Little One

Tristan was asleep and I stood up and got dressed. I like him sleeping. He sleeps like a child, sprawled everywhere, his face relaxed. I kissed his forehead and walked down to the kitchen. Aaron was sitting brewing tea.

“Good Evening,” he grinned, “you look, well, different.” I picked up a rag and threw it at him. “Is Sir Tristan content?”

“Don’t be vulgar,” I wrinkled my nose. “Why are you up?”

“A similar venture,” he shrugged. I raised my eyebrows. “Lady Athena has thawed a bit.” I laughed. “It’s different, this time.”

“If you say so,” I said softly. “Why aren’t you with her?”

“Her words,” he shrugged, “were ‘I want to trust you. But in order to do that, we have to take it slow.’ So that will be new and interesting.” I laughed. “And a messanger came and brought letters.” He handed me one.

I opened it, recognizing Caleb’s handwriting.

My Dearest Lisette,

I’ve been worried about you, my little one. It’s been too long since I heard you laugh. Sometimes I hear one of the girls here and I turn and I think it may be  you.

I saw Anselm, he told me of your visions. Both the one of Lady Marina at Brayton’s side and of the goddess. I know what you fear. You must be brave, which I also know you despise hearing. 

There’s a lot of talk here about what all of our next step should be, but I think, given the way things have progressed keeping you apart from everything is no longer an option. Discuss it with Anselm and let me know your thoughts. I promised you this summer and I will hold to that unless you say differently.

Be strong, Little One, hard days are coming, but you won’t be alone.

Your Loving Father.

I smiled. Aaron looked at me.

“What does he want?” He asked.

“You didn’t get one?” I frowned. He rolled his eyes. “He wants us to join the camp.” I folded the letter. “I think it might be time.” He nodded. “We’re ready, aren’t we?”

“I don’t know,” he said, “I don’t think we’ll ever be ready, not entirely, but I think it might be time.” I nodded. “Think it over, like he said. He’s usually right.” I could hear the bitterness in his voice.

That was new in the past year, the way they spoke to and about eachother, Aaron and Caleb, and it made me sad. There was something between them that I couldn’t see, no matter how much I knew them both.

“Get some sleep,” I whispered and kissed his forehead and walking back up to my bedroom. Tristan was sitting up now and smiled at me. I slipped in and let him hold me, forgetting the world for a minute, lost in him.

“Where are you?” He asked softly. I smiled.

“Right here,” I said softly. He nodded and kissed me. “Have you spent much time at the resistance camp?” He laughed.

“A fair bit,” he said softly, “more when we were younger, when my parents were still alive.” I nodded and rolled over resting my chin on his chest. “Why?”

“Tell me about it,” I whispered. He nodded.

“Are we going?” He asked.

“I don’t know yet,” I said. “Part of me never wants to go, part of me wants to stay here, safe and apart from it forever,” I straddled him, “with you.” He grinned and kissed me again.

“I wouldn’t particularly mind that either,” he whispered, I pushed hair off of his forehead. “Lisette,” he said softly, “tell me what you’re thinking.”

“I’m thinking,” I said, “of the threads of time.” He kissed me again.

“The what?” He laughed.

“You’re going to tease me,” I shook my head.

“Never,” He said solemnly.

“In the old times,” I explained, “when the chosen ruled and communed with the gods, they believed that the events of the universe were threads being plucked and spun together on the wheel of the world,” Tristan kissed my neck, “threads are untangled and cut as people’s decisions are made,” he pressed into me.

“And what does this have to do with us, or the resistance camp?” He asked, I whimpered as he moved inside of me.

“I,” I exhaled, “I’ve been thinking about the thread we’re on, where my parents were killed and so we met now instead of when we were very little.” He nodded. “You might not have loved me on another thread.”

“I’d always have loved you,” he whispered, “no matter what thread we were on.” He rolled over and we kissed again as he finished. I lay in his arms and wished with everything in me that nothing would change, and that our what if was real. “You wanted to hear about camp?” He whispered. I nodded. “It’s a busy place. General Martin does not accept laziness.” I nodded. “He’ll be furious about this, by the way, putting you at risk.”

“You haven’t put me at risk,” I said.  He sighed. “How could I be safer than having my bodyguard, quite literally in my bed.” He laughed.

“My family,” he whispered, “The Dumanis,” I shook my head. “They aren’t, good, Lisette, I love them, but they’re,” he sighed, “my grandfather does terrible things to maintain his hold on the guild, and my aunts and their husbands, and my cousins.” I kissed him.

“You aren’t them,” I said softly. He looked at me. “My cousin murdered my parents, my mother’s closest family is the Queen of Phania and she abandoned her to that death and me to this exile,” I touched his face. “We’re supposed to build a new world, apart from that.”

“We’re supposed to?” He laughed. I nodded. “I think you, Your Highness, have that mandate, not me.”

The word Mandate, startled me. Chosen have mandates, from the gods. Of course I am Chosen, but no one knows that except, well, Caleb and Anselm and me.

“I can’t do that alone,” I said.

“You’ll never be alone,” he said softly. “I won’t leave you.”

Sweet Treason

It was like a tidal wave, when he kissed me.  It pulled me under and nothing else matter, there was only Tristan, filling my lungs, overwhelming my body. My knees went to jelly and we both tumbled into the grass. I started giggled and he pushed my hair off my face.

“I love you,” he said, “every inch of me is yours, Lisette.” I swallowed and kissed him again.

“Prove it,” I mumbled into his lips. He kept kissing me and wiggled to be on top of me. I hiked my skirt up around my waist and he unlaced the front of his pants. I was never more sure of anything, than I was in that moment. I needed Tristan inside of me if I was ever going to be satisfied.

He pressed into me slowly, inch by inch, and I felt myself opening for him, and our lips never parted. Once I’d taken him, he started thrusting, and I did my best to match his rhythm. I briefly wondered if anyone could see us and then quickly realized I didn’t care. Tristan began to trail kisses on my jaw, and then my neck, and I whimpered softly.

“Lisette,” he panted, “I can’t, I have to,” I met his eyes and nodded and he pulled out, I gasped at the sudden absence of him and he finished against my thigh. We didn’t linger, quickly, pulling apart then, without a word, and walked back to the manor in comfortable silence, my hand in his.

I wanted to ask him a million things. How many other girls he’d been with? Did he know he was my first?  Did he understand that once we left here, this, whatever it was, between us couldn’t continue? But I was silent. I couldn’t shatter this moment. We got back to the manor and I excused myself to change for dinner. He kissed me softly and I went up to my room.

