Interlude: John And Alexia

Note: Sorry I missed last week everyone! I was away, and also I’ve been working on other projects and I realized the post was not ready. Anyway, here’s the John and Alexia interlude I’ve been working on for a while.

Alexia Dumanis pouted as the wagons rolled away. She’d begged to go to Dovetail, but instead she was stuck in Dorin. She was ten years old, she knew how to stay out of the way. It didn’t make sense. Her brother Tristan was going and he was only eight. Practically a baby.

“Don’t be sad, Lexie,” her sister Andrea said and petted her hair gently. “I know it’s not as exciting but you are going to be a big help for me with the wedding.” Alexia looked up at Drea.

“I want to see the city though,” she sighed.

“You’re going to live there one day,” Andrea gently pushed her inside. “And then you’ll be telling your husband that you just want to come back to Dorin.” Alexia frowned. Her marriage to Sir John Dugarry was spoken of with such finality. But she was never sure if it was going to happen.

“But wouldn’t it be better if I went to Dorin and I found out if Sir John liked me?” Alexia knew better than to add and if I like him. No one in her family cared if she liked Sir John.

“Why wouldn’t he like you, sweetheart?” Drea smiled and cupped her face. Alexia sighed. “Cheer up, without Papa here I think it would be a good idea for us to try all the different cakes I have to choose from instead of dinner.”

“Really?” Alexia said. “Mama said it would make us stout.”

“Eh,” Drea flipped her hands, “we both already have husbands picked out, we can eat as much cake as we like.” Alexia giggled following her sister.

“This is boring,” Prince Anton said as they stood in the secret passageway outside of his father’s office, but John Dugarry rolled his eyes at his friend and charge.

“I didn’t make you come,” John said, “and shh, we’ll get caught, and I’ll catch a beating.”

“I would too,” Anton frowned.

“No you wouldn’t, you’re the prince, everyone lets you do whatever you want,” John said. His father was sitting in a meeting with a merchant named Carland Dumanis.

“I’d like to meet the boy,” Dumanis said, “if it’s at all possible.” John’s father, Avery frowned at that.

“I don’t think it will be,” Avery said, “my wife and I still worry this is all too early. We of course planned on sending John to Dorin when he’s older, but he’s a protector, it’s a lifetime commitment, and a great deal of John’s future is wrapped up in Prince Anton’s. Whoever he marries will need to understand that.”

“Since when are you getting married?” Anton made a face at him.

“Shh!” John hissed. “Since always. My parents made the match. Merchants do it all the time.”

“But you’re not a merchant,” Anton said. John shrugged. It wasn’t worth trying to explain it to Anton.

“Are you having second thoughts, Avery?” Dumanis said slowly. “That would be unfortunate.”

“No,” Avery smiled, not taking the bait, John felt a swell of pride at his father. “But I want to be clear, this moves on our timeline, mine, and my sons. Not yours.” Dumanis frowned but nodded and they shook hands and he left. “You two can come out of there now,” Avery called. Anton looked at John, they pushed the secret door and walked out. “Your Highness, I am very disappointed in you.”

“It was John’s idea!” Anton said indignantly.

“Yes, but John follows your orders,” Avery said, “may I have a moment with my son?” Anton nodded and rushed out mouthing, ‘I’m sorry,’ while John glared at him. “So what did you think of him?” John raised an eyebrow. “Dumanis, what did you think of him?”

“He’s arrogant,” John said, “and he doesn’t like not getting his way.” Avery nodded. “Is he dangerous?”

“Very,” Avery said. “But you’re right about his arrogance.” He clapped John on the shoulder. “Don’t do that again, or at least don’t bring Anton, he’s terrible at sneaking.”

8 Years Later

John lay on his bedroll staring up at the stars. They’d reach Dorin tomorrow, and he couldn’t sleep.

“You are thinking so loud, that it’s keeping me awake,” Tom said, and John rolled over and looked at him. “So you might as well talk.”

“I don’t know,” John said softly, “I always knew this was coming, I should be ready. But I’m just, not. Everything is running though my head. What if I don’t like her? What if she doesn’t like me? What if I do something to offend her sisters? What if I offend her father? What if we’re fine but we get back to Dovetail and Anton can’t stand her? Or Livvie does that thing where she acts like she’s complimenting another woman, but she’s really saying something that makes her cry?”

“Well,” Tom said, “first of all, Livvie hasn’t done that to Marie and she and Anton were actually something, so I think your Alexia is safe from that.” John laughed. “And if she doesn’t like you, I’ll convince her otherwise. And if you don’t like her, I’ll offend her father so that you can leave without it being your fault.”

“You’re a good friend,” John said, “I mean relatively useless in this context and I should have asked literally anyone else to come with me, but I know you’re trying.”

Alexia looked in the mirror and frowned. Briana walked in and saw her piling her hair on her head and looking over her shoulder.

“What are you doing?” Brie laughed. Alexia sighed.

“I don’t know,” she said, and flopped on the bed. “Is he here?” Briana shook her head. “What if he hates me?”

“I don’t see how that’s at all relevant,” Brie said. Alexia looked at her. “Even if he hates you, you’re beautiful and rich and his father made an agreement with Papa, so I doubt he’ll back out.” Alexia frowned.

“You have just named the only scenario worse than him hating me,” Alexia said, “he hates me and marries me anyway because he’s afraid of Papa.” Brie laughed.

“He’s not going to hate you,” Brie said softly. “And if you hate him, Amos has already agreed to ship you to his brother in Rastan, so you’ll be fine.”

“Ugh,” Alexia stood up. “You’re not helping. When does he get here?”

“Oh, he’s in the parlor,” Brie smirked. “Trey’s with him, and his representative.” Alexia gulped, “Well, I was going to tell you but then you were being dramatic.” Alexia frowned and walked downstairs. She started to make her excuses but also she was immediately struck by the way he was staring at her.

“John, this is the part where you talk,” his friend said with a smile on his face. Alexia swallowed.

“I’m John,” he managed, “it’s nice to finally meet you.” Alexia’s entire body released. Trey and the other boy excused themselves.

“It’s nice to meet you too,” she managed. “Should we sit, I think there’s supposed to be lunch, did your friend want,” she took a deep breath. “I’m a little nervous.”

“Me too,” he said and they sat down. “Tom should have introduced himself, that was rude.” She smiled and then stopped.

“Tom?” She said. He nodded. “That’s Thomas Martin?” He laughed.

“Of course you’ve heard of him, don’t tell him that, his head is already far too inflated,” John said. She giggled.

“He’ll be busy,” she said, “there are plenty of families that would take a son from a noble family, and a reputation as the best warrior in the kingdom.” John Dugarry smirked.

“They’ll be disappointed,” he said. “Tom is engaged.” She smiled. “I’m sorry this didn’t happen earlier. I kept expecting you to be with your family when they would come to Dovetail.” She rolled her eyes.

“I think my father was afraid you’d get bored of me,” she said. “I was never allowed to go.”

Bored of her. John wanted to throw the tea cup he’d picked up when she said that. He’d assumed that meeting Alexia would be pleasant. But he didn’t expect that he’d be sitting opposite probably the most beautiful girl he’d ever seen. He kept thinking about how he felt like he was going to swallow his tongue.

Or kiss her until she fell over. He really wasn’t sure. Gods, she was gorgeous though.

“Sir John?” She said softly. “Is everything alright?” He swallowed. “You look very pale.” He took a deep breath.

“I’m sorry, I,” he sighed, “it was a long journey.” She smiled and nodded.

“Of course,” she said. “And it isn’t as though we don’t have time. Our whole lives, in fact.” He smiled at that. “Let me show you to your room.” She stood up and he followed her with a large swallow. Room. Bed. Alexia. Alexia in his bed. All that blonde hair, which was long down to her waist, and her wide green eyes, a little bit lighter than his own, her lips, which default seemed to be pouting.

“Thank you,” he managed. She nodded and left him. He sighed. He was going to figure out how to actually talk to her, while looking at her. Might be tricky.

Alexia went to her room and fell back against the bed and giggled. Normally she got annoyed at the vacant and distracted look on men’s faces and manner when she walked into a room, but with Sir John, she was pleased by it. Probably because he seemed more shy than lascivious, and because it was a good first step.

“So, how did it go?” Trey said from the doorway. She sat up.

“Fine,” she said, “you?” Trey scowled at her.

“He’s engaged,” he pointed out. “To a woman.”

“These are not factors that have ever deterred you with anyone else,” she said. He sighed and sat down with her. “Are you going to tell him about the time you saw him fight in a tournament when you were thirteen, and then spent the rest of the summer writing poetry about him?”

“I am not,” Trey said. “Do you like him? Sir John, I mean?”

“I think so,” she sighed and leaned back again. “He likes me.”

“Yes, that was obvious,” Trey said. “They’re going to have to mop up the drool.” She giggled.

“I suppose I was born to be adored,” she exhaled. Trey laughed and looked at her and shook his head.

John was standing in the large ballroom, tugging at the sash on his formal guard uniform. He hadn’t worn it in a while, and it didn’t help that he was standing next to Tom, who looked like some kind of dream in his.

“Relax, will you,” Tom muttered to him. “You’re making me anxious.” John glared at him.

“I’m going to say something embarrassing to her,” John mumbled. “You saw her right?”

“Yes, she’s very beautiful,” Tom mused. “The brother’s interesting.”

“Tom, don’t you dare,” John growled, his friend grinned.

“If you think Livvie stopped flirting when we left,” Tom shrugged. “I won’t let it go too far, John don’t worry.” (Reenie’s Note: HAHAHA…Irony) Tom went to argue some more when he lost his breath. Alexia had entered the room and she seemed to be shining. “Go to her,” Tom said, with a gentle nudge. “You won’t get any better without practice.” John exhaled and walked over and took her offered hand and kissed it.

“Miss Dumanis,” he said.

“Sir John,” she smiled. “I hope you’re don’t mind our little celebration.” He laughed.

“Certainly not,” he said. “I’m supposed to dance with you first, correct?” She nodded.

“Yes,” she said. “Though not right this moment.” He nodded. “I want to show you something,” she said softly. He nodded and followed her into a parlor off of the ballroom.

“What is this?” He asked, she smiled and kissed him softly. He migrated his hands to her waist. “I see, thank you for showing me.”

“I thought you might find it interesting,” she said and crossed her wrists behind his neck. “I certainly have always been curious.” He smiled and then kissed her again. She was sweet and supple, accepting him gently.

“What will you father say?” He teased. She pulled back at looked up at him.

“My father would deliver me bound naked to your bed, if it would finalize this,” she said. He frowned and she left his arms.

“I don’t know that I would ask him for that,” he tried. She looked at him. “If this isn’t what you want, I understand.”

