I Don’t Want To Be Alone Anymore

Annalise

After dinner I stood out on the terrace with Aaron. He leaned back against the railing and we watched Prior play on the floor with Calla and Althea.

“You can’t marry him,” he said.

“Why not?” I said. “He’s everything everyone wants. He’s Cammadie, from a good family but not high up enough in that family for them to gain control through him, he’s charming and kind to me, he knows the people and the country well, better than me sometimes, I think.” Aaron sighed.

“Yes,” he said, “and of course, if you make up your mind to do this, I’ll support you, I always will.” I smiled.

“But?” I said.

“You don’t love him,” he said. I smiled. “So you won’t be happy.”

“I gave up on the idea of marrying the man I love a long time ago, Aaron,” I whispered. “And as for happiness, I think I’ll take contentment and security over whatever I have now.” He slid his arm around me and I rested my head on his shoulder.

“Oh Lisette,” he sighed. “You should come home after Westran.”

“I’ll probably have to go to Rastan,” I said. “The King is dying.” He looked at me. He nodded.

“Of course,” he said, “but you’ve been away too long.” I smiled.

“You sound like Raymond,” I muttered, “he’s always pestering us about going home.”

“Raymond is wise,” Aaron shrugged. “I’ve always said so.” I laughed. “I only want what’s best for you.”

“I know that,” I said. “I know you and Athena are worried about her future, Aaron.” He looked at me.

“We’re worried about a lot of things,” he said, “and with the new child, Athena feels she’s letting the mandate down.” I nodded. “But yes, I worry about Calla, and what her life is going to be and for the moment that is up in the air.” I nodded. “Through no fault of yours of course.”

“Of course,” I murmured. He looked at me. “I want to go home more than anything Aaron, but right now,” I shook my head.

“I know,” he sighed. “I had thought everything would be settled by now.”

“Sometimes I think it would have been,” I admitted, “if,” he looked at me.

“If Father had lived,” he said. I nodded. “I think about it too. He’d be advising you now, instead of me.”

“And you and Athena would be at Pantona, raising your children, quietly.” I said. “I’d probably have married a Rastani prince three years ago.” He laughed.

“Marina would be bored out of her skull serving as Ambassador to Phania,” he grinned. I laughed. “Tristan?”

“A house in Brighcoast or Dorin maybe?” I shrugged. He looked at me.

“Or with you,” he said. I looked at him. “If you’d taken a different course, you two could have been together.” I sighed. “Hell, five years later you’re considering marrying someone in exactly the same position he was then.”

“If you wanted to make me feel worse,” I murmured.

“If you really want to feel awful you should know Carolina’s been having an affair with William,” he shrugged. I stared at him. “My exact reaction, Athena said it was very obvious.”

“William Santino?” I said. He nodded. “My William?”

“He wasn’t really yours,” Aaron said.

“He asked Caleb if he could marry me,” I said, “and he didn’t know who I was, even, he just liked me.”

“You were fourteen and he was seventeen, in the intervening four years, even if you had been Lisette he probably would have changed his mind about it,” he teased and tweaked my ear. I laughed. “I think it’s over now, but,”

“It’s none of your business,” I said gently. He looked at me. “And certainly not mine.” He nodded. A hail of giggles poured out as the little girls came charging over. Calla’s strawberry hair and Althea’s chocolate brown stood in contrast in front of me.

“Your Majesty,” Althea curtsied and Calla copied her clumsily. I smiled and knelt down to them both. “Captain Chastain has made a suggestion.”

“Oh has he,” I glanced behind them to Prior, who shrugged.

“When I am honored to,” Calla stuttered, her shyness was endearing. I didn’t know where it could possibly come from except Tristan. “When I am your heir, which Mama said I would be, might Lady Althea be appointed my protector? Like Mama and Uncle Tristan were for you?” I smiled at her and took both girls into my arms.

“Yes, loves,” I said gently, “I think that is a wonderful idea.” I looked at Althea who was beaming with pride. “Will your Mama and Mother approve do you think, Lady Althea?”

“Mama will be very happy,” Althea straightened, “Mother might be cross though.” I laughed.

“I will speak to her,” she smiled and kissed me on the cheek, “run along now.” They giggled away holding hands. I looked at Prior, who kissed me gently. “A brilliant choice, Captain.”

“Thank you, Your Majesty.” He said. “Your Grace,” he nodded to Aaron. “I was sorry to not be at Pantona for harvest.”

“I can hardly blame you for choosing Dovetail’s charms over it,” Aaron smiled. “Lisette, we’ll speak later.” I nodded.

“He seems chilly,” Prior said.

“He’s being cautious,” I smiled. He kissed me again. “Prior,” I whispered.

“Thank you for having me join you tonight,” he whispered. I smiled. “I mean it, Annalise, it is not a small thing, what you’re thinking. I won’t have you rush it.”

“I won’t,” I whispered. “There won’t be any real decision until we’re back from Westran.” He nodded and I straightened his jacket and then played with the buttons. “But,” I smiled up at him,

“But,” he whispered.

“You wouldn’t object?” I asked. He grinned.

“To marrying you?” He said. I nodded. “No, I wouldn’t object. I’d be honored, and quite pleased.” I kissed him softly. “The Count doesn’t approve?”

“He worries,” I said softly, “it’s what he’s for.” He laughed.

Honored and quite pleased. I thought of how this had gone in the past. Tristan begging me, harshly, rashly, to keep him by marrying him. Eric’s soft happy acceptance after the most passionate night of sex we’d ever had. And Harran, sweet, a little uncharacteristically shy, wondering if the friendship we’d built would make a good marriage.

You don’t love him. I’ve had love, three men loved me and I loved them and I don’t need it. But I don’t want to be alone anymore. Prior is a wonderful companion and lover. My people like him and he’ll be a good father.

It will be enough.

It will have to be.

An Injection Of Chaos

Annalise

“They’re here, they’re here!” Althea Graves-Willis exclaimed running into my office, followed solidly by her mothers. Mercy smirked at me, while Elodie scooped up their little girl, actually an orphan they’d adopted from Brightcoast. Althea was nearly five now, and positively doted on, not just by her parents but by most of court.

“Althea,” Mercy cautioned, “what did we say? If you could behave you could announce to Her Majesty.”

“I’m sorry Mother,” Althea sighed and wiggled out of Elodie’s arms and curtsied deeply. “Your Majesty, The Count and Countess of Pantona and their family have arrived in the city, if it would please you to greet them when they arrive at the palace.”

“Thank you, Lady Althea,” I bent down and kissed her forehead, “it does please me. As do you.” She laughed and ran off down the hallway. “You’re too hard on her Mercy,” I cautioned her. Mercy rolled her eyes.

