Invasion

Annalise

I felt entirely limp as Eric propped himself up on his elbow and grinned at me. I’ve never felt like this, so spent and full of pleasure and happiness at the same time.

“You don’t need to look so smug,” I said. He laughed and pushed my hair off of my face. “This isn’t because of you, necessarily, I like sex.” He laughed.

“So I could see,” he said and kissed me gently. “I like you like this,” he said. I arched an eyebrow at him and he kissed me again. “You’re more vocal than I expected.”

“You’re more forceful than I did,” I said. He kissed me. “I’ve wanted this for so long.” He smiled and kissed me again, moving to my neck.

“So what now, my love?” He asked. I sighed.

“Marriage, I suppose,” I stretched. “If you’ll have me.” He grinned and pulled me close.

“It doesn’t have to be tomorrow,” he said softly, “if you aren’t ready.” I kissed him gently again. “I don’t want to wait forever though.”

“Of course not,” I said. “But perhaps a bit? We should get used to each other, and,” I looked at him, “well, I’d like to meet your mother and sister.” He laughed and rolled onto his back.

“Oh, they’d like to meet you too, I’m sure,” he said softly. “I’d like to bring Katrin here, honestly, to live.” I looked at him. “It’d be better for her, I think.”

“Why is that?” I asked quietly. He frowned.

“She’s in Princess Karina’s household now, which is fine,” he sighed. “But I don’t want the court to get it’s hooks into her. She’s special, that would be allowed here, not so much at home. But until something more permanent can be arranged, under Elana’s care is as close to safe as possible.” I kissed his neck softly. “The only thing I’d regret about us is bringing my family’s mess to your door.”

“I don’t know that my family is any better,” I laughed and straddled him. His hands slid up my body. “Marina is practically losing her mind, I’m reasonably sure that Uncle Les’s is long gone, Olivia and Aaron would rather live out their days half a continent away and Brayton wants me dead.” He laughed.

“When you put it like that,” he said, “we really are perfectly suited.” He kissed me. I whimpered as his hands slid onto my hips and positioned me. “But I believe we both reached that conclusion earlier.”

That’s when there was a frantic knock on the door, not like Athena’s gentle knock earlier. No this was urgent. I sighed and quickly slipped a robe on. I opened the door.

“Thomas?” I said, seeing Martin standing in front of me. “What is it?”

“If I could have a word,” he mumbled. I nodded and stepped into the parlor. “There’s no easy way to say this.” I swallowed. “There are at least twenty Phanian warships in the bay and a small landing party is on the beach.”

“What?” I said. “That’s, that’s not possible.” He looked at me. “What do we do?”

“Is he in there?” He asked, raising an eyebrow. I nodded. “Damn, and Raymond is at the university and Lestoff already at the manor. It would be easier if they were all together.” I swallowed.

“Thomas, you don’t think,” I exhaled, “he wouldn’t betray me.” He looked at me.

“I haven’t ruled anything out yet,” he said softly. “But I also haven’t even begun to reach a place where I could make an accusation.” I nodded. “Annalise,” he said softly, “we don’t know what this is yet. But you need to tell him, and Elodie is going to guard him here. Mercy will dress you, do you understand me?”

“Yes,” I croaked. He kissed my forehead and went to leave. “Thomas,” I said softly, he stopped. “What would my father have done?” He exhaled.

“He’d have trusted my judgement,” he said softly, “but that got him killed, so I can’t push you to do that.” I nodded. “You’ll be fine.” I swallowed and walked back into the bedroom.

“I heard most of it,” Eric said softly and pressed his forehead to mine. “What do you need from me?”

“Please swear it wasn’t you?” I said. He nodded. “I know you’ve been angry and,” he swallowed.

“I didn’t,” he said, “I didn’t even write my mother that we were arguing because I was worried that this might happen.” I kissed him gently. “But I’ll stay put until I’m called for.” He cupped my face. “Highlight the Goddess in your dress, whoever it is, they’ll likely be a pious idiot.” I laughed.

“Thank you,” I whispered. “Goddess, I was mostly just worried about what I was going to tell Harran.” He laughed. “I don’t want war.”

“I know,” he said. “Go get dressed, I’ll be a good boy.” I smiled gently and walked back out into the main room. Elodie and Mercy were waiting. Mercy dressed me quickly, my green uniform gown laced up quickly and the crown of the Goddess on my head. We walked down to the throne room and I walked in and saw Aaron looking at me.

“You’d be well within your rights to say you told me so,” I said. He shook his head.

“This isn’t quite how I wanted to win the argument,” he said. “I’m sorry. I was an ass.”

“I’m sorry too,” I sighed, “I was reckless.” He shrugged. “Friends.”

“Always,” he hugged me. “Are you ready? Athena went to fetch Marin.” I nodded and settled on the throne, trying my best to gather my dignity.

