With All Due Respect

Marina

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

“I’ve been thinking,” he said softly.

“Mm,” I closed my eyes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And the others?” I said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Where is he?” She asked Athena.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I missed something,” I said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Invasion

Annalise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Romance

Athena

After dinner I suggested that we walk on the beach, because Aaron is so on edge, and barely speaking to Lisette still. He was so there when I was dark and I want to be there with him, too. But he’s sullen and edgy and I miss his sparkle and laugh.

“They seemed nice,” he said softly, “Brea and Nika? Do you like them?” I smiled.

“I like Nika,” I said, “or at least I think so. Brea seems a little more high handed, and she wants to take Harran away and I can’t forgive that.” He laughed.

“Mm,” he sighed, “yes, you’re too protective of your friends.” I looked at him. “I was glad to see Eric at dinner.”

“Me too,” I said softly, “I don’t know that it will amount to much. Marina seems to think he doesn’t have it in him to forgive her.” He nodded. “Do you?” He sighed.

“I think I have already,” he admitted. “I’m just punishing her now,” I laughed. “And I miss her.”

“I can tell,” I said. “I got a letter from Tristan today. Carolina DuKarras accepted him. They’re planning to be married in Dovetail, after us.” He smiled.

“After us?” He said. I nodded. “I’ll pressure William about the place in Pantona for them. And she’s joining the guard?”

“That seems to be the plan, though I suppose it’s up to Lisette,” I shrugged, “and Martin.” He nodded. “Are you going to enlist?” He laughed.

“No, darling,” he said, “I don’t think I will, if you can forgive it.” I laughed.

“Of course,” I said softly and kissed him gently. “If it comes to war though,” he exhaled.

“I’ll fight beside you,” he whispered, “and her, always, but knowing I can walk away,” he drifted off. “And I can’t pledge more to her, if these past few weeks have shown me anything it’s that I can’t,” he sighed. I smiled softly at him.

“I know,” I whispered. He looked at me. “This is very romantic, by the way,” he laughed and kicked the sand.

“We’ve been a little pathetic on the romance front lately, haven’t we?” He smiled. I laughed as he pulled me close. “Better?”

“Oh, much,” I nodded. He kissed me. “Aaron,” I muttered.

“Yes, Athena,” he said softly. He traced my jaw gently with his thumb. I exhaled.

“The game you and Lisette used to play, if she was really Lisette,” I said softly. He nodded, “What would we be in that world?”

“I can’t imagine I wouldn’t have dropped everything to pursue you the minute I met you,” he smiled. “Without Lisette between us, it might have taken me longer to get your guard down.” I laughed.

“It certainly would have,” I said with as much dignity as I could muster. He laughed. “But I can’t imagine not softening to you eventually.”

“Mmm,” he nodded and kissed me.

“I don’t understand why you sent for me, then,” we both slunk back behind a pillar hearing Brea, following after her was Harran.

“Because I needed to know I could trust whoever it was,” he said, “and I trust you.” She snorted, Aaron looked at me.

“You needed someone with the sight and you knew Nika wouldn’t come without me,” she said, “I guess I was fooling myself, thinking that you actually wanted to see me.”

“Brea,” he said gently, “what am I supposed to do?”

“I don’t care what the elders say,” she straightened up, “or even you, I won’t marry Rian just because you changed your mind.”

“I never made up my mind,” he hissed. “You made it up for me, but things changed.”

“Yes, obviously,” she said. “And I’m just supposed to bow and smile at the woman who’s ruined my life, how excellent.” She marched back into the palace.

“I know you two are there,” Harran called out. We stepped out. “Does Lisette know?”

“I think she guessed,” Aaron grimaced, “though I doubt she thought you were celibate between leaving us in Pantona and getting into her bed three weeks ago.” He sighed. “You might have warned both of them, though, for your own sake.”

“Brea wasn’t wrong, though,” Harran sat down and looked at his feet, “I knew we needed Nika and she’s not likely to do anything without her sister. It wasn’t really fair to her.” I looked at him. “She should marry my brother though, she’s being stupid about that.”

“Maybe she is,” I said softly. I left the rest unsaid. He was being stupid too, he knew Lisette didn’t love him, and wouldn’t keep him with her for the long term. Aaron looked at me. “Nika seems game though.” Harran laughed.

