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.”

Rising Darkness

Athena

“I’m stunned,” Aaron said that evening, as he fastened a necklace on me. I shook my head. “Flabbergasted in fact,” he kissed my neck softly. I rolled my eyes. “It’s almost like no one saw this coming, oh wait, hmm,” I elbowed him lightly in the ribs and he laughed. “You’re upset?”

“A little,” I admitted. “It’s complicated.” He shook his head. “Aren’t you?”

“Not really,” he said, “it could be worse, and she’s happy. I like Tom.” He chewed the inside of his cheek. “I can be angry if you want me to be. How dare she dishonor my father, and all that noise.” I laughed and shook my head.

“No,” I sighed, “you’re right, I just,” I shrugged. He nodded. “I think Harran is going to get serious, he seemed annoyed this afternoon.” Aaron smirked as we started walking down to dinner. “What?”

“You like him too much,” he said. “You’re not seeing the situation clearly.” I sighed. “Westran is important, but we can’t alienate Phania.” I shook my head.

“Whatever you say,” I shrugged. We made it through dinner without arguing, and Martin kept glancing at me. I was avoiding his eyes, because I just wasn’t ready. Aaron was chatting with a few of the other leaders and Prince Eric was looking miserable.

I swallowed, I’d seen Annalise be subtle, if clumsy before. She and Tristan weren’t a secret, by any means, but they were discreet. She was not being subtle tonight. I glanced at Aaron and saw the frown and worry on his face.

This was what he meant that I liked Harran too much. I was thinking of my friends, not of the very careful rope she had to walk right now. I thought of the map that Martin had been looking at, the new Phanian Navy, ready to deploy at any moment. And what I was looking at now was the enacting of a fourteen year old girl’s fantasy.

A young girl, might be fickle. I hated when they were right. I hated it so much.

I wanted Tristan. I missed him so much. I wanted my brother to listen to me scream and then laugh at me for it and hug me. After dinner I found my out to the beach and paused seeing Lefty walking back up from his night out with Marina.

“Early for you,” I said, “you make quick work.” He sighed and sat down next to me.

“I messed up tonight,” he said. I nodded. “What are you doing out here, shouldn’t you be glaring at the new guards and then giggling in Aaron’s ear.” I looked at him.

“I wish I disliked you more,” I narrowed my eyes at him. He laughed. “I need you to tell me the truth, Lefty. If she sends him away,” he looked at me.

“The ships will come,” he said. “You know it, Athena.” I nodded and hugged my knees. “Whether they’d attack or just come intimidate, I can’t say. But they’ll come.” I closed my eyes. “You don’t have a navy.”

“We don’t,” I said, “my grandfather does.” He laughed darkly. “She’s with Harran tonight. She wasn’t flirting, I’ve seen that,” he exhaled. “You know him best, could he forgive it?”

“Eric doesn’t have a temper,” he explained, “he lets things sit, and simmer, he doesn’t act until he can’t help it.” I nodded. “I had a feeling that might hurt him with her.” I sighed. “I don’t know if he could forgive it, but he won’t act rashly. He’ll make sure that she’s as safe as she can be before he walks away.” I nodded. “He loves her, though, which is new. That’s never been the case before.”

“How did you mess up tonight?” I said. “I was under the impression that Rina thought you hung the moon?” He smiled.

“Moon hanging aside,” he smiled, “she needed some space tonight. I can’t lose her.” I looked at him.

“Did you really come here hoping to bed me?” I asked.

“I most certainly did,” he grinned. “We spent a good deal of time in Dorin, stories about you spread and I was intrigued. I’d seen your portrait at your grandfather’s so I knew you were beautiful,” he sighed. “Admit it, if you weren’t with Aaron we’d have had fun.” I laughed.

“If you hadn’t still been entranced by Marina’s doe eyes, that is,” I said. He smiled. “So love got in the way of our fun.” I shrugged.

“Inconvenient, that,” he grinned. I laughed. “I’ll do my best to smooth things with Eric.” He leaned over and whispered in my ear. “I don’t want to leave either.” I smiled as he stood up and walked away. I leaned back and took a deep breath.

How had we come so far in a year? I swallowed and stood up and walked back inside. Aaron was waiting with a smile when I got to bed. I nestled my head into his chest.