“No,” she said, “I just,” she sighed. “I’ve always felt trapped by it. And that isn’t your fault, so please don’t apologize.” He smiled.

“It was freedom for me,” he admitted. “I lived my whole life a step behind someone else. And I was able to live with it because I knew there was something he couldn’t even fathom waiting for me.” She smiled shyly. “Alexia,” he said, and cupped her cheek. “Open your heart to me, or at least don’t close it off.” They kissed softly again and the door opened. Andrea walked in.

“There you are,” she said. “Honestly, Lexi, I know you hate these but you’re being unforgivably rude.” She looked at the two of them. “Goddess, you two met six hours ago,” John looked down abashed, “out, now,” She snapped her fingers and pointed and they both flew off of the couch and back into the ballroom, Alexia giggled as they walked back.

“Your sister is terrifying,” John whispered. She laced her fingers through his.

“You have no idea,” she whispered.

Two months of parties and dinners, and Alexia spent a lot of time watching John, and kissing him, as finding alcoves and empty rooms to kiss had become their general routine. They talked too, which was nice but not quite as nice as the kissing.

One night they were back at the house and they were in the front parlor. The kissing had begun in earnest and she’d found herself beneath him.

“John, wait,” she whispered as he moved to her neck, “oh,” she exhaled, but he paused. “Why did you stop?”

“You said to,” he mumbled. She swallowed.

“Right,” she said, “so, we should probably,” he nodded and they kissed again. “John, we can’t,” he raised his eyebrows. “We aren’t married.” He stared at her.

“Lexi,” he said. “We’ve been betrothed since we were eight years old, and we’ll be married in three months.” She frowned up at him. “Or we can wait, if it’s important to you.”

“It isn’t important to you?” She asked and sat up. He sighed.

“I forgot about,” he sighed. “So you’re a virgin?” She nodded, now feeling a little bit silly.

“You aren’t?” She asked. He frowned. “But you said,” she started and scooted away.

“The kind of fidelity you grew up expecting wasn’t really,” he sighed. “It’s different at court.” She scowled at him and stood up and started walking out. “Lexi,” he sighed but she was already out on the back terrace. She swallowed.

“Oh,” she stopped seeing Captain Martin standing there. “I’m sorry, I’ll go.” She turned.

“It’s alright,” he said, “it’s your house, I can’t hog the best brooding spots.” She smiled. “I thought that you and John would be,” she glared at him. “Or not.”

“Apparently,” she huffed, “it wouldn’t mean anything to him.” Tom frowned at her.

“I’m not sure what you mean,” he said. She crossed her arms.

“And I suppose dallying with my brother will be just excused by Lady Olivia Bano too,” she said, “as these things just mean nothing in Dovetail.”

“No, I can assure you I would find myself in a great deal of pain if I dallied with your brother and Olivia found out,” he smiled. “And I think I understand what you’re talking about now, and I have to tell you it isn’t as though John was cycling through girls or anything.” She sniffed and looked at him. “When we were younger Anton would,” he sighed, “when he wouldn’t like a girl, John would have to speak to them.” She stared at him.

“That’s awful,” she said. Tom shrugged.

“Yes, and sometimes they would, well, think that being with John would,” he sighed. “Well, I’m sure you can imagine.” She gaped at him. “Anyway, that’s rather slowed down in the past few years.”

“Oh,” she said. He looked at her. “What is happening with you and my brother?”

“We are friends,” Tom said, “and I am getting married.” She side eyed him. “What did he say?”

“The same,” she smiled. “I don’t believe him either.” He shook his head. “I want to trust him.”

“John wouldn’t betray you, Alexia,” he said. “He made some mistakes, and believe me he carried the hurt of it enough.” She swallowed.

John lay on top of the covers of his bed, unsure what he should do next. He’d hurt her, and it was the last thing he’d wanted. He’d forgotten that Alexia’s virtue was a part of the deal, because it felt so horribly transactional. The door opened and he sat up, seeing her slip in, wearing a simple white night gown.

“Lexi,” he said, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to,” he said.

“Tom explained to me,” she said, “girls would use you, to get to the Prince?” John looked at her.

“Everyone, not just girls, I’m a conduit,” he said, “but yes, I, there were a few.” She sat down on the bed. “A few trying to get to Tom, too.” She kissed him.

“They didn’t see you,” she whispered. He shook his head. “You said thinking of me was freeing.” He smiled.

“You were mine,” he said, “before you’d even seen me, or I’d seen you. It didn’t have anything to do Anton, or his dramas, that was,” he sighed, “it meant everything to me, Lexi. And I know that you didn’t see it the same way, but being here with you,” she kissed him.

“I understand,” she said, “I’m one of a set remember? Three sisters, all meant to increase my father’s power.” He cupped her face. “I never thought of this, of us, being something outside of that.”

“We can never speak to your father again if you like,” he shrugged. She giggled.

“I don’t think it needs to be that extreme,” she smiled, “but I don’t want betrothals, for our children.” He nodded.

“I think that’s a sensible compromise,” he whispered and pressed a kiss against her forehead. She looked up and kissed him properly. “Lexi, I think you ought to go.” She smirked.

“Do you?” She mumbled and straddled him. He looked at her.

“You don’t want to wait,” he said, his hands against her thighs.

“No,” she said, “I think I’m falling in love with you.” He smiled.

“Well, since we’re getting married, that’s very convenient,” he teased. She laughed. “I know I’m falling for you.” She smiled.


Interlude: Anne and Les

Note: When I put together the Caleb and Olivia interlude, it opened a treasure trove of old notes, journal entries and abandoned prequel manuscript drafts that had in their margins, the story of two quiet nerds who fell in love and eventually made all of our favorite person. This is the story of Anne Brightcoast and Lestat Sanpierre.

Anne Brightcoast was sitting at a table with a book in front of her. She glanced up and frowned.

He was here, again. The Phanian, with the ridiculous name. He’d attached himself to Caleb Pantona which meant she’d be seeing a lot of him, but he seemed to always be here in the library at the same time as her. Which was annoying. This was where she went to get away from everything and everyone else.

“Lady Anne?” One of the Adepts walked over, she raised an eyebrow at him. “I apologize but your mother sent a servant and, well, he’s rather insistent,” she sighed and slammed her book closed. “As you aren’t officially a student,” he drifted off.

“Fine,” she said. “If someone else has this one tomorrow, I’m holding you responsible.” The adept blinked at her and the Phanian snorted. “Can I help you?” She looked at him.

“No, I,” he swallowed, “are you returning to the palace?”

“No, I’m going home,” She said. He stood up.

“I’ll escort you,” he smiled and she sighed. He followed her out. “I don’t believe we’ve been properly introduced.”

“We haven’t,” she said. “But let me preempt your questions. Yes, I am inheriting the largest Provenance in Cammadan. No, I am not interested in whatever business scheme you have. Yes, I am hoping to eventually marry. No, I am not chasing Prince Anton or your friend Caleb. Are we done?”

“I was going to start with, ‘hello, I’m Lestat. I’ve wanted to talk to you but Caleb warned me not to bother you while you were studying,”” he shrugged, “but that is all certainly interesting information.”

“Oh,” she said, “well, he knows me well.” He smiled. “Lestat?”

“Les,” he said, she nodded and they started walking. “I didn’t realize you weren’t enrolled.” She sighed. It was a point of contention. With everyone.

“I’m an heir,” she said, “one can’t have everything.” He frowned.

“And so they can ask you to leave whenever?” He asked. She laughed.

“Well, my mother can summon me,” she explained, “and make a great deal of noise about it. And the Masteros hate a scene.” He laughed. “So then they ask me to leave.” He nodded. “You’re enrolled by special permission, aren’t you?”

“Yes,” he said, his stance becoming tight. “There’s some family history that lead me to the archives here. King Cyrus was kind enough to request enrollment for me.” She squinted. That was odd.

“Is your line from Mariah?” She asked. He shrugged.

“Isn’t everybody’s?” He sighed. She laughed. “It isn’t Mariah.” She nodded. He clearly didn’t want to expand and she didn’t want to pry. “What are you studying?” She looked at him.

“The aquatic plants of our coast and their probable medicinal qualities,” she straightened her shoulders. “It sounds dull, but it will help a lot of people everywhere, and make work in my provenance if I can figure out some things.” He smiled.

“It’s admirable,” he said. “You want to be a healer?”

“I wish,” she sighed, “but no, I have to get married and make another heir. Those are the rules.” He nodded.

“But not the Prince,” he said. “Or Caleb.” She blushed.

“Prince Anton only knows my name because he’s very polite, and everyone makes assumptions about Caleb and me,” she said, “but we’re friends, is all. He understands.”

“He does,” Les grinned. “Can I see you again?” She smiled.

“I don’t see how we’ll avoid it,” she said slipping into the house.

Les laughed as she walked away. He didn’t normally do this. Pursuing girls was out of the question, just as Anne had been talking about her responsibilities he had them too. It’s why he was in Cammadan. To find answers about Marie. But he hadn’t quite been able to ignore Anne Brightcoast.

It wasn’t worth pursuing of course. Anne was going to be a ruler of a Provenance and couldn’t come to Phania to marry him, and while Tumona was closer to a house than even an estate, he was the only male heir and couldn’t renounce that to move here. Let alone, leaving his sister to his Aunt’s aspirations.

He was supposed to be staying in a dorm room at the University, but since becoming friends with Caleb Pantona he’d spent most nights at his townhouse.

“Oh, you’re back early,” Caleb said as he walked in. “Did you find something?”

“No,” Les sighed. “I did talk to Lady Anne though.” He plopped on a couch. Caleb raised his eyebrows.

“That went well?” He shelved a book.

“Well, she made it clear she’s not interested in you or Prince Anton,” Les grinned, “so there’s that.” Caleb laughed

“I could have told you that,” Caleb sat down with him. “Well, not about Anton, which I could have guessed.” Les laughed. “But she was willing to talk to you?”

“Mm,” Les nodded. “At me, for a bit, but eventually to.” Caleb nodded.

“Sounds about right,” he said, “we could go to the palace tonight if you want. Her mother makes her go most nights. And I’ve probably avoided it for too long.” Les raised his eyebrows.

“Why do you avoid it?” Les asked. Caleb sighed.

“Have you ever seen what happens when a pack of wolves smell fresh meat?” He asked. Les nodded. “Imagine that, but debutantes and I’m the meat. It’s unpleasant.” Les laughed.

“I suppose I can understand that,” he shrugged. “You don’t mind?”

“No,” Caleb said. “I really don’t. Anne is my friend, so are you. She’s over due to fall in love and you’re useless in your current condition.” He tossed a pillow at him and Les laughed.

Anne stood in the palace hall the night, wrapping a fan against her hands.

“Hello there,” Caleb appeared at her shoulder.

