The Cave

Annalise

I woke up early and walked down to the beach where Eric was waiting with a small boat. I smiled at him, as he worked through the rigging.

“Athena said I had to make sure you weren’t trying to kidnap me,” I raised my eyebrows. He flipped down and laughed.

“I am not,” he said and pulled me close. “But I’m surprised she didn’t try to come along.” I kissed him.

“She knows better,” I said as he helped me on board. “Where are we going?” He winked.

“A surprise,” he said. I sighed and we sailed around the cliffs. It felt nice and there was something wonderful about watching Eric sail. He’s so at home in it. He keeps looking back at me and smiling, and he finally stopped the boat and I looked at him.

“It’s a cliff,” I said looking up.

“We aren’t there yet,” he shook his head. I looked around. “Can you swim?”

“We had a lake at Pantona,” I said, “and a Sea Goddess has chosen me as her vessel in this world, so I think I can manage.” He grinned and then stripped off his shirt and pants, revealing only a pair of tight shorts. I looked down at my own overdress and skimpy shift.

“Are you coming?” He asked. “You’re welcome to stay.” I sighed and shook my head pulling off the overdress and shift, leaving only my linen underthings and a thin chemise. He looked me up and down. “Even better than I imagined, Your Majesty.” He dove off the boat and I quickly jumped in to join him. “You’re going to have to hold your breath.”

“Alright,” I said and we both inhaled deeply, diving down, I followed him below the water line and saw an under water cave we emerged and I took a gulp of breath. I swallowed and paddled close to Eric.

“Look around, Annalise,” he said softly. I glanced up and saw a glimmer of sky above us and but it wasn’t at all dark, just glowing. The stone was glowing. It was absolutely beautiful.

“Oh,” I said softly.

“You see why I wanted you to see it?” He asked. I nodded. He swam closer to me and kissed me. I pulled myself into him. “Anya,” he whispered. I smiled and noticed a small ledge. I swam to it and got pushed out, he followed me and we kissed again. I was desperate for him.

“Eric,” I mumbled, as he lay down next to me and traced a finger down my side. We kissed more, and I wrapped my leg around him.

“You’re so beautiful,” he said. “Gods, how are you so beautiful?” I reached down to grip him. “Not here.” I frowned and sat up.

“Why did you bring me here, then?” I said and dove back into the water.

“I wanted you to see it,” he said, “I thought, I don’t know, you’d enjoy yourself.” I lowered myself below the water.

“I was,” I said. He dove in after me. “If you don’t want me, I don’t know what else to say.”

“Of course I want you,” he said, “Goddess, Annalise, how could you think,” I sighed. “I thought you understood, though.”

“I understand that every time we get close you make an excuse,” I said. “It’s never the right time or place, Eric, but do you want me?” I swam close to him and wrapped my arms around his neck.

“More than anything,” he whispered, “but well,” I looked away.

“You still don’t trust me,” I said.

“It isn’t a matter of trust,” he insisted. “I don’t want to ruin this.”

“Fine,” I said. “I think we should go back.”

“Anya,” he sighed.

“Don’t call me that,” I said and dove under the water swimming back out to the boat. We sailed back in silence and I gathered my clothes, redressing and heading back to the palace without speaking to him. I glanced at the training field and hugged myself.

If Eric didn’t want me, that was fine. It wasn’t as though I didn’t have other options.

“How was your sail?” Marina said walking in. She looked at my face. “Oh dear, what did he do?” I rolled my eyes as she pulled out a dinner gown and held it up for me. I shook my head.

“It’s what he didn’t do,” I muttered, “I’m tired of trying with him.” She sat down with me.

“So stop trying,” she said softly. I looked at her. I knew it broke her heart. If Eric left that meant Lefty would leave too. “I don’t want you to be miserable Annalise.” She went back to the wardrobe and pulled out a soft satin gown, a light grey color, more tightly and low cut than most of the others. “But maybe even letting him see what he’s missing could help?” I grinned.

“Funny, I had the same thought,” I said. She nodded and handed it to me. I walked over behind a screen to change. “Can you see that Prince Harran is seated with me tonight?” She laughed.

“Of course,” she said. “I’ll brush out your hair too, if you’d like. No braids.” I closed my eyes and sighed. We’d both been adopting more Phanian styles as we’d been south. I’d become particularly attached to my tight, long braids.

“No,” I said, “I like them.” I stepped out and she gasped. “I haven’t really worn it, it’s good?”

“It’s phenomenal,” she said. “And these,” she clasped a set of pearl bracelets, one on each wrist, and then a small delicate silver chain around my neck. I sit down as she coils my braids into an impressive knot on top of my head and then set an array of diamond clips shaped like stars as a crown around it.

“You know that you’re way too good at this, I don’t know how I’m going to get by when I have to give someone else a turn as Lady In Waiting,” I said. She shook her head and put her chin on my shoulder.

“I’ll be a dragon training them.” she grinned. I laughed. “Come on, time for you to dazzle.” I looked at her.

“You aren’t dressed.” I frowned.

“I’m going to town with Damian,” she said, “with your permission of course.” I nodded. “You’ll be wonderful.” She squeezed my hands. I walked down the hallways and then the stairs and stopped in the hall to the mumbles and curtsies.

“Well look at you,” Harran smiled walking up to me. I grinned. “I’m told we’re sitting together.”

“Yes,” I said softly. “If you don’t mind?” I offered my hand and glanced over my shoulder, seeing Eric talking with Duchess Norvine and starting to walk over. I made eye contact with him and he stopped, Harran took my hand.

Interlude: The High Priest

“It’s not unheard of,” Queen Elana of Phania said softly, her husband Daniel frowned, “There have been Chosen boys, your whole bloodline claims the title.” She was watching as her younger brother Raymond was standing on the beach moving waves.

“It’s different,” Daniel said. “Your brother is unsettling, Elana, even The Mothers say so.” She sat down.

“He’ll inherit Tumona,” she said.

“Well, we’re used to Tumona being peculiar,” Daniel smirked. She sighed. “And that doesn’t even address the…other part.”

“If you mean that Raymond likes boys, does it need addressing?” Daniel’s brother Eric was leaning against the door frame. Daniel sighed looking at him.

“Why are you here?” He muttered between clenched teeth.

“Am I supposed to be elsewhere?” Eric asked. “You haven’t sent me anywhere specific, and my mother is here.”

“We’re always happy to see you Eric,” Elana said diplomatically and walked over and kissed him on the cheek.

“Just you?” Daniel said. Eric sighed.

“Lefty opted to stay in the city,” Eric said, “I can’t imagine why, when he always gets such a warm welcome.” He looked down. “I need to talk to him.”

“Raymond?” Daniel said. Eric nodded. “Why?”

“I’ve been having these, feelings,” Eric shrugged, “about her.” Daniel stared at him.

“Who?” Elana said and then paused, “oh, her.” Eric nodded. “Are we sure she’s alive?”

“Reasonably,” Daniel said with a sigh.

“Anyway, I’m going to talk to Raymond about them, and then I will get out of your hair,” he kissed Elana on the cheek wand walked down to the beach. The younger boy looked over at him and smiled. “They’re up there worrying about you.”

“Imagine my shock,” Raymond said, “The Brothers said no again, I’m out of appeals.” Eric nodded.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “You could come on The Glory.” Raymond looked at him. “You hate it here, Raymond, I know that.”

“You had another vision,” Raymond said. Eric rolled his eyes. “What this time?”

“I could just be being nice to you,” Eric pointed out. This time Raymond rolled his eyes. “They aren’t visions, exactly, more like, feelings. Like she’s thinking about me, and I can hear her, and I know she’s just,” he sighed, “waiting.” Raymond nodded. “I don’t know what to do about it, I don’t know where she is, no one does.”

“She’s in Cammadan,” Raymond said, “somewhere green, probably The Midlands.” Eric looked at him. “Rana’s not likely to let us forget she’s out there. I know everyone thinks I’m crazy, but I Dream. And sometimes she’s there.” He sighed. “They found me and Randolph.” Eric exhaled. “They weren’t happy.”

“I’d imagine not,” Eric said. “But, a strong sailor like him, and a seer who knows how to actually do all the stupid ambassador stuff that Daniel is always making me do? That seems valuable from where I stand.” Raymond looked at him. “It’s a big world Raymond. You don’t have to spend your life in a place with people who don’t see you.” Eric looked at him. “If I had to guess, it’s Brightcoast and then Rastan next. We’d be glad to have you along.” He turned and walked back to the palace. Raymond sat on the beach and hugged his knees.

Later that night he took a deep breath and worked his way to the villa on the palace ground where Randolph Eres lived with his parents. He knocked on the door and Randolph opened it.

“Ray,” he said and stepped out onto the porch, “you probably shouldn’t be here.” He shut the door behind us.

“I know you’re technically six months from getting a posting,” Raymond said, “but Eric offered to put us on The Prince’s Glory.” Randolph raised his eyebrows. “I know it isn’t perfect, but we could be together and,” he looked down.

“This is real,” Randolph said, Raymond nodded. “Prince Eric wants us on the ship?” Raymond rolled his eyes and they took each other’s hands and started walking towards the beach.

