Into The Fire

I awoke undressed, a little blurry about the night before, but full of drive. I knew what needed to be done. I slipped out of bed, leaving Tristan, still asleep, he stirred a bit but didn’t wake. I got dressed and walked outside.

I needed to interview the prisoner, Warren Davis. Tristan had told me last night that he’d been Athena’s lover, that he’d betrayed Thomas to Brayton. That must have bought him his place commanding the shadows.

“Good Morning,” Athena said, as I approached the tent. I nodded at her. “I’m going in there with you.”

“No you aren’t,” I said simply. She scowled at me. “Thena, think, I need to question him, but I can’t have you lose it, I can’t.”

“I can handle it,” she said through clenched teeth.

“You can’t,” I said, she sighed, “you almost abandoned the fight just to go after him.” She sighed. “He hurt you.”

Yes,” she mumbled, “but that isn’t the point, you shouldn’t see him alone, where’s Tristan? Or Martin? Or hell even Marina!”

“Marina is still regaining her strength,” I said, “and I don’t need protecting. I wish you would all stop behaving as if I were a foolish child.” Athena stared at me.

“Alright,” she said softly. “But if you decide to execute him, I insist on swinging the axe.” I nodded and walked in.

Warren Davis was tied to the post holding the tent up, he grinned at me. I suppose he was good looking, in an arrogant way and if the bruises healed, he’d be handsome even.

“Your Highness,” he grinned, “I’d bow, but as you can see.” I nodded. “It is interesting to see you in the flesh. We were all so sure you were dead.”

“Brayton never thought I was dead,” I said. He laughed.

“No, no he did not,” he sighed. “He had plans though.”

“For you?” I asked. He shrugged, as much as he could. “I’d have given you an army, and maybe even a title. I think you picked the wrong side, Commander.” He frowned.

“I chose Cammadan,” he said, “others understood that.” I leaned against another post.

“Athena didn’t,” I said, he snapped his head over to me. “She asked if she could execute you, should it come to that.”

“Athena,” he whispered, “is a practical woman, in the end,” I laughed.

“You think she’ll come back to you?” I sighed. “I’m sorry Warren, but no.” He glared at me.

“They won’t accept you,” his voice sharpened, “the Provenance leaders and the court. They hated your mother, they thought she was a witch and a whore, and your father was a fool who she trapped with magic and promises of glory from the gods.” I swallowed hiding the lump in my throat.

“I am of Cammadan, of the line of Dovetail, reared in her heart.” I said. “But I am also of Phania and the sea. Rana and Cornan united in me to bring balance to the world.” He grinned.

“You were reared in her heart by another fool,” he sneered, “you call Aaron Pantona brother because you grew at his side, but everyone knows he is also your brother by blood.” I slapped him, hard across the face.

“Insult my father and Olivia again and it won’t be my hand you feel,” I growled as he laughed and I walked out of the tent. I swallowed and went to Olivia’s tent. She was awake, fully dressed, hair not a stitch out of place. I don’t understand how she does these things.

“Lisette,” she said, “sit darling. You look pale. I’ll make tea.” I looked at her.

“I need to know the truth,” I said, she frowned, “All of it, about you, and my father.” She sighed.

“Oh,” she said softly and sat back down. “Darling, there isn’t much to tell, we were young, my father wanted me to be queen.” She looked down. “I loved him, I won’t deny it, but, well, we weren’t a good match.” I nodded and sat down. “With Anton and me, it wasn’t real, Lisette, we were playing a game, flirting, dancing,” I nodded.

“And with Martin?” I asked softly.

“That was different,” she said softly. “That was,” she looked away, “that was two people who had no bussiness together breaking one another’s hearts.” I nodded. “Why are you asking me this now?”

“What am I walking into?” I said. She smiled. “In Dovetail, Davis,”

“Ah,” she said, “I’m sure he said many things, Aaron is your father’s son, your mother was a witch who spelled your father.” I nodded. “Lisette, your mother was loved in the capital. Young and beautiful and full of light from the gods. Your father was enamored of her, we all were. If we were enchanted, well, then we were easily duped, I suppose.” I smiled.

“I need to see Martin,” I said softly, “we need to go to Dovetail as soon as possible.”

“Lisette,” she cautioned, “listen to me, do not let this derail you. The plans Caleb and Thomas have made,”

“I need to go,” I said simply. “Olivia, it needs to be over.” She nodded.

The Shadows

We found the twins, and Tristan tossed Aaron a sword. He nodded and we began fighting the shadow army that had swirled.

I’d seen Dream reprsentations of the Black Guards, and Athena had told me about them but the fight felt endless, and relentless, time stopped and yet continued forever. And they just kept coming.

“Thena,” Tristan called out as she sliced two of them down with her spear, he nodded to the hill, where a knight was sitting. She stopped.

“He’s mine,” she said.

“Athena,” Thomas said riding up to her, “no.” She glared at him. “Not now.” She fumed and joined me. Then I looked over another hill and saw Marina on her way. What was she doing there? She shouldn’t be in a battle.

And then there was the light, blinding, and white and when it cleared, we were alone, the shadows were gone. I saw the light retreating towards Marina, and then she fell. I ran towards her.

“Tristan,” I heard Thomas shout, “get Davis.” I didn’t know what that meant. I assumed it was the commander. I didn’t have time for that. Tristan was frozen looking at Marina, limp and fallen.

I lifted her head as I got to her, she blinked at me.

“Annalise,” she whispered, I kissed her forehead and she lost consciousness again. Elodie was by my side then and Tristan, who quickly swooped her up, we ran, wordlessly to the medical tent.

“What was that?” Tristan asked. I looked at him. “It was magic, wasn’t it?”

“Yes,” I said softly, “and powerful.” He nodded. “She’s powerful, Tristan, scary powerful, I knew it the moment I saw her.” I looked down as she slept peacefully. “What we just saw was only a small taste of what she can do.” He leaned down and smoothed her hair.

“Rina,” he whispered, “why didn’t you ever tell me?” He looked completely betrayed. It wasn’t yours to know, something in me roared. “At the palace, she used to lead prayers, after dinner, quietly murmuring words to the goddess, candles would flicker sometimes, water swirl in glasses.” I looked at him, but he was looking at Elodie, “will she be alright?”

“Yes,” Elodie said, “she fainted is all, when she comes too, she’ll be weak, probably, and confused,” she sighed and looked at both of us. “She shouldn’t be alone.”

“I’ll stay with her,” I said quietly. Tristan looked at me. I didn’t want him to be the one she saw when she woke up.

“Alright,” he said, “I’ll check on our new prisoner. You want to question him?” I frowned t him. “His name is Warren Davis, he was a spy for Brayton and now he commands shadows, I imagine,”

“I will,” I said, “when I know Marina is out of danger.” Elodie sighed loudly.