That night, at dinner and after we barely spoke. He couldn’t look me in the eye. It was only later, as we sat by the fire, everyone else gone to bed that he finally broke it.

“Do you regret it?” He said. I was startled.

“What?” I said. “No! Of course not! Do you?” He stared at me, baffled.

“How could you think,” he swallowed, “no, I don’t. I just thought,” he laughed and sat down, “you’ve been so quiet, and you’re normally, well,” he smiled, “not.”

“I didn’t want to scare you,” I frowned. “I didn’t know how,” I shook my head, “I’ve never done this, that, what we did.” He kissed me.

“Well, neither have I, but I thought that part was obvious,” he said. I laughed. “I enjoyed it though, and I got the impression you did.”

“Of course,” I blushed, “I mean, it was,” I swallowed. “How have you never been with anyone else?” He’s too perfect.

“There isn’t anyone else,” he said, taking my hand and tracing the lines with his thumb. “I came to life when I met you, that’s what I was trying to say this afternoon before you so rudely insisted I prove my devotion.” I rolled my eyes as he kissed my palm.

“What about The Lady Marina?” I asked. He drew back, surprised to hear her name.

“Marina?” He blinked. “What does Marina have to do with us?”

“You write to her,” I said, “and you carry that handkerchief. And you’ve said yourself that she’s beautiful, and wise, and powerful.”

“She’s been my friend since we were children,” he said, “it isn’t like that between us.” I looked at him. “She has a bit of a crush, but nothing ever happened.” I swallowed. “I only want you.” We kissed again.

“Come upstairs,” I said softly.

“Lisette,” he shook his head, “we can’t. We shouldn’t have earlier.” I looked at him. “I love you, but I’m not a fool. You’re a princess, you’re going to be queen. I’m a soldier, and one with a family that should not be trusted near to you. This isn’t, this can’t be real.” I pressed my face against his chest.

“It’s too late,” I whispered. “It already is real Tristan. Come upstairs, make love to me again. That’s an order.” He laughed.

“It’s a treasonous one,” he mumbled said and kissed my hair. “But it’s such, sweet treason.” I stood up and went to to my room, not looking back but knowing he was following me. He clicked the door shut behind us. I kissed him and everything grew more intense from there. We undressed each other and fell back onto the bed. The rushed passion on the hill gave way to something else here. Tristan was in me again, but as he pushed on top of me with his hips, his hands and mouth tended to the rest of my body, groping, kissing, nibling and generally consuming me. I was responding in kind, finding myself unable to keep my hands from his thighs, his buttocks, my mouth continually finding a spot on his chest that made him exhale and pull me closer to him.

I like that place.

I cried out a few times, until finally he pulled out, finishing with a sweet breath against my ear, whispering my name. I whimpered as he rolled away.

“Tristan,” I said softly. He wrapped his arms around me. “I love you.” He smiled.

“I love you,” he said. “Gods, it feels good to say it.” I smiled.

“Can you promise me something?” I whispered.

“Anything,” he said.

“I need you to tell me the truth,” I said. He brushed my hair out of my face. “It’s what I’ve always been most afraid of, when I become queen, that no one will tell me the truth. No one told my father the truth about Brayton, about his power and the people standing with him, and it got him killed.”

“I will always tell you the truth,” he whispered, “as I see it that is.” I smiled and kissed him. “Lisette,” he whispered again.

“Mm,” I cooed, “I like when you say my name.” He then started saying my name over and over again between kissing me.

Confession

Anselm went away for a bit, after I told him about my visitation with the goddess. He said he needed to speak to someone and that worries me. I’ve been journaling a lot, thinking about what she said, about tangled threads and being too long away from the sea.

But my days are as pleasant as they’ve ever been though. I get up at dawn with Athena and train, and then I study history or strategy, and then I have afternoons to myself, because I don’t have to study magic. This afternoon, I found my way to the orchard. I climbed up and pulled out a book. I started to read, lost in the same fairy tales I was that day nearly a month ago when then twins came.

I heard some whistling and glanced down seeing Tristan walking through. I grinned and grabbed a lemon and tossed it at him. He laughed and looked up at me.

“This feels familiar,” he said. I nodded and climbed down. It might be Athena’s influence, but I wouldn’t even dream of my leggings and baggy old shirts anymore. “Are you here being productive, or was your only mission to pelt me with citrus?”

“I was reading,” I said, and handed him the book. He flipped through it.

“Fairy tales?” He said. I nodded. He laughed and shook his head. “You never cease to surprise me, Princess.” His eyes were holding mine, and that tiny voice in the back of my head, the one I’d been pushing so hard to ignore for so long roared forward.

I love him. There’s no escaping it, anymore, no appeals to my duty as it might be. No distant princes I’ve never met and might never meet. There’s only him. He’s the sun.

“Lisette,” I said quietly, “please. Call me Lisette.” He swallowed.

“Gods,” he whispered, and moved away from me. “I can’t do that.” I stared at him.

“Why not?” I chased after him. We reached a hill, he looked at me. “Why can’t you call me by my name?”

“Because if I let a crack in the walls,” he exhaled, “if you’re not my princess, if I’m not serving you, protecting you,” I swallowed, suddenly I understood.

“Say it,” I whispered, “please, Tristan, please it might be easier if we just,” I went to take his hands and he stepped back. “I love you.” He stared at me. “I do, I don’t quite understand it, but I’ve never felt this way about anyone and,” he stopped and looked at me.

“I love you too,” he said, “but it’s impossible.” I swallowed and looked at him. “I’m not,” he looked down, “I’m supposed to protect you, I’m suppose to be lead your army, I’m not supposed to,” I laughed a little. “What’s funny?”

“You always do exactly what you’re supposed to do, don’t you?” I whispered. He smiled.

“I used to, yes,” he said. “But since I met you, well…” I nodded and we walked a little longer this time in silence.

“Can’t you do both?” I whispered. He looked oddly at me. “Can’t you protect me while loving me?” He sighed and touched my face.

“Princess,” he said softly.

“Lisette,” I corrected him. I felt like every hair on my body stand on end as he touched me.

“Lisette,” he whispered. “I don’t know if I can. I don’t think,” I looked at him. I swallowed.

“Pretend,” I said softly, “I’m not the princess.” He laughed. “Pretend I’m Lisette, I’m an orphan that Olivia and Caleb adopted on a whim. I’m who I say I am.” He nodded. “What then?”

“Then,” he whispered, “I’d tell you that you’re not like anyone I’ve ever met before. That I spend every morning, wondering when I’m going to see you, spend every night wondering what you’re thinking of and hoping that it’s me.” He pulled me close then and I swallowed, “and that all I want in the world right now is to kiss you.”