“Eric likes to feel like the Goddess herself put him here to save people,” Raymond shrugged, “but it’s convenient. We’d go to Rastan and probably Cammadan too.” Randolph smiled and kissed him.

“Cammadan,” Randolph said. Raymond nodded. “We could be together there, really together.”

“I know,” Raymond said, “I could learn magic, real magic not just control like they teach here. And you’d be out of the navy proper, really sailing.”

“Under Prince Eric,” Randolph grinned, “And Damian Lestoff, it doesn’t get better than that.” Raymond glared at him. “He’s not my type, Ray.”

“He’s everyone’s type,” he muttered. Randolph kissed him gently. “You’re sure. I don’t think we can turn back from this.”

“No turning back,” Randolph nodded. “And this way I don’t have to tell my parents yet.” Raymond laughed and they kissed again. “What did your sister say?”

“Very little,” Raymond admitted, “I think if they acknowledged it, then they’d have to you know, acknowledge it, and she won’t.”

“I’m sorry, Ray,” Randolph said softly. “I wish we lived in a better world.” Raymond nodded and they kept walking.

A year later he sat on a dock in Rastan, when Lefty bounced over and sat next to him.

“Have you heard the news?” Lefty said and bumped his shoulder, “We’re off to Cammadan. Eric has to fulfill his destiny and woo Queen Annalise.” Raymond nodded. “You can be Mastero Quents! It’s a reason to celebrate.” Raymond laughed.

“And you’ll get to find out about Cammadie warrior women,” Raymond teased back. He wasn’t great about it yet, but he’d almost gotten the hang of taking the air out of Eric and Lefty’s sails. Lefty laughed. “How is he?”

“Worried,” Lefty said, “It isn’t as thought that’s difficult to understand. If I thought the Gods were genuinely counting on me wooing a girl I’d probably need to be locked in a dark room for a very long time.” Raymond smiled and nodded. “How are you doing?”

“Alright,” he said softly, “it isn’t exactly what I expected.” Lefty nodded.

“You know when Eric told me his plan to bring you on,” he said, “I told him there was no way you’d do it.” Raymond looked at him. “I’ve never been happier to be wrong.”

“Why didn’t you think I’d come?” Raymond asked. Lefty ruffled his hair and shrugged.

“Because you’re the little boy with his books and prayers,” Lefty said, “I can’t help that I’ll always see you that way.” Raymond smiled. “It never made sense to me why The Brothers wouldn’t take you.” Raymond snorted.

“I have this feeling that was always more about my sister,” he muttered. “They don’t like being seen as They Royal Family’s dumping ground.”

“Ah, that,” he grinned, “well, I think Brinecliff would have to challenge them for that particular honor. It is our distinction.” Raymond laughed. “Come on, Eric told Raniere that we’re leaving there’s going to be one last hunt.”

“Great,” Raymond said, “something new and different.” Lefty laughed and stood up, offering him a hand to help him up. He’d been more nervous than anything about spending much time in proximity to Damian Lestoff.

The man was impossibly handsome. And kind and charming. And Raymond felt almost no attraction to him. Being with Lefty and Eric was the easiest thing in the world. He grabbed his hand and pulled up.

It was a few weeks at sea and then a whole one of careful sailing down river to Dovetail’s large dug out harbor when they arrived at what had to be these least opportune moment possible. It was before dawn and they’d missed the coronation.

“It’ll be memorable at least,” Randolph had teased him.

“It’s disrespectful,” Raymond mumbled. “We should have left Rastan earlier.” But there they were, standing on the dock, a girl, who was clearly Phanian, and a boy, tall, and lanky, with reddish hair.

“Not quite the grand welcoming comittee,” Lefty muttered. Eric glared at him. “I’m only saying.”

“Is that her?” Eric said to him. Raymond shrugged. “Alright.” It wasn’t. Instead of was Duchess Marina SanPierre, and her smile was one of the most breathtaking things Raymond had ever seen. She was also, he realized, the most powerful person he had her been the presence of, and that included the High Mother of Vacana.

“I am very glad that’s over,” Eric said flopping on a couch in the richly appointed apartment they’d been sent to. Lefty was staring dreamily out the window and Raymond wrinkled his forehead. “You’re worried.”

“No,” he shook his head, “they’re powerful. Did you feel it?” Eric nodded, Raymond was glad of that. Eric wasn’t very gifted, but he had some intuition that pointed towards it. “The Duchess especially, astounding.” Lefty looked over at us.

“She is, isn’t she?” He said and sighed walking back over. “Did you see those eyes?”

“I don’t think Raymond is talking about the same thing, Lefty,” Eric said. “But yes, even I could feel how powerful she is and I don’t have your insights, and she’s very beautiful too.” He stopped. “They both are.”

“You have the queen, leave something for the rest of us,” Lefty said kicking Eric.

“I don’t have her,” Eric mumbled, “but knock yourself out with The Duchess. I have to go see about the crew.” He stood up and walked out.

“What are you going to do?” Lefty said, Raymond sighed.

“I should probably go to the temple,” he said. “We had a safe voyage. She likes to be thanked. Want to come?”

“To the temple?” He said. “And get drowned in my sleep for trouble, no thank you.” He kicked back. Raymond rolled his eyes and stood up. “Raymond,” he said, “is she dangerous?” he swallowed.

“I don’t know,” he said softly. “She’s powerful, but it doesn’t feel dark.” Lefty nodded and he left, asking the guards for directions to The Temple of Rana.

The walk was distracting, he kept noticing things, the kinds of things he’d never see on the street in Vacana. Two women being chased by a little boy shouting, “Mamas!” at them, a merchant boy handing another boy walking into an inn a flower. He entered the temple and was greeted by a Sister.

“You’re a stranger here,” she said with a kind and giving voice. He nodded. “I’m Sister Anya, welcome.”

“Thank you,” he said. At home he was one of only a few men welcome in the Temple at all. To be welcomed as a stranger felt exceedingly odd. “My name is Sir Raymond Quents, I’m a companion to The Prince of Phania, we just arrived I wanted to thank The Goddess for the safe voyage.” Sister Anya’s lips turned up in a smile.

“Of course,” she said, “there are several salt basins available.” She gestured to the alcoves surrounding the circular center of the temple. He nodded, mumbled a thank you and he went to a Salt Basin and gently waved his hands over it before losing consciousness.

“Oh well done!” A dark skinned woman was standing in front of him. “Really, you didn’t waste any time.”

“My Lady,” He nodded sagely. “Thank you for,” she waved her hands dismissively.

“Yes, yes, safe voyage,” The Goddess Rana sighed, “as if I would imperil my Sword’s Future Husband and one my own.” He blinked at her.

“If I’m Chosen then why,” he drifted off.

“Was it what you wanted,” she said softly, “to be a monk, shunted away and alone?” He swallowed. “I brought you home, Raymond. And I ask only that you stand at the side of My Sword.” He nodded.

“I will,” he said softly. She smiled gently at him. A smile that somehow reminded him of his mother and sister, but with more love and less indulgence.

“I haven’t had a High Priest in a while,” she said, “it might be fun.” He then lost consciousness again and came to, still standing at The Salt Basin in the temple. He closed his eyes and exhaled, realizing his life in Cammadan just got very very complicated.

Interlude: The Two Lovers

Mercy Graves hurried quickly through the courtyard in the palace of Dovetail to the hedgemaze and through it to the center, where sitting calmly and serenely was Lady Marina Sanpierre. She was moving her hands over the water of the salt pond and it was rippling and rising up in small waves.

Marina was the closest thing to a friend Mercy had. There weren’t many people their age at the palace who weren’t in the guard. But she was also in awe of The Little Duchess. She was so small, and yet contained so much power. And she was beautiful, with her brown skin, and curled hair and quiet smile that so few people ever got to see.

Mercy knew that Marina would probably be Queen some day. Whether crowned in her own right because Princess Annalise was long dead, or as consort to Lord Brayton. It was good for her to be near her. Their friendship was productive. At least that’s what her father said.

“I’m sorry to interrupt,” she said. Marina looked over at her. “They’ve asked everyone to come to the hall.” Marina sighed.

“Oh, alright,” she said, “do you know why?” Mercy shook her head. Marina slid her arm through Mercy’s and they walked through the hallways. Mercy felt an electricity shoot through her.

“Something’s happened,” Marina said and slid her arm out and she started looking around. “No, they aren’t here.” Mercy swallowed and realized what, who, Marina meant.

The Dugarrys. General Thomas Martin.

“Lady Marina,” a girl from the guard walked over to her. She wasn’t a soldier, though, she was in blue not green. She was a healer. “Sir Tristan went to see his Uncle. He said to tell you that he’d see you at dinner.” She nodded.

“Thank you,” she said softly. “Is he,” she swallowed. “He’s alright?” Mercy rolled her eyes.

“He’s alright,” the healer girl said. “Lady Athena too. The General has been exiled.” Marina nodded.

“I should find my father,” she whispered. “Are you alright?” Mercy nodded.

“Of course,” she said, “always.” Marina squeezed her hands and disappeared into the crowd. The healer looked at her awkwardly. “That was kind of you. She worries about him.”

