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.