Final Decision

Athena

Aaron and I are standing on the landing, not talking watching as something gathers on the horizon. That’s what it feels like but it’s also physically happening, there are shadows over past the cliffs gathering.

“Are you alright?” He said. I swallowed and nodded. “Do you agree with Tristan? Should we go to Marina?”

“We’d only panic her,” I said. He looked at me. “I’m panicked. Our best were guarding him, Aaron, and Anselm? This isn’t like with Phania. This wasn’t a frustrated boy who wanted to go home. We can’t talk ourselves out of Brayton bringing shadows. Marina’s power has grown, and Raymond will be helpful but we still don’t know how she summoned that light last year, or if she can do it again.” He nodded. “And Lisette is distracted. Cornan tells me to wield her, she’d his sword, I’m his champion.” I sighed, “I don’t know how to do that, I don’t know what it means, and she doesn’t listen to me anyway.”

“She listens,” he said gently, and held me close. “But she doesn’t want to be a weapon. She never did.” I smiled up at him.

“You know that’s when I started falling in love with you,” I said softly, “do you remember, that day we went for a ride in the woods? And I was teasing you, about ghosts?” He smiled.

“Ah,” he nodded, “and I thought that you were ignoring her as a person.” I nodded. “I didn’t understand then.” He swallowed, “I think I do better now. I’ve been able to forgive my father for it.” I smiled and kissed him. “She’s a person,” he said, “but she’s a symbol too, and the sword. She needs to embrace that. I think Eric is helping.”

“My Lady,” I turned as a guard ran in. “Lieutenant Lestoff is here, he’s insisting he needs to see you alone.” I frowned.

“Alright,” I said, Aaron nodded and followed the guard out, Lefty stumbled in and collapsed on the couch, his eyes wide, and full of fear. “Lefty,” I said and knelt down next to him. “What happened?” He shuddered, I shouted for the guard. “Get Captain Willis.”

“No,” he said, “no he’s back, he’s here, Athena, he has her.” I looked at him. “You have to, she’s alone with him, she’s fighting him,” I swallowed.

“Look at me,” I said, “Brayton?” He nodded. “Were there shadows?”

“No,” he whispered, “but I couldn’t breath, I couldn’t think. It was so dark.” I nodded. “He’ll kill her.”

“No,” I said, “unfortunately, it will be worse than that.” I grabbed my sword, and spear. “You need a healer, Elodie will be here presently.” He swallowed.

“I left her,” he whispered, “she said to, but still,” he was shaking. I pressed my forehead to his. “I swore I never would, and I,” he swallowed.

“It’s alright,” I said. “She’ll forgive you.” He closed his eyes. “I have to go.” He nodded. “Lefty,” I said, “we need you to tell us if you’re feeling,” I swallowed, “not like yourself.”

“I’m no shadow, Lady Athena,” he said. I nodded. “Go,” I ran out into the hall, Nika, Brea and Harran were standing waiting.

“We felt it,” Brea said, “Nika and I, The Dark Lady is awake.” I looked at Harran, who was holding large staff. “The Shadow King is here?”

“He has Marina,” I said, “Lefty just came to warn us.” Nika folded and then unfolded her hands, creating a pair of whips of pure light.

“Marina is formidable enough for The Shadow King,” Nika said, “but his army is another thing entirely and if The Dark Lady comes herself,” she exhaled.

“I’m glad you’re here,” I said, meaning it from the bottom of my heart. Annalise walked down the stairs, in full battle armor. “We’ll never hear the end of it.”

“Trust me,” she said, sheathing the dagger from Caleb, alongside her father’s sword. “I considered that.” We walked down the beach, a legion of guards at our back. “Where is he?”

“Getting Carolina safe, probably,” I said. She nodded. Brightcoast Manor didn’t look different, but I felt it. The stillness and chill I’d felt everyday for years hung in the air. Brea looked at me. She moved her hands into a triangle form, flame circling out from them. It banished the coolness in the air. “Your Majesty?”

“Remember in Dovetail,” she said softly, “when I insisted that I go alone?” I nodded. “Have them stay, I need you.” I smiled.

“Nika, Brea, Harran,” I motioned to them, “if shadows fall, you know what to do?”

“Of course,” Harran said. We stepped inside. The hall was lit by silver flames in brazier, Marina’s magic. That was a good sign, but the light felt eerie.

“Marina,” I called out, I looked up and saw her descending the stairs, in a blue dressing gown. She looked placid. Annalise was frozen next to me.

“Hello Athena,” she said, her voice was cold, flat, wrong, “Cousin.”

“Rina,” Annalise said softly, “please, tell me you didn’t,” she stepped closer to us and cocked her head to the side.

“How many times have you Dreamed this?” Marina said softly. “You must be prepared.” I squinted at her, and I didn’t hesitate, I took my sword from my belt and quickly sliced at her neck.

“Athena!” Annalise shrieked as the woman in front of us disappeared into shadow. “It wasn’t her?”

“No,” I said.

“How did you know?” She asked. I swallowed.

“I grew up around the black guards,” I said, “I know how it feels near a shadow. Come on,” we walked up the stairs and into Marina’s chamber. She was standing, a few light ropes that resembled Nika’s whips in her hands, binding Brayton to a chair. She was shaking and sweating, but hadn’t broken.

“There you two are!” She said, sounding exasperated, “what kept you?” Annalise burst into a laugh and quickly took the rope. I ran and hugged her tight. “Damian?”

“Elodie is with him,” I said. She exhaled. Brayton looked at me.

“So it’s you then,” he said. “Cornan chose you.” I frowned. “Warren send his regards. He’s waiting on my signal.”

“Is he?” I said. “He’ll be terribly disappointed. He doesn’t breathe unless you say so.” He snorted.

“He’s loyal,” he said. “I promised him you, you know.” I tightened his bindings and he flinched.

“I’m not yours to promise.” I hissed. He smirked knowingly.

“Still, it’s about the only thing that motivates him,” he said. “Just you.” I looked down.

“That’s his misfortune, then,” I said softly.

“So cold,” he said, “That’s the DuManis in you.” I exhaled. “Anselm and your best guards couldn’t hold me because Amina is through waiting, what do you three think will be different now?”

“I didn’t understand before,” Marina smiled gently, “I think I do now.” She flicked her hand and the binding fell. “I’m the one she needs Brayton, not you.” His face went ashen. “So go to her, tell her I’m ready. I’m tired of waiting too.” He ran out of the room.

“I don’t know how wise that was,” Annalise grimaced. Marina looked at her.

“I’m tired of hiding,” she shook her head. “Tired of being afraid. I don’t think she’ll like that he failed again.”

“I’d take an open fight over all of this too,” I admitted. “Though Nika and Brea think we can’t take her.” Marina set her chin stubbornly and I smiled at her.

“We’ll get ready then,” she said. “Brayton was in my bedchamber, while I was with my lover, and almost killed him, I have no interest in deferring this any longer.” I nodded.