“So kiss me,” I whispered. He smiled.

“Is that an order?” He teased. I nodded. “But you’re an orphaned farmgirl I met by coincidence. I’m nearly a captain of the royal guard, you can’t give me orders.” I giggled and couldn’t stop myself then and kissed him.

I’ve only been kissed once before, by Aaron. I was twelve. It was uninvited and neither of us liked it much. (Well, him probably because it ended with me punching him and running away, but still…) This was different. Tristan wrapping his arms around me and kissing me back was everything.

“This is all just pretend, though,” I whispered. He looked down at me and shook his head.

“No,” he said, “no, it’s real.” We kissed again and I lost my breath.

What Is It?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“There were others?” I asked. “Besides my father, and Caleb?”

“A few,” Olivia said softly, “it isn’t important, because I made the right choice in the end.” She kissed my forehead. “And no one says you have to marry. Queen Anessa didn’t.”

“I suppose not,” I said softly. “But I need heirs. A lack of heirs caused this whole mess with Brayton.” She stood up am cupped my face.

“My darling,” she said, “you are not your father, and I know that Caleb and Anselm have done their best to teach you to be a responsible ruler, but you are going to be a queen, and as such, you will not be dictated to.”

“Is that what your father told you when he sent you after mine?” I asked.

“No,” she said softly, sadness in her voice. “When your father noticed me my father said it was the first time he was grateful I wasn’t a boy.” I nodded. “And in the end, my love, no one’s plans, my father’s, or mine, or Anton’s mattered in the slightest.” She frowned. “You’ve never asked much about this before.”

“I suppose it never mattered before,” I said, “it just keeps occurring to me that I know how to fight the battles I need to but being queen, there’s going to be so much more to it.” She laughed.

“Yes,” she smiled, “but I think the flirting and suitor juggling is the least of it, and will come naturally eventually.” I smiled.

“I’ve been having a Dream,” I said softly. She nodded.

“Aaron told me,” I frowned. “Darling, he’s worried. Who else is he supposed to talk to about it?”

“Still,” I muttered, “he won’t make much of a royal counselor running to his mother whenever he’s concerned.” She laughed.

“You don’t need to worry about your cousin,” she said, “Marina’s a sweet girl, a bit odd, I suppose but she’d rather die than join Brayton.” I nodded. “Goodnight my love.”

“Goodnight,” I whispered.

That night I dreamed of a place by the sea, it felt like home, even though I didn’t recognize it. There was a soft breeze and beautiful sunlight. I raised myself out of bed and saw white curtains blowing in the breeze. I stepped out onto the balcony and saw woman standing there, dressed in a blue gown with dark hair and skin.

“Hello my child,” she said softly. “My you’ve grown since I saw you last.”

“My lady,” I said quietly. I’d only seen the goddess one time that I could remember, when I was about six or seven. “It’s beautiful here.” She smiled.

“They’ve kept you from the sea too long,” she said. “But yes, it is. You’ll know it soon enough.”

“This is Brightcoast?” I asked. She smiled.

“No,” she said, “this is Phania, Tumona, your mother’s home.” I swallowed.

“Will he bring me here?” I asked. She sighed.

“It’s all unclear,” she said, “I see nothing clearly, the threads are too tangled.” I woke with a start and saw Athena sitting at my feet.

“Are you alright?” She whispered. I looked at her. “I was walking in to go to bed and the furniture was shaking, so I came in here and you were glowing.”

“It’s godly energy,” I said, “I was dreaming about Rana.” She nodded. “You were just getting to bed now?”

“Tristan and I spent the evening with our cousins,” she explained. “Alexander had some Westerland Whiskey and well, Tristan is going to have a headache in the morning.” I laughed.

“But you won’t,” I said. She laughed.

“No, I only had a small cup,” she said, “and I can hold my liquor. My brother normally doesn’t drink much at all,” she looked at me. “He’s quite taken with you, and Lotte pronounced you charming which I believe means you’ll have access to all of her ships when you’re queen.” I laughed. “Do you often dream of the goddess?”

“No,” I said, “once when I was little and tonight.” She nodded. “I’m sorry it scared you.” She shrugged.

“I don’t like magic,” she said softly. “Brayton has these things,  guards, shadows, souls entirely consumed by darkness. Everywhere they go, it feels like all the heat leaves a room.” She smiled. “But this, felt different, almost the exact opposite.”

“Rana is light,” I explained, “Amina, her sister, who Brayton most likely gets his power from, is darkness.”

“What is Cornan, then?” She asked. I grinned.

“What’s in between?” I asked. “Shadow, and mist, suits a warrior.” She smiled. “You honor Cornan?”

“General Martin does,” she explained, “and our father did. The Dumanis, in an attempt to model themselves after the provenance leaders have taken to ancestor worship.”

“The Dumanis don’t approve of General Martin,” I said. She laughed.

“That’s putting it mildly.” She sighed. “When our parents died, Martin and our Uncle Trey were, well, they were together and Trey wanted us to go to Dorin, and Martin wanted us to stay in Dovetail, and,” she picked at the bedspread. “We stayed in Dovetail. Trey never forgave any of it. He doesn’t come to the city, he won’t see us.” She sighed.

“I didn’t know that General Martin,”  I said. She laughed.

“Well,” she said, “women too, though he says he’s had his heart broken enough now and ‘Please Athena, I’m an old man, let me live in peace.'” I laughed. “I don’t know who else broke his heart, but he’s adamant.” I smiled. “Is Aaron,” she sighed, “can I trust him?”

“This is the whiskey talking,” I said. She shrugged. “In terms of life in general, yes. In terms of personal relations, move slowly.” She laughed. “He tends to get entangled.”

“This may be the whiskey talking,” she said, “but I’m starting to think I could do with that sort of entanglement.” I made a gagging sound as she stood up and left.

Market Day

I woke up in the morning and got dressed quickly, also grabbing a basket and a small pouch of coins. Most of the farmers and town shopkeepers bill us, but if any merchant carravans are passing it will be nice to be able to at least consider buying something.

I walked out the front door and saw Tristan jog up. He wasn’t wearing a shirt. I swallowed, trying not to stare.

I am not in love with him.

But I would also not be opposed to him just never wearing his shirt again. Because this is very nice. Can I make a law about that?

From here on out all guardsmen are forbidden from wearing shirts in her majesty’s presence. That could do the trick. Or I suppose that’s like when I used to order Aaron to give me his desert and he told me that he didn’t have to obey stupid orders like that.

Still, it’s a thought.