“Your highness, she isn’t in danger, and you’ll,” she started, but I glared at her. “I’ll bring a basin and cool water, that will help.”

“Fine then,” Tristan said, “Your highness?” I looked at him.

“You’re dismissed,” I whispered and he nodded and left. Elodie followed and I began wetting her forehead. “Marina,” I whispered, “what was it?” But I knew, I’d read and heard about Queen Anessa, my name sake’s use of battle magic to recognize it. But Marina isn’t a warrior.

“She needn’t be,” I gasped looking up. Standing across from me was a woman. She was dark skinned, and dressed all in blue. She was shining too.

“My lady,” I said softly and genuflected.

“My, you were raised by a courtier, weren’t you?” The Goddess laughed. “You may stand.” I did. “So, Annalise, you have seen what I can do for you. I could do more, you know, if you’ll free me.”

“I will,” I said softly. She nodded and walked to Marina’s bedside.

“I had hoped for a more formal introduction to you both,” she sighed, brushing her hand over Marina’s curls. “My chosen champions. My brother drags his feet choosing a new one, Thomas let him down so. And Amina,” she clicked her tongue. “Well, she could have done worse, but she always had a flare for the dramatic, and deeply resented the alliance between Cornan and I that made you.” I swallowed. “So there’s Brayton. I ought to have claimed him myself, frankly, but I never had much use for the sons of this land.”

“My Lady Rana,” I said softly, she looked at me. “Where are you?” She sighed.

“If I knew, I would give you the place,” she said, “but I know not.” I nodded. “Everything is out of balance, you surely sense it?”

“Yes,” I whispered, “that’s it then, that’s my mandate. Balance?” She nodded. “But how?”

“Oh now, where’s the fun in that?” She said with a laugh and then was gone. I lurched in the chair, it was as if nothing had changed, except Marina jolted awake. We talked then. Quietly, Uncle Les, Caleb and Olivia came in and told us we were chosen.

Marina was furious, I understood why, but I wasn’t, I’d spoken with the Goddess. I couldn’t be angry. I left the tent and went to question Warren Davis. He didn’t tell me anything I didn’t know. Brayton would come, he wouldn’t be moved. Blah, blah, blah.

That night, back in my tent, Tristan lay beside me. We didn’t make love. I couldn’t, I knew I had to tell him the truth soon. I had to find Rana, and he couldn’t be a part of it. But I couldn’t let him go either. Losing him would be losing Lisette, and I couldn’t lose her.

“Come back to me,” he whispered, realizing I was somewhere else. “Lisette,” he sighed, “where are you?”

“Dovetail,” I said softly, “we have to go, and soon.” He nodded. “I’ll tell Thomas in the morning, we’ll start marching.” He pressed his forehead against mine. “Did you see anything? In the light?”

“No,” he said, “but you obviously did.” I frowned. “You’re not talking like yourself, and you’re,” I kissed him. “I’m not a fool Lisete, I’ll go if you want me to.”

“I don’t,” I said, “you swore! You said you’d stay.” He nodded and he held me. I felt like a child, but I knew I needed him.

“Then I’ll stay,” he whispered, “as long as you wish, Princess. I swore it then, and I swear it again.”

The Challenge

I woke up early the next morning ready for my challenge. I had to fight Thomas. I passed by the medical tent and got a polite nod from Marina as I headed out to the field. The guards were standing around, whispering. I glanced at Tristan, who was leaning against a tree. He winked at me and I tried not to giggle.

Athena walked over and handed me my sword, and I noticed Thomas standing, dressed in light boiled leather holding his. Caleb was next to him and he smiled at me and walked over.

“Your boot, Lisette,” he said and knelt down. It wasn’t untied. He made eye contact, and I nodded, grinning. “You didn’t forget?”

“Never,” I said. “General,” I called out. “Shall we begin?”

“As you wish, Your Highness,” he stepped over to me. “Captain,” Athena nodded, stepping out of the way. He struck once and I dodged, rather than block. Speed was my ally. “You’re afraid?”

“No,” I said and struck myself he blocked. “Not afraid, cautious.” He laughed.

“You won’t beat Brayton with caution, Princess,” he said.I dodged him again, but a swing took my legs out. “Cornan rewards a bold fighter.” I tumbled, and slid through his legs and then pulled a small knife out of my boot, I sliced his pant leg, winning the duel.

“But I am the sword of Rana, General,” I grinned up at him and he laughed, “and The Goddess likes her own to be cunning.”

“So she does,” he said and lifted me up. “A nasty trick you taught her Count.” Caleb was laughing from the side and the rest of the guard had begun cheering.

“She doesn’t have size on her side in any fight,” Caleb shrugged, “but surprise is as good an ally as any.”

“True enough,” Thomas said, “still.” I grinned and went to Tristan who took my hands.

“You were good,” he said, “faster than most.” I shrugged and we walked along. “It won’t be long now, will it?”

“No,” I said softly, “not long at all. I feel it, everything around me, I know it has to be soon.” He pulled me close and kissed me. “I’m afraid,” I admitted.

“No one would know it,” he said, “I wouldn’t even, if you didn’t tell me.” I kissed him again. “And if you need to, you can hide, and Thena and I will take care of all of it.” I giggled.

“I don’t know that she would approve of that plan.” He shrugged and kissed my palm. “And I need to be at the front of it, Tristan, I know you want to protect me, but you can’t, not from this.” He frowned.

“I know,” he sighed, “but I still wish.” I nodded and held close to him. He sensed it too, I think, in his way, that we were nearing the end.

“My darling,” I said softly. I heard a throat clear. Elodie Wills, Athena’s friend was standing beside us. “Mistress Elodie, I’m sorry,”

“No, I’m sorry, your highness,” she said, “only well, the Viscount asked me to find you.”  I nodded, she grinned at Tristan who sighed and kissed my forehead.

“Don’t keep him waiting,” he sighed. “He’ll never let us hear the end of it.” I squeezed his hand and followed after Elodie.

“Lady Athena told me some of your story, Mistress,” I said. She nodded. “I mean to keep the guilds in hand.”

“I’d always hoped so, your highness,” she said softly. “Lady Athena doesn’t quite share my view.” I nodded.

“We’re all a bit blind when it comes to our families,” I smiled. I watched Aaron stand with Marina, teasing her, and grabbing at her apron. She giggled. “And now I must see to mine.” Elodie laughed as I skipped over to them. “You summoned me?”

“Requested an audience,” Marina said simply, I laughed, “you outrank us both.”

“Ah, but to ignore the desires of my two most powerful courtiers would be ill advised,” I said, “what is that you both need?”

