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.

Breakfast

Carolina

I woke up in the morning to my mother throwing open the drapes of me room.

“Mother,” I groaned and pulled my covers over my head. “No one will be calling this morning. Please.”

“What about Tristan?” She said. I grumbled and rubbed my eyes sitting up. “And the general? They said they’d be at breakfast.”

“They’ll train first,” I yawned. She glared at me. “Oh alright,” I mumbled. I pushed out of bed and got dressed quickly. “Mama,” I said softly as she tightened my laces, “Last night, Tristan asked me to go to Brightcoast with him, if they have to leave.” She frowned.

“That’s ridiculous,” she said, “you aren’t married yet and it will be very dangerous.” I swallowed.

“Yes, but,” I said softly, “if I’m going to join the guard, and we’re going to war, I should start training.” She looked at me.

“Your father won’t like it,” she said softly. She cupped my face. “There’s no rush, my darling.” I swallowed.

“But,” I stuttered, and she left. I sighed and sat down. Emily walked in after her. “Good morning.”

“Good morning,” she said softly. “Are you alright? I can’t believe Papa brought Andrei to your engagement party.” I shook my head and laughed.

“That’s the least of my problems right now,” I said. She looked at me and frowned. “Did you and Alex have a nice evening?”

“Yes,” she said and bit the inside of her cheek. I looked at her. I wondered if they’d quarrelled. Knowing just how fickle Alex could be, I didn’t think that was good, “I just wish that now that it’s all settled with you and Tristan, we could begin getting settled.” I laughed and hugged her.

“I agree,” I said, “you should absolutely be getting settled as soon as possible.” She looked at me.

“Are you feeling alright?” She said. I nodded. “I can tell you, Alex and his mother aren’t at all happy about General Martin showing up.”

“Tristan mentioned that The General often clashes with the family,” I explained, we walked out and downstairs to the dining room. Father was sitting at the table, anxiously drumming his fingers.

“Papa,” Emily said, “you look perturbed.” He frowned.

“Caro,” he sighed. I looked at him and poured myself a cup of tea, “as I understand it my delayed breakfast is Tristan’s fault.” I swallowed.

“I’m sure he’ll be along presently,” I said. I was done managing my father. Last night was my last straw. “Is Captain Arain not joining us?” He narrowed his eyes at me. “Tristan mentioned he was interested to speak further with him.”

“What’s this?” Tristan said walking in, followed by General Martin.

“Nothing,” I smiled as he kissed me on the cheek. “Hello General.” He smiled and sat down next to me.

“Good Morning, Miss DuKarras,” he grinned, “Mr. DuKarras, thank you for having us.” Father snorted

“I don’t believe you had a chance to meet Emily last night,” Tristan said motioning to me sister. The General took her hand and kissed it. She blushed a little. I didn’t blame her. Old enough to be our father, maybe, but the General is incredibly handsome.

“I did not, but I’m glad to,” he said. “Trey tells me that Alex is quite attached to you. I hope we can count on you influencing him to be as supportive as the family’s been in the past.”

“Of course,” she said, “I’m a loyal subject of Queen Annalise, and as my sister will be in the guard as well,” she shrugged. He winked at me and I smiled. “Are we really going to war?”

“Hopefully not,” The General sighed, and picked up a pastry from a tray that had been brought out, “Annalise and Prince Eric had been arguing but they seem to have mended things. Of course there’s always the possibility that their courtship was always just a delaying tactic for King Daniel, but,” Tristan caught his eye and with pursed lips, shook his head once. He cleared his throat. “Excuse me, I’m out of practice with company. I was exiled from Brayton’s court for a year and Annalise and The Dowager Countess never really expect conversation from me.”

“That’s a lie,” Tristan said with a laugh, “The Dowager Countess expects conversation from everyone. She just loves you enough to put up with strategy talk at dinner.” I laughed. “You slept alright?” He asked me.

“Yes, very well,” I said. “General, my mother and I were disagreeing this morning, but I felt it was important for me to go to Brightcoast as soon as possible to begin training.”

“Oh certainly,” Martin nodded. “I think that’s for the best.” I smiled and sipped my tea. “We’ll have to decide where to best place you of course.”

“I would have thought with Prince Eric,” Emily said, her voice very chipper, “isn’t that traditional? Tristan, didn’t you say that your mother was placed with Queen Marie for that reason?”

“Yes, but I don’t want to presume anything,” I said. I looked at Tristan, I wanted reassurance from him.

“Regardless, Tristan tells me you’ll come with us when we leave soon?” The General said. I nodded. “I’m glad to hear it.”

“Hold on,” Father said, “I don’t believe we agreed to anything of the kind.” I looked at him.

“We’re discussing it now,” I said, “after all before our engagement I was going to go to Rastan, wasn’t I? How is this different?” He glared at me. I knew exactly why it was different. Rastan was his plan, Andrei was loyal to him, would keep me close. Tristan turned and looked at him.

“I can assure you, Mr. DuKarras,” Tristan said, “everything will be perfectly appropriate. I’ve already written a letter to Duchess Marina asking if Caro could stay with her until our plans return to normal.” I looked at him. Mama’s eyes grew wide.

“Really?” She said. I swallowed and Tristan slid his hand into mine. “And you think the Duchess will accept?”

“Yes,” Tristan said with a shrug. “Why wouldn’t she? We’re old friends, she’s been very supportive in her letters.”

“She’s quite young, isn’t she?” Emily said. Tristan smiled at her.

“She’s your age,” he said, “so old enough to know her own mind.” Emily giggled. “She’s looking forward to meeting you, Caro.” I swallowed.

