I woke seeing Damian sitting up. I looked at him then noticed it was still dark out.
“Where are you going?” I asked. He laughed and kissed me.
“I didn’t want to wake you,” he whispered. I nodded. “But I probably shouldn’t be found here either.” I nodded. “I will see you in the morning.”
“No,” I whispered and took his hand, “stay a little longer.” He laughed and kissed my hand.
“No,” he said. “I’ll come again tomorrow night, if you’d like.” I nodded. “Sleep well, my love.” I fell back against the pillows and exhaled. I wasn’t going to be able to sleep anymore no matter how hard I tried. I wrapped myself in a cloak and walked to my maze. I reached the center and found Tristan at the fountain.
“Hello,” I said softly. He looked at me.
“Hello,” he smiled. “I can’t sleep.” I nodded.
“Me neither,” I said and took his hand. “Do you know her name?” He looked at me. “This girl you’re going to marry?”
“Carolina DuKarras,” he said softly, “nothing is decided or final, of course, but that’s who Grandfather and Uncle Geno have in mind. Alexander, my cousin, said she’s pretty at least, and she’s rich.” He skipped a rock against the pond. “She’s a good candidate for me because her father’s main territory is the midlands.”
“Ah,” I whispered softly, “so with Athena being married to Aaron.” He nodded. “I slept with Lefty last night.” He looked at me. “I’m so in love with him, Tristan, I sometimes can’t breathe.” He nodded.
“You’re frightened?” He asked. I nodded. “Of him?”
“No,” I sighed, “no, it’s just, before him, there’s was only you, and we,” I looked down, “we knew everything about each other.”
“And he’s a stranger?” He said. I nodded. “I’m tying my future to a girl I’ve never seen, and you had a stranger in your bed. I feel the two very serious children who sat in Brayton’s dining room would disapprove heartily of us.” I giggled and he laughed too. “I’ll miss you.” I slid my hand into his. “I still have that handkerchief, you know,” I blushed. “The one you gave me when I went to Pantona.”
“I remember,” I said softly. “That feels so long ago.” He nodded and leaned down and kissed me softly.
“I thought it was my turn this time,” he whispered and slipped a simple gold bangle into my hand. I saw the small AD engraved into it.
“Tristan,” I whispered.
“It was my mother’s,” he said. I nodded and he slipped it over my hand onto my wrist. “Don’t tell Athena. I think it’s technically supposed to be a part of her dowry but I doubt Aaron would miss it.” I laughed but I realized I was also crying.
“I hope she deserves you,” I said softly.
“I hope he does,” he said. “I need you to watch out for Athena,” he said softly. I looked at him.
“She has Aaron,” I said. He nodded.
“Aaron is in love with her,” he said, “he doesn’t see when she loses control,” he exhaled. “Sometimes she needs someone to pull her back.” I nodded understanding.
“And who will pull you back?” I whispered. He laughed and kissed my hand again.
“I’ll have to rely on my memories of you and Athena for that,” he said softly. I nodded.
“Have you seen Lisette?” I asked. He shook his head. “Tristan!”
“I can’t, Rina,” he exhaled. “If I stop to say goodbye to her, I won’t go.” I nodded and kissed him on the cheek going back to the palace and then to our apartments. Annalise was standing on the balcony looking out as we watched his horse exit through the gates. She was crying and I slipped my arm around her.
“Can I not be the queen?” She asked softly. I looked at her. “Aaron and I used to play a game, you see,” she exhaled. “What if I was Lisette? What if Annalise was someone else, another girl, hidden somewhere else. What if I was really just Lisette, a the daughter of a barmaid and a Phanian sailor who died or abandoned her? What if one day a travelling soldier came to Pantona, and I loved him?” She was sobbing now. “So you see if I wasn’t the queen, I could be married to Tristan. If I was Lisette, I’d be training to be in the guard now, because his wife will be expected to,” she exhaled, “I’ll have to smile at her, and call her Lady Dugarry and induct her and it’s going to be the worst thing I have to do.”
“I’m glad that you’re you,” I said softly. She looked at me. “I understand what you’re saying,” I looked down, “but this other Annalise, I don’t know who she would be.” She smiled. “And you can’t not be queen, because then I have to be and I don’t see that going terribly well.” She laughed.
“I suppose not,” she said and blinked at me. “I think Mercy owes me money.” I blinked at her.
“You bet on tonight?” I sighed. She nodded. “Goddess, that’s dignified behavior.” She giggled. “I don’t want him to go.” She smiled.
“I am trying,” she said softly, “not just for your sake, I promise, I really do care for Eric, it’s just he’s not,” I nodded. “It’ll be easier now, I think.”
“I hope so,” I whispered. “And there’s still the other thing.” She nodded. “He can’t come to Brightcoast, Annalise, I feel that, so deeply, it’s,” she swallowed.
“I know,” she said. “He’ll stay here, Anselm is going to as well.” I nodded. “If I haven’t killed him by then.”
“Anselm, or Brayton?” I smirked. She laughed.
“Both,” she said, “or either.” She hugged me. “I’m so glad I’m not alone.” She whispered, I understood her completely.