“What do you want?” She grumbled. He grinned.

“To say hello, to my oldest friend,” he said, “and check what she thinks of my newest.”

“You’re meddling,” she frowned. “You’re worse than my mother.”

“I am not,” he said, “I mean, I am meddling, but I’m not worse than your mother, I don’t think you should marry Les, just, enjoy him for a season.”

“You’re ridiculous,” she said. Then she stopped. “Is he here?”

“Somewhere,” Caleb teased.

“Impossible boy,” she muttered. Les walked up. She smiled inspite of herself. “Lord Lestat.”

“Lady Anne,” he said.

“Caleb,” Anne said.

“Yes,” Caleb said sipping his drink.

“Go away,” she smiled, not breaking eye contact with Les. He laughed, bowed and walked towards the ballroom. “I knew he was up to something.”

“To be fair, it’s my fault,” Les blushed, “I was worried about it.” She cocked her head. “About you, talking to you, he’s trying to help.”

“He’s bad at it,” she grinned. “Why were you nervous? Wasn’t I pleasant this afternoon?” He laughed.

“This afternoon, certainly,” he shrugged, “but you’re quite intimidating.”

“I’m too small to be intimidating,” she shook her head. He smirked. Goddess, he was attractive.

“That makes you more intimidating,” he smiled. “So tiny, and so fierce.” She blushed.

“Anne, there you are” her mother walked over. Duchess Adelaide Brightcoast looked over at Les with suspicion. “And who is this.”

“Mother,” Anne smiled, “this is Lord Lestat of Tumona. He’s visiting from Phania to study at The University. He’s befriended our Caleb, isn’t that nice?”

“Hm,” Adelaide regarded him, Anne noted that he was taking it well. “Well, Caleb has always taken in strays. Come, Queen Maura has invited us to sit with them tonight.”

“I’ll be right along,” Anne nodded. The Duchess huffed and walked away. “Do you still think I’m intimidating?” He laughed.

“When can I see you again?” He asked.

“I’ll be in the library tomorrow,” she said. He nodded. “I should go,” he smiled as she walked away.

The next few weeks, they developed a routine. They would settle in at the same table while they studied, Les would walk Anne home, and they’d speak when they could at the palace.

“Les,” she said softly, one evening when they’d manage to study well past suppertime at the palace, on the steps of the house, “would you like to come inside?” He smiled shyly and slid his hand into hers.

“Yes,” he smiled and she opened the door. “Anne, I,” he said softly as they walked into one of the sitting rooms, she slid her coat off and hung it.

“Do you want a drink?” She asked. “My father sent us a wine this week, I haven’t tried to new vintage. Have you had Brightcoast wine? It’s sweet, but not sugary, more like fruit than cakes,” he smiled softly at her and walked over and kissed her.

“I’ve had the wine,” he smiled. “Queen Amanda likes it, they serve it before dinner at Vacana. And you’re nervous.”

“Aren’t you?” She said. He kissed her again.

“Of course,” he said, “I’ve never felt like this before.” She stood on her tiptoes and kissed him. They fell back against the couch. The kissing became touching and Anne rested her hands against his chest as he reclined her back.

“Les, I,” she whimpered and unlaced the front of her dress. “I’ve never done this.” He kissed her again.

“Me neither,” he whispered. “I’ve read about it.” She giggled.

“Me too,” she said as they kept undressing. It felt good, not the overwhelming wave of pleasure she’d expected, but warm and safe, and Les’s hands on her body, his lips on hers, him moving in her felt right. After, they lay wrapped in fur blankets in front of the roaring fire.

“I love you,” she said softly. He pressed a kiss against her hair, and rested his forehead on her shoulder.

“I love you too,” he said. “More than I thought was possible. Probably more than is good for me.” She sighed.

“Caleb mentioned enjoying a season,” she rolled over, “I don’t see why it can’t be more permanent.”

“Anne, I,” he sighed, “I have to go home.”

“I know,” she whispered. “I understand that, but I thought, I don’t know, we could write, and,” he exhaled and kissed her gently.

“You don’t,” he said, “my sister,” he exhaled, “it’s complicated, but I, I came here to help her.” She looked at him. “And I found something, but I don’t know, and,” she sat down.

“What’s wrong with her?” She asked. He laughed and shook his head.

“Nothing,” he said, “Marie is perfect, she’s amazing. But when she was born, the sister that delivered her had a vision and wrote down a prophecy.” Anne looked at him.

“Your sister is Chosen?” She asked. He nodded. “You came looking for her mandate.” She swallowed. Chosen were rare, some people didn’t believe that they existed. That people claiming the title were just, mad.”

“Sort of,” Les sighed, “she was promised a gift from the goddess, to free them, the union of earth and sea.” She nodded. “I don’t know, it doesn’t make a lot of sense. Have you ever heard of the Holy Swords?” She smiled.

“The Sword Of Rana will cut her and Cornan free from the wheel of time,” Anne said. “The sword of Amina would shatter the barrier between this world and the worlds of the dead.” He nodded. “Cornan’s would fend off the armies invading from the loss of the barrier.”

“Yes,” he smiled, “but the swords aren’t weapons. They’re people, or at least, that’s my theory.” She looked at him. “And I think, Marie’s mandate is to mother one of them.”

“You learned all this studying here?” She asked. He shook his head.

“No,” he said, “I came here to learn how to stop it. A Prince is meant to father the sword. Prince Daniel has shown interest in Marie, and certain members of my family are eager for the match to continue. Marie is fourteen, and she has no desire to be Queen of Phania, but she has a prophecy on her head.”

“You want to sever the mandate,” Anne sat up. He nodded. “Defying the gods, you don’t ask for much, do you?” He laughed and kissed her.

“I’d stay with you,” he whispered, “I’d give up everything I’ve ever known to do it, Anne, really. But I can’t abandon Marie to people who don’t see her as a whole person, I can’t let her get swallowed up.” Anne kissed him.

“Do you want me to help?” She asked. He cupped his hand against her face.

“What about you sea plants?” He teased.

“They’ll keep,” she said. “This is very selfish for me,” she said, “you see if you sever her mandate, you can come back to me.” He laughed and kissed her.

“I think you’re amazing, Anne Brightcoast,” he whispered. She smiled.

Two Years Later

Anne was sitting at her desk in Brightcoast, her parents were absorbed in planning the opening ball to the summer season which left Anne to the actual work of running the provenance for the week. She liked it that way but it was still lonely. The royal family had arrived at the cliff perched summer palace a few days ago, and she knew she’d have to show her face soon. The idea of it made her sad.

“Hello Anne,” Caleb walked in and sat down on her couch. She looked up at him.

“What do you want?” She said.

“To say hello?” He asked. She went back to her work.

“You’ve done that,” she said, “go away.” He laughed. “Caleb, you’ve been here a few days, why are you here now?”

“Well, I had to get settled in,” he pointed out. “And of course there’s Lady Olivia,” she groaned.

“Please don’t,” she said, “I had a month of blessed peace from you talking about Lady Olivia,” he smirked at her.

“You were in love,” he said, “I dealt with it.”

“My love was reciprocated,” she pointed out. “And much less tedious.” He nodded.

“I have to tell you something,” his voice went serious. She looked at him. “I got a letter from Les.”

“Alright,” she said, “I get letters from him frequently.” He sighed.

“Anne, he’s coming back,” she dropped her pen. “He’s bringing his sister here, something about Prince Daniel, and being worried for her safety. They’re arriving in a few days, I’m presenting them.”

“What?” She said. “Why you?” He raised his eyebrows. “I would have,” she leaned back.

“I think he was worried that it would hurt you,” he said. “That he was coming back to protect Marie.” She nodded. But she understood that, Marie’s safety was Les’s priority. He’d told her that. “I didn’t want you to be surprised.”

“Thank you, I guess,” she said and stood up, he grabbed her hand and squeezed it.

“Anne,” he said. “Just wait until you talk to him.” She nodded.

Les looked around the ballroom. The first gauntlet of the night had been cleared, that was introducing Marie. He was more nervous about the second. They’d been in Brightcoast for four days and he’d gone back and forth between going to see Anne in his mind a million times a day.

But he hadn’t. Caleb had mentioned she’d seem hurt that he hadn’t asked her for help, and he wanted to explain himself. And he wanted her to meet Marie, who he had completely lost track of. Caleb had gone to pay homage to his doomed love for Lady Olivia Bano, and that just made him want to talk to Anne even more. He was sure she would be happy to tease him about it.

But she wasn’t in the ballroom. Or on the terrace. He paused and saw John Dugarry refilling his wine and walked over.

“Your sister is with Anton, don’t worry, I’m watching them,” Sir John said and took a long drink. Les nodded.

“I was actually going to ask if there’s a library,” Les said, “but thank you for that.” Sir John grinned.

“There is,” he smiled. “If you go down to the main hall and turn left, it’s down that passageway. She may just have gone home though, or not even come tonight.”

“Thank you,” Les smiled at the guard who nodded and winked at him. He rushed quickly to the library, which was lit by a silvery magic generated fire, and in the center in an armchair there was Anne. She had some kind of jewels in her hair, because the moonlight and fire were hitting it and shining off of it. She was wearing a pink satin gown and looked almost like a painting. “Anne,” he whispered. She looked up and then looked back down and pointedly went back to reading.

“Lord Sanpierre,” she said coolly. He swallowed and walked over to her. “Your sister did well. I think Anton swallowed his tongue.” He laughed. “I look forward to meeting her.”

“She looks forward to meeting you,” he said, “in fact, I’d hoped tonight.” She snapped the book closed and looked at him. “Caleb said you were upset.”

“Did he?” she said. He nodded. “Well, that was good of him.” He sighed. “Did you think I wouldn’t help you?”

“It isn’t that,” he said, “I knew you would,” she nodded. “I didn’t want to be in your debt.” She looked at him. “I always thought of us as, well, equals, I suppose, and if I,” he sighed, “if I owed you so much, it would break us, this.” Her face soften and she leaned back.

“What happened? With Prince Daniel?” She asked. Les frowned.

“He pursued her,” he said, “agressively. She was becoming frightened by the attention. I think she had a few Dreams about it, but she won’t say.” Anne nodded. “And when Caleb wrote that we should come here, when I mentioned I was concerned, I,” he swallowed, “I couldn’t say no, because it meant I would get to see you.” She leaned across the space and kissed him, and he pulled her into his lap. “Anne,” he whispered.

“I missed you so much,” she said, “and I was so happy you were coming, really.” He pressed his forehead against hers. “How long are you staying?”

“I’m not going anywhere,” he said. She looked at him and smiled.

“So we can get married?” She said.

“I’d like to,” he smirked. She giggled and tumbled onto the floor with him. “I love you.”