Resolution

Annalise

I don’t know that I’ve ever sat at a dinner this awkward. Everything is being done formally, which Olivia saw to, not something we’ve done since coming to Brightcoast. Since we’re honoring Brea and Nika they’re sitting on either side of me, and Harran walked in with Brea on his arm.

I’m trying to will myself to be jealous, but it simply won’t rise in me. It’s more annoying, that he has another demand on his time and a bit frustrating that he didn’t tell me that he’d sent for someone he had a history with.

And as if it wasn’t enough to have her staring daggers at me, and Harran not meeting my eyes, Eric’s decided to return to being seen in public tonight. My heart stopped in my chest when he walked in, he didn’t look terribly well, better perhaps than when we last talked, but it was clear that anger didn’t suit him at all.

I found myself longing for a smile and wink from him to get me through the night. It wouldn’t come, I knew that much.

“Your Majesty,” Nika said softly and I turned to her, “I think we all got off on the wrong foot this afternoon.”

“Yes, I think we did,” I said softly. “I’m sorry, I often feel pulled in ten different directions.” She smiled and nodded. “We do need your help though, rather desperately. Marina and I have something of an adhoc magical education. Mastero Anselm did as well as he could on his own for me, and I think the sisters in Dovetail went as far to the line as they could safely with her.” Nika nodded. “But it was lonely, and we’re often simply muddling through.”

“Of course,” Nika nodded. “And we are here to help.” She sighed. “Are you really sure, about the gods?” I nodded.

“Reasonably,” I sighed. She made a quick sign against evil. “Harran said you serve Amina, or at least, don’t shy from her realm?”

“The Dark Lady is as much a power as her siblings,” she shrugged, “she must be honored for that, her realm is crucial to any balance in this world.” I looked at her. “Have you ever seen a ghost, Majesty?”

“I used to hear my mother,” I admitted softly, “her voice, screaming as she died.” Nika nodded.

“Our time honoring the dark lady is about helping shades and ghosts cross over,” she explained, “it’s about them, not about her. But she’s vain, she likes tribute.” I laughed.

“I suppose she and I might have more in common than I initially gave her credit for.” I smiled and Nika laughed.

The final course was served and some music started, there was dancing, but it wasn’t formal, I put my foot down at a full formal ball. There was one planned for high summer in a week. I stepped out of the room onto the terrace and breathed in the air.

“If you keep carrying the weight of the world you’ll break in half,” I turned and saw Eric, leaning against the door. “And you’re so tiny, Anya, how will you manage?”

“I have to, if you’ll recall,” I shrugged, “Sword of The Goddess, and all.” He nodded and made a soft affirmative noise. “Eric,” I whispered as he stepped over to me. He pressed his forehead against mine. “I’m sorry.”

“I know,” he said, “I accept your apology, I do, I don’t know if I can forgive you.”

“Yet?” I whispered. He sighed.

“Yet,” He mumbled, “or ever.” I swallowed. “I wish I loved you less. Then I think I could let it go, for everyone’s good. But Gods, Annalise I love you, and I want you to love me. Maybe it’s unfair that I want you to only love me.” I swallowed. “But I can’t change that. I won’t share the parts of you I don’t have to. You’re already a queen and hero, there’s already such a small part of yourself that you even can give to a lover.” I swallowed. “And I want it to myself.”

“But I do only love you,” I said. He sighed. “I just can’t be as cautious as you, it’s not who I am.” He kissed me and pulled me close. “Eric,” I whispered, he was holding me so close.

“I want you so badly, my darling,” he said, “I’m sorry if you ever felt like I didn’t.” I looked up at him.

“What do you need from me?” I asked. “If my saying it can’t convince you, what do you need me to do?” He sighed and pulled away. “I can,” I swallowed, “I can send him away, if you,” he looked at me.

“No,” he shook his head, “no that’s clearly not the answer. Tristan’s gone, after all, and that didn’t fix anything.” I swallowed, “I won’t leave, I’m not giving up on you, on us,” I nodded.

“Hold me again,” I said gently. He smiled sadly and pulled me close. “I’ve missed you so much.”

“I’ve missed you too.” He said and lay a gently kiss against my neck. “I should go.” He went to pull away and I pulled on his shirt to keep him close. He exhaled and looked down at me. “Anya,” he whispered, his voice thin, but he was smiling.

“Kiss me again,” I said. He kissed me deeply. I arched into him. “I’m aching for you.” I whispered.

“Your bed is a bit crowded at the moment, isn’t it?” He said. I swallowed. He ran a single finger across my jaw, then down my neck. “Are you aching for me, or simply aching?” I looked at him. “This is what I can’t forgive, Annalise, I know it’s unfair, but if you wanted me, and not just sex, you wouldn’t have continued with Harran.” I stared at him.

“I’m sorry that I’m not the perfect pure little princess who you dreamed and fantasized about,” I said sharply. “I’m sorry that I’m a flesh and blood woman who wants to be satisfied. I’m sorry that I fell in love before I ever even saw you, and then that choosing you wasn’t ever enough.”