“I won’t have her be a little savage,” she said, with a smile. “But she is excited to see Calla.”

“Of course,” I nodded, I looked at Elodie. “You’re ready to brief them, Commander?”

“Of course,” Elodie laughed, “not that Athena won’t have more questions than my briefing could possibly cover.” I smiled. We arrived on the palace steps and Marina was already waiting with Raymond and Evan. I wondered where Nika was.

“Some traders arrived and asked for a blessing,” Marina said, anticipating my question. I nodded.

“It’s downright eerie when you two do that,” Raymond grimaced. “I’m your cousin too, why can’t I guess what you’re thinking?”

“I haven’t any idea,” I said, “perhaps it’s from Mariah, not Tumona or The Goddess.” He rolled his eyes. The gates opened and I couldn’t help but grin widely as Aaron and Athena walked up in full dignity. They were followed by Olivia and Thomas, Olivia holding Calla in her arms. Tristan and Carolina were next.

“I’m going to kill her,” Marina muttered. I looked at her.

“I’m sure she had her reasons,” Elodie murmured. I exhaled, one of them was pregnant then.

“Your Majesty,” Aaron smiled and bowed, I nodded and he rose and kissed me on the cheek.

“Your Grace, Countess,” I nodded to Athena. “Countess, General,” I smiled at Olivia and Thomas, “Viscountess.”

“Your Majesty,” Calla squeaked shyly, and placed her thumb in her mouth.

“She’s rather sleepy from the journey,” Olivia smiled.

“Of course,” I said and kissed her. “I am glad you’re here, Lady Calla,” I whispered, the little girl nodded. “Commander Dugarry, Lady Dugarry,” I accepted their bow and curtsey. “Please, come in and get settled, we’re going to have a private supper tonight.”

“That sounds perfect,” Athena said cheerfully and Marina glared at her, “but I think I have to receive a lecture first.”

“Ah,” I nodded. “Congratulations,” she laughed followed me inside. “General, Commanders, if you don’t mind, Commander Willis has briefings for you.”

“Of course,” Tristan smiled at me and kissed Carolina and they walked through the hall and Carolina disappeared down the hall

“Is Mama in trouble?” Calla loudly asked. “Is it because of the baby?”

You told a child and then rode across the country without telling us?” Marina practically roared. Elodie’s nostrils were flaring.

“It’s almost as if I wanted to avoid this very interaction for as long as possible,” Athena sighed.

“The briefing can wait,” Elodie said, taking Athena’s hand and dragging her away, “we are examining you immediately.” Marina marched after her, Athena looked pleadingly over her shoulder and Aaron shrugged, barely containing his laugh.

“Your Mama is not in trouble,” I said gently. Althea nodded.

“My Mama helps all kinds of ladies with babies,” Althea said, Calla frowned. “Isn’t that right Mother?” She looked at Mercy who was laughing.

“It is indeed,” Mercy kneeled down to the two girls. Calla nodded and looked at Olivia, my heart broke.

“Come sweetheart,” Tristan picked her up, “why don’t you nap, and then you can tell Lady Althea all of your adventures on the journey from Pantona, hm?”

“I’m not sleepy,” Calla whined as he carried her away. I exhaled and moved into a sitting room and collapsed.

“I apologize for our lack of organization,” Aaron said, “I told Athena it was a bad idea to surprise the healers.” I smiled and poured tea for them.

“They’d have been hysterical no matter what,” Raymond shrugged.

“Where’s Prior?” Thomas asked. I exhaled.

“He’s leading training exercises today,” I explained. “He’ll be at dinner.” Aaron raised his eyebrows at me.

“At family dinner?” He said. “Has something changed?” Thomas shrugged. “You told them?”

“I shared some thoughts in a letter,” I said, “I haven’t decided anything. Just,” I exhaled, “considering some things.” He narrowed his eyes at me. “Much like Athena not telling Marina and Elodie she was pregnant, I was trying to avoid a lecture.”

“My father would be thrilled,” Evan piped up, “and you’d spare me and Marina.” Aaron snorted.

“Your father would put one of his horses on the throne and be thrilled,” Aaron said. “What about Calla?”

“Calla will be my heir,” I said, “until I have a child. Then she will be appointed protector, I won’t abandon her, or the new one. Or any children of Tristan and Caro’s.”

“How does Marina feel about it?” Olivia asked. I smiled.

“Relieved, I think,” I looked to Raymond who nodded, “gods know I rely on her for too much, taking one burden off her shoulders will surely help.”

“And how are your studies, Lord Raymond?” Olivia asked. Raymond preened a little.

“I’ll take my vow before we leave for Westran,” he said. I smiled at him. “I had hoped Mastero Anselm would come with you.”

“I excused him,” I said softly. “Is he doing better?”

“He’s weak still,” Olivia said gently, “but he’s improved.” I nodded. “Perhaps you can visit, that might cheer him up.” I nodded. It made me sad that my old teacher’s health was failing and I couldn’t be by his side. But the injection of chaos from my family was so welcome, I couldn’t help but feel joy fill my heart.

Thinking Politically

Annalise

“And if Your Majesty would consider it,” Liesel Norvine was sitting next to me, “I know it’s difficult with the trip to Westran, but Dorin,” I nodded at her. “Mama is concerned.”

“Of course,” I sighed, “is she feeling better?”

“A little,” Liesel shrugged, “she’s frustrated to be missing Council, I’m not sure she trusts me yet.” I laughed.

“I think she just misses lecturing me,” I grinned. “I even miss the lectures.” Liesel laughed.

“You may be right about that,” she said. “Have you heard from the others?” I shrugged.

“Lord Evan is sitting for his father, Count Aaron leaves in a few days I believe, Marina is here,” I said, “we can convene soon. Is something wrong?”

“No,” she said, “just impatient, I guess.” I nodded. “Evan’s sitting for Wyatt, not Captain Chastain?” I glanced down the table at Evan and Prior. “I’m surprised.” I glanced sharply at her. “Given their own family strife I mean,” she sipped her drink, “obviously.” I shook my head. She took after her mother, sharp tongued and observant.

“I haven’t, and won’t give Wyatt cover to marginalize Evan,” I said, “unless Evan asks for it.” We’d discussed that. His disinheritance would give him a chance to become a Mastero, to go wherever Raymond decided to settle.

I’d hate to lose him on council though.

As dinner finished some musicians began playing and I got up from my seat and walked out onto the terrace. I glanced, hoping to catch Prior’s eye.

“I think I’m a disappointment,” Nika teased coming beside me. I laughed.