“I wish you’d tell me what’s going on,” he said softly. “I get it if you can’t, but I’m here.” I looked up at him.

“There’s this darkness inside of me,” I said quietly, “and I don’t know, I can usually beat it, but it seems to be winning lately.” He lifted my chin.

“I don’t see that,” he said, “I see your light, every day, my love. I won’t let you lose it.” I smiled. “What do you need from me?”

“Just this,” I said, softly, “us.” He nodded. I snuggled close to him and pressed my forehead against his chest. And fell asleep.

I kept dreaming of entering a dark cave, seeing the wheel and the bindings, hearing Tristan calling my name behind me. I woke with a start. I didn’t know what it meant.

Addisons

Marina

I think Damian is at least a little bit right about how I’ve been insulating myself. But after sixteen years of being insulated by others it is a hard habit to change. As we walk through town the life of the place even puts the market in Dovetail to shame. Everything is lit by torches and magic and there are people calling to one another, and there’s music spilling out and delicious food smells coming from cafes.

And more than anything, there are probably more dark skinned people around than I’ve ever seen in my life. Some much darker than I, and others lighter.

“Are you alright?” He asked. I nodded. “Come on, it’s right here.” I laughed as he enthusiastically took my hand and pulled me inside a door. What was inside stunned me. The ceiling was round dome, held up by what seemed like magic, and the there were two floors of balconies swirling around a large open floor.

And people were dancing. The music was festive and loud and I didnt’ recognize the tune, but the dancing was fast and lively. It was overwhelming but in the best way.

“Can you teach me the dances?” I stood on my toes to reach his ear and yell over the music. He grinned and nodded.

“Of course,” he said, “but let’s get a drink first.” He took my hand and pulled me through the crowd to the bar and the girl working behind it, saw us and lit up.

“I was wondering when we’d finally see you,” she said leaning forward and then pulling him close by his shirt. “The Glory’s been in port for weeks.” He cleared his throat and then she noticed me. “Ah,” she nodded and pulled back.

“I’m sorry for your anxiety,” he teased, “May I present Duchess Marina Sanpierre, and Rina, this Elaine Addison. Lainey and I have known each other since childhood.” She sent him a look and rolled her eyes.

“Welcome, My Lady, we’re glad to have you,” she smiled softly, “be careful of this one, hm?” Damian laughed and I felt immediately small and insecure. The way she’d grabbed him had been intimate, and not friendly. I thought of how early on Raymond had made jokes to him about Brightcoast. She quickly poured two drinks and headed to another end of the bar. I scowled at him as he handed me the cup.

This was new. I wasn’t used to feeling jealous around him. I glanced back down at Elaine. Why was I jealous at that? She’s not beautiful, not unattractive, but her nose is a little off center and her hair is covered so I can’t judge that. And I knew he had a past, but having to see it is piercing.

“Lefty!” A man called out and walked over, “one more night and we were going to send out a search party!” He stopped and looked at. “Glora’s wing,” he shook his head, “I beg your forgiveness, Duchess,” he bowed, “I ought always to greet a lady first.” He wedged himself between us. “My name is Dorian Addison and I am your and Her Majesty’s humble servant.” I smiled and offered my hand which he took and kissed.

“I accept your service gladly, Mr. Addison,” I said, “on my own and my cousin’s behalf.” He smirked.

“I’m grateful to have you in my establishment,” he said, “though I have to admit my surprise at seeing you here with this lowlife.” He nodded to Damian.

“The lowlife can hear you,” he said, playfully pulling Addison away. I laughed.

“You own this place?” I asked. He looked young for it, his hair in long twists down to his shoulder. “It’s wonderful, regardless.” He laughed.

“Prince Eric owns it proper if you must know,” he said, “but only in that he gave me the money I needed, paying him back as I can. Hoping when he’s king he’ll just forgive the debt.”

“Hush, Addison,” Damian said, circling my waist protectively. “You’ll scare her off with political talk.”

“Do you mean King of Phania or Cammadan?” I jested back, ignoring Damian. “You should know Lisette is by no means certain, but by law he’ll inherit the island.” Addison laughed loudly.

“Lisette, you say? I thought you were Brightcoast, not Pantona!” He gestured and then called out. “Lainey, three more!”