“Good then,” I smiled and picked up my spear, “I’m going shadow hunting.”

Captain Arrain

Athena

“Maybe Tristan was right,” I said to Martin as we watched Tristan comfort a clearly shaking Carolina, “maybe they are scary.”

“He was absolutely right,” Martin said, “they are terrifying, but he was less right about how she’d handle it. She did well.” I nodded.

“Commander Dugarry?” A man with darker blonde hair and clear icy eyes walked over to me. I smiled at him.

“Can I help you?” I said. He looked at me. “We haven’t met have we? Do you work for my Uncle? Oh, Cornan, did Carlton send you?” He blinked oddly at me.

“Athena, this is Captain Andrei Arrain,” Martin said, “he was the one who’s ship we were on, on our way down.”

“Oh,” I smiled, “of course, thank you so much for the safe delivery of my family, Captain, how may I help you?” Martin nodded and walked away.

“I wanted to speak about Miss DuKarras,” he said simply. I frowned.

“Alright,” I said. He sighed.

“I thought you should know I mean to challenge the contract,” he said, “Carolina and I had an understanding, and while nothing formal,” I laughed.

“I’m sorry,” I said, “you’re going to challenge the contract,” he nodded. “For my brother’s marriage?” He nodded. “Carland Dumanis’s grandson? The favorite of your queen? And the brother in law to be to the Count of the second largest provenance in Cammadan?”

“Yes?” He said, his voice had gone up a register.

“Well, I wish you luck but I don’t think it will go well for you Captain Arrain,” I said, “may I ask on what grounds? Beyond this vague, understanding you’ve described.”

“Her father and I had begun negotiations,” he smirked, “and I was living in the family home.” I stared at him. “With all that that would entail.”

“Alright,” I set my drink down, “but then why was my brother even introduced to Carolina as a prospect?” His face fell. “My cousin Alex was incredibly confident she was free.”

“Having not lived in Dorin, you might not be aware of how your family,” he cleared his throat, “clears their own way, as it were.” I cocked my head.

“I am more than aware of that tendency,” I said sharply. “Nonetheless, I cannot allow,” I exhaled, “whatever this crisis of yours is to stand in the way of my brother’s happiness. Or Miss DuKarras’s for that matter, as she’s made her desires more than clear, despite wherever you were, erm,” I cleared my throat, “residing.” He nodded. “But again, I wish you the best of luck regarding your challenge.” I swept past him to where my grandfather and Mr. DuKarras were standing.

“Thena,” Grandfather smiled, “you look lovely. This is quite the spectacle. And all for us.”

“For Carolina,” I corrected him, “and Tristan.” He shrugged. He’s clearly decided that Tristan has become one of them. I hate that he might be right. “Mr. DuKarras, might I steal you away for a private word.”

“Of course,” he said and followed me into one of the smaller parlors, “is something amiss, Lady Athena?”

“Captain Arrain told me he intends to challenge the contract,” I said. He laughed. “I’d be amused if it didn’t appear he had decent grounds.”

“Andrei is impetuous,” he shrugged. “But yes, we had begun negotiations.” I swallowed. “Carolina’s mother did not believe he could provide for her, however, so they were cut short. He went to Rastan to prove he could provide and in the meantime your cousin brought Tristan, and the plans changed.” I nodded.

“He was living in your home?” I said. He smirked.

“I didn’t think Caro’s virginity was something you were overly concerned with,” he said. “Given your own reputation.” I started to seethe.

“I will not gamble with my brother’s future and happiness as it appears you did with your daughter’s,” I hissed. “Fix it. Or you can explain to everyone you try to do business with why your daughter was married by her husband’s commanding officer with no contract and her dowry was rejected.” I stomped out and slammed to door behind me.

“Someone’s in a mood,” Harran said as I stepped, less than lightly into the ballroom, “Tristan’s betrothed is,” he whistled, “if I weren’t already in a tangle, I might even flirt with her.”

“Don’t add to my worries,” I grumbled. He smirked. “How is your tangle?” He growled. “Oh that good?”

“Brea has decided that she will stay as long as I do,” he muttered, “she won’t accept the truth that I don’t want her.” I looked at him.

“You did once though,” I said gently. He nodded. “So what changed? And don’t say it was Lisette, you flirted and bedded plenty before you two took up.” He sighed.

“I don’t know,” he shook his head, “I just don’t think I’d make her happy.” I swallowed. I suddenly understood something about my friend.

“I think you should let Brea be the expert on her happiness,” I said gently. He shrugged again. “I”m glad you didn’t leave,” I said. “I like when you’re here.” He smiled softly at me.

“I like being here,” he said quietly. “And I like you Athena.” I smiled.

“Well of course,” I said, as Aaron nodded to me from across the room. “Everyone likes me.”

Brother

Athena

I sat on the bed as Tristan started unpacking his trunks. I frowned, seeing how he’d come back with four more than he’d brought.

“You travel like Alex now?” I said. He looked at me.

“You’d be amazed,” he said, “Alex is practically a minimalist compared to the people up there.” I nodded. “Most of these were gifts, Thena, from when we got engaged. Which is more about Grandfather than me.” I raised an eyebrow and he sat down. “You don’t approve?”

“It doesn’t matter, how I feel,” I said, “you seem changed, though, mostly for the better.” He looked at me. “Maybe I’m being unfair.”

“You aren’t,” he said. “I feel it too. I don’t know how I’ll fit anymore.” I looked at him. “And I have no idea what I’ll say to Lisette.”

“What did Marina say?” I asked. He frowned and stood up. “What did you do?”

“I didn’t do anything,” he said, “Lestoff showed up and she seemed rather annoyed.” I nodded.

“They’ve been arguing quite a bit,” I said. He frowned at me. “She talks to me, we’re friends now. I thought that was what you wanted.”

“I don’t want you telling me these things,” he fell back against the bed and I stood up. “Part of why it was so easy for me to let go was thinking that they didn’t,” he drifted off.

“Are you really just going to escort Carolina into that room without talking to Lisette first?” I raised my eyebrows. “You already didn’t say goodbye when you left. Just reappearing probably won’t help.” He glared at me. “And Marina is most certainly over you, though she was on her way even before you left. Lisette,” I stopped. “I don’t know that she ever will be Tristan.” He was just staring upward.

“Of course she won’t,” he said softly and I looked at him. “I won’t ever get over her either. I think that’s what you all don’t understand. How we love each other is permanent, Thena.” I frowned at him. “It isn’t that I don’t love Caro, that I don’t want to marry her, that I’m going to throw all of that away. It’s simply a fact of my life. I love Lisette and she loves me.”

“That sounds terrible,” I said.

“It really, really is.” He groaned. “I’ve been trying to tell you for a year how terrible it is, and you thought I was being ridiculous.” I laughed. “What about you?” I sighed and stretched. “Aaron said it was bad for a while.”

I sighed.

“It was,” I whispered, “it was dark, and he was wonderful about it.” Tristan smiled. “I never realized how much I relied on you, when it was bad. I’m sorry for that.”