“Never,” I shook my head. “If only because tonight was the first time I saw Marina smile in a month.” She nodded. “Do you have news for me, Lady Nika?”

“Only to tell you that your arrival at the border and in Westran is highly anticipated,” she smirked, “my sister is beyond honored at your acceptance of her invitation.” I snorted.

“I’m sure she is,” I mumbled.

“I refuse to feel sorry for you,” Nika shook her head, “you rebuffed him enough times, he was bound to finally turn his head.” I sighed. She wasn’t wrong. For a year or so, Harran and I carried on as if nothing had changed.

Then he asked me to marry him.

Now he was marrying Brea. It was my own fault. Then I couldn’t have seen it, I was still so sure Eric would be back.

“Have you seen anything interesting?” I asked. Nika shrugged.

“No,” she sighed, “nothing new at least. The Dark Lady is quiet. Shadows gather and then they disperse. I see nothing of their king.” I nodded. “It’s as if he disappeared entirely.”

“That’s not possible,” I said. She looked at me.

“No, it is not,” she said, “he’s somewhere, but he’s hiding too well.” I looked at her. “I know Marina is unhappy, I do my best.”

“You know that has nothing to do with you,” I said. Nika shrugged. “Nika, she loves you.”

“Yes,” Nika sighed. “She does. But like anyone you love, Annalise, it won’t be enough for her.” I stared ahead at the mountain.

“Sometimes I think you see too much,” I mumbled. She laughed. “Did Raymond show you the obsidian?” She shook her head.

“Rina told me about it,” she said, “I’m going tomorrow to test it against shadow.” I closed my eyes. “It would be a powerful weapon. And maybe a way to bind without destroying to question them, or even restore their humanity.”

“I hadn’t considered that,” I mumbled. She sighed.

“I consider it every time I watch one shatter,” she whispered, “each shadow was once a person, a soul, corrupted by Amina’s false promises.” She looked down. “It’s my honor to help you, you know that, but it’s not what I’m supposed to do. I’m supposed to settle the souls of the dead, I’m supposed to mind my people,” I nodded.

“I know,” I said, “and I want to get you back to that, Nika.” She nodded. “Your sister chose not to accept my hospitality this time?” Nika snorted.

“My sister,” Nika sighed. “No, I seriously doubt she’ll come to Dovetail again.” I nodded. That was probably for the best. My relationship with Brea could be described as cold at best.

“Of course,” I said, “please let me know when you all plan the test, I’d like to be there.” She nodded and I walked back inside.

I’d done my best to emulate the more casual summer court in Dovetail too, the problem is that the palace isn’t really set up for it the same way as Brightcoast. It was autumn now, and I longed for summer. I looked over at Marina, who looked better than she had that morning, standing talking to Raymond and Evan, but she was still too pale.

“Your Majesty,” Prior appeared at my side and bowed. I smiled at him.

“Captain Chastain,” I said, offering my hand and he kissed it. “Did you speak to your cousin?”

“I did,” he nodded, “and yours.” I smiled softly. “Anya thinks you should take your uncles seat on council.”

“An honor I could do without,” he snorted. “Sometimes I think Evan and I are fighting each other to not take on those responsibilities, rather than who has to.” His eyes moved down me. “I forget sometimes that for years I only saw you like this.”

“Did you think about me much, then?” I asked as we moved into the hallways and down the stairs. He shook his head.

“I thought about you all of the time,” he said, “That you were beautiful, and mysterious.” He took my waist and pulled me close. “And my uncle hated you,” I giggled. “And I used to hope one day you’d even know my name, let alone call it out the way you do.” He kissed me. I wrapped my arms around his neck. “And that was just being here, when you were with Tristan,” I looked at him. “If I’d seen you in Brightcoast, I might have actually lost my mind.”

“What do you want?” I asked gently. “From me, from this?” He pressed his forehead to mine.

“I want you,” he said softly. “I expect nothing else.” I nodded. “Annalise, I mean it, I know what this is,” I pulled away.

“I can’t put off marriage forever,” I sighed. “Aaron reminds me every time I see him.”

“Mm hm,” he nodded and we leaned against a wall.

“Politically,” I said, “I could do worse than you.” He laughed.

“You could do better,” he pointed out, “Otto over in Failan would take you. One of Harran’s brothers, one of the Rastani princes.” I shrugged.

“Council seems to want someone Cammadie,” I said. He laughed. “They were willing to stomach Eric or Harran, I think, but now,” I shook my head.

“Are you proposing?” He asked.

“No,” I said, “no, just thinking out loud.” He nodded. “If I were, what would you say?”

“I’m at your command,” he whispered and kissed me, “I’d refuse you nothing.” I smiled.

Prior

Annalise

I walked back through the tunnel from Marina’s office, to my apartment. It was a new door, to those rooms, built off of the ones to the Princess tower, which these days sat vacant more often than not. It’s still Olivia’s when she’s here, but she and Thomas are here less and less.

I understand. Pantona is safe and happy and full of life. Here it’s tedious and quiet and it feels like the clocks have stopped. I miss them and I wish that I could be with them. And Aaron. And Athena and Tristan and Caro. In Pantona, watching Calla grow and explore. Seeing her climb the lemon trees, and run through the wheat and play by the lake.

But I’m here, stuck, waiting for Eric, who can’t come back. Won’t maybe. He could. It would cause all out war, but he could come.

“Well, someone looks preoccupied,” I smirked seeing Prior already lying on my bed, his boots tossed to the side.

“You are unbearably disrespectful Captain,” I smirked. He laughed. Prior Chastain was recruited not long after my coronation and rose through the ranks quickly. He joined Tristan’s Rangers and that was when we met.

He’s easy. I’ve had too little easy in my life.

“I apologize, Your Majesty,” he sighed. “Would you have preferred a great announcement and a lot of bowing?” I walked over and slid down beside him.

“Honestly?” I said and kissed him. “Yes, I wouldn’t mind it occasionally.”

“Noted,” he said and pulled me close. “I am supposed to debrief you.” I nodded solemnly. “We encountered four shadows, and stumbled into a briar nest. It was otherwise four months of staring at a blank desert horizon.”

“Tristan would give me more details,” I teased. Prior sighed.

“Add it to the list of the ways I am not as good a man as Tristan then,” he said and rolled me onto my back and I giggled. “He is however, in Pantona with his wife, so Your Majesty must settle for me.”

“Mm,” I sighed, “a pity, that.” We kissed. “You are early.”

“I know,” he said. “It was meant to be a surprise.” I laughed. “And I missed you.” I smiled and kissed him again. We undressed and he made love to me. Not the urgent hunger of a man starved of companionship for months, but the steady calm release of someone who knew what he was doing.