“I love you too,” she said as they fell into the kiss.

Interlude: The Safe Place

Content WarningThis 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 or if you are in crisis contact the Crisis Text Line at 741-741


Viscount Caleb Pantona was not looking forward to dinner that evening.

“Her name is Lady Olivia Bano,” his mother had said, helping him into his jacket. He sighed. “I met her last week at the palace. I think you’ll enjoy her.”

“Carmine Bano’s daughter?” Caleb asked. His mother nodded. “Carmine Bano is opportunistic scum” His mother laughed.

“True, but that’s hardly the girl’s fault,” she kissed him on the cheek. “You need to marry, Caleb. I had hopes for you and Anne Brightcoast, but that Phanian friend of yours turned her head and she’s not coming back.” Caleb smiled. Anne would have been a good match, and her falling in love with Lestat Sanpierre was indeed inconvenient.

“So this is every night this winter then?” He asked. She nodded. “Bring on the debutantes, I suppose. Anton’s bound to disappoint a few of them.”

“That’s the spirit,” she smirked.

Caleb stood up as Carmine Bano and his daughter entered. Lady Olivia was wearing a simple white gown and her long red hair was down her back. Caleb thought he might swallow his tongue. She was almost otherworldly beautiful.

“Caleb,” his father said. Caleb cleared his throat and walked over to Lady Olivia.

“My lady,” he said, “I’m glad to finally meet you.” She raised an eyebrow as he kissed her hand.

“Your Grace,” she said, “I hadn’t realized my presence was anticipated.” He smiled. She was clever too.

“A beautiful woman’s presence is always anticipated,” he pointed out. She smirked. He spent dinner doing his best to engage her so she didn’t think he was a blithering idiot but he was reasonably sure he failed.


Olivia smiled to herself the next morning as she drank her tea thinking of Viscount Caleb. She didn’t want him, but of her father’s assortment he was certainly the best. Tall, with auburn hair that curled at the ends and clear blue eyes, he also had a boyish face and an easy laugh.

“Oh Good,” John Dugarry walked in, “you’re alive.” She looked at him and giggled. “Anton and Tom will be thrilled.”

“I didn’t realize they were so concerned about my whereabouts,” she said as he sat down. “My father wanted to introduce me to some of his friends.”

“Ah,” John nodded. “Of course.” She swallowed. “Did he hurt you again?” She looked away and shook her head. “Livvie,” he said softly. “If he does, you should.”

“He wants what’s best for me,” she said. “Are you here to escort me to the palace?”

“You don’t miss anything,” he grinned. Her father walked in. “Ah, hello Lord Bano.”

“Captain Dugarry,” he said, “may I have a moment with my daughter?” John nodded and excused himself. “What does he want?”

“The Prince wants to see me,” she went to stand up, “I shouldn’t keep him waiting,” her father grabbed her wrist and she twitched. “Papa,” she whispered.

“You aren’t some tavern wench he can summon whenever he wants you,” he hissed. “Remember that, remind him of that.” Olivia nodded and he let go. She followed after her. She pulled her sleeve down and walked out with John.

“Your father’s friends,” John said. She looked at him. “So Careton?”

“Obviously,” she said. He nodded.

“Then I’d guess, Wallace, Allred,” he smirked. She sighed and nodded. “But you haven’t been to the palace in four nights so I’m missing someone.”

“Pantona,” she said softly. He laughed.

“Well, Careton’s too old, Wallace doesn’t like women, and Allred is an idiot,” he said, “Caleb Pantona though, that’s a real threat. Anton should be worried.”

“He shouldn’t,” she said. John smirked at her. “He could have come to see me himself.”

“I told him as much,” John shrugged.

“Is he serious?” She asked. “You’d know, he tells you everything.” She looked away, she hated herself for asking.

“I think he’s considering being serious,” John said. “Tom is serious. Deadly serious.” She nodded. They’d all been friends, before. John was still her friend. She wished she could pinpoint when and what exactly had changed. And she wished it didn’t give her a knot in her stomach.


That night Caleb walked into the palace hall and looked around. He’d gone by Bano house first had been informed that Lord Bano and Lady Olivia weren’t there. He hoped they were here but he knew there was no guarantee of that either.

“Caleb?” Anne Brightcoast walked up to him, surprised. “What on earth on you doing here?” She hugged him.

“I got to town a few days ago,” he explained. “I’m sorry I haven’t been to see you.”

“Hm,” she frowned. “I’ll forgive you if you walk me in. I can’t take another night of suitors.” Caleb smile and took her arm.

“You’ll tell Les I was taking care of you,” he said. She shot him a look. “My mother is terribly disappointed, by the way.”

“About Les?” She said. “So kind of her to be so invested in my happiness.” He barked a laugh. “Just your mother then?”

“Well, I agree with her that it would be tidy,” he pointed out, “but I do want you to be happy, and I’m not the man for that particular job.” She sighed as he glanced around the hall.

“You’re looking for someone!” She gasped. He sighed loudly. “Caleb, are you in love?”

“I wouldn’t go that far, I’m just,” he frowned. “We had Carmine Bano and his daughter to dinner last night.” She frowned. “I wanted to say hello.”

“Olivia Bano?” She said. “Well, I know where you’ll find her.” He followed as she pointed to the front of the room. Lady Olivia was sitting beside Prince Anton, who was whispering in her ear and making her giggle. She looked outstandingly lovely, her dark auburn hair piled on her head and an elaborate blue gown rustling with her every move. He swallowed. “Of course as it’s Anton, I’m sure he’ll have moved on in a week or so, he usually does, but then there’s Tom Martin.” His eyes got wide.

“Tom Martin?” He said. Anne nodded. “So you’re saying the first girl I’ve found interesting in, well, ever, is being pursued by the crown prince and Cornan’s chosen champion?”

“Unfortunately,” she sighed. “But by all means say hello. She’ll probably enjoy it. You’re reasonably good looking and charming when you want to be,” She kissed him on the cheek and floated away.


“Anton, stop,” Olivia said softly with a giggle as he kissed behind her ear gently. “Everyone’s looking.” They’d spent the afternoon in his room, she didn’t know what she was going to tell Tom, but it had been fun. She didn’t really expect more than fun from Anton, as much as she loved him.

“Let them,” he grinned, his grey eyes sparkling, “why shouldn’t everyone know I adore you?” She silenced him with a look and he leaned back. “Fine then, but you can’t disappear for a week like that again.”

“I wanted to be here,” she said, “but I can’t,” she exhaled, “my father.” She thought of the bruise forming on her wrist from where he’d grabbed her earlier. Did Anton see it?

“He doesn’t approve?” He teased.

“He has plans,” she said softly, “and I’m not sure he believes you’re serious about me.” Anton smiled. “And as I know you aren’t serious about anyone, well,” she shrugged.

“I could be serious,” he said. She picked up her wine and shook her head and laughed. “Gods, why is Caleb Pantona coming over here?” Olivia swallowed. The Viscount looked even more handsome tonight than he had before. His height and long limbs moved gracefully and his deep bow was mesmerizing.

“Your Highness,” Viscount Caleb said with a smile, but he was making eye contact with Olivia. She blushed.

“Viscount,” Anton said, he sounded annoyed. Olivia couldn’t help but be amused. “You know Lady Olivia Bano, I assume?”

“Of course, My Lady,” he took her hand and kissed it.

“Your Grace,” she said, “The Viscount’s parents had my father and me for dinner yesterday. I didn’t expect to see you again so soon.”

“I went to see you this afternoon but I believe you were already out,” The Viscount smiled, “but I was hoping to at least claim a dance.”

“Of course,” Olivia smiled. Anton was scowling. Viscount Caleb bowed again.

“Livvie,” Anton said, “you’re spoken for!” She straightened her shoulders.

“Am I?” She said. He growled something about being as good as. “Oh, you’re being ridiculous, it’s a dance Anton, I’ll dance with you and Tom too.”

“I don’t see what Tom has to do with it at all,” he glared. She rolled her eyes. Boys were impossible.

Olivia had had enough of watching Anton be absorbed by that Phanian girl, and she was angry at Tom for leaving without a thought to how it would effect them. She knew she had to explain something to her father. He’d be furious about Anton so she rushed into the hall.

“Lady Olivia,” Viscount Caleb of Pantona walked out of the library. She looked at him. “I didn’t realize you were still here.”

“I was looking for my father,” she said, “I wanted to say goodnight.”

“He retired about an hour ago,” he said. She exhaled. “If you’d like, I’ll walk you to your rooms.”

“I’d like that very much,” she said softly. It wouldn’t hurt to flirt with him a little. “Why are you still awake?” He laughed.

“I don’t sleep well,” he said, “so court life obviously suits me.” She nodded. “You?”

“I was waiting for Anton,” she said softly, “I lost track of time, obviously he did too.” He nodded. “Are you staying all summer?”

“No,” he said, “I have to get home for harvest at some point.” She cocked her head to the side. “That surprises you?”

“A little,” she said, “most of the men who,” she stopped, “I just assumed you spent most of your time in Dovetail, I mean.” He laughed lightly.

“Finish your thought,” he said, “most of the men your father threw at you.” She blushed and looked down. “I’m not an idiot, Lady Olivia,” he said, “I’m an excellent prospect and you’re hardly the first girl from a Dovetail family I’ve been flung at.” She giggled and looked up at him. “Most of them aren’t as pretty as you though.”

“Well done,” she said as they reached her door. “I’ve never seen anyone pivot quite that well.” He smiled.

“Not even Prince Anton,” he said, “or Commander Martin,” she blushed again. “I happen to be telling the truth,” he said and turned her face up, “but I think you know that. I think you’re quite aware you’re the most beautiful girl in every room you walk into.” She frowned. He’d been so honest and easy earlier, now it felt like he was flattering her and she didn’t like it.

“What do you want from me?” She said. “Besides what every other man does when he sees that girl walking in the room I mean.” He frowned, then.

“I don’t want anything from you,” he said, “why would I?” She bit her bottom lip. “Like I said before, I’m an excellent prospect, I can get that anywhere,” she swallowed, “I want you to see me, Lady Olivia,” he said, “All I care about is if you want me, if you want to be with me.” She swallowed and quickly turned and opened the door and rushed in. Her father was sitting in an arm chair with a glass of something brown in his hand.

“You’re late,” he muttered.

“I was waiting for Prince Anton,” she said softly, “I didn’t want to be rude.” He nodded. “And then I was coming back and ran into Viscount Caleb,” he stood up. “He walked me back.”

“The Duke of Careton went home tonight.” She swallowed. “He’s marrying some tenant’s daughter.” She looked down. “Did he apologize? The Prince. He made a fool of you tonight.” She exhaled, she wanted to say the right thing. He grabbed her chin. “Olivia, answer me.”