“Athena,” he said, “it was never a burden. I was worried about you though. There were a lot of changes all at once, and that usually makes it worse.” I smiled. “Do you disapprove of the wardrobe?” He sighed.

“I don’t disapprove,” I said, “but I am going to tease you about it, forever. It used to be a struggle to get you into a clean shirt.” He laughed.

“Even when I wore some of it,” he said, “Caro didn’t like it. She likes the uniform.” I smiled.

“Oh, she and I are going to get along very well,” I said. “Come on, time to reintroduce you to the troops, Commander.” He groaned. “Unless you want to continue your hiatus. I’ll recommend whatever you want.” He followed me out the door.

“Do you know how weird it was to go up to the Fort in Dorin and see everyone and then go back to that damn house,” he said and shook his head. “I did manage to keep up some training, but I’m going to be rusty.”

“Hm,” I nodded. “Well, we’ll whip you into shape.” He laughed when we reached the hall and Marina was running in. “Oh, is it that late already?” I asked. She looked at us.

“Mercy said we have to pick her clothes at least,” she shrugged. “And then I have to change.” I sighed.

“Why don’t you get changed?” I said, “and go down into town and retrieve Tristan’s bride.” Tristan stared at me.

“I hate that idea,” Tristan said flatly. “You’ll terrify her.”

“I will not!” Marina said. “People very much enjoy me.” I giggled. “And then you’ll introduce her to Lisette.”

“Yes,” Tristan said, “that is the point of this whole evening.”

“No,” I said, “not the presentation. Take her to go see her. You’re worried Marina will terrify her. Lisette in full Sword of The Goddess, Protector of the Realm mode is the scariest thing in the world.” He frowned.

“I think she’s right,” Marina said and kissed Tristan on the cheek. “What a wonderful idea, Thena.” She bounced away. I grinned at Tristan.

“I have officially decided I do not like you two as allies.” He grumbled. I giggled.

“Come on,” I said, “we have work to do.” I pulled him outside.

Greetings

Athena

I looked in the mirror and straightened my hair and uniform. Aaron looked at me with a lopsided grin.

“All this for your grandfather?” He teased. “I thought you didn’t care what he thought.” I frowned.

“I don’t,” I said, “but we need him, so now I have to.” Aaron sighed and nodded and kissed me. “Plus Tristan’s future inlaws will be there and I want to make a good impression.”

“Of course,” he said. “Come on, we should meet my mother and head down.” I nodded and we walk solemnly down into town and to where we knew the ships would be docking. Olivia looked even more nervous than I did and I realized that was terribly sweet.

“I’m sure he’s dying to see you,” I whispered to her.

“I’m dying to see him,” she sighed, “but it’s also the first time I’m seeing Trey since,” she exhaled, “one does feel a bit guilty.” I smiled at her.

“I doubt Trey blames you,” I said. She smiled softly. We stood as a gang plank was rolled out reveal the very grand party of my grandfather, Trey, Tristan, Martin, and two people I didn’t recognize, a man, who had a haughty and annoyed look on his face and a very beautiful young woman, who looked pale and nervous.

“That must be them, then,” Aaron said with a grin. “Tristan’s letters didn’t do her justice.”

“Down boy,” I said with a wink.

“I’m merely noticing, my love,” he said as they walked down. “Chancellor DuManis,” he said, using my grandfather’s guild title. A well done flattery, “Master DuManis, General, Commander.”

“Count,” Grandfather smiled and shook Aaron’s hand, “Countess Olivia, what an unexpected pleasure.” Then he regarded me. “Athena.”

“Grandfather,” I said, accepting his kiss on my cheek. “Hello Uncle,” I said and embraced Trey, “General,” I said squeezing his hands. Tristan grinned wildly at me. “You look terrible.” He laughed and hugged me tightly.

“I’ve missed you so much,” he said softly. I laughed. “Hello Aaron.”

“Hello Tristan,” Aaron laughed and hugged him. “And who is this vision?” He moved to Miss DuKarras. I sighed. “Count Aaron of Pantona.” He took her hand.

“Stop it,” Tristan said, “may I present my intended, Miss Carolina DuKarras, and her father, Mr. Angelo DuKarras.”

“Your Grace,” Miss DuKarras dipped to Aaron as he kissed her hand. “It’s an honor.”

“Yes, yes,” Mr. DuKarras said and looked at me. “We’re all quite honored. Lady Athena, I believe we have a great deal to discuss.”

“Of course you do,” Olivia said in her most graceful and welcoming voice, “but please, let us help you all get settled first.” Martin raised his eyebrows at me. “Please, Mr. DuKarras, Duchess Marina and I were quite busy finding a house for your daughter and you.” She slid her arm through his and they started walking.

“She is really good at that,” Trey sighed and laughed, Martin shook his head.

“She is,” he said. “We should follow them,” they walked on, and I took Tristan’s arm, and the four of us started walking slowly.

“How was the voyage?” I asked. “Marina and Lisette were practically throwing their jewels in the sea to appease Rana.”

“It wasn’t too bad,” he said. “Carolina wasn’t well.” I looked back at her, giggling as Aaron teased her. “Where are they?” He asked.

“Annalise is in negotiations with Admiral Franz, with Duchess Norvine representing the council,” I explained. He nodded. “Marina is with Elodie, preparing the healers in case of battle.” He nodded.

“How are the negotiations?” He asked. I shrugged.

“I don’t think it will matter in the end,” I said. “Franz isn’t seriously here to invade, he’s here to sweep Marina away.” Tristan looked at me. “He is not doing particularly well, she mostly ignores him or when forced answers him sarcastically.” He smiled.

“She’s grown up,” he said, “remember how she used to simply go pale and silent whenever Brayton would force his attention.” I smiled.

“I do,” I said. “There’s going to be a dinner at the palace tonight, to welcome Grandfather and so you can present Carolina.” He sighed.

“Right,” he mumbled, “the sooner the better, I suppose.” I looked at him.

“It won’t be bad,” I said, “she’s ready to like her, Tristan. She’s moved on.” He exhaled, I looked behind me. “Miss DuKarras,” I said bouncing over to them, “You’re to ignore everything he says.” She laughed. Aaron shook his head.

“Didn’t I say it?” He shrugged. “I’m horribly abused.” I rolled my eyes.

“Count Aaron was telling me about your plans in Pantona,” she explained. “Apparently his manager has found three houses for us to choose from. It’s awfully generous of you both.”

“It is the opposite of generous,” I said pulling her away. “These past few months have been the longest of my life and if I’m forced to live apart from Tristan again, I might explode, or Aaron will kill me.” She laughed.

“He missed you too,” she said. “He was practically vibrating with excitement all last night.” I laughed. “I hope when you speak with my father you don’t,” she sighed, “An old suitor came back into orbit recently and he’s suddenly more resistant to this match than he was. I also think he’s a little insulted you haven’t mentioned my dowry.” I stared at her.