“I wanted to congratulate you,” Aaron said, “Athena said you did well.”

“Well, if Athena says so,” I grinned. Marina giggled. “I did in fact, I used my knife.”

“Oh, gods,” he sighed dramatically, “that damn knife.” I slid my arm through Marina’s.

“I dreamt last night, you know,” I said simply, “did you?”

“No,” she said. “I haven’t in a while.” I nodded. “What did See?” I sighed. “Prince Eric again?”

“I think so,” I said. Aaron rolled his eyes. “The ship at least. He’s north, I can tell that much, or he was, very recently.” She looked at me. “He knows it’s coming too, I think.”

“Lisette,” Aaron said softly, “does Tristan know?” I looked at him and shook my head. Marina looked away. “You should tell him, it isn’t fair.” I frowned.

“I know,” I sighed, “I know, but he’ll hate me.”

“I don’t think so,” Marina said, “I don’t think he could.” I looked at her. “I should get back to work.” She curtsied to me and Aaron took her hand and kissed it and she scrurried off.

“You shouldn’t flirt with her,” I said, “she’s young and,” he laughed.

“Marina is in no more danger of falling in love with me than you are,” he said, “we get on, that’s all.” I nodded. “She worries about you, you know.”

“Well, she never had visions of me murdering her so I think she’ll be alright.” He snorted. “I don’t think she will, now.”

“No,” he said, “I don’t think so either.” I nodded. “Lisette, I’m going to ask Athena to marry me.”

“Oh, that’s good, then,” I said. “What does Caleb say about it?” He frowned.

“We need your permission,” he explained. I laughed. “I’m serious, Lisette, it’s all part of it. She’s in the guard, she can’t without,” I shook my head,

“As if I wouldn’t give it,” I shook my head, “ask her. Marry her, be happy.” He laughed and picked me up and spun me. Then we heard the shouts, and the sky turned black.

“Shadows!” I heard Thomas calling out. “To arms!” I swallowed and looked at Aaron, he nodded and we ran quickly to the main field.

Meditation

I sat beside the lake, I liked it here, it was peaceful, calm, away from the bustle of camp. I inhaled and tried to meditate but no peace came.

“Do you mind?” I turned and saw General Martin. I shook my head. He sat with me. I was surprised.

“You meditate?” I asked. He shrugged.

“Not much since I lost the blessing, it isn’t as necessary. But I still enjoy it,” I smiled at him. “I don’t see my presence being soothing to you though?”

“Not if we can’t talk a bit,” I admitted. He nodded. “When you lost the blessing, why?”

“Well,” he sighed, “I failed in my mandate, to protect the balance.” He closed his eyes. “When your parents were killed, and your ascension put in question, that was the end.” He looked at me again. “As if Anton’s death wasn’t enough punishment, Cornan decided I was also to lose my mandate altogether.” The sadness in his voice wasn’t about the blessing.

“Were you in love with him?” I asked softly. He stopped and looked at me.

“With the god?” He tried. “No, serving a god is too complicated for that.” I laughed and he grinned. “With your father?” I nodded. “I don’t know, I thought so, sometimes. I certainly loved him, he was my closest friend,” he frowned, “and we loved the same woman, it was all very complicated.”

“My mother?” I said. He cocked his head.

“Marie?” He laughed. “No, no, John perhaps, but not me. She was far too quiet for me.” I looked at him.

“Olivia then,” I said, he smiled sadly. “I knew, I mean, I didn’t know, but I knew.” He smiled.

“That’s Marie,” he said softly, “god, she used to say that sort of thing every day. Everyone else thought she was insane because they didn’t know what it was like, that wave of understanding when you see something.” I took his hand.

“Did you Dream?” I whispered. He shook his head. “Tell me more about my father.” We glanced across the lake and I saw Marina sitting.

“No,” he said softly, “not tonight, that is. There is somewhere else you have to be.” I nodded and walked over to her. When our eyes met, I suddenly understood why she’d been so shy around me.

I Saw all of it. I Saw Tristan holding her and whispering that he wanted her. And she looked so afraid.

She’s afraid of everything, Athena had said. It’s irritating. 

But we finally talked. (Again, note from Reenie: This conversation already exists. It’s awesome, read it there!) It took a lot, but I’m happy to be friends with her, though there was a point that needed ironing out.

“Does your father want to go home?” I asked. Marina looked at me.

“He’ll be coming home, when we go back to Dovetail,” she said oddly. “Oh! You mean Brightcoast? I suppose he might, I believe they used to go in the summer, the whole court, we could go, Goddess, that will be work, I don’t believe anyone’s been in the manor or the summer palace in ten years.” I laughed. When she babbled she got a funny vacant look on her face.

“I meant Tumona actually,” I said softly. She turned away and swallowed.

“Phania isn’t home,” she whispered. “That’s what he’ll say, if you ask. But I think, somewhere, deep down, yes, he does. It’s not possible though, King Daniel barred him years ago.”

“It might be,” I said softly. She swallowed and we didn’t say anything else for a while.

“You said before that,” she sighed, “that you need me.” I looked at her. “You don’t.”

“I do,” I said, “I don’t know why you would ever think that I didn’t, or that anyone wouldn’t.” She looked away again.

“You don’t understand,” she said softly. “How could you? You had the world, and I had a dusty library and my father and no idea what the future was, or what it could be.” This I recognized. Fear felt foreign, but this was anger. Anger I know, anger, I have.

“No,” I said softly, “no I can’t understand that. I can only understand biting my tongue when I made a friend, never knowing when the axe would fall, and Aaron.” She nodded.

“I keep thinking about Athena,” she whispered. I laughed. “I didn’t know him, I didn’t think I wanted,” she rubbed her face. “I wanted to be rescued, and I didn’t know him, and Pantona and Brightcoast united.” I laughed harder then. “It isn’t funny.”

“It’s a little funny,” I grinned, “he kissed me once, when I was twelve, and when I asked him why, his answer was, ‘I think I’d be a pretty good king, don’t you.'” She giggled. “But you think like that too.”

“Like what?” She looked baffled.

“Politically,” I explained. “I don’t, I’m bad at it. Caleb tried to teach me, but it gives me a stomachache.” I thought of Prince Eric, and Phania and the goddess. But I wasn’t ready to tell her all of that yet. The sun started to go up.

“Lisette,” she said softly, “he loves you.” I swallowed.

“Can we not,” I sighed, “we can we not talk about him?” She looked at me. “I can’t, with you.”

“Alright,” she whispered and stood up and floated away. I went back to my tent as the sun started to rise and saw Tristan asleep in a chair. He woke up as I walked in.

“I was worried,” he said. I smiled and took his hand and lead him to bed. We kissed and undressed. “Lisette,” he mumbled.

“I love you,” I said. “Why were you worried?”