Not that I expected faithfulness for Prior. Or really anything from him, beyond pleasure and discretion.

“Why didn’t you go to Pantona?” I asked. He laughed.

“While I find your family and Tristan’s utterly charming, Annalise,” he smiled, “would you believe I prefer to actually see you?” I smiled. “The detour seemed unnecessary.” I kissed him. “We did spend a day with my Uncle,” I nodded and stood up. Wyatt Allred had brought his nephew to court to make up for his son’s shortcomings, to begin with. Evan’s shortcoming’s were entirely in his father’s mind of course, he’s a wonderful young man, and he and Raymond are exceedingly happy in their little house on the University Grounds.

“Is he coming back this year?” I raised my eyebrows. “The Council gets on splendidly without him, really.” He laughed.

“He will not thank Cornan,” he sighed. “He was considering pulling Evan’s tuition. I talked him out of that.” I smiled, “no, just the usual grumblings, that you’re distracted, we were better off with Brayton, that sort of thing.” I nodded.

“If that’s all,” I said and stood up. “I am distracted, but only a mad person wouldn’t be. I’m always pulled in ten directions.” He took my hand. “Prior,” I mumbled.

“It scares me,” he said, “he could,” I shook my head.

“Wyatt is a blowhard,” I said softly. “There is no real organizing force against me in Cammadan. We’d know.” He nodded. This wasn’t arrogance. Thanks to Carolina, largely, we knew where basically all the money in the kingdom moved. Even if the old men who didn’t like me were trying to organize, they had no money to raise an army. “Is he still threatening to disinherit Evan?”

“Yes,” Prior said, “will you still deny his requests?”

“Obviously,” I kissed him. “Thank you for this, I needed it.” He smiled.

“I live to serve,” he grinned. I rolled my eyes. “Annalise,” he said softly. “Be careful, please.” I kissed him.

“I’ve faced worse,” I whispered. He smiled. “Are you coming to Westran with us?” He sighed.

“You know that isn’t up to me,” he muttered. “It could be, if you’d promote me.” I laughed.

“Oh that would certainly go over well,” I said, “and no one will question the logic behind that decision at all.” He frowned. “I can’t promote you anyway, that isn’t how the Rangers are structured.” He sighed.

“Well then by taking up with you’ve I’ve made a disastrous career decision,” he mumbled, “Tristan will never forgive me for it.” I threaded my fingers through his.

“Don’t do that,” I mumbled. He looked at me. “It’s unfair to him.” He nodded. It’s unfair to me. But I didn’t say that out loud. I know what everyone thinks of me taking up with Prior. I just didn’t realize Prior was included in everyone, himself.

The Queen has taken another guard into her bed, another potential ally, not an appropriate choice for a consort. But at least he’s Cammadie. No one’s accused him of being a spy. So that’s nice.

Farewells

Annalise

A week moved so quickly I could barely take it. There were a few negotiations, a lot of planning our next step and mostly just soaking up every minute with Eric that I could.

It did not help matters that Tristan was planning his wedding and Marina and Lefty were walking around like someone died.

“It’s six months,” Eric said, “at the most.” He kissed my temple as we lay in bed. “He’s acting like we’re leaving forever.”

“Does he have to go with you?” I asked. “Maybe he could stay, if it is only going to be six months.” He sighed. “I’m worried Marina might cause a hurricane or something if she gets too depressed.” He laughed.

“No, he has to come,” he sighed, “to resign his commission if nothing else. Although I hope he doesn’t, he’s too good a sailor to give it up.” He kissed me. “I don’t want to go either, by the way, but it’s necessary. Daniel will insist.” He stood up. “Only one more tide and then we go.” I joined him and wrapped my arms around his waist and pressed my forehead into his back.

“I love you,” I said. “I can’t wait to see you again.”

The next morning we all stood on the dock, I was ready, we’d said everything there was to say. It was a strange reversal, I realized.

I’d grown so used to Marina’s calm, her ability to stay neutral in public, that seeing her in Lefty’s arms weeping as they got ready to separate while Eric quietly kissed my hand and smiled at me felt wrong. I’d expected her to break down later. But that she couldn’t control it now, was breaking my heart.

I should have let her go with them. I’d said I would, and now was going back on it, and I was relying on her seeming unending reserve of compassion to forgive me.

And I thought of the Marina of my Dreams, the shadow Brayton had conjured. That was in her too, cold, and powerful and calculating, and that Marina would be my enemy, the Marina who is drained of that goodness.

We stood together and watched them sail away, and she straightened.

“Marina,” I said gently.

“Don’t,” she whispered and turned away. “Not now, please don’t.” I nodded as she walked towards the manor. I exhaled and returned to the palace. Aaron and Athena were both waiting for me.

“I’d rather you two weren’t spending every moment haunting my steps,” I said sharply.

“To be fair,” Aaron said, “that is her job.” I laughed.

“I’m fine,” I said gently. They looked at each other. “I am. If you’ll recall I’ve been left before and that was more permanent.”

“And you took it so well!” Athena said. I looked at her. “You won’t get rid of me.”

“Fine,” I said and threw up my hands. They sat down and went back to whatever they had been doing before. “When do you leave?” I asked. Aaron looked at me indulgently.

“Lisette, I have to be there for harvest, you know that,” he said. I pouted and crossed my arms. “And I’d appreciate my wife being with me.” Athena beamed at him.

“You’re both insufferable,” I said, “my betrothed just left me, and now I’m losing you too.”

“We’ll come to Dovetail after harvest,” Athena said, “Probably about in time for your wedding.” I smiled, that felt nice to think about. “How’s Marina?”

“She didn’t want to talk to me.” I said. Athena nodded. “Maybe you could try.”

“Tristan should be the one to talk to her,” Aaron said. We looked at him. “Don’t look at me like that you know I’m right.” We frowned, he really was.

“What’s he right about?” Carolina walked in. She smiled softly. She’d settled into training, and even her small apartment in the barracks remarkably well. She’s still uneasy around me, I can’t blame her.

“Do you know where Tristan is?” Athena said. She frowned. “We’re worried about Marina, and sometimes,” she drifted off.

“Of course,” Carolina said softly, “my mother and sister are due today, he’s with your grandfather, getting the last of everything settled.” I nodded. “Did the prince get off alright?”

“He did,” I said. “When you see him,” she nodded. I realized suddenly that we understood each other. I was grateful for it. She was going to love him, I could stop worrying.

Assignments

Annalise

The three of us walked out to the courtyard, and saw the others. Tristan had joined them and he smiled gently at me. I nodded and went to Harran.

