To The Four Of Us

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Letter

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

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

Athena,

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

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

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

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

Your Affectionate Papa

I looked over at the Count.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Scoundrel,” I said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Complication

I woke up early in the morning, now that I’m rested and comfortable here, I’m back to my old ways of being up before dawn. I headed to the kitchen to grab something quickly for breakfast and was surprised to see Aaron and the back door, talking to a pretty girl with curly auburn hair.

She was holding a basket and her eyes looked wide.

“I’m sorry, Kathy, I thought,” he said,

“I know what you thought,” then she saw me and I jumped backwards, “Never mind.”

“Kathy,” he started and then saw me, I pressed my lips into my mouth.

“I didn’t mean to interrupt,” I said, “A friend?” I tried. He frowned.

“This is not my finest moment, and after last night, it is not how I was hoping you would find me,” he admitted. “Kathy is from the village,” he explained, “we were, that is,” there’s some fun in watching him squirm, “it’s over now, regardless, it’s been over.”

“Understood,” I grabbed a roll, “I was going to train and then go for a ride, if you wanted to,” he scratched the back of his neck.

“It’s market day,” he explained, I nodded. “I have to go over the account lists with the cooks,” I grinned. “What?”

“You take it seriously,” I explained, “running this place?”

“Someone has to,” he shrugged, “my parents are busy saving the world. But when its saved, I’d like Pantona to be a part of it.” I ripped a piece of the roll off. “After your training and your ride, I’d like to have lunch with you.”

“I’d like that too,” I said and kissed him softly. I managed to clear my mind training, I went to get Rosethorn saddled when I saw Annalise and Tristan walking back, she was carrying a small bouquet.

I made a note to tease Tristan later, but Annalise went back to the house and Tristan walked right up to me.

“So are you officially courting her now?” I grinned. “Flowers and everything.” He sighed.

“Dumanis train showed up today,” he grunted. I sighed.

“Really?” I said. “Uncle Trey or Aunt Brie? Aunt Andrea is in Dovetail this time of year.”

“Just Lotte and Xander,” he muttered. “I think Lotte knows.”

“Well, Lotte’s not an idiot and if she saw her,” I shrugged. “She won’t tell.” He nodded. “I’ll go see them in a bit. Is that all?” He shifted his feet.

“It’s wrong, you know,” he said, “I should stop it.” I looked at him and shook my head, “suppose, I mean, it isn’t safe, is it?”

“She likes you too,” I said. “I think it’s good for you. And how would it be dangerous?”

“If Grandfather thinks he has an in with the crown,” he drifted off, and I grimaced. That was concerning. Our Grandfather is not a good man, he’s brutal about his control over the merchant guilds. If anyone attempts to undermine that control, his vengeance is quick and usually bloody.

“Tristan, I can assure you,” I said softly, “Grandfather is going to attempt to leverage us to get to her regardless of if you’re sleeping with her or not.” I mounted Rosethorn and galloped toward the village. Our cousin Alexander, was smirking already waiting for me.

“My Lady,” he swept into a bow.

“Master DuFrey,” I muttered with a dip. “A letter would have been nice.”

“We didn’t know you were here until Lotte spotted Tristan,” he pointed out. I rolled my eyes. “Uncle Trey didn’t say a thing.”

“I doubt Uncle Trey knows,” I sighed, “we didn’t until right before we left.”

“Hm,” he nodded. “Come on, I’ll take you to Lotte.” I nodded and we walked through the wagons.

“Hello Cousin,” Charlotte DuFrey smiled at me. She’s fourteen years older than us, and never married, rare for a merchant woman of her standing, but she was never willing to marry down in the clans, and since she’s the granddaughter of Carland Dumanis, that meant it was the nobility or nothing.

“Hi Lotte,” I smiled at her, “I can’t stay long, I’m supposed to have lunch with,” I stopped as a wagon door opened and Carlton stepped out. “Oh,” I said. Charlotte winked at me and walked away.

“Lady Athena,” he said, “I,” I smiled.

“Why aren’t you in Dorin?” I asked.