“I think Nika will do well here, honestly,” he admitted, “She never quite fit with the tribes. The Witches are always a bit on their own, but Nika,” he shook his head. “She was exceptional, which made her lonely.”

“No wonder I like her,” I smiled, “I’m exceptional too.” He laughed and I heard Aaroon snort derisively.

“Athena,” Marina walked out. “I have to get Papa home, but I made Lissette a sleeping drought, could you bring it to her?”

“I’ll bring it,” Harran said. Marina stared at him.

“Did she ask for you?” She said softly. He frowned. “She was upset today, I wouldn’t press.” He sighed.

“You’re right,” he mumbled and slunk out, probably back to his own rooms.

“Our little diplomat,” Aaron smirked. Marina sighed and shrugged.

“I know Eric went to speak to her,” she said, “I can’t imagine Harran showing up to help her to bed would help that conversation along.”

“No,” I said. “I don’t imagine it would.” I inhaled. “The kitchen will have it?” She nodded. “I’ll bring it. Although, isn’t it Mercy’s job, technically?”

“Technically,” Marina shrugged, “but she and Elodie disappeared ages ago and you’re right here.” I laughed.

“The lady has a point,” Aaron sighed, “if we’d adjourned to bed immediately instead of taking a walk maybe you’d get out of it.”

“Hm,” I sighed, and kissed him. “I’ll meet you there then.” He grinned. I walked inside and up to Annalise’s apartments. The two guards at the door let me past, as I held the pot of tea that Marina had brewed up.

“Lisette,” I said, gently but loud enough to penetrate the door, as I knocked. There wasn’t even much of a sign of Eric, which was a little worrying. “Lisette, Marina sent me with the potion for you.”

She opened the door, looking flushed and wrapped in a sheet. I cocked my head to the side.

“I don’t know that I’ll need it after all,” she said and took the pot. “But thank you, and I’ll thank Marina later.”

“Of course,” I said, “should I send Mercy up?”

“I’m alright,” she said softly. “Really.”

“Hello, Commander,” Eric walked over and hugged her from behind. “Is everything alright?”

“Your Highness,” I said. “Yes, just doing my job.”

“I’m fine,” Lisette said, “we can speak in the morning.”

“We certainly will,” I raised my eyebrows and sighed as she closed the door.

Resolution

Annalise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yet?” I whispered. He sighed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Council

Marina

Aaron is pacing nervously and I shook my head.

“You’re doing the thing,” I said. He frowned at me. “You’re doing the thing where you’re thinking as her overprotective brother rather than her advisor.” He rolled his eyes. “Aaron, she’ll be fine. This will all be fine.”

“I think you’re taking your soothing spiritual leader role a little too personally,” he said. I rolled my eyes at him. “If Eric decides to leave, it’s bad Rina.” I nodded.

“I know,” I said and straightened my skirt. “And I’ve been thinking about that, probably more than anyone.” He sighed and sat down next to me.

“Of course you have, I’m sorry,” he said. I looked down.

“I’d go with them,” I whispered. He stared at me. “Not permanently, but,” I exhaled, “I’d go to Tumona, go home.”

“This is your home,” he said, “and we need you here, Marina!” I exhaled.

“We need to keep King Daniel happy,” I said. He nodded. “Or at least, convinced we’re still serious about a real alliance.”

“Yes,” he said, his tone careful. I looked down.

“Well, Annalise isn’t the only one available for that sort of arrangement,” I said softly. He exhaled.

“Marina,” he whispered, “I can’t ask that of you,” I stood up and walked over to a small portrait of my aunt, it really was like looking in a mirror. “And I doubt Lefty and Eric,” I looked over my shoulder.

“They’ll play along,” I said softly, “they don’t want war anymore than we do.”

“So you go South,” he said. I nodded. “Athena and Annalise go west to hunt for the gods?” I nodded again. “And if they need you?” I sighed.

“I don’t know,” I said, “I do know we’ll get nowhere with the mandate while fighting off a Phanian invasion of Brightcoast.” He sighed. He kissed my forehead.

“We don’t deserve you,” he said, “you know that, hm?” I laughed and patted his hand carefully.

“I know,” I said softly. “I love you though, so that makes you worth it.” He laughed sadly. “So I hear you’re going to have a stepfather.” That lead to a bark of laughter.

“Athena is not pleased,” he said. “Meanwhile, I’m just glad my mother is happy.” I smiled.