“When you’re out of my sight, I worry,” he whispered, “when you stay out all night, I think you may have died.” I smiled.

“I was with Marina,” I explained. He nodded.

“I should,” he started and I kissed him. “Lisette,” he pushed me away. I looked at him. “What did she tell you?”

“She didn’t,” I said, “she didn’t need to.” He looked afraid. They don’t understand. I realized. “We talked about a lot of things. But somethings we don’t need to.”

“Because of the damn blessing,” he said standing up. I swallowed. “Do you think that’s what it is?”

“What what is?” I asked. He looked at me.

“Rana is playing games with me,” he said softly. I sighed.

“Is that what you think?” I said. “That you love me because of the goddess? That you want her because of her?” He sighed and came back to me.

“No,” he said, “not really.” We kissed deeply. “I only know that when I’m with you, or not with you, there’s only you.” I smiled. He was lying, whether he knew it or not. “Lisette,” he mumbled.

“Tristan,” I whispered back to him. “Martin said your father was in love with my mother.” He laughed.

“I knew that,” he said, “my mother used to tease him about it.” I giggled. “Lisette, be honest, what are you afraid of here?”

“I’m not afraid,” I explained, “I keep thinking about my father.” He nodded. “He wasn’t afraid, and it killed him.” He kissed the top of my head.

Dinner

Tristan met me as the sun was going down and took my hand. He kissed me softly and we pressed our foreheads together.

“You were trying to tell me something,” I said, “before, when Thom-General Martin came in.” He sighed and frowned.

“Yes, I was,” he admitted, “I told you, in Pantona, that there wasn’t anyone else, that,” I smiled. “I think I was blind to something.”

“She loves you,” I said softly. “Marina, Lady Marina,” he nodded. “And you?” He shrugged. “You feel the same?”

“No,” he said, “no, it’s only,” he frowned, “I shouldn’t have, I never told her about,” he sighed, “it doesn’t matter. Shall we go?” I nodded and we moved quickly towards where my family was.

My family. Not Olivia and Caleb and Aaron. But my uncle and cousin. My blood, my mother’s blood, my family. And I knew walking in that she was going to hate me.

“Ah, your highness,” my uncle, Lestat, Uncle Les.

“Lisette,” I said softly, after he bowed and stoof up. “Please, I don’t want to be,” Marina looked at me and frowned. “I can’t imagine you called my mother your majesty.”

“Only when teasing her,” he smiled. “Well, then,” he said, “Lisette, and you met Marina earlier.”

“Of course,” I said. She smiled softly at me. “I’m glad to know you finally. I hope we can be friends.”

“I hope so too,” she said, “hello Sir Tristan.”

“Lady Marina,” he said softly. I hadn’t seen him this quiet in a while. But I liked dinner, and looking at my uncle I had the same, well not the same, but a similar feeling about how I did when I saw Thomas. He could tell me about my mother.

“What have you been doing?” I asked Marina finally. She looked oddly at me again. “In Dovetail?”

“In Dovetail?” She repeated. I nodded. I’d talked about Pantona, and my life at least a little. “Very little. Since we got here though, I’ve been very busy. I’m learning to heal, and it turns out all of the nothing and studying I’ve done it’s helped me here.”

“So many hours in the library,” Tristan said, “here we all thought you were hiding from us.” She wrinkled her nose at him and stuck out her tongue and I swallowed. Maybe he didn’t love her back, but there was an easiness between them, something that I’d never seen in him.

“I’m looking forward to seeing Dovetail,” I admitted. Uncle Les smiled and sipped his wine. “Did you always live there?”

Another memory and story from that. I wanted to hurl myself at Tristan, to claim him, there. He was mine, we’d made promises, whispered and shared parts of ourselves she would never see.

But I knew I was being ridiculous. Tristan said he didn’t return her feelings, I had to trust him. As we discussed battle strategy, I noticed something else change, the way he was looking at me and then I felt the final shift. She saw.

I excused myself and left quickly, I wanted her to see me, but I knew it that moment that she wouldn’t. I could explain later.

“Are you alright?” Tristan asked as we got back to my tent and walked inside. I nodded. “You don’t seem alright.”

“I am,” I said and kissed him. “Make love to me.” He grinned and we fell back against the bed. It was restless, and quick, fitting how discomforted I felt. After, he took a lock of my hair, one of the curls, and twirled it around his finger.

“What are you thinking about?” He asked. I rolled onto my stomach and kissed him. “So we’re of the same mind then?” I giggled.

“Perhaps,” I said softly. His hands slipped around my waist and pulled me close again. “What you said, about me and winning this fight, you meant that?”

“I’d follow you to hell,” he whispered, “into the darkness and back, I wouldn’t even be able to help it, I don’t think.” I pressed my forehead against his. “Lisette.”

“Please don’t ever let me be anyone other than Lisette, with you,” I said softly, “I’ve felt so much today, and I want to be Lisette, in every moment that I can be.”

“Of course, love,” he said, “if I can be Tristan, the merchant’s son.” I nodded and we kissed again. He was everything I wanted.

“Good then,” I said. “I have too much to think about, and I don’t want that to be a part of us.”

“Lisette,” he said, “you were upset tonight?” I sighed and rolled onto my back.

“I was a lot of things tonight,” I admitted. “I was upset, and jealous, and worried.” He looked at me.

“Jealous?” He said. I nodded. “Of Marina?” I looked at him. “Lisette, she’s nothing,” I stopped him.

“No,” I said, “no, she’s wonderful, and beautiful and ladylike and you know her and she knows you.” He kissed me.

“Perhaps,” he said softly, “but I love you, and am loved by you, and I think that might be greater.” I sighed and pressed my forehead against his chest as we both fell asleep, him first, his deep childish sleep.

I dreamt that night of the palace at Dovetail, I was watching as a woman looked out over a balcony, holding a bundle. It was my mother, I realized. A man joined her, with eyes, exactly like mine and short cropped red hair. I smiled.

“How is she?” He asked softly. My mother smiled.

“Wonderful,” she said, “asleep. So you shouldn’t speak to loud.” He laughed softly.

“She’ll sleep soundly. She was named crown princess today,” he said and slipped a silver r bracelet around my wrist. My mother laughed.

“So she is,” she smiled, “they all agreed then.” He nodded. “Even if I have others, and boys?”

“Yes,” he said, “it’s settled. There wasn’t much of a fight, honestly, only Brayton resisted at all.” She nodded. “I don’t know what’s gotten into him.”

“He’s angry with me,” she frowned, “I don’t know why, but he is.” My father kissed her forehead. “I thought this was what he wanted, he always said that he wanted to study to be a mastero, and now he can!”

