Anselm Is Here

I must be spending too much time with Marina since I woke up this morning and headed straight for the library. I keep thinking about what Harran said, about the Westrans and the balance of the Triad.

I never thought of the three of them that way, I’d always thought of it as war, Cornan and Rana against Amina. Maybe I was looking for kindness where there was none for Caleb’s sake. He was buried now which gave me hope that Amina no longer held him, but still.

“Well, this is certainly a sight I never thought I’d see,” I looked up and exhaled, thrilled to see Mastero Anselm. I leapt out of my chair and embraced him, in a way I hadn’t since I was very small. “Relax yourself, Majesty,” he said and I broke away. He knelt them. “In the name of the gods, I pledge myself to your service, Queen Annalise.”

“Your service is accepted with gratitude, Mastero,” I said gravely, “please stand, I’m so glad you’re here.” He smiled and stood up. “I didn’t hear back from you so I didn’t know if you were coming.”

“I almost didn’t but then a certain newly installed Count came banging on my door and said if I didn’t come to the aid of my queen when it was requested I could find another place to die, if it pleased me,” he sighed and I giggled, imagining the scene. “I happen to like the garden I’ve built at Pantona as well my house, plus I don’t see your cousin Marina or Duchess Norvine being to my taste as a landlord, so alas, here I am.”

“Do you think there’s any chance that Amina is going to exploit my grief about Caleb’s death in order to overtake Marina and turn her against me so that she can have Brayton’s child who will be the Dark Sword who destroys me?” I blurted. He looked and me and laughed.

“My goodness, that is quite a lot of information,” he said, “you Dreamed these things?” I nodded and we walked back to the table. “The possibility of Amina trying to create a sword did not escape me, but Lisette, I assure you,” he took my hand, “your birth was the incredible event of many strands of fate intersecting. Even if Marina Sanpierre bore Brayton’s child the chances of that child being a sword,” he sighed. “Your mother was Chosen, your father was the first Prince with the sight in fifty years, they were in love, truly and deeply. And you were shaped, by Count Caleb and myself,” I smiled. “Have you been speaking to him?”

“Not frequently,” I said, “it’s complicated.”

“It is not, in fact complicated, Annalise,” he said. “I am glad I came.” We walked out onto a balcony. The Dome of The University was in plain view. “Blast, I suppose I’ll have to go there.” I looked down. “What, precisely do you hope to gain from discussions with The Shadow Lord, Lisette?”

“Insight,” I said softly. “An understanding of my mandate of what being Chosen is, what it means.” He nodded. “And he is my family, Anselm, my blood, my father’s,” I leaned against the rail.

“You have other family,” he said, “your cousins here with you, both chosen,” I went to speak up, “And Thomas Martin, who perhaps feels even more keenly the import of a mandate than anyone, having failed in his? Hm?” I swallowed. “Brayton will only feed you doubt.”

“I’m glad you’ve come,” I said. “I’m sorry too. I know you didn’t want to come.” He smiled and patted my hand.

“Well, we don’t always get what we want,” he said. “Where is Duchess Marina? I would like to hear her thougths on all this?”

“You’re going to gang up on me,” I said and he laughed following me into the palace.

 

Prince Harran

Prince Harran of the Borderlands had been spending most of his time around the barracks. It made sense, the Border Tribes were less formal than us, and Harran had been chafing at court.

I’d forgotten how much I’d liked him when he visited us at Pantona, with his easy manners and laugh. He was tall with light hair and eyes, and he was tall and strongly built.

“Your majesty,” he said, seeing me approach. He was sharpening a knife.

“Your Highness,” I said and sat down with him. He laughed and pulled his flask from his belt. “Thank you.”

“Tell me Lisette,” he said, “where have you been of late?” I frowned. “You haven’t been here with us.”

“No,” I said softly and took a drink. “Do you think I can still out drink you, Your Highness.” He laughed and shook his head.

“Perhaps,” he said, taking the flask back and drinking himself, “I don’t think we should try now.” I nodded. “So, where have you been?”

“I don’t know,” I said, “with the gods?” He laughed. “I just want to be Lisette, for a moment.”

“All right,” he nodded. “Will you marry me?” I laughed.

“Did you hear me?” I said, “I want to be Lisette. A nameless orphan girl, raised in a country manor on the kindness of some nobles. You wanted to marry Lisette.”

