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.

The Wedding That Wasn’t

I was wandering through a darkened corridor, holding a torch before I realized I was Dreaming. I was fully dressed, as I had been at my coronation, the crown of Cornan on my brow, in a dress uniform of Camadan when I came upon the hall.

“You’ve arrived,”  a hissing voice of a shadow said. “Our Lady will welcome you.” I swallowed and followed it, not sure if I was ready to confront Amina, but knowing I didn’t have much choice.

I followed the shadow to a hall, again lit with torches, and the hissing of shadows surrounding me.

“Ah,” a cool female voice echoed in my mind as I entered the hall, “the guest of honor, or if she wishes, even the officiant.” I turned my head and saw a woman beside me, ghostly pale, dressed entirely in black, her eyes glowing red. “Surely, Your Majesty, you will bless your cousins in their union.” I swallowed and my eyes were drawn to the front of the hall. Marina was dressed as a bride, all in white, veiled and as dignified as she ever looked. Brayton stood beside her.

“Annalise, please,” Marina’s voice called out, but it felt vague and far off, “don’t,” Brayton took her wrist and pulled her to him. I swallowed.

“If you will not bless them,” Amina said and I felt her cold touch on me, “I will unite them regardless.”

“She won’t submit to you,” I hissed, “or him. She’s stronger than you can possibly imagine, even than I am.” Amina laughed coldly.

“Oh my darling Queen,” she said, “of course she’s stronger than you. My sister played both cards she was handed, but she always knew one was the trump, and it wasn’t you, despite our brother having a claim on you as well. Your power pales in comparison to hers, surely you know this.” I looked forward and swallowed, seeing Marina struggle against him.

“I’ve never denied it,” I said, “but you forget, My Lady, I hold the balance, and she  had bent to that.” She nodded. “And she will not submit to you, or your chosen. You will never have your sword, Lady Amina.” She laughed then.

“No, I suppose you don’t deny it,” she said softly, “of course I still hold one you love in my kingdom.” I swallowed as Caleb materialized in front of me.

“Hello, Little One,” he said softly, his voice sounded far away. I knew it had to be true, that Amina held his soul, because I hadn’t felt him and he wasn’t buried yet, but I hated it.

“Caleb,” I said softly. Amina smiled at me. “I’m sorry, I can’t,” I swallowed.

“Don’t be afraid,” he said, “remember everything.” I swallowed, nodded at him and ran to the front and took the Dream Marina by the hands.

“Do not be afraid.” I whispered meeting her eyes.

“What would I fear?” She whispered and then I felt the knife in my back, which was wielded by Brayton.

I awoke and gasped.

“Lisette,” Tristan’s voice reached me, when I realized I was screaming, “Lisette, shh, it was dream, you’re safe, you’re with me.” I looked up at him and swallowed as he pushed my hair off my face. “It’s alright love.” He whispered and kissed my forehead. “What did you See?”

“Amina,” I said softly, “and Brayton and Marina and they killed me.” He nodded. “That isn’t new, I dreamed it so many times.” I sighed and leaned back against the pillows. “I need a drink.” I popped out of bed and walked into the parlor. Marina was already on the couch. I went to her and we talked. Tristan seemed angry at us both, but Marina asserted that this wasn’t about him.

She was of course right. He had nothing to do with the card game between Amina and Rana that resulted in the strange balance Marina and I found ourselves in. He’d said it himself, that if Cornan were to choose a champion it would probably be Athena, not him.

He didn’t like that. He doesn’t like being passive. I know it’s why he’s leaving. He can’t do anything here and it’s killing him. It’s killing all of us.

A Gesture

I fought with Marina. I hate it. She’s not wrong that I’m putting her at risk more than anyone, but I can’t just put Brayton to death. I wish she understood, there’s no one else in the world who I think even could. Tristan has made eye contact with me a few times, which is comforting but not, well, entirely welcome at the moment.

I haven’t told him about what went on with Eric earlier. I haven’t told anyone, because I want it to be mine, at least for a little while.

“What has your attention?” Eric asked sitting next to me. I smiled at him. “Where’s Duchess Marina?” I sighed and looked down.

“She wasn’t feeling well,” I said simply, “and also I did something she wasn’t happy about.” He nodded as the food was placed down, I nodded so everyone could begin. He nodded.

“Did you try apologizing?” He asked. I looked at him. “You’re not so much a queen that you can’t apologize are you? Even my brother, who believe me, condescends to no one, apologizes occasionally.”  I laughed. “Goddess, Annalise, haven’t you ever had an argument with anyone before.”

“Only with Aaron and that was usually his fault,” I said, “so he apologized.” He laughed. “You don’t want to know what it was about?”

“I’m pretty sure I can guess,” he said, glancing towards the doors. I blushed.

“It wasn’t that,” I said, “it was much more serious, but it doesn’t matter.” He nodded. “She’ll probably be hungry.”

“Yes,” he smiled, “she probably will.” I nodded. After everything broke up, I asked for a plate to be put together and we carried it up. Lefty came too, teasing us both, and happily slipping into Marina’s room when I left her. I sat on the couch and Eric plopped down next to me.