“I’m looking forward to meeting her as well,” I said softly. “Papa,” I looked at him. He frowned at me.

“I won’t stand in the way,” he sighed, “but I don’t approve.”

“Good then,” the General smiled, “if you have a few moments, sir, perhaps we could discuss what can be spared to defend your country.” Father’s eye twitched and they stood up and walked out. Emily frowned.

“Well that was awful,” she muttered. Tristan sighed and looked at me.

“You did very well,” he smiled. I sighed.

“I can’t be left behind again,” I swallowed. He nodded. “I mean it, Tristan, I just can’t.” He stood up and sat down next to me and took my hand.

“I know that,” he said softly, “I won’t, ever, I swear it.” I nodded and kissed him gently.

“Alright,” I said. Emily snorted. “Oh what.”

“Nothing,” she said, “but you two are never allowed to mock Alex and I again.”

Arrangements

Marina

“I’ll jump in the harbor before sitting down with that man,” Damian said slamming his glass down. Raymond rolled his eyes and Eric sighed loudly. “I’m serious, Eric.”

“You’re being dramatic,” he mumbled and rubbed his fingers in a circle around his temple. I looked at him.

“I don’t think I am,” Damian growled, I put my hand on his arm. I could feel the anger radiating off of him. “It’s like Daniel is trying to annoy us back.”

“It wouldn’t be his stupidest idea,” Raymond said. “Sending Franz to actually lead an invasion would be stupider.”

“Who is he?” I asked. “Athena’s asked me to have him here for dinner, she called it neutral ground.”

“I repeat my intention to jump in the harbor,” Damian said. “He’s a pompous idiot who’s nose is so far up King Daniel’s ass I’m surprised he can breathe.”

“If he were just a sycophant that would be bad enough,” Raymond said, “he also happens to be a favorite of my sister’s which means even if Daniel got sick of him, he’d still have power.” He looked at Eric. “You may have to go home, Eric. Talk them down.”

“It won’t come to that,” Eric said, “we’ll all be at dinner.” Damian growled, “all, Lefty, I won’t hear another word about it.” He looked at me. “You don’t mind?”

“No,” I said, “of course not.” He smiled. “He’ll behave.” Damian glared at me. “Won’t you my love?”

“To spare you embarassment,” he kissed me, “but I won’t like it.” I smiled softly. “I need to check on,” he swallowed.

“Of course,” I said, he needed to make sure that the Addisons were alright, to be with his old friends. “Give them my best.” He nodded and stormed out.

“I don’t envy Dorian Addison right now,” Raymond said and shut the book he was reading. Eric sighed. “Did Franz horse whip him, or something? He’s normally fine with officers.”

“It’s about his mother, isn’t it?” I asked softly. Eric looked at me and nodded. “It usually is.” I sighed. “I need a little more information though.”

“Of course you do,” Eric said. “I don’t know a lot about him personally. Professionally he’s a nightmare, of course, and thinks he’s my superior.”

“I noticed that part,” I said. I looked at Raymond.

“What? You think because I actually lived at court I know all of Elana’s little friends’ foibles?” He sighed. I shrugged. “He’s a flatterer. He already knows Annalise is a lost cause, but he’ll try to get in with you. Probably the Dowager Countess too. He understands how women wield power in Phania. The way you do it here might confuse him, you can use that.”

“I was thinking more what sort of food to serve, but thank you,” I smiled, “that was very helpful.” He shrugged.

“Whatever you serve will be fine,” Eric said with a loud sigh. “Maybe source from the Pharra neighborhood? You can mention it, and he’ll appreciate it?” I frowned. “The Admiral is Pharras, in fact, he’s angling to be appointed governor.”

“So that clears that up,” Raymond said, “are we done? I’m supposed to show Nika the maps we’ve been working on.” Eric nodded and he left.

“The Admiral doesn’t support independence then?” I said. Eric shook his head. “Neither do you, though.”

“Ah, but that’s different,” Eric said, “I’m Phanian, I don’t know any better.” I laughed. “He views it as a betrayal, not helped by Franz’s blunt reminders of Lefty’s birth every chance he gets.”

“He said he out ranks you,” I frowned. “Is that true?”

“Technically, if we were on a ship yes, he’s an admiral, I’m a captain,” Eric shrugged, “but as a senior advisor and the heir, and on foreign soil, we’re about on an even playing field. Daniel likely did just send him verses someone else to annoy me.”

“Well, that’s helpful,” I said. “He’s also middle of the pecking order, I know how to handle that.”

“Oh, you’re funny,” Eric sighed and stretched, before standing up. “Marina, I,” he sighed, “Annalise and I never want our complications to become your complications.” I shrugged.

“I know you all tease me about it but it’s all linked,” I said softly. “My mandate is to aid her mandate, her setbacks are mine. That’s how it works.” He sighed.

“I can still feel guilty about it though, right?” He winked.

“Oh by all means,” I nodded and walked over to my desk and picked up a pen. “Torture yourself, that doesn’t bother me at all.” He walked over and kissed me on the cheek.

“If we go back,” he said, “you’re really coming with us?”

“That is the current plan yes,” I said softly. He nodded. “Why?”

“I’m working on a letter to my sister in law,” he shrugged, “I light mention of you wouldn’t go amiss.” I rolled my eyes. “This is all very delicate.”

“I know that,” I said, “so does he. But we can’t make him be happy about it Eric.”

“No,” he sighed, “I suppose we can’t.” He looked at me.

“Do you need something else?” I said. He sighed loudly. “Eric, I really do have a lot to do.”