“You aren’t the first flattering barman I’ve encountered since her restoration,” I shrugged. Damian twitched at that. Let him. Addison laughed and cupped my chin and then flicked it playfully.

“Any man would be foolish not to try to flatter you,” he said.

“If my brother tries to turn your head,” Elaine said walked over with a bottle and pouring the drinks, “ignore him.” I looked at her again. “Damian, will you sing?” I turned to him taking my second cup.

“You sing?” I said. He sighed.

“Only when provoked,” he said and kissed me. I was drunk enough to not fight him on the kiss.

“If I want to hear you sing, will you indulge me?” I whispered. He shook his head.

“Which would you prefer?” He whispered back, “to dance or hear me screech a Pharras folk tune you’ll hate?” I met his eyes.

“I want to dance with you,” I said softly, “Only you.” He smiled.

We did dance and dance some more after someone pulled him away I found myself back at the bar.

“You look like you could use some water,” Elaine said and poured mine. I nodded, realizing I must be flushed. I took a sip. “We don’t often get,” I held up a hand.

“I don’t often get to either,” I said, “never actually, it was different, in Dovetail.” She nodded, I swallowed. “I’ve never seen him this,” I tried to find the right word, “comfortable, I guess.” She nodded.

“It’s nearly home,” she pointed out. I looked at her and nodded. “He’s never brought anyone here,” she swallowed, I looked down, “I just want you to understand that.” I smiled.

“I see,” I said, “I didn’t know,” I exhaled, “Raymond,” I whispered, “he mentioned friends, never anything else.” Elaine rolled her eyes.

“I’m not surprised,” she said. She exhaled. “He’s the best man I know, My Lady.” The understanding that passed between us felt deeply familiar.

Images of that first night at Camp, when I’d idiotically thought Tristan’s accepting of my invitation was because he wanted to see me. Of William’s eyes following other girls as they entered court. Girls who wouldn’t stop him when his hands moved to his fly. Girls who didn’t worry about what came next. Only Damian, who’s love overwhelmed me, got me over that fear, and I was only one in a line to him.

“Excuse me,” I said softly and walked out.

“Marina,” Damian said, having followed me, “you shouldn’t have, run off, it isn’t exactly safe,” he looked around. I swallowed. “What did Lainey say to you?” I looked down.

“Nothing” I said, “only, it’s very clear that there is something between the two of you, and,” I looked down, “you belong here, and I don’t, and,” I sighed. “Who is she to you?”

“Lainey is an old friend. Our mother’s grew up together, we were together a lot as children.” He explained breathleslly, I nodded and his face fell. “And that wasn’t what you were asking.” I blushed and looked down. “We weren’t in love with each other, Marina,” he said gently. “It just became, a sort of habit when I was here or she was in Brinecliff.” I swallowed.

“You probably should have warned me,” I pointed out. He sighed wistfully took my hands and kissed them both. I giggled.

“You’re right,” he nodded, “I’m desperately sorry and beg forgiveness.” I sighed. “You didn’t deserve an ambush. And I shouldn’t have abandoned you.”

“I forgive you,” I said softly. He smiled. “And I did like them.” He smiled.

“I’m glad,” he said with a gentle smile. “Someday you’ll see the island, my love, and be overwhelmed.” I kissed him. “They are all counting on Eric being King of Cammadan though.”

“Even if they marry she might not make him king,” I pointed out. “Mariah wasn’t a Queen after all.” We’d begun walking back toward the beach and the manor.

“But Marie was,” he said softly. “I think you all don’t appreciate what she meant to the Pharras and the Phanians living here. What Annalise does, what you do.” I kissed him again softly this time. “They came here because there was no place at home for them, because the dream that life here might be better.”

“A dream of a better world,” I said, he nodded. “Aaron and I used to talk about it, before we took Dovetail back. We wanted to lead for her, build a place where everything we believed in could matter.” I closed my eyes and felt the breeze. “I never saw it, Damian.” I admitted. “Because it didn’t matter. As long as I wasn’t in the palace, at Brayton’s mercy, the world was better.” He gently circled his arm around me and rubbed my shoulder. “He could have named the day, and I had no power to stop him.”

“Look at me,” he whispered and I turned. “You are amazing, Marina,” he cupped my cheek. “That you survived and came out kind and true,” he pressed his forehead to mine, “you could be bitter and angry and not a soul could blame you.” I pressed my forehead to his chest.