“Walk with me,” I said. He smiled and we went out of the courtyard. “I need you to go home,” he sighed.

“Of course,” he said. I swallowed. “With a specific mission, or are you just tired of me?” I laughed.

“No,” I said, “I need to you to take your father and brothers’ temperatures, I need to know they’re with me.” He nodded. “And argue for me if they aren’t.”

“That I can do,” he pressed his forehead to mine. “I’ll be called a failure, you know. Twice I’ve not managed to keep you.” I laughed.

“I’m going to miss you,” I whispered. “Not nearly as much as Athena, but still,” he laughed then.

“She might never forgive you,” he admitted. “Brea and Nika?” I bit my cheek.

“I still need them,” I said, “we have to find Brayton, and after him Amina, probably.” He swallowed and kissed me. “Harran,” I whispered.

“Lisette,” he said softly. “Gods, if I’d been bolder four years ago.” I laughed.

“You’d have had a terrified little girl in your arms,” I said, “I’m glad we waited.” He frowned.

“But I’d have had you first,” he said, “and could hold some claim on you.” I smiled. “You have a wild heart, my queen, you needn’t tame it to suit others.”

“He doesn’t want to tame it,” I said, “but it is his.” I swallowed, “you said it yourself, I can’t keep fighting fate.”

“Yes, but when I said that you weren’t sending me away,” he pointed out. “And Tristan wasn’t back yet.” I laughed. “I’ll leave in the morning.”

“Good,” I said. I walked back over to the group. Marina was sitting with Nika, their foreheads together and they were whispering, Athena and Tristan looked at me.

“You two should go to,” I paused, “I’m sure Aaron and Carolina are worried.” Athena smiled softly.

“I’m sure they are,” she said, “but you need us.” Tristan nodded.

“This is what we do, Your Majesty,” he said. I laughed. “We protect you, we fight for you.” I swallowed and threw my arms around his neck. “I’ll die for you, remember. I swore.” I nodded.

“I’d really rather you didn’t though,” I muttered. He smiled. “I don’t know, if,” he cupped my face.

“I made another promise,” he said gently, “to tell you the truth,” I nodded. “You can handle this. You were born for it.” I swallowed. “We also have a favor to ask, though.”

“Anything,” I said softly. The twins made eye contact.

“We know,” Athena said, “that whatever’s next, we have to be with you.” I nodded. “And that any plans we might have had.”

“We want to get married,” Tristan spat out. I stared at him. “As soon as possible.”

“Oh,” I said. “Well, what do you need from me?” Athena smiled.

“Permission to do it on the palace grounds, mostly,” Athena shrugged. “Marina’s already agreed to perform the ceremonies.”

“Permission granted then,” I said softly. Tristan’s face relaxed. Did he think I’d say no? “I should speak to Eric.” I walked back to the palace and found him waiting in the apartment.

“Well?” He whispered.

“Something’s starting,” I said, “I don’t know what yet.” He nodded and kissed me pulling me close. Sex would be easy right now, to just be with him, to think of nothing and no one else. “How’s Lefty?”

“Restless,” he said, “worried, but unharmed.” I nodded. “Did you catch him?”

“We let him go,” I said softly, “he’s not important anymore.” I sat down and rested my head on his shoulder. “When do you go?” He exhaled.

“A week or so, I think,” he kissed me, “I’ll come back as soon as I can.” I slid into his lap. “Anya,” he said. “What’s wrong?”

“Don’t know me so well,” I teased. He laughed darkly. “I can’t just want you?”

“You can,” he said, “but in this moment, you don’t,” I exhaled. “Tell me,” I frowned.

“You’ll be angry,” I said. He sighed. “I sent Harran home,” I whispered, “and Tristan and I,” I pressed my forehead to his, “I don’t know, Eric, I love you, I want us to be together, but I can’t not love him. And I know you’ve said you can’t live with that.” He pressed his forehead to mine.

“I never said you shouldn’t love him,” he whispered, “I said I wouldn’t share you.” I swallowed. “I still won’t, but I trust you.” I wove my hand into his. “I’ve never loved anyone else, Anya, but you have. You love so fiercely, why would I want to change that?”

“We have a week?” I whispered. He nodded. I kissed him fiercely. “What will we do with ourselves in that time?”

“I think you’ll be rather busy,” he teased, I nipped at his bottom lip. I nodded. “As will I,” he groaned as I kissed along his jaw. “There are a lot of arrangements to make.”

“Mm,” I smiled. “Are there?” He nodded and stood up, carrying me to bed. “I don’t want to lose you.” He pushed his hands over my thighs.

“You won’t,” he said, “I swear it.” I smiled.

Escape

Annalise

I was glad it was over, even if it wasn’t really over at all, but at least the rest didn’t have to be in public. I felt awful, for kissing Tristan, for telling him I still loved him.

I didn’t even know I felt that way. I was sure I was over him, but being so close again, it was like everything was back.

“Is everything alright?” Eric asked me as we settled in to dinner. I looked at him. He doesn’t deserve this. He’s been so patient with me.

“I,” my voice cracked, “it’s been a long day.” He nodded. “Would you be very hurt if I said I wanted to be on my own tonight?” He smiled gently.

“No, love,” he said, “of course not.” I exhaled. “You’ll talk to me tomorrow though?” I nodded. “I don’t want to crowd you, on this Anya, but please don’t blame me for being a little fragile where,” he swallowed, “well where certain parties are concerned.”

“I don’t blame you,” I said. He nodded, and I leaned across the space and kissed him. He grinned. Since Franz had come our public interactions had cooled a little. But I was too tired today, I wanted to reassure him, and myself, that I was on the right course. “Feeling less fragile.”

“Greatly,” he laughed. “Do you like her at least?” I smiled.

“I do, actually,” I said, “she suits him. She seems quite serious, which he needs, but not, well,” I sighed, “I don’t know, she’s balanced in a way that I think will help him, and us, come to that.” He nodded. “Thank you, for not pushing. I know this is an impossible situation.” He smiled gently at me.

“It is,” he whispered, “and you’re doing quite well in it.” I smiled. “I’m worried about Lefty, it’s looking more and more like we’ll have to go home, even for a little while, and I don’t think he’ll take it well.”

“You’re worried about Lefty if you go home?” I smirked. “No yourself, and not me?” He sighed.

“If I worry about you my head will explode, love,” he shook his head. “As for me, I’d leave every part of myself that matters here in your care.” I lost my breath. I don’t deserve him, his love, and his patience.

“If you have to go home,” I said softly, “we should be engaged before you do.” He nodded.