“You’re going out?” He said seeing me. I nodded.

“It’s market day,” I explained, “I told Athena.” He nodded. “Would you like to come? It’s not terribly exciting, but I shop and then I’m having tea at the inn.”

“Of course,” he smiled. “Give me a few moments to clean up, I’d be happy to join you.” I nodded as he walked inside and I swallowed, pacing back and forth, chewing my nails. He came back out dressed a little more cleanly.

“You were running?” I tried. He nodded. “Why?”

“It clears my mind,” he said. I looked at him. “It seems to need a lot of clearing these days.” I nodded. “And I like it here, it’s beautiful, peaceful, not like home.”

“Dovetail?” I said. He nodded. “I can’t wait to see it.”

“It’s special,” he grinned, “the way the palace and castle are built, they looked carved out of the mountain, the harbor is beautiful, placid and blue.” I nodded. “You don’t remember it at all?”

“The uprising was when I was one,” I said, “my parents were going from provenence to provenence after that, and I was settled here before I was three.” He nodded. “I see it in Dreams sometimes, but that’s not the same.”

“What are they like?” He asked. “The Dreams?”

“Disorienting,” I said, “vague, sometimes terrifying, other times comforting, always frustrating.” He laughed at that. “What’s funny?”

“You,” he said. “You’re so honest, it’s refreshing.” I nodded. “Back home everyone talks in circles, they have to, kind of, but it’s a nice change.” I nodded as we approached the village and saw a circle of wagons. “Oh no,” he muttered.

“What?” I laughed, “it’s only a merchant train. They might have something interesting.”

“Oh, it’ll be interesting for sure.” He sighed as we got closer. I noticed the flag flying over the train and realized why he might be tense.

“Tristan!” A girl’s voice called out, jumping from one of the wagons. “Gods, I didn’t expect to see yeh so far south!”

“Good Morning Charlotte,” he said, seeming to unclench a bit, “Lisette, please meet my cousin, Charlotte Dufrey, clearly heading this operation in front of you. Charlotte this is, um,” he stumbled, “Lisette, she’s Count Caleb’s ward.”

“Heavens,” Charlotte said, “I was going to ask how a Phanian girl came so far inland.” I smiled.

“My mother was Phanian, Mistress Dufrey,” I explained. She nodded. “Sir Tristan, I can leave you.”

“That’s alright,” he shook his head, “are yer parents here, Lotte?” The way he slipped into the Northern accent was strange but still so natural.

“Just me and Alexander,” she shrugged, “we’re here for at least a week, and if we don’t see you and Athena I will tell Grandfather, and General Martin will surely receive a strongly worded letter about your upbringing.” Tristan let out a bark of laughter that startled me. I’d barely seen him smile before.

“We’ll be by, I promise,” he kissed her on the cheek. “I’m sorry about that.”

“Your family is the Dumanis?” I asked. He nodded.

“On our mother’s side,” he explained. “She was Alexia Dumanis, youngest of the three jewels of the house, that’s what they called her and her sisters. Charlotte’s mother Andrea is the oldest, and then there’s Brie.” He stopped. “There’s a son too, Tristan, well, Trey, they call him Trey.” He looked sad. “We see them when they’re in Dovetail, but Grandfather’s main holdings are in Dorin.”

“I see,” I nodded. I could tell he was uncomfortable. We approached the main street and the farmers and shopkeepers haggle with one another. I’m greeted with a small bow and a “Lady Lisette,” by most of them, and Tristan seems more at home now. I purchase beef, and some rabbit, which Athena mentioned was her favorite before we reach the end of the street and the inn.

Pantona Inn is a small place, with about twelve rooms upstairs and a barroom and a private parlor downstairs. It’s owned by a knight named Kinney Santino, and run by his nephew William, who’s nineteen.

“Lisette!” William greeted me as we walked in, he stopped, seeing Tristan. “Oh I see.”

“Sir Tristan,” I said, “this is my very good friend William Santino. William, this is Sir Tristan Dugarry, who escorted Countess Olivia down from Dovetail.”

“I’d heard there were guests,” William smiled, “welcome to Pantona, Sir Tristan.”

“Thank you,” Tristan said shortly as we followed him into the parlor.

“Dugarry is a merchant name,” William said. Tristan nodded. “But you’re in the guard?”

“My father’s side joined the guard with my great grandfather,” Tristan explained. “We’ve been noble since then.” William nodded.

“William is from Dovetail as well,” I said, “he came here six years ago.”

“Lisette is enchanted with her ideas of the city,” William said, “I’ve never been able to impress upon her how much nicer things out here are.” Tristan nodded. I suddenly felt very uncomfortable. They were making direct eye contact with one another as if I wasn’t even there.

“I was saying the same on our walk over,” Tristan said, “though Dovetail has it’s appeal.” William nodded. “I know a Winston Santino.”

“My Uncle,” William nodded.

“Ah,” Tristan nodded. I squirmed in my seat, I felt suddenly like it didn’t matter if I was there or not. “Lisette, if you’ll excuse me, I should probably see my cousins.” He stood up. I was baffled. He’d been so friendly and engaged outside.

“I’m sorry,” I said to William, who shrugged and sipped on his drink. “How are you?”

“Good,” He nodded, “do you like them? Your guests?”

“They’re the Countess’s guests,” I said simply, “and Aaron’s I suppose.” He nodded again.

“He came here with you though,” he said.

“Well, he wanted to see market day,” I explained. He smiled.

“Of course,” he said, “a royal guard from Dovetail wanted to see Pantona’s market day.” I nodded and we finished in silence.

“I should go,” I said softly. I walked back outside and saw Tristan talking to a vendor over some flowers. I walked over. “I suppose we should get back.”

“If you like,” he said.

“Lady Lisette,” the vendor, Wyatt Sampson, said, “your young man was asking which were your favorites.” I looked at him.

“Sir Tristan isn’t my young man,” I said, “but I prefer violets.” Tristan smiled and handed him a coin and then me the violets. I sniffed them before attaching them to my belt. We walked back to the manor quietly.

I’m not in love with him.

I’m not. 

Used To It

It’s been a week since the twins came, and we’ve grown used to them, I think. Well, I have, I wonder if Aaron will ever grow used to Lady Athena. He spends a great deal of time trying to get her attention, and she either ignores him or says something sarcastic to him.

It’s very amusing.

Tonight we are sitting in the large receiving room, I’m trying to learn the embroidery that Lady Athena was teaching me, but it isn’t going well.

“I’m pretty close to hopeless myself,” she admitted, “but I think it will help in Dovetail to know a little.” I smiled and nodded as we both struggled through it. “And it’s something to do.” I glanced up and noticed Sir Tristan writing a letter.