“Athena is protective of her people,” I said, “that now includes your mother as well as The General, I can’t imagine it’s an easy equation for her.” He nodded. “I think it would be good for my father, to go back.”

“If you think so,” he nodded. “It always seemed to me he was happy to never go back.” I swallowed. “And if Eric doesn’t leave?”

“I might still go,” I said softly. “Damian wants me to see it,” I admitted, “and Pharras. I want to, too.” It was the first time I’d said it out loud. I did want to. I felt at peace here in Brightcoast, but I knew there could be no real peace until we free the gods, so I was building in restlessness. Or maybe it was real. Who could say?

Rana had been frustratingly quiet lately. Lisette said the same. Raymond too. Though he was more concerned with the whispers in his sleep from Amina. I couldn’t tell Aaron about that, though I desperately wanted to. It wasn’t my secret to confide.

“Ah,” Duchess Norvine walked in with the others trailing behind her, “Duchess Brightcoast, nice of you to join us for a change,” I blushed.

“I apologize for my absence,” I muttered taking my seat. “As it turns out the people my father had in charge were less than reliable.” She nodded. Harold Friers scowled at me. He’s less than thrilled with our treatment of his son, but it can’t be helped that he’s too young and too shy, and frankly, if the way his eyes follow Raymond are to be believed he’s probably even less interested than we are.

“Will Queen Annalise be joining us?” Friers said. Aaron looked at me.

“She was alerted to the meeting’s importance,” he said, “I’m sure she’s on her way.”

“The matter of her marriage needs to be settled,” Duchess Norvine said, “or at least addressed. If she’s set on the Phanian or he border tribes boy, that’s all well and good, but if she hasn’t someone needs to reach out to Rastan.” She glanced at me. “They can’t be ignored forever.”

“If this is literally another meeting where we discuss nothing but whether Annalise is going to get married soon,” Aaron groaned, “I’m leaving. Harvest is coming, I should be in Pantona supervising.”

He looked miserable I realized. He was listening to this group squabbling about Lisette’s love life, when all he wanted was to be home, doing the thing he was good at.

Lisette walked in then, looking regal and confident and took her place at the head of the table as everyone rose.

“I was told this was a very important meeting of this council,” she said, her eyes never leaving Aaron’s, I so often wondered what passed between them. “What could be so urgent?”

Duchess Norvine cleared her throat.

“My people managing in Dorin are confident that The Dumanis will be on your side given any need for naval intervention,” she said simply, “if that’s still something you want.” She nodded.

“It is,” she said. “For now, at least. In the future, however, I’d like the crown to be as independent of the guilds as possible.” She glanced at me and I nodded. “And as we’ll be intimately connected with Phania, I don’t see building and training our own navy as terribly difficult.”

“You’ve decided then,” Friers said. She looked at him.

“I haven’t decided anything,” she shrugged. “Lady Marina however,” I swallowed.

“I, well,” I stuttered as they all stared at me. I wanted to murder her. “Lieutenant Lestoff and I have discussed a few possibilities, of course, but, well,” I was flushed. She thought she was helping, that was the worst part.

“Let’s move on,” Aaron said, sending a sharp look around the table. “Before you came in I mentioned harvest, and from most of the midlands, wheat looks particularly strong this year.” Friers began talking about his orchards then and I zoned out. We provided fish, and it was going well for the summer, this was known. After we adjourned everyone left except the three of us. “What were you thinking?” He hissed at Lisette.

“What?” She said, “We’ve talked about it, and I thought you were settled,” she paused.

“She’s not settled,” Aaron snapped, “I thought we got through to you this morning, Lisette, nothing is settled until you are. Everything hinges on you. Marina’s future, Tristan’s life, Athena and my marriage,” I swallowed. I’d never seen him this angry. “I understand you hate it, but it’s what it is.” She stared at him.

“Marina will you excuse us?” Annalise said softly.

“No,” Aaron said, “forget it, Marina stay, I’ll excuse myself.” He gathered his things and stopped in the doorway. “That is with your permission?” He was so sarcastic the room got colder. She nodded tersely.

“He’s not wrong,” I said softly, “we just came up with an elaborate feint to keep the Phanians at bay if Eric decides he’s had enough.” She looked at me. “And you may have just destroyed any chance of it working.” She closed her eyes and nodded. “He’s never asked me,” I whispered. “Not once, because he knows I can’t say yes, and I don’t think his pride could take it.”