“I think that’s sensible,” he grinned. “I’ll do everything I can to make you happy, you know that.” He kissed my hand and I smiled.

“Well, then it’s settled,” I laughed. He nodded and laughed with me. “Eric,” I said, “thank you.” He smiled. “Oh, Goddess, what will Franz do?” Eric burst into a loud laugh.

“Likely insist on a coronation on the spot,” he sighed, “or something else ridiculous that even my brother and sister in law wouldn’t even consider because he’s an idiot.” I laughed. “Which is why I’d have to go home.” I nodded.

“Lisette,” I turned hearing Aaron say my name, “I think when we break up dinner, we all need to talk.” I nodded. “Your highness, you’ll excuse your lack of an invitation?”

“Of course,” Eric’s voice was tight. I frowned. It wasn’t like Aaron and him to be at odds. I looked at them both. Dinner finished quickly and we all broke up, as we usually did, and I found myself in a library, with Aaron, Athena and Tristan.

“Where’s Marina?” I asked. Athena shook her head.

“She went home,” Tristan said gently. I raised my eyebrows.

“What’s wrong?” I said. “You all look like someone died.” Athena swallowed.

“We got a report from Anselm,” Athena said gently and handed it to me. I raised my eyebrows, took it and read.

Lisette,
I do not know what happened, nor do any guards. Brayton is gone from his cell. He is not in the city. I could not tell you what happened. I’m sorry for failing you. Please warn Lady Marina. Please stay safe. I’ll be to you in a few days.

SA

“What do we do?” I whispered. Aaron shook his head.

“We warn Marina,” Tristan said, “obviously, he’ll come for her, as soon as possible.”

“Probably,” Athena nodded, “and we need the Phanians to go, quickly.”

“That won’t be hard,” I said, and sat, “Eric and I agreed to get engaged, tonight, and he wants to go home to settle things with Daniel and his mother after that anyway.” Tristan stared at me. “How did he escape?”

“He’s chosen too,” Aaron said, his voice almost gentle, he sounded more like Caleb than I’ve ever heard. “Do you think that if you, or Marina, or Athena were imprisoned, Rana and Cornan would simply let you rot? Or would they use whatever they could to free you? And as far as we know Amina isn’t bound as they are, since she did the binding.”

“Of course,” I whispered. “I’ll speak to Marina in the morning, I don’t want her panicking.”

“She should know now,” Tristan said firmly. I glared at him. “What if he comes for her tonight?” Athena rolled her eyes.

“As if we could stop him when she can’t,” Athena said, “you just want to make sure she’s not with Lefty.” Tristan glared at her.

“I am engaged, Athena,” he said. I looked down. “Fine, you all gamble with Marina’s life, I have plenty to do.” He stomped out of the room.

“He’ll be fine,” Athena said as Aaron went to speak, “if he tries for her tonight there’s not much we can do that Marina’s household guards and she herself can’t.”

“I know,” I said, “I doubt announcing my engagement will help.”

“Probably not,” Aaron said, “although, who knows? No one has ever known what to do with him.” I nodded.

“I need a minute,” I said softly. They nodded and left. I sat down on the couch and started crying. The room where we were meeting had a large portrait of my parents, I looked up at it and swallowed. “I’m sorry, I thought,” I exhaled, “I wanted to be merciful.” I wept. I didn’t know what else to do.

Reunited

Annalise

“You’re very impressive tonight,” Mercy said, fastening a sash across my chest. I looked at her. “I understand it. I helped Marina pick her dress for tonight, and she might as well be Rana herself.”

“It’s mostly because between Franz and the merchants I can’t appear even human, let alone,” I swallowed.

“Sir Tristan looked well enough when I saw him,” Mercy grinned. I glared at her. “I’m only saying. And Elodie said he and Marina were practically dancing together when he came to camp.”

“You and Elodie see too much,” I grumbled. She giggled.

“Perhaps,” she said, “but neither of us have seen Miss DuKarras.” I rolled my eyes.

“Aaron said she’s perfect,” I mumbled and fidgeted with my necklace. She touched my wrist to stop me and took my hands.

“When my father used to parade me in front of his friends,” she said softly, “before I met Elodie,” I looked at her. “I made sure I couldn’t be missed. That was my armor. They would see me.” I looked at her. “I think you’re just hoping to be seen tonight, Your Majesty.” I kissed her on the cheek.

“Remind me to humiliate your father every night when we get back to Dovetail,” I said. She laughed.

“He won’t return to court,” she said, kneeling down to settle my skirts. “And I’m reasonably sure if he tried, Elodie would take a knife to him and that wouldn’t be much fun for me.” I laughed and the door opened.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t,” Tristan stopped and I turned and looked at him. “I thought you’d be dressed.”

“I am,” I said. “Thank you, Mercy.” She nodded and walked out, whacking Tristan in the arm.

“Mistress Graves,” he grimaced.

“Commander,” she said. He sighed. I held back a laugh. Mercy’s loyalty was unwavering.

“She’s never liked me,” he said. I smiled. “I wanted to,” I glanced at the bed and nodded and we stepped into the sitting room. And there she was. “Your Majesty, I’d like you to meet my intended, Miss Carolina DuKarras.”

“Oh,” I said softly. I didn’t know what I expected, but when our eyes met I felt two feet tall. She was beautiful, I’d Seen that. But she seemed to fit at Tristan’s side, he seemed to gravitate towards hers, and I wanted to hate her for it.

It was also impossible to miss that she looked terrified.

“Lisette,” he said, “Athena thought this would be be better,” he looked almost ashamed. Carolina looked at me.

“It is,” I finally managed and walked over. “Miss DuKarras, I’m so happy to meet you.” She swallowed and curtsied.

“Your Majesty,” she said, “I am honored. And I hope you’ll accept my service.” I grinned in spite of myself.

“Oh Tristan,” I shook my head, “please tell me you didn’t,” he shook his head. “Your service is accepted, please stand up.”

“What didn’t he do?” Miss DuKarras said and looked at me and then him. “Did I do it wrong?”

“You were perfect,” I said, lacing my arm through hers and walking her out onto the terrace, “when Tristan first learned who I was he dropped to one knee and pledged to die for me.” Tristan looked furious. “So clearly you two are well suited.” She burst out into a laugh.

“He didn’t tell me that!” She said and settled on a chair, “he told me about the lemon orchard in Pantona.”

“Well he comes off as a dashing hero in that story,” I shrugged, “so obviously that’s the one he’d tell.”

“He is right here,” Tristan grumbled and sat down with us. “Please don’t repeat humiliations to my bride, Lisette, she thinks I’m wonderful.”