“Who are you writing to?” I asked. He looked at me.

“M-Lady Marina Sanpierre,” he said. Athena snorted. “I told her I would!”

“I’m sure you did,” Athena said, “she’ll probably drop dead of joy when she receives it.” Olivia glanced at her.

“Be kind, Athena,” she shook her head, “I’m sure Lady Marina is very lonely and very afraid at the moment. Hearing from a friend will likely do her good.”

“Why would she be afraid?” I asked. Athena shook her head.

“Because she’s always afraid,” Athena said. “It’s irritating. She’s a silly girl.”

“She isn’t,” Tristan cut her off. “Lady Marina is very powerful but has little understanding of her power, so she gets nervous. Also there’s that business with Brayton.”

“That isn’t what Lisette was asking,” Aaron said. Lady Athena stared at him.

“From everything I’ve gathered, Lisette can speak for herself,” she said simply, “however you continue to try to speak for her.”

“I surely wouldn’t be the first spokesperson for the royal family,” he grinned. “Not even the first of Pantona to fill the role. Like the Dugarry’s it’s our lot.”

“We’re not spokespeople,” she said through her gritted teeth. “We’re protectors.”

“Six of one, Lady Athena,” he shrugged. She stood up and marched out of the room. “Does your sister dislike men, Sir Tristan?” Tristan looked over at him and smirked.

“No Viscount,” he said standing up, “she dislikes you.” I giggled as he got to the door. “With your permission Princess?” I glanced at him.

“Huh?” I responded.

“He’s asking if he can leave, Lisette,” Olivia coaxed.

“Oh,” I said, “of course. Thank you, for a wonderful evening.” He bowed slightly and left.

“Mother,” Aaron said and leaned back, “I think Lisette has made a conquest.” I stared daggers at him and Olivia shook her head, laughing quietly. “He’s clearly in love with you.”

“That’s ridiculous,” I said softly and blushed.

“It would be an impressive one,” Olivia said with a gentle laugh. “Tristan is very focused, and quite popular. Lady Marina is just one of his admirers. If you’ve turned his head it is quite exciting.”

“I don’t think he is,” I said quickly. “Not that it matters, I have other plans.”

“Oh, are we going to hear about Prince Eric again?” Aaron said. “Have you Seen him in your salt basin lately?”

“Don’t mock Lisette’s visions, Aaron,” Olivia said softly. “I know you have thoughts about Prince Eric, love, but life tends to laugh at such plans. If love adhered to them, I’d have been queen rather than your mother.” I smiled. I stood up and walked out to the terrace. Tristan was sitting looking at the mountain.

“It’s beautiful,” he whispered. I nodded. “Is there something I can help you with Princess?”

“No,” I said softly. “What’s she like? Is she wonderful?” He looked at me confused. “Lady Marina?” He smiled.

“She’s,” he whispered, “she’s not like anyone else. She’s very brave, and kind and wise.” I nodded.

“Is she beautiful?” I asked. He smiled.

“You look quite alike, actually,” he said. I cocked my head. “Your eyes are different, though, hers are dark.” I wanted to ask him which he preferred but that felt petty.

Besides I can’t fall in love with him. I really need to make sure I marry strategically, to strengthen Cammadan.

“You didn’t answer my question,” I said. He looked at me and then at the mountain.

“Yes, Princess,” he said softly. “Both you and your cousin are incredibly beautiful.”  He walked back into the house and I noticed the letter sitting on the table. It was mostly about me, well, about Lisette, who we say I am.

Will she know? I wonder sometimes, who knows and pretends they don’t.

“Lady Lisette?” Margie, one of the maids walked up to me. “I have a note for your.” I nodded and took it. I smiled seeing it.

Lisette,

As tomorrow is your usual market day, I was hoping to see you for tea. Your usual place will be set at the inn. I understand you have visitors at the manor and I’m eager to hear all about them.

Yours Always,

William Santino

I laughed. I hadn’t seen William in ages, and I am eager to catch up with him. I walked up to my room and Athena was sitting on my bed, sharpening a knife.

“Good evening?” I tried. She looked at me and nodded. “Why are you in here?”

“Because you have the good weapons,” she said. I laughed. “Is he always like that?”

“Who?” I asked. “Aaron?” She nodded. “No, sometimes he’s worse.” She snorted. “He likes you, and he can tell that you do not like him, so he’s deflecting. He’ll move on in a week or so, he always does.”

“I don’t not like him,” she said, “he’s just so,” she frowned. “Forget it. Are we training tomorrow.”

“I’m going into town tomorrow,” I said, “it’s market day.” She blinked at me. “You understand that part of being here and being Lisette means I have to do the sort of things an orphan farm girl would do, yes? Go shopping, talk to the townsfolk, etc.”

“Hm,” she nodded, “I suppose. Still,” she grinned and tossed me the knife. “Wouldn’t you rather?” I laughed and she stood up. “Sleep well Princess.” I sighed and flopped on the bed.

I dreamt of a blue ship, crossing the sea. Standing at it’s bow was a boy my age, dark skin, and hair cut short. He smiled.

 

For Your Life

I eventually picked a simple blue dress. I didn’t know what we’d be doing all day and I did still have to go see Anselm at some point to talk about my dream. The dress was short, hitting around my ankles, but it would do. It had been the correct length when I last wore it six months ago.

I’ve always been small, so I’m happy to see I’m not finished growing yet.

“Good morning,” Olivia said walking in. I smiled at her and she sat on the bed, as I looked at myself in the mirror. “Goddess, Lisette, I think you’ve grown again.”

“Still too short,” I sighed, thinking of the tall willowy Lady Athena sitting downstairs. I sat with her. She picked up a comb from the nightstand and began slowly untangling my hair and arranging it into braids. My hair is dark, and curly, and often impossible to tame. I wish I had Olivia’s hair which is a soft silky texture and the most beautiful auburn color. “I’m sorry I wasn’t dressed, it didn’t occur to me you’d be with other people.”

“Hmm,” she nodded, “I know. Honestly, if Tristan hadn’t gotten separated, well, I think this whole day would be a bit different.” She stopped for a moment. “What did you think of him?” I sighed.

“He seems very nice,” I said, “a little serious, I suppose.” She nodded. “He’s quite handsome.”

“Yes,” she laughed, “he is that.” She finished my hair. “There, much better.” I smiled. “I explained the situation to them now. They know who you are.”

“Oh,” I said softly. “Were they shocked?” She laughed.

