy.” She stretched. “But he’s at rest, and Aaron will be married and I can rest, and see my grandchildren when they come.” She sighed and looked at him. “You will be here?” She asked. He looked at her.
“If I’m wanted,” he said.
“Athena will want you here,” she said softly. He smiled.
“That isn’t what I meant,” he said, “and you know it.” She sighed and stood up, he took her hand as she passed him. “Livvie,” he whispered.
“Tom,” she sighed. “This isn’t what I thought would happen,” he nodded. “What about Trey?”
“There isn’t anything with Trey,” he said. She frowned. “I thought, maybe we could try again, but there’s too much hurt, too much change.”
“Oh,” she looked away. “And if I’m not ready?” He nodded.
“I understand,” he said, “but are you not ready, or not interested?” She looked at him and sighed and knelt down between his legs and pressed her forehead to his.
“I love you,” she said, “I’ve always loved you. It’s changed and grown so much.” He inhaled. “I can’t lose you too, Tom. It would be too much to bear. Anton and Marie and Anne and Alexia and John and then Caleb. If we try this and it doesn’t work out,” she swallowed. “I can’t lose you.”
“You won’t lose me,” he said softly, “don’t you think you would have be now?” She kissed him and pulled close. He lifted her up by the waist and carried her upstairs to her room.
When they’d finished and lay quietly together Tom gently traced a few scars on her back. They were new, or at least new to him. They hadn’t been there when they were young.
“What are these from?” He asked. She rolled over.
“My father,” she said softly. He stared at her. “It started just hitting me when I was disappointing, but when Anton announced his engagement, I required serious correction,” he exhaled.
“How didn’t I know?” He asked.
“I hid it,” she said, “I was embarrassed. Anton didn’t know either. John did. Caleb guessed, it was how we became close at first.” She exhaled. “It was a long time ago.” He kissed her deeply.
“You didn’t trust me?” He asked.
“No,” she sighed. “It’s hard to explain, I trusted you, but I also didn’t think you would accept my weakness. Of course it wasn’t mine, it was his, but,” she sighed. “When I lost my first baby,” she said, “I was terrified that Caleb would hate me, too, the same way my father did. But he was always so kind, and gentle.” Tom swallowed.
“How may were there?” He asked. “I remember the two others you carried.” She sighed.
“Five,” she said, “three before Aaron, two after. The two who died in their cradles, Mara and Joseph, they were the hardest. The others never even quickened, poor things.” She looked at him. “Do you regret not having children?” She asked. He laughed.
“Sometimes,” he said, “but I have the twins.” She nodded. “But if you mean do I regret spending my life with Trey, I don’t think I ever could, unless of course it meant I got to spend it with you.” She cooed softly and kissed him. “Did you know Annalise asked me if I was in love with Anton?” Olivia burst out in a laugh.
“Really?” She said. He nodded. “Were you? I feel like I would have noticed, I was very jealous. Of both of you.” He grinned.
“No,” he said, “I loved him, and if he’d wanted me I don’t think I could have denied him, but it was never that way.” She nodded. “Besides, I only had eyes for you for quite a while.” She smiled. “What do we do now?”
“Is it alright if we don’t know?” She asked. “I have a wedding to plan, and the gods knows what’s happening with Lisette.” He laughed.
“I sent Tristan into the Lion’s Den,” he muttered, “because the gods knows what’s happening with Lisette.” She laughed. “And I’m in no rush to explain it to Trey.” She smiled and they kissed again before snuggling into one another and falling asleep