“That isn’t what I meant,” he snapped back. “Goddess you’re the most infuriating woman I’ve ever met.” I smiled softly at him.

“Again, all apologies, your highness,” I said. As if he wasn’t infuriating either. “If you’ll excuse me.” I walked back inside and thought about looking for Harran, and then my heart sank. I didn’t want him. Well, I did because I knew it would feel good, to go to my room and wrap myself around him and be lost in the bliss of his touch, his kiss, him inside of me.

But it wasn’t Harran I wanted. Not really.

“Are you alright?” Marina walked up to me. I swallowed.

“I think I need to go to bed,” I said softly. “Make my excuses?”

“Of course,” she said softly. “I’ll bring you something to help you sleep if you like.” I nodded. “Lisette,” she said as I walked past her, “it’s going to be alright.” I exhaled and walked up to my room and undressed quickly and climbed into bed.

I tried to sleep even without whatever Marina would bring me, but sleep wouldn’t come. I wondered if even without my asking for him Harran would be here. Probably not. He hadn’t before, we always had to make plans. I sat up hearing a knock.

“Marina, just come in,” I said and stood up. I walked and opened the door, Eric was standing there. “Not Marina.” I said.

“No,” he whispered and pulled me close and kissed me. I exhaled. “We weren’t finished.” I looked up at him.

“Weren’t we?” I said, he shook his head, the look on his face was one of wicked amusement.

“We were not,” he said, I swallowed. He’d been in my apartment before but never my bedroom. “I shouldn’t have brought Harran into it. It isn’t about that, it isn’t about you and other men at all.” I sat down on the bed. He walked over. “I don’t simply want to be a place holder because you hate to be alone.”

“I do hate to be alone,” I said softly, I sat up on my knees and wrapped my arms around his neck. “But I don’t want just anyone, I want you.” I kissed him again. He pushed me down under him onto the bed.

“I can see that,” he teased as his hands slid up my thighs, “or feel it, as it were.” I exhaled as his fingers brushed gently against me.

“Eric,” I mumbled, “don’t stop,” he did though and moved up my body, sliding my plain white shift over my head. The way his fingers felt sliding up, gently brushing my skin. “If you try to leave now, I’ll have you executed.” He chuckled.

“I thought you wanted to avoid war,” he mumbled, he was sitting up and unfastened his pants. I giggled. “Killing me would ensure it.”

“Frustrating me further will ensure your destruction, Your Highness,” I said leaning to sit up. He grinned and pushed me down again, this time gripping my wrists. “Eric,” I squirmed against his hold.

“You’ve accused me of being cold,” he said, “of not wanting you.” I swallowed and he kissed me. “I know that if you choose me, what my place will be.” I exhaled. “Besides you, behind you, kneeling to you first and always.”

“Yes,” I said, squirming more as he continued to hold me trapped under him. He was pressing against me, hard, and hot. I knew I should say more, but I couldn’t. I was so stimulated, I just wanted him\

“But perhaps that’s not what you want here, hm?” He whispered in my ear. “In bed you don’t have to be a queen or a hero, you can be a woman.” I exhaled. “My woman.” He met my eyes. “I’m going to take you now, Anya, as many times as I like.”

“Please,” I managed before he kissed me, his tongue tasting my mouth and then pushed into me. I groaned. He wasn’t big, I realized, but I didn’t care, he fit, beautifully and fully, as he thrust into me. I arched into him, thrusting up as he moved down. “Eric, Goddess, Eric,” I screamed as he moved his mouth to my neck. I cried out as he finally released my wrists, I grabbed onto his shoulder. “Don’t stop, please, don’t stop,” he slowed his stroking in and out of me then and pulled out. “Why did you stop?” I whispered. He grinned wickedly.

“Don’t give me orders,” he said. “Everywhere else, every other facet of our lives, I’ll be your consort, your humble servant, and do exactly as you say,” he rolled onto his side, and I followed him, “But here,” he kissed and then nipped my neck, I whimpered, “here, I’ll do as I like.” I swallowed and whimpered again as he turned my face and kissed me again. “Shall we continue?”

“Yes,” I said softly, “yes please.” He bit my bottom lip gently.

“Good,” he pulled me close. “I love you.” I smiled softly, but was quickly lost in the bliss of him inside of me.

Consequences

Annalise

Aaron has never yelled at me like that before. We’ve argued, but it’s usually over silly things, and we make up quickly. He won’t even see me, right now. I could order him to, but I know that would just make him more angry.

But I needed to talk to someone, and my gut said who so I hurried quickly to the apartment I needed. I knocked on the door and Raymond opened it and sighed.

“He’s not really, uh,” he started, “well, I doubt he’d want to see you.” My face dropped.