“Do you love me?” I asked softly, “or do you love what they see me as?” He exhaled.

“I love you,” he said, “if you said you wanted to burn it to the ground and run into the Westran desert, I’d go with you.” I wrinkled my nose.

“I doubt the desert would suit my father,” I said, “and I can’t run away without him, he’d forget to eat.” Damian laughed.

“Fair,” he said, “Although I didn’t realize we’d be bringing your father.” I shrugged. He pulled me close. “I don’t want to lose you, Rina.”

“You never will,” I said.

Revelation

Athena

“You’ve gotten sloppy,” Harran teased me as he pressed his staff to mine. I rolled my eyes and pushed him back. “Back in Dovetail, you wouldn’t have let me get this close.”

“Tell me, your highness,” I said, flipping hands and solidly landing on both feet, “do the tribes know their future chief loses to a woman so regularly.” He smiled.

“The women of the tribes would laugh at you, My Lady,” he taunted, “As they kicked you into the mud.” I focused but he’d already gained too much of an advantage and he disarmed me. “Yield?” He asked.

“Yield,” I muttered as he helped me up. We glanced over as we heard people walking past us in the field. It was as it turned out, a furious Annalise, clearly soaked, and a beleagured Eric not far behind her. “Hm,” I grinned, smugly, “apparently their sail did not go well.”

“Apparently,” Harran shook his head. I looked at him. He wasn’t smiling.

“Have you changed your mind?” I asked. He shrugged. “I don’t want to pressure either of you if it isn’t,” I drifted off. If it wasn’t what? What they wanted? It isn’t what Lisette wants. She wants Eric. Or perhaps Tristan though she seems to have let him go at last.

“No,” he muttered, “no it isn’t that. I just don’t want her to be hurt. I care about her, I always have.” I nodded. “It’s frustrating. I think we’d do well together, and I think I may have pushed away my only chance.”

“You were still children when you saw her last,” I pointed out. He shook his head.

“Not at Pantona,” he muttered, “it isn’t important. I won’t press her.” I rolled my eyes and picked up my staff.

“Then you don’t know her at all,” I said, catching his as he tossed it to me. “She isn’t intuitive about this sort of thing. If you want her, really want her, not just to flirt,” I shrugged, “make yourself known. Even if she sends Eric away, it’s only matter of time before the Rastani send one those boys or the leaders scrape together an appropriate nephew.”

“You don’t believe the leaders have put together their best,” he grinned. I punched him in his arm. “I appreciated the Lord of Gerran insisting on her sitting next to him while we stayed there on the ride down. A sixty year old king with four sons already would suit Cammadan fine.” I shook my head.

“I understand twenty years of war and starving out crippled us, but it is pathetic,” I mumbled. He shrugged.

“My brothers will be happy to fill in any gaps I can assure you,” he winked at one guards as we walked passed.

“You’re incorrigible,” I shook my head.

“Don’t know the meaning of the word,” he said. I rolled my eyes again. We stopped as we approached the palace and heard a laugh. I paused and rounded the corner anyway, and froze.

Countess Olivia and Martin were the ones laughing, that wasn’t the shocking part, the shocking part was the way they were holding eachother, and the very clear fact that this was not too old friends sharing a casual embrace.

“Athena,” Martin said, seeing me, his eyes wide. The Countess nearly jumped away. I wanted to do something. Make a joke or something. But I just stared at him. “Prince Harran,” he managed.

“I,” Olivia managed to finally squeak out, “this is not how we intended for you to find out about this.” I nodded, still mute and then my gaze went back to Martin. He wouldn’t make eye contact with me.

“I’m happy for you,” I managed. “Excuse me,” I swallowed and ran away. Why was I angry?

They were both free. And why should she be alone?

I’d told Aaron last night that he would have told me, but I’m sure he has his reasons for not doing it wasn’t that. Harran hadn’t followed me, and I was grateful as I shut my door and took deep breaths.

This was real. It wasn’t some young man who would be gone in a month or two. This wasn’t a tavern dancer or some other distraction.

She was the love of his life, he’d never lied about it. But somewhere, deep in my heart, I’d expected him to find his way home to Uncle Trey. That we’d all be a family again.

And when he grew restless, like he always did, my new family would be just as shattered.