“He worries about her,” the guard girl smirked. “I don’t think either of them realize why though.” Mercy giggled. “I don’t think we’ve met. I’m Elodie.”

“Mercy,” she said and shook her hand. “You’re a healer, so you have magic?”

“Some,” Elodie said and they started walking. “Mostly though it just makes me better at my job. I can perceive things and move medicine through the body.” Mercy nodded. “What about you? You’re always with Lady Marina, do you have,”

“Oh no,” Mercy interrupted her, “no.” Elodie nodded. “We’re just friends, or friendly really.” She was blushing, she realized.

“Alright,” Elodie smiled. Someone called her name, “Duty calls.” Mercy nodded. “It was nice meeting you.”

“You too,” Mercy said as Elodie bounced away. Mercy swallowed, her throat dry. Only Marina had ever given her butterflies like that before. Surely it was because Elodie also had magic.

Elodie looked back over her shoulder at Mercy and smiled. She was pretty, with her red hair and her overly fashionable gown. She glanced around and notice Lady Athena standing with her fiance, Warren Davis. Davis was holding Athena’s face in his hands and she was nodding. Elodie swallowed and walked over to her.

“I’m so sorry my love,” she heard Davis say. “But you understand?”

“Of course,” she said softly and kissed him. “Go, I’m sure you have work to do.” He nodded and walked away. Elodie saw her friend’s face change to one of blind rage.

“Do we know it was him?” Elodie asked. Athena nodded. “I’m sorry, My Lady.”

“I know,” she said softly. “So is Tristan, and Martin. Everyone’s sorry, even Warren.” She sighed. “You may have to go to Camp. Are you ready?”

“I think so,” Elodie nodded. “It’s been a while. I’ve gotten used to things here, but change is always good.” Athena laughed darkly. “Lady Athena, if you need anything, please let me know.”

“I’m alright,” Athena said and walked out quietly. Elodie frowned and sighed walking out to the barracks. She flopped onto her bed and closed her eyes trying to sleep. But sleep didn’t come. She got up and quickly walked outside to the main courtyard.

There was some whispering from the people around but it was mostly silent. The barracks had been breached, Thomas Martin was branded a traitor. Nothing made sense.

Elodie frowned as she saw the moonlight streaming through the trees and saw Mercy sitting. Then she smiled in spite of herself. She’d always kept her distance from Court Ladies. They reminded her of the wealthy merchant daughters who came into her father’s inn when she was little, all softness and beauty disguising sharp edges and sadness.

But Athena wasn’t like that. She often reminded herself. And Athena was both, a noble lady and a wealthy merchant daughter in addition to the fiercest warrior in Cammadan. Still, Elodie made most of her friends in the guard and healer corp.

“We don’t have to choose,” Athena had shrugged, once when Elodie had asked her. “I’m not just one thing. No one needs to be.”

She walked over and Mercy looked at her and smiled shyly.

“Is it alright if I sit?” Elodie said. Mercy nodded and she sat. “It’s been a trying day.”

“I’m sure,” Mercy said softly. “My father says it’s a glorious one, traitors don’t deserve our sympathy.” Her hands were balled in her skirt.

“General Martin would sooner cut off his own head than betray Cammadan,” Elodie said defensively. Mercy looked at her. “I don’t mean to contradict you,” she said, “he’s been very good to me.” Mercy looked at her.

“I think my father is very afraid,” she said softly. “And he thinks Lord Brayton is safe.” Elodie nodded.

“And what do you think?” She asked. Mercy looked at her surprised, as thought no one had asked her that before. “You’re close with Lady Marina, aren’t you? Surely, that’s safer.”

“Marina isn’t,” Mercy stopped. “There aren’t that many other people to talk to. Besides which, she’s going to be Queen. Surely you’ve seen how Lord Brayton looks at her.” Elodie grimaced. They all saw how Brayton looked at The Duchess, like she was a skittish animal for him to tame and conquer. It was unsettling. “She’s lucky.”

“Do you really believe that?” Elodie asked. Mercy swallowed and looked at the healer.

She didn’t. Well, she believed Marina was lucky, because she was beautiful, had a father who loved her, friends like Tristan Dugarry and powerful magic. But not because of the attention Brayton gave her.

“I don’t know,” Mercy admitted softly. Elodie nodded and they locked eyes. “I wish you’d stop looking at me like that.” Mercy said.

“I’m not looking at you any way in particular,” Elodie said softly, and pushed a strand of hair behind her ear but then turned her gaze away. Then both girls laughed. “I like you.” Mercy looked at her. “You don’t have to say anything, but well, it’s not something a person hears everyday, so,” Mercy smiled blushed, turned to her and kissed her gently.

“I like you too.” Mercy said. Elodie smiled and they pulled close. She smelled good, like flowers and something sweet, and she was so soft. Mercy’s hands were tangled in her hair keeping them close, as Elodie slid her hands onto her waist. “I don’t normally do this,” Mercy whispered when they stopped for breath.

“You’re good at it for someone who doesn’t normally do it,” Elodie grinned.

The next few motnhs, Mercy found herself more often than not in Elodie’s small room in the barracks at night. She’d lied to her father, saying that she’d been asked to wait on Lady Marina, which of course thrilled him. She knew he’d never approve of Elodie, who was working class and firmly in the Anti-Brayton camp of officers.

But Mercy thought she was amazing. That night she giggled as they kissed pushing gently against one another.

“I want you,” Elodie said softly. Mercy smiled coyly and rolled onto her back. Elodie laughed and straddled her. “You’re too beautiful,” she mumbled.

“Do you want me or not?” She said and pulled Elodie’s shift over her head. The door opened then they both heard a throat clear and a low laugh.

“Lieutenant,” Lady Athena Dugarry was leaning against the door. “Mistress Graves.”

“Lady Athena,” Mercy said with an eyeroll, pulling her clothes back on.

“Elodie, I need to speak to you.” Athena said. “If you aren’t too busy.”

“Of course not,” Elodie said. “Mercy, I’m sorry.” Mercy held up her hands and kissed Elodie on her way out. “Knocking, a novel concept, My Lady.” Athena snorted.

“I don’t know what you see in her, but I am sorry I interrupted,” Athena sat down.

“I don’t know what you see in half the men you’re with so we’re even there,” Elodie sighed. “What is it?”

“Um, you’re being asked to help escort Lady Marina to Camp,” Athena said, “I chose you for the assignment Elodie, I don’t trust anyone else.” Elodie closed her eyes. A few months ago this would have been the best thing to ever happen to her. But that was before Mercy.

“Why aren’t you doing it?” She asked. Athena sighed.

“Tristan and I are escorting Countess Olivia home,” she mumbled. Elodie bit her bottom lip. Of course. Athena had leaked crucial Resistance details to Warren Davis. She’d be given lower priority missions right now. “Are you up for it?” Elodie nodded.

“What’s the cover story?” Elodie asked softly. Athena sighed.

“She’s going home,” Athena said, “to Brightcoast. To study with the sisters there.”

“You’re going?” Mercy said when they met up in the garden the next day. Elodie nodded. “But why, you’re a healer, not a guard.”

“I’m both,” Elodie said, “and studying with the sisters in Brightcoast is a big opportunity for me.” Mercy swallowed and plopped down on the bench. “I’m sorry, Mercy, it is only for a few months, though, I’ll be back.” Mercy turned her head to look away.

“It’s fine,” she said, “go, it doesn’t matter.” Elodie nodded and sat down with her. She pushed her hair to the side and rested her head on her shoulder. “I love you Elodie.”

“I love you too,” Elodie whispered.

Sitting in Camp after victory hadn’t been what Elodie was expecting. The Twins were with the Pantonas and Princess Annalise. And all she could think about was if Mercy had been evacuated. She took a deep breath and walked into the command tent.

“General,” she said softly, “do you know where the evacuees were taken?” Martin smiled at her. “There’s someone I should find.”

“Of course,” he said. They walked through the celebrating camp. “We can’t know if she left, Captain Willis.” Elodie swallowed, the new title felt awkward.

“I know,” she said, “if I have to find her in the city tomorrow I will, but,” she trailed off. She quickly scanned around the group of tents and the chaos of this area. It wasn’t organized like resistance camp. But she checked each fire until finally seeing Mercy sitting with her father, warming her hands. She made eye contact and smiled and stood up quickly running over to her and throwing her arms around her neck and kissing her.

“I knew it,” Mercy said through tears, “oh I knew you’d be here!” Elodie kept kissing her all over her face and laughing. “Elodie, is it true?”

“What part?” She swallowed and pulled back and looked at her.

“That Princess Annalise is here,” she said. Elodie nodded. “Gods,” Mercy exhaled. “Have you met her?”

“Yes,” Elodie said, “and I got promoted. I’m a Captain now.” Mercy laughed and stroked her face. “And I’ve missed you.”

“I’ve missed you,” she whispered. “It’s crowded here,” she wrinkled her nose. Elodie laughed and took her hand and led her to the main camp.

“Elodie,” Marina walked out of the medical tent, “Mercy! Goddess!” She hugged her tightly. “Oh I’m glad you’re safe!” Mercy laughed and Elodie shrugged. “Oh! How silly of me. You two enjoy yourselves.” She winked and headed off.