“I’m sorry,” she said softly. I nodded. “I’m going to talk to Eric.” I nodded.

“You do that,” I said and walked out of the room. I found my way to the small apartment that Papa and I had here. We didn’t use it much, Papa really never. Damian was waiting for me, balancing a pen between his knuckles, I sat down next to him and put my head on his shoulder.

“Good morning to you too,” he smiled. “It went that well, hm?” I looked at him.

“Is Eric angry?” I said softly. “I hate using you as a go between, but, well,” I sighed. He nodded.

“Eric is, at the moment,” he snickered, “indisposed. When I got to our rooms last night, he was falling down drunk, and he’s unable to do much but vomit.” I laughed and kissed him gently. “What’s Annalise thinking?”

“I barely got to speak to her,” I said, “But I think she wants you to train any navy we might build.” He leaned back and looked at me.

“Hm,” he nodded. “That’s interesting.” I laughed and kissed him again. “Are you still upset with me?”

“I was never very upset with you,” I said softly. He smiled. “I’m glad you introduced me to them, really, Damian, I want to be a part of your life.” He cupped my face.

“You are my life, now,” he said softly, “I hope you know that.” I curled into him. He kissed my hair.

“If you leave, I’m going with you,” I said. “I can’t bear the idea of being without you.” I felt him tense around me.

“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it, love,” he whispered. “But I’m glad to hear it. I don’t want to be without you either.”

Boy Problems

Annalise

I woke up still wrapped happily around Harran. I liked the way that his arms were resting at my waist and his forehead on my shoulder.

And I’d missed being held.

“Good morning,” he smiled. I stretched and blinked at him

“Good morning,” I said and kissed him. “So, is this when we talk about how we’ve made a grave mistake?” He chuckled and stretched.

“I thought this was the part where I promise to stand by you and marry you regardless of your moral frailty in this scenario.” I giggled. “Lisette,” he softly cupped my face, “this doesn’t have to be anything beyond last night.” I withdrew a little.

“Oh,” I said standing up and finding a robe and slipping it on. He sighed and looked at me.

“That came out wrong,” he said, “I meant, I know things aren’t simple for you, in general,” I looked at him, “I don’t want to be a complication.” I sat down with him. He took my hands.

“You could never be,” I said softly. He shrugged. “Harran, how could you think that?” He chuckled softly. “I mean, the leaders aren’t thrilled with anything I’ve been doing anyway, I might as well do as I like.” He kissed me.

“Lisette,” he said, “I don’t mind caring about you more than you care about me. Hell, the moment I met you, all those years ago, I was sure that was my fate, even when I thought my obstacle was simply, being a foreigner who would take you far away from home.” I swallowed. “But we shouldn’t delude ourselves either.” I sighed. He pulled me close again.

“I know what you mean,” I said. “At least, I hope so.” He kissed me gently. “Harran,” I said softly. “Are you asking?” He shook his head.

“No, love,” he whispered, “you’d say yes and it would be wrong. I’ll stay in your bed until you turn me away, but I’ll only marry you if you’re not looking at anyone else and that’s impossible.”

“Now you sound like Eric,” I muttered and pulled away. He laughed and shook his head.

“I think he’s an idiot for resisting you, but like him I don’t want to be a consolation prize,” he kissed my shoulder. “You loved Tristan, you’re falling in love with Eric. There isn’t really room for me in that equation, Lisette.” I swallowed.

“You’re here,” I said sliding back, into a straddle. “That’s where you fit. You’re the one who’s here.” He kissed me deeply.

“I can live with that,” he said softly. The for now was implied in his tone. “Are you busy today?” I nodded.

“There’s a leader’s meeting that Aaron said is very important,” I explained, “and Olivia wants to speak with me about something.” He nodded and we kissed again. “Tonight I’m yours though.” He grinned.

“Alright,” he said softly. We kissed again. I really didn’t want to leave him. The already somewhat hazy memory of last night’s intensity was drawing me in. “Lisette,” he whispered, “if you don’t leave soon, I might not be able to let you.” I giggled.

“Well,” I whispered and kissed him again. “I have a little time.” He grinned and rolled me onto my back. As he pressed into me, I groaned softly.

“Oh yes,” he whispered. “Tell me what you need.” I pushed up to take all of him. “Oh Lisette, I need you.” I sighed and moaned.