“I was,” he admitted, “for a week, and then, well, my future inlaws,” he shrugged, “they’re holdings are mostly in Brightcoast, so,”

“A week,” I said, “you make quick work.” He stepped closer to me.

“But you knew that,” he slid his hands onto my waist. “Come see me tonight?” I swallowed.

“If I can get away,” I nodded. “I have to go.” I slipped away from him and padded back up to the manor. This was certainly a mess.

 

Pantona

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

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

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

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

“It’s beautiful,” I said. She smiled.

“I know,” she said.

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

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

“I hate that look,” he muttered.

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

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

“We lost him?” I asked. She smiled.

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

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

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

“M’lady,” he said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Athena, are you alright?” Tristan asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“But you like her,” I goaded.

“Quit it,” he said. I laughed.

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

Early Rising

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The great Palace of Dovetail was haunted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“If we were merchants,” he agreed.

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

Hi Everyone! Reenie here.

I write this, but you probably know that.

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

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

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

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

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

Marina’s guide is Samwise Gamgee

Annalise’s is  Steve Rogers

Aaron’s is Leo McGarry

Tristan’s is Joey Potter

Lefty’s is Dick Grayson

Eric’s is Han Solo

Athena’s is Kara Thrace

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

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

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

Hello, Goodbye

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

“You’re going?” I whispered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh,” I said, “I didn’t realize.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Ritual

After Tristan and I made love I leaned against him. I was being selfish but I didn’t care. William had gone, Olivia and Aaron were going, Caleb was dead and it was unlikely that I would see Anselm again for a long time.

I would keep Tristan for as long as I could, or at least as long as either of us could stand it.

“We’ve done what we could to keep security inconspicious for tomorrow,” he said. “I don’t want you to make a spectacle going to the temple.” I nodded. “What will it be like?”

“I’ve never done the mourning ritual before,” I said softly, “Marina has, she taught me. We’re supposed to conjure a memory and project it into the water.” He nodded.

“What memory?” He kissed my head.

“I chose the first time we talked about who I am,” I said. “When he explained my duty.” I swallowed. “When he promised I could always be Lisette to him.”

“Oh, love,” he sighed and held me closer. “I hate this pain for you.” I smiled. “And he’s coming with you?”

“Yes,” I said quietly. “And Raymond. I haven’t spent much time with him, but Marina’s become quite attached.” Tristan nodded. “You could come.”

“I don’t think that’s wise,” he said softly, “we were raised to honor Cornan, you know that. He’s more jealous than his sister.” I laughed. “Are you falling in love with him?”

“No,” I whispered, “I don’t think so. Not like us,” he smiled and kissed me.

“I don’t think either of us should expect something like us again,” he said sadly.

“Olivia and Thomas had it,” I said softly. “With each other, and then her with Caleb and him with your uncle.” Tristan laughed.

“Martin and Uncle Trey may have loved each other but it wasn’t like this,” he said softly. “They hated one another by the end. I don’t think I’ll ever hate you.” I closed my eyes and lay my head on his chest. “Do you want to know my memory?” I laughed and nodded. “When we were inducted into the guard, and the resistance after that, I was shocked how large camp was. But I was even more shocked, that Athena and I were given full uniform, almost no one got them anymore.” I smiled. “But Count Caleb presented them to us, very simply. I never understood why, until I met you.” I smiled.

“You do look very nice in that uniform.” I grinned. He laughed and kissed me. “I miss him.”

“I know that,” he said. I nodded and we fell asleep. I eventually woke up, it wasn’t light out yet and I dressed quickly and ran down into the dungeon. The guards were surprised but didn’t stop me.

“Well, I wasn’t expecting this,” Brayton said, I couldn’t see him, he was slouched in a corner. “To what do I owe the honor this time.”

“I want you to tell me about Amina,” I said. He laughed. “I’m serious, do all who die pass to her?”

“No,” he said, “some linger, but you know this, you’ve felt Marie near you.”

