Rising Darkness

“I’m stunned,” Aaron said that evening, as he fastened a necklace on me. I shook my head. “Flabbergasted in fact,” he kissed my neck softly. I rolled my eyes. “It’s almost like no one saw this coming, oh wait, hmm,” I elbowed him lightly in the ribs and he laughed. “You’re upset?”

“A little,” I admitted. “It’s complicated.” He shook his head. “Aren’t you?”

“Not really,” he said, “it could be worse, and she’s happy. I like Tom.” He chewed the inside of his cheek. “I can be angry if you want me to be. How dare she dishonor my father, and all that noise.” I laughed and shook my head.

“No,” I sighed, “you’re right, I just,” I shrugged. He nodded. “I think Harran is going to get serious, he seemed annoyed this afternoon.” Aaron smirked as we started walking down to dinner. “What?”

“You like him too much,” he said. “You’re not seeing the situation clearly.” I sighed. “Westran is important, but we can’t alienate Phania.” I shook my head.

“Whatever you say,” I shrugged. We made it through dinner without arguing, and Martin kept glancing at me. I was avoiding his eyes, because I just wasn’t ready. Aaron was chatting with a few of the other leaders and Prince Eric was looking miserable.

I swallowed, I’d seen Annalise be subtle, if clumsy before. She and Tristan weren’t a secret, by any means, but they were discreet. She was not being subtle tonight. I glanced at Aaron and saw the frown and worry on his face.

This was what he meant that I liked Harran too much. I was thinking of my friends, not of the very careful rope she had to walk right now. I thought of the map that Martin had been looking at, the new Phanian Navy, ready to deploy at any moment. And what I was looking at now was the enacting of a fourteen year old girl’s fantasy.

A young girl, might be fickle. I hated when they were right. I hated it so much.

I wanted Tristan. I missed him so much. I wanted my brother to listen to me scream and then laugh at me for it and hug me. After dinner I found my out to the beach and paused seeing Lefty walking back up from his night out with Marina.

“Early for you,” I said, “you make quick work.” He sighed and sat down next to me.

“I messed up tonight,” he said. I nodded. “What are you doing out here, shouldn’t you be glaring at the new guards and then giggling in Aaron’s ear.” I looked at him.

“I wish I disliked you more,” I narrowed my eyes at him. He laughed. “I need you to tell me the truth, Lefty. If she sends him away,” he looked at me.

“The ships will come,” he said. “You know it, Athena.” I nodded and hugged my knees. “Whether they’d attack or just come intimidate, I can’t say. But they’ll come.” I closed my eyes. “You don’t have a navy.”

“We don’t,” I said, “my grandfather does.” He laughed darkly. “She’s with Harran tonight. She wasn’t flirting, I’ve seen that,” he exhaled. “You know him best, could he forgive it?”

“Eric doesn’t have a temper,” he explained, “he lets things sit, and simmer, he doesn’t act until he can’t help it.” I nodded. “I had a feeling that might hurt him with her.” I sighed. “I don’t know if he could forgive it, but he won’t act rashly. He’ll make sure that she’s as safe as she can be before he walks away.” I nodded. “He loves her, though, which is new. That’s never been the case before.”

“How did you mess up tonight?” I said. “I was under the impression that Rina thought you hung the moon?” He smiled.

“Moon hanging aside,” he smiled, “she needed some space tonight. I can’t lose her.” I looked at him.

“Did you really come here hoping to bed me?” I asked.

“I most certainly did,” he grinned. “We spent a good deal of time in Dorin, stories about you spread and I was intrigued. I’d seen your portrait at your grandfather’s so I knew you were beautiful,” he sighed. “Admit it, if you weren’t with Aaron we’d have had fun.” I laughed.

“If you hadn’t still been entranced by Marina’s doe eyes, that is,” I said. He smiled. “So love got in the way of our fun.” I shrugged.

“Inconvenient, that,” he grinned. I laughed. “I’ll do my best to smooth things with Eric.” He leaned over and whispered in my ear. “I don’t want to leave either.” I smiled as he stood up and walked away. I leaned back and took a deep breath.

How had we come so far in a year? I swallowed and stood up and walked back inside. Aaron was waiting with a smile when I got to bed. I nestled my head into his chest.

“I wish you’d tell me what’s going on,” he said softly. “I get it if you can’t, but I’m here.” I looked up at him.

“There’s this darkness inside of me,” I said quietly, “and I don’t know, I can usually beat it, but it seems to be winning lately.” He lifted my chin.

“I don’t see that,” he said, “I see your light, every day, my love. I won’t let you lose it.” I smiled. “What do you need from me?”

“Just this,” I said, softly, “us.” He nodded. I snuggled close to him and pressed my forehead against his chest. And fell asleep.

I kept dreaming of entering a dark cave, seeing the wheel and the bindings, hearing Tristan calling my name behind me. I woke with a start. I didn’t know what it meant.

Worth The Wait

Annalise

“What brought about this metamorphosis?” Harran asked, as we sat beside one another in the large and very opulent dining hall. If the palace in Dovetail is a marvel, The Summer Palace in Brightcoast is a delicate gem. Everything feels deliberate and luxurious and beautiful, if there’s anyone who looks out of place there it’s certainly Harran, who still wears his simple leggings and loose fitting tunics.

“I’m not sure what you mean,” I said and took a sip of my wine, a light pink vintage that it turns out the region makes loads of. He shook his head. “Do you mind?”

“Not a bit,” he said sipping his own. We both glanced down the table to Eric who was glancing over occasionally. “I didn’t think I’d get to spend any time with you, frankly.” I smiled.

“I’m sorry about that,” I said, “my priorities have been skewed. Can I make it up to you?” He smiled.

“I think we can come to some understanding,” he whispered, his voice low and husky. Suddenly I’m fourteen in the parlor at Pantona again, desperate for his attention, for him to kiss me, tell me I’m special, touch me. “If you’re interested,” his hand slipped to my thigh.

“Yes,” I said softly, “I am.” He grinned and carefully fingered the light silk of my dress.

“You’re sure?” He said. I nodded. “I’ll come to you tonight then.” I smiled.

“I look forward to it,” I said and took another long sip of wine. After we ended dinner people broke off to go to various places. Probably my favorite thing about this summer court is how casual it is. There is of course traditional coffee and some music in the parlor, and whiskey, cards and conversation in the library. But as many people adjourn for long walks on the beaches, or nights in the town, or just go to their rooms. In Dovetail it’s not nearly so easy, with the long banquets, the entertainment staying in the hall and everyone asking for access. Tonight I made a brief appearance in each of the main gatherings before heading towards the grand staircase to go to bed and not alone.

“If you’re looking to punish me, you could be more subtle about it,” Eric called out from an alcove, walking out, holding a bottle and then taking a big swig. I looked at him and sighed.

“Are you drunk?” I asked as he stepped closer to me. He shrugged. “That’s not like you, Eric.”