“I wanted to do a lot of things with Lisette,” he grinned. “She was too young, as was I.” I smiled. “Besides, I didn’t think you were nameless, I thought you were Count Caleb’s daughter, which is why I didn’t simply show up in your chamber and help myself, frankly, because it would have been a grave insult to him.”

“Harran, I don’t know whether to be insulted or flattered,” I shook my head and he smiled. “I might not have turned you away, I did think you were very handsome.” He laughed and stood up, walking over to my bench and sitting beside me. “But you didn’t want to marry Lisette, you wanted to her to bed.” He smiled.

“Hmm,” he nodded. “So I did. Still do, at that.” I swallowed. “But now I’d be worried Tristan Dugarry would chop my head off for it.”

“And now?” I said, “You were sent here by the Chieftans to court me. You’ve done poorly there.” He snorted.

“This is why I wanted you then,” he said, “you fear nothing, Lisette.” I smirked and pulled myself close.

“I don’t fear you,” I said. He nodded. “If I were Lisette, not Queen Annalise, what would you ask me?” He kissed me then and I felt almost giddy.

“I’d ask how long before anyone came looking for you,” he whispered. “But you aren’t Lisette. Lisette wouldn’t come to me like this, she was fearless about life, but shy of men.” I smiled and looked down. “Besides,” he pulled back, “I’m not interested in a woman who’s heart is full of another man.”

“So you want love from me too then,” I said. He laughed.

“No,” he said, “no, if you wanted me, really, me, even just for a night, I would not miss it. But you don’t want me, you want to escape. You want to forget who you are, forget Captain Dugarry, and darling I am not the man for that.” I smiled. “My proposal stands though. It’d be a good match. You’d be Annalise Dovetail, Queen of Cammadan, The Sword of The Goddess and Chieftess of The Border.”

“Would you expand that border?” I grinned. He laughe

“When I rise to Chieftan, Lisette,” Harran grinned, “I will conquer the west for you regardless of if you’re my wife. I will crown you Empress myself, if you wish it.”

“Good then,” I said. “I might still marry you, I haven’t decided.”

“Mm,” he smiled. “Well, I’ll write to the Chieftans and tell them I need to remain to,” he winked, “convince you.” I laughed. “If I were to leave you be, it would not be for a lesser man than Prince Eric or Captain Dugarry. I admire them both.” I smiled.

“I’m sorry, if you felt I was trying to use you, Harran,” I said, cupping my hand on his cheek.

“You are Queen,” he smiled, “to use your subjects is your right.” I smiled. “You needed an old friend, I know you’re short on those at the moment.” I nodded. “How long until Aaron returns?”

“I don’t know,” I said softly, “soon, I hope. Olivia said she might stay in Pantona, which would break my heart but I understand,” I sighed. “I miss them.”

“That’s alright,” he said, “I miss my brothers, and my father,” I smiled and we kissed again. “The gods knew what they were doing with you, I can see that.” I smiled.

“Who do your people honor?” I asked.

“The gods,” he said softly. “We exist by their grace, their balance and triad.” I pressed my lips into my mouth. “Yes, the discussion of the triad would upset you, I suppose, but Rana and Cornan’s balance cannot exist without Amina’s check. The Westerners and The Rastani understand this better than we ever could.” I nodded and stood up. “I’ve upset you.”

“You’ve restored me, Old Friend,” I said, we pressed out hands together one last time. “Thank you.”

Raymond

Marina was studying, or working on the faire or something. Tristan was in the market, with Athena, probably preparing for his departure.

We still didn’t talk about it. Ever. It hurt us both too much. I found myself longing for Aaron. I’d been so caught up in things with Eric and Tristan and my more recent dreams that I hadn’t let myself miss him.

But I wanted to talk to him about everything, about seeing Caleb in the Realm of The Dead, about watching Marina grow happier and healthier as she fell in love with Lefty, about my own swirl of thoughts and feelings with Eric.

We’d slowed things down, after that night on the couch, even the small casual touches had stopped. I didn’t miss it, because he still laughed and smiled and flirted, and I had my nights with Tristan which had only become more intense.

“Your Majesty?” Raymond stepped in to the parlor and I stood up. I’m still not fully comfortable around him. “I’m sorry, was I disturbing you?”

“No,” I shook my head. “How can I help you?”

“Marina, that is,” he looked down, “The Duchess,” I laughed and shook my head.

“We’re all cousins, Raymond,” I said, settling at the table and gesturing to a chair for him, “you can call her Marina, and me Annalise, or even Lisette if you like.” He nodded and sat down.