“If Tristan Dugarry comes back,” he said. I sighed.

“When he comes back,” I said, “he is always going to come back.” He nodded. “She’ll choose you,” I said softly. He smiled sadly.

“You’re so sure?” He asked. I nodded. “Why?”

“Because he’s not coming back for her,” I said simply. “Not in that way. He’s coming back for his family and his duty, with a wife, who, unless he’s lying to me in his letters, he’s quite fond of.” Eric nodded. “And if I’m wrong, we’ll handle that too,” I swallowed. He nodded. “Are you,” I swallowed, “are you only asking for yourself?” He smiled sadly.

“He doesn’t know how to bring it up,” he admitted. I sighed. “You two are writing then?”

“Yes,” I said softly. “We’ve always written, when we aren’t together. Tristan’s my oldest friend, Eric, before he’s anything else.” He nodded. “He doesn’t mention her much, which is different.” He sighed and nodded. “We can’t do this without him,” I swallowed, “Athena and me, I mean. We need him.”

“Fine,” he said and stood up. “But you can’t expect us to be happy about it.” I snorted.

“Don’t worry,” I muttered as he left. “I don’t.”

Always Friends

Annalise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Surprise Visitors

Carolina

I’ve never seen my mother how she’s been for the past few weeks, certainly not with me. Perhaps when I first came out and they thought that Alex and me were going to happen, but now she’s a full whirlwind. We’ve hosted people every day, either for tea or dinner, well wishers, and gawkers.

It would be hideous, if it weren’t for Tristan being by my side in all of it. I suddeny realized how wonderful it was to be marrying a courtier. He always said the right thing.

And when we were alone, well that was a completely different thing entirely. We didn’t manage every night, but enough of them, that I’d completely lost any sense of self consciousness about it. His hands on me, him inside of me, the way he kisses me and whispers my name, it’s the most comfortable thing in the world.

There have been gifts and gowns and the one I’m treasuring the most, lost in the mess of silks and jewels that my new in laws to be have sent over, is a simple gold pendant with a crest on it, strung on a simple green velvet band Tristan sent it with a simple note.

I felt the need to have this made. It’s The Dugarry Crest, and you certainly never have to wear it, I know my grandfather is sending over something far more elaborate.

Yours,

Tristan.

I haven’t taken it off, much to my mother’s irritation.

“I just don’t see why,” she sighed. I looked at her.

“Mama,” Emily shook her head, “Caro is going to be Lady Dugarry, not Madame Dumanis.” I smiled warmly at her. “I think it’s fitting.”

“Perhaps,” Mother said, and tied a pink sash around my waist, accenting the white dress I’d put on. “But for tonight, darling, maybe at least the earrings the old man sent over.” I frowned.

“I’ll wear the whole set, though I’m wearing the gown he sent,” I sighed. It was our official engagement party at the manor tonight. I slipped the pendant off and instead pinned it inside my sash. “Where’s Father?”

“He said he will join us there,” she said, “several ships came in this afternoon and it’s delayed him.” I frowned. My father was less enthusiastic about my engagement than I expected. For the man who was so intent on unloading me that he basically sold me to someone who abandoned me, he’s been curiously distant and stoic about the situation. To the point that my mother is worried The Dumanis are going to be insulted. I’m starting to see her point.

“Madame,” our butler walked in, “the young gentlemen are here to escort the ladies.” Emily squealed and flew off.

“Emily, do try to,” Mother called after her, “oh never mind, she’s hopeless.” I laughed. “Darling, I know you’re fed up with all of this, but it’s important to me, so I am glad you’re going along with it.” I smiled in the mirror and he squeezed my shoulders. “You shouldn’t keep him waiting.” I stood up and hurried to the front hall. Emily and Alex were already bundled in their carriage and Tristan was standing waiting for me.

“I was lucky they got out the door,” Tristan said softly. I laughed. “I’m an apalling chaperone.” I kissed him and he pulled me close. “I’ve missed you.”

“It’s been two days,” I said, “you couldn’t have missed me much.” He laughed.

“And yet, here we are,” he sighed, we walked outside. “I like this one,” he said, sliding the light linen of my gown between his fingers. “Is it from me? I’ve lost track.”

“From your grandfather, the jewels too,” I said. He nodded helping me into the carriage, where Emily and Alex were fully entwined. “Emily, Mother is joining us.” She sighed and pulled away, straightening herself. “Hello Alex.”

“Caro,” he smiled at me. Once Mother joined us the carriage carried us over to the manor and we walked inside, I relaxed into Tristan’s arm around my waist. I was surprised that not only were most of the merchants I’d ever known or seen here, so were many of the officers from the fort.

“Oh no,” Tristan said, as another one of them walked in. But he didn’t actually sound upset, he seemed, elated.

“What?” I said. He took my hand.

“I’m going to apologize in advance for how my entire family is about to react to something,” he said and we started walking. He looked excited though, even though there was a sudden hush in conversation. “Hello General.” He was beaming.

“Well, this is certainly something,” the man standing in front us laughed. I tried my best to take in General Thomas Martin, and he was quite something. If I’d thought Tristan was born to wear the uniform, it was clearly something he’d learned from The General. “You’re being rude, Tristan.”

“I’m sorry, you caught me by surprise,” he said, “This is Carolina DuKarras,” he looked at me. “Caro, love, this is General Thomas Martin.” My heart leapt.

“Oh!” I said, “Oh I’m so happy to meet you!”

“And I you,” The General said, gently, “I must say, it’s strange to be back here.” Tristan laughed and hugged him.

“Is Thena with you?” He asked.