“Oh,” I said, “I hadn’t thought of that.” She nodded. “Should I be demanding he pays us more? We don’t need it, you know! We’re Trey’s heirs and we have money from our father’s family and well,” she smirked at me and shrugged.

“It’s about his pride,” she explained, “Tristan mentioned the Count doesn’t approve of any of it, but you’re still having contracts.” I smiled.

“That’s true,” I said. “Do you care?” She bit her bottom lip.

“No,” she said, “I love Tristan and I want to marry him.”

“That was the correct answer.” I smiled as we walked up to the town house.

Endgame

Sorry I was a day late. I’ve been away and it threw off my schedule. In Palm Beach Florida, which if your curious, has always been what Brightcoast looks like when I think of it. Anyway, enjoy Athena!

Athena

“I know we need to do this part,” I mumbled as Aaron handed my cape to a maid at Marina’s that night, “but I’d almost rather cut right to the fighting.” He smirked.

“Yes,” he sighed, “but here we are.” I groaned and walked into the parlor. Marina had outdone herself. The room was filled with flours and lit by both candles and those magical orbs of hers. I picked up a napkin and noticed the embroidery was Brightcoast’s sigil entwined with one I didn’t know.

“It’s Tumona,” Raymond said appearing behind me. I jumped. “Sorry.”

“It’s alright,” I said, “how did you know what I was thinking?” He smirked. “You read minds now?”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” he said, “you’re the most transparent person alive.” I rolled my eyes. “Someday maybe though.”

“It’s a good idea,” Aaron said softly, “it won’t hurt to remind him that they’re Phanian.” I snorted.

“Lisette is about as Phanian as I am,” I muttered. Aaron looked at me I sighed.

“Don’t say that when Franz can hear you,” Raymond said, “he’s very patriotic.” He flopped on a couch. Aaron looked at him and at me. We’d talked about it earlier. We were worried about him. Heartbreak was making him sarcastic, bordering on bitter.

And what could come after that, for him, could be much worse.

“Oh good,” Marina came flying in, “you two are here,” a maid was flying after her, tying a sash around her waist. I laughed, she seemed overwhelmed, which was nice. It was nice to remember that she’s human. “Aaron, is you mother coming? I meant to send a note to double check, and I,” he walked over and put his hands around her face.

“Breathe,” he said, “this is our first big test, Marina, we can’t be unhinged.” I smiled and walked over. “My mother is coming, she’s with Lisette.”

“Oh,” she said softly. I looked around. “Damian isn’t here, he’s usually here well ahead of any guests.” She looked miserable. “I should check on the food.” She floated out.

“Did they argue?” I asked. Raymond shook his head.

“No, he’s just,” he sighed, “well, you’ll see.” I frowned as the door opened and Admiral Franz walked in. “Hello Admiral.”

“Lord Quents,” his lip twitched on it. “I didn’t get a chance to speak to you last night, your sister,” Raymond stared him down, “she is concerned. She hasn’t heard from you.”

“Hm,” Raymond nodded, “but my niece has, and our mother, so she really had no reason for concern.” The Admiral looked at Aaron, and then me.

“I was under the impression that there wouldn’t be military present,” he sniffed.

“Then you were misinformed,” I said, straightening my back.

“Lady Athena is here as my guest,” Marina floated back in. Her serenity as Chosen and Duchess seemed to have returned. “Not in an official capacity.” She extended her hand as he bowed and took it to his lips.

“Of course, My Lady, I am sorry,” he said. Marina smiled indulgently at him. “May I compliment your home? I hadn’t realized Cammadan contained such loveliness.” Raymond coughed, clearly hiding a laugh.

“Thank you,” Marina settled in. “It’s beginning to feel more like home, though I think Dovetail will always hold my heart.”

“Will your father be joining us, Rina?” Aaron asked. She shook her head.

“Papa has not been at all well, I’m sorry to say,” she whispered. I looked at her. She hadn’t said anything before. “I wonder what’s keeping The Queen.”

“Nothing in particular,” the door opened and Lisette walked in. We all got to our feet. Not something we do usually but we’re putting on the show for Franz. “I do apologize, Marina.”

“Not at all, Your Majesty,” Marina said rising up. “Your Highness,” she said softly, inclining to Eric, who was just behind Annalise.

“Duchess,” he smiled, “Admiral.”

“Your Highness,” Franz said, coolly. Lefty was at Eric’s right, looking more disheveled than I’d ever seen him. I understood now what Raymond was saying. “Lieutenant Lestoff, I’m glad to see you haven’t abandoned your post in protest.”

“Family and duty mean something to some of us,” Lefty said, his voice flat. But the anger in his voice was obvious. “Duchess,” he said softly. Marina looked at him, I could see she was angry. And she couldn’t show it, which likely made her furious.

“Lieutenant,” she said coolly. “Your business in town is handled?”

“Nearly,” he said. “Lady Athena, you look well, the muster is going smoothly?”

“I don’t think I can tell you that, Lieutenant,” I grinned, “you’re the enemy after all.” He barked out a laugh.

“No one is enemies her,” Annalise settled into a seat. “At least not yet.”

“Hopefully not,” The Admiral said. After what was a very awkward dinner, we split up into men and women, not something we ever did but was apparently how it was done in Phania and Marina.

“You did well,” Countess Olivia smiled at Marina who groaned and leaned her head back. “I mean it Rina, this is a good start.”

“I should be talking to them,” Annalise said looking anxiously towards the door.

“Aaron can handle it,” I said, with more confidence than I actually felt, “I do wish,” I paused. Marina looked at me. I was about to speak the unspeakable. I was going to say that I missed Tristan. That he should be here.

“Me too,” she said softly, “he’ll be here soon enough.” Annalise looked uncomfortable. “Lisette,” she said softly, Annalise looked at her. “What do you think?”

“I just don’t know,” she sighed. “I think you’re right, having Tristan here would help.” She bit her lip. “I don’t think Eric would like it.”

“He’ll have to get used to it,” Marina said, her voice hard. As if she was tired of the conversation. The Countess looked at her and tapped her knee sympathetically.

“I’m going to see your father,” she said softly, “I’m assuming he’s not actually ill, just refusing to engage.” Marina nodded. “Alright then,” she smiled and kissed her on the cheek. “You really are doing very well, my dear.”

It wasn’t long before the men came in and Aaron looked at me like he wanted to kill himself.

“Commander,” The Admiral said and sat down next to me, “I take it this won’t be the last time we speak.”

“No,” I said quietly, “I imagine it won’t be.” He smiled, he was handsome, I realized, and could probably be charming when he wanted to be. No wonder he was a favorite. “Tell me, Admiral, what is it you hope to accomplish? You know we have no power to push you out of the sea, but in the year since her ascension we’ve built a strong presence and the mountains around Dovetail mean a land invasion is nearly impossible, so why are you here?”

“Do you question every order?” He said and raised his eyebrows. “Or do you go where your Queen commands?”

