“No,” said Athena simply as I held up what felt like the fiftieth gown to wear that night. I frowned. I’m seventeen today. I should feel different. I don’t.

The others will be home tonight. Aaron. Countess Olivia. Papa.

I keep focusing on Papa. And Lefty. And what he’s going to say.

“No, it isn’t right,” I sighed and flopped on a chair. “I have nothing to wear.”

“You have plenty to wear,” Athena said simply, “if you’re going to the temple, or trying to make yourself invisible to Brayton, or remind my brother of that oh so innocent waif he was falling in love with,” I glared at her, “but there is sadly nothing in your wardrobe even remotely appropriate for seducing Phanian Naval lieutenants.”

“I’m not seducing him,” I said, “I’m fairly sure that would only take me saying, ‘Lefty would you care to come to my room?'” She laughed. “But tonight is special and I want to look,” I sat up, “I don’t want him to even think about anyone else.”

“Ah,” Athena nodded, “I’ve found that nothing does that spectacularly. Why didn’t you just buy something new?” I rolled my eyes. “Marina, what’s going to be different, tonight?” I bit my bottom lip.

“They’ll be home tonight,” I said. She nodded. “My father,” I said softly. Athena nodded and walked over to me. “If he’s completely in love with me, maybe my father.”

“I see,” she nodded. “You know that when I first asked Martin what he thought of me marrying Aaron, he said I was being foolish and that certainly Caleb and Olivia wouldn’t allow it.” I looked at her. “He came around, your father would too.” I nodded.

“Am I intruding?” I glanced over my shoulder at Aaron slouched against the door. “Gods bindings Marina to you have any other clothes?” Athena laughed and ran to him. “Hello my darling,” he said softly.

“Hello,” she said. “I missed you.” He nodded. “It went well?”

“It did,” he said. “Where’s Lisette?”

“Lisette is in meetings trying to make a decision regarding Brayton,” I said softly. He nodded. “I have been barred.”

“As have I,” Athena said, “apparently our suggestions of ‘kill the bastard dead,’ were ‘not constructive or appreciated.'”

“Wyatt?” He said. I nodded. “I’m sorry Rina, it must be difficult for you.” I nodded. “This might cheer you up.” He handed me a letter.

“William?” I asked. He nodded. I opened it. “He’s getting married.” Aaron nodded and I sat down on the couch. “Heavens, that was fast.”

“I said the same,” he admitted.

“Who?” Athena asked snatching the letter from my hand, “Kathy Sampson?” She scrunched her face.

“You met her?” I asked. Athena nodded. “And?”

“Well, whoever it was would never compare to you, obviously, but Kathy is,” she paused, “can we raise their taxes?” Aaron laughed.

“I missed you so much,” he said and kissed her. “She’s a farmer’s daughter we grew up with. She’s very nice.” Athena snorted. “Athena doesn’t like her.”

“Obviously,” I said. “I should go see my father. Is he better?” Aaron frowned. “Worse?”

“No,” he said, “better, certainly, thought I’d use the word determined.” I nodded and walked quickly to my father’s apartment, where books were already strewn everywhere.

“Papa,” I called softly. He walked out of his study. “You’re back.”

“Yes,” he said. He walked over and kissed my forehead. “You’ve grown.” I laughed at the old joke. “And you’re safe.”

“Yes,” I said. “What are you working on?” I glanced at the papers. “The translation for Annalise?”

“No,” He said. “It’s something else she asked me for.” I nodded.

“About Brayton?” I said. He nodded. “You agree with her? Keeping him alive even though we know he’s lost the blessing of Amina?”

“I haven’t decided,” he said softly and put his hands on my arms. “And it isn’t my decision anyhow, nor is it yours.” I nodded.

“You’re worried about my safety,” I whispered, “for picnicking with new friends but the man who would imprison me and marry me against my will and destroy me can be killed and you haven’t decided how you feel yet?” He sighed.