“I need you too,” I said, and I meant it. I do need him, in my life, and he’s right, there isn’t space for him there, except this. Is it wrong? It might be. We finished and didn’t talk again as we got dressed to start the day but I couldn’t help enjoying the look on his face or the final kiss to my neck as he left quickly. I smiled brightly walking down the hallway to go get breakfast with Olivia.

I was glad she’d come, I’d been ready to accept her staying in Pantona, but I was grateful she’d changed her mind. I walked in and saw her apartment, which was positioned on the east end of the building so had lovely morning light. She was sitting sipping gently on tea. Aaron was leaning against the door frame. And, oddly Thomas was here too.

“Why do I feel like I’m in trouble?” I said sitting down. “Thank you,” I said softly as a maid handed me coffee.

“Can’t imagine why,” Aaron raised an eyebrow. I sighed.

“We need to talk to you two about something,” Olivia said gently. Aaron sighed and sat down. I glanced at Thomas.

“Oh!” I said, “OH!” He laughed. Aaron looked at them. “Well, that’s nice.” I took a sip. I looked at Aaron. “Do you have anything to say?”

“I was very aware of this,” he shrugged. “I was in Pantona, in case you all forgot, and neither of you are particularly good at sneaking.” Thomas smiled. “I’m glad, but I feel honor bound to,”

“Yes, yes,” Thomas nodded, “pain of a thousand deaths if she’s unhappy for even a moment.” I laughed. “Now, why on earth would you feel you were in trouble, Your Majesty?”

“No reason,” I kicked Aaron, who snorted. I narrowed my eyes at him.

“Right,” Olivia nodded. “I think I’d rather not know.”

“I know you’d rather not know,” Aaron said. Thomas frowned. “But I think we should all talk about why Lisette is in trouble.” I glared at him.

“I’m not in trouble,” I said, “Harran understands the situation perfectly.” Olivia choked on her tea.

Harran understands perfectly?” Thomas said. I nodded, trying to be casual. “Annalise, I am not going to instruct you how to conduct your sex life.”

“Thank you?” I said.

“But,” Aaron said, “while Westran is a strategic gain,”

“As according to Athena it is where the gods are imprisoned,” I pointed out.

“Right,” Thomas nodded. “But, um, well, King Daniel is fixated on united the line of the island with the clearly Chosen line of Tumona, between your mother, and you and Marina, and frankly Raymond,” I exhaled and looked at him, “and he’s built an entire new fleet to bring Cammadan to him one or the other.”

I stopped and took a deep breath.

“Oh,” I said softly. “But as I understand it, this means if Eric leaves, his brother has an Aamanda that can lead an invasion,” I said softly. Thomas nodded. “We’re barely healing!”

“Well, yes,” Thomas sighed, “and as you were genuinely becomimg fond of Eric and you hate being told what to do, Athena and I decided it was best to not tell you about this development.” I blinked, he wasn’t wrong.

“But then you decided to be super reckless and bring Harran into your bed so now it’s all a problem,” Aaron glared at me.

Aaron,” Olivia hissed. He looked at her. “Thomas, both of you need to leave.” Thomas sighed and stood up, his palms up as he backed out the door. Aaron glared at us both. “I mean it, get out.” He looked at me. She was rarely this serious. Let alone this insistent. They left. “So,” Olivia looked at me, “you slept with Harran.”

“Yes,” I said softly. “Should I not have? You were the one who told me to have fun.” She exhaled.

“I was never playing at your level and that was about Tristan.” She said sharply. I looked down. “Don’t even pretend that you think Eric will accept you taking another lover when he refused to even consider courting you until Tristan was on the other side of the continent trying to pursue marriage to another woman.” I exhaled.

“I know that,” I said softly. She looked at me and sighed. “He’s just so frustrating. He wants me, he’s falling in love with me, but he pulls back when I try to get close.” I exhaled, “and with Harran it’s simple, it works, why am I still fighting?” She smiled.

“Because you’re not in love with Harran,” Olivia said softly. I frowned. “He’s in love with you, he always has been. Frankly, I was hoping the chiefs would send someone else, but I doubt he’d have let them.” I looked at her and swallowed. “Lisette, you can do whatever you like, there’s no reason not to, but you have to be careful,” I went to say something, “I know you hate the politics, and it isn’t fair, that you have to play politics with your heart, but it’s the reality.” I swallowed.