“No,” she said, “of course not, and it isn’t,” she exhaled, “he was only being polite, I’m sure.”

“And the Viscount? Are you more certain there?” He said. She looked down and then felt the heavy slap across her face. “Anton made you his whore, and now he’s moved on, so I suggest you fix it.” She nodded. “Go to sleep, I can’t stand the sight of you.” She rushed to her room and cried herself to sleep, not even changing out of her gown.


Caleb had gone to leave when he heard shouting from the other side of the door. Then the slap and whimper. He froze. He ought to break the door down. He’s noticed certain things. The way she flinched when her father went to touch her, bruises here or there. He hadn’t wanted to believe it. But now, well, there was just no denying it.

He went to find her the next morning and found her sitting in a courtyard reading.

“Hello,” she looked up at him with a smile, but her eyes were still rimmed with red. He looked serious. “Is something wrong Your Grace?”

“I don’t know quite where to begin,” he said, “are you alright?” She swallowed.

“My feelings are a little hurt,” she said, she was trying to tease. “Anton does get distracted, but usually not quite so seriously. And with Tom and John leaving,” she swallowed. “We’ll have plenty of time to get to know one another better, I suppose.”

“That isn’t what I meant,” he whispered, and took her hand. “You can trust me.” She swallowed and stood up. “Please, Olivia, trust me.” She looked at him.

“My father lost his temper last night,” she said, “that’s all.” He looked at her. “I just have to get through the next few months, and I thought,” he exhaled. “But if Anton isn’t,” she exhaled. “I’m engaged. My father doesn’t know, he thinks I’m still, that Anton and I,” He nodded.

“But you can’t marry Tom Martin if your father beats you to death,” Caleb said gently. She stared at him. “Does he know?” She shook her head. “The Prince?” She shook it again. “Gods.” He whispered and went to hold her. “Always come to me, I’ll protect you.” She looked up at him.

“You don’t hate me?” She said. “I’d be using you!” He smiled gently.

“You’re welcome to,” he said, “I don’t feel punished by spending time with you.” She looked up at him. “I feel a little selfish, for wanting you to hide with me.” He cupped a hand gently against her face. “But I can help you Olivia, I can keep you safe, let me.”


Olivia paced in her bedroom, Anton and Marie had announced their engagement. She was thrilled for them. Marie had asked her to served as Lady in waiting, she was honored. She’d watched the boy she once hoped to marry grow into a man who deeply loved someone, even if it was someone else.

But now she was away from the crowd and all she could feel was dread. Caleb had been watching her carefully all night, it was the only thing that had made her feel calm.

“OLIVIA!” Her father’s voice bellowed through the house. She swallowed as he opened the door, holding a leather strap.

“Papa, please,” she whispered, “please, I won’t,” but all her begging and pleading didn’t stop it, and the next thing she remembered she was standing on the front step of his house. She hadn’t changed, hadn’t done anything, just run.


“Olivia?” Caleb said opening the door. “Come inside, darling what is it?” She was sobbing. “I’ll take your cloak.” He reached for it and she flinched.

“No,” she said, “I shouldn’t have come here, but I didn’t know,” she paused. “There wasn’t anywhere else.” He carefully touched her face.

“Come along,” he said softly, ushering her to a parlor. “Do you want tea? Something stronger.” He noticed the way the cloak was sticking to her. “Gods,” he whispered, and carefully peeled it off of her and saw her ruined gown and the gashes bleeding on her back. He was furious. He’d murder her father, if he thought it would help. “You need a healer, I’ll send to the university.”

“No,” she said, stopping him from ringing the bell. “I just,” she swallowed, “I need to get cleaned up, but I was,” she looked down. “I thought he was going to kill me, Caleb, I don’t know what to do.”

“You don’t have to do anything,” he said. “You’ll stay here.” She swallowed.

“Anton can’t know,” she said panicking and standing up wringing her hands. “He’ll think it’s his fault and it isn’t. Marie’s wonderful and he loves her,” she paced. “Tom is so far away and he hasn’t written in weeks.” He stood up and took her hands.

“Look at me,” he whispered, “you need a healer, or you’ll get infected. No one has to know if you don’t want them to.” She was still sobbing and gasping. He grabbed the bell and rang it. A girl with dark auburn hair walked in. “Go to The University and ask for a healer to come, a woman if you can manage it. And have a bath drawn and get one of my mother’s robes for Lady Olivia.” The girl nodded and rushed out. She swallowed and pressed her head against his chest. “Everything is going to be fine.”

“How?” She whispered. “He’s going to kill me,” she whispered.

“No,” he said softly, “I promise you, that won’t happen.”

Caleb sat watching the healer work over Olivia’s back, glaring at him occasionally. He didn’t blame her, it certainly looked as though he’d had something to do with this.

“You’ll be fine,” the healer said, “there’ll be scars but nothing anyone but a lover would ever see.” Olivia nodded and sat up. “Viscount.” The Healer slipped out. Olivia looked at him.

“Thank you,” she said softly. He nodded.

“Get some rest,” he whispered. “You won’t have to wear my mother’s things for long, yours will be here in the morning.” She nodded. He walked out of the room and then to the large Bano townhouse and marched in to where Olivia’s father was sitting, far too calmly, staring at the fire. “A moment, sir?”

“This is unexpected,” Carmine Bano looked at him. “Did you bring her back or do you intend to keep her?” Caleb looked at him and grabbed him from the chair and shoved him against the wall.

“She won’t be coming back here,” Caleb said, nearly growling, his hand around this man’s throat. “And if you ever try to get near her again, I’ll kill you, very simply, very cleanly.” He stepped back. “As far as your daughter is concerned, her father died tonight. Get whoever it is you pay to keep their mouths shut about whipping a girl nearly to death to pack Olivia’s things and have them sent to my house. This game is over.” He stood up and stalked out of the house and then back home.

He’d be damned before he let anyone ever hurt her again.


Olivia woke up and twitched. Her back was still tingling, and all she could think of was the awful sting and burn of the leather where her father had struck over and over again.

She closed her eyes. Caleb had taken care of her. He’d gotten her healed and clean and given her a place to cry herself to sleep. But she would have to go home. And she didn’t know what that would look like. Her father, his reaction to this. He’d be furious, except that he could leverage this into an engagement.

“Good morning,” Caleb said softly walking in, holding a cup of tea. “Do you?” She nodded and reached out taking it. “How are you feeling?”

“Better,” she said, “Thank you.” He nodded. “I know I can’t stay here, but I appreciate it.” He looked confused. “Maybe I can go in as Marie’s lady in waiting early. She’s not technically supposed to have one yet, but,”

“Of course you can stay here,” he said. She looked at him. “I told your father as much when I saw him last night.”

“You WHAT?” She said jumping out of bed. His face was flat and serious.

“If you don’t want to, of course, we can make other arrangements,” he said softly, “but you can’t go back there, and I won’t let anyone hurt you.” She stepped closer to him. “Olivia,” he muttered cautiously.

“Caleb,” she said softly.

“Don’t play with me,” he said softly. She swallowed. “Please, I don’t know how else to say it. I’m glad to be your friend if that’s what you need from me,” he said, “but I care for you, more than I realized, and if you don’t and can’t see yourself caring for me the same way,” he exhaled, “we can’t cross that line.” She rested her hands against his chest.

“Caleb,” she smiled gently, he nodded. “Please kiss me. I’ve been thinking about you kissing me for months.” He pulled her close and kissed her gently at first. Their mouths only gently opened. She deepened her hold on him, molding her body against his and then pulled away. “Well, that was lovely,” she said softly. He smiled.

“Yes it was,” he said. They kissed again and fell back against the bed. He moved his hand to her thigh and she whimpered gently. “I’ve wanted this for a long time.” She smiled shyly.

She wasn’t an innocent. There was Tom, and Anton. But Caleb’s touch, and the way he made her feel, and the way he talked made her feel shy, like she’d never even been alone with a man, let alone had a few lovers.

“I want you,” she said softly, running her hands over his chest. He moved his kiss to her neck. He sat up, straddling over her and undressed. She leaned up on her elbows.

“Are you sure?” He asked, lowering her back down under him. “It’s the point of no return, Olivia.” She smiled and cocked her head to the side.

“I’m sure,” she whispered. He slid his hand between her legs and spread her thighs. She exhaled a whimper.

“Mm,” he said as his fingers found her soft spot. “I do like all your little noises.” She panted as he started working her gently, whimpering and writhing a bit. “Tell me what you like, Olivia.”

“This,” she groaned arching into his fingers, “I like this so much.” He moved the material off her shoulder, letting the robe fall off of her completely, then he kissed down to her chest and found her nipple and sucked on it softly. “Caleb,” she exhaled, closing her eyes. “Yes, please,” she groaned. “More.” He pulled away and then straddled her again. “Don’t stop,” she whispered.

“I just want to look at you,” he said brushing her hair off her face. “So beautiful, I can barely believe it.” She smiled as he cupped her cheek. They kissed again he pressed into her, gently, moving in and out. “Olivia,” he whispered. And he repeated it over and over again. He shuddered.

“It’s alright,” she said, “I use whip willow.” He groaned and finished. After they lay together. “I like the way you say my name.” She whispered. “You use the whole O,” he laughed, fingering her palm. “And you don’t call me Livvie, like we’re still children.”

“Olivia,” he whispered and kissed her on top of her head.

“Caleb,” she said softly.

“Come to Pantona with me,” he said, “marry me. Let me keep you safe.” She smiled and touched his face gently, he pressed his lips against her palm.

“I can’t just run away to Pantona,” she said. He sighed and stretched, still smiling but something sad in it.

“Martin?” He asked. She nodded.

“I owe him a conversation, at least,” she said gently, “I do want to marry you.” She stretched.

“How are you feeling?” He asked. She smiled.

“Fine,” she said, “good. Thank you, for being my safe place.”

“I’ll always be here,” he promised. “For you, always.” She pressed her forehead to his. “I love you,” he whispered. She exhaled, feeling safe in that declaration.

“I love you too,” she whispered.

Interlude: Sparks Fly

Note: The Merriest Of Christmas Weekends To You, Marina Chronicle Readers! As a Christmas present to you, (and me!) I’m publishing two interludes, about my two favorite people in this world right now…Prior Chastain and Evan Allred. Who are these cousins who popped up and suddenly fit right in with our A list? What’s their deal?

Now Evan. So much pining. Much kissing. Please understand that Evan is my precious cutie pie and I am nervous to share this much of him with people, because I want to protect him. Think of Chris Lowell if it pleases you.


“And you’ll join me as soon as possible,” Count Wyatt Allred said to his son. Fifteen year old Evan stared at his father. “Once I have a good read on the situation?”