“I’ve given up trying to please him, Marie,” he sighed, “he’s going to be unpleasant for the rest of our lives, just as he was odd until now.”

I wanted to scream at them to heed his anger, to try something, anything, to at least be aware. I knew I couldn’t, past visions didn’t work that way. I woke up and breathed deeply.

Arrival

I swallowed seeing what looked like a city of tents swimming below us in the valley. I sighed, it all looked beautiful but so many people! I don’t think I’d ever seen so many people in one place.

“Goddess,” I whispered. Tristan looked at me.

“Courage Lisette,” Athena said, nudging me. “It won’t be. so bad.” I nodded and we rode a bit further along, before she inhaled sharply at the figure on horseback. “Martin!” She exclaimed and galloped.

“Well, that was inevitable,” Caleb sighed and we trotted up after her. “General.”

“Count,” The general said. I looked at him, and tried to make up my mind about him. He was a large man, handsome, in a way, and Athena looked, well, glowing. “Countess,” he said, nodding at Olivia. “Cornan’s sword,” he whispered as we locked eyes. “Your Highness, I’m at your disposal.”

“Thank you,” I said. I had a hundred questions for him. About my father, something in me knew he was the right person to tell me everything about my father. “I suppose we should.” He nodded and we rode on. I felt Aralla, my horse steady under me as we walked through the camp. We arrived on a center of the tents and I swallowed.

There she was beautiful, and dressed in a blue healer’s dress. Her eyes were wide and brown, and she was staring at me.

She’s darker than I am, but otherwise, we look very alike, and she’s small, so small. I feel in a daze, vaguely hearing everyone greet her as we dismount. She’s trying not to look at me, I can tell. Then I notice Aaron take her hand and kiss it. I see Tristan’s jaw tighten, and Athena rolls her eyes.

“Aaron,” I manage to say, “Don’t flirt with her!” He winks at me and I sigh loudly. Aaron being obnoxious has broken then spell.

“This is Princess Annalise, Lady Marina,” Athena said, “Lisette, may I present your cousin, Lady Marina Sanpierre of Brightcoast.” Then she curtsied, and we talked.

I was glad to talk to her, spilling out a thousand nervous questions.  (A Note From Reenie: Read Marina’s POV on this to get this conversation, writing it again would be pretty boring!) We’re going to have dinner with her tonight, her and my uncle, I’m curious to meet him. And to hear about my mother.

I walked to a tent that Olivia was standing in front of. It looks quite large.

“Is this yours, Olivia?” I said. She laughed.

“No, love, it’s yours,” she said, parting the middle. I swallowed as I looked around. There was a large bed, several books and maps on a desk, and it’s all very grand looking. “You’ll have to get used to these sorts of things, I suppose. The trappings, your father used to call them.” I nodded, and sat on the bed. “Well, you’ve met her now.”

“Yes,” I said softly. “So I have.” I thought for a moment. “I think she’s as afraid of me as I am of her.” She laughed.

“Perhaps,” Olivia whispered. “Caleb will be with Les now,” Tristan walked into the tent now, “I should make sure Aaron isn’t making trouble.” I nodded and she left. Tristan came close and kissed me. I whimpered softly into him.

“I suppose I can’t just do that whenever I want now,” he said. I laughed. “Are you alright?”

“Yes,” I said, “I’m having dinner with my family.” He nodded.

“I know,” he said, “Marina invited me.” I smiled, that made the whole thing seem less fearsome. “Lisette, I, feel,” he looked down, “I know I told you,” I looked at him.

“What?” I asked softly. He ran his hands through my hair. I kissed him again. We fell back against the bed.

“I love you,” he muttered, “I suppose we have to be more careful now.” I giggled.

“You do at that,” we turned over to the  door and so General Martin standing, smirking at us. “Captain.” Tristan leapt up and saluted.

“General,” he said, “Athena,”

“Has said her piece,” the general smiled, “you weren’t losing sleep over my condition, then?”

“No sir,” Tristan grinned back at him, “I imagine it would take a thousand shadows to defeat you. And my trust in Lady Marina is greater than my sister’s.”

“Good then,” Martin said, “Princess, if it’s convenient, I’d like a word.”

“Of course,” I mumbled, was I blushing? I felt all hot. “Sir Tristan you’re dismissed.” Tristan rushed out, “we were only,”

“No need,” Martin said and sat in the desk chair, “Tristan’s past due for some foolishness, and I imagine Anselm and Caleb have already lectured you.” I frowned, he wasn’t what I expected. “I wanted to give you a few things.” I nodded. He reached into the large leather bag he had with him and laid them out on the desk. I exhaled and walked over.

There were three things there, a sword, the hilt with a sparkling green jewel standing out, a necklace of pearls, surrounding a single blue stone, and a silver circlet, clearly meant to be worn on the crown.

“Goddess,” I whispered, running my fingers over the treasures. “These are mine?”

“Aye,” he grinned, “the sword was your father’s I made it for him myself, the circlet is older than dirt, I think, the heir is supposed to wear it in public, I stole it away from Dovetail when I fled last year. And the necklace was Marie’s, one of her things from Phania, from Tumona.” I nodded.

“Caleb says I shouldn’t flaunt the Phania connection,” I said. Martin snorted.

“You’re chosen, aren’t you?” Martin said. I nodded, “I doubt that Rana would appreciate you ignoring her blessing.” I giggled at that and lifted my hair off my neck as he fastened it. “You have your father’s eyes you know.” I turned and looked at him. “Exactly, I’d forgotten, the color.” Something came over me then, a feeling I’d never felt before, like someone, or something else was inside of me.

“Thomas,” I said quietly, “it’s alright, I’m home now.” He smiled softly at me.

“So you are, Princess,” he said, “I can rest now.” I nodded and he knelt, I leaned down and kissed his forehead gently. “Thank you.” I smiled at him. I knew him, in that moment, this man, who’d been beloved of my father.

“Rise then, and show me my army,” I said. He stood up. I fastened the sword around my waist and place the circlet on my brow.

I was a lost princess, no more.

Promise

Riding with the twins is a lot of fun, something I didn’t quite expect when we left Pantona. They’re constantly grinning at one another and challenging each other to races, and dragging Aaron and I into it and then trading jokes. I wonder sometimes what it will be like when it’s no longer than just the four of us.

We made camp for the night and I was mostly surprised by how easily Olivia adapted to it. I’m so used to her in the manor, so refined and dignified, her on a bedroll in a tent seems wrong.

“Oh, I never could do it for long,” She said, “but the full camp gives me a real bed.” I smiled. “How are you doing?” She asked. I shrugged.

“It doesn’t feel real yet,” I admitted. She nodded and yawned. “I’ll let you sleep.”

“My dear,” she said softly, and took my hand. “Are you sure you’re alright?” I nodded and hugged her tightly.