“I know,” I sighed. She looked at me. “I do, I’ll clean up the mess.” She nodded.

Correspondence

Marina

I woke up in the morning satisfied and a little foggy. Damian hadn’t stayed, and I was for the first time grateful for it. It had been a strange evening.

“Good Morning, my lady,” Marta, my maid who I’d hired in Dovetail came in. She’d come highly recommended by the sisters, she’d been studying herself but decided not to take vows. I sat up as she carefully set a tray down. “Is it alright?” She looked flustered.

“It’s wonderful,” I smiled. She nodded. “I think I’m going to be spending the whole day at the palace, so you don’t’ need to be working today.” She nodded again and then left. I’m still new at this. My maids had always been placed in my service by Brayton, trusting her feels strange. Along with my breakfast was a small pile of notes.

My Lady,

I thank you again for gracing our establishment with your presence yesterday night. You are as lovely as I had heard despite your poor taste in men. I hope to see you soon, though I fully understand it is unlikely.

Your Humble Servant

Dorian Addison

I laughed and composed a gracious and equally flirty response back to him, assuring him I would, in fact, return soon. The next was a quick note from Aaron scolding me for not being present the night before and noting we had a lot to talk about. That didn’t bode well. I wrote back saying that I would meet with him over lunch. He could brood all morning then and come to me with fully formed thoughts.

And then there was the long letter.

My Dearest Marina,

I woke up this morning thinking of you. There was a time when we were little that I was walking through the courtyard with my mother, and you were being minded by one of the sisters and you ran over to me and handed me a small bird. You explained that you’d found a nest but the mama was gone and they needed caring for. You were taking one and I ought to take the other.

I learned the other night that my bird is thriving in my grandfather’s aviary, and the third generation descended from her recently hatched. My mother had given her to my Aunt Brie who has always managed animals. What happened to your bird? I’m curious. I can’t stop thinking about it. Regardless, I plan to bring one of the descendants as a gift for you when I come home.

As your previous letter asked me to tell you about Dorin, I will do my best. Everyone is very pleasant, and formal, but as I understand it that is only because of who I am. Apparently, I am a very important person, if you were unaware. I am both A Dumanis and A Personal Friend Of The Queen so everyone finds me quite impressive.

I miss you. I didn’t quite expect to miss you this much. I didn’t last time.

Yours,

Tristan

I swallowed and wrote back.

Tristan,

I remember the birds fondly. Mine lived quite happily with me until a few years ago when Papa and I were moved to a new apartment and there was nowhere to put her cage where there was sun. So I gave her to the Temple. I assume she is still quite happy, but I don’t know. I look forward to my new bird when you bring her. I actually have my own aviary here in Brightcoast, though it’s empty at the moment, so it’s really just a sunroom with a very high ceiling. (I am also quite important, Thank You Very Much.)

Last night Damian took me to meet his friends and they looked at me like I was Rana herself. It was strange and heady. I imagine this is similar to the way you’re feeling with everyone treating you with extreme respect. Lisette seems to have taken to it more easily, but it just makes me nervous.

I miss you too.

Yours,

Marina

I did miss him terribly. I also realized he didn’t mention Lisette in his letter. Not once. Because he wasn’t thinking of her? Or because he was avoiding her? I didn’t know. I realized it didn’t matter. I thought of how when he was at Pantona when he wrote it was almost all about her, and now it was about us. I stood up and walked to the window and looked out at the see and then took a deep breath of the salt air.

I was happy here, settled. Maybe I would stay. Maybe I wouldn’t. I didn’t know. But in that moment I wanted my friend here with me instead of on the other side of the continent.

Rising Darkness

Athena

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Proposal

After waking up and lining up our ducks. (I sent Marina and Aaron to greet them. They’re good at people and manners and I need to catch my breath.) Olivia was helping me dress. Marina had chosen the clothes, a green uniform dress and the crown of the goddess. I was supposed to look splendid and terrible. I mostly felt ridiculous.

He looks different than my visions, but I knew him immediately. And I felt at ease. Eric. Prince Eric, My Eric, I probably shouldn’t drop the title. But it was like everything felt easy, when he took my hand.

Marina is sitting studying in the parlor now. I walked out and sighed loudly and flopped on an armchair.

“Can I help you?” She asked not even looking up from her books.

“What time do I have to change tonight?” I asked.