“No, pet, I think they were relieved,” she said, “they both had their suspicions when Caleb and General Martin ordered them to escort me.” I nodded.

“Where is Caleb?” I asked. She frowned.

“He stayed in Dovetail for bit,” she said softly, “Your cousin, Lady Marina needs to be moved from the Capital and it needs to be done carefully.” I nodded, thinking of my dream, and Marina, so cold and cruel and adoring of Brayton. Was that why they needed to be careful? “He’s fine, worry wart,” she teased. Suddenly something dawned on me.

“If you’re here,” I said, panic in my voice, “is Aaron sitting with the twins, alone?” She laughed.

“I suppose we should save them, shouldn’t we?” She said standing up and we walked out of the room and down to the main parlor. Aaron was sitting opposite Lady Athena who was glaring daggers at him. I wonder what he said? Sir Tristan was standing, leaning again a window frame, his golden hair looking almost shimmery in the sunlight. Olivia cleared her throat and all three of them looked at us.

“Hello, Mother,” Aaron said brightly and jumped up and kissed her on the cheek. “How was your journey?”

“The journey was fine,” she said. “Lady Athena, Sir Tristan, this is Annalise, Princess of Cammadan.”

“Princess,” Tristan walked and knelt in front of me. My face turned bright red, his eyes looked so big and green and he looked deadly sincere. “I pledge my life and my sword to you.” I swallowed. I wanted to cry. What an awful thought!

“Oh for heaven’s sake Tristan,” Athena said and walked over, “stand up, you’re making everyone uncomfortable.” She smiled at me. “You look more like a Princess now than you did outside.” Tristan had stood up now, and was still looking very intensely at me. “Countess, I think we should have tea. Tea always makes this kind of thing much less awkward, don’t you think?”

“Whiskey can help too,” Aaron pointed out. I giggled. I also dreaded the next time Aaron and I were alone. He’s never going stop teasing me about a knight pledging his life to me in the parlor.

“I think just the tea for now,” I said softly and sat down next to him. “You’ll have to excuse me, I’m a little caught off guard.”

“You’re caught of guard?” Lady Athena laughed. “Gods, I’ve thought you were dead for a decade!”

“Athena had little faith in your return,” Sir Tristan said softly, his eyes never leaving mine. “I always knew you’d be back.” Can he see me blushing? I hope not. She shrugged. I liked her almost immediately. I liked her honesty. We all sat quietly for a while until a page came in and handed a note to Olivia.

“Lisette,” she said, “were you supposed to be somewhere today?” I gasped.

“Goddess,” I said and ran out the door. I quickly padded into the woods, down a well cleared path. I reached a small hut in a clearing.

“Late as usual, Lisette,” an older man in a green robe was sitting with his legs crossed levitating slightly. Mastero Benjamin Anselm has been teaching me magic for as long as I can remember.

“I apologize, Mastero, it couldn’t be helped,” I said, he opened his eyes and leveled back onto the ground landing with a thud. “You see, Olivia came back today, and she brought Sir Tristan and Lady Athena Dugarry with her, and I had to get changed and then we had tea and you see,”

“You forgot,” he raised an eyebrow. I smiled at him. “You’re worse than even your father was. He thought charm and excuses would get him through his responsibilities as well.” I nodded.

“I am sorry,” I said. But I can’t help feeling proud when Anselm compares me to my father.

“So the twins have come then,” he said. I nodded. “I liked their mother. Alexia was a fine woman.” I nodded. “You’ll be going to Dovetail.”

“Not until my birthday,” I said. “Caleb promised.” He smirked.

“Your trust in The Count’s promises is a credit to you,” he snorted. “You asked to see me, before you forgot.”

“I had a Dream,” I whispered, “the same as it usually is, but my cousin Marina was with Brayton.” He nodded. “She was his queen, I think, and then she tried to kill me.”

“How?” He asked. I moved my hand to my throat. “She choked you?”

“Yes, but she wasn’t physically doing it,” I said softly.

“Well, I knew the girl has the sight, but I don’t know more,” he shook his head. “But we’d best teach you to block psychic attacks physically.” I nodded and followed him into the hut.

“Mastero,” I said softly, “the dreams, can’t we stop them?” He looked at me.

“Stop them?” He asked. I nodded. “Whatever for?” I sighed. “They may provide vital information, Lisette.”

“They’re so miserable though,” I said, “and when I have one I can’t ever get back to sleep again.” He nodded.

“Anton hated the dreams too,” he sighed, “there was a drought I used to mix him, when he was very small, I’ll see if I can scrounge up the ingredients.” I nodded, “You don’t have a lesson in you today, do you?”

“I can try,” I said. He smiled.

“Off with you,” he said, “give the countess my best. Tell her I’d like to inspect the twins if it’ll be convenient.” I nodded and headed back to the manor.

The Twins

It was early when I headed out to the orchard. I knew I should either stay in the manor and make sure things were set for Olivia, or go to see Mastero Anselm, but I really didn’t care to do either. So instead I went to the lemon orchard with a book.

Being a princess means I get to be selfish that way sometimes.

I found my favorite tree and climbed up. I opened the book and started reading a fairytale about a princess who was hidden away to live with fairies until she turns sixteen, when she’s supposed to be returned to the world but then gets put under a sleeping curse for one hundred years until a prince comes and kisses her.

Wasn’t she the lucky one? I bet her parents weren’t even murdered by her psychopathic relatives or anything and all she had to do was be kissed and she got her place in the world back. I’m going to have to lead an army, and master magic and avenge my parents, if I don’t want to be haunted by my father’s spirit for all of my days.

I heard a rustling in the trees and peaked out from my branch. There was a boy riding through the orchard. He had light blonde hair and was dressed in a green tunic and leggings, which I recognized as a palace guard uniform, which meant one of two things. Either Brayton’s spies had found me at long last, or, he’d come with Olivia.

I felt the knife I’d kept in my boot since I was six and Caleb told me the truth about who I was. I could fight if I needed to. I grabbed a lemon and lobbed it at the guard. He paused and turned his horse as I jumped down from the tree.

“Boy!” He said. I blinked at him, and considered how I was dressed. I suppose I did look like a boy. My hair tied back, and I was wearing leggings and a loose fitting old shirt of Caleb’s. I smiled. “Did you throw that?” He was confused.

“Yes sir,” I said. He stopped.

“Not a boy then,” he said. I shook my head. “I apologize, Mistress,” he stopped. I frowned. I wasn’t used to this. Pantona’s a small place, I’m Lady Lisette to just about everyone who sees me. I shrugged. “I came down with Countess Olivia, but seem to have gotten lost. Do you know the way to the manor?”