“No,” he sighed, “honestly, this just happened to work out, I’m actually here to beg a favor if you can believe it, there have been some, developments.” Tristan frowned. “I don’t want to ruin your night, boy, we’ll discuss it later,” The General sighed. “I suppose I have to say hello to your grandfather, hm.”

“On your own head be it,” Tristan shrugged. “Trey is over there.” The General sighed.

“Yes, yes,” he said, “lovely to meet you Carolina, we’ll speak more soon.” I nodded as he left. I looked at Tristan.

“You really didn’t know he was coming?” I said. He shook his head. “I’m glad for you, and to meet him.” He kissed me gently. “You’ve gone, what is it?”

“Something must be very wrong, if he won’t tell me,” he frowned. I swallowed and turned his head, to look at me. “I’m sorry, I’m back.”

“You aren’t,” I said gently, “go speak with him. You’re useless to me in this state.” He laughed and kissed me softly. I exhaled and decided to explore a little, walking out into the hall, my father had walked into the door. “Kind of you to join us.”

“No need to be so prickly,” he said. “I’m here, I’ll make my apologies.” I frowned. “Would you prefer I hadn’t come at all?” He kissed me on the forehead. “And where is Tristan?”

“General Martin surprised him by arriving today,” I explained. Father nodded.

“Honestly, Angelo,” the man who swept in behind him, made my heart jump. “I’d rather not have come here first,” but then he smiled at me. “Well, hello Caro.”

“Andrei,” I managed a whisper.

“Ah, there’s the bride,” Trey Dumanis came in, “I was sent to fetch you.” I nodded, numbly and followed after him. I swallowed. “Are you alright?”

“I, thought,” I exhaled. “My father arrived.” He nodded.

“Yes,” he said, “and with Captain Arrain at that.” I nodded and took a glass of water he offered me. “May I give you some advice?”

“Yes,” I said, taking a large sip.

“Don’t let him rattle you,” he said. I swallowed. “Tristan knows everything?” I nodded. “And he’s standing by you?”

“He says so, but it was different, when he wasn’t,” I sighed, “he’s here.” Trey smiled softly. “Do you know everything?”

“I know that you and the Captain were involved,” he said, “and that you were rather changed after he left.” I smiled softly.

“Are you happy to see General Martin?” I said. Trey let out an indulgent sigh.

“Yes, I am always happy to see Tom,” he admitted, “though his appearance doesn’t bode well for how things are going in the south. Apparently he’s here to see about using guild ships for some conflict with Phania.”

“Oh,” I whispered, “I should find Tristan.” He nodded and I went back to the ballroom. Tristan was standing by his grandfather who looked, for probably the first time in my life, not just mildly irritated, but genuinely furious. Tristan’s brow was furrowed, and he’d lost all of his color. I walked over to him. “Are you alright?”

“I will be,” he said softly and kissed my forehead. My heart stopped beating so quickly. “I may have to leave earlier than I planned.” I looked up at him.

“I’ll come with you,” I said simply, “whenever.” He smiled. “My father finally arrived.” He smiled.

“A relief,” he said. He paused and saw them walking over to us. “Who’s that with him?”

“Commander Dugarry,” my father said and shook his hand. “May I present Captain Andrei Arrain? He’s the reason for my delay.” I exhaled and stared at the floor. “We had some matters to settle.”

“Of course,” Tristan’s voice was ice cold. “I’ve heard a lot about you, Captain Arrain.” Andrei looked at me then.

“Yes,” he said cautiously, “I imagine you have. I want to wish you both immeasurable joy.” I swallowed.

“That’s kind of you,” I said softly. He nodded and they walked away. “I was coming to warn you.”

“I could kill him,” Tristan said evenly, “would you like that? I bet Lisette would even pardon me for it.” I burst into a laugh and then kissed him. “Are you alright?”

“I think so,” I whispered, “I was shocked, and I don’t know what my father was thinking bringing him here.” He bit his lip. “Why is the old man so riled?”

“Oh, Martin always riles him,” Tristan shrugged, “they can’t stand each other. I’m sure Grandfather will threaten to kill him six times before breakfast.” I giggled. “Can we go to the gardens, I want to tell you everything, and I can’t here.” I nodded and we walked out into the courtyard. “I have to leave as soon as possible.”

“We have to leave,” I corrected him. He frowned. “Why?”

“There is a flotilla of Phanian ships in the Brightcoast Harbor,” he swallowed. “The General came to ask Grandfather for ships.” I sat down on a bench.

“My father,” I said. He sighed and nodded. “My father manages all shipping under your grandfather.”

“Yes,” Tristan said, “he does.” I looked at him.

“This will not look good, for us,” I said. “My family I mean, not you and I. Suddenly, we’re married and Alex and Emily,” he sighed. “But my father is now indispensable to The Old Man.”

“Look at me,” he said, “I don’t care about any of that. I want you with me, I want to marry you, I love you Caro,” I swallowed realizing it was the first time he’d said it out loud. “But it won’t be the same, if you come to Brightcoast. I thought we’d have time to figure out our new life.” I looked at him.

“Are you worried about seeing her again?” I whispered. I realized that’s what was worrying me. He swallowed and cupped my face.

“No,” he said, “I am worried that she’ll hate you though. And then I’ll have to hate her and that’s very complicated.” I kissed him. “You don’t have to come, I could send for you when we go to Dovetail.”

“No,” I said, “I’m coming with you. You aren’t leaving me behind.” He smiled.

“Alright,” he said softly. “You’ll forgive me for not coming over tonight?” I nodded. “You’re wonderful. I’ll come in the morning and bring the general. I’m sure he’ll want to talk to you.” I laughed.