“Thank you,” I said softly. He smiled and pushed my hair out of my face.

“Of course.” He said softly. “What were you fighting about?” I sighed.

“We think Lord Brayton has lost the blessing of Amina and Marina wants me to schedule his execution,” I explained, his eyes got large. “But I have this feeling, based on my dreams that I’m not supposed to do that. I don’t know, it’s all very confused.” He kissed me. I pulled myself close. His hand rested on my waist as I pulled myself onto his lap.

“Annalise,” he whispered, pulling away. “We shouldn’t.” I swallowed. “I told you I won’t share.” I nodded.

“I’m sorry,” I said and pulled away. “But you’ll wait for me?” He smiled.

“Of course,” he whispered, “forever.” I got a chill then. I wanted him so badly, and invoking the vision, that vision, only made it harder to not touch him. We heard a giggle from the other side of the door. “Is she,” he sighed, “Lefty isn’t used to, well, nice girls, should we say.”

“I’ll go rescue her,” I smiled. It had the added bonus of separating me from Eric, the air between us felt charged now.

The Plan

As we walked to the temple I couldn’t help smiling at Eric’s company. Tristan asking if I was falling in love with him filled my mind.

Was I? I do like him, so much, and I can’t ignore how easy it feels, which doesn’t feel like love, as I’ve known it with Tristan. I glanced at Marina who was blushing as she talked with Lefty.

“We need to give them time alone,” Eric said. I laughed and shook my head.

“I don’t think she’ll like that,” I said. He raised his eyebrows. “It’s complicated, but last time, with, someone else, she felt rushed.”

“Hmm,” he said, “but surely, a walk back to the palace?” I laughed again.

“Alright,” I said. “Athena,” I called out and she rode up next to us. “Surely your Grandfather would be happy to see you and Tristan, since you’re in town.” She laughed and nodded.

“He would, certainly,” she said and glanced at Tristan. “And as we’ll have some time.” I nodded and she walked away.

“I don’t see how that will help,” Eric frowned.

“If Tristan and Athena go to the Market, you and I will have to stay behind at the temple,” I explained. He nodded. “We’ll have to let Sir Raymond know, but I doubt he’ll object.”

“Object to what?” Raymond said. Eric rolled his eyes and I smiled. “What wouldn’t I object to?”

“Making sure Marina and Lefty can be alone,” I said. He sighed.

“Oh, that,” Raymond said with a sigh. I couldn’t help but laugh, Marina and I discussed how at a base level his aura reminds of Brayton but as I get to know him, I like my young cousin more and more. “Yes of course, I’ll go along with whatever, I think she’s too good for him though.” He marched ahead and I looked at Eric who was laughing.

“He’s so serious,” he sighed, “I know I’ve said I’m doing my best for him, but I don’t think it’s ever going to be enough.” I nodded.

“Marina has an idea,” I said, “I can grant entrance to the University for visiting scholars.” Eric looked at me. “Raymond was denied a chance to study in Phania, right? The Brothers rejected him?”

“Yes?” He said. “That’s why I took him on. Well, and because Elana asked. She worries about him.” I wanted to know more about Queen Elana, about their relationship.

“He could be a Mastero,” I explained, “if he wanted, or just study and gain a degree like my uncle did.”

“I think he’d like that,” Eric said, “I don’t know if Elana would, or the people of Tumona, they might like a Lord again. They’ve been in a lurch since your Grandfather died.” I smiled. He took my hand. “Annalise, I’m glad you asked me to come today.” I smiled.

“I’m glad too,” I said softly. “Have you done it? The ritual?” He shrugged.

“Not really,” he admitted, “when my father died, but I was only three, so my memory was simple, not fully formed. My mother’s though, always stayed with me.” I didn’t ask, it seemed personal. “Will you miss the Dowager Countess, and the Count?” I laughed.

“Very much,” I said, “Aaron more, frankly, Olivia and Caleb were always coming and going our whole lives, but I always had him, even when I only had him.”

“In that way in I’ve been lucky,” Eric said, “I got to bring Lefty with me.” I smiled. I was glad he understood. He always understands. We’d reached the temple. “Shall we?” I nodded and smiled, walking behind him. I noticed Lefty stayed behind. I didn’t comment. I knew they were more conservative about men being in the temple in Phania.

After we shared our memories, and dismissed Marina and Lefty, (Under the pretense that they had to fetch the twins,) I sat happily on the temple steps with Eric. He looked at me and smiled.

“What?” I asked.

“I keep picturing that little girl with a dagger,” he said, “I think I would have been afraid of her.” I smiled.

“I was quite fierce,” I said, “then you aren’t afraid of me now?” He shook his head and I leaned in and kissed him. He placed his hands around the sides of my face and pulled us closer.

“Goddess, I was wondering when we were going to get to that,” he whispered and I giggled. “I hope I wasn’t a disappointment.”

“You weren’t,” I said softly. “Have you,” I swallowed, “is there anyone else?” He smiled.

“There have been girls,” he said, “but nothing permanent,” I nodded. “I hope you don’t insult my intelligence by thinking I don’t,” he sighed, “understand that isn’t the case for you.”