“I thought you liked this sort of thing,” he said and wrapped his arms around my waist. I looked up at him. “You do look lovely, Annalise,” he whispered. “And if the flirting was to make me jealous, it worked.”

“And if it wasn’t about you at all?” I said sharply. He laughed.

“Then it wasn’t,” he said, “and I’m still jealous.” I broke away from him.

“You didn’t have to be,” I said, “so you can comfort yourself with that.” I turned away and rushed up the stairs and then after turning the corner and being sure he hadn’t followed I slowed down and reached my room and took a deep breath and turned the knob. Harran was already waiting and I smiled nervously.

I felt shy all of a sudden. But he stood up and took my hand and then kissed me gently.

“I’ve wanted this for so long, Lisette,” he whispered. “But if for a moment you aren’t feeling good,” his hands slid gently down my sides lingering on my breasts, “I need you to tell me. I want to make you feel so good, Beautiful,” he kissed my ear then and I exhaled gently as he moved to my neck and we moved in unison past the threshold of the sitting room to the bed and falling back onto it.

I grabbed the back of his head and kissed him deeply. He grunted and slid the straps of the gown down and slipped it past my breasts tearing as he did, he paused.

“It’s alright,” I said and pulled his shirt over his head, “don’t stop, please.” He smiled and pulled the rest of it off.

“Marina might kill me,” he said with a cheeky grin. I laughed and slid my hands over his chest which was so perfectly sculpted I thought I was dreaming.

“I promise she’ll understand,” I said, “I’m reasonably sure that was the desired effect of the thing.” He grinned and slid one hand to my hip and used the other to spread my thighs, before moving one finger into me, I whimpered and threw my head back.

“It was very effective,” he whispered, and then a second finger, “you walked in and I was hard.” I groaned and bucked against him. “Oh you like this, hm?”

“Yes,” I mumbled, “oh yes,” he laughed and kissed me. I moaned more as he kept moving his fingers into me, feeling and pinching. His mouth moved down me and found my nipple as he sucked and played with me I closed my eyes and was lost in it. In him. I groaned and whimpered, running my hands down his back and then I felt myself finish, letting out an involuntary moan and then, “oh Harran, gods.” He moved to be on his knees over me.

“I’m glad to have pleased you, majesty,” he whispered. I was panting and giggled up at him. I propped up on my elbows and smiled and kissed him.

“You have pleased me,” I said. “But we aren’t through yet.” He laughed as I pulled down his pants and then kissed him. He drew down and into me and then I exhaled, my legs wrapped around him. He pumped in and out of me and moaned my name softly. I needed to be closer to him, even then and grabbed onto his shoulders. He took the hint and took my thighs.

He’s so different from Tristan. Somehow he’s more attentive and yet seems to be thinking about it less. He’s hard and strong and doesn’t seem to be shying away from using that strength to move us. In fact he even lifted me up to ride him a while before grunting and finishing in me. After, resting his forehead on my chest.

“Gods,” he muttered, “that was worth the wait, I’d say.” I laughed and fell away from him back against the pillows as he rolled over and looked at me.

“I think so,” I said and brushed his hair off his his face and kissed him. “Harran,” I said softly.

“Yes, Lisette,” he said softly.

“Do you mind that I don’t love you?” I asked. He smiled.

“No, darling, I don’t think I do,” he said, “it’s enough for me that you want me.” I smiled and snuggled close to him, falling asleep feeling terribly safe.

Addisons

Marina

I think Damian is at least a little bit right about how I’ve been insulating myself. But after sixteen years of being insulated by others it is a hard habit to change. As we walk through town the life of the place even puts the market in Dovetail to shame. Everything is lit by torches and magic and there are people calling to one another, and there’s music spilling out and delicious food smells coming from cafes.

And more than anything, there are probably more dark skinned people around than I’ve ever seen in my life. Some much darker than I, and others lighter.

“Are you alright?” He asked. I nodded. “Come on, it’s right here.” I laughed as he enthusiastically took my hand and pulled me inside a door. What was inside stunned me. The ceiling was round dome, held up by what seemed like magic, and the there were two floors of balconies swirling around a large open floor.

And people were dancing. The music was festive and loud and I didnt’ recognize the tune, but the dancing was fast and lively. It was overwhelming but in the best way.

“Can you teach me the dances?” I stood on my toes to reach his ear and yell over the music. He grinned and nodded.

“Of course,” he said, “but let’s get a drink first.” He took my hand and pulled me through the crowd to the bar and the girl working behind it, saw us and lit up.

“I was wondering when we’d finally see you,” she said leaning forward and then pulling him close by his shirt. “The Glory’s been in port for weeks.” He cleared his throat and then she noticed me. “Ah,” she nodded and pulled back.

“I’m sorry for your anxiety,” he teased, “May I present Duchess Marina Sanpierre, and Rina, this Elaine Addison. Lainey and I have known each other since childhood.” She sent him a look and rolled her eyes.

“Welcome, My Lady, we’re glad to have you,” she smiled softly, “be careful of this one, hm?” Damian laughed and I felt immediately small and insecure. The way she’d grabbed him had been intimate, and not friendly. I thought of how early on Raymond had made jokes to him about Brightcoast. She quickly poured two drinks and headed to another end of the bar. I scowled at him as he handed me the cup.

This was new. I wasn’t used to feeling jealous around him. I glanced back down at Elaine. Why was I jealous at that? She’s not beautiful, not unattractive, but her nose is a little off center and her hair is covered so I can’t judge that. And I knew he had a past, but having to see it is piercing.

“Lefty!” A man called out and walked over, “one more night and we were going to send out a search party!” He stopped and looked at. “Glora’s wing,” he shook his head, “I beg your forgiveness, Duchess,” he bowed, “I ought always to greet a lady first.” He wedged himself between us. “My name is Dorian Addison and I am your and Her Majesty’s humble servant.” I smiled and offered my hand which he took and kissed.

“I accept your service gladly, Mr. Addison,” I said, “on my own and my cousin’s behalf.” He smirked.

“I’m grateful to have you in my establishment,” he said, “though I have to admit my surprise at seeing you here with this lowlife.” He nodded to Damian.

“The lowlife can hear you,” he said, playfully pulling Addison away. I laughed.

“You own this place?” I asked. He looked young for it, his hair in long twists down to his shoulder. “It’s wonderful, regardless.” He laughed.

“Prince Eric owns it proper if you must know,” he said, “but only in that he gave me the money I needed, paying him back as I can. Hoping when he’s king he’ll just forgive the debt.”

“Hush, Addison,” Damian said, circling my waist protectively. “You’ll scare her off with political talk.”

“Do you mean King of Phania or Cammadan?” I jested back, ignoring Damian. “You should know Lisette is by no means certain, but by law he’ll inherit the island.” Addison laughed loudly.