“Around 7 I suppose,” she said. I frowned. “You could try taking a nap.” I wrinkled my nose. “Annalise, I can either keep working and unlock the battle magic secret or entertain you this afternoon.” I laughed. “Go bother Aaron, I’m sure he’s plenty bored too.” I stood up and kissed her on the cheek.

“I am sorry for bothering you,” I said and she swatted at me and giggled. She’s changed so much in the past few months, and it’s a good change. I walked out into the gardens, wondering who if anyone I’ll come upon. I want to spend more time with the courtiers, but I think they all think I’m odd.

“Lisette,” Prince Harran called to me from across the lawn, he was standing with Tristan. I wanted to be furious with him after this morning, but seeing him, “That is, Your Majesty. Did I tell you, Captain Dugarry about my great shame when I first met our queen.”

“My great triumph,” I said straightening my shoulders. Tristan raised his eyebrows. “Prince Harran came to Pantona, when I was fourteen, with some very potent whiskey.”

“Ah,” Tristan nodded, “And Queen Annalise, or Lady Lisette as she was then,” he looked at me, that melancholy way of his, “drank most of it.”

“Here was this little girl, charming of course, and very beautiful,” Harran said, “and she sat down with me in Pantona’s study as I opened the bottle and asked for some. And then, I think it may have been at the Viscount’s urging, we wound up in a contest, and I found myself unable to stand while Lisette continued to pour herself drinks.” I giggled.

“it was not ladylike, but I was proud of myself,” I said. “I’m glad you’ve come.”

“The Chieftans insisted, my brothers were put out,” he said. “They want to court you,” I laughed. “Harran’s already had his chance at Pantona! I said they can line up behind half the men in Cammadan and most in Rastan and Phania.” I smiled.

“It’s a lot to handle,” I said, seeing Tristan’s face darken. “Which is why familiar faces and old friends can be helpful.” He nodded and bowed. “You’re still angry.”

“I’m frustrated,” he said. “Harran’s right by the way and it’s been hell.” I took his hands and lead him away from the crowd. We kissed then. “Last night, I thought we could change all that.”

“I want to,” I said, “Tristan I do, really.”

“So marry me,” he spit out. I kissed him. “I’m serious.”

“I can’t,” I said, “you know why I can’t, we’ve talked about it!” He frowned.

“Because the court wouldn’t like me, and Rastan and Phania’s honor must be served,” he frowned. “You sent away all the Provenance heirs, except Aaron, obviously.” I sighed. “Lisette, don’t argue with me, just,” I closed my eyes.

“Tristan, I can’t marry you,” I said, “I thought I’d always made that clear,” I wanted to cry, I might have been crying, come to think of it. “I love you, only you but, I can’t,” he nodded.

“Fine,” he whispered and kissed me again and then walked away. I feel like my heart is torn in two. I ran inside and luckily Marina had left. I walked into my room flopped on the bed and kept crying. I didn’t hear the door open, but then I heard Athena’s voice as she sat down and stroked my hair.

“That idiotic boy,” she muttered, “I’d strangle him if I could bring myself to.” I sat up and looked at her. “Honestly, I know he’s my brother, but he doesn’t deserve you and you don’t deserve any of this.” I smiled.

“Did they send you to fetch me?” I said. “I have a lot to do, I know, but I just,” she shrugged.

“It’s alright, we’ve told everyone you’re worn out,” she shrugged. “I don’t think it’s untrue, but you still need to make an appearance tonight.” I wiped my eyes. “What do you think of him?” I looked at her.

“I don’t know yet,” I said softly. “I was so surprised this morning, I thought I had  more time.” She nodded. “Athena,” I whispered, “don’t tell anyone, about what Tristan asked. Not Aaron or Martin, please, I couldn’t take it.” She pressed her lips into her mouth.

“Alright,” she said. “What about Marina?” I sighed. Marina and I were at an understanding about Tristan finally, this morning not withstanding, but this was different.

“I’ll talk to Marina,” I said softly, “eventually.” She nodded.

Long Live Annalise of Cammadan

I’m crowned now and I know I should be greeting my guests, but all I can do is lay on my bed and breathe deeply. I want to scream. I want to laugh. I want to cry. But I just breathe. I’m still in the simple green uniform dress I wore for the ceremony though the more ornate ballgown is staring at me, hanging outside of my wardrobe.