“I look forward to it.” I whispered. He slipped his hands through my hair. “What is it?”

“I lived most of my life in war,” he said, “it was a secret one, but still. I don’t know that I’ll like the open kind any better.” I kissed him softly. I didn’t know what else do. “Being here has been so different and wonderful.”

“I don’t,” I sighed and pressed my forehead to mine. “We’ve talked about me wanting a different life, but if you,” I drifted off. He swallowed and shook his head.

“I didn’t mean that,” he said, “besides, Athena would never forgive me.” I laughed. “Are you alright?” I nodded. “I didn’t want to make a scene, that was right, wasn’t it?”

“Yes,” I giggled, “that was right.” He smiled.

“You’re doing what?” We heard Trey shout from the terrace. Tristan grimaced.

“Well, I think Martin just told him that he’s been involved with Dowager Countess of Pantona,” Tristan sighed. “I didn’t expect him to take it well, but a public outburst is something else.” I smiled. “I said it earlier but I really do apologize. I love him but Martin brings out the absolute worst in The Dumanis.”

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

With All Due Respect

Marina

I started to get undressed when I felt Damian’s lips against my neck. He undid my necklace clasp and then began unlacing me.

“I’ve been thinking,” he said softly.

“Mm,” I closed my eyes.

“I may resign my post,” he said, “and go to work for my father. Then I could live here, but still sail.” I turned around and kissed him deeply. “Nothing’s final, love.”

“That you’re even considering it is my victory,” I whispered and he walked me back to the bed. “Damian,” I said gently, “let me undress.”

I want to undress you,” he said softly, pulling my gown down. “I hate that you ever wear clothes.” I giggled as he kissed me.

“I’m sorry M’Lady,” a guard ran in. I sat up and pulled my dress, “Commander Dugarry is here.” I stood up.

“Did she say why?” I asked. He shook his head. I exhaled. “We’ll be right down.”

“Meaning no offense,” he mumbled, “She’s requested Lieutenant Lestoff remain here.” I looked at him worried, but he nodded.

“Alright,” I said and walked downstairs. Athena was staring at me. “What is it?” I said softly. “Thena,” I said softly. “Why didn’t you want Damian to come?”

“The ships are here,” she said, her voice dry. I stared at her wide eyes. “Some admiral has already come ashore to speak to Lisette.” I stared at her. “I’ll speak to Lefty, but he can’t leave, Eric and Raymond are sequestered at the palace too.” I swallowed.

“And the others?” I said.

“At the barracks, the same situation,” Athena said softly, “until we know more, we can’t risk.” I nodded. “Do you want to tell him?”

“He’ll want to go to Eric,” I whispered. She nodded. “Can’t we escort him?” She shook her head.

“No, I’m sorry, these are the orders,” she looked so sad. It’s moments like these that I remember that she’s a soldier, first and foremost. “Marina,” she said, “be quick about it.” I nodded and hurried back upstairs.

“What’s wrong?” Damian looked at me. “Rina,” I swallowed.

“There are ships,” I said softly, he exhaled, “I have to go to the palace, Athena said you have to stay here until we know more.”

“You don’t think,” he whispered, “Marina,” I swallowed. “I didn’t send for anyone.”

“No one thinks that,” I said, “but Athena has orders.” He exhaled. “I’m sorry, I know.” He pressed his forehead to mine. “I have to go.”

“I know,” he whispered. “I love you.” I nodded and grabbed a cloak and Athena and I moved quickly up the beach to the palace and into the throne room. Annalise had changed. I smiled. The Crown of The Goddess was on her head, and she was in her green battle dress.

“Where is he?” She asked Athena.

“Being held in the dining room,” Athena said simply, “we wanted everyone here first.” I walked over and kissed her gently on the cheek.

“Are you alright?” I said. She nodded. “You can do this.”

“Right,” she mumbled and settled in on the dais. Martin, Athena and I flanked her, Aaron standing vaguely off to the side. The guards opened the doors, and a man in a highly adorned Phanian navel uniform.

He was tall, and dark skinned. His hair was twisted into dread locks and he had an almost arrogant smirk on his face.

“Your Majesty,” he said, “my apologies if I disturbed your sleep.” Annalise had her steely Sword Face, as I’d come to call it, on. “I am Admiral Kieran Franz.” I swallowed and looked at him, trying to get any sort of read, but he felt blank. “I am here as an emissary from King Daniel.”

“You are welcome Admiral,” she said, “I am confused, though, is King Daniel unhappy with his current emissaries? I can’t believe that the prince and my honored cousin were somehow lax in their duties here.” I glanced at him, seeing if he would call the bluff, that Raymond and Eric were both conspicuously absent. “And if you’re an emissary, why is there a fleet of war ships blocking my harbor?”

“This isn’t a blockade,” he said, “should anyone wish to enter the harbor they will be allowed to pass.” Athena snorted. “Of course Lady Athena, that would be a concern of yours?”

“I’d be curious to see you try to stop my grandfather, sir,” Athena said. I looked at her with caution. “However, yes, it is good to know.”

“Of course,” he smiled. “Regardless, we haven’t come to disrupt, but we believed there was some cause for concern when it came to Prince Eric and Lord Raymond.” Annalise’s eyes narrowed. “Where are they, now, come to think of it?”

“I didn’t feel the need to wake them,” Annalise said. His face flattened. “But of course we can send for them.” She nodded to Aaron who walked out of the room. I swallowed, but my throat was dry. Something was very wrong.