“Of course,” I mumbled, “but you’ll tell him.” He nodded. I turned to leave and then paused. “Raymond,” I said softly, “what can you tell me about the wheel?” He sighed, smirked and shook his head.

“Tricky,” he mumbled, “come in.” I laughed and we sat down at the long table near the windows, it was covered in books and papers.

“Lefty and Eric must love this,” I grinned. He rolled his eyes.

“Lefty is barely ever here, he’s usually at the manor,” he pointed out, “and Eric has had other things on his mind.” I nodded. He pulled out a large book. “I took this from the university library.”

“You aren’t enrolled yet,” I chastised him.

“Hm, yes, that’s true,” he mumbled, flipping through it. “Here,” he slid it to me. “The wheel is theorized, or visualized a number of ways, but it’s most likely closer to a spinning wheel than a cart wheel.” I nodded.

“I know that,” I said.

“And now we know it’s in the Westran Desert, most likely,” he said. I nodded. “But that’s not the most interesting part.” I wanted to giggle, seeing him so excited. “When The Sword Of The Goddess,”

“Present,” I mumbled. He nodded.

“Frees the gods,” he continued. “Threads of time will be cut off.” I nodded. “That means some fates will be changed, some left with only one path to walk.” I swallowed. “Not all, obviously, but some.”

“Oh,” I said. “So I’ll be dooming people to fate, removing their will?” He exhaled.

“I didn’t think of it that way,” he said.

“No,” I said softly, “you were thinking theoretically, which is exciting, but well.” He nodded. “Are you alright?”

“Randolph has decided to go back to Phania,” he mumbled, “I didn’t think,” I bit my bottom lip. “I can’t go back, I have a future here.” I smiled gently at him.

“I’m sorry, Raymond,” I said softly. He shrugged. “But I am glad you’ve decided to stay.” The door cracked open.

“Ray,” Eric called out weakly, and staggered, he looked a little pale, and certainly more disheveled than I’d ever seen him, “do you have more of that ginger stuff,” he stopped seeing me. “What are you doing here?”

“Visiting my cousin,” I said. He nodded. Raymond stood up and walked to another table and grabbed a bottle handing it to him. “You’re not feeling well?”

“A penetrating insight,” Eric muttered, “the fate of the gods is clearly in the right hands.” I frowned.

“There’s no reason to be nasty,” I mumbled.

“I think I have every reason to be nasty,” he said. “I’m going back to bed. Thanks for the potion, Raymond.”

“Sure,” Raymond said softly as he left. I collapsed on the chair. “He’ll get over it. He wouldn’t be this upset if he didn’t actually care about you.” I frowned at him. “I should tell you something.”

“Regarding?” I raised an eyebrow.

“I’ve been having Dreams,” he said. I nodded. “From Amina.” I exhaled.

“Oh,” I said softly. “What did she promise you?”

“It doesn’t matter,” he said, “I know it’s a poisoned promise.” I smiled at him. “But I thought you should know.” I put my hand on his.

“Raymond,” I said softly, “what did she promise you?” He swallowed. “Me it was Caleb,” he turned and looked at me, “whole, and alive again. At my side, helping me, like I thought he always would.” He looked down.

“Karina,” he said softly, “on the throne, and I’d be by her side, trusted, not tolerated.” I nodded.

“You have that here,” I said softly. He smiled and nodded.

“I know that,” he said, “that’s why I’m telling you.” I laughed. “Do you know what it was for Brayton?”

“Not precisely,” I said softly, “but my mother probably. And then Marina after her.” I received weekly notices from Mastero Anselm regarding Brayton in Dovetail. His health was improving, he still seemed sharp and vaguely amused by his circumstances, as if he knew they were temporary.

“Amina loves chaos, it fills her realm,” he said softly, “playing on people’s personal desires, that plays into that.” I swallowed and nodded. “You’ll be fine, Annalise, it will all happen as it’s supposed to go.”

I stood up and walked carefully back to my rooms. Harran was already waiting for me. I knew it was wrong but I fell into him and then my bed, it felt safe and comfortable.

Boy Problems

Annalise

I woke up still wrapped happily around Harran. I liked the way that his arms were resting at my waist and his forehead on my shoulder.

And I’d missed being held.

“Good morning,” he smiled. I stretched and blinked at him

“Good morning,” I said and kissed him. “So, is this when we talk about how we’ve made a grave mistake?” He chuckled and stretched.

“I thought this was the part where I promise to stand by you and marry you regardless of your moral frailty in this scenario.” I giggled. “Lisette,” he softly cupped my face, “this doesn’t have to be anything beyond last night.” I withdrew a little.

“Oh,” I said standing up and finding a robe and slipping it on. He sighed and looked at me.

“That came out wrong,” he said, “I meant, I know things aren’t simple for you, in general,” I looked at him, “I don’t want to be a complication.” I sat down with him. He took my hands.