“Athena,” Martin’s voice boomed through the door.

“Go away,” I shouted back. He opened it and walked in. “I didn’t say come in.”

“Don’t be snotty,” he said and sat down. I crossed my arms and stared at him. “Thena, I can tell the difference between your astonishment and anger, so don’t try to,”

“I am angry,” I stopped him. He exhaled, “why shouldn’t I be? I,” I paused. He looked down.

“We didn’t mean for it to happen, Love,” he said, “we’re aware that it’s inconvenient.”

“Inconvenient?” I stared at him, the inadequacy of that word. He nodded. “I had thought, you and Trey,” he exhaled.

“No,” he said simply, “no unfortunately Tristan’s decision drove the final nail in,” I looked at him.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” I asked. He shrugged. “That isn’t an answer, Martin.” He sighed.

“Olivia wasn’t ready to explain it to Aaron and Annalise,” he explained, “and I didn’t want to burden you with a secret from them.” I looked down. “And I knew you’d disapprove.”

“I don’t disapprove,” I mumbled. “I want you to be happy.” He nodded. “But I won’t keep it secret from Aaron, you’re right about that that.”

“Olivia is going to speak to him today,” he said. I nodded. “You’re afraid I’ll hurt her.”

“Or get hurt,” I said. “How long?”

“It started while we were at Pantona,” he said. I nodded.

“Couldn’t you have fallen in love with someone who meant nothing to me,” I asked. He laughed.

“I believe I tried that,” he pointed out. “Many times.” I sighed and looked at him. “I don’t expect you to be happy about it darling, but you aren’t a child anymore.” I closed my eyes.

“Does Tristan know?” I asked. He sighed.

“I didn’t tell him,” Martin said, “but well, Tristan often sees me more clearly than I like.” I nodded. He kissed me on the forehead.

“No more secrets,” I said. “And even if it ends badly,” I swallowed, “I’ll need you.”

“I would die before leaving you behind, Athena,” he said. I looked at him and started crying and he held me close. He was right of course, I wasn’t a child anymore, but in that moment I desperately wished I could be.

Not Quite In The Mood

Athena

“What is happening with them?” Aaron’s eyes narrowed on his mother and Martin. I rolled my eyes and pulled him close as the music started.

“Nothing,” I said and kissed him gently. “He’d have told me.” He nodded. “And them?” I nodded to Annalise and Harran.

“I don’t know,” he frowned. “She needs to decide soon.” I looked at him. “Tristan wrote me.” I fiddled with the buttons on my costume.

“He’s been busy,” I said. “He wrote to Marina and me too.” He laughed. “What do the Provenance leaders think about Harran?”

“They’d prefer Emmett,” he pointed to a young man, only barely a young man at that, standing quietly in the corner. “But since he’s never said two words to her, and he’s four years younger I doubt there’s much hope there.” I laughed. “Harran’s better than Eric, who they completely object to.” I frowned. “Frankly, your brother is looking damn near prudent at this point.”

“Maybe she won’t marry,” I said and sipped on my drink. He looked at me. “It would be good for us. Our children would be in the running as heirs.” I gasped. “Trey would throw a parade.” He laughed and kissed me.

“I’m neglecting you, I’m sorry,” he said. I shrugged. “We should have gone home.”

“She needs us here,” I said softly. He frowned. “Aaron,” I whispered, “we’ll be home soon enough.” He pulled me close.

“Thena,” Lisette bounced over holding Prince Eric’s hand. “Eric is taking me sailing in the morning.” I raised my eyebrows.

“She insisted that you be checked with,” The Prince said to me. I nodded.

“The coast has been clear since our arrival,” Aaron noted, “and Brayton is still in his cell in Dovetail.” I looked at him.

“Your security assesment is appreciated love,” I muttered. Lisette giggled and they ran off. “I thought you said,”

“I said the leaders don’t like the match,” he pointed out, “but I like the side he brings out of her.” I sighed and walked outside. Raymond was sitting out on the terrace and I sat with him. He looked at me.

“Are you all going to kill her?” I asked. He laughed.

“No,” he said, “they’d have sent more competent team for assassination, I can assure you.” I laughed. “Aaron has come around and your brother is gone so I suppose someone has to be the paranoid one.”