“Lisette, you say? I thought you were Brightcoast, not Pantona!” He gestured and then called out. “Lainey, three more!”

“You aren’t the first flattering barman I’ve encountered since her restoration,” I shrugged. Damian twitched at that. Let him. Addison laughed and cupped my chin and then flicked it playfully.

“Any man would be foolish not to try to flatter you,” he said.

“If my brother tries to turn your head,” Elaine said walked over with a bottle and pouring the drinks, “ignore him.” I looked at her again. “Damian, will you sing?” I turned to him taking my second cup.

“You sing?” I said. He sighed.

“Only when provoked,” he said and kissed me. I was drunk enough to not fight him on the kiss.

“If I want to hear you sing, will you indulge me?” I whispered. He shook his head.

“Which would you prefer?” He whispered back, “to dance or hear me screech a Pharras folk tune you’ll hate?” I met his eyes.

“I want to dance with you,” I said softly, “Only you.” He smiled.

We did dance and dance some more after someone pulled him away I found myself back at the bar.

“You look like you could use some water,” Elaine said and poured mine. I nodded, realizing I must be flushed. I took a sip. “We don’t often get,” I held up a hand.

“I don’t often get to either,” I said, “never actually, it was different, in Dovetail.” She nodded, I swallowed. “I’ve never seen him this,” I tried to find the right word, “comfortable, I guess.” She nodded.

“It’s nearly home,” she pointed out. I looked at her and nodded. “He’s never brought anyone here,” she swallowed, I looked down, “I just want you to understand that.” I smiled.

“I see,” I said, “I didn’t know,” I exhaled, “Raymond,” I whispered, “he mentioned friends, never anything else.” Elaine rolled her eyes.

“I’m not surprised,” she said. She exhaled. “He’s the best man I know, My Lady.” The understanding that passed between us felt deeply familiar.

Images of that first night at Camp, when I’d idiotically thought Tristan’s accepting of my invitation was because he wanted to see me. Of William’s eyes following other girls as they entered court. Girls who wouldn’t stop him when his hands moved to his fly. Girls who didn’t worry about what came next. Only Damian, who’s love overwhelmed me, got me over that fear, and I was only one in a line to him.

“Excuse me,” I said softly and walked out.

“Marina,” Damian said, having followed me, “you shouldn’t have, run off, it isn’t exactly safe,” he looked around. I swallowed. “What did Lainey say to you?” I looked down.

“Nothing” I said, “only, it’s very clear that there is something between the two of you, and,” I looked down, “you belong here, and I don’t, and,” I sighed. “Who is she to you?”

“Lainey is an old friend. Our mother’s grew up together, we were together a lot as children.” He explained breathleslly, I nodded and his face fell. “And that wasn’t what you were asking.” I blushed and looked down. “We weren’t in love with each other, Marina,” he said gently. “It just became, a sort of habit when I was here or she was in Brinecliff.” I swallowed.

“You probably should have warned me,” I pointed out. He sighed wistfully took my hands and kissed them both. I giggled.

“You’re right,” he nodded, “I’m desperately sorry and beg forgiveness.” I sighed. “You didn’t deserve an ambush. And I shouldn’t have abandoned you.”

“I forgive you,” I said softly. He smiled. “And I did like them.” He smiled.

“I’m glad,” he said with a gentle smile. “Someday you’ll see the island, my love, and be overwhelmed.” I kissed him. “They are all counting on Eric being King of Cammadan though.”

“Even if they marry she might not make him king,” I pointed out. “Mariah wasn’t a Queen after all.” We’d begun walking back toward the beach and the manor.

“But Marie was,” he said softly. “I think you all don’t appreciate what she meant to the Pharras and the Phanians living here. What Annalise does, what you do.” I kissed him again softly this time. “They came here because there was no place at home for them, because the dream that life here might be better.”

“A dream of a better world,” I said, he nodded. “Aaron and I used to talk about it, before we took Dovetail back. We wanted to lead for her, build a place where everything we believed in could matter.” I closed my eyes and felt the breeze. “I never saw it, Damian.” I admitted. “Because it didn’t matter. As long as I wasn’t in the palace, at Brayton’s mercy, the world was better.” He gently circled his arm around me and rubbed my shoulder. “He could have named the day, and I had no power to stop him.”

“Look at me,” he whispered and I turned. “You are amazing, Marina,” he cupped my cheek. “That you survived and came out kind and true,” he pressed his forehead to mine, “you could be bitter and angry and not a soul could blame you.” I pressed my forehead to his chest.

“Do you love me?” I asked softly, “or do you love what they see me as?” He exhaled.

“I love you,” he said, “if you said you wanted to burn it to the ground and run into the Westran desert, I’d go with you.” I wrinkled my nose.

“I doubt the desert would suit my father,” I said, “and I can’t run away without him, he’d forget to eat.” Damian laughed.

“Fair,” he said, “Although I didn’t realize we’d be bringing your father.” I shrugged. He pulled me close. “I don’t want to lose you, Rina.”

“You never will,” I said.

Revelation

Athena

“You’ve gotten sloppy,” Harran teased me as he pressed his staff to mine. I rolled my eyes and pushed him back. “Back in Dovetail, you wouldn’t have let me get this close.”

“Tell me, your highness,” I said, flipping hands and solidly landing on both feet, “do the tribes know their future chief loses to a woman so regularly.” He smiled.

“The women of the tribes would laugh at you, My Lady,” he taunted, “As they kicked you into the mud.” I focused but he’d already gained too much of an advantage and he disarmed me. “Yield?” He asked.

“Yield,” I muttered as he helped me up. We glanced over as we heard people walking past us in the field. It was as it turned out, a furious Annalise, clearly soaked, and a beleagured Eric not far behind her. “Hm,” I grinned, smugly, “apparently their sail did not go well.”

“Apparently,” Harran shook his head. I looked at him. He wasn’t smiling.

“Have you changed your mind?” I asked. He shrugged. “I don’t want to pressure either of you if it isn’t,” I drifted off. If it wasn’t what? What they wanted? It isn’t what Lisette wants. She wants Eric. Or perhaps Tristan though she seems to have let him go at last.

“No,” he muttered, “no it isn’t that. I just don’t want her to be hurt. I care about her, I always have.” I nodded. “It’s frustrating. I think we’d do well together, and I think I may have pushed away my only chance.”

“You were still children when you saw her last,” I pointed out. He shook his head.

“Not at Pantona,” he muttered, “it isn’t important. I won’t press her.” I rolled my eyes and picked up my staff.

“Then you don’t know her at all,” I said, catching his as he tossed it to me. “She isn’t intuitive about this sort of thing. If you want her, really want her, not just to flirt,” I shrugged, “make yourself known. Even if she sends Eric away, it’s only matter of time before the Rastani send one those boys or the leaders scrape together an appropriate nephew.”