“I try to be as subtle as possible,” I said softly. He nodded. “Do you mind it very much?”

“I don’t like it,” he said, “and I think I’d be within my rights, if things progressed to ask you,” he brushed his thumb under my chin and I smiled, “I don’t want to share my wife, Annalise, and if that’s impossible for you when it comes down to it, I’ll do my best to move on.” I nodded and kissed him again. We broke apart hearing a throat clear.

“I suggest we go back to the Palace,” Athena said with a grin. “If it pleases you both, Your Majesty, Your Highness,” I glared at her. Eric cleared his throat and excused himself. “Well that’s interesting.”

“Shut up,” I said and stood up brushing myself off. “Don’t tell Tristan!”

“Oh don’t you worry, I’ll let you handle this,” she said practically bouncing down the steps. “But just watching the whole situation is going to be a lot of fun for me.”

One More Pledge

I don’t know how long I was crying, or what I was really crying about, even. Being held by Eric wasn’t unpleasant, and I’d initiated the whole thing. And our conversation, about the Dream, and about Rana.

“Lisette,” Tristan walked in, I sat up. “I’m sorry, I couldn’t find Marina or Athena, and it’s near dinner, and Aaron and the Countess leave tomorrow.” I sat up. “What’s wrong love?” He sat down and touched my face.

“Tristan don’t,” I whispered. He nodded and stood up. “I’m sorry, it’s only, I hate not being with you but I don’t see how we can go on.”

“I know,” he sighed, “we were being selfish, I think.” I laughed and reached out my hand, he took it and sat down and kissed me. “I don’t want to leave you.”

“I know,” I said. “I was with Eric today,” I felt him tense. “I’m sorry, I just, you know me so well, and I can’t talk to Aaron about him,” He laughed and took one of my curls around his fingers.

“Of course not, I’ll be a good sport,” he said. “What did you and The Prince talk about?” I looked at him.

“My mandate,” I said softly.

“I see,” he whispered. “I wish I could help,” I rolled onto my stomach and smiled.

“Perhaps one of these days you’ll feel the touch of the God and then you can,” I said. He laughed.

“If either of us are chosen, it’s Athena,” he said, “not me.” We kissed. “Do you like him?”

“I do,” I said softly. “It’s different than us. I expected it to be, but more like,” I sighed. “Well, more like William.” He laughed.

“Well, perhaps if you neglect him enough he’ll move along to Marina as well,” he grinned. I whacked him in the chest. “Can I come to you tonight?” I nodded.

“I want you to,” I said softly. “I know it can’t last but we should be together, while we can.” He nodded and I stood up and looked in the mirror. “Goodness, I’m a mess.” I sighed and reached for a bell. A maid quickly appeared. “If you can’t find Duchess Marina, please get Countess Olivia or Captain Dugarry, I need to change for dinner.” She nodded and left and Tristan left behind her.

I sighed and stood up and looked in the mirror.

“Well, really,” I jumped hearing Rana’s voice as she appeared in the mirror. “I understand his appeal more, but you rely far too much on him.”

“It isn’t up to you,” I said. She frowned. “I apologize, My Lady, I’m,” I sighed. “I don’t know what you want from me.” She smoothed her hands along my shoulders.

“Mm,” she nodded. “I wish I could be more upfront with you, child, but my bindings prevent it.” I sighed and the door opened and the goddess vanished. Olivia walked in.

“Well,” she smiled, “you are rumpled.” I laughed and she pointed to a chair and took a comb. “Marina was on her way but I wanted one last chance.” I turned my head quickly.

“You’ll come back,I  though,” I said, “after!” She sighed.

“I don’t think I will, Lisette,” she said softly. “I’m sorry, Little One, but I want to be home. I was hoping to see you settled first, but alas.” I frowned and she turned my head and continued combing. “How is that going?”

“Settling?” I said. She nodded. “We had a nice talk today. I don’t know otherwise. I’m looking forward to seeing him at dinner.”

“A start, then,” she said, finishing a long braid of my hair and coiling it into a bun. “What about that pretty blue dress that Andrea Dufrey sent at the coronation? I think Alex is going to be at dinner it would be a nice compliment.” I nodded and she pulled the dress out and we got me into it.

“I wish I was going with you,” I said, pressing my forehead to hers. “I miss Pantona, and I want to put Caleb to rest.”

“I know, love,” she said, “you’ll be there soon enough.” I nodded. “Besides I doubt The Goddess would approve.” I laughed. “Have you and Tristan made up?”

“Yes,” I said softly. “He’s still going, and I still hate it, but we’re friends again.”

“I’m glad,” she said, “even if you can’t be together as you wish, you don’t want to be angry with one another.” She looked sad. I knew she didn’t regret her choice but I wonder how long she and Thomas were angry at each other. “Caleb would have been so proud of you my darling.” She cupped my face. We walked out and Aaron escorted me to dinner. He was teasing me when Eric walked up. He kissed me on the cheek.

“I’ll see you soon, Little Sister,” he walked away. Likely to find Athena. Eric sat next to me.

“Do you still want us to join you?” He asked. “At the temple tomorrow?”

“Yes,” I said, feeling a sort of calm.