“I resent that,” I said. He shrugged. “Where is Randolph tonight?” He frowned. “He didn’t want to come?”

“No,” he said. “It doesn’t matter.” I looked at him. “I want a life here, I thought he did too, but,” I nodded, understanding. I also loved someone who seemed to want something so different from me. “You don’t want us to stay, though.”

“That isn’t true,” I said, “I like you, and I think that Lefty is good for Marina,” he smiled. “You are very good at getting people to talk to you.” He smiled. “You could stay even if the others go.”

“I suppose so,” he said softly. “It would seem ungrateful though.” I shook my head. “Why didn’t you go to Dorin?” I frowned.

“I hate it there,” I finally said out loud. “My Mama used to take us when we were little. And the house was like a tomb. And everyone bowing and scraping to my grandfather,” I shook my head. “Besides we can’t both leave her.” He nodded. “You feel the same way?” He nodded.

“If Lefty stays but Eric goes,” he shrugged. I nodded. “You’ll be a Countess then so what do you care.” I laughed.

“Can I tell you a secret?” I said. He raised an eyebrow sardonically at me. “We’re not going back to Dovetail. Aaron and me, we’re staying in Pantona after the wedding.” He looked at me and nodded.

“That’s quite the secret,” he muttered, “she doesn’t know?” I shook my head.

“We want to make sure that she’s settled, or close to it,” I said. “Eventually, we have to work towards the mandate but I want to be Aaron’s wife, I want to be Athena, not Commander DuGarry.”

“I waited my whole life to be Raymond,” he said, “not Her Majesty’s brother, not the freak or outcast. I can understand the impulse.” I looked at him and nodded. “We should both get back to the party.” I nodded and went back to the ballroom.

“I lost tonight,” Harran walked over. I rolled my eyes.

“You’ll lose tomorrow morning,” I said, “training?” He grinned.

“I’ve missed beating you,” he stuck his hands in his pockets. “See you in the morning.” I laughed and went to Aaron.

“Hello my love,” he said, I pulled close.

“Let’s get back to the palace,” I said. He grinned. “I’m tired and I want you.”

“Alright,” he said and kissed me softly. “I have to say goodbye to Lisette and my mother, I’ll meet you out front.”

“And Marina,” I said, “I’ll come with you,” he nodded and took my hand as we circulated. I tried to suss out what he was seeing between his mother and Martin. Something seems settled between them, but I can’t intuit what. I will absolutely be asking him about it.

The last thing I need is him doing his whole love and leave business with The Countess. I don’t need to watch her float stoically past him as he sighs longingly. I really do not.

“I’m glad you came,” Marina said and hugged me tightly. “I know you didn’t want to.” I laughed.

“It was wonderful,” I said softly, “you were born for this.” She sighed and nodded. We quickly moved outside and walked up the beach to the palace, which was lit up in white light. “What did Tristan write to you?” He shook his head and laughed.

“I think it’s going well enough,” he shrugged. “And he misses you but doesn’t want to worry you.” I smiled. “I wrote him that you miss him but don’t want to worry me.”

“I do miss him,” I said, “and I don’t want to worry you.” He ran his hands through my hair.

“You’re welcome to,” he said softly. “I’ll always worry about you, I can’t help it.” I laughed and we made it back to the palace and fell back into bed.

No matter how else I was feeling, being with Aaron always soothes me.

Goodbye

After the ball Aaron and I went back to my rooms and as I started to get undressed I glanced back as he settled in at the table, two small glasses in front of him.

“What are you doing?” I giggled, tying a robe around my waist.

“Remember when I wrote to you about William?” He asked. I raised my eyebrows and sat down opposite him.

“That he didn’t deflower Marina?” I asked. He laughed. “That you got drunk?”

“Yes,” he said, “with this,” he plopped a bottle in front of us and then poured two shots. It was clear, and as I picked up the glass, ice cold.

“How?” I asked. He grinned.

“Raymond enchanted the bottle,” he said, “when I mentioned I brought it back. He said that the Rastani would never drink it warm.” I laughed and we clinked the glasses and downed the spirit. It didn’t burn like whiskey, but I could feel it going right to my head.

“Oh!” I said. Aaron nodded excitedly. “Oh that is wonderful.” He smiled. “It’s Rastani?”