“Join you?” Evan choked on his words. “At court?” Wyatt looked at him. “Father, I’m not sure that,” his father stared him down.

“Annalise is a girl of seventeen,” Wyatt said, “no attachments as far as anyone knows, it’s an excellent opportunity.” He clapped him on the shoulder, got on his horse and rode off. Evan was speechless. His own seventeen year old cousin Prior Chastain was standing behind him and started laughing.

“Don’t,” Evan said. They were closer to brothers. Prior’s parents were long dead and he’d come to the Allred house as a ward. They’d grown up together. “Is he actually suggesting,” Evan sighed. “Gods, does he want me to marry Princess Annalise?”

“It would seem so,” Prior grinned as they walked into the house. Evan groaned. “Would her being a princess erase the fact she’s not a man?”

“It isn’t funny,” Evan laughed along with him. “Gods, what am I going to do?”

“You’re going to go to Dovetail,” Prior shrugged. “You’re going to dance with a princess and then not overtly pursue her so she won’t notice you anyway. Your father will be so angry he’ll drink a whole case of wine and then leave me another farm to ‘punish’ you.” Evan grinned. In his father’s mind he and Prior were in an eternal power struggle for his approval. In fact, Prior was least ambitious man he’d ever met, and Evan wanted badly to do well by his family’s Provenance, and saw no reason why that required marriage to a queen. Or any woman, since Evan had known most of his life that his interest lay with boys.

Evan was surprised by how much easier life at court was than he’d expected. He did get to blend into the crowd, and he’d found himself studying magic and history and even working a few basic spells. His father was furious that he’d retreated from being in Queen Annalise’s inner circle and it hadn’t been long before Prior arrived to join the royal guard, bringing him to the city as well.

Of course Evan’s desire to be near Annalise flipped the day after her coronation. When Prince Eric and his entourage came and he saw him for the first time.

Lord Raymond Quents made Evan’s knees weak. He made him want to compose sonnets and build monuments in his honor. He wanted to hold him close and kiss him and build sandcastles and dance in the rain. It was embarassing how he started thinking whenever the Phanian boy walked in the room.

It was quickly followed by the sharp voice, He’s not for you. Aside from the fact that he didn’t want his father to disinherit him, Lord Raymond already had someone. And he was a close member of two royal families. And he was beautiful.

“Lord Evan,” Duchess Marina walked up to him one day when they were both studying in the palace library. He looked at her. “I wanted to invite you to dinner this evening.”

“Dinner?” He parrotted at her. She nodded. The Duchess was a strange creature to observe. Unlike most of the people their age at court she’d lived her whole life in Dovetail, the rumor was that Lord Brayton had been grooming her for marriage. Now she stood beside her cousin and ran her household. She was small and bursting with energy, both normal and magical.

“Yes,” she said, “it’s a meal, you typically eat it in the evening, among friends or family.” He laughed. “The Queen wants to get to know all of the heirs.”

“I’m an heir,” Evan said. The Duchess nodded. “Is this about marriage prospects?” Duchess Marina burst into a laugh.

“Gods no!” She said. “You seem like a very nice boy, but Annalise is rather attached to the idea of having a husband who’d enjoy bedding her.” Evan smirked. She strung her arm through his. “My cousin Raymond is going to be joining us of course. I think you two will get along very well.” He swallowed to keep from babbling.

“My lady,” he said, “I wouldn’t presume,” she looked at him and smirked. “How much do you know?” She shrugged.

“I’ve seen you not be able to pay attention to anything else when he walks into a room,” she said. “It’s a feeling I’m familiar with so I pick up on it.” He laughed. “I suggest beginning with ‘Hello,’ as, ‘I believe I’m in with love you,’ tends to frighten people.” He smiled.

It had been a summer of doing his best to behave like a person when Raymond crossed his path. He didn’t always succeed. Quite often he was too tongue tied to say much of anything, not to mention the object of his affection was so serious. He smiled sometimes, usually in the presence of his cousins. But they were two of the only people who regularly went back and forth between Brightcoast Palace, Brightcoast Manor and Cammadan’s University Outpost, a small library

“Do you have plans for when you go back to Dovetail?” Raymond asked him one time as they walked back from the University outpost to Brightcoast Manor. Evan’s eyes got wide.

“Not particularly,” Evan said. “A lot depends on my father obviously.” Raymond nodded. “Why do you ask?”

“I’m considering studying to become a Mastero and I don’t know,” he sighed, “I thought.” Evan smiled shyly.

“I can’t,” he said, “I mean, I’d consider it, but I have Allred to consider. Heirs can’t take vows.” Raymond frowned.

“Seems ridiculous,” he muttered. Evan grinned.

“The two vows contradict,” he explained, “when I’m the Count, I have to pledge myself to my people and land. I can’t be pledged to the gods. I’m going to keep studying though. I’ll get some sort of degree.” Raymond nodded.

“I’m glad we’re friends,” he said quickly as they approached the house. Evan looked at him. Was he blushing? He hoped he wasn’t. That would be a dead give away.

“I am too,” Evan said softly. Raymond stood awkwardly and then ran inside. Evan swallowed.

“Why haven’t you kissed him?” Marina asked. Evan stared at her. They’d arrived back in Dovetail after a whirlwind of possible invasion and broken hearts. Including hers, if he had calculated properly. But she’d written him a note asking for a book she knew he had and he’d come over to deliver it.

“I’m sorry?” He said, handing her the book.

“Raymond,” she shrugged, “why haven’t you kissed him, Evan?”

“We’ve all been rather busy,” Evan pointed out. “You performed two weddings. And he’s still very upset about Randolph.”

“Oh no he isn’t,” Marina said. “You should. Kiss him.”

“Have you Seen something?” He asked. “Or are you avoiding the fact that you want to kiss somebody?” She scowled at him. “I’m sorry, that was insensitive.”

“It really was,” she sighed. “I might miss the kissing, yes.” Evan laughed.

“The problem with being in love with someone who’s friendship you also enjoy,” he said and sat down with her, “is that it’s impossible to know if he’d throw away both when one is offered.” Marina looked at him.

“Raymond wouldn’t do that,” she said.

“Rina, I found it!” Raymond came running, in, he paused. “Hello.”

“Hello,” Evan waved awkwardly.

“I’m glad you found it,” Marina said, taking the paper he was holding and bouncing out of the room.

“This is her office,” Raymond said. Evan shrugged.

“She asked me to bring her a book,” Evan said. “She’s trying to push us together.” Raymond looked at him.

“Why?” Raymond sat down next to him. Evan inhaled.

“Um, because of this,” he said gently and leaned closer to him and kissed him softly. Raymond leaned back.

“Oh,” Raymond exhaled.

“Can I get some elaboration on that, oh?” Evan grimaced. Raymond grabbed the back of his head and they kissed again, this time not softly at all. Evan opened his mouth and pressed his tongue in to taste Raymond. They explored each other.

“Are my feelings clear now?” Raymond teased. Evan grinned.

“Crystal,” he muttered. “Can we take this someplace besides Marina’s couch?” Raymond laughed.

It had been a year. Evan had argued with his father a hundred times about his future, about Raymond, about Allred, about Prior, about Evan becoming his proxy on Annalise’s council. He’d won most of them, and most importantly his father had retreated home, and Evan had taken a seat on council.

“I’m building a house,” Raymond burst into his apartment. Evan raised his eyebrows over his book.

“What?” Evan said. Raymond sat down, his face split into a grin.

“I got permission, from the university, and from Annalise, but she was never going say no,” he exhaled. “I’m going to build a house. On the university campus.” Evan nodded along. “And, if you want, we’re going to live in it.”

“Ray,” Evan said gently cupping his face. “We can’t,” Raymond laughed.

“Why not?” He said. Evan sighed. “We’re young, fine, but we could marry, if we wanted.” Evan sighed. “Your father won’t approve. But what can he do, Evan? Annalise approves of us, the other Provenance leaders are either supportive or indifferent.” Evan laughed and kissed him.

“No, of course,” he said. “Of course, build a house,” Raymond grinned, “for us.” He stopped before going to kiss him again. “Did you say we could marry?

“We could,” Raymond said, “it’s legal in Cammadan, and Mercy and Elodie are about to for precedent in the current court. And there’s nothing in vows against it for Masteros, most don’t but it’s only custom, it’s not in the vows.” Evan smiled.

“We could marry,” Evan whispered and kissed the man he loved again. The idea of such a future spread out in front of him.

A life of joy and love in front of him. And all he had to do was say yes. So he did.

Interlude – From The Outside In

Note: The Merriest Of Christmas Weekends To You, Marina Chronicle Readers! As a Christmas present to you, (and me!) I’m publishing two interludes, about my two favorite people in this world right now…Prior Chastain and Evan Allred. Who are these cousins who popped up and suddenly fit right in with our A list? What’s their deal?

Anyway, Prior first. Please feel free to score this particular piece with Taylor Swift’s “Mastermind” and know that in my mind, Prior is Brandon Routh.


The induction had come more quickly than he’d paid attention to. As he knelt and looked up at Queen Annalise, Prior Chastain could barely even think of the past two months of training and bonding with his squad. She was almost glowing, and she was all that mattered.

“I thank all of you,” she said, her voice gliding over the group. “And welcome your service.” They rose. Commander Dugarry said something to her and her face lit up in a laugh. He was lost. His queen could have his whole heart, physically if she wanted it.

“You seem distracted,” his cousin Evan said that evening. Prior looked at him. “Aren’t you relieved to be inducted?”

“I am,” Prior nodded, “disappointed to be staying here though.” Evan raised his eyebrows.

“It’s important work,” Evan shrugged, “I doubt Brightcoast will be all that exciting.” Prior laughed. “Did you speak to her?”

“No,” Prior laughed. “I don’t know that I ever will.” Evan sighed. “Why?”

“I don’t know,” Evan said, “I just don’t know how to talk to her.” Prior smiled. “I don’t suppose we could swap? I join the guard and you try to marry her?” Prior’s heart sped up at the thought of it. “I’m joking. Aside from my complete lack of interest, no one is getting near her with Dugarry around.”

“The Commander is leaving,” Prior said thoughtfully. “He’s going to Dorin. There’s still the princes though. And the fact that you don’t like women.” Evan laughed.

The Guard had been his Uncle’s idea, but the Rangers were his own. He was more suited to the quick moving nomadic life of the small unit. The long quiet rides through Failon’s forests and Westran’s deserts felt peaceful to him.

“Chastain,” Commander Elodie Willis-Graves walked into his barrack, he stood up and she smiled at him. “I have an assignment for you.”

“Really?” He said. He’d yet to be assigned a permanent partner.

“Mm,” she nodded, “The Countess of Pantona is pregnant.” He raised his eyebrows. “Sir Tristan requires a new partner and I think it should be you.” He stared at her.