“No,” I admitted, “I, last night, I Dreamed, I saw my mother.” I hadn’t seen her before, but the dreams, well, I wasn’t sure what any of them were anymore. Visions, and faces, and my mother screaming in pain and fear, and Prince Eric sailing through a storm and Tristan beside me when I woke, holding me closely.

“You saw Marie,” she said softly. I nodded. “Darling, it’s alright, maybe it wasn’t a vision, just a long buried memory.” I swallowed. It wasn’t, we both knew it wasn’t. “When did you last sleep without a dream?”

“In the spring,” I sighed, “before the twins came, I suppose, but even then, they were becoming more regular.” She nodded. “It’s all coming soon, I think, and the gods don’t want me to forget it.”

“As if you could,” She smiled. I nodded. “You’ll be alright. Hopefully in Dovetail the sisters or the University will know how to handle it.” I nodded. But I knew she was by no means sure. “Try to sleep anyway, I promise, this can’t last.” I smiled and walked back to my tent. Tristan and I had been sharing, another thing I knew couldn’t last.

I wondered if he knew. He must. But we didn’t talk about it. Ever.

He smiled at me and I slid under the blankets. I wanted him, but I knew, not tonight.

“Are you alright?” He asked softly. I nodded. “Lisette,” he said softly, running his finger against my face. I loved him for calling me Lisette, would that stay, would the look on his face right now?

“I don’t want this summer to end,” I said softly. “It was like gold.” He nodded.

“A golden summer,” he said. I nodded.

“Tell me more about what to expect when we get to the camp tomorrow,” I said snuggling into him. He smiled.

“Well,” he said and kissed my hair,  “you’ll have to fight General Martin, but you know that.”

“I have to what?” I said. He laughed.

“Just sparring,” he said, “all the officers have to, it’s a test. Unless you don’t want to be an officer.” I rolled my eyes. “You’ll meet Lady Marina, and your uncle, they’ll be so happy to meet you.” I nodded. “And no matter what, you need to sleep.” I smiled and kissed him again. I slept, and I dreamed, and Dreamed, nothing good or solid in either directions, just images.

And then that final one, the one that comes over and over, walking through the palace, into the throne room, but this time it was different, she was there, Marina, not with Brayton this time and not on the throne either.

“What did you think would happen?” She said sharply, her dark eyes clear and angry. She stepped away and I saw on the dais, clear as anything Tristan’s body slumped and lifeless, covered in blood. “You killed him.” I looked down and saw my sword covered in blood, I knew it was his. I woke up and realized I was screaming. Tristan looked at me and held me close.

“Lisette,” he said, “it’s alright, love, it’s alright,” I was sobbing. I looked at him. “Was it bad?”

“You were,” I said softly and kissed him, “no, you’re safe, you’re here,” I pressed my forehead to his chest.

“Where else would I be?” He said rubbing my back. “I’m with you.”

“You won’t leave?” I said, softly, “ever.”

“Not ever,” he whispered and kissed me again. I pulled myself close to him, then kissed him moving my hands below him waist. “Lisette,” he stopped me, “what was it?” I looked at him.

“I killed you,” I said, “or she did, but you died.” He swallowed and drew away. “The dreams aren’t,” I sighed, “I explained about the threads of time?” He nodded. “The dreams are just one thread, and that’s why they change, why they’re so,” I sighed. “You won’t die, I won’t let,” he kissed me again.

“Do you remember, the day we met,” he said, I nodded, “I said I would die for you and I meant it then, just out of duty, but know now, that I mean it with all of my heart. I will die for you if it comes to that.”

“You won’t,” I said, “I won’t let it happen.” We made love then, and I slept for the rest of the night soundly and woke up in the morning before the sun. I sat out and took a deep breath as I watched it go up.

I’d made a promise that I had no idea how to keep. Or if I could. And even worse, I knew now that there was a part of me that could kill him.

A Gift And A Goodbye

I rose early the next morning to go training, but couldn’t find Athena. I wondered if she was out already, but made my way out to the stables, Tristan had mentioned wanting to go riding and I decided to join him, when I saw Caleb standing waiting.

“Good Morning,” he said. I smiled softly at him. “Are you alright?”

“I don’t want to talk about it,” I said, “is that alright?”

“Perfectly,” he shrugged, “I have something for you,” I smiled, “come.” I walked in with him and saw standing in the middle a horse I’d never seen before. “It’s a bit early, but I thought a birthday present would be alright.” I giggled softly and walked over. “You’ve never had your own, but it wouldn’t do for The Lost Princess to return on a borrowed stable horse from someone else’s stable.”

“Caleb,” I whispered, petting her neck. “What’s her name?” I knew she was a mare immediately. And perfect. Clean white, shining, almost like a star.

“Doesn’t have one yet,” he grinned. “The Dumanis don’t name their animals. Charlotte showed her to me when I met them along the way back.” I smiled. “She’s shrewd that one, just a smile, and ‘I thought you might want to look at a horse, your grace, something suitable for a young woman.'” I remember the half smile on Charlotte’s face when she’d mentioned I was Phanian. I’d wondered what she’d guessed then, know I knew for sure.

“I’ll have to think it over,” I cooed, “thank you Caleb.” He smiled. “Have you seen Athena?”

“She went into town to find someone who could send her letter,” he said. I nodded. “William ran so quickly last night, before I could mention that I think,” I laughed.

“You think I should tell him the truth,” I said. He nodded. “Olivia told me, that he asked for me.” Caleb laughed. “I can only imagine you two scrambling for something to say.”

“It was something we’d anticipated,” he shrugged, “not with William specifically, but well, you’re a reasonably appealing young woman, and certainly not without local position, even if you were simply our ward. We’d assumed a village boy, or a younger merchant son might ask for you at some point.”

A younger merchant son. That gave me a pang. In another world, the world where I was really Lisette, and Tristan was really just a guest of my foster parents, he’d have asked for me. I’d be Lady Dugarry, not Queen Annalise.

“I’ll talk to him today,” I said softly. I pressed me forehead against the horse’s nose, not knowing what to say exactly.

I walked out towards the village and found Athena on her way back, she looked agitated.

“Are you alright?” I said. She frowned.

“I was,” she said, “I’d even calmed down about the General, but then I ran into that awful farmgirl, Katie?”

“Kathy,” I said. She nodded. “Yes, I don’t think she’d like you much.” Athena pressed her lips into her mouth.

“I certainly didn’t ask Aaron to abandon her minutes after she slept with him to chase after me,” she muttered, “it isn’t my fault.” I giggled, realizing this seemed like a familiar problem to her. “Where are you off to, and why isn’t my brother tailing behind you, in case a shadow or spy pops out of the orchard to carry you away to darkness?”