“She seems,” Mercy cocked her head to side, “well different, I guess.”

“She’s changed a lot,” Elodie said as they walked into her tent. “You haven’t,” Mercy laughed and they kissed again falling back against the cot.

“You don’t know that,” Mercy giggled and then sighed as Elodie’s lips slipped to her neck. “I could have changed a lot.” Elodie laughed and unbuttoned her guard jacket.

“You still like that though,” Elodie whispered, sliding Mercy’s skirts up around her thighs. Mercy cooed happily. “And this,” she said and kissed her while sliding her hand inside of her.

“Mm,” she whispered, “yes, I do.”

After they’d finished Elodie buried her face in Mercy’s hair. That same smell from that first night in the garden, flowers and something sweet.

“Never go away for that long again,” Mercy whispered. Elodie smiled.

“If I do, you’re coming with me,” she said softly. Mercy smiled.

“That’s something I can definitely do,” she said, “I love you.” Elodie pressed her forehead to Mercy’s.

“I love you.”

Interlude: The Triangle: Part 2

Content Warning: This story contains references to and descriptions of Domestic Child Abuse. If you are aware of or suffering from Child Abuse, please contact your state CPS, (A list of United States CPS Agencies can be found at childwelfare.gov) or if you are in crisis contact the Crisis Text Line at 741-741

7 Years Before Crowning

Tom was pacing in the parlor, unsure what to do next. Trey was simply staring at him.

“Should we wake them up?” Tom asked. Trey shook his head.

“Let them sleep one more night not knowing,” he whispered. “Gods, my father, he’ll want them in Dorin.”

“They can’t go to Dorin,” Tom said, “Trey, Alexia made me swear, that they wouldn’t be pulled off the guard path. And besides which, they’re as much Dugarry as they are Dumanis. Dugarrys are in The Guard.” Trey frowned. “They can live here, can’t they?”

“Here?” Trey said. “Not the palace?”

“The Palace is no place from children these days,” Tom said, “I can’t even think, I need to,” he swallowed, “if he knew, if they knew, Trey, I have to go to Pantona.”

“I’m sure they have it under control,” Trey stood up. Tom looked at him. “She’ll send word, she always does.” Tom nodded but something felt wrong. John and Alexia were dead and had been for nearly a week and there hadn’t been word from Olivia. “We have to focus on the twins, you’re right about that. Athena is headstrong and stubborn already, and Tristan is sullen and quiet, without their parents, without their mission,” Tom’s heart suddenly broke, seeing his partner’s attempt to be strong. Trey had been close to his sister. He pulled him close.

“I know,” he whispered, “but I still have to,” he sighed. “I’m sorry,” he whispered and left quickly. He rode fast, through the flat land, stopping only to change horses and drink and eat a little, but he arrived at Pantona withing a few days.

“Tom,” Olivia exclaimed as he burst into the hall, she ran down the stairs and into his arms. “Oh I’m so glad to see you, we were so worried, is it true?” He nodded and burst into tears finally. She pressed her face into his chest. “Poor John, and Alexia,” she swallowed, “oh and those children, Tom, are they with you? Do you need,” he shook his head.

“They’re with Trey,” he said softly. She nodded and they walked into another room and sat down. “But you’re safe?” He cupped a hand against her cheek.

“Yes,” she said softly. “As is my son, and,” she stopped as a little girl came running in. “Lisette, please give us a moment.”

“Of course, Countess,” she said and curtsied gently, “sir,” she whispered to him and then pitterred out.

“Gods,” he whispered, “it’s like seeing a ghost.” Olivia smiled softly. “But you haven’t seen anything? No one has come or reached out?”

“No,” she said softly, “we’re safe.” He exhaled. “Your probably passed my husband on the road, he was going to make sure the twins and Lady Marina were safe.” He smiled. He’d never expected to grow fond of Caleb Pantona, but he had over the years. “Trey won’t be happy you came here.”

“Because it’s you?” Tom said. Olivia laughed.

“Partly,” she said, “and partly because she was his sister.” He nodded. “You must be exhausted, I’ll get a room set for you. Do you want to see the children?”

“No,” he said, “I’ll sleep and get back. You’re right, he’ll be furious.” She laughed and he touched her face gently, “I just had to see you, I couldn’t,” he choked on some tears. She nodded.

“I know,” she said softly, “I was frantic too, it’s why Caleb went. I can’t, but well,” he nodded and then kissed her softly. “Tom,” she whispered and pulled back, “no.” He sighed and looked down. “I’m sorry, I thought you understood.”

“No, I do, I shouldn’t have,” he sighed, “it would be easier, sometimes, if I didn’t. Then I could have gone on being angry at you.” She smiled and took his hands. “I wish so badly that I didn’t love you anymore, Livvie.”

“Oh, Tom,” she sighed, “I don’t think you do. I think you loved me when I was seventeen, and you love that idea. I love it too. There are plenty of times when I wonder, if,” she sighed, “we’ll always have a maybe, between us. But you have Trey, and now you have to be there for Tristan and Athena. They’re wonderful children, but this will be so hard on them.” He took her hand again and kissed it gently.

“No,” he whispered, “it’s not the idea of it, but that’s there, I love you, I think I always will.” She nodded.

“Mother,” a boy walked in, he was clearly awkwardly between boyhood and manhood, but tall, a little gangly. Tom hadn’t seen Aaron Pantona since he was a small child. The resemblance to Caleb was obvious, but there was more of Olivia in his face than he’d realized. “Lisette said we had a guest, I thought I should say hello.” Olivia sent him a crooked smile.

“Of course,” she said, “General Thomas Martin, may I present my son, Viscount Aaron Pantona.” The small Viscount bowed and Tom smiled.

“Your Grace,” Tom said standing up and extending his hand. Aaron took it and shook it enthusiastically. “If you’ll both excuse me, I think I ought to go to the inn.”

After arriving back in Dovetail, Tom walked into the house and was immediately blindsided by a tumble of blonde curls tackling his stomach.

“Where were you?” Athena Dugarry looked up at him, her green eyes flashing in anger. “Aunt Brie said we have to go to Dorin and I won’t! They can’t make me. I know that we can’t stay at the palace anymore with Mama and Papa gone, but I won’t go to Dorin!”

“Thena,” he sighed, “you do not have to go to Dorin. Where is your brother?” Tristan was sitting at the dining table and looked up at him. “Come along, and sit,” Athena obeyed, though she looked unhappy about it. The twins identical faces and hair, so like John’s, looked back at him. “I want you both to know first of all that you will always be safe. I won’t let any harm come to you.”

“We know that, Sir,” Trsitan managed, “but we don’t want to leave Dovetail, we told Uncle Trey that and,” he swallowed what was likely a very large sob.

“Good,” he whispered. “And Tristan, Athena,” he took one hand each, “I need you to be brave, I swore to your mother that I would take care of you and I take it very seriously. I’m going to speak to your grandfather and settle things. You are not going to Dorin, not if you don’t want it, and if you do want it, you won’t go without me.” He stood up and Tristan joined him and hugged him tightly. After releasing the boy he saw Trey waiting in the hall.

“How is she?” He asked.

“Coping,” Tom said softly, “thank you, for not just sending them.” Trey shrugged. “I know it’s hard for you to stand against your family Trey, I’m always grateful.” Trey nodded.

“You were right that it wouldn’t be what Alexia and John would want,” Trey said. “Caleb Pantona talked me out of it. He pointed out it would play into Brayton’s hands, and that you’d never forgive me for it.” They both laughed. “I loved my sister Tom, I love you, I couldn’t do something that would cause you so much pain.”

“I know that,” he said, “I shouldn’t have run off, it isn’t fair to you, to them, to whatever it is we’ve had for the past twelve years.” Trey smiled. “But there’s something in me, Trey, I love you, but whenever something goes wrong, in my guts, it’s her.”

“I’ve noticed,” Trey muttered. Tom frowned. “It can’t be like that now. Not with Athena and Tristan with us.” He nodded.

1 Year Before Coronation

“What do you mean she won’t go?” Brie DuCray exclaimed. Trey sighed. “She’s sixteen, she’s a member of this family, she will go to Dorin and be presented.”

“Brie,” Trey said, “if I had any measure of control over Athena don’t you think she’d be in this house rather than in the barracks and I wouldn’t be arguing that she shouldn’t marry that idiotic Davis boy.”

“She’s not marrying him,” Brie said, “Goddess, Father would lose his mind. We can do better.” She sat down. “Alex is cooling on the DuKarras girl.”

“No,” Trey said. “That won’t help anyone.” Brie frowned and the door burst open, Tristan walked in, his face red and flustered. “Tristan this is not a good time.”

“I’m sorry,” he said, “Hello Aunt Brie.” She nodded at him. “I just, the Black Guards came to the Barracks.” Trey walked over and took his shoulders. “I’m fine, Athena is fine.” Brie looked at her brother.

“Why were they there?” Trey said. “Tristan?” He swallowed.

“Martin’s been exiled,” he said. Brie closed her eyes and exhaled. “They know he’s leading the Resistance.”

“Living Gods,” Brie whispered. “But you two?” Tristan shook his head. “I have to tell Drea.” Trey nodded and Brie left. Tristan swallowed.