“Yes, well,” he cleared his throat, “she thought it might be possible for me to enter the University.”

“She mentioned the idea to me too,” I said, “it isn’t a bad one, honestly, I wish I’d thought of it.” He smiled. “What do you want to study? Besides Elementals, obviously.”

“Yes, besides that,” he said, “I don’t know. History? Maybe the mythologies, I could help with your mandate.” I nodded. I saw how badly he wanted to be useful. Eric had told me he’d been largely cast aside at home. He didn’t belong on The Prince’s Glory either, not really. Marina had decided we needed to make a place for him.

But he still made me uneasy.

“That could work,” I said softly, “I sent for Mastero Anselm, he might have a few ideas.” Raymond’s face brightened.

“Mastero Anselm is coming here?” He asked. “Truly?”

“Unfortunately,” I mumbled, “I’m out of options. He’s going to be furious with me but there’s nothing to be done.” I stopped. “What do you know about Dreams?”

“I know that when my sister has one we have to shutter the royal apartments because she shrieks like a banshee,” he said softly. “I’ve never had one myself, which is why,” he stopped.

“Why the Mothers rejected you,” I said. He nodded. “I’m sorry, for that. We’ll find something for you, you have my word.”

“Thank you,” he said, standing up and bowing, I smiled and nodded indicating he was dismissed. The conversation had been almost normal but I was still unsettled, I still wanted someone who’d known me before.

I wanted to be Lisette, even for a little while. And then I suddenly remembered that there was someone in the palace who knew me before and smiled.

The Wedding That Wasn’t

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I awoke and gasped.

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

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

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

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

A Gesture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Plan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What?” I asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Ritual

After Tristan and I made love I leaned against him. I was being selfish but I didn’t care. William had gone, Olivia and Aaron were going, Caleb was dead and it was unlikely that I would see Anselm again for a long time.

I would keep Tristan for as long as I could, or at least as long as either of us could stand it.

“We’ve done what we could to keep security inconspicious for tomorrow,” he said. “I don’t want you to make a spectacle going to the temple.” I nodded. “What will it be like?”

“I’ve never done the mourning ritual before,” I said softly, “Marina has, she taught me. We’re supposed to conjure a memory and project it into the water.” He nodded.

“What memory?” He kissed my head.

“I chose the first time we talked about who I am,” I said. “When he explained my duty.” I swallowed. “When he promised I could always be Lisette to him.”

“Oh, love,” he sighed and held me closer. “I hate this pain for you.” I smiled. “And he’s coming with you?”

“Yes,” I said quietly. “And Raymond. I haven’t spent much time with him, but Marina’s become quite attached.” Tristan nodded. “You could come.”

“I don’t think that’s wise,” he said softly, “we were raised to honor Cornan, you know that. He’s more jealous than his sister.” I laughed. “Are you falling in love with him?”

“No,” I whispered, “I don’t think so. Not like us,” he smiled and kissed me.

“I don’t think either of us should expect something like us again,” he said sadly.

“Olivia and Thomas had it,” I said softly. “With each other, and then her with Caleb and him with your uncle.” Tristan laughed.

“Martin and Uncle Trey may have loved each other but it wasn’t like this,” he said softly. “They hated one another by the end. I don’t think I’ll ever hate you.” I closed my eyes and lay my head on his chest. “Do you want to know my memory?” I laughed and nodded. “When we were inducted into the guard, and the resistance after that, I was shocked how large camp was. But I was even more shocked, that Athena and I were given full uniform, almost no one got them anymore.” I smiled. “But Count Caleb presented them to us, very simply. I never understood why, until I met you.” I smiled.

“You do look very nice in that uniform.” I grinned. He laughed and kissed me. “I miss him.”

“I know that,” he said. I nodded and we fell asleep. I eventually woke up, it wasn’t light out yet and I dressed quickly and ran down into the dungeon. The guards were surprised but didn’t stop me.

“Well, I wasn’t expecting this,” Brayton said, I couldn’t see him, he was slouched in a corner. “To what do I owe the honor this time.”

“I want you to tell me about Amina,” I said. He laughed. “I’m serious, do all who die pass to her?”

“No,” he said, “some linger, but you know this, you’ve felt Marie near you.”