“You could never be,” I said softly. He shrugged. “Harran, how could you think that?” He chuckled softly. “I mean, the leaders aren’t thrilled with anything I’ve been doing anyway, I might as well do as I like.” He kissed me.

“Lisette,” he said, “I don’t mind caring about you more than you care about me. Hell, the moment I met you, all those years ago, I was sure that was my fate, even when I thought my obstacle was simply, being a foreigner who would take you far away from home.” I swallowed. “But we shouldn’t delude ourselves either.” I sighed. He pulled me close again.

“I know what you mean,” I said. “At least, I hope so.” He kissed me gently. “Harran,” I said softly. “Are you asking?” He shook his head.

“No, love,” he whispered, “you’d say yes and it would be wrong. I’ll stay in your bed until you turn me away, but I’ll only marry you if you’re not looking at anyone else and that’s impossible.”

“Now you sound like Eric,” I muttered and pulled away. He laughed and shook his head.

“I think he’s an idiot for resisting you, but like him I don’t want to be a consolation prize,” he kissed my shoulder. “You loved Tristan, you’re falling in love with Eric. There isn’t really room for me in that equation, Lisette.” I swallowed.

“You’re here,” I said sliding back, into a straddle. “That’s where you fit. You’re the one who’s here.” He kissed me deeply.

“I can live with that,” he said softly. The for now was implied in his tone. “Are you busy today?” I nodded.

“There’s a leader’s meeting that Aaron said is very important,” I explained, “and Olivia wants to speak with me about something.” He nodded and we kissed again. “Tonight I’m yours though.” He grinned.

“Alright,” he said softly. We kissed again. I really didn’t want to leave him. The already somewhat hazy memory of last night’s intensity was drawing me in. “Lisette,” he whispered, “if you don’t leave soon, I might not be able to let you.” I giggled.

“Well,” I whispered and kissed him again. “I have a little time.” He grinned and rolled me onto my back. As he pressed into me, I groaned softly.

“Oh yes,” he whispered. “Tell me what you need.” I pushed up to take all of him. “Oh Lisette, I need you.” I sighed and moaned.

“I need you too,” I said, and I meant it. I do need him, in my life, and he’s right, there isn’t space for him there, except this. Is it wrong? It might be. We finished and didn’t talk again as we got dressed to start the day but I couldn’t help enjoying the look on his face or the final kiss to my neck as he left quickly. I smiled brightly walking down the hallway to go get breakfast with Olivia.

I was glad she’d come, I’d been ready to accept her staying in Pantona, but I was grateful she’d changed her mind. I walked in and saw her apartment, which was positioned on the east end of the building so had lovely morning light. She was sitting sipping gently on tea. Aaron was leaning against the door frame. And, oddly Thomas was here too.

“Why do I feel like I’m in trouble?” I said sitting down. “Thank you,” I said softly as a maid handed me coffee.

“Can’t imagine why,” Aaron raised an eyebrow. I sighed.

“We need to talk to you two about something,” Olivia said gently. Aaron sighed and sat down. I glanced at Thomas.

“Oh!” I said, “OH!” He laughed. Aaron looked at them. “Well, that’s nice.” I took a sip. I looked at Aaron. “Do you have anything to say?”

“I was very aware of this,” he shrugged. “I was in Pantona, in case you all forgot, and neither of you are particularly good at sneaking.” Thomas smiled. “I’m glad, but I feel honor bound to,”

“Yes, yes,” Thomas nodded, “pain of a thousand deaths if she’s unhappy for even a moment.” I laughed. “Now, why on earth would you feel you were in trouble, Your Majesty?”

“No reason,” I kicked Aaron, who snorted. I narrowed my eyes at him.

“Right,” Olivia nodded. “I think I’d rather not know.”

“I know you’d rather not know,” Aaron said. Thomas frowned. “But I think we should all talk about why Lisette is in trouble.” I glared at him.

“I’m not in trouble,” I said, “Harran understands the situation perfectly.” Olivia choked on her tea.

Harran understands perfectly?” Thomas said. I nodded, trying to be casual. “Annalise, I am not going to instruct you how to conduct your sex life.”

“Thank you?” I said.

“But,” Aaron said, “while Westran is a strategic gain,”

“As according to Athena it is where the gods are imprisoned,” I pointed out.

“Right,” Thomas nodded. “But, um, well, King Daniel is fixated on united the line of the island with the clearly Chosen line of Tumona, between your mother, and you and Marina, and frankly Raymond,” I exhaled and looked at him, “and he’s built an entire new fleet to bring Cammadan to him one or the other.”

I stopped and took a deep breath.

“Oh,” I said softly. “But as I understand it, this means if Eric leaves, his brother has an Aamanda that can lead an invasion,” I said softly. Thomas nodded. “We’re barely healing!”

“Well, yes,” Thomas sighed, “and as you were genuinely becomimg fond of Eric and you hate being told what to do, Athena and I decided it was best to not tell you about this development.” I blinked, he wasn’t wrong.