“I do,” I said. “Is the Countess returned?” He nodded. “I’m called Lisette, by the way.”

“Tristan Dugarry,” he said, dismounting. “This is Elian.” I smiled and patted the horse’s neck.

“You’re a beautiful boy, Elian,” I cooed. Tristan preened a bit. It suited him. We began walking, him leading Elian by the reigns.

Goddess, something stirred in me, but he’s beautiful. I couldn’t think of another word for it. I dearly hoped he wasn’t a spy. It would be a terrible shame to chop that lovely head off his shoulders.

“Do you work at the manor?” He asked. I narrowed my eyes. We’d never had guards before, but beside Caleb, Olivia, Aaron and Anselm, no one knows who I really am. Without checking with Caleb, I don’t know if I’m supposed to trust this Tristan.

“No,” I shook my head, “I live there though. The Count and Countess took me when I was just a baby and parents died in the uprising.” He stopped and looked at me.

“I’m sorry,” he said, “My parents survived the uprising, but I lost them later.” I nodded and we arrived at the house.

Waiting out front with Olivia was a girl who looked almost exactly the same as Tristan, the same blonde hair, and green eyes and beautiful face. Olivia smiled at me, her long auburn hair tied into a braid as it always was when she traveled. I went to ask her a question, but she raised her eyebrows and telegraphed to me that we would speak later.

“Lisette,” Olivia smiled, “you found Sir Tristan. Good, we were worried about him.” I glanced at Tristan who had straightened up a bit. The girl smirked and walked over. “May I present Lady Athena Dugarry, Lady Athena, this is our Lisette.”

“It’s nice to meet you, Lady Athena,” I said and dipped into a curtsy as best I could in my pants. A sister, that explained the resemblence.

“Thank you for retrieving my twin,” she grinned, “honestly, if I don’t watch him constantly, he’ll just drift off.” Twins, then, and both guards, based on what she was wearing. Which was a simple green riding dress.

You were the one who raced ahead,” Tristan objected. She shrugged. I tried not to giggle.

“Your Grace,” I said turning to Olivia, “I’m glad you’re home.”

“I’m glad to be home,” she said and enveloped me in a hug, “I didn’t expect you to meet him before I could explain things, Little One,” she whispered in me ear. I nodded my understanding.

“I’ll go change,” I said softly, going up to my bedroom.

“Lisette,” Aaron hissed from the door of his room, I sighed and walked in. “Did you see them?”

“Yes,” I said, “I met him properly, he got lost and found me in the orchard.” He nodded. “It’s strange that they came though?”

“I guess,” he said, “Mother’s not going to be happy that they saw you like, well, this.” I rolled my eyes and kicked his door closed. He was right though. Olivia despaired making a lady out of me. She said it came from Caleb indulging me too much, and Mastero Anselm’s disinterest in anything but the most straightforward education. I went into my bedroom and pulled out a simple blue dress. The very fancy things that Olivia sometimes brought back from Dovetail were folded between pieces of tissue, to be worn only once things were settled. I did look at them sometimes. I imagined the life I’ll have when I wear them sometimes. I suddenly had a picture in my mind of Tristan Dugarry dancing with me while I wore something very fine.

I immediately blushed, because what an embarrassing thought!

 

The Princess’s Dream

I hate the dreams. I’ve always hated them, they’re disorienting and I never know what they mean, and they’re always the worst at this time of year. Of all the powers the goddess and god could have given me, they chose prophetic dreams.

It’s not terribly useful.

This one, the one I’ve had again and again, at least ended differently this time. I was walking through a city, Dovetail, probably, though I haven’t been there since I was a baby, so who knows to a large palace. I enter the palace and see the bodies. Sometimes I can make out the faces, sometimes I can’t. When I can, I see Olivia, and Caleb and Aaron. Our friends, Kathy and William sometimes too. This time, it’s all of Pantona Village. I swallow, gripping the sword, my father’s sword, at my belt and walk into the large throne room. Seated at the end is him. Brayton, dark hair, pale skin and a satisfied smirk on his face.

It usually ends when I see him. But this time is different. He isn’t alone, sitting beside him is a girl. She looks a lot like me actually, the same light brown skin and curly brown hair. She is smiling adoringly at him, dressed in white.

“Darling,” he addresses her, “welcome our cousin properly.” She turns at looks at me, smiles softly and lifts her hands, I feel myself choke.

“Happy Birthday, Cousin,” she says softly. I woke up with a start. I’d never dreamed that before. I’d never seen my cousin Marina before, beside him. My hand caught on my throat as I caught my breath. I wasn’t choking, I was safe, in my bedroom in Pantona.

It’s not even my birthday! That’s not for three more months. I’ll be seventeen. Which means I can be crowned. What a horrible and wonderful thought that is.

I keep thinking about Marina. Lady Marina, my cousin, who I’ve never seen. Brayton’s my cousin too, and they’re so far from me, a breath away from my throne, both of them, connected by magic and yet in a completely different world.

I won’t be sleeping more tonight, so I got up and got dressed. I walked down to the kitchen and went to the fire and began boiling water. I didn’t want to wake any of the servants. I gathered some tea leaves and placed them in a cup and waited for the water to boil. Then the door clicked open and closed.

I shook my head as Aaron walked in.

“You’re up early,” he noted.

“You too,” I said. He grinned.

“Didn’t sleep,” he grabbed a cup of his own. I rolled my eyes. “Gods, Kathy is vocal.” I made a gagging noise. “You’ll understand someday, Lisette.”

“Aaron,” I laid my hand on his, “I assure you, I will never understand your need to run out to the woods with village girls, who, when you inevitably end things badly, take it out on me.” He laughed. “I had a Dream.”

“Bad?” He asked. I nodded. “What happened?”

“Oh, I saw your dead body, and then my cousin tried to kill me,” I shrugged.

“Well, that’s the usual thing right?” He asked. “He always tries to kill you.”

“Not him,” I whispered. “Lady Marina was with him.” He stopped. “I know.” I rubbed my hands against my face. “Trust me, I know.”

“She wouldn’t join him,” he shook his head, “Father trusts her. The vision could be wrong.”

“Maybe,” I mumbled. “I wish I knew her, you know? It would make it easier to judge.” He nodded. “She’s very powerful, I know that much.”

“So are you,”  he whispered. “And you’re the princess, you could always order her head chopped off or whatever.” I laughed.

“I don’t think it works that way,” I said, “but thank you.”

“It’s what I’m here for,” he said. “A messenger came last night. Mother’s on her way back, she was at Waythorn yesterday.”