“Rina, this isn’t that,” he said. “I want Brayton dead, for his threat to you, for killing my sister, for everything. But, it isn’t up to us. It shouldn’t even be up to Annalise, justice is for the gods.” I nodded and sat down. “I’m glad we made it back in time for this festival of yours.” I smiled.

“It’s for Caleb,” I said softly. “He asked me about it once, a long time ago.” He smiled. “I want you to speak to Lieutenant Lestoff today.”

“Marina,” he said softly and shook his head.

“Papa,” I said. “This is important to me.” He nodded. “He’s not like anyone I’ve ever known.” He snorted.

“I’d imagine not,” he muttered. I looked at him. “I have a sudden surge of affection for your grandfather.” I smiled and kissed him on the cheek. “I will try, I doubt we’ll have much to say to one another, even when I was his age, I had little in common with the naval men.”

“I would appreciate the effort,” I said. “I have work to do, but I am glad you’re home.” He nodded. I was headed to the ballroom to make sure everything was set, when I felt his hands slide around my waist. I giggled and turned.

“Hello,” Lefty whispered.

“Hello,” I smiled. “I’ve just been to see my father.” He nodded. “I think he’ll be nice to you, but,” he kissed me.

“How precisely,” he whispered, “was I supposed to concentrate on anything you were saying without kissing you.” I giggled. “I’m sorry, your father?” I nodded.

“But how am I supposed to concentrate when you’re kissing me?” I asked. He laughed. “Tonight, I mean, after,” I swallowed, “I think I’m doing this wrong.”

“Marina,” he whispered, “I’m in love with you, but you know this.” I nodded, “but you need things, that I’m not sure I can give you.” I swallowed. “I’m not respectable, for all that Eric’s tried to prop me up as so.”

“So you won’t come?” I said softly. “Even if I said I didn’t care?” He kissed me again.

“I’m not quite that strong,” he said. “I’m only saying think on it. I can’t marry you, I mean, I would, but I doubt we’d be allowed.”

“You’d be amazed what I’m allowed,” I whispered, “Annalise, after all, is going to,” I stopped and swallowed, I was about to say the thing we didn’t say. He smiled.

“Ah, and there’s the rub, isn’t it?” He said sadly, “If Annalise does as she will, I have to return to Phania, or to wherever it is Daniel sees fit to fling Eric next.”

“You’ll have to?” I whispered. He nodded. “Why?”

“You’re chosen,” he said. I nodded, “you have a divine mandate of some kind?”

“To aid Annalise in her reign,” I said, “and in her ultimate quest to free the god and goddess from their bindings.” He nodded.

“I’m not chosen,” he said softly, “but to stand by my brother, that is my divine mandate, to protect him.” I hugged myself close to him. “I wouldn’t refuse a night with you if I didn’t know I’d have to break both our hearts when this is all over.” He couldn’t know that by refusing me he was already breaking my heart.

The Queen Of Hell

I slept fitfully last night. I had my first True Dream in what felt like ages. I was in the throne room, dressed in white, a bride. But it didn’t look like the throne room does these days. This was the throne room of my childhood, the dark and frightening place of mocking laughter and cold eyes.

“Such a beauty,” a cold female voice echoed, “yes, yes, he chose well.” I swallowed and looked at the throne, Annalise didn’t sit there, but instead a woman, skin whiter than any I’d ever seen, with eyes blazing in fire. I was frozen. “And to take you from my darling sister at that, will be satisfying.”

“I serve Rana,” I whispered, “not you. She will protect me.” She laughed then.

“Your faith in my sister is charming,” she stood up and walked over to me. “But I am Amina, queen of darkness and hell, and you will bear my sword. Rana knows this, deep down, it’s why she gifted you with such power.” I swallowed as she lifted my chin, her hands cold. “And you will only grow more powerful, Marina, daughter of Anne. He will show you so much more.”

“You’ve forsaken Brayton,” I whispered. She laughed again.