“Made from potatoes, apparently,” he said, “good with juices too.” I smiled and leaned across the table and grabbed the bottle re-pouring my glass. Aaron laughed and poured his we downed the next shot. A few more and I felt floaty and giggly.

“We should go back to the party,” I said jumping up.

“No,” he said, “first of all the party is over and second of all you’re drunk,” I stuck out my tongue and looked at him. “Come to bed. I’ve missed sleeping with you.” I melted and took his outstretched hand and slid into his lap.

“Tristan is going,” I whispered. He nodded. “I wanted him to go, but now that it’s happening,” I sighed. “I don’t know who I am without him.” He slowly pushed my hair out of my face. “We’ve always been together.”

“You are amazing,” he whispered, “you aren’t one of a set, Thena. I’ll miss him too, but I promise you’ll survive.” He kissed me gently. “I want to be your family.”

“You already are,” I whispered. “But, I just,” I swallowed. Trying to explain being a twin to others is hard. It’s frustrating to be treated as two halves of a whole, but in so many ways we are.

Without Tristan I worry I’m going to be off balance. I kissed Aaron again gently and we went to bed. After sleeping for a bit I got up before dawn and slipped out to go to the stable. Tristan had just finished saddling Elian and he looked at me.

“Athena,” he whispered softly.

“Tristan,” I swallowed.

“I have to meet Alex at the gates,” he mumbled. I nodded. “I’m sorry.”

“Me too,” I said. “Don’t let them change you. If you come back as some prissy merchant boy who does everything Trey says, I’ll never speak to you again.” He laughed.

“And if I come back to a harderned warrior with a single focus,” he smiled, “I will run away terrified.” I laughed and hugged him tightly. “I love you.”

“I love you too,” I whispered. “I’ll see you soon.” He nodded and wiped the tears out of his eyes. I walked back towards the palace and entered the hall. Marina and Annalise were both standing there, looking at a mossaic of a wave hitting the mountain.

Lisette’s eyes were red from crying, but she smiled when she looked at me.

“I think it’s time for us to get to work,” she said softly.

“Alright,” I answered. Marina swallowed and took a deep breath, she drew her hands together and apart, creating a small ball of light, the same blinding white as the burst of battle magic that day with the shadows. I gasped.

“It’s not me,” she said softly, “it’s the Goddess. That was the answer.” I nodded. “Balance your hands under it,” she said softly. She looks different, sure of herself and steady, holy. I nooded and did as instructed, “Annalise,” Annalise swallowed and placed her hands on the opposite side of the orb. Marina’s hovered above it.

“What now?” I asked.

“We make a vow,” Annalise said, “do you pledge to me, Athena Dugarry, Champion of The God of Land and War, that you will aid me in my mandate to free the gods from their binding to the wheel of time?”

“I so vow,” I whispered. The next words came to me, but I’d never learned them, I just knew them. “Do you, Annalise Dovetail, Sword of The Goddess of Sea and Light, vow to lead me truly? To command with justice and hope for peace in all things?”

“I so vow,” she whispered. The orb changed shape into a beam shooting up through the ceiling to the sky. I felt calm and whole. And she smiled and me.

“It is done,” Marina said with a gravitas I didn’t know she possessed. “You are bound in your service to the gods and one another.” We all made eye contact and giggled.

“Why doesn’t she have to make a vow?” I said nodding to Marina as we walked towards a parlor. Once we got there a maid appeared with a plate of pastries and a pot of coffee on a tray.

“I will,” Marina shrugged, “once I teach Raymond the ritual. I can’t do it for myself, and Mastero Anselm says he doesn’t have enough power.”

“Hmm,” I said. “So how was it?” I leaned forward.

“The ritual?” She said. “Inredible, I’ve never felt so at peace with myself.” Annalise snorted.

“She didn’t mean the ritual.” She sighed and took a long sip of coffee.

“Oh,” Marina blushed. “I don’t want to,” she muttered.

“I imagine he knows what he’s doing,” I grinned. “I asked around The Dumanis and he has quite the reputation.” Marina sighed.

“He certainly knew what he was doing,” she said pouring her own. “Who won?”

“That would be her majesty,” I kicked Annalise who shushed me. “Are you alright?” I said. Annalise sighed softly.

“I’ll miss him” she said softly, closing her eyes. “But it’s for the best.” I nodded and took each of their hands.