“Oh, good, it’s you, Franz,” Eric smiled walking in. He looked amused, which made me nervous. “Here I thought my brother was serious about an invasion.” The Admiral scowled at him. “You’ll have to forgive Lord Raymond, he’s been spending a good deal of time at the University and isn’t in the palace at all this evening.” I exhaled, relieved. “Your Majesty,” he smirked at Lisette. “I hope you’re well.”

“Well enough,” she said gently. “And yourself?” He grinned.

“Eminently satisfied, thank you,” he smirked. I looked at Athena who rolled her eyes.

“Your Highness,” The Admiral cleared his throat, “The King And Queen had concerns,” Eric’s eyes narrowed at him.

“You are suggesting that my brother and sister in law sent a flotilla of war ships because they were concerned about me?” He said. “I’d rather you not insult me, or Queen Annalise with such pretense.” I inhaled, I’d never really seen Eric be royal before, it was a bit mesmerizing. “I assume there’s at least a letter?” The admiral nodded. “Good then, when I know what my brother wants of me, and what I intend to do about it, I will inform you.” He looked at him. “You’re dismissed.”

“I outrank you, boy,” The Admiral growled. “You’re barely a captain, I won’t be dismissed.” That’s when Annalise stood up. She was practically floating.

“This is my kingdom, Admiral,” she said, “you’re in this room, your men on that beach on my permission.” She glanced at Martin and Athena. “May the gods have mercy on you if you think two of Cornan’s champions can’t handle you.”

“Of course, Your Majesty,” he said and bowed. “I’ll take my leave and await an answer.”

“Do that,” she said and he turned and left. She sighed and collapsed into Eric’s arms. He laughed. “He seems pleasant.”

“Oh very,” Eric nodded, “always liked me too.”

“I missed something,” I said.

“From not speaking to happily in love in an evening,” Martin sighed, “I am very grateful to not be young anymore.” Eric looked at me.

“Is Lefty alright?” He asked. I sighed.

“I don’t know,” I said, “I ran over here.” He sighed and looked at Martin.

“You think Lefty’s the one who got us here?” He said. Martin sighed and shrugged.

“Believe it or not your highness,” he said gently, “I don’t rule out anything when there’s half an armada on our doorstep.” Then he looked at me. “Athena, please send a few guards to the manor and to the university. I think it will set everyone’s minds at ease if Lieutenant Lestoff and Lord Raymond are here.” Athena nodded. “Your father too?” He asked.

“No,” I croaked. “No, I don’t think that will help.” This was my father’s greatest fear, I realized. I swallowed and sat down, dazed.

If war was coming, I didn’t know what would happen next.

Invasion

Annalise

I felt entirely limp as Eric propped himself up on his elbow and grinned at me. I’ve never felt like this, so spent and full of pleasure and happiness at the same time.

“You don’t need to look so smug,” I said. He laughed and pushed my hair off of my face. “This isn’t because of you, necessarily, I like sex.” He laughed.

“So I could see,” he said and kissed me gently. “I like you like this,” he said. I arched an eyebrow at him and he kissed me again. “You’re more vocal than I expected.”

“You’re more forceful than I did,” I said. He kissed me. “I’ve wanted this for so long.” He smiled and kissed me again, moving to my neck.

“So what now, my love?” He asked. I sighed.

“Marriage, I suppose,” I stretched. “If you’ll have me.” He grinned and pulled me close.

“It doesn’t have to be tomorrow,” he said softly, “if you aren’t ready.” I kissed him gently again. “I don’t want to wait forever though.”

“Of course not,” I said. “But perhaps a bit? We should get used to each other, and,” I looked at him, “well, I’d like to meet your mother and sister.” He laughed and rolled onto his back.

“Oh, they’d like to meet you too, I’m sure,” he said softly. “I’d like to bring Katrin here, honestly, to live.” I looked at him. “It’d be better for her, I think.”

“Why is that?” I asked quietly. He frowned.

“She’s in Princess Karina’s household now, which is fine,” he sighed. “But I don’t want the court to get it’s hooks into her. She’s special, that would be allowed here, not so much at home. But until something more permanent can be arranged, under Elana’s care is as close to safe as possible.” I kissed his neck softly. “The only thing I’d regret about us is bringing my family’s mess to your door.”

“I don’t know that my family is any better,” I laughed and straddled him. His hands slid up my body. “Marina is practically losing her mind, I’m reasonably sure that Uncle Les’s is long gone, Olivia and Aaron would rather live out their days half a continent away and Brayton wants me dead.” He laughed.

“When you put it like that,” he said, “we really are perfectly suited.” He kissed me. I whimpered as his hands slid onto my hips and positioned me. “But I believe we both reached that conclusion earlier.”

That’s when there was a frantic knock on the door, not like Athena’s gentle knock earlier. No this was urgent. I sighed and quickly slipped a robe on. I opened the door.

“Thomas?” I said, seeing Martin standing in front of me. “What is it?”

“If I could have a word,” he mumbled. I nodded and stepped into the parlor. “There’s no easy way to say this.” I swallowed. “There are at least twenty Phanian warships in the bay and a small landing party is on the beach.”

“What?” I said. “That’s, that’s not possible.” He looked at me. “What do we do?”

“Is he in there?” He asked, raising an eyebrow. I nodded. “Damn, and Raymond is at the university and Lestoff already at the manor. It would be easier if they were all together.” I swallowed.

“Thomas, you don’t think,” I exhaled, “he wouldn’t betray me.” He looked at me.