“What?” He said, “why?” She shrugged.

“You’re good at this,” she said, “and the family likes your cousin. Tristan doesn’t really like anyone, but I think he’ll get along with you.” He stared at her. “Come on, you have to meet them.”

“You say, ‘the family,’ Elodie,” he stuttered as he followed her through the training yard, “does that mean, Sir Tristan and Lady Carolina?”

“Hello Elodie,” Duchess Marina of Brightcoast cheerfully trotted up to them. “Oh you must be Prior Chastain! Evan’s told me so much about you. I do hope you and Tristan get along.” He blinked at her.

“Thank you, Your Grace,” he bowed. She looked at the Commander.

“Elodie, are you and Mercy going to be at dinner tonight, I need to know how many places are to be set?” The Duchess asked.

“Not tonight, no,” Elodie said. “Althea’s had a cold.”

“Oh, poor thing,” the Duchess clucked, “I’ll make a tea for you all.”

“Thank you,” Elodie laughed as the Duchess padded off. “You look overwhelmed.”

“They know who I am?” He said. She rolled her eyes.

“Obviously,” Elodie said, “your cousin is living with theirs.” Prior exhaled through his nose.

“I know Raymond knows me,” he said. “But The Queen and The Duchess.” Elodie smiled fondly at him.

“Prior,” she said, “I’ve seen you with women, Annalise and Marina are just the same.” He frowned. “I’m serious. Probably Her Majesty more than anyone. She didn’t grow up a queen, she grew up a farm girl in Pantona.” He nodded. “She’s kind of a flirt too, you should know.”

“What?” He said. She smirked. Elodie always saw too much. “It isn’t,” he sighed. “What if I saw something?”

“Yes, the worst thing that could happen to you is that you tell your queen you find her bewitchingly attractive,” Elodie’s voice was flat and sarcastic. “She’ll despise you for it.” Prior sighed. She didn’t understand. No one did.

Six months and three missions later, he’d grown used to the rhythm of things, he liked Tristan Dugarry, who’s seriousness and stoicism, he’d learned was more shyness and social discomfort. Among the people he was close to, the Commander was engaging, and thoughtful.

Their time in Dovetail was his favorite. Because he was close to her. The Queen. Annalise. And she knew him now, paid attention to him, he could make her laugh.

“Hello Captain,” she smiled at him one afternoon walking from holding court.

“Your Majesty,” he bowed. She looked oddly at him. “Can I help you with something?”

“I’m curious why you come here,” she said as they walked out. “Between missions I mean, rather than go home.” He laughed.

“Ah,” he nodded. “My uncle, likes for me to be at court. All of our lives are made easier by my uncle being pleased.” She laughed.

“That’s true enough,” she said, “you’d be next in line wouldn’t you?” He raised his eyebrows. “If I accepted his petition, to dishinerit Evan?”

“His what?” Prior said. She smiled. “Of course. Here I thought he just wanted me to be happy.” She laughed. “I hadn’t realized he’d made his desires official.”

“I’m not doing it,” she remarked. He nodded. “I hope that’s not a disappointment to you. I like Evan and he’s a calming presence on council.” He smiled. “You’ll join us tonight? With everyone back in Pantona, Marina, Raymond and I are feeling a bit lonely.”

“I’d be honored,” Prior said gently. She smiled and turned and walked off. This would be the first time he was seeing her so intimately with Tristan not present.

“May I ask you something?” Annalise said that evening. They were alone, The Duchess had gone to bed and his cousin and his partner were also gone. It had happened too quickly for Prior to excuse himself. He also realized that he didn’t want to.

“I think you may ask whatever you like,” he pointed out. “You’re a queen.” She laughed at that and refilled her wine glass.

“I still like to be polite,” she sipped softly on it. “You watch me,” she said. He nodded.

“That isn’t a question,” he pointed out. She rolled her eyes. “You want to know why?” She nodded. “Because I can’t help it. I’ve tried to, since I came here five years ago. But I can’t stop.” She smiled coyly and leaned back against the sofa.

“Hm,” she nodded, “Would kissing me help, or hurt, do you think?” He blinked at her. “Sometimes it can help, you know, to get the fascination and fantasy out of your system. You could ask Prince Harran about that.” He swallowed.

“Are you asking me to kiss you?” He said. “Or is this a philosophical conversation?” She laughed. “Your Majesty,” he whispered as she moved closer, her gown rustling.

“Captain,” she said quietly, and then pressed her lips to his softly. He cupped his hands around her face. They broke apart. “So, what’s the verdict? Help or hurt?” He laughed.

“Too soon to say,” he smirked, “we’ll have to see how my attention moves tomorrow.” She nodded. She smiled and reclined again. She was beguiling, he realized. He’d watched the part she played in public. Their supernaturally serene girl Queen, as close to the goddess herself as they would ever see.

But she was utterly human. He as all the more drawn to her now.

“But I have it now,” she whispered. He smiled. “Your attention, that is?” He exhaled as she wrapped her arms around his neck.

“Yes, My Queen,” he exhaled and kissed her again, his hands moving to her waist. She was so small against him, and she was still overwhelming him. “You have my attention.” She smiled and slid out from under him.

“Excellent,” she said, “come to bed, Prior, I’ll return it.” He followed her into her bedroom and kissed her, falling back against her bed. He kissed down her neck. She said his name, and trembled when he touched her.

“I want you,” he whispered, “so much, it’s killing me.” She looked up at him and touched his face and kissed him again.

“You have me,” she whispered and pulled his shirt over his head. “No need for the dramatics.” He smiled. “Goddess, I will never stop loving this,” she ran her hands over his chest. He wasn’t sure what he meant but they undressed each other and made love. After, he held her and quietly kissed her hair.

“You said you’d never get tired of it,” he said. She giggled. “Of me?”

“I might get tired of you,” she teased, “but I meant this,” she ran her hands over his chest, “of what your training does for your bodies,” she kissed him. He smiled.

“Really?” He said. She shrugged.

“When I was sixteen, at Pantona,” she explained, “Tristan used to run, and he would get too hot, and inevitably disrobe to some extent.” He raised his eyebrows. “And I remember thinking I might mandate the uniform for male guards not have any shirts, just so I could look at all of you.” He laughed.

“Wouldn’t be particularly practical,” he pointed out and she giggled.

“No,” she sighed, “and everyone already gossips about me and the guards, I doubt such a change would go uncommented on.” He frowned.

“Have there been others?” He asked. “Besides me and Tristan?” She closed her eyes.

“No,” she said, “I’ve been friendly with some people, but no,” she stretched, cat like in her movements. “Despite what your uncle and some of the others think, I don’t take every man I blink at into my bed.” He nodded and threaded his fingers into hers. “Tristan, Harran, Eric, and now you.” He kissed her.

“I don’t know what I’ll tell him,” he whispered. She closed her eyes.

“Tristan and I are not nearly in a place where it’s his business,” she said. He kissed her again.

It was months and several cycles through missions and returns home, as Tristan banked a fire, settling in for a night after riding all day that they finally acknowledged it.

“Does she talk about the future?” Tristan asked. Seemingly out of nowhere. But Prior had learned that by the time his partner spoke, he’d usually had several version of the conversation in his mind.

“No,” Prior said softly. “Honestly, I expect every time we return to Dovetail that she’ll have moved on completely.” Tristan smirked at that.

“She won’t,” he said, “it isn’t her nature.” Prior swallowed and large sip of water. “I only ask because,” he shook his head. “People are going to talk, about you, about your ambition, about how worthy or not you are. And you can walk away from that, but she can’t.” Prior looked at him.

“What happened between you two?” He managed. Tristan looked at him. “Really.” Tristan shruggedd.

“We were young. We were in love with each other,” he said softly. “And it wasn’t enough. For anyone. For the council, for me, for her, for Marina, for the gods. So it couldn’t hold. I miss her,” he said softly. “But being near each other isn’t good for us. We’ve tried, a few times, and it hurts too much.” Prior looked at him. “And Carolina doesn’t like it.” Prior laughed at that.

“Your wife’s reservoir of patience is endless,” Prior said. Tristan laughed.

“It really isn’t,” he said. “But it is deep. And I’d never want to reach it’s bottom. Her father learned that lesson the hard way.” He shook his head. “But be careful.”

“I wouldn’t hurt her,” Prior said. Tristan laughed. “I see she’s more fragile than most realize, but I wouldn’t,” Tristan shook his head.

“Lisette is perhaps softer than people realize,” Tristan said, “but she isn’t fragile. And I’m not worried you’ll hurt her, my friend.” Prior looked at him. “I’m very worried you’ll get hurt.” Prior looked at him. “I loved her, and still love her, with everything in me. But she can’t give her whole self to any man, and don’t expect it of her.”

He’d meant to bring it up the next time the were together. Tristan’s concerns, what she wanted from him, from them. But instead, he saw her carrying so much weight, and refused to add to it. He instead relished the moment she let go, since it came while he wrapped his arms around her from behind, slid her braided hair of her neck and kissed it gently.

No, he couldn’t think about their future, about what it all meant, when all that mattered was after so long, wishing she would even look at him, she was in his arms. It was enough.

Interlude: The Children Of Destiny

Prince Anton Dovetail was bored. Not just with an evening of standing next to his parents greeting new comers to court. He was bored in general. He shouldn’t be. He didn’t usually find the yearly summer sojourn to Brightcoast boring, but this year everything felt stale. He glanced over at his friends who were having some kind of animated argument about something. Lady Olivia Bano, who really was more than a friend, he should admit, at least and Sir John Dugarry were both gesticulating wildly, even if he couldn’t hear what they were talking about.

He knew Olivia had also taken up with Captain Thomas Martin lately, which he should be more disappointed by, but wasn’t. Olivia had every right to live her life as she saw fit. Though he was reasonably sure that as early as a month ago they’d said they loved each other, he and Livvie had just as soon gone back to the comfortable companionship they’d shared since childhood.

“Anton,” his mother said, sharply, waking him up, “we’re nearly finished, but please try to stay engaged.”

“I’m sorry, Mother,” he nodded. He straightened his jacket, sash and the silver circlet around his forehead. “Who’s next?”

“Viscount Caleb of Pantona,” his father said, “who is asking to present Lord Lestat of Tumona and his sister Lady Marie.” Anton frowned.

“I met Lord Lestat two winters ago,” Anton said. “He’s back? And brought a sister?” Anne of Brightcoast would be pleased, Anton thought. Though that was another bride crossed off his mother’s list. She’d start importing girls from Rastan pretty soon. Queen Maura smirked at her son. They walked into the room.

The Viscount was the same as always, dressed simply, but cleanly, his red hair neatly brushed, Lestat of Tumona hadn’t changed either, from Anton’s mind, he was square shouldered and clean shaven, with his dark skin markedly standing against his white coat.