I dressed myself this morning, for the first time since we got to Dovetail. I’m going to insist on it more I think. At least on more casual days, I don’t want to become spoiled or useless. An ornament. I’m not just a figurehead, I’m the sword of the goddess.

“Lisette,” Olivia said walking in, I sat up. “I thought I’d help you dress.”

“Marina?” I asked.

“She’s taking a nap,” she smiled and sat down and pulled a comb from her belt and began untangling my curls. “Well earned, I’d say.” I smiled.

“Mm,” I said, “Can you braid it?” Thinking of my hair.

“Not in elegant enough fashion,” she frowned at me. I sighed. “Perhaps we should bring someone over from Phania for your hair. Your mother had Sister Mara.” I looked at her. “I’m proud of you, love, really. You did so well today.”

“I wish Caleb was here,” I said. She nodded. “I suppose you have to back to Pantona soon.”

“Yes,” she said, “I might stay too,” I frowned at her. “Darling, it’s my home.”

“But Aaron and I will be here,” I said. She laughed. “And, well, what about Martin.”

“What about him?” She said. I shook my head.

“He can’t go to Pantona, I can’t spare him,” I said standing up, “and I don’t think it’s terribly fair of you to,” she shook her head.

“Thomas and I have no understanding,” she sighed, “beyond our grief and shared history I doubt we have much in common.” I grinned at her.

“Yes, and what is thirty years of shared history and grief, nothing at all,” I teased. She sighed.

“Impertinent girl,” she said, pulling the laces on the back of my dress.

“Can I be impertinent, now?” I said. She laughed. “I don’t think I can. Maybe to the gods.” She smiled and tightened my corset. I inhaled.

“Serves you right for teasing,” she said, I giggled as we continued dressing me. “Now, you’ll hate me for lecturing but you know that you have to circulate tonight.”

“I know,” I said softly. I exited my bedchamber where Athena and Aaron were waiting.

“Took you long enough,” Aaron said as we all stepped into the hallway I punched him in the arm. “Look at me, Lisette,” I did, “I love you, and I’m going to do everything I can, everything Father would have,” I stopped him and kissed him on the cheek.

“No tears tonight,” I said. He nodded.

“Captain,” he offered Athena his arm.

“Count,” She smiled taking it and they walked off, “See you on the other side, Your Majesty.” She turned around and winked. I sighed, realizing I was alone. I walked towards the ballroom and glanced up the large stairs. I smiled seeing Tristan walk down. He was in full dress uniform, it suited him, his face relaxed, which for him was still serious.

“I’m too late?” He said. I smiled and took his hands. “I wanted to escort you, Athena said you were still dressing.”

“No,” I said, “you can still escort me.” He smiled and we entered the ballroom. It was already loud and rowdy, which I was glad of. There was no fanfare, I’d asked not to have one. We made our way to the head table and ate. And danced, and drank.

“You’ve restored joy,” Duchess Norvine said to me at one point, “and life. I never thought I’d hear this sort of thing again.” I was glad to know people approved. I was worried it was too loose, to full of life, not respectful.

As the music and crowd died down, I saw Tristan leaning against a pillar, I walked over to him and smiled.

“Well hello,” he said. I kissed him. “Lisette, not here.”

“The come,” I said guiding him up to my room. He sighed and we kissed again. We started undressing.

“You’re sure,” he asked.

“Are you?” I returned. He laughed and we fell back onto the bed. It felt so natural, so right, to be lost in him again. When we finished I looked at him. “I suppose we should make plans.”

“Plans?” He said. I nodded. “Of what kind?”

“How you can be here,” I said, “at night.”

“To be fair, Lisette, that’s not terribly complicated,” he grinned. “I order the guard at your door to stand aside and they will. My people are well trained.” I laughed and straddled him. “But I suppose we should be more discreet.”

“Mm,” I nodded running my hand down between his legs, “perhaps a bit.” The door swung open and Marina was standing in front of us, in her nightgown and robe.

“I’m sorry,” She said, “I didn’t,” she met my eyes and started giggling. I exhaled and started to laugh myself as I rolled off Tristan. He was furious with us both as he dressed and quickly excused himself.

It was too funny, I assured Marina, but I stopped laughing when she told me why she’d come in.

He was here, I realized, we both knew what it meant.

Suddenly what the Goddess said to me rushed into my head, “I do wish you’d hurry up.”