“I haven’t ruled anything out yet,” he said softly. “But I also haven’t even begun to reach a place where I could make an accusation.” I nodded. “Annalise,” he said softly, “we don’t know what this is yet. But you need to tell him, and Elodie is going to guard him here. Mercy will dress you, do you understand me?”

“Yes,” I croaked. He kissed my forehead and went to leave. “Thomas,” I said softly, he stopped. “What would my father have done?” He exhaled.

“He’d have trusted my judgement,” he said softly, “but that got him killed, so I can’t push you to do that.” I nodded. “You’ll be fine.” I swallowed and walked back into the bedroom.

“I heard most of it,” Eric said softly and pressed his forehead to mine. “What do you need from me?”

“Please swear it wasn’t you?” I said. He nodded. “I know you’ve been angry and,” he swallowed.

“I didn’t,” he said, “I didn’t even write my mother that we were arguing because I was worried that this might happen.” I kissed him gently. “But I’ll stay put until I’m called for.” He cupped my face. “Highlight the Goddess in your dress, whoever it is, they’ll likely be a pious idiot.” I laughed.

“Thank you,” I whispered. “Goddess, I was mostly just worried about what I was going to tell Harran.” He laughed. “I don’t want war.”

“I know,” he said. “Go get dressed, I’ll be a good boy.” I smiled gently and walked back out into the main room. Elodie and Mercy were waiting. Mercy dressed me quickly, my green uniform gown laced up quickly and the crown of the Goddess on my head. We walked down to the throne room and I walked in and saw Aaron looking at me.

“You’d be well within your rights to say you told me so,” I said. He shook his head.

“This isn’t quite how I wanted to win the argument,” he said. “I’m sorry. I was an ass.”

“I’m sorry too,” I sighed, “I was reckless.” He shrugged. “Friends.”

“Always,” he hugged me. “Are you ready? Athena went to fetch Marin.” I nodded and settled on the throne, trying my best to gather my dignity.

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.

Resolution

Annalise

I don’t know that I’ve ever sat at a dinner this awkward. Everything is being done formally, which Olivia saw to, not something we’ve done since coming to Brightcoast. Since we’re honoring Brea and Nika they’re sitting on either side of me, and Harran walked in with Brea on his arm.

I’m trying to will myself to be jealous, but it simply won’t rise in me. It’s more annoying, that he has another demand on his time and a bit frustrating that he didn’t tell me that he’d sent for someone he had a history with.

And as if it wasn’t enough to have her staring daggers at me, and Harran not meeting my eyes, Eric’s decided to return to being seen in public tonight. My heart stopped in my chest when he walked in, he didn’t look terribly well, better perhaps than when we last talked, but it was clear that anger didn’t suit him at all.

I found myself longing for a smile and wink from him to get me through the night. It wouldn’t come, I knew that much.

“Your Majesty,” Nika said softly and I turned to her, “I think we all got off on the wrong foot this afternoon.”

“Yes, I think we did,” I said softly. “I’m sorry, I often feel pulled in ten different directions.” She smiled and nodded. “We do need your help though, rather desperately. Marina and I have something of an adhoc magical education. Mastero Anselm did as well as he could on his own for me, and I think the sisters in Dovetail went as far to the line as they could safely with her.” Nika nodded. “But it was lonely, and we’re often simply muddling through.”

“Of course,” Nika nodded. “And we are here to help.” She sighed. “Are you really sure, about the gods?” I nodded.

“Reasonably,” I sighed. She made a quick sign against evil. “Harran said you serve Amina, or at least, don’t shy from her realm?”

“The Dark Lady is as much a power as her siblings,” she shrugged, “she must be honored for that, her realm is crucial to any balance in this world.” I looked at her. “Have you ever seen a ghost, Majesty?”

“I used to hear my mother,” I admitted softly, “her voice, screaming as she died.” Nika nodded.

“Our time honoring the dark lady is about helping shades and ghosts cross over,” she explained, “it’s about them, not about her. But she’s vain, she likes tribute.” I laughed.

“I suppose she and I might have more in common than I initially gave her credit for.” I smiled and Nika laughed.

The final course was served and some music started, there was dancing, but it wasn’t formal, I put my foot down at a full formal ball. There was one planned for high summer in a week. I stepped out of the room onto the terrace and breathed in the air.

“If you keep carrying the weight of the world you’ll break in half,” I turned and saw Eric, leaning against the door. “And you’re so tiny, Anya, how will you manage?”

“I have to, if you’ll recall,” I shrugged, “Sword of The Goddess, and all.” He nodded and made a soft affirmative noise. “Eric,” I whispered as he stepped over to me. He pressed his forehead against mine. “I’m sorry.”

“I know,” he said, “I accept your apology, I do, I don’t know if I can forgive you.”

“Yet?” I whispered. He sighed.

“Yet,” He mumbled, “or ever.” I swallowed. “I wish I loved you less. Then I think I could let it go, for everyone’s good. But Gods, Annalise I love you, and I want you to love me. Maybe it’s unfair that I want you to only love me.” I swallowed. “But I can’t change that. I won’t share the parts of you I don’t have to. You’re already a queen and hero, there’s already such a small part of yourself that you even can give to a lover.” I swallowed. “And I want it to myself.”

“But I do only love you,” I said. He sighed. “I just can’t be as cautious as you, it’s not who I am.” He kissed me and pulled me close. “Eric,” I whispered, he was holding me so close.

“I want you so badly, my darling,” he said, “I’m sorry if you ever felt like I didn’t.” I looked up at him.

“What do you need from me?” I asked. “If my saying it can’t convince you, what do you need me to do?” He sighed and pulled away. “I can,” I swallowed, “I can send him away, if you,” he looked at me.