“You don’t believe the leaders have put together their best,” he grinned. I punched him in his arm. “I appreciated the Lord of Gerran insisting on her sitting next to him while we stayed there on the ride down. A sixty year old king with four sons already would suit Cammadan fine.” I shook my head.

“I understand twenty years of war and starving out crippled us, but it is pathetic,” I mumbled. He shrugged.

“My brothers will be happy to fill in any gaps I can assure you,” he winked at one guards as we walked passed.

“You’re incorrigible,” I shook my head.

“Don’t know the meaning of the word,” he said. I rolled my eyes again. We stopped as we approached the palace and heard a laugh. I paused and rounded the corner anyway, and froze.

Countess Olivia and Martin were the ones laughing, that wasn’t the shocking part, the shocking part was the way they were holding eachother, and the very clear fact that this was not too old friends sharing a casual embrace.

“Athena,” Martin said, seeing me, his eyes wide. The Countess nearly jumped away. I wanted to do something. Make a joke or something. But I just stared at him. “Prince Harran,” he managed.

“I,” Olivia managed to finally squeak out, “this is not how we intended for you to find out about this.” I nodded, still mute and then my gaze went back to Martin. He wouldn’t make eye contact with me.

“I’m happy for you,” I managed. “Excuse me,” I swallowed and ran away. Why was I angry?

They were both free. And why should she be alone?

I’d told Aaron last night that he would have told me, but I’m sure he has his reasons for not doing it wasn’t that. Harran hadn’t followed me, and I was grateful as I shut my door and took deep breaths.

This was real. It wasn’t some young man who would be gone in a month or two. This wasn’t a tavern dancer or some other distraction.

She was the love of his life, he’d never lied about it. But somewhere, deep in my heart, I’d expected him to find his way home to Uncle Trey. That we’d all be a family again.

And when he grew restless, like he always did, my new family would be just as shattered.

“Athena,” Martin’s voice boomed through the door.

“Go away,” I shouted back. He opened it and walked in. “I didn’t say come in.”

“Don’t be snotty,” he said and sat down. I crossed my arms and stared at him. “Thena, I can tell the difference between your astonishment and anger, so don’t try to,”

“I am angry,” I stopped him. He exhaled, “why shouldn’t I be? I,” I paused. He looked down.

“We didn’t mean for it to happen, Love,” he said, “we’re aware that it’s inconvenient.”

“Inconvenient?” I stared at him, the inadequacy of that word. He nodded. “I had thought, you and Trey,” he exhaled.

“No,” he said simply, “no unfortunately Tristan’s decision drove the final nail in,” I looked at him.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” I asked. He shrugged. “That isn’t an answer, Martin.” He sighed.

“Olivia wasn’t ready to explain it to Aaron and Annalise,” he explained, “and I didn’t want to burden you with a secret from them.” I looked down. “And I knew you’d disapprove.”

“I don’t disapprove,” I mumbled. “I want you to be happy.” He nodded. “But I won’t keep it secret from Aaron, you’re right about that that.”

“Olivia is going to speak to him today,” he said. I nodded. “You’re afraid I’ll hurt her.”

“Or get hurt,” I said. “How long?”

“It started while we were at Pantona,” he said. I nodded.

“Couldn’t you have fallen in love with someone who meant nothing to me,” I asked. He laughed.

“I believe I tried that,” he pointed out. “Many times.” I sighed and looked at him. “I don’t expect you to be happy about it darling, but you aren’t a child anymore.” I closed my eyes.

“Does Tristan know?” I asked. He sighed.

“I didn’t tell him,” Martin said, “but well, Tristan often sees me more clearly than I like.” I nodded. He kissed me on the forehead.

“No more secrets,” I said. “And even if it ends badly,” I swallowed, “I’ll need you.”

“I would die before leaving you behind, Athena,” he said. I looked at him and started crying and he held me close. He was right of course, I wasn’t a child anymore, but in that moment I desperately wished I could be.

The Office

I was happily sitting in my office in Brightcoast Manor when Damian walked in and I looked up at him and he smiled.

“May I help you?” I asked. He walked over and kissed me.

“Are you expected at the palace this evening?” He asked. I raised my eyebrows.

“I’m expected at the palace every evening, but I doubt I’ll be missed if I send excuses,” I stood up and he put his arms around my waist. “Why?”

“I want to take you into town,” he said. I bit my lip. “This is your home, Rina, you should know it.” I smiled and nodded.

“Alright,” I said, “but will it be safe?” He laughed and stepped back.

“No one would dare hurt you.” He said. “And if they even tried I’d kill them.” I rolled my eyes. “We’ll have fun, my darling, I promise.”

“I have no doubt,” I said. He smiled and I looked at him. “What?” I mumbled.

“Are you very busy?” He asked and kissed my neck gently. I giggled and shook my head as he back me up against the desk.

“I am quiet important,” I muttered. He nodded and kissed me gently. “Damian,” I muttered as his hands slipped up, moving my skirts to my thighs. Since coming to Brightcoast we’d been less able to have sex. He was living at the palace and me at the manor for one thing. The other was that I was busy. Aaron had warned me that running a Provenance wasn’t a joke, and I don’t know how Papa did it from so far away for so long.

“I’ve missed you so much,” he said and slipped his fingers gently inside of me teasing me open. I whimpered happily. “Oh, that’s nice,” he smiled, “you’re ready for me?” He knew the answer, he knew my body so well at this point but I nodded.

“Don’t stop,” I whimpered, as he lifted me onto the desk and pushed into me. We went quickly, but it didn’t make it less amazing. I’ll be tired of him. We finished, panting his face resting on my chest. “And is that you wanted to show me?” He laughed.

“No,” he said with a gentle chuckle. “But I want to show you the Pharras neighborhood,” I swallowed and bit my lip and nodded. “Love,” he said, “they’re your people, they should know you, and you should know them.” I nodded.

“They likely resent me,” I said, “Papa and I have been gone so long.” He sighed and kissed me gently.

“No one resents you,” he said, “as far as I know, at least. They were all curious about you, why the manor was quiet, why you’re back now,” he kissed my palms. “why no one has seen you unless they work in the palace.”

“Everyone I know is at the palace,” I said defensively, “and a lot of my work.” He laughed. “Not all of us serve discarded second sons who don’t care if we spend our evenings in slum brothels.”

“Oh,” he grinned, “I’m telling Eric you think he’s a discarded second son,” I rolled my eyes. “And I learned a lot in those brothels that you seem to be enjoying.” I blushed.

“Regardless,” I said softly, “I need to check with Athena. If she thinks I need protection.” He laughed.

“I can protect you,” he said and pulled me close. I sighed. “Live a little, Duchess, I promise it won’t hurt.” I nodded. “Good.” I sighed as he started to leave.

“What does one wear, wherever it is we’re going?” I asked. He sighed.

“I hadn’t thought of that,” he said, “I suppose something you’d wear when you’re healing.” I frowned. I hadn’t thought of the plain blue dresses lately. But I had packed them, and they were clean and simple enough. I didn’t know if I would get much more work done so I slipped out of the office and down to the beach.