“I’m an advisor,” I said, “how can I advise if I don’t know the endgame?” He laughed at that.

“Of course,” he smiled. “But what kind of leader would I be if I revealed mine?” I sipped my wine. “I met your mother once. I was young, and new in service, but she was, exceptional.” I nodded.

“She was, yes,” I smiled softly.

“Do you think she’d be proud of you?” He asked.

“I know it,” I said, standing up and then over to Aaron. “He’s slippery.”

“I noticed,” he grimaced. “I’m exhausted. Can we go?” I nodded. We said our goodbyes and our horses were waiting as we left. We rode quickly and arrived back at our apartment. “You didn’t enjoy your evening?”

“He’s going to try to court Marina,” he said quickly. I stared at him. “He didn’t say it directly but his hints were clear.”

“He was sent here for Marina?” I said. He shrugged, and poured a whiskey and took a long drink.

“He was sent here for a few reasons I think,” he sighed, “but Marina is certainly one of them.” I plopped down on the couch. “Lefty was reasonably calm, considering the circumstances.” He sat down next to me.

“Tristan wouldn’t have kept it together,” I said softly. He snorted.

“No,” he said softly, “it was probably the only time all night I was deeply grateful Tristan wasn’t there.” He looked at me. “I hate this, so much, it wasn’t supposed to be like this.” I swallowed.

“My love,” I said and kissed his hand gently, “if things were as they were supposed to be, I doubt you and I would be here together.” He laughed.

“Oh, we would have had a wonderful season together before burning out,” he grinned. “Of course before we took her in my parents intended me for Lisette.” I snorted. “Can you stay tonight?” He whispered.

“Yes,” I said, “I have to be up at dawn, but I can stay.” He pulled me close and kissed me.

In Command

Athena

“We need ships,” Aaron said softly. We glanced at the other side of the room where Annalise was sitting talking calmly with Eric. I sighed and Martin nodded. “We have to go to Dorin, there’s no getting around it. Luckily, Tristan’s engagement is a good excuse.”

“We can’t,” I sighed, “Tristan and I made it clear that she won’t let all three of us be away at once and I don’t want my grandfather thinking that’s negotiable.” Martin sighed.

“I’ll go,” he said, “Carland won’t listen to me, but hopefully Trey, Brie and Drea will.” I nodded. “What is it?”

“If you go,” I mumbled. He smirked. “I don’t think I’m ready.”

“Of course you’re ready,” he said, “or as ready as you can be. And you’re not on your own, you have Annalise, and your captains.” I nodded. “I’m going to make arrangements.” I swallowed. Aaron looked at me.

“What was that about?” He asked. I sighed.

“I’m in command,” I said. He nodded. “We’re being invaded and I’m in command.” He sat down with me. “I wish Tristan was here.” He sighed and I rested my head on his shoulder.

“I do too,” he said softly. I smiled gently at that. “You’ll be fine, though, you’ll be wonderful, actually.” I laughed. He kissed me softly. “I’ve made up with Lisette.”

“I assumed as much,” I said with a laugh. “I should go coordinate with Elodie, figure out our numbers.” I stood up and he followed me. I walked out into the hall and saw a rather distraught looking Raymond standing there. “Did they question you?” I said softly. He looked at me.

“Yes,” He whispered. I nodded. “I’m sure you’ll be reported to.”

“I hope they were gentle,” I tried to tease. He nodded. “Raymond, I don’t want to,” I swallowed.

“It was him,” he said, bitterly. I sighed. I had a feeling. “Randolph wants to go home, and unless he has someone to bring him it would be in disgrace.” I swallowed and walked over and hugged him. “What are you doing?”

“I’m hugging you because I have very much been there,” I said. He sighed and looked at me. “Do you know what he told them?”

“That Annalise was unlikely to choose Eric,” he said, “and that she was holding me hostage or possibly Marina was holding me in thrall.” I sighed. “As if Marina could over power me. I think that’s what makes me the most angry.”

“Certainly,” I nodded, “we all find it very annoying that the outside world thinks Marina is infallible.” He laughed. “You should go in there. Eric will want to talk to you, probably Martin and Annalise too.”

“Oh the joy,” he mumbled and walked inside. I laughed and saw Elodie. “It was his boy.”

“I know,” she frowned. “Poor Raymond. I hope you told him you did the same thing.” I rolled my eyes. “The General is going to get Sir Tristan back?” I sighed.

“That seems to be the plan, yes,” I said, “which means I’m in command.” A grin spread across her face.

“Oh, well, then we’re doomed,” she said, I laughed. “You’ll do fine. I need to let Mercy know that we’ll probably be all night, as I assume that we will be.” I nodded.

“There are going to be a lot of all nights moving forward, I think,” I sighed. “Mercy will need to adjust.” She nodded. “You’re with me though?”

“Yes,” she smirked, “I’ll always follow you, Lady Athena.” I smiled. “We’re putting our trust in the guilds, though?”

“I don’t know that we have much choice,” I admitted, “I don’t love it either.” She nodded. “I am sorry, I know it’s difficult for you.”

“It’s alright,” she said softly, “at least we’ll get Tristan back.” I grinned and nodded. I hadn’t thought of that. I missed my brother so much. I sighed and walked to library and sat down. I sighed and pulled out a piece of paper.

Dear Tristan

I wish you were here. So badly. I hope you accept my apology for being out of touch. When you get here I need you to be level headed and with me though, so I’m writing to you now.

I hope you’ve been happy in Dorin, and I look forward to meeting Carolina, but I can’t help but wonder how different things would have been if you’d stayed and could have talked sense into Lisette. I think this all could have been avoided if she’d been more cautious and thoughtful. A side you somehow always managed to bring out in her.

Please be as supportive of Martin as you can as he swallows his pride and negotiates with Grandfather. And Trey. And The Aunts. And all of them, frankly.

I’m sorry. Really, and I can’t wait to see you.

Your Beloved Sister,

Athena

Romance

Athena

After dinner I suggested that we walk on the beach, because Aaron is so on edge, and barely speaking to Lisette still. He was so there when I was dark and I want to be there with him, too. But he’s sullen and edgy and I miss his sparkle and laugh.

“They seemed nice,” he said softly, “Brea and Nika? Do you like them?” I smiled.

“I like Nika,” I said, “or at least I think so. Brea seems a little more high handed, and she wants to take Harran away and I can’t forgive that.” He laughed.

“Mm,” he sighed, “yes, you’re too protective of your friends.” I looked at him. “I was glad to see Eric at dinner.”

“Me too,” I said softly, “I don’t know that it will amount to much. Marina seems to think he doesn’t have it in him to forgive her.” He nodded. “Do you?” He sighed.

“I think I have already,” he admitted. “I’m just punishing her now,” I laughed. “And I miss her.”

“I can tell,” I said. “I got a letter from Tristan today. Carolina DuKarras accepted him. They’re planning to be married in Dovetail, after us.” He smiled.