“Yes,” I said, realizing he must have felt her sometimes too. “But if I haven’t felt someone…”

“Caleb of Pantona would never have lingered,” his voice was quiet, almost respectful, for Brayton. “Not practical, he could never have stood to not be of use.” I swallowed. “I liked him, you know, quite a bit. Even when we were young, he was,” he sighed, “friendly, I suppose is the word. I never suspected his treachery, his sheltering of you, he seemed too straightforward for it. I suppose I didn’t respect him enough, he was crafty.” I swallowed. “Amina is not unjust, Annalise. In fact she is infinitely just, which is why she demands a sword of her own.”

“What does that have to do with this?” I realized I was crying, I wiped my eyes.

“Caleb was a good man,” he said softly. “True to his heart and self, and honored his land and ancestors, humbly. Queen Amina would not punish him for this.” I illuminated the cell then and looked at him.

“Your shadows took him from me,” I said. “I don’t need your help.” He sighed.

“So you say, Cousin,” he said, “but my head remains attached nonetheless.” I sighed. “You perform Rana’s rememberence ritual tomorrow?” I nodded. “Is the memory a strong one?”

“Yes,” I whispered.

“Good then,” he said, “it’s a powerful ritual, I wish you well on it.” I looked at him. “I haven’t performed it since your mother.” I turned around and fled then. I couldn’t look at him anymore.

By the time I was back in the room, Tristan was gone, he’d left a note that he was arranging our escort and he would see me later. I smiled. Maybe this could work. There wasn’t a king in legend who didn’t have secret loves, why should I be held to a different standard?

One More Pledge

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

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

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

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

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

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

“My mandate,” I said softly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I sighed and stood up and looked in the mirror.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Walk

I’ve gotten used to taking long afternoon walks in the palace grounds, sometimes by myself, sometimes Martin or Aaron or Marina come with me. Today I’m alone, because I just sent a letter to Anselm about the drowning dream.

I don’t like the portent that it was Brayton who pulled me out, and I can’t trust him to interpret it, and Marina is still barely speaking to me, so I’m stuck with a letter to Anselm. I almost asked him to come, but I can’t bring myself to, it isn’t fair to him, but when we agreed that he would stay in Pantona I thought I would still have Caleb with me.

“Your Majesty,” I turned seeing Prince Eric running towards me. I smiled in spite of myself. “That is Annalise, I really can’t get used to it.” I laughed.

“Are you more formal at home?” I asked. “Your mother and brother and sister in law, do you call them, Your Majesty?” He smiled.

“With the King, always, Daniel and I have never been close. With Elana, in public, and with the children.” His smile changed then, became more sad.

“Your niece,” I said, “the eldest that is, Karina? Is she,” I exhaled, “will your brother change the inheritance?”

“I don’t know,” he frowned. “If Elana has her way then yes, and well,” he blushed a little and then I swallowed.

“Some of it depends on me, then?” I said.

“It would be easier if the current heir was on another throne it would simplify her claim,” he said. “Not that I want to add any pressure.”

“No,” I said stopping and leaning against a rail. “There’s no pressure here.” We both laughed. “How long do you plan to stay?” I propped myself up. He stepped closer to me.

“As long as you’ll have me,” he said, “do you really plan to go to Brightcoast in the summer?”

“I think so,” I whispered. “We’d ride down, but I suppose you’d want to take the Glory.”

“I can trust Lefty and Raymond to it,” he said, “if you’d rather.”

“It’s months away,” I said drawing back. “Besides, would Lieutenant Lestoff like it?” He laughed.

“He wouldn’t like being away from Duchess Marina, however he misses sailing and complains about it regularly.” He shrugged. “Plus I am his commanding officer so I get to make the decision.” I laughed. “You wouldn’t want to sail?”

“No,” I sighed, “I mean, I would, but the ride is traditional, and the road goes through Pantona so,” I stopped.

“You want to go home,” he smiled.

“I am home,” I said. He laughed.

“Now you sound like me,” he said, “I have to claim Vacana as home, but it’s Brinecliff where my heart is. You lived your whole life in Pantona, it’s where your family is, it’s home.”

“Aaron and Olivia and my uncle are going to bury Caleb soon,” I said, “I’ll probably go to the temple when they leave. Would you come with me?”

“Of course,” he said, “I’ve been going a few days a week, actually. Sister Anna has been assisting me.”

“I like Sister Anna,” I said, “I had no idea you were so devout.”

“I wasn’t,” he admitted. “But being away from the sea has made me nostalgic, and I long for Rana.”

“You’re welcome to her,” I grumbled, kicking the dirt and thinking of my Dreams.

“The Dreams are bad?” He asked.