“He got away safely?” Trey whispered. Tristan nodded. “And you and your sister are both alright?”

“Yes,” Tristan said and collapsed. “He told me to come to you, well, us, but Athena,” Trey stopped.

“Davis?” He said. Tristan nodded. “Goddess.” Trey muttered. “I need to see him.”

“He’s gone already,” Tristan said, “he gave me a letter.” He handed it over.

“Where did he go?” Trey asked. Tristan shrugged. “You don’t know?”

“We’re too close to Brayton these days,” Tristan said, “I don’t know where Camp is. But I’m sure it was to Camp.” Trey nodded.

“Why are you so close to Brayton these days?” Trey asked. “Surely there are more useful places for you to be.” And safer. He thought to himself.

“We need to stay close,” Tristan said quietly, “Lady Marina, well.” Trey sighed. He’d seen though never met the “Little Duchess” as she was called. And Tristan talked about the girl enough. “He’s taken an interest in her.”

“I see,” Trey frowned. “It’s a practical move. Brightcoast is large territory. And she’s the heir, after The Princess.” Tristan nodded. “Don’t stay too long, if they’re looking for you, you should be wherever you’re supposed to be.” Tristan nodded and Trey hugged him close. “Stay safe, my boy, please. I couldn’t take it,”

“I know,” Tristan whispered and left swiftly. Trey opened the letter.

Trey,

Know that no matter what comes next for me, I will love you always. Please look after them while I’m gone. I can’t stand the idea of the three of you alone.

Love,

Tom

Coronation Ball

Countess Olivia Pantona smiled sadly looking over the goings on at the large ball. They were so young, and there was so much still to be done.

“Countess,” Trey Dumanis walked over to her holding two glasses of sparkling wine. “If you’ll permit me.” She smiled and took it.

“Thank you, Master Dumanis,” she said softly. “I understand we owe you some thanks. It all would have been more difficult without you.” He smiled and looked down.

“You know better than most,” he said, “how difficult it is to say no.” She smiled. “I am sorry about your husband. Caleb was a good man.” She swallowed and nodded.

“Yes he was,” she said and nodded towards Aaron who was dancing with a laughing Athena. “It seems we’re going to be family soon.”

“Yes,” he said, “my father couldn’t be happier.” She laughed.

“I can imagine,” she said, “he may find Aaron less pliable than he’d like however. Like a good country boy he has a skeptical view of The Guilds. He’s seen a few tenants get fleeced.” Trey smiled.

“Of course,” he said and glanced across at where Tom was standing. “It’s strange, having him back.” Olivia smiled at him coyly.

“Is he back?” She raised her eyebrows. Trey looked at her. “I am in mourning, Tristan, you have nothing to fear from me.”

“Olivia, you were married for thirty years and it didn’t matter to him,” Trey shook his head. She sighed. “I know you never encouraged him, it’s only, I spent most of my life in second place. I can’t keep at it until I die.” She nodded and raised her eyebrow again.

“You didn’t answer the question,” she smiled.

“He was,” he admitted, “just the once.” She giggled happily. “You’re behaving like a child, by the way, not a dignified dowager.”

“With Alexia gone, someone needs to tease you, your other sisters have always been useless at it,” she said. He smiled. “I never wanted to be between you two.”

“I know that,” Trey said softly. “You still are though.” She nodded.

Pantona

The burial had been harder than Tom expected, though he remained in awe of Olivia, she’d barely cried. He thought back to the night in camp, when he’d stopped himself from going to her, despite hearing her wailing. It’s why he’d come today even if it was not the most sound judgement.

Tenants had been coming in and out of the manor all day, and now it was quiet, he, Les and Olivia sat quietly in the parlor. Aaron had gone to the study with William Santino, “getting hideously drunk, most likely,” Livvie had said mischievously.

“You’re sure of that?” Les asked. She sighed and put her feet up on ottoman.

“It is the usual outcome when Aaron and William spend any amount of time together,” she said with a soft smile. Tom looked at her. “Granted it isn’t usually here, it’s at the inn, but still.”

“Why not here?” Tom asked. She sighed.

“Caleb didn’t really approve,” she said, “not of William, he liked him, but of Aaron’s, other activities in the area.”

“Farm girls,” Les laughed, “kitchen maids,” Olivia nodded. “The odd merchant girl if I recall correctly.”

“Precisely,” Olivia sighed. “No man will respect a lord who’s bedded his and half his neighbor’s wives.” Tom snorted. “He was so happy about Athena, Tom, really.”

“I know,” Tom said softly. “We’re happy too, really. But I worry about her, she can be rash.” Les smiled softly.

“She’ll settle,” he said, “all of them have endured so much. I hope peace suits them.” He paused. “I hope it suits us at that.” Olivia reached out and took his hand and squeezed it. “I think I need to sleep. Thank you for this, Livvie. It helped.”

“I’m glad,” she said, “I know I’m not Caleb, but I am here.” He smiled and nodded at Tom before leaving. “He might miss him more than I do.”

“He’s always been sentimental,” Tom said, “and being so isolated these past sixteen years couldn’t have helped.” She nodded and he walked over to her. “Do you miss him?”

“Yes,” she said. “I think I will more now, it’s been so busy.” She stretched. “But he’s at rest, and Aaron will be married and I can rest, and see my grandchildren when they come.” She sighed and looked at him. “You will be here?” She asked. He looked at her.

“If I’m wanted,” he said.

“Athena will want you here,” she said softly. He smiled.

“That isn’t what I meant,” he said, “and you know it.” She sighed and stood up, he took her hand as she passed him. “Livvie,” he whispered.

“Tom,” she sighed. “This isn’t what I thought would happen,” he nodded. “What about Trey?”

“There isn’t anything with Trey,” he said. She frowned. “I thought, maybe we could try again, but there’s too much hurt, too much change.”

“Oh,” she looked away. “And if I’m not ready?” He nodded.

“I understand,” he said, “but are you not ready, or not interested?” She looked at him and sighed and knelt down between his legs and pressed her forehead to his.

“I love you,” she said, “I’ve always loved you. It’s changed and grown so much.” He inhaled. “I can’t lose you too, Tom. It would be too much to bear. Anton and Marie and Anne and Alexia and John and then Caleb. If we try this and it doesn’t work out,” she swallowed. “I can’t lose you.”

“You won’t lose me,” he said softly, “don’t you think you would have be now?” She kissed him and pulled close. He lifted her up by the waist and carried her upstairs to her room.

When they’d finished and lay quietly together Tom gently traced a few scars on her back. They were new, or at least new to him. They hadn’t been there when they were young.

“What are these from?” He asked. She rolled over.

“My father,” she said softly. He stared at her. “It started just hitting me when I was disappointing, but when Anton announced his engagement, I required serious correction,” he exhaled.

“How didn’t I know?” He asked.

“I hid it,” she said, “I was embarrassed. Anton didn’t know either. John did. Caleb guessed, it was how we became close at first.” She exhaled. “It was a long time ago.” He kissed her deeply.

“You didn’t trust me?” He asked.

“No,” she sighed. “It’s hard to explain, I trusted you, but I also didn’t think you would accept my weakness. Of course it wasn’t mine, it was his, but,” she sighed. “When I lost my first baby,” she said, “I was terrified that Caleb would hate me, too, the same way my father did. But he was always so kind, and gentle.” Tom swallowed.

“How may were there?” He asked. “I remember the two others you carried.” She sighed.

“Five,” she said, “three before Aaron, two after. The two who died in their cradles, Mara and Joseph, they were the hardest. The others never even quickened, poor things.” She looked at him. “Do you regret not having children?” She asked. He laughed.

“Sometimes,” he said, “but I have the twins.” She nodded. “But if you mean do I regret spending my life with Trey, I don’t think I ever could, unless of course it meant I got to spend it with you.” She cooed softly and kissed him. “Did you know Annalise asked me if I was in love with Anton?” Olivia burst out in a laugh.

“Really?” She said. He nodded. “Were you? I feel like I would have noticed, I was very jealous. Of both of you.” He grinned.

“No,” he said, “I loved him, and if he’d wanted me I don’t think I could have denied him, but it was never that way.” She nodded. “Besides, I only had eyes for you for quite a while.” She smiled. “What do we do now?”

“Is it alright if we don’t know?” She asked. “I have a wedding to plan, and the gods knows what’s happening with Lisette.” He laughed.

“I sent Tristan into the Lion’s Den,” he muttered, “because the gods knows what’s happening with Lisette.” She laughed. “And I’m in no rush to explain it to Trey.” She smiled and they kissed again before snuggling into one another and falling asleep

Interlude: The Triangle: Part 1

Content Warning: This story contains references to and descriptions of Domestic Child Abuse. If you are aware of or suffering from Child Abuse, please contact your state CPS, (A list of United States CPS Agencies can be found at childwelfare.gov) or if you are in crisis contact the Crisis Text Line at 741-741

30 Years Before Annalise Is Crowned

Dovetail

“What do you think of her?” Olivia Bano said, sitting in the corner of the reception room as Marie SanPierre, the new girl from Phania was standing dear the Royal Family’s dais talking to Prince Anton.