“But then you decided to be super reckless and bring Harran into your bed so now it’s all a problem,” Aaron glared at me.

Aaron,” Olivia hissed. He looked at her. “Thomas, both of you need to leave.” Thomas sighed and stood up, his palms up as he backed out the door. Aaron glared at us both. “I mean it, get out.” He looked at me. She was rarely this serious. Let alone this insistent. They left. “So,” Olivia looked at me, “you slept with Harran.”

“Yes,” I said softly. “Should I not have? You were the one who told me to have fun.” She exhaled.

“I was never playing at your level and that was about Tristan.” She said sharply. I looked down. “Don’t even pretend that you think Eric will accept you taking another lover when he refused to even consider courting you until Tristan was on the other side of the continent trying to pursue marriage to another woman.” I exhaled.

“I know that,” I said softly. She looked at me and sighed. “He’s just so frustrating. He wants me, he’s falling in love with me, but he pulls back when I try to get close.” I exhaled, “and with Harran it’s simple, it works, why am I still fighting?” She smiled.

“Because you’re not in love with Harran,” Olivia said softly. I frowned. “He’s in love with you, he always has been. Frankly, I was hoping the chiefs would send someone else, but I doubt he’d have let them.” I looked at her and swallowed. “Lisette, you can do whatever you like, there’s no reason not to, but you have to be careful,” I went to say something, “I know you hate the politics, and it isn’t fair, that you have to play politics with your heart, but it’s the reality.” I swallowed.

“I know,” I sighed. She looked at me. “I do, I’ll clean up the mess.” She nodded.

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.

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.

Heartbroken

I don’t think I’ve ever seen Marina rush through undressing me so quickly before. I have a feeling that I am about to be 30 gold pieces richer. I wish I could laugh, or tease her about it, but she’s vibrating at such a high frequency, and all I can think about is that Tristan is going away.

It’s been less than a year and the idea of life without him feels unbearable. I try sleeping, it doesn’t happen, so I do something I haven’t done since I was very small. I go to the basin that’s been set up in my bedrooom. I swept the small amount of water out, and grabbed the vial of sea water from the North Sea that Duchess Norvine gave me.

I’ve never done anything this selfish with magic before. Anselm would have been furious, and it feels somehow, dark, and wrong. I swallow and pour the water into the basin and focus, swirling it.

“Please, let me see her,” I said softly.  The image of a beautiful young woman, with long golden hair appeared. She was brushing it and humming to herself.

She was wearing a red night dress.

“I’m trying Caro,” a male voice comes from outside and she turns, her eyes narrowed. I know the voice.

“Are you, Alex?” She said and stood up and walked to a door, looking out onto a terrace and courtyard.

“Yes,” he rolled his eyes. “could have set you up in Dovetail a year ago, you know.” She frowned.

“Only until your grandfather and uncle died,” she hissed. “I don’t want any part of merchant life and you know it.”

“Tristan’s your man then,” Alex Dufrey muttered. “His wife will have to enter the guard and so will any children. If this works out you’ll be good and out, I promise.” Her face softened then.

“And he’s really coming?” She asked. He nodded.

“Leaves in the morning,” he said. “You could say thank you, Carolina.”

I smashed my hand against the water and fell against the bed. I don’t know why I thought it would make me feel better. It didn’t. I felt worse. She was using him to escape. I hated her. I hated Alex DuFrey. I hated Tristan. I hated Eric. I hated the stupid gods. I hated the crown all of it.

I started sobbing. I thought about the what if. I thought about if I was Lisette. Would I have even met Tristan? Would I have stayed in Pantona, married William and lived quietly and content running the inn? Or would I have run away with Harran?

It didn’t matter of course. It was a stupid game. Tristan and I had played it for too long and it had broken both of our hearts. It might break Eric’s. It might break the beautiful Carolina’s.

We couldn’t know how much wreckage our pretending would bring.

I cried then, for I don’t know how long and but they were bitter, angry selfish tears, I cried until I hear a horse leaving the palace and ran out to the balcony watching Tristan speed away on Elian. I hear the door creak and realize that Lefty has slipped out and Marina comes and joins me and hold me while I cry more.

Anselm Is Here

I must be spending too much time with Marina since I woke up this morning and headed straight for the library. I keep thinking about what Harran said, about the Westrans and the balance of the Triad.

I never thought of the three of them that way, I’d always thought of it as war, Cornan and Rana against Amina. Maybe I was looking for kindness where there was none for Caleb’s sake. He was buried now which gave me hope that Amina no longer held him, but still.

“Well, this is certainly a sight I never thought I’d see,” I looked up and exhaled, thrilled to see Mastero Anselm. I leapt out of my chair and embraced him, in a way I hadn’t since I was very small. “Relax yourself, Majesty,” he said and I broke away. He knelt them. “In the name of the gods, I pledge myself to your service, Queen Annalise.”