Raymond was sitting, focusing and gathering water into a small tide pool. He’d been so settled since we got here, spending a lot of time in the old seminary, channeling his power and reading and studying. I join him when I can. Ever since Athena had her Dream that the gods are in Westran he’s trying to figure out how we’ll bring the sea to the desert.

“Good afternoon,” he said serenely making a small whip of water dance around me. I laughed and pushed it back to him, making it sputter in his face. He stuck out his tongue at me.

I regret so many things taken from us, but I think a lot about the thread of time where my father was able to get us back to Phania, and Raymond, Lisette and I could have been children together.

“Good afternoon,” I said and kicked off my shoes and sat down, rolling my stockings down and off and let the waved lap onto my feet. “It’s good. How is isolating it going?”

“Not so good,” he sighed and joined me. “But unlike Lisette, I’ve never been good with fresh water. I think I need her help.” I raised my eyebrows. “I know, a long shot, but I’ll ask her tonight. You’ll back me up?”

“Mm,” I shook my head, “I’m not going tonight. Damian wants to bring me into town.” He groaned. “What?”

“To meet the Pharras, here?” He asked. I nodded. “How much time have you spent in taverns, Marina?” I swallowed.

“Well, none,” I said, “once when I was nine, I was allowed to go to a fair the Dumanis held, but even then I was flanked by Black Guards.” I hugged my knees. He frowned and put an arm around my shoulder.

“I think we all forget sometimes,” he said softly. I looked at him. “You might have fun, but you should be prepared for the smell.” I laughed and kissed him on the cheek.

Not Quite In The Mood

Athena

“What is happening with them?” Aaron’s eyes narrowed on his mother and Martin. I rolled my eyes and pulled him close as the music started.

“Nothing,” I said and kissed him gently. “He’d have told me.” He nodded. “And them?” I nodded to Annalise and Harran.

“I don’t know,” he frowned. “She needs to decide soon.” I looked at him. “Tristan wrote me.” I fiddled with the buttons on my costume.

“He’s been busy,” I said. “He wrote to Marina and me too.” He laughed. “What do the Provenance leaders think about Harran?”

“They’d prefer Emmett,” he pointed to a young man, only barely a young man at that, standing quietly in the corner. “But since he’s never said two words to her, and he’s four years younger I doubt there’s much hope there.” I laughed. “Harran’s better than Eric, who they completely object to.” I frowned. “Frankly, your brother is looking damn near prudent at this point.”

“Maybe she won’t marry,” I said and sipped on my drink. He looked at me. “It would be good for us. Our children would be in the running as heirs.” I gasped. “Trey would throw a parade.” He laughed and kissed me.

“I’m neglecting you, I’m sorry,” he said. I shrugged. “We should have gone home.”

“She needs us here,” I said softly. He frowned. “Aaron,” I whispered, “we’ll be home soon enough.” He pulled me close.

“Thena,” Lisette bounced over holding Prince Eric’s hand. “Eric is taking me sailing in the morning.” I raised my eyebrows.

“She insisted that you be checked with,” The Prince said to me. I nodded.

“The coast has been clear since our arrival,” Aaron noted, “and Brayton is still in his cell in Dovetail.” I looked at him.

“Your security assesment is appreciated love,” I muttered. Lisette giggled and they ran off. “I thought you said,”

“I said the leaders don’t like the match,” he pointed out, “but I like the side he brings out of her.” I sighed and walked outside. Raymond was sitting out on the terrace and I sat with him. He looked at me.

“Are you all going to kill her?” I asked. He laughed.

“No,” he said, “they’d have sent more competent team for assassination, I can assure you.” I laughed. “Aaron has come around and your brother is gone so I suppose someone has to be the paranoid one.”

“I resent that,” I said. He shrugged. “Where is Randolph tonight?” He frowned. “He didn’t want to come?”

“No,” he said. “It doesn’t matter.” I looked at him. “I want a life here, I thought he did too, but,” I nodded, understanding. I also loved someone who seemed to want something so different from me. “You don’t want us to stay, though.”

“That isn’t true,” I said, “I like you, and I think that Lefty is good for Marina,” he smiled. “You are very good at getting people to talk to you.” He smiled. “You could stay even if the others go.”

“I suppose so,” he said softly. “It would seem ungrateful though.” I shook my head. “Why didn’t you go to Dorin?” I frowned.

“I hate it there,” I finally said out loud. “My Mama used to take us when we were little. And the house was like a tomb. And everyone bowing and scraping to my grandfather,” I shook my head. “Besides we can’t both leave her.” He nodded. “You feel the same way?” He nodded.

“If Lefty stays but Eric goes,” he shrugged. I nodded. “You’ll be a Countess then so what do you care.” I laughed.

“Can I tell you a secret?” I said. He raised an eyebrow sardonically at me. “We’re not going back to Dovetail. Aaron and me, we’re staying in Pantona after the wedding.” He looked at me and nodded.

“That’s quite the secret,” he muttered, “she doesn’t know?” I shook my head.

“We want to make sure that she’s settled, or close to it,” I said. “Eventually, we have to work towards the mandate but I want to be Aaron’s wife, I want to be Athena, not Commander DuGarry.”

“I waited my whole life to be Raymond,” he said, “not Her Majesty’s brother, not the freak or outcast. I can understand the impulse.” I looked at him and nodded. “We should both get back to the party.” I nodded and went back to the ballroom.

“I lost tonight,” Harran walked over. I rolled my eyes.

“You’ll lose tomorrow morning,” I said, “training?” He grinned.

“I’ve missed beating you,” he stuck his hands in his pockets. “See you in the morning.” I laughed and went to Aaron.

“Hello my love,” he said, I pulled close.

“Let’s get back to the palace,” I said. He grinned. “I’m tired and I want you.”

“Alright,” he said and kissed me softly. “I have to say goodbye to Lisette and my mother, I’ll meet you out front.”

“And Marina,” I said, “I’ll come with you,” he nodded and took my hand as we circulated. I tried to suss out what he was seeing between his mother and Martin. Something seems settled between them, but I can’t intuit what. I will absolutely be asking him about it.

The last thing I need is him doing his whole love and leave business with The Countess. I don’t need to watch her float stoically past him as he sighs longingly. I really do not.

“I’m glad you came,” Marina said and hugged me tightly. “I know you didn’t want to.” I laughed.

“It was wonderful,” I said softly, “you were born for this.” She sighed and nodded. We quickly moved outside and walked up the beach to the palace, which was lit up in white light. “What did Tristan write to you?” He shook his head and laughed.

“I think it’s going well enough,” he shrugged. “And he misses you but doesn’t want to worry you.” I smiled. “I wrote him that you miss him but don’t want to worry me.”

“I do miss him,” I said, “and I don’t want to worry you.” He ran his hands through my hair.