“I think you are much prettier than she is,” John Dugarry said quickly.

“I have you too well trained,” she narrowed her eyes at him. He shrugged. “Look at how Anton is looking at her.” She sighed.

“Your father isn’t here you don’t need to pretend,” John said inspecting his nails. “Run along and make love with Tom in a closet or whatever it is you two have been up to for the past few months, I have to make sure this Phanian girl isn’t carrying poison.” She whacked him in the arm. “Ow!”

“How did you know about Tom and me?” She hissed. He laughed.

“It is the worst kept secret at court, Livvie,” he said. She frowned. “Before you ask of course Anton knows.” She sighed. “You didn’t really want to be Queen?”

“No” she said, and then sighed, “I mean a little, but it’s Anton, every time he touched me I just wanted to giggle and not in the good way.” John snorted.

“I can see that,” he said. “Your father doesn’t know.” She inhaled and looked at him. “But he’ll figure it out soon Livvie.”

“And I will handle it,” she said. He sighed. “I will. I always do.”

“I won’t cover for you this time,” he said. She looked down. “Anton won’t stand for it. Tom won’t.” He swallowed. “I shouldn’t.” He looked down. She stared daggers at him.

“He is my father,” she said. “He loves me and wants what is best for me.”

“What’s best for you is not both you eyes blacked and not being able to sit down for a week,” John said. She frowned. “Come to Dorin with Tom and me. You can enlist in the guard!” She rolled her eyes.

“I am not joining the guard and I am not leaving court to go to Dorin,” she said. “I’ve never understood this obsession of yours.”

“I am marrying according to my family’s cultural traditions,” he said. “And also I like Alexia, from her letters.” Olivia shrugged.

“If you say so,” she said.

“Lady Olivia,” A tall young man with auburn hair almost the same as hers walked past. “Sir John.”

“Viscount,” she blushed and curtsied gently. John bowed and then scowled at her. “Are you very happy that Lord Lestat has returned?”

“I have missed him,” Caleb Pantona nodded. “And his sister is a lovely girl, don’t you think?”

“Oh, I haven’t gotten to speak to her yet,” she giggled. “But I look forward to getting to know her.” The Viscount smiled and moved along.

“What was that?” John asked staring at her.

“Nothing,” she said and pushed her hair behind her ears. “He asked my father for permission to court me. It’s very common out in the country apparently.”

I didn’t mean the Viscount panting at you, trust me I recalll that. ” he said, “I meant you encouraging it.” She rolled her eyes.

“Lady Olivia,” Tom Martin, his dark blonde hair cropped short and his guard uniform crisp. Olivia melted as they met eyes.

“Captain Martin,” she smiled. “John.”

“Trouble,” John muttered and took a big gulp of his drink as they took one another’s hands and slipped away. “Both of you.” Olivia stuck her tongue out at him as they slipped away into an empty room. He pulled her close and kissed her.

“Don’t go to Dorin,” she whispered. He laughed.

“It won’t change anything,” he said softly, “and I gave John my word.” She nodded. “I’m in love with you, Livvie.” She smiled.

“So stay with me,” she said. He kissed her again. “Please.” He sighed and slipped his hand through her hair.

“I promised,” he said softly. “Besides which, you have other commitments too.” She looked down.

“If you mean Anton and me, it isn’t anything,” she said. “I want you, I’ve only ever loved you.” He smiled and kissed her and she drew him back to a couch.

“I only love you too,” he said softly. She swallowed and nodded. She didn’t know if she believed him. Tom’s love felt unsettled. But his touch, and kiss were intoxicating, the feeling of him inside of her too good. And he was Tom.

He was handsome and brave and kind and adored her. Her father wouldn’t be happy, he wanted a grand match for her. But she would figure it out.

Dorin

Tom was trying not to laugh as John paced back and forth in the very large and ornate receiving room of the Dumanis House in Dovetail.

“I think the summer palace is smaller than this room,” Tom said. John glared at him. “Your in laws, are clearly wealthy, congratulations.”

“You’re supposed to be helping me,” John groaned, “this is not helpful.”

“Sorry,” Tom said, “how can I help? I could ask Jeremy to sell a farm so that I can give you a proper gift.” John looked at him and laughed.

“I am in so over my head,” he groaned. “Have you heard from Livvie?” Tom nodded.

“Mm,” he nodded, “Anton is in love with Marie Sanpierre. She is devastated.”

“I’m sure,” John said.

“Drea, what exactly is the big emergency,” a boy about their age bound into the room. Tom stared at him. He let out a laugh from his throat, “you’re not Drea.”

“No,” Tom said and stood up, “I’m Tom Martin this um,”

“John Dugarry,” The boy sighed, “I forgot that you were coming today. I’m Tristan DuManis, Trey, they call me Trey.” John nodded.

“Nice to meet you,” John said, “is your sister coming? Anytime soon?”

“Lexi?” Trey said. “Did you let her know you were coming about six hours ago?” Tom laughed.

“Trey,” a girl walked in, “stop it.” John looked over at her. Tom smiled, “I’m sorry for keeping you waiting, my father, and my sisters,” she exhaled. “I’m Alexia.”

“John,” Tom said, seeing his friend standing slack jawed. She was beautiful. Blonde hair and green eyes, and she was dressed in a green gown that was clearly designed to invoke the guard uniform. A nice touch. “This is the part where you talk.” Trey laughed from the corner and Tom smiled at him.

“I’m John,” he said softly, “and it’s nice to finally meet you.” She smiled.

“And this is the part where we leave,” Trey stood up. “Good luck.” Tom laughed and followed him out. “She hasn’t eaten in a week.”

“He may have caused more damage to his weapons than good with how much he was cleaning them on the ride,” Tom shook his head. “I suppose you’re next?”

“For the marriage market?” Trey asked. Tom shrugged. “No, I’m not,” he shook his head. “I don’t, not with girls, anyway, and the contracts don’t really allow for,” Tom smiled.

“I understand,” he said. “And it’s good to know.” Trey smiled back at him.

“I should let my father know that I’m here,” Trey said pointing in the general direction fo the hall. “Nice meeting you.” He walked away.

“You too,” Tom smiled. Then he exhaled. “What am I doing?” He mumbled.

Dovetail

“So that’s it then?” Tom stared at Olivia, “you’re going to marry him, throw it all away?”

“Throw what away?” She said calmly, her brown eyes full of tears. “Throw away you and Anton glaring at each other over dinner, while everyone pretends not to notice? Except he’s moved on too. Throw away you spending most of your time with Trey Dumanis and acting like I don’t notice the way you look at each other.” He looked away. “Throw away you leaving for six months? I love you, I do,” she whispered, “but you were gone.”

“Your father must be pleased,” he muttered. One last arrow, the only one left. She swallowed.

“He is, actually,” she said softly. “I love you, Tom. I’ve always loved you and I always will, but Caleb loves me. He’s a good man, and he’ll take care of me.”

“I love you,” he whispered. “I’ll take care of you.” He stepped closer and cupped her face. “Livvie,” he said and kissed her.

“You didn’t deny it,” she whispered. He looked at her. “You and Trey.”

“He’s a boy with a crush, Livvie,” he sighed. “It will pass. I’m yours.” She shook her head.

“You’ve never been mine,” she said. “And I’m tired of pretending.” She turned around and left.

Later that night Tom sat quietly on the steps outside of The Barracks, the large building where most of The Royal Guard lived. He’d thought he’d be leaving it soon. Married officers took homes, his brother had offered him a place on his land.

“There you are,” Alexia Dumanis practically skipped over. Tom smiled. He’d become very fond of her. He didn’t have sisters but he imagined if he did he’d care about them how he did Lexi. “You had promised not to abandon us. Instead Trey and I have been stuck at dinner with all those stuffy nobles.”

“I’m sorry,” he said softly. “Where’s John, I believe that’s his job really?” She sat beside him.

“John is with Prince Anton,” she said, “planning Lady Marie’s security.” He nodded. “How was your evening?”

“Lady Olivia is getting married.” He said softly. Alexia nodded. “I shouldn’t be surprised, I left for six months.”

“I’m sorry,” Alexia said, “I imagine you love her very much.” He looked at her and nodded. “She’s very beautiful. I can’t say I’m too upset though. I would be very happy to call you brother.” He laughed.

“Am I that blind?” He asked. She smiled slyly.

“Trey is cautious, and Papa thinks you’re a menace, but if you don’t see it then, yes, Tom Martin, you are blind.” She kissed him on the cheek. Tom nodded. He stood up and walked out of the palace and down the market to the large and ornate townhouse that The Dumanis family had recently purchased. He stepped in the front door and turned seeing Trey sitting in the parlor.

“What are you doing here?” Trey asked quietly. “Aren’t you supposed to be with Lady Olivia tonight?” Tom nodded. “So, why aren’t you?”

“I want to try something,” Tom walked over and kissed him gently. Trey lit up and they pulled close. “Alright, good, then, that’s good.”

“Do you have any idea how long I’ve been waiting for that?” The younger boy smiled. Tom grinned back at him.

Author’s Note: OMG, we did it!