“Yes,” she said, “I have forsaken Brayton as my champion, but I still require him for you. For the child.” I woke up in a cold sweat. I ran didn’t walk across the apartment and into Annalise’s room. She already standing at the door. I saw Tristan sitting in her bed.

“You saw?” I whispered. She nodded and hugged me. “You were there?”

“Yes,” her voice trembled, “Marina, when I was hoping to Dream of your wedding that wasn’t quite what I meant.” I blinked. “Your wedding to Brayton, I Saw it.”

“No,” I whispered, “no, I,” I started shaking. We walked back into the sitting room. “I was before Amina.” Annalise swallowed, “she touched me, I,” Tristan sat down next to me and took my hands. “I was dressed for a wedding though.”

“She hasn’t foresaken him then?” Annalise asked.

“He’s no longer blessed,” I said and swallowed, “but she still wants him as the father.”

“Father?” Tristan said. I nodded. “I don’t understand, Lisette?”

“Brayton had a theory,” Annalise said harshly, “I had hoped it was only a theory, but now. Amina needs a vessel, like I am for Rana.”

“And Marina’s to be the mother,” he said, “and Brayton the father.” She nodded. “And you two kept this secret and kept him alive?”

“You would have had us debate it in council?” Annalise said. “We couldn’t kill Brayton while he had the blessing.”

“Besides which,” I said, “it’s not your concern.”

“Not my,” he stuttered, and put his hand to my face, “Rina, you are my concern, your safety, your,” he stopped.

“No,” I said quietly, “no, Tristan, for everything that we are to each other, could have been or whatever it is. That part of me isn’t yours, none of it.” I looked at Annalise. “He has to die and we have to figure out freeing Rana and Cornan. There’s no hope without that.”

“All that studying you do,” Tristan looked at me, “you still haven’t found anything.” I shook my head.

“It isn’t the only thing I’m studying,” I whispered. “I wish my father hadn’t gone.”

“I’ll write to them in the morning,” Annalise said softly. “I need Anselm, he can’t stay away any longer.”

“He won’t like that,” Tristan said. She laughed darkly.

“He never likes anything,” she said, “but what good is being queen if I can’t get my revenge for years of horrible magic training.” I laughed at that, and was suddenly sad, missing Sister Mara, my first teacher. “I have to talk about it with what’s left of the council in the morning. Without Olivia, Martin, Aaron or Uncle Les, that leaves you two, and Athena and Wyatt and Artia.”

“You know what Athena will say,” Tristan sighed, “she’ll want to swing the axe herself.” Annalise nodded. There was something satisfying in the image, of Athena Dugarry, striking down the enemy.

“I’m going for a walk,” I said softly. Annalise nodded. I found myself wandering the market and then to the harbor. The Prince’s Glory was docked there, and I noticed that Lefty was standing on the deck. I walked up to it.

“Well hello,” he smiled and walked to greet me.

“You’re up early,” I said.

“We take turns, checking on the ship,” he explained. “Would you like to see her?” I nodded and took his hand as I boarded. I found myself in his arms. I felt safe and steady for the first time in days. “Are you alright?”

“No,” I whispered, “but I want to see your home, you’ve seen mine.” He raised an eyebrow.

“Alright,” he smiled and we walked across the ship. “We first got her three years ago. Eric was made a captain immediately, and the ship was a gift from Queen Elana.” I smiled. “Do you know anything about ships?”

“Not a thing,” I whispered. “She’s very beautiful though.” He laughed and we walked down a small staircase, and into a tiny room. “Yours?” He nodded. “Am I the first girl you’ve had here?”

“Here, certainly,” he leaned against the door frame as I walked into the room. “You seem preoccupied.” I stretched my hand out and he came to me.

“Distract me then,” I whispered. He smiled and kissed me. I lay down underneath him.

“Goddess,” he whispered, “I’m in deeper trouble with you than I’ve ever been in my life.” I smiled.

“I’ve known this sort of trouble before,” I said, “but not the other thing, so I guess we can help each other.” He grinned and kissed me again. I was lost in him, and I knew in that moment, I would always be.