“He’s asleep,” I said, “and it seems unlikely at this juncture. If a spy were watching us, they’d probably wait until we’re all on the move to grab me.”

“Hmm,” she nodded, “I suppose so.” She was grinning now.

“I’m heading into town, but since you just came from that way, I’d assume you don’t want to join me,” she shook her head.

“No,” she said, “I have to talk to Aaron, and you’re likely going to have a rather serious conversation that should be had alone?” I nodded. “Good luck.” I smiled and waved.

Once I reached town, I noticed Kathy at her father’s stand looking very grumpy. I decided not to poke at that. That was a benefit to not being Lisette anymore, not having to deal with fallout of Aaron’s entanglements. I reached the inn and walked in. The maids all nodded at me and one pointed me towards William’s parlor. He smiled when he saw me.

“What a nice surprise,” he said, “Two days in a row at that.” I laughed.

“I wanted to talk to you,” I said, “but I didn’t get a chance last night.” He nodded. “William, I,” I swallowed. “We’re leaving soon.”

“I see,” he said quietly. “Going west?” I nodded. “This has something to do with Sir Tristan?”

“Yes,” I said, “and no.” I folded my hands. “I mean, he’s coming with us, of course, but,” I swallowed. “I’m not Lisette.” He scrunched his face in confusion. “I mean, I am, but she’s not, a real person.” I frowned. “I’m botching this. You see a lot of people come through, you’ve probably heard, rumors, stories,” I swallowed, “sightings.”

“Of?” He asked. “Last week I had a man who swore his horse was actually a unicorn, but I’m not following.”

“Of girls like me,” I said softly, “orphaned half Phanian girls,” I sighed, “who might not be what they seem.” His eyes widened.

“Gods, I’m a fool,” he muttered. I bit my bottom lip and glanced down. “Lisete, I mean, your highness, I guess.” I nodded. “So you’re going west, to go,” I nodded again. “Are you terrified?” I suddenly felt a surge of affection for William and flew across the room and hugged him.

“I’ll miss you,” I said softly, “really, before you came I didn’t have any friends except Aaron, and it’s been wonderful to have someone else.”

“Yes,” he smiled, “and just think what a good story it will be,” he whispered, “I courted the Queen of Cammadan herself, not that she had any idea of course.” I giggled. “I think we’d have made a good match though.”

“I can think of worse,” I said. “You don’t hate me?” He laughed.

“No, Lisette,” he said, “I don’t hate you.” He frowned. “Can I still call you Lisette?” I smiled.

“In private,” I shrugged, “I’ll be Your Highness in public though, until it’s Your Majesty.” He nodded. “Come with us.”

“No,” he said, “maybe, later when things are settled, but I’m not much use in a fight Lisette.” I smiled.

“Fine then,” I said softly.

The Next Step

Supper was one of the better ones we’ve had in a while, William even came, as Caleb had stopped by the inn to invite him.

I hadn’t seen him since that very odd market day, and I wondered now, knowing how he felt about me, if it would change anything between us. I found myself less talkative than usual but William was still himself.

“All things considered how do you find Lord Brayton these days?” William asked curiously. Athena took a long sip of wine.

“He’s changed very little,” Caleb said, “though he talks of marrying soon.” I exhaled, and thought of my dream. Tristan looked curiously at me.

“An honor for any woman, I’m sure,” Olivia grinned wryly. Aaron coughed on the water he was drinking trying not to laugh. “You must have more news than we do William! After all the Dumanis camp only just moved on. It had to have been a good month.”

“I did well enough,” he said, “it’s always best when it’s the Dumanis, don’t you think, Sir Tristan?”

“Our family is generous,” Athena answered.

“That’s a word for it,” Tristan muttered. I smiled and looked at him. “Alex and Charlotte said they did well, also. Your tenants must be thriving Count.”

“I’m happy to hear that,” Caleb smiled. “Lisette, pass the potatoes.” I smiled and handed them to him. “Thank you dearest.” The rest of the meal followed in that fashion until William left. After we all sat in the parlor, Caleb had given Athena a letter which she was reading, her face getting more and more red.

“He’s alright now?” She asked.

“Yes, Athena,” Caleb said softly, “General Martin was recovering very well when I left. Lady Marina tended to him.”

“That does not inspire much confidence.” Athena mumbled. “I should write to him.” She stood up and stormed out. Tristan shook his head.

“Is he alright?” Olivia said softly. Caleb smiled at her and nodded.

“You know Tom,” Caleb shrugged, “homicidally brave, if he weren’t alright he wouldn’t be likely to tell me of all people.” She nodded. “Are you curious how he’s doing Tristan?”

“Marina is more than capable of caring for him,” Tristan said absently. I felt my face flush, “Lady Marina, I mean.” Olivia nodded. I smiled at him. “It was shadows though?”

“Unfortunately,” Caleb sighed, “they’re getting stronger, it’s part of why I think we should get you to the resistance sooner rather than later.” Aaron frowned. “You have an opinion, Aaron?”

“I don’t see the rush,” he said, “besides the symbol of coronation on her birthday, why leave when we’re safe.” I looked at him.

“We won’t always be,” I said softly. “He’ll find me eventually, I’d rather be in control of that.” I stood up and walked up to my room. I sat quietly for a minute before the door opened. I was expecting Tristan, but instead it was Aaron.

“You’re right you know,” he said, “but I worry, it’s what brothers do.” I smiled softly at him. “Lisette,” he said, “do you want this to change?”

“No,” I sighed, “no, more than anything else, I want to stay here, but we can’t, we always knew it was going to end.” He sat and took my hand. “You could stay.” He laughed.

“If it weren’t for this summer,” he said softly, “if it weren’t for her, maybe I would.” I grinned.

“It is different this time,” I laughed. He nodded. “Have you told her how you feel?” He nodded. “And?”

“She’s hesistant,” he shrugged, “but ammenable.” I laughed and kissed him on the cheek. “Lisette,” he said, “you’re worried.”

“About a lot of things,” I said softly. “I need you though, so I’m glad.” He nodded and I hugged him. “Now go away, Tristan should be here soon, and I doubt you want to be here when he comes.”

“I do not,” he sighed. “Do you know what you’re doing here?” I smiled and nodded. “Alright, I won’t bother you.” He kissed me on the forehead. “I know you talked to Father about it, and if you need me to,” I rolled my eyes.

“I’m not marrying you for political reasons, don’t be absurd,” I said, “Please leave.” He nodded and walked out.

Tristan came in then, and we didn’t talk. We didn’t need to. There’s something else there. Something deep and wild, and instinctive. I need him, it’s that simple.