“After us?” He said. I nodded. “I’ll pressure William about the place in Pantona for them. And she’s joining the guard?”

“That seems to be the plan, though I suppose it’s up to Lisette,” I shrugged, “and Martin.” He nodded. “Are you going to enlist?” He laughed.

“No, darling,” he said, “I don’t think I will, if you can forgive it.” I laughed.

“Of course,” I said softly and kissed him gently. “If it comes to war though,” he exhaled.

“I’ll fight beside you,” he whispered, “and her, always, but knowing I can walk away,” he drifted off. “And I can’t pledge more to her, if these past few weeks have shown me anything it’s that I can’t,” he sighed. I smiled softly at him.

“I know,” I whispered. He looked at me. “This is very romantic, by the way,” he laughed and kicked the sand.

“We’ve been a little pathetic on the romance front lately, haven’t we?” He smiled. I laughed as he pulled me close. “Better?”

“Oh, much,” I nodded. He kissed me. “Aaron,” I muttered.

“Yes, Athena,” he said softly. He traced my jaw gently with his thumb. I exhaled.

“The game you and Lisette used to play, if she was really Lisette,” I said softly. He nodded, “What would we be in that world?”

“I can’t imagine I wouldn’t have dropped everything to pursue you the minute I met you,” he smiled. “Without Lisette between us, it might have taken me longer to get your guard down.” I laughed.

“It certainly would have,” I said with as much dignity as I could muster. He laughed. “But I can’t imagine not softening to you eventually.”

“Mmm,” he nodded and kissed me.

“I don’t understand why you sent for me, then,” we both slunk back behind a pillar hearing Brea, following after her was Harran.

“Because I needed to know I could trust whoever it was,” he said, “and I trust you.” She snorted, Aaron looked at me.

“You needed someone with the sight and you knew Nika wouldn’t come without me,” she said, “I guess I was fooling myself, thinking that you actually wanted to see me.”

“Brea,” he said gently, “what am I supposed to do?”

“I don’t care what the elders say,” she straightened up, “or even you, I won’t marry Rian just because you changed your mind.”

“I never made up my mind,” he hissed. “You made it up for me, but things changed.”

“Yes, obviously,” she said. “And I’m just supposed to bow and smile at the woman who’s ruined my life, how excellent.” She marched back into the palace.

“I know you two are there,” Harran called out. We stepped out. “Does Lisette know?”

“I think she guessed,” Aaron grimaced, “though I doubt she thought you were celibate between leaving us in Pantona and getting into her bed three weeks ago.” He sighed. “You might have warned both of them, though, for your own sake.”

“Brea wasn’t wrong, though,” Harran sat down and looked at his feet, “I knew we needed Nika and she’s not likely to do anything without her sister. It wasn’t really fair to her.” I looked at him. “She should marry my brother though, she’s being stupid about that.”

“Maybe she is,” I said softly. I left the rest unsaid. He was being stupid too, he knew Lisette didn’t love him, and wouldn’t keep him with her for the long term. Aaron looked at me. “Nika seems game though.” Harran laughed.

“I think Nika will do well here, honestly,” he admitted, “She never quite fit with the tribes. The Witches are always a bit on their own, but Nika,” he shook his head. “She was exceptional, which made her lonely.”

“No wonder I like her,” I smiled, “I’m exceptional too.” He laughed and I heard Aaroon snort derisively.

“Athena,” Marina walked out. “I have to get Papa home, but I made Lissette a sleeping drought, could you bring it to her?”

“I’ll bring it,” Harran said. Marina stared at him.

“Did she ask for you?” She said softly. He frowned. “She was upset today, I wouldn’t press.” He sighed.

“You’re right,” he mumbled and slunk out, probably back to his own rooms.

“Our little diplomat,” Aaron smirked. Marina sighed and shrugged.

“I know Eric went to speak to her,” she said, “I can’t imagine Harran showing up to help her to bed would help that conversation along.”

“No,” I said. “I don’t imagine it would.” I inhaled. “The kitchen will have it?” She nodded. “I’ll bring it. Although, isn’t it Mercy’s job, technically?”

“Technically,” Marina shrugged, “but she and Elodie disappeared ages ago and you’re right here.” I laughed.

“The lady has a point,” Aaron sighed, “if we’d adjourned to bed immediately instead of taking a walk maybe you’d get out of it.”

“Hm,” I sighed, and kissed him. “I’ll meet you there then.” He grinned. I walked inside and up to Annalise’s apartments. The two guards at the door let me past, as I held the pot of tea that Marina had brewed up.

“Lisette,” I said, gently but loud enough to penetrate the door, as I knocked. There wasn’t even much of a sign of Eric, which was a little worrying. “Lisette, Marina sent me with the potion for you.”

She opened the door, looking flushed and wrapped in a sheet. I cocked my head to the side.

“I don’t know that I’ll need it after all,” she said and took the pot. “But thank you, and I’ll thank Marina later.”

“Of course,” I said, “should I send Mercy up?”

“I’m alright,” she said softly. “Really.”

“Hello, Commander,” Eric walked over and hugged her from behind. “Is everything alright?”

“Your Highness,” I said. “Yes, just doing my job.”

“I’m fine,” Lisette said, “we can speak in the morning.”

“We certainly will,” I raised my eyebrows and sighed as she closed the door.

Reception

Athena

We haven’t had any official receptions since getting to Brightcoast and I’d forgotten how tedious they are. But today we’re receiving the witches. Two sisters who Harran sent for, near our ages, which should be nice, having more people around.

The two girls who walked into the throne room were rather impressive, actually. They were both dressed entirely in black, and the taller one had long shiny straight hair, a round friendly face and a genially bounce in her step, the smaller one had her hair veiled, and a thinner face, and everything about her seems much more serious. They’re both brown skinned and have deeply arresting almost amber colored eyes.

“Your Majesty,” Harran said stepping forward. “May I present the honorable Brea and Nika Averran, Witches of The Westran Border tribe, and old friends of mine.”

I heard a sharp inhale from Marina, who was standing next to me. I wondered if she was feeling the same thing I was. It wasn’t as pronounced, as full, but the sisters’ presence seemed to add the same chill to a room that The Black Guards used to.

“Welcome,” Annalise said, stepping off the dais, “I appreciate your speedy arrival.”

“We are at your majesty’s disposal,” the taller one, Brea, said while curtseying deeply. “And honored that The Heir thought of us.” Harran looked down, almost blushing. I grinned.

“I trust your journey was comfortable?” Lisette asked.

“Very,” the smaller one, Nika spoke. “It was nice to see more of Cammadan, we’ve always stuck to the northern coast, for safety.”

“Of course,” Annalise said, but I’d noticed another shift in Marina’s body. I caught her eye and mouthed. “But I’m sure it was long, and you must be tired, please, follow me and I’ll show you to your quarters.”

Her? Marina had Dreamed a witch. She nodded sharply at me. I exhaled, I didn’t know if that was a good or bad sign. I followed after our honored guests and stood at the door as the reached the apartment.