“You’re welcome to,” he said softly. “I’ll always worry about you, I can’t help it.” I laughed and we made it back to the palace and fell back into bed.

No matter how else I was feeling, being with Aaron always soothes me.

The Pirate Prince

Annalise

I am not adjusting terribly well to life in Brightcoast, or, as I realized to peace in general. It felt easier in Dovetail, but here everything feels foreign and strange.

And it made me realize how much I was relying on Tristan. Aaron is busy, his wedding is approaching sooner than any of us realized, and he had to manage Pantona (though he says William is helping a lot) And Eric is oddly present and yet distant at the same time.

I don’t know if he trusts me, is what I think it comes down to. But tonight I’m trying not to focus on his blowing hot and cold and enjoy myself.

“You look beautiful, Your Majesty,” Mercy said as she fastened my mask for Marina’s ball. I smiled at her. “Did I do alright?”

“You did wonderfully,” I smiled at her. She’s still very skittish. I can’t say I blame her. The little bit of what life under Brayton was like for her and Marina that I understand does not sound pleasant. “Do I have to take a carraige to the manor? I can’t ride in this, but I suppose it’s too far to walk.” She laughed.

“I believe so, Ma’am,” she said. I smiled. She took my hands and squeezed them. “You’ll do fine. A masquerade is easy. Everyone pretends they don’t know who they’re talking to anyway.” I laughed. “Besides which, you have the Princes.”

“Yes,” I sighed, “there’s them.” She giggled. “Run along, I’m sure Elodie is impatient for you.” I walked into the coach and the ride was quick and I quickly walked in. Mercy had been right, for the first time since I’d left Pantona I was allowed to enter a room without it stopping.

I didn’t actually think anyone didn’t recognize me, but they continued their carrying on as if they didn’t. Laughing, and drinking, dancing hadn’t started yet, though I noticed Aaron and Athena in a corner, his hands no where to be seen. Marina was carefully chatting with Lefty with a glass of sparkling wine in her hand, her simple blue gown making her look more beautiful than ever.

I’m so badly hoping not to disappoint her, but I also worry about him. She’s so young, and she’s never been in love like this before.

“Should I fear for my head, Empress,” Harran’s voice whispered next to me. I laughed. “Anessa wasn’t particularly kind to my people.” I giggled and looked at him. He wasn’t costumed, which was very like him.

“If you had stopped burning her cities, perhaps she would have left you in peace,” I poked him in the chest. He laughed.

“Perhaps,” he said. “Nonetheless,” I laughed. “If I’d known this is how you’d be dressed I’d have come as an ancient chief.”

“You ought to have anyway,” I said and glanced at the door and saw Eric. He was dressed in plain black pants, and a flowing white shirt, with a black mask tied over his head, covering his hair and face. I inhaled sharply.

“I’ve lost you,” Harran shook his head. I laughed. “Go, I can’t compete with a pirate.” I kissed him gently on the cheek. I walked over to Eric who smirked at me.

“Your Majesty,” he said softly, taking my hand and kissing it.

“Captain,” I said softly. “Eric, I,” I swallowed. It had been months since we’d told one another that we had feelings but I was always still so tongue tied around him. More so now. I wanted him so badly, and I wished he’d let me closer. “I’m glad you came.”

“I wouldn’t insult Marina,” he said gently. “Or you.” I looked down, blushing. “Come with me a moment,” he said softly. I nodded and let him pull me by the hand out of the ballroom and up several sets of winding stairs. I giggled as he pulled me out onto a landing.

“What are we doing?” I asked breathlessly. He sat down and I joined him. “Eric?”

“Do you see that light?” He whispered, pointing to a golden, distant light across the water. I nodded. “That’s Brinecliff.” I exhaled.

“Oh,” I said softly and rested my head on his shoulder.

“All my life, I would sit in the lighthouse, and look over the water,” he said, “I would see Brightcoast’s lights and I would wonder if maybe you were looking at me too. And then we came to Dovetail and you were there, in front of me, real and so open, to loving me.” he turned up my chin, “I know you’re frustrated with me. But you terrify me, Annalise,” I swallowed. “All of this does.”

“I don’t want to terrify you,” I said. “I just want you to see me.”

“I do,” he whispered, “I promise I do.” He kissed me then. The first one in months. “Annalise,” he mumbled. “You have no idea how much I see you.” I closed my eyes and pressed my forehead to his. “I wanted to give you space to grieve and make room in your heart for me.”

“I thought about you all the time too,” I said softly. He smiled. “I couldn’t literally look across and wonder like you did, but,” I exhaled. “But you were all around me.” I closed my eyes. “When we took the palace, Brayton tried to confuse me, he used illusions and shadows, memories and lies,” I swallowed, “and at the center of it, to pull me out was you.” He swallowed. “You were waiting and you promised that you always would.”

“I thought it was dream,” he admitted. I exhaled. “Or that I was losing my mind.” We kissed gently again. “I was in Rastan, and we hadn’t heard anything and,” he sighed, “Anya,” he mumbled.

“Who?” I asked. He shook his head and laughed.

“It’s a Rastani name, and I,” he swallowed, “it was what I called the version of you in my head.” I giggled. “I don’t know that you’ll ever be Lisette to me.”

“I don’t want to be,” I said, “Lisette belongs to a life you’ll never be a part of.” He kissed behind my ear softly.

“Anya,” he mumbled and nibbled gently on my neck.

There you two are,” Raymond said, “Everyone is drunk and unmasking and you’re supposed to start the dancing. Marina is losing her mind.” I giggled and Eric sighed and sent a glare his way. “I can say I couldn’t find you,” he shrugged.

“No,” I said softly and got to my feet, in concert with Eric’s, “Do that then.” I looked at him and shook my head. We walked away and Eric whacked Raymond playfully in the head. Raymond kicked him back.

“Boys,” I mumbled walking down the steps and pausing at a glass to fix myself. I wasn’t terribly rumpled, which, I realized was even more frustrating. But I could be patient, Eric was right, we’d waited our entire lives for each other, why rush now.

But as the music started and we started dancing I was hit was a pang of wanting. I shivered as his skin touched mine. He winked at me and smiled, pulling me closer by the waist.

“I feel it too, Anya,” he whispered. I pressed my head against his chest. Yes, I could wait. For him I could. Forever.

Brightcoast

Marina

It’s hard to describe how it felt the moment I saw Brightcoast for the first time since I was a small child. My heart nearly burst out of my chest it was so full. The smell of the sea and the sound of the waves crashing onto the cliffs felt so unbearably right to me.

There’s sunshine most mornings and then intense thunderstorms as the heart gathers in the afternoon followed by calm tranquil evenings. My power is growing too, ever since Athena and I made our vow to Annalise, summoning light, moving water, even reading people comes as easily as breathing.