“Just Olivia,” I said. He nodded. “Do you think Caleb is alright?”

“I’m sure he’s fine,” he said. “Probably busy, after all, we’re only a few more months from,” I nodded. “Everything’s going to be fine, Lisette.” I swallowed. I wanted to cry. Everything wasn’t going to be fine. I wasn’t even going to be Lisette anymore. I was going to be Annalise Dovetail, Queen of Cammadan, and I don’t know who she is, and that terrifies me.

The Ship

The ball was incredibly magical. I danced with more men than I could count, most of them provenance heirs. And William. And Tristan.

I even convinced Papa to come and watch a bit, although I drank far too much wine and had to go to bed before Annalise.

Which wound up for the best as it was the middle of the night when Elodie shook me awake.

“What is it?” I asked. She looked at me. “Elodie, I don’t understand?”

“A ship arrived,” she whispered. I nodded. “I didn’t want to wake The Queen, but, well,” I swallowed and nodded.

“Is it him?” I asked.

“We don’t know,” she said softly, “we do know that it’s here, and it’s flying a Phanian flag.” I nodded and got out of bed, pulling a dressing gown on.

“Elodie, please go wake General Martin and Countess Olivia and my father,” I said softly. “If you can find Lady Athena and Viscount Aaron, them too.” I paused. “And Captain Dugarry.” She nodded and headed out. I took a deep breath and walked through the sitting room and knocked on Annalise’s door. She didn’t answer which didn’t surprise me because she is usually sound asleep at this time. I’ll never understand how she sleeps so well.

I opened the door and gasped at what I saw. Annalise was there, but definitely not asleep. She was undressed and wrapped around an equally nude Tristan. They turned and saw me and I swallowed, frozen.

I really wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do, but I did at least manage to cover my eyes. I saw, well a lot, anyway, but when I managed to look back, Annalise had pulled a robe on on Tristan was scrambling for his shirt, his pants now on.

“I’m sorry,” I managed to stammer, “I didn’t,” I met Annalise’s eyes and we just started giggling. The situation didn’t feel funny, but we couldn’t stop. Tristan looked bewildered.

“If you two are quite done?” He said. Annalise bit her bottom lip and nodded. “Is everything alright, Marina?” I swallowed.

“It appears a Phanian ship is in harbor,” I said. “I think you should go find some fresh clothing and well, your sister and the General.”

“Of course,” he mumbled, “of course it’s that.”

“Tristan,” Annalise said softly, “we don’t know.” He shook his head.

“Your Majesty will excuse me,” he said, “regardless of who it is, I have work to do and so do you.” He started walking out.

“Tristan,” she called after him, but he slammed the door. “If this is Prince Eric, he has hilarious timing.”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt,” I said. She sighed. “Or to laugh but.”

“Well, it was funny,” she said, “I’m sure it will help Tristan if you tell him that you were impressed by anything you saw.” I laughed again.

“That may only send him into a guilt spiral about my feelings,” I pointed out, “better to pretend I saw nothing.” She smiled.

“Are you alright?” She asked. “You don’t mind?”

“I’d rather not see it again,” I said, “but no, I do not mind, I’m over him.” I picked at the blanket. “William wanted to tonight, even after I’d told him things couldn’t continue between us.”

“You didn’t?” She asked. I shook my head. He called it the perfect way to say good bye. The way he whispered that had given me chills, and not the good kind.

“I don’t love him,” I said softly, “and I’m not ready.” I looked at her. “We should get you dressed. I told Elodie to assemble every one in the council chamber.” She sighed. “I think the green riding dress.”

“Not blue?” She asked. “If it’s Phanians, I should be pushing the goddess.” I shook my head. “No?”

“No,” I said, “you’re the Queen of Cammadan, you’re the Sword too, but you’re Queen first, and they need to know that.” She nodded. “Wear the Goddesses crown though, not the Land Crown.”

“Just in case,” she laughed as I pulled the dress tightly around her. Then I put the crown on her head. I exhaled. “What?”

“When I used to Dream you,” I said, “this is what you wore.” She nodded. “I wanted you in it yesterday, but everyone else wanted something less,” I moved my head from side to side.

“Severe?” She tried. I nodded. “No wonder you were afraid of me,” she grinned. “I look fierce.” I laughed. “What if he doesn’t like me?”

“I think everyone who’s ever met you likes you,” I said softly. “And you don’t have to marry him, no matter what your visions said.” She smiled and hugged me. “I’ll give you a moment.” I walked out and down to the council chamber.” Papa, Countess Olivia and General Martin were all sitting on one side. Aaron was sitting on the other with Athena. Tristan was standing, staring out the window.

“He’s brooding,” Athena whispered as I joined her. “I know it’s a shocking development.” I tried not to laugh.

“How was your evening?” I asked. She winked at me. “Good then,” I said.

“What do we know so far?” Countess Olivia asked.

“It’s the Prince,” General Martin said, “two guards came back a few minutes ago and reported as much.”

“Good,” Papa said, “good then.” He looked pale, more so than he usually did lately. “Marina, love, you and Viscount Aaron are going to go greet them?”

“Not the queen?” Athena asked.

“No,” General Martin said. “Annalise will greet them here, with you two.”

“I won’t,” Tristan said. Athena sighed loudly.

“You will,” Annalise said walking in. “I need you with me Tristan.” We all felt the tension in the room grow.

“As you wish,” he said and walked out. Annalise sighed, watching him leave.

“I’ll talk to him,” Athena said.

“No Thena, it’s alright.” Martin said and followed him. I glanced at the Countess who was blushing. I wondered for a moment how many rooms he’d left when she’d chosen someone else.

“Shall we,” Aaron said standing up and offering his arm. I laughed a little and we headed towards the port. “So, you ended things with William?” I rolled my eyes.

“Yes,” I sighed, “if you were hoping for a tenant with a deep connection to Brightcoast, I’m sorry to disappoint you.” He snorted.

“Have you seen anything?” He asked softly. I shook my head. “Well, it could be worse. Mother and The Duke and General could have sent Tristan and then Prince Eric would be pitched into the harbor.” I laughed.

The harbor isn’t a real harbor. Dovetail is built in a valley, and there is a lake, that has a large canal dug so that ships can get to the city. But for the most part, no large ships come here. Small barges and ferries every day, but nothing like what we saw now.

The Prince’s Glory stood tall over the small merchant vessels there now. My father always used to describe Phanian ships as beautiful and I understand what he meant now. This ship is gloriously beautiful. It was painted stunning blue. And there were three men standing on the dock.

“I think this is supposed to be the part we’re good at,” Aaron smirked. I nodded and we walked up.