“I’m very much looking forward to our quest, my friends,” I said softly.

A Winter’s Ball (Part 2)

I don’t know that I will ever get over how enchanting it is to watch Aaron in a ballroom. He is just so exceptionally good with people. And it is wonderful that every few moments he makes sure to catch my eye and smile at me.

We were in bed all afternoon. I’d missed him so much, it was so easy. But tonight we couldn’t miss. Marina worked so hard to make this winter festival special, and it really is. There have been some wonderful parties since Annalise returned but this one just sparkles. Everything is lit by candles and, with Raymond’s help, a shimmering magical net of stars over the dance floor.

“I didn’t want to interrupt earlier,” Tristan walked over to me, I glanced at him and nodded. “I’m going tomorrow.” I stopped, swallowed the sip of wine I’d just taken. “Thena, don’t.”

“Tomorrow?” I said. He nodded. “I thought you were waiting until court moved.”

“Aaron’s back now, and The Dowager Countess,” he said softly, “And Martin, she doesn’t need me here now.” I scowled and took another sip.

“Well she might not,” I muttered. He laughed. “My contract.”

“I have spoken to Aaron,” he said, “Lisette and I will write to settle it, as we both know what you want.” It was far too sensible a solution.

“Mama’s jewelry?” I said. He nodded.

“If you’ll allow me a few pieces for my own bride,” he said and took a deep sip. I nodded. “Your children will have full access to guild training should they elect for it. Though if they do, I will assume you raised them poorly.” I laughed.

“Yes,” I said, “and my oldest, girl or boy inherits Pantona.”

“That’s law in Cammadan,” Tristan said, “and Lisette of all people is unlikely to challenge it.” I laughed. “If it works, in Dorin, you’ll stand for me? Not Alex?” My eyes filled with tears and I threw my arms around his neck. “Thena,” he muttered.

“If Alex tries to supplant me I’ll stab him,” I whispered in his ear, and he laughed. “Does Lisette know?” He shook his head. “Marina?”

“I’ll tell them tonight.” He said softly. I nodded. “You wanted this, you lunatic!”

“Well, not tonight I didn’t,” I muttered. He laughed. “I’ll miss you is all.” He smiled and kissed me on the cheek.

“I’ll miss you too,” he said. Aaron bounced over to us, as the music was picking up in tempo.

“I believe I have done my duty by every young lady thrust into Dovetail after the ascension,” Aaron said, taking the sparkling wine out of Tristan’s hand and taking it down in one gulp. “But I think a dance with my intended would be preferable. If it’s allowed?”

“As far as I know,” Tristan said, “being not immersed in it yet, I think dancing with your intended is permitted.”

“Thank Cornan,” he winked and took my hand and I laughed as his other hand placed on my waist and pulled me close. “Commander.”

“Your Grace,” I said as he whirled me around in time. “Aaron, are you still sure, after being home?”

“I am even more sure,” he said. I beamed. “I’m serious, Athena, I thought I was going to die of grief and boredom without you.” I kissed him softly. “Are you alright? I know Tristan leaving is a lot for you?”

“I’ll manage,” I said softly. “It will be easier since I’ll be planning our wedding.” He laughed. “Would you like the Mastero to officiate? Or maybe a sister?”

“I thought Marina, actually,” he said. “Thought I suppose The Mastero makes sense.” I nodded. “What do The Guilds do?” I frowned.

“The head of your guild,” I said and shook my head. “If Grandfather dies before we manage it, then I would allow Trey to, but I don’t want him.” He smiled. “Is William really going to marry Kathy?”

“Possibly,” he said. “But I have a feeling that Kathy’s enthusiasm for the match will probably wane.” I looked at him. “She seemed to think,” he shook his head, “well, she seemed under the impression that as William was my manager it would give her convenient access to the manor and well, to me.” I stopped dancing and stared at him, my mouth agape. “I told her that under no circumstances would that happen.”

“I ought to throttle her,” I said. He laughed. “Oh, poor William!” I giggled. He pulled my close and kissed me again. “You didn’t even consider it?”

“No,” he said, “I don’t want anyone else.” I smiled. “We have the rest of our lives ahead of us, that’s all I think about.” I pressed my forehead against his chest.

“I love you,” I said softly. He kissed my hair gently.