I slept deeply and dreamt of Lady Marina sitting beside a lake, writing a letter. I blinked and then I was on a blue ship, somewhere covered in ice and snow. Two boys were standing looking at lights flashing in the sky.

“Where are you?” One of them, younger, it looked with long curly hair tied back. The other, short cropped hair, they were both dark skinned.

“I’m not sure,” he said softly.

“Is it time?” The first asked. The other shook his head.

“No,” he whispered, “but soon.” I woke up and realized I’d had a vision of Prince Eric. I’d never Seen him before. I swallowed and turned seeing Tristan asleep.

I have no idea what to do.

Caleb

I walked down to the cottage where Anselm lives and he was at work in his kitchen, mixing something. I had brought him some herbs and things from the manor garden and greenhouse at his request.

“Glad you found time in your busy schedule,” he said, “I thought I might never see you.” I laughed. “Is everything there?”

“Yes,” I said softly. I poured myself a cup of tea. “Mastero,” I said.

“Lisette,” he answered not looking up.

“If, hypothetically, one didn’t want to get pregnant,” I muttered, “is there some sort of potion or charm that might, you know, help with that.”

“Low magic users swear by whip willow,” he said distractedly. “It’s never been tested in a university setting. One of Aaron’s ask you?”

“No,” I mumbled, “it doesn’t matter. In a tea?”

“Do you know of another way to administer a bark than a tea?” He said. I nodded and then he stopped and looked at me. “Not for Aaron?” I shook my head. “Ah,” he sat down, “Sir Tristan, I assume.” I nodded. “That’s a dangerous game for you Lisette.”

“I understand,” I said softly. “It isn’t a game though.” I spread my fingers out. “We’re leaving soon.”

“Yes, yes,” he sighed, “I had a letter from the Count as well.” I swallowed.

“You’ll come with us,” I said. He looked at me.

“No, Lisette, I won’t,” he shook his head. “Unless you order me to. But I don’t belong with the army and I’m sure the University has moved on in directions I couldn’t abide.” I looked at him.

He looked much older than I’d ever realized in that moment. We’d all been preparing, but the world had passed him by in that time.

“I won’t order you,” I said softly, “but I do wish you’d come. I need you.”

“Bah,” He waved a hand. “You do not need me. You have the twins now, and you’ll have your cousin.” I frowned. “Now, we’ve got work to do. Dry out what you brought me and we’ll start brewing.” I nodded and hung the herbs in the window.

I sat in the living room next, breathing deeply and feeling what I could from around me. Part of me wanted to order Anselm to come with us, but the other part knew it wouldn’t be fair.

During the uprising, when Brayton’s forces pushed my parents from Dovetail, and he took control, most of the masteros were killed when they didn’t swear themselves to Brayton. Anselm fled with my parents, helping protect them as they moved. When I was settled in Pantona, he was settled with me.

He never seemed to like Caleb much, but Caleb takes it in stride. After we finish the potion and he gives me the whip willow, I head home. Tristan is waiting for me at the woods border. He doesn’t ever go into the woods, he doesn’t like it.

“Did you have a good lesson?” He grinned. I shrugged, feeling like the bark in my bag was terribly heavy.

“Yes,” I whispered and kissed him softly. He pulled me close. “What were you doing, running?”

“Getting tack together actually,” he shrugged, “I’ve neglected Elian,” I smiled. “Would you like to come with me?”

“No,” I said, “I have some work to do, and there’ll be plenty of riding soon,” he nodded. “I’ll walk with you though.” I slid my hand into his. I wanted to ride with him, go back to the hills and tumble around, cling to him and never leave.

“You’ve decided then,” he said. It wasn’t a question. He knew. I nodded. “Are you alright, Lisette?” I wanted to tell him everything, about Prince Eric, about the goddess, about my visions, the path I knew I had to take one day, and how I would have to kill the part of my heart that loved him to survive it. I kissed him again and we walked to the stables, and I saw a large grey horse out in front. I smiled then.

“Gods!” I exclaimed, Tristan smiled at me. “Caleb!” I ran quickly to the house and to his study, where he was standing over his desk, looking at something written.

“Good morning, Little One,” he said happily I ran and hugged him. “Let me look at you, Lisette.” I stepped back. “You’ve grown. That’s good. I don’t know how I was going to present a five foot tall commander to the army.” I laughed. “You were at market?”

“With Anselm,” I said, “he’s going to stay behind,” I said softly. Caleb nodded.

“I suspected he would,” he sighed, “it will be difficult without him, I was hoping he could guide you and Marina a bit but I wasn’t counting on it.” I nodded and sat down. “Olivia said that you’ve come to care for the twins.”

He spoke around it, but he knew.

“Yes, they’re,” I stopped, “I’m glad to have them by my side.” He nodded. “When will we leave?”

“Two weeks,” he said, “and then it’s a week of hard riding.” I nodded. “You’re ready.”

“Aaron says I’ll never be,” I said, “I think sometimes that he’s right.” He nodded. “Olivia and I were talking about,” I sighed, “when it ends, and what’s next for me.” He smiled.

“Dovetail and coronation,” he said. I nodded. “Oh, you mean after that.” I nodded again. “Well, the provenance leaders will want you to see their sons, of course, at least two of the nine are out the running, unless a great deal has changed between you and Aaron since I’ve been gone.” I laughed. “The borderland tribes have a prince or two the right age, and likely one of the boys from Rastan, there are ten of them.”

“And Phania?” I asked carefully. He pressed his lips.

“And Phania,” he said, “I know what you’ve Dreamt, dearest, and I know what you think will come, but I have to tell you politically it could be a miscalculation, if he even comes.”

“Daniel and Elana never backed Brayton,” I said.

“Not officially no,” he sighed, “but the also never forgave your Uncle for staying in Cammadan rather than accepting their offer of asylum for you and his family.” I looked at him.

“I could have lived at Tumona?” I said softly. He nodded. “But then, why,” he sighed.

“A lot of reasons,” he said, “mainly, we all thought it was important, given your calling and your mother, that you be as Cammadie as possible. Many of the border chiefs and provenance leaders didn’t like having a foreign princess and queen.” I nodded. “We’re a few steps from it, but clearly it’s been weighing on you?”

“Tristan and I,” I sighed, “it’s wrong, it’s cruel to him but I couldn’t,” I swallowed, “I love him, it’s impossible not to, I tried.” He laughed.

“Lisette, to crush your heart would be a grave mistake,” he said, “you love him, then love him, that’s all there is to it. Tristan isn’t a fool, he knows that he can’t be your husband.” I nodded.

“I’m glad you’re back,” I said. “I missed you, you were gone too long.” He nodded.

“I agree,” he sighed. “I wish we could stay longer, but I don’t think it can be helped. We have to be to the city by your birthday, and so we have to move.” I nodded.