“Is a soldier necessary?” Brea said, glancing at me. Harran snorted. “We aren’t a threat to you.”

“Lady Athena isn’t just a body guard,” Lisette said simply, “she’s also one of my closest advisors.”

“And The Champion of Cornan,” I said, Brea’s spine stiffened. “But by all means, Brea, was it? I can leave you all be.”

“Don’t be nasty,” Marina chastised me, I sighed, “Athena’s an acquired taste, for most of our lives she thought I was an idiot. But we’re good friends now.” I laughed and sat down next to her.

“I didn’t think you were an idiot,” I said. “I thought you were weak willed, silly and overly fixated on my oblivious brother.” I paused, “I was right about the one.”

“Sorry,” Raymond ran in, holding three very thick books. He looks so much better these days. He’s gaining weight and he’s always a little bit disheveled and busy, and suits him. “I’m sorry I missed the reception.”

“This is our cousin,” Annalise said with a gentle smile, “Sir Raymond Quents of Tumona.” Nika looked at him with her eyes narrowed.

“I was under the impression we were here to advise you,” Nika said, she was staring directly at Annalise, in a way that was probably unsettling, “not be a part of a council.”

“Nika,” Brea said softly. “My sister is correct, we’re not accustomed to,”

“Unless my father has changed a great deal in the past year,” Harran said, “I doubt this set up is unfamiliar to you, since Anders, Rian and I have basically been ruling for him for the last decade.”

“We thought that perhaps the vital young queen had things a bit more in hand than your father,” Brea said with a casual shrug.

“You were mistaken then,” Lisette sighed, “or at least misinformed, since as you can see, ruling is about as straightforward as herding cats.”

“My sister doesn’t mean to be disrespectful,” Nika said, “only, well, what is expected of us?”

“I dreamed you,” Marina blurted out, I looked at her, “I hadn’t Dreamed in months and then I had one, and you were in it, and well, I wasn’t sure it was you until I saw you today but you clearly are supposed to be here.”

“And I’ve been Dreaming that the Gods are imprisoned on tribal lands,” I said, “we have a feeling the two things are connected.”

“I’ve also been called several times by the Dark Lady and am not sure how to handle that,” Raymond said. I sighed and pressed my fingers against my nose. Brea laughed then.

“The Dark Lady would find you useful,” she sighed, “she’s never had much of a foothold in Phania. Too orderly and much to dedicated to Rana.”

“Brea,” Harran said softly, “please, be serious.”

“Of course,” she said, “but as I see it, you are actually extraneous here.” He glanced at Lisette.

“If the situation doesn’t suit you,” Lisette said, “you are welcome to return home,” she stood up, “but we do need your help, and I appreciate you coming.” She stood up and left, I followed after her as did everyone else. I could see the storm cloud over her head and decided to stay clear, I went down to the training field and went through some basic excercizes and was surprised when I saw Nika standing near me after a few moments.

“I feel like I should apologize,” she said. I looked at her.

“You barely spoke,” I shrugged. She smiled.

“Yes, but,” she shrugged, “my sister is,” she bit her bottom lip, “The Duchess called you an acquired taste?” I laughed. “Brea is the opposite, too sweet and then you find yourself sick from it.”

“I’m familiar with the type,” I said.

“It will be worse here,” she frowned. “She and Harran,” she sighed. I nodded.

“I picked up on that,” I said. She frowned, and picked up a staff. “Do you spar?” She smiled.

“Yes,” she sighed, “but not well enough to challenge you, I think.” I shrugged.

“How do you expect to get better?” I moved into battle stance. She smiled and move into hers and struck out at me, I blocked. “Agressive, that’s good.” I moved against her and she blocked me. “And quick.” I reversed her block and disarmed her but then felt a pressure push me away like wind. “Oh you have to teach me that.” I said as she pulled me up. She laughed.

“I don’t know if I can,” she admitted.

“Ugh, useless to me,” I winked. She blushed and looked down. “Not as bad as Marina, who isn’t even a Warrior and was given Battle Magic and Cornan told me it isn’t his gift to give.” She laughed.

“Does he speak to you directly often?” She asked as we made our way back to the palace.

“Not so often,” I shook my head. “I haven’t been able to commune anywhere but Dovetail or Pantona, certainly not here, and the Dreams are fewer and farther between.” I sighed. “We’re reasonably sure they’re weakening.” She nodded. “You fight well.”

“We’re all trained,” Nika shrugged. “Witches often have to travel from camp to camp, holdfast, even to cities, unlike many of our people. And warriors can’t always be spared to accompany us. Or so the Chieftain says.”

“Harran’s father?” I said. She nodded. “He mentioned something about his brothers and marrying witches.” Nika snorted. “No?”

“My sister would perhaps accept Rian,” Nika said, “but she wanted Harran.” I looked at her. “I’ve convinced her to stay, mostly because I want to.”

“I’m glad of it,” I said, “if only because you will be teaching me that move with the wind.” Nika laughed. “I’m familiar with having to navigate life with a difficult sibling.” She cocked her head. “My brother is,” I paused, realizing I hadn’t missed Tristan in a while. I’d been busy, with the wedding, with Lisette and Harran and containing the fallout from Eric. “Well, he can be difficult, though he’s apparently improving.”

“Apparently?” Nika grinned, “is he not here?”

“No,” I shook my head. “He’s in Dorin. I miss him.”

A Great Man

Athena

Aaron slammed the door behind him when he walked in, and I jumped and looked at him.

“What’s wrong?” I said.

“It’s like she stopped thinking the minute they put that crown on her head,” he growled, “promising Lefty our naval command without even discussing,” he poured himself a glass of whiskey and downed it.

“Aaron,” I said softly, he grunted, “Love, look at me,” he stopped and turned. “Who promised what?”

He sighed and sat down.

“Lisette is being,” he shook his head, “I don’t want to talk about it, but what can you tell me about the invasion possibilities?” I pressed my lips into my mouth.

“Well,” I sighed, “I’d want to evacuate the city, and fortify the guard here, and at the manor, plus on the cliffs in between. We don’t have much naval power, except what my grandfather offers, but if they try to come ashore, I think we’d be able to keep them from rolling further inland.” He sighed and pressed his fingers to the bridge of his nose. “We may all be over reacting.” He looked at me.

“You don’t really believe that,” he mumbled.

“No,” I sighed, “but you should go home,” he looked at me, “I think it’s why you’ve been so edgy. Go home and prepare for harvest, I’ll come when I can.” He smiled. “She’ll get by, she did when you went last time. I might lose my mind a little, but you like it when I’m crazy.” He kissed me gently.

“After what we’ve talked about these last few days,” he shook his head, “I won’t leave you alone. Last time I went, Tristan was there, remember?” I grinned. “And he won’t be at Pantona until the wedding.”

“I didn’t tell you,” I said excitedly, running to the desk and grabbing a letter, “Carolina DuKarras’s father wrote back. They are coming to the wedding, and he expects to negotiate, then.” Aaron snorted.