“There’s been a particularly vexing one,” I shrugged. “I don’t want to bother you with it.”

“Annalise, the first time I heard of a Dream was when I was four and I awoke to my mother screaming bloody murder,” he shrugged. “I tend to take them in stride.”

“I was drowning and then,” I exhaled, “someone, an enemy pulled me out.” He nodded. “I don’t know what it means except I think she’s frustrated with me. I’m not moving fast enough for her.”

“What is your mandate, anyway?” He asked sitting down on a bench. I smiled, “besides you know, all this?”

“Release the gods, they’re bound somewhere at the moment,” she said, “restore balance. All this, as you say, is a big symbolic part of that. I’m product of Rana and Cornan’s chosen lands, Cammadan and Phania.”

“And you have to do it alone?” He smirked. I shook my head.

“I have Marina, and whoever Cornan chooses,” I said, “we’re not clear on who that is.” He nodded and leaned back looking thoughtful. “I’m sorry this must be dull.”

“You said you wanted to try,” Eric shrugged. “This is a part of your life, I want to understand it.” I felt my shoulders fall and then felt myself reaching to hug him. And then he just sort of held me.

And it felt so incredibly right I immediately ran to my room to cry for an hour.

Sparring

I was sparring with Athena that afternoon, normally we bantered and chatted during this time but today I was just frustrated with her. I had a feeling she had more to do with Tristan’s decision than he’d said.

This plan reeked of Aaron and Olivia. It was too practical by half, solved about ten problems at once, gets Tristan out of Eric and any other suitors way, reunifies the crown with the Merchant Guilds, gives Tristan a place if he chooses to leave the guard (or stays, frankly, a woman from Dorin probably wants to stay there and I need a northern commander), solidifies Pantona’s power in the economy, but they wouldn’t have thought of it themselves, just figured out the details. I was so hurt by all of them.

Athena takes advantage of my distraction to knock me off my feet.

“Yield?” She grins. I smile.

“Yield,” I said, she offered her hand and I took it and she pulled me back up. We went and sat down.

“You’re upset about something,” she said. I sighed and threw my head back. “My brother?” I sighed and stood up.

“I don’t think I can talk about this with you,” I said. She sighed.

“Lisette,” she shook her head, “you could have him you know.” I turned around and looked at her. “You could defy everyone’s advice and expectation, forget it all, marry Tristan. They’d get over it, you’re still young and you’re strong and popular.”

“I hear a but coming,” I said.

“No but,” she shrugged. “I’m not Aaron. I see you, and I see Tristan. You love each other, you were both so happy in Pantona before everything else came into it, before people started whispering in your ears that it was wrong. Ignore them, be together, or agree and part, but stop torturing each other. It’s miserable and not just for you two.”

“Was Dorin your plan?” I asked. She laughed.

“No,” she said, “Dorin was a back up from long ago, our Aunts have had us in the mix for arrangement basically since we were born. Our mother disapproved but went along to get along as it were, and when they died Martin deeply disapproved and wanted all plans halted while Uncle Trey wanted the plans to continue, eventually, the disagreement became so deep, that, well,” she shrugged. “I didn’t know they kept planning, but that’s The Dumanis for you.”

“Why now?” I asked. I knew the answer, me, I was why now. So many other things were settled now that I was on the throne, why not settle this too?

“We’re the right age,” she said, “and the season starts in spring, so it wouldn’t disrupt much for him to show up in Dorin.”

“The season?” I asked.

“Aunt Brie calls it the meat market,” she said, “it’s basically a bunch of parties where everyone around the same age meets each other while their families discuss dowries and contracts. It happens here too, when people are presented, though the nobility are less upfront about it than the guild. Probably if we reopen Brightcoast it will happen there.” I nodded.

“So, it wasn’t Aaron’s idea?” I asked. She burst out laughing.

“Gods no!” She said. I nodded.

“And Caleb, what did he,” I drifted off.

“If he had any thoughts on it, Tristan and I didn’t know,” she took my hand. “Why do you doubt them now?” I frowned.

“I guess I’m feeling trapped,” I said and stretched. “And Caleb had so many plans.” I put my face in my hands and rubbed it.

“What does Marina say?” Athena asked softly. I looked at her.

“Marina is completely heartbroken so naturally I can’t talk to her about any of this,” I sighed. “Did you know that they were,” she rolled her eyes. “Naturally, everyone but me then?”

“Not everyone,” she smiled, “I don’t think the countess and Martin knew.” I laughed.