“Your service is accepted with gratitude, Mastero,” I said gravely, “please stand, I’m so glad you’re here.” He smiled and stood up. “I didn’t hear back from you so I didn’t know if you were coming.”

“I almost didn’t but then a certain newly installed Count came banging on my door and said if I didn’t come to the aid of my queen when it was requested I could find another place to die, if it pleased me,” he sighed and I giggled, imagining the scene. “I happen to like the garden I’ve built at Pantona as well my house, plus I don’t see your cousin Marina or Duchess Norvine being to my taste as a landlord, so alas, here I am.”

“Do you think there’s any chance that Amina is going to exploit my grief about Caleb’s death in order to overtake Marina and turn her against me so that she can have Brayton’s child who will be the Dark Sword who destroys me?” I blurted. He looked and me and laughed.

“My goodness, that is quite a lot of information,” he said, “you Dreamed these things?” I nodded and we walked back to the table. “The possibility of Amina trying to create a sword did not escape me, but Lisette, I assure you,” he took my hand, “your birth was the incredible event of many strands of fate intersecting. Even if Marina Sanpierre bore Brayton’s child the chances of that child being a sword,” he sighed. “Your mother was Chosen, your father was the first Prince with the sight in fifty years, they were in love, truly and deeply. And you were shaped, by Count Caleb and myself,” I smiled. “Have you been speaking to him?”

“Not frequently,” I said, “it’s complicated.”

“It is not, in fact complicated, Annalise,” he said. “I am glad I came.” We walked out onto a balcony. The Dome of The University was in plain view. “Blast, I suppose I’ll have to go there.” I looked down. “What, precisely do you hope to gain from discussions with The Shadow Lord, Lisette?”

“Insight,” I said softly. “An understanding of my mandate of what being Chosen is, what it means.” He nodded. “And he is my family, Anselm, my blood, my father’s,” I leaned against the rail.

“You have other family,” he said, “your cousins here with you, both chosen,” I went to speak up, “And Thomas Martin, who perhaps feels even more keenly the import of a mandate than anyone, having failed in his? Hm?” I swallowed. “Brayton will only feed you doubt.”

“I’m glad you’ve come,” I said. “I’m sorry too. I know you didn’t want to come.” He smiled and patted my hand.

“Well, we don’t always get what we want,” he said. “Where is Duchess Marina? I would like to hear her thougths on all this?”

“You’re going to gang up on me,” I said and he laughed following me into the palace.

 

Prince Harran

Prince Harran of the Borderlands had been spending most of his time around the barracks. It made sense, the Border Tribes were less formal than us, and Harran had been chafing at court.

I’d forgotten how much I’d liked him when he visited us at Pantona, with his easy manners and laugh. He was tall with light hair and eyes, and he was tall and strongly built.

“Your majesty,” he said, seeing me approach. He was sharpening a knife.

“Your Highness,” I said and sat down with him. He laughed and pulled his flask from his belt. “Thank you.”

“Tell me Lisette,” he said, “where have you been of late?” I frowned. “You haven’t been here with us.”

“No,” I said softly and took a drink. “Do you think I can still out drink you, Your Highness.” He laughed and shook his head.

“Perhaps,” he said, taking the flask back and drinking himself, “I don’t think we should try now.” I nodded. “So, where have you been?”

“I don’t know,” I said, “with the gods?” He laughed. “I just want to be Lisette, for a moment.”

“All right,” he nodded. “Will you marry me?” I laughed.

“Did you hear me?” I said, “I want to be Lisette. A nameless orphan girl, raised in a country manor on the kindness of some nobles. You wanted to marry Lisette.”

“I wanted to do a lot of things with Lisette,” he grinned. “She was too young, as was I.” I smiled. “Besides, I didn’t think you were nameless, I thought you were Count Caleb’s daughter, which is why I didn’t simply show up in your chamber and help myself, frankly, because it would have been a grave insult to him.”

“Harran, I don’t know whether to be insulted or flattered,” I shook my head and he smiled. “I might not have turned you away, I did think you were very handsome.” He laughed and stood up, walking over to my bench and sitting beside me. “But you didn’t want to marry Lisette, you wanted to her to bed.” He smiled.

“Hmm,” he nodded. “So I did. Still do, at that.” I swallowed. “But now I’d be worried Tristan Dugarry would chop my head off for it.”

“And now?” I said, “You were sent here by the Chieftans to court me. You’ve done poorly there.” He snorted.

“This is why I wanted you then,” he said, “you fear nothing, Lisette.” I smirked and pulled myself close.

“I don’t fear you,” I said. He nodded. “If I were Lisette, not Queen Annalise, what would you ask me?” He kissed me then and I felt almost giddy.