Oh, hi, I didn’t see you there. *Giggles Approachably and flips hair casually*

So we finished year 2. I’ve got some plans for what’s coming next, and I’m going to start editing together the past 3 years of content into something resembling a manuscript. I will then have to make decisions, but I’ll think about that when I have that to think about.

For now! We move on.

First of all, see the below embedded Twitter Thread that in a bit of mania last night. I put together the way I see the cast in my head. I hit just about everyone except Anselm and a few of the Dumanis, but that’s because I have trouble getting a hold of Anselm in my head. (Sometimes he’s a very traditional kindly old Wizard type, other times he’s more of a strict but loving grandpa type. He’s slippery.) It was fun!

It’s a lot of people who were on The CW or played Superheroes, I am who I am. Also, Rana is Audra McDonald. I do not apologize for the most powerful deity in my cosmology being played by the most talented person in show business.

So as we move into year three what are we going to look like. Rather than write through each girl’s perspective and loop back to another’s, I’m going to jump around, sometimes seeing Marina’s view, sometimes Lisette’s and sometime’s Athena’s. We’re jumping forward a few months, to the court visiting Brightcoast. And I’m so excited that we ALSO be following a new POV character. (I’m like George RR Martin over here) So that we don’t totally lose track of a few characters I’ve grown very fond of, we’re also going to check in with Carolina DuKarras, the girl who The Dumanis want Tristan to marry. I think you’ll like Carolina. I do.

BUT FIRST. For June, and for Pride (Happy Pride! I’m bisexual, I don’t know if you knew that. But I am!) I’ve decide to do a little investment in my queer characters. Part of the difficulty with this story living in my head for so long is that it’s much more hetero than something that I’d come up with now, but there’s the queer characters in there, and I want to tell their stories.

SO!

First! A two part story that traces key moments in Tom’s relationships with both Olivia and Trey. It’s mostly finished and really lovely.

Then! How did a badass soldier with a tragic backstory and a prissy mean girl realize they were meant for each other? The answer may delight you, it does me. We’re talking about Elodie and Mercy.

And finally! Chosen by a goddess, socially uncomfortable, and just trying to figure it out. It’s time to go deeper into Raymond.

I’m really excited. And thanks everyone for reading, following an indulging me these past few years. I set out to do something and the fact that I’ve done it.

Rest in the peace of The Goddess, y’all.

Letters

The Following Letters Exchanged Between Aaron, Count Of Pantona and Lady Athena Dugarry, Commader of The Royal Guard, on the occasion of his return to Pantona to lay to rest the remains of his late father.

Dear Athena,

When we rode from Pantona to Dovetail, was the land so infernally flat once we got away from the valley? Did I not notice because I was looking at you? Who can say, but may my ancestors curse me, the scenery is dull. The ride is going well, and Mother is better, I think. I don’t think I’d realized how much she really dislikes Dovetail. Martin caught up with us today, and told me about Brayton’s fall. How is Lisette taking it? I know she won’t tell me the truth, but I trust you to.

I’ll sleep now, and even promised Martin I would train with him in the morning, so I won’t be completely useless to you on my return.

Aaron,

Yes it has always been flat, but pretty in the spring. Too bad it’s autumn and late autumn at that so you won’t even see the colors.

Brayton has largely recovered and Lisette still refuses to order the execution. It’s caused quite a rift between her and Marina. Tristan is back in her bed (Lisette, that is, Lefty has begun courting Marina in earnest, and she’s absolutely a changed person for it.) and I worry it will all end in disaster. I’m glad Mother is better. (Are you proud of me? I’m trying it in writing first!)

Good that you’re training and do not let him go easy on you.

Missing You,

Athena

Beloved Athena,

We arrived in the village today. I have never been happier to see William. I realized when we were having a meal in the Inn that he’s my oldest friend besides Lisette. Quite strange to think about since I never liked him much.

Duke Lestat and Martin have taken to sniping at one another. I thought about how vital my father must have been to keep them on track. I see him everywhere, now that we’re here. In every tenants face, in every field and brick in every building.

I miss you. I see you everywhere too. The lake especially. I want you. All day, all night, it consumes me. I want to kiss you and I want to be in you, and hear you call my name. I want to be so overwhelmed that we can’t help ourselves like that first night by the lake.

But instead you’re so far away. And I will fall asleep dreaming of you. As I will every night until you’re in my arms again.

Your Aaron

Aaron,

Come back soon. That last letter left me so frenzied I nearly followed Harran to his bunk.

Athena

Athena,

You could do worse. Tell me about this courtship of Marina. I can tell you her father disapproves heartily of the Phanians. Seems there’s some bad blood between him and the king.

Cheer me up with some silliness, love, it is dark here.

Your Aaron

Dearest Aaron,

I want to be with you, more than you could know. To cheer you up. Instead I will tell you about Marina and Lefty. She giggles when he walks into the room, and his eyes never leave her. Whenever we spar he tells me how he’s never met another woman like her.

She hums, while she works or studies, I have known her since I was five, Aaron, I can assure you, Marina San Pierre never hummed. It’s a delight. Tristan hates it. He’s still with Lisette but he watches her more. Without you to talk to about the whole mess I feel at a loss. Elodie has organized a pool as to when Marina and Lefty will sleep together. Mercy thinks the deed is done. Do you have thoughts?

Yours In Delight

Athena

For, To, My Darling,

William has come over to comfort me in my grief after we buried my father. It was awful, but he brought a fine Rastani spirit of some kind. I’m really very drunk. He sends his best.

And he assured me, if it helps with your bet that when he left Dovetail the deed was not done. I return to you soon.

Aaron

Aaron,

Please write drunk again. I very much enjoyed it. I’m counting down the moments until you return. We’re very busy here, there’s going to be a winter ball. I hope you’re back in time.

Your Athena

Athena,

See you tonight, I can see the city walls.

Aaron

Reconciled

After training I did my best to find Aaron, but he wasn’t anywhere in the palace. That was when I remembered that he didn’t really have a home in the palace, he’d been staying with me, but he had his townhouse.

I walked swiftly past the market, hoping no one from my family saw me. I didn’t want to lose any time. I arrived at Bano House, which belonged to Olivia’s father, technically, Olivia and Caleb lived here when they were in the city, but they never spent much time there.

I ran in the door to the surprised look of a butler who quickly bowed and directed me to the study. Aaron was sitting quietly on the couch swirling a whiskey in a glass.

“You found me,” he smiled sadly.

“Of course,” I said quietly and sat down. He looked at me. “I’m sorry,” I whispered.

“Me too,” he said and took my hand. “I keep trying to decide if I want to live here.” I nodded.

“If you want to, we can,” I said softly. “Or perhaps your mother,” I drifted off.

“She said no,” he asked. We looked at each other. “I always assumed I would stay in Pantona.”

“I know,” I said quietly. “And if you still want to,” I drifted off. This was the final question between us. I would let him go if he really truly wanted a quiet life in the country. I couldn’t give him that, not ever. It might break me entirely, but I would do it.

“No,” he said softly, “not without you.” I smiled. “I love you, I want you.” I nodded and kissed him. “What brought about this apology?” I sighed and rolled my eyes.

“You might not understand this,” I said and ran my hands over his chest, “but watching someone get his heart broken over and over again from when I was ten on did not provide me with much basis for trust.”

“So I can blame Martin for this outburst?” He grinned. “Good to know.” I rolled my eyes and kissed him. “I’ve promised you that I’m yours, that won’t ever change.”

“I want to believe you, I really do,” I said, “and I am trying.” He kissed me.

“I know love,” he said. “What are you going to do about the Dream?” I frowned.

“I can’t do much until Lisette decides to move,” I sighed. “I understand her need to get settled, but well, won’t that be easier after The Mandate is fulfilled.” He laughed.

“I suppose it would be,” he said, “kiss me again and let’s put the whole thing to bed.” I grinned and kissed him and he pulled me close.

Before Dreaming

“May I asked you something?” Prince Eric asked me, walking into the parlor of The Princess Tower after dinner. Lisette was out on the balcony talking with Aaron. I looked at him. “Are you ever concerned about the two of them?” I raised an eyebrow.

“How shockingly direct of you!” I said. “No, Aaron considers The Queen his sister. They’re close but it isn’t like that between them.” He nodded.

“That’s something of a relief,” he said and sat down. I smiled and shook my head. “And your brother?”

“Well, I don’t worry about Annalise and Tristan, but I could see how it might be troublesome for you,” I shrugged and sat next to him. He nodded. I looked around and noticed Tristan was in fact, gone, as was Marina. I sighed, that wouldn’t end well.

“I’m leaving,” Lefty said walking over. “Lady Athena, always a pleasure.”

“You can’t just leave,” Prince Eric said. He shrugged.

“Well, I am,” he sighed. “It’s been three nights in a row, Eric, I’m begging you.” I laughed.

“I don’t think the Countess will mind, really,” I said, “she doesn’t keep a particularly formal household.” Lefty laughed took my hand and kissed it.

“I will never forget it,” he said, “you are an angel of mercy.” I laughed as he left.

“He’d have stayed if Duchess Marina had,” Lord Raymond said. Eric shushed him. “I’m reasonably sure she noticed, Eric, he’s not subtle.”