“It’s home soil,” Athena said softly one afternoon as we walked down the beach, “or I suppose, water for you.” I looked at her. “Martin taught me about it, when I was little and having Dreams. A Chosen’s power is connected to home, so,” she shrugged, “you’re home. I didn’t really feel mine until I got to Pantona.” She smiled. I looked at her.

“Pantona,” I said. She shrugged. “I didn’t realize it was home.”

“I didn’t expect it,” Athena admitted. “But Dovetail isn’t home, and certainly not Dorin.” I laughed. “Have you heard from him?”

“Yes,” I admitted, “you?” She nodded. “He seems, unsettled.”

“It’s Tristan,” Athena said, “Unsettled is an improvement.” I laughed, and the bells from the tower at the University began to peel. “We should head back.” She sighed.

“You should,” I pointed out, “who’s dressing her? I have other responsibilities.” Tradition dictated that the summer season officially opened with a masked ball at Brightcoast Manor. We’d all been here for a week or two, but formal court hadn’t been convened yet, after tonight it would be.

I was extremely nervous.

“Mercy,” Athena said. I nodded. “So you approve?”

“A few of the newer girls don’t understand her,” I shrugged. Athena laughed. “Mercy at least understands me, so that’s close enough.” She shook her head. “I put together the costume, she’s supposed to be Anessa.”

“A strong choice,” Athena said, “and you’re going to be?” I sighed.

“One of the Glora,” I said softly. The Hadmaids of Rana. Only in the past few months, my times studying with Raymond had I learned so much about The Goddess, and what could be, when we free her. The first generation of Sisters were taught by The Glora, how to serve and honor Rana and the sea itself properly. They were beings of water and light, faded now, because of Rana’s binding on the wheel. “You?”

“No one specific,” she shook her head, “one of Anessa’s commanders. Aaron is going as a shadow, which means, all black, which is the laziest costume I have ever heard of.” I laughed and hugged her. “Elodie is coming as Mariah, which should scandalize everyone with Annalise as Annessa.”

“And only make Mercy mildly apoplectic,” I grinned. She laughed. It is funny to think about how our two closest friends before everything changed were now a couple.

“I’ll see you later,” she said and headed towards the palace. I walked into the manor and up to my bed chamber and lay down, closing my eyes to get a little sleep before everything exploded in activity.

A brief nap before people arrived would be a blessing. But I don’t know how long I actually slept.

“Hey, beautiful,” his voice whispered. I smiled and kept my eyes shut. “Your guests are arriving Duchess.” He kissed me.

“Damian,” I mumbled, “you greet them.” He laughed as I opened my eyes and looked up at him, I rolled over and straddled him. “Or they can wait.” I whispered and kissed him deeply. He slid his hands to my waist and I giggled as we rolled over again, this time onto my back.

“Darling,” he whispered, “they’ll say I’m a bad influence.” I giggled.

“You are,” I said. “I was so very well behaved and compliant before I met you.” He laughed and kissed me again, standing up. “No,” I whined, “come back.”

“After your little party,” he said, “when we have time to do things properly, I won’t let you out of that bed.” I giggled and blushed a little. Winter in Dovetail and then our ride down here, were full of moments where things were “done properly,” and I’ve become a little addicted it. But I also still find myself dizzy for realizing I’m in love with Damian and that he loves me. “I should change. I suppose you have to dance with somone very grand first.”

“Aaron,” I said, “I think, or possibly Evan Allred. Maybe Harran.” He nodded and sat down. “But then just you.” He smiled. “Damian,” I whispered.

“Marina,” he said softly and took my hand.

“Do you love me?” I whispered.

“I only love you,” he said. I smiled. “I’ll leave you to get changed. I hope you recognize me.”

“I always will,” I said softly. He laughed and kissed my hand and slipped out. I groaned and fell back against the bed, before rousing myself to get up and get changed. A letter was sitting on my dressing table and I smiled softly glancing at it again,

My Dear Marina,

We arrived in Dorin today, and if you can believe it my grandfather might be more of a tyrant here than Brayton was.

I smiled and missed him. IT felt strange that I would walk down into that ballroom and he wouldn’t be there, hovering in a corner, beaming at Annalise, smirking knowingly at me. Tristan’s absence was palpable. I quickly changed into my simple ice blue dress, my hair already in a row of braids. I placed a round crown of pink jewels that looks like coral on my head and then a golden mask. I took a deep breath and walked out of the room, ready for anything.

Goodbye

After the ball Aaron and I went back to my rooms and as I started to get undressed I glanced back as he settled in at the table, two small glasses in front of him.

“What are you doing?” I giggled, tying a robe around my waist.

“Remember when I wrote to you about William?” He asked. I raised my eyebrows and sat down opposite him.

“That he didn’t deflower Marina?” I asked. He laughed. “That you got drunk?”

“Yes,” he said, “with this,” he plopped a bottle in front of us and then poured two shots. It was clear, and as I picked up the glass, ice cold.

“How?” I asked. He grinned.

“Raymond enchanted the bottle,” he said, “when I mentioned I brought it back. He said that the Rastani would never drink it warm.” I laughed and we clinked the glasses and downed the spirit. It didn’t burn like whiskey, but I could feel it going right to my head.

“Oh!” I said. Aaron nodded excitedly. “Oh that is wonderful.” He smiled. “It’s Rastani?”

“Made from potatoes, apparently,” he said, “good with juices too.” I smiled and leaned across the table and grabbed the bottle re-pouring my glass. Aaron laughed and poured his we downed the next shot. A few more and I felt floaty and giggly.

“We should go back to the party,” I said jumping up.

“No,” he said, “first of all the party is over and second of all you’re drunk,” I stuck out my tongue and looked at him. “Come to bed. I’ve missed sleeping with you.” I melted and took his outstretched hand and slid into his lap.

“Tristan is going,” I whispered. He nodded. “I wanted him to go, but now that it’s happening,” I sighed. “I don’t know who I am without him.” He slowly pushed my hair out of my face. “We’ve always been together.”

“You are amazing,” he whispered, “you aren’t one of a set, Thena. I’ll miss him too, but I promise you’ll survive.” He kissed me gently. “I want to be your family.”

“You already are,” I whispered. “But, I just,” I swallowed. Trying to explain being a twin to others is hard. It’s frustrating to be treated as two halves of a whole, but in so many ways we are.

Without Tristan I worry I’m going to be off balance. I kissed Aaron again gently and we went to bed. After sleeping for a bit I got up before dawn and slipped out to go to the stable. Tristan had just finished saddling Elian and he looked at me.

“Athena,” he whispered softly.

“Tristan,” I swallowed.

“I have to meet Alex at the gates,” he mumbled. I nodded. “I’m sorry.”

“Me too,” I said. “Don’t let them change you. If you come back as some prissy merchant boy who does everything Trey says, I’ll never speak to you again.” He laughed.

“And if I come back to a harderned warrior with a single focus,” he smiled, “I will run away terrified.” I laughed and hugged him tightly. “I love you.”