“Yes,” I said, realizing he must have felt her sometimes too. “But if I haven’t felt someone…”

“Caleb of Pantona would never have lingered,” his voice was quiet, almost respectful, for Brayton. “Not practical, he could never have stood to not be of use.” I swallowed. “I liked him, you know, quite a bit. Even when we were young, he was,” he sighed, “friendly, I suppose is the word. I never suspected his treachery, his sheltering of you, he seemed too straightforward for it. I suppose I didn’t respect him enough, he was crafty.” I swallowed. “Amina is not unjust, Annalise. In fact she is infinitely just, which is why she demands a sword of her own.”

“What does that have to do with this?” I realized I was crying, I wiped my eyes.

“Caleb was a good man,” he said softly. “True to his heart and self, and honored his land and ancestors, humbly. Queen Amina would not punish him for this.” I illuminated the cell then and looked at him.

“Your shadows took him from me,” I said. “I don’t need your help.” He sighed.

“So you say, Cousin,” he said, “but my head remains attached nonetheless.” I sighed. “You perform Rana’s rememberence ritual tomorrow?” I nodded. “Is the memory a strong one?”

“Yes,” I whispered.

“Good then,” he said, “it’s a powerful ritual, I wish you well on it.” I looked at him. “I haven’t performed it since your mother.” I turned around and fled then. I couldn’t look at him anymore.

By the time I was back in the room, Tristan was gone, he’d left a note that he was arranging our escort and he would see me later. I smiled. Maybe this could work. There wasn’t a king in legend who didn’t have secret loves, why should I be held to a different standard?

Caleb

Decisions are being made.

Also, BIRTH CONTROL.

The Marina Chronicle

I walked down to the cottage where Anselm lives and he was at work in his kitchen, mixing something. I had brought him some herbs and things from the manor garden and greenhouse at his request.

“Glad you found time in your busy schedule,” he said, “I thought I might never see you.” I laughed. “Is everything there?”

“Yes,” I said softly. I poured myself a cup of tea. “Mastero,” I said.

“Lisette,” he answered not looking up.

“If, hypothetically, one didn’t want to get pregnant,” I muttered, “is there some sort of potion or charm that might, you know, help with that.”

“Low magic users swear by whip willow,” he said distractedly. “It’s never been tested in a university setting. One of Aaron’s ask you?”

“No,” I mumbled, “it doesn’t matter. In a tea?”

“Do you know of another way to administer a bark than a tea?” He said…

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What Is It?

That night I sat on my bed as Olivia combed out and braided my hair.

“The beef was good,” she said. I nodded. “Did you have a nice morning?”

“I think so,” I said, eyeing the violets now sitting on my vanity. She nodded. “The Dumanis train is in town.”

“Ah,” she said, “I imagine that diverted Tristan.” I twisted and looked at her. “Andrea or Brie?”

“Charlotte, Andrea’s daughter,” I said, “you know them?” I asked. She laughed.

“I was supposed to bring Charlotte out at court, if you can believe it,” she said, “of course things changed.” I nodded. “I would have asked about Trey but I know he’d never come here.”

“Anyway, then we went to the inn, and Tristan and William behaved very oddly,” I sighed as she turned my head back to continue braiding.

“I’d imagine they would,” she said, “William’s no fool, he can spot when he has a rival.” I looked at her. “Darling, you’re not that naive, you must have realized Tristan’s regard for you.”

“Well, I suppose,” I said, “but, William??” She laughed and turned my head again.

“He came to us last year and asked to marry you,” she said. I was speechless. “We obviously couldn’t say yes, but Caleb told him you were too young, and that we were certainly not going to make such a decision for you, and that he was free to continue your friendship and ask you in a few years.”

“William has been courting me?” I asked. She laughed. “He must think I’m dense.”

“I think he thinks you’re discreet,” she said, “and now I think he thinks that he has competition.” She finished my hair. “Besides which, it’s good practice for you. Once everything is settled you’ll only have more suitors, not fewer. Not to mention it can be fun.”

“It doesn’t seem fun,” I muttered. “I like William, we’re friends and Tristan,” I sighed. “How did you do it?”

“Rather poorly in retrospect but I thought I was brilliant,” she grinned. “You’ll do fine. You’ve never lead William on, and once he learns the truth he’ll back off.”