“As opposed to you,” Eric said, “does Randolph know you’re spending most afternoons with her?” I raised my eyebrows.

“Given that I’m not interested in women, it doesn’t really effect him,” Raymond shrugged. I laughed. “Are you shocked?”

“Not terribly,” I said, “if you meant to shock me, I hate to disappoint. After my parents died I was raised by my Uncle Trey and General Martin, who were merely unmarried because my grandfather disapproved?”

“Disapproved of Trey’s orientation?” Raymond asked. I shrugged.

“Possibly,” I said, “but mostly of Thomas. They butt heads quite a bit. And Trey considers his position in the family very important.” I looked at him. “Where is he? You ought to have brought him.”

“Randolph is with the crew, but we’re not used to being able to be in the open.” He admitted. “We hadn’t realized it was, well, that we could be.”

Aaron and Lisette walked in.

“This feels distinctly more intimate,” Aaron said.

“There are still three more people than most nights of our lives,” Lisette pointed out. Aaron nodded.

“Yes, and as I thought coming to Dovetail would put an end to quiet nights where you and I stared at each other and Mother occasionally saying something witty,” he picked up a drink and sat down, “but alas, here I am.”

“Ennui doesn’t suit you love,” I said. He laughed and kissed me on the cheek.

“I hope you all know what you’re getting into with these Cammadie women, Your Highness,” Aaron said pointedly, “My Lord. They’re the most stubborn breed in the world.”

“Hush,” Lisette said with a glare, “as if growing up with the most impossible boy in the world isn’t what made me stubborn.” The Prince laughed.

“Imagine this but without the charming additional company and you will have some idea of what my past eighteen years have been like,” Countess Olivia swanned in. I am always astounded by her, but in these past few months, even more so. She’s thinner, and paler, and black does not suit her at all, but the light I always saw and was inspired by still shines.

“I can’t imagine they were so terrible, Your Grace,” Prince Eric grinned, “as children it must have been endearing. I find the way my nieces bicker the most charming thing in the world.”

“How old are the Princesses?” I asked. Raymond let out a long sigh.

“Karina is thirteen, Vanessa is nine, and Angelica is six, almost seven” Raymond said quietly, “and my sister is, if you can believe it, at her wits end.”

“I can believe it,” Olivia smiled, “I remember those ages individually and combined.” She bit her lip. “I hadn’t realized there was such a gap between Karina and the others.”

“There wasn’t,” Eric’s face darkened. “Amos died in his cradle.” Olivia nodded.

“How awful for Elana,” she said, her hand going to her own belly reflexively. I’d often wondered why Aaron was an only child. “And how difficult for you.” Eric smiled.

“More difficult for Karina, in the end I think,” he said softly. “Elana is determined that she be named heir.”

“Do you object?” Lisette asked. I knew his answer would mean everything.

“Not for moment,” he said, “I have no great desire to succeed my brother, and Karina is well suited to be Queen. Besides which, it’s something we’re woefully behind in, not allowing osur women to inherit.” I smiled and then rose and stretched.

“I’m afraid I’m finished for the evening,” I said, “Thank you as always, Your Grace.”

“I will have you calling me Mother soon enough,” she teased and kissed me on the cheek when I leaned down.

“I’ll escort you,” Aaron leaped and we walked out. We weren’t even back to the main palace when he pressed me against a wall and kissed, I giggled into it. “That was endless.”

“I like them,” I said. “Your mother did too.” He rolled his eyes.

“They’re too charming,” he said, “But I don’t want to talk about it.” We kissed again. “We’ll only argue and I leave in a week and I don’t want to spend it arguing.” I stopped.

“A week?” I said.

“Yes,” he sighed. “Mother is concerned about moving before the frost.” I sighed and pressed my head against his chest. “I know, love, and I’m sorry.” I nodded and we kept walking. I was so tired of him being sorry, I was tired of worrying about us, or Tristan, or Lisette. I just wanted him so badly.

We reached the apartment and walked in. I kissed him again.

“I just want you,” I said, “remember that night by the lake? I want you like it did then, I just want every doubt to fall away.”

“I promise,” he said softly, “I’ve never doubted, and I don’t want you to. I’ll come back to you as quickly as I can.” I smiled and we walked back into my room. Our sex was urgent but lingering.

No doubts, but then I Dreamed.

A Bargain

This second ball isn’t nearly as fun as last night, mostly because I’m spending it entertaining my cousins. Aaron basically abandoned me to glower at Prince Eric, who I’ve noticed has made Lisette laugh at least four times.

“Athena,” Alex said sitting next to me, I smiled at him softly, “I was hoping to speak to Tristan, I had an idea, about when he comes to Dorin.”

“I wouldn’t bring it up,” I said softly. He frowned. “He’s not, quite open to the idea yet.” He sighed.

“That complicates things then,” he muttered, “do you think he’ll come around.” I glanced out on the balcony and saw him and Marina.

“It’s possible,” I said, “I hope so.” He nodded. “You have someone in mind?”

“Carolina DuKarras,” he said. I cocked my head to the side. “I’m, or I was courting her sister before I came here. Caro doesn’t want to stay in the guild, you see.”

“Making Tristan a very suitable match,” I said, “his wife would be expected to join the guard.” Alex nodded. “I’ll mention it, soon.” He nodded. As the night wore on and Annalise made a plan to go riding with the Prince in the morning I realized that Tristan was gone, and so was Marina.

“I thought we could maybe,” Alex started, and I sighed.

“I’m sorry, Alex, I have to go,” I sighed. “Apologize to your mother and to Aunt Drea?” He nodded and I rushed out of the ballroom and then up to Annalise’s apartments. I knocked on Marina’s door and she answered it looking flustered, but, well, at least she was still dressed.

“Are you feeling well?” I said, giving her the easiest out I could. “You left so suddenly.”

“It’s been a trying day,” she squeaked, I let her in on the plan for tomorrow. She nodded quickly. I sighed and pushed the door open.

“Have a lovely evening, Tristan,” I said. He looked up at me from the bed. “You should go back to your room, before you do something you regret.” After what was easily the most honest and the worst conversation with Marina ever I marched back to my rooms where Tristan was waiting.

“That was a ridiculous display,” he said practically jumping off the couch.

“Excuse me?” I said.

“What I do, what Marina does, it’s none of your business,” he said. I glared at him.

“I told her,” I said, “since you left out the fact that you asked Annalise to marry you today.” He looked at her.

“You don’t understand,” he said. “You couldn’t.” I stared at him.

“That you’re treating Marina as a consolation prize,” I said, “or worse as revenge.”

“It isn’t like that,” he mumbled, “I care about Marina, I always have, just because you didn’t understand that and thought it was all a joke.” I looked at him. I tried to remember the years we’d all grown up together, and a few pictures did enter it. Tristan laughed when I teased about Marina’s crush, but he never dismissed her, even sought her out sometimes in the evening. He did carry that damn hanky she gave him, and wrote to her the whole time we were in Pantona. He’d avoided William, staying out of her way, but I’d assumed that was about Annalise.

“Oh, Tristan,” I sighed, “what are we going to do with you?” He sighed.

“Pack me off to Dorin to marry Alex’s leftovers?” He raised his eyebrows. “Charlotte told me.”

“First of all, Charlotte talks too much,” I said, “and second of all, as far as I know Alex was after the one they want for you’s sister, not the girl herself.”

“Ah,” he said, “still, it’s Dorin, and a year of doing everything Grandfather wants, and not being with you or Martin or,” he looked out the window and we both walked over to it. We heard Annalise laughing from the courtyard.

“Or Lisette,” I said softly, “or Marina.” He nodded. “But, Carolina DuKarras wants to leave the guild.” Tristan looked at me. “That’s why Charlotta and Alex thought of her for you.”

“I’ll think about it,” he said softly, I sighed. “I will, Thena, really, I promise, but you don’t actually want me to leave do you?”

“No,” I said, “of course not, but I want Trey and the aunts to stop bothering us,” he laughed, “and I want you to be happy.” He nodded. “And if you’ll be happy with Marina, I know she’d be happy with you.” He sighed and flopped down on the couch and then Aaron walked in.

“There you two are,” he grumbled, “I just spent forty minutes following Lissette and Prince Eric around the grounds because her bodyguards had mysteriously disappeared.” He was so flustered and angry we both burst out laughing. “It’s not funny, this isn’t my job I’m supposed to lecture her about how this whole thing will infuriate the Provenance leaders, you two are supposed to make sure she doesn’t get assisnated by foreign suitors.” Tristan laughed so hard he snorted.

“I’m sorry, my love,” I said as he collapsed between us, “but I think that if Prince Eric attempted to assassinate Lisette, she could very well handle it on her own.” He looked at me and then at Tristan.

“Tristan, it’s well after midnight, she’s probably expecting you,” he said.

“She can expect away,” Tristan said and stood up, “I’m going to bed, I have a lot to think about.” He squeezed my hand and smiled at me. “Good night.”

“Good night,” I said softly. He left and Aaron rolled over and looked at me.

“I barely saw you tonight,” he said softly.

“I know, I’m sorry, Tristan was being impossible,” I said. He nodded and kissed me.

“You’ll just have to make it up to me then,” he grinned and swept me off my feet.