“Hm,” she nodded, “he was rather wonderful when we were in Dorin. Though he often lost his temper when teased.”

“Oh he hates being teased,” I grinned. Tristan was flushed. “Thomas tells me you wish to enlist.” She sat up straight.

“Very much,” she said, “I want to do my part and I know as Lady Dugarry it will be expected.”

“I happily accept,” I said, “we’ll talk with Thomas in the morning about your assignment. Obviously if you and Prince Eric get on,” I stopped and looked at Tristan. “Well, I suppose we can cross that bridge when we come to it.”

“Yes,” Tristan said. “We should go downstairs,” he stood up, Miss DuKarras placed her hand on his arm.

“I’ll go,” she said, “I think you two need to talk.” I swallowed and nodded as she walked out. He watched her go and then cleared his throat.

“Lisette, I,” he started. I smiled.

“She’s wonderful, Tristan,” I said. He smiled. “You’re lucky.”

“I am,” he admitted. “I should have come to see you this afternoon, but there was so much,” I exhaled.

“I know,” I said. We were standing opposite one another. “It’s so good to see you, I was worried,” he nodded.

“Were you?” He swallowed. “Lisette, I,” I stepped closed and wrapped my arms around him. “Gods, I’ve missed you.”

“I’ve missed you too,” I said. “So much, Tristan. I was so lost sometimes, and I love Eric, I do, but, it’s not,” he lifted my chin.

“I know,” he said, “I love Caro, but it isn’t the same. It isn’t us.” I smiled.

“You must have coached her,” I laughed, “I couldn’t believe she practically, mirrored you.” He laughed.

“She didn’t promise to die for you, I still reserve that right,” he said, running a hand over my braids. “This suits you,” I smiled. “Rina almost feels like a stranger.”

“She has grown hasn’t she?” I laughed. “I’m so proud of her. Aaron and I fought and didn’t speak for weeks, did Thena tell you?”

“No,” he said, “what did you fight about?” I swallowed.

“I was,” I sighed, “well, Harran was involved.” He exhaled.

“Of course,” he said softly. I sighed. “I don’t want to,” he laughed. “This was always going to be impossible, wasn’t it?” I nodded.

“I think all of us acknowledging that it’s impossible is the first step here,” he smiled. On instinct I stood up on my toes and kissed him gently. We then passed gently pretty quickly as he pulled me close and I pulled him down onto the seat. It felt so good to be close to him again. He pulled away and sighed pressing his forehead to mine.

“And we probably shouldn’t do that again,” he said softly. I nodded.

“Yes,” I said softly, “that is absolutely the last time we do that.” He laughed and stood up. “Tristan,” I whispered and he looked at me. “I wish you’d said goodbye.”

“I wish I had too,” he said softly. “But that night, I just,” he exhaled, “I couldn’t, Lisette, I just needed to be away from you, and from Marina too. I could barely breathe, we were all so wrapped up.” I looked at him. “Why Harran?” He asked gently.

“Because Eric wanted something real, and I wasn’t ready,” I said softly. “And you weren’t here.” I swallowed. “And I wanted you, I mean, not that way.” We started walking. “I just wanted to talk to you. To ask why you loved me, why,” I exhaled. “Why I should keep trying.” He smiled.

“As if I could explain why I love you,” he shook his head, “loving you is like breathing for me, Lisette. Like I wasn’t even a whole person until we met.” I nodded.

“Don’t leave me again,” I said softly, “that’s an order.” He smiled.

“Understood, Your Majesty,” he said and opened the door and I walked past him.. He slid his hands to my waist and nuzzled against my neck. “I wanted you too, nearly every night.” I exhaled. “I dreamed about you. About us, about the first time I touched you, about your coronation night.”

“Tristan,” I whispered, “don’t,” I whimpered. “We can’t do this.” He sighed and let me go.

“I love you,” he said, “and I always will.”

“I’ll always love you too,” I said, “that doesn’t make it right.” I looked at him. “But we can’t go in circles anymore, and it isn’t just us anymore.” He swallowed. “I have to go. I have to welcome your intended to court.” I realized I was crying and I rushed away.

Negotiations

Annalise

“We understand your hesitancy in the matter of marriage,” Franz said pompously, “but it is difficult to understand why you still haven’t sent an ambassador to our court.” I sighed and Duchess Norvine looked at me.

“I haven’t sent any ambassadors anywhere,” I reminded him, “I’ve only been secure on the throne for a year, and it’s been a trial to even get my own provenances in line. I took Prince Eric’s arrival and considerably long stay as remark of confidence on your king’s part. Perhaps I was mistaken.” Eric grinned at me.

“Can you commit to sending an ambassador in the next year?” Franz said. The Duchess nodded at me.

“I believe, yes,” I said, “I can.” The Duchess nodded. “Duchess Norvine, your son in law had discussed wishing her could travel, had he not?”

“Indeed he had your majesty,” she grinned at me. “And Liesle has complained of the cold her whole life.” I smirked.

“Well then,” I said. Eric cleared his throat.

“I don’t know that we need name the person today,” he said gently. I sighed and looked at him and the door cracked open, a young guard slipped in.

“I apologize for interupting, Your Majesty,” she squeaked. I nodded at her. “You asked to be told when they arrived and they have.”

“Ah,” I said and stood up, “you all will accept a brief recess? I must speak with my General as he has returned.”

“Of course,” Eric smiled and stood up as I left. I walked into the throne room and saw Thomas standing waiting for me with Aaron.

“Hello Thomas,” I said and walked over. He bowed and grinned then pulling me up into a hug. “I’m so glad you’re back.” Then I looked past him. “Oh, Chancellor Dumanis, I hadn’t realized you’d join us so immediately.” Aaron shrugged.

“Your Majesty,” he said. “Of course, I assumed you wished to discuss strategy. I’ve brought nearly fifty ships.” I nodded.

“You bringing the ships was the strategy,” I explained. “There’s no open fighting yet, and I wanted to remind Admiral Franz who is on my side.”

“I see,” he said. I smiled politely at him. “Tristan and The General seemed more alarmed.” I glanced at Aaron.

“Tristan is usually alarmed, that is his nature,” Aaron pointed out. “And The General left before we had a full understanding of the situation.”

“I am unbelievably grateful for your assistance, of course,” I said with a confident smile, “but at the moment I have no further need of it.” The old man stared at me, his face bright red. “I can imagine you have a great deal to do, to settle in here? Many of your associates here in Brightcoast must wish to speak with you in person.”

“Of course,” he said and bowed, “I will see you this evening, for Miss DuKarras’s presentation?”

“Of course,” I smiled and he left. I exhaled and slid down in the throne. Thomas sighed and leaned against it. “Insufferable man.”