“No,” he shook his head, “no that’s clearly not the answer. Tristan’s gone, after all, and that didn’t fix anything.” I swallowed, “I won’t leave, I’m not giving up on you, on us,” I nodded.

“Hold me again,” I said gently. He smiled sadly and pulled me close. “I’ve missed you so much.”

“I’ve missed you too.” He said and lay a gently kiss against my neck. “I should go.” He went to pull away and I pulled on his shirt to keep him close. He exhaled and looked down at me. “Anya,” he whispered, his voice thin, but he was smiling.

“Kiss me again,” I said. He kissed me deeply. I arched into him. “I’m aching for you.” I whispered.

“Your bed is a bit crowded at the moment, isn’t it?” He said. I swallowed. He ran a single finger across my jaw, then down my neck. “Are you aching for me, or simply aching?” I looked at him. “This is what I can’t forgive, Annalise, I know it’s unfair, but if you wanted me, and not just sex, you wouldn’t have continued with Harran.” I stared at him.

“I’m sorry that I’m not the perfect pure little princess who you dreamed and fantasized about,” I said sharply. “I’m sorry that I’m a flesh and blood woman who wants to be satisfied. I’m sorry that I fell in love before I ever even saw you, and then that choosing you wasn’t ever enough.”

“That isn’t what I meant,” he snapped back. “Goddess you’re the most infuriating woman I’ve ever met.” I smiled softly at him.

“Again, all apologies, your highness,” I said. As if he wasn’t infuriating either. “If you’ll excuse me.” I walked back inside and thought about looking for Harran, and then my heart sank. I didn’t want him. Well, I did because I knew it would feel good, to go to my room and wrap myself around him and be lost in the bliss of his touch, his kiss, him inside of me.

But it wasn’t Harran I wanted. Not really.

“Are you alright?” Marina walked up to me. I swallowed.

“I think I need to go to bed,” I said softly. “Make my excuses?”

“Of course,” she said softly. “I’ll bring you something to help you sleep if you like.” I nodded. “Lisette,” she said as I walked past her, “it’s going to be alright.” I exhaled and walked up to my room and undressed quickly and climbed into bed.

I tried to sleep even without whatever Marina would bring me, but sleep wouldn’t come. I wondered if even without my asking for him Harran would be here. Probably not. He hadn’t before, we always had to make plans. I sat up hearing a knock.

“Marina, just come in,” I said and stood up. I walked and opened the door, Eric was standing there. “Not Marina.” I said.

“No,” he whispered and pulled me close and kissed me. I exhaled. “We weren’t finished.” I looked up at him.

“Weren’t we?” I said, he shook his head, the look on his face was one of wicked amusement.

“We were not,” he said, I swallowed. He’d been in my apartment before but never my bedroom. “I shouldn’t have brought Harran into it. It isn’t about that, it isn’t about you and other men at all.” I sat down on the bed. He walked over. “I don’t simply want to be a place holder because you hate to be alone.”

“I do hate to be alone,” I said softly, I sat up on my knees and wrapped my arms around his neck. “But I don’t want just anyone, I want you.” I kissed him again. He pushed me down under him onto the bed.

“I can see that,” he teased as his hands slid up my thighs, “or feel it, as it were.” I exhaled as his fingers brushed gently against me.

“Eric,” I mumbled, “don’t stop,” he did though and moved up my body, sliding my plain white shift over my head. The way his fingers felt sliding up, gently brushing my skin. “If you try to leave now, I’ll have you executed.” He chuckled.

“I thought you wanted to avoid war,” he mumbled, he was sitting up and unfastened his pants. I giggled. “Killing me would ensure it.”

“Frustrating me further will ensure your destruction, Your Highness,” I said leaning to sit up. He grinned and pushed me down again, this time gripping my wrists. “Eric,” I squirmed against his hold.

“You’ve accused me of being cold,” he said, “of not wanting you.” I swallowed and he kissed me. “I know that if you choose me, what my place will be.” I exhaled. “Besides you, behind you, kneeling to you first and always.”

“Yes,” I said, squirming more as he continued to hold me trapped under him. He was pressing against me, hard, and hot. I knew I should say more, but I couldn’t. I was so stimulated, I just wanted him\

“But perhaps that’s not what you want here, hm?” He whispered in my ear. “In bed you don’t have to be a queen or a hero, you can be a woman.” I exhaled. “My woman.” He met my eyes. “I’m going to take you now, Anya, as many times as I like.”

“Please,” I managed before he kissed me, his tongue tasting my mouth and then pushed into me. I groaned. He wasn’t big, I realized, but I didn’t care, he fit, beautifully and fully, as he thrust into me. I arched into him, thrusting up as he moved down. “Eric, Goddess, Eric,” I screamed as he moved his mouth to my neck. I cried out as he finally released my wrists, I grabbed onto his shoulder. “Don’t stop, please, don’t stop,” he slowed his stroking in and out of me then and pulled out. “Why did you stop?” I whispered. He grinned wickedly.

“Don’t give me orders,” he said. “Everywhere else, every other facet of our lives, I’ll be your consort, your humble servant, and do exactly as you say,” he rolled onto his side, and I followed him, “But here,” he kissed and then nipped my neck, I whimpered, “here, I’ll do as I like.” I swallowed and whimpered again as he turned my face and kissed me again. “Shall we continue?”

“Yes,” I said softly, “yes please.” He bit my bottom lip gently.

“Good,” he pulled me close. “I love you.” I smiled softly, but was quickly lost in the bliss of him inside of me.