“I’d ask how long before anyone came looking for you,” he whispered. “But you aren’t Lisette. Lisette wouldn’t come to me like this, she was fearless about life, but shy of men.” I smiled and looked down. “Besides,” he pulled back, “I’m not interested in a woman who’s heart is full of another man.”

“So you want love from me too then,” I said. He laughed.

“No,” he said, “no, if you wanted me, really, me, even just for a night, I would not miss it. But you don’t want me, you want to escape. You want to forget who you are, forget Captain Dugarry, and darling I am not the man for that.” I smiled. “My proposal stands though. It’d be a good match. You’d be Annalise Dovetail, Queen of Cammadan, The Sword of The Goddess and Chieftess of The Border.”

“Would you expand that border?” I grinned. He laughe

“When I rise to Chieftan, Lisette,” Harran grinned, “I will conquer the west for you regardless of if you’re my wife. I will crown you Empress myself, if you wish it.”

“Good then,” I said. “I might still marry you, I haven’t decided.”

“Mm,” he smiled. “Well, I’ll write to the Chieftans and tell them I need to remain to,” he winked, “convince you.” I laughed. “If I were to leave you be, it would not be for a lesser man than Prince Eric or Captain Dugarry. I admire them both.” I smiled.

“I’m sorry, if you felt I was trying to use you, Harran,” I said, cupping my hand on his cheek.

“You are Queen,” he smiled, “to use your subjects is your right.” I smiled. “You needed an old friend, I know you’re short on those at the moment.” I nodded. “How long until Aaron returns?”

“I don’t know,” I said softly, “soon, I hope. Olivia said she might stay in Pantona, which would break my heart but I understand,” I sighed. “I miss them.”

“That’s alright,” he said, “I miss my brothers, and my father,” I smiled and we kissed again. “The gods knew what they were doing with you, I can see that.” I smiled.

“Who do your people honor?” I asked.

“The gods,” he said softly. “We exist by their grace, their balance and triad.” I pressed my lips into my mouth. “Yes, the discussion of the triad would upset you, I suppose, but Rana and Cornan’s balance cannot exist without Amina’s check. The Westerners and The Rastani understand this better than we ever could.” I nodded and stood up. “I’ve upset you.”

“You’ve restored me, Old Friend,” I said, we pressed out hands together one last time. “Thank you.”

Raymond

Marina was studying, or working on the faire or something. Tristan was in the market, with Athena, probably preparing for his departure.

We still didn’t talk about it. Ever. It hurt us both too much. I found myself longing for Aaron. I’d been so caught up in things with Eric and Tristan and my more recent dreams that I hadn’t let myself miss him.

But I wanted to talk to him about everything, about seeing Caleb in the Realm of The Dead, about watching Marina grow happier and healthier as she fell in love with Lefty, about my own swirl of thoughts and feelings with Eric.

We’d slowed things down, after that night on the couch, even the small casual touches had stopped. I didn’t miss it, because he still laughed and smiled and flirted, and I had my nights with Tristan which had only become more intense.

“Your Majesty?” Raymond stepped in to the parlor and I stood up. I’m still not fully comfortable around him. “I’m sorry, was I disturbing you?”

“No,” I shook my head. “How can I help you?”

“Marina, that is,” he looked down, “The Duchess,” I laughed and shook my head.

“We’re all cousins, Raymond,” I said, settling at the table and gesturing to a chair for him, “you can call her Marina, and me Annalise, or even Lisette if you like.” He nodded and sat down.

“Yes, well,” he cleared his throat, “she thought it might be possible for me to enter the University.”

“She mentioned the idea to me too,” I said, “it isn’t a bad one, honestly, I wish I’d thought of it.” He smiled. “What do you want to study? Besides Elementals, obviously.”

“Yes, besides that,” he said, “I don’t know. History? Maybe the mythologies, I could help with your mandate.” I nodded. I saw how badly he wanted to be useful. Eric had told me he’d been largely cast aside at home. He didn’t belong on The Prince’s Glory either, not really. Marina had decided we needed to make a place for him.

But he still made me uneasy.

“That could work,” I said softly, “I sent for Mastero Anselm, he might have a few ideas.” Raymond’s face brightened.

“Mastero Anselm is coming here?” He asked. “Truly?”

“Unfortunately,” I mumbled, “I’m out of options. He’s going to be furious with me but there’s nothing to be done.” I stopped. “What do you know about Dreams?”

“I know that when my sister has one we have to shutter the royal apartments because she shrieks like a banshee,” he said softly. “I’ve never had one myself, which is why,” he stopped.

“Why the Mothers rejected you,” I said. He nodded. “I’m sorry, for that. We’ll find something for you, you have my word.”

“Thank you,” he said, standing up and bowing, I smiled and nodded indicating he was dismissed. The conversation had been almost normal but I was still unsettled, I still wanted someone who’d known me before.

I wanted to be Lisette, even for a little while. And then I suddenly remembered that there was someone in the palace who knew me before and smiled.