“Truly,” Thomas muttered. “How are negotiations?”

“So far,” I said, “they’ve demanded a full neutral stance on Pharras’s independence, Lefty was thrilled with that.” Thomas nodded. “A commitment that no husband who isn’t from a royal family would be crowned king. And today that we send an ambassador to King Daniel’s court by the end of the year.”

“Who’d you promise?” Aaron asked.

“Anya Norvine’s son in law,” I laughed. “I know they’ll want Marina and she may well want to go, but I won’t say as much in there.”

“Of course,” he said. “You won’t get rid of Carland, you know?” I sighed and stood up.

“I know,” I mumbled. “I can put him off though, at least for a while.” I fiddled with the necklace around my throat. “Can you send word to the Admiral that we will be a good deal longer? I want to get a nap in.” I kissed Thomas on the cheek. “I am glad you’re back, it will be easier with you here.”

“I’m glad to be back,” he said softly. I smiled and walked up to my rooms, slipped my dress off and flopped onto the bed.

“You make this far too easy, love,” Eric’s voice rang with a laugh from my doorway. “Half undressed and in bed already.” I sat up and looked at him.

“I’m attempting to rest,” I said, “not tempt you.” He laughed and came and lay down and kissed my neck. “I am besieged on all sides, Eric. Franz with his petty demands from your brother which could have been delivered in a letter, and now Carland Dumanis thinks he has the right to sit in on war councils.”

“Poor Anya,” he said softly, slipping his hands down my spine. “And you have to receive her tonight.” I exhaled. “I won’t pretend not to be jealous, but I can’t imagine it won’t sting your pride a little.”

“Mm,” I said softly. “I keep thinking about what it will be like to see him again. I don’t know how it’s going to feel.” He slipped his arms around my waist and turned my face to kiss me.

“Fret about it all you like,” he whispered, “but please remember you’re mine, now.” I smiled.

“Yes,” I said and rolled over to face him, “I’m yours.” He sighed. “But I do need to get some sleep, Eric. And if you’re going to be king,” he groaned.

“I wanted to slap him, when he brought that up,” he said. “You don’t need to crown me. I just want you.” I smiled and kissed him and snuggled close. “Sleep a little, my heart. I’m here with you.” I drifted off, grateful for his arms.

Always Friends

Annalise

“Tell me about him,” I said to Eric, as we sat in at the breakfast table in my rooms. “Franz.” He frowned. “You didn’t seem to be friends.”

“We aren’t,” he said, “he’s a big believer that in supporting the change in law that would allow Karina to inherit after my brother, I’m abandoning my duty to the island and to the goddess.” I nodded. “And he was among the many who simply failed to bring Lefty and me to heel when we we first entered the navy.” I giggled at that.

“I can see that,” I said. “Will he negotiate in good faith, or are we stuck with him unless Martin succeeds to bring the Dumanis around?” Eric sighed.

“He’s not a bad egg,” he said, “even if he doesn’t like me.” I nodded.

“How’s Raymond?” I asked gently. He shook his head.

“Heartbroken,” he said, “angry.” I nodded. “More determined than ever to enroll.”

“I’ll make absolutely sure of it,” I said and sipped my coffee. The door opened and Mercy walked in.

“Your Majesty,” she said softly. “Your highness.” Eric looked at me and then at her. “Prince Harran is here.” I exhaled.

“Oh,” I whispered. Eric stood up and kissed my forehead. “Don’t go.” I said.

“I don’t think it’s right for me here for this part, love,” he laughed. I whimpered.

“But it’s hard,” I whined. He laughed.

“You’re about to try to talk your way out war, Anya,” he grinned, “you can probably talk a man out of love with you.” I pouted. “I should try to find out who else is here.” I nodded.

“Of course,” I said and stood up and walked to the parlor. Harran was sitting and staring at me.

“I was worried,” he said softly. “I knew you’d be upset.” I closed my eyes. “And now, it’s all trivial, I guess,” I sat down with him. “Lisette,” he muttered.

“Tell me about her,” I said softly. He smirked. “I’m serious Harran, you came to Dovetail when I called, and I used your affection here, and it was very wrong of me.”

“I enjoyed it,” he said. “I was very willing to be used. And there isn’t really anything between Brea and me.”

“Perhaps not on your end,” I said. He rolled his eyes at me. “But still, it just never occurred to me, to think of your life between when you left Pantona and when you came back to me.” He cupped my face.

“You had other things to think about,” he smiled. “I really thought that stubborn streak of yours would win out for me.” I laughed.

“It nearly did,” I whispered and kissed him gently. “I wouldn’t blame you for going home, not for a moment. In fact, I might need you to, depending on how things go now.” He nodded.

“So you’ll send me home as a failure a second time, hm?” He teased. I giggled.

“You’d have been a good king,” I said softly. “I wish,” I sighed, “I wish I could have told you then.” He smiled.

“It wouldn’t have made a bit of difference, love,” he said, “the gods rolled for you and him. Time to stop fighting it.” He kissed my forehead. “Brea will be happy.”

“Will you be?” I asked. He smirked. “Tell me about her, I asked.”

“She’s very determined,” he said, “ambitious. Talented, in her way, though when it comes to power Nika’s the real thing.” I nodded. “They mirror you and Marina that way, I guess.” I raised my eyebrows.

“I’ll try to take that in stride.” I said. He smiled. “We’ll be friends?”

“Always friends, Lisette,” he said. I kissed him on the cheek. “Do you need me for any of this?”

“Yes,” I groaned, “no, I don’t know yet. We need to convince them Eric and I are happy.” He nodded.

“So I keep my distance,” he smirked. I nodded. He kissed me softly.

“Thank you,” I said. “For everything,” he nodded and squeezed my hands.

“Thank you,” he said. “And I’m always here, Lisette.” I nodded. I sat down and exhaled.

“Oh, good,” Athena walked in, “so that’s handled.” I glared at her.

“I didn’t enjoy that at all,” I groaned.

“Well, we can’t live for pleasure, especially not you,” she said. “Martin’s found a ship to take him up to Dorin, it will be quicker that way, take him a week instead of two.” I nodded. “And I’m going to present terms to the Admiral as soon as we come to them.”

“I want him and the ships gone,” I said simply. “Those are my terms.”

“Of course,” she said patiently, “but if they don’t accept?” I sighed and crossed my arms. “I thought perhaps an invitation to court? Or a scheduled official visit to Phania?”

“The invitation for now,” I said, “we should hold the visit until necessary.” She nodded and went to leave. “Thena,” I said, “thank you.” She nodded.