“I love you too,” I whispered. “I’ll see you soon.” He nodded and wiped the tears out of his eyes. I walked back towards the palace and entered the hall. Marina and Annalise were both standing there, looking at a mossaic of a wave hitting the mountain.

Lisette’s eyes were red from crying, but she smiled when she looked at me.

“I think it’s time for us to get to work,” she said softly.

“Alright,” I answered. Marina swallowed and took a deep breath, she drew her hands together and apart, creating a small ball of light, the same blinding white as the burst of battle magic that day with the shadows. I gasped.

“It’s not me,” she said softly, “it’s the Goddess. That was the answer.” I nodded. “Balance your hands under it,” she said softly. She looks different, sure of herself and steady, holy. I nooded and did as instructed, “Annalise,” Annalise swallowed and placed her hands on the opposite side of the orb. Marina’s hovered above it.

“What now?” I asked.

“We make a vow,” Annalise said, “do you pledge to me, Athena Dugarry, Champion of The God of Land and War, that you will aid me in my mandate to free the gods from their binding to the wheel of time?”

“I so vow,” I whispered. The next words came to me, but I’d never learned them, I just knew them. “Do you, Annalise Dovetail, Sword of The Goddess of Sea and Light, vow to lead me truly? To command with justice and hope for peace in all things?”

“I so vow,” she whispered. The orb changed shape into a beam shooting up through the ceiling to the sky. I felt calm and whole. And she smiled and me.

“It is done,” Marina said with a gravitas I didn’t know she possessed. “You are bound in your service to the gods and one another.” We all made eye contact and giggled.

“Why doesn’t she have to make a vow?” I said nodding to Marina as we walked towards a parlor. Once we got there a maid appeared with a plate of pastries and a pot of coffee on a tray.

“I will,” Marina shrugged, “once I teach Raymond the ritual. I can’t do it for myself, and Mastero Anselm says he doesn’t have enough power.”

“Hmm,” I said. “So how was it?” I leaned forward.

“The ritual?” She said. “Inredible, I’ve never felt so at peace with myself.” Annalise snorted.

“She didn’t mean the ritual.” She sighed and took a long sip of coffee.

“Oh,” Marina blushed. “I don’t want to,” she muttered.

“I imagine he knows what he’s doing,” I grinned. “I asked around The Dumanis and he has quite the reputation.” Marina sighed.

“He certainly knew what he was doing,” she said pouring her own. “Who won?”

“That would be her majesty,” I kicked Annalise who shushed me. “Are you alright?” I said. Annalise sighed softly.

“I’ll miss him” she said softly, closing her eyes. “But it’s for the best.” I nodded and took each of their hands.

“I’m very much looking forward to our quest, my friends,” I said softly.

A Winter’s Ball (Part 2)

I don’t know that I will ever get over how enchanting it is to watch Aaron in a ballroom. He is just so exceptionally good with people. And it is wonderful that every few moments he makes sure to catch my eye and smile at me.

We were in bed all afternoon. I’d missed him so much, it was so easy. But tonight we couldn’t miss. Marina worked so hard to make this winter festival special, and it really is. There have been some wonderful parties since Annalise returned but this one just sparkles. Everything is lit by candles and, with Raymond’s help, a shimmering magical net of stars over the dance floor.

“I didn’t want to interrupt earlier,” Tristan walked over to me, I glanced at him and nodded. “I’m going tomorrow.” I stopped, swallowed the sip of wine I’d just taken. “Thena, don’t.”

“Tomorrow?” I said. He nodded. “I thought you were waiting until court moved.”

“Aaron’s back now, and The Dowager Countess,” he said softly, “And Martin, she doesn’t need me here now.” I scowled and took another sip.

“Well she might not,” I muttered. He laughed. “My contract.”

“I have spoken to Aaron,” he said, “Lisette and I will write to settle it, as we both know what you want.” It was far too sensible a solution.

“Mama’s jewelry?” I said. He nodded.

“If you’ll allow me a few pieces for my own bride,” he said and took a deep sip. I nodded. “Your children will have full access to guild training should they elect for it. Though if they do, I will assume you raised them poorly.” I laughed.

“Yes,” I said, “and my oldest, girl or boy inherits Pantona.”

“That’s law in Cammadan,” Tristan said, “and Lisette of all people is unlikely to challenge it.” I laughed. “If it works, in Dorin, you’ll stand for me? Not Alex?” My eyes filled with tears and I threw my arms around his neck. “Thena,” he muttered.

“If Alex tries to supplant me I’ll stab him,” I whispered in his ear, and he laughed. “Does Lisette know?” He shook his head. “Marina?”

“I’ll tell them tonight.” He said softly. I nodded. “You wanted this, you lunatic!”

“Well, not tonight I didn’t,” I muttered. He laughed. “I’ll miss you is all.” He smiled and kissed me on the cheek.

“I’ll miss you too,” he said. Aaron bounced over to us, as the music was picking up in tempo.

“I believe I have done my duty by every young lady thrust into Dovetail after the ascension,” Aaron said, taking the sparkling wine out of Tristan’s hand and taking it down in one gulp. “But I think a dance with my intended would be preferable. If it’s allowed?”

“As far as I know,” Tristan said, “being not immersed in it yet, I think dancing with your intended is permitted.”

“Thank Cornan,” he winked and took my hand and I laughed as his other hand placed on my waist and pulled me close. “Commander.”

“Your Grace,” I said as he whirled me around in time. “Aaron, are you still sure, after being home?”

“I am even more sure,” he said. I beamed. “I’m serious, Athena, I thought I was going to die of grief and boredom without you.” I kissed him softly. “Are you alright? I know Tristan leaving is a lot for you?”

“I’ll manage,” I said softly. “It will be easier since I’ll be planning our wedding.” He laughed. “Would you like the Mastero to officiate? Or maybe a sister?”

“I thought Marina, actually,” he said. “Thought I suppose The Mastero makes sense.” I nodded. “What do The Guilds do?” I frowned.

“The head of your guild,” I said and shook my head. “If Grandfather dies before we manage it, then I would allow Trey to, but I don’t want him.” He smiled. “Is William really going to marry Kathy?”

“Possibly,” he said. “But I have a feeling that Kathy’s enthusiasm for the match will probably wane.” I looked at him. “She seemed to think,” he shook his head, “well, she seemed under the impression that as William was my manager it would give her convenient access to the manor and well, to me.” I stopped dancing and stared at him, my mouth agape. “I told her that under no circumstances would that happen.”

“I ought to throttle her,” I said. He laughed. “Oh, poor William!” I giggled. He pulled my close and kissed me again. “You didn’t even consider it?”

“No,” he said, “I don’t want anyone else.” I smiled. “We have the rest of our lives ahead of us, that’s all I think about.” I pressed my forehead against his chest.

“I love you,” I said softly. He kissed my hair gently.