And the girl had to be his sister. She looked young, maybe sixteen or seventeen, her dark hair was brushed clean and tied into half a tail, with a wide bow. She was wearing a simple white gown with a red waist band.

And she was beautiful.

“Your Majesties,” The Viscount smiled and bowed, “Your Highness,” Anton inclined his head. “I am sure you remember Lord Lestat of Tumona,”

“Of course,” King Rupert said gently. “Welcome back, Lord Lestat, we’re happy to see you again.”

“I’m happy to be back, Your Majesty,” he said, his voice was gentle, “May I present my sister, Lady Marie Sanpierre.” Lady Marie dipped into possibly the lowest curtsey Anton had ever seen, her wide brown eyes now downcast.

“Lady Marie,” his mother said, “we’re glad to have you.”

“Thank you, Your Majesty,” she said. Her voice was beautiful too. Why was he fixating on her?

“There’ll be dancing later,” Anton managed to pipe up, she looked at him oddly, but then softened her face to a neutral expression.

“That will be nice,” Viscount Caleb said clearing his throat, clearly covering a laugh. Great, Anton thought, I’ll be in for a lecture after embarrassing myself in front of courtiers.

“Thank you, Viscount,” his father said, sending Anton a confused look. They all bowed and excused themselves. “Are you feeling well, Anton?”

“I think I need some air,” he said and walked out onto the terrace.

“That went well,” Viscount Caleb said and offered Marie a glass of the pink wine that was being passed around. She shook her head. “I won’t tell the High Mother if you won’t, Marie.” He teased. She giggled at that and took it.

“It’s not like at home, sweetheart,” Les said gently, “you can talk and everything.”

“I don’t know what I’d say,” she admitted and took a sip. “Why was the Prince looking at me like that?”

“Like what?” Les frowned. She sighed.

“Like he’d eaten something that didn’t agree with him,” she said, and covered her mouth, realizing immediately it was disrespectful to speak of royalty that way.

“It’s because you’re pretty and new,” The Viscount said in an offhand way, not like home, “Anton is often distracted by shiny things.” Marie frowned and he realized himself. “Not that you’re shiny, or a thing.”

“I don’t want to be a distraction for a prince either,” she said, “I came here to get away from that.” Prince Daniel had been insistent in his attentions, and she’d been unsettled by them. Les had suggested the trip to see his friends in Cammadan, to keep her away from the royal family. The Old King’s new young wife, Aimee, would have been a good excuse to bring Marie into the household. A place she absolutely did not want to be.

“Anton isn’t like Daniel,” The Viscount said kindly. “He’ll flirt, but it won’t go anywhere, it never does.” Marie frowned and played with the symbol of the goddess around her neck.

“Everything alright?” Tom Martin walked out. Anton looked at his friend and shook his head. “The little Phanian girl? You spent all of five second with her, man.”

“And here we are,” Anton said, “Cornan help me and Mariah’s blood curdle if I spend more time in her company.” Tom laughed and leaned across the rail. “Livvie will be disappointed.” Tom looked at him and raised his eyebrows. “Or not.”

“I’m hoping not,” he said. Anton nodded, and realized he was bored again. Three years of Olivia with him, or with Tom, back and forth, around and around. All the better if she’d chosen Tom finally. “Though she’s upset with me for going to Dorin.” Anton nodded. “You aren’t upset?”

“I should be,” Anton said, “I finally get her to admit to caring about me and you swoop in a minute later. And no one can compete with the great champion.” Tom laughed.

“It’s serious between me and her,” he said, “I wouldn’t have, if it weren’t.” Anton nodded. “So, what’s the plan, with this Lady Marie?”

“Ask her to dance, I guess,” Anton said. “She won’t say no, they’re really over polite in Phania. When I visited a few years ago I thought I would get beheaded for smiling at a servant.” Tom laughed.

Marie stuck to the side of the room when the dancing started. It was strange, she saw a tall blonde boy and a pretty girl with dark hair start the dancing, rather than the Prince and anyone else. It was different from home, and that was the first difference.

“Lady Marie,” she nearly jumped out of her skin, when the Prince approached her. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you.”

“I’m sorry Your Highness,” she curtsied and looked down.

“You don’t have to,” he said, “I wanted to know if you’d like to dance?” She puzzled at him. She hadn’t really looked at him before. He was handsome, she realized, with soft pinkish skin and a few freckles. His hair was a light brown color. And he was tall. Not quite as tall as The Viscount, but still.

“Oh,” she said, “I,” his hand was outstretched. “Yes, thank you.” She took it and they walked to center of the floor. The dark haired girl eyed her, as she followed the Prince’s steps. “When did you arrive?” He asked.

“A month ago,” she said, “The Viscount found us a place to stay, to recover.” He nodded. “He’s been very kind.”

“I’m sure,” Anton said, “he’s very kind.” Marie nodded. Until she’d met him, she’d half expected her brother to shove her at Caleb Pantona, who’d instead treated her with the kind of friendliness she’d never known. They stopped, as the music slowed. “It’s quite hot in here,” he pulled at his collar. She giggled. “Have you seen the view?” She shook her head and followed him out.

Not like Daniel at all, she thought to herself. They stood quietly, looking out over the sea. She exhaled, and reached for his hand again.

“Your hands are cold,” he said. She looked at him, confused.

“Yours too,” she said. “There’s a breeze.” He nodded. “I said thank you?” She’d forgotten herself completely.

“Yes,” he said, she nodded. “You’re very beautiful.” She swallowed and looked away. “I’m sorry, I,” he ran a hand through his hair. “I’m usually better at this.”

“You’re not making a joke?” She whispered. “Making fun of me.” He stared at her.

“No!” He exclaimed and took her hands. “No, I never,” he swallowed, “I wouldn’t know where to start.” She laughed.

“Marie,” Les appeared in the doorway, “Your Highness, excuse me, but we ought to go.”

“Thank you, again,” she said softly. “For the dance.” He kissed her hand gently. She bounced over to Les.

“Marie,” he called after her, she turned. “When can I see you again?” She smiled.

“I’m not planning on leaving, Your Highness.” She said, and followed her brother through the door.

Interlude: Second Chances


I’d been ignoring him. I’d forced him to come here and I’d dived so deeply into life here, I didn’t know as he slipped away, that he didn’t fit, didn’t belong.

It was my fault that everything would fall apart.

“You shouldn’t punish yourself,” Eric said, “we all trusted each other and you had no reason to believe Randolph wasn’t honest with you.” I nodded, but I didn’t hear him. “Talk to me, tell me what’s going on in that head of yours.”

“What if I’m wrong?” I said. “What if everyone here is wrong and everyone at home is right, and I’m broken and dangerous and,” he exhaled. “She’s calling to me Eric. Amina, and right now, what she’s offering me is tempting.” He nodded.

“I can’t make you feel like you aren’t broken,” Eric said, “I certainly can’t stop you from going to Amina, I don’t have nearly the power,” Raymond looked at him. “But I’d miss you, Ray, I’d miss you terribly.” He swallowed. I stood up and we stood in silence for a while before I walked back into the palace. I wanted to talk to Marina, to explain himself but she wasn’t anywhere.

“Sir Raymond?” I swallowed and looked at Evan Allred standing behind me. He joined us on the ride down from Dovetail. He looks like a lot of the midlanders, pink skinned and freckled and hair somewhere between red and brown. He was ostensibly supposed to be courting Annalise, but I’m not one hundred percent sure she even knows his name. “Are you alright?”

He’s also my age, and enrolling in the university when we go back to Dovetail as well, so we’ve been talking quite a bit.

“Hi,” I stumbled. He smiled. “I um,” I exhaled, “I think I will be.” He nodded. “You?” He shrugged.

“My father is going to be overly pleased,” he sighed and ran his hands through his hair, “if it gets you lot gone.” I laughed. “I’m waiting to tell him of course that it’s hopeless and I couldn’t be,” he cleared his throat, “I mean, she couldn’t be less interested in me, regardless of The Prince.” I looked at him. “Are you going home?”

“No,” my throat was dry. “No, I’m staying.” I looked down. “They won’t want me at home.” He frowned at me.

“Well, then they’re incredibly stupid,” he said, “who wouldn’t want you?” I really hope my eyes weren’t actually the size of my entire face because they certainly felt it.

“I um,” I swallowed, “ah, thank you?” He nodded and walked away, his face flushed. After another talk with Athena where she hugged me, which felt baffling. And then in my continued desire to find Athena, instead I found Randolph.

“You could have just told me you were unhappy,” I said walking up to him. He stared at me.

“When?” He shrugged. “Between mapmaking with the witch and your social calendar,”

“I wanted you to be a part of all of that,” I said, “I thought that was why we came here, instead of staying,” I exhaled. He took my hand.

“I thought that too,” he said, “but I don’t want that life anymore and I couldn’t,” he choked. I nodded. “I miss home, Ray, don’t you?” I blinked oddly at him.

“No,” I said, “no I don’t, at all. Well, except maybe my nieces.” He laughed and kissed me. I knew it would be the last time. “You don’t think you’ll what you’re looking for back home,” I whispered as our foreheads touched.

“Maybe not,” he said, “but I’ll know who I am, and can you say the same?” I frowned. I tried to think about how Marina or Annalise would answer that. Squaring her shoulders and ranting about The Goddess and being the most beautiful woman alive. Annalise is a Queen and that question is answered.

For once my cousins were not exactly the best models. Instead we just squeezed hands and he walked down towards the beach and walked inside. Marina walked over to me and smiled gently.

“Don’t do that,” I said. She sighed. “Athena’s being nice to me, it’s weird.”

“Before Brayton fell, Athena’s fiance told Brayton where resistance camp was and outlined some of the main hierarchy of the leadership and it lead to Martin being banished and running for his life,” she explained. “So I think she understands how you’re feeling right now.” I stared at her. “And I am sorry, Raymond.”

“I know,” I sighed. “But please don’t pity me.” She frowned.

“I’m not pitying you,” she laced her arm through mine, “I’m concerned, I care about you. It’s different.” I looked at her. “And I’m not the only one.” She nodded to Evan, who was animatedly discussing something with one of the sisters. I blinked.

“He’s, we’re, I’m,” I stuttered, “it’s not like that.” I managed. She shrugged.

“He likes you,” she said, “I’m not a particularly gifted aura reader, Lisette is better at it, but that’s patently obvious. He tries to hide it because he knew about you and Randolph. But I have a feeling things will become more plain now.”

“Maybe I’m not ready,” I said and shrugged. She smiled.

“Then you aren’t,” she said, “but just know that there are more people who care about you than you realize.” I smiled.

I came here to make a new life. I thought with him. But new does mean change. I guess I can be ready for that.