“I thought you were keeping all the weapons for our children,” he said.

“He seems awfully proud,” I mumbled, looking over the letter again, “and he’s offering a good little sum for her to bring with her. I’m going to offer a spot in the guard and Trey’s house as inheritance.”

“Are you authorized to will away Trey’s house?” Aaron raised his eyebrows. I waved my hand and exhaled out my nostrils.

“Bah, he wants this as much as DuKarras does,” I said. “And it isn’t as though I’ll need it, and Alex will be in Dorin.”

“True enough,” he said and kissed me. “I could give them some land, if you think it would help.” I frowned.

“No,” I said. “Maybe a house though, in Pantona?” He nodded. “Something in the village maybe?”

“You just want him close by,” he said and kissed me. I smiled. “But I think an appropriate place can be found. I’ll write to William.” I nodded.

“Now, your turn,” I said. “This can’t just be about Annalise and Harran.”

“It is though,” he muttered, “she’s not thinking past single moments, she refuses to see the bigger picture, fine, but then trust me to handle it, but she won’t do that either.” He sat down. “She’d have trusted my father.” I looked at him.

“You can’t spend your whole life comparing yourself to him,” I whispered gently. “I loved your father, he was a great man, but you aren’t him, and you don’t have to try to be.” I kissed him softly. “You’re a great man too.” He smiled. “Aaron, look at me,” he did. “I started falling in love with you when I saw how fiercely you loved her, how big your heart is.” He kissed my hand then. “But you can’t keep living your life for other people,” I whispered. “Unless of course other people is me. You can live for me.” He laughed.

“How you manage to give me hope and be ridiculously cynical,” he said, “is truly a feat.” I grinned. “You really ought to write to Tristan.”

“He’s busy,” I insisted, “he’s wooing. Alex and Lotte have been updating me. It’s apparently going quite well. He’s hasn’t thrown himself off a balcony, or inappropriately fixated on any of her relatives. So, for Tristan, really, aces.” He snorted. “We’ll all be together again soon,” I said softly. “At home.” He exhaled. That seemed to calm him down.

Hearts And Politics

Athena

I was feeling better in the morning, particularly when Lisette found me, a little shaken but still flushed and glowing. The two of us hadn’t sparred in a while, and it felt good.

“You’re rusty,” I said as my spear met the twin short swords she’d taken to wearing recently. Something between the sword she carried into the siege and the knives she’d grown up using.

“I’ve been busy,” she said. I laughed. “Are you alright?” I relented and nodded. “Aaron said you weren’t thrilled about Olivia and Thomas.”

“I wasn’t,” I frowned, “I’m not. But, it’s not my business, I guess.” She looked at me. “I just worry about him, he doesn’t always think these things through and it’s other people who get hurt. And this time I don’t want Olivia to be collateral damage.”

“Are you going to lecture me about Harran too?” She asked. I sighed.

“No,” I said, “I actually think it will be good for you, but you went about it in a monumentally stupid way.” She smiled. “How was it?” I grinned. “If how he fights is any indication, I’d imagine it was athletic, forceful?” She blushed.

“Intense,” she exhaled, “he was very focused.” She paused. “He kept asking what I wanted, and I didn’t always know how to say it, but then he found the way there anyway.” I smiled. I did like this for her. After the grief and complication of her time with my brother, it was worth the cost for me to see her simply, content. “After this morning, though, that was more awkward.” She exhaled. “Olivia says he’s in love with me.”

“He most certainly is,” I smirked. “I didn’t see it at first either. I thought he just liked to flirt, but he’s in love with you.” She frowned.

“I wouldn’t have,” she admitted, “I thought we felt the same way, that we wanted each other, but that we were friends.” She exhaled and pushed her hair off her face. “And I have to tell Eric. He’ll leave, and I couldn’t blame him.” I looked at her, and I was suddenly tremendously glad that I went to sleep with Aaron each night, and that his expectations of me were so straightforward. “I don’t know, I think about it a lot, if I was actually Lisette.” I smiled. Tristan told me she did this sometimes. “I think I’d have run away with him. I thought about it, all the time, that year. Maybe I’m still trying to run away.” I looked at her.

“Before we came to Pantona,” I said softly, “I was involved with one of Trey’s apprentices, it wasn’t serious, and he’s kind of an idiot, but he was ambitious, and I used that. I was after all, raised in the house he was trying rise in, and it was fun. After I’d been so hurt and used, to be treated like I mattered, like I was important, it was intoxicating.” She looked at me.

“He was the one that Aaron found you with?” She said. I snapped my neck over and looked at her, surprised that she knew that. “You were upset, and he was unnerved by it.” I smiled. I loved that man so much. “I’m not using Harran.”

“I didn’t say you were,” I whispered, “I just think that if I hadn’t been with Carlton, after everything that happened with Warren, I don’t think I would have been able to be with Aaron, to see him properly.” She looked down.

“So your suggesting what?” She said. “I use Harran until Tristan is out of my system?” I rolled my eyes.

“I’m certainly not suggesting Tristan be in the conversation at all.” I sighed. “By all means, if you’re still missing him and need to shake it off.” She bit her bottom lip.

“I do miss him,” she said softly. “I miss what we had, and I miss his calm.” She exhaled. “I don’t miss what a mess it was at the end. I don’t miss hearing Marina cry while she hides it from, I don’t miss him refusing to admit he was jealous.” I smiled. “But I miss him, a part of me always will, even when he’s right next me again, it won’t be the same.” I exhaled as she rested her head on my shoulder. “Thena, I don’t know what to do anymore.” She sighed. “I haven’t had a Dream in ages, and The Leader’s are insisting on a marriage sooner than later, but they don’t like the idea of it being Eric because then we’ll become too Phanian but Harran would be a threat because if any of the tribes don’t like it then it could be civil war, and what is wrong with that nice Emmett Friers anyone, Your Majesty?”

“Ah yes, a fifteen year old boy who’s said ten words to you,” I raised my eyebrows, “obviously your perfect match.” She laughed. “You know my opinion, take the politics out of it, Cammadan is better if you’re happy, if someone who’ll support you is at your side. Who is that?” She closed her eyes and exhaled.

“I don’t know,” she said softly. “Thank you though, for listening.” I nodded and back up to our apartment where Aaron was sitting at the desk in the sitting room.

“Oh, there you are,” he stood up, “I didn’t want to go to this meeting without seeing you.” I ran over and threw my arms around him and kissed him deeply. “Well, hello to you too.” He laughed.

“I love you,” I said. He smiled. “Seriously, I do.”

“I love you too,” he laughed. “What happened?” I shook my head.

“Lisette and I just had a long talk is all,” I said softly, “be gentle with her today. She knows she’s put everyone in a tough spot.” He nodded.

“Of course,” he said and kissed me again. “I have to go, I wanted to check in with Marina first.” I nodded. “I love you.”