The palace was eerie, quiet, looming above me, just as it always had in my nightmares. Tristan and Athena flanked me, I didn’t know where Caleb and Aaron and Martin were, fighting somewhere else on the grounds probably.
I wiped my face and swallowed.
“Lisette,” Tristan said softly, “we’re with you.” I looked at him and smiled softly and nodded. Athena reassured me with a nod, and the drew her sword.
“Thank you both,” I said softly, “but no, this I have to do alone.” Athena came and hugged me tightly. “Find Aaron, he’ll need you.” I don’t know how I knew, but I did, then, suddenly. But I couldn’t let my heart break yet. She ran off and Tristan smiled at me and I kissed him. I knew what was waiting for me on the other side.
“I love you,” he said.
“I know,” I whispered. We kissed again and I entered the doors, as I’d done countless times in my dreams, I suddenly felt very alone and wished more than every that Marina was with. I was trying not to resent her fear of coming here, to think of her as a coward. But how could she not face it?
I glanced around, it was dark, I could barely see, so I conjured a small ball of light. That was when I heart the laugh.
“Welcome home cousin,” Brayton’s voice, echoed through the hall. “I had expected a Queen in all her glory, what a pity you’re alone.”
“Where are you?” I called out, and he laughed again. The room filled with smoke and I wanted to scream, maybe I did, I don’t know. I thought of Marina’s vision of the city in flames.
“Tell me Lisette,” his voice was in my mind, I was terrified. And how did he know that name? “Do you know what thread we’ve landed on?” A vision began to form around me out of the smoke.
I saw a man, handsome, tall, with red hair and light skin, and grey eyes like mine, my father, charging at a dark haired man holding a woman, dark skinned, small and beautiful, as she crumpled to the ground. It was Brayton, and my mother. I turned quickly and saw Olivia, screaming, “Anton no!” as Brayton’s sword slashed through my father.
“I should have thought you’d be in Pantona,” his voice filled my mind again. “Olivia was always so besotted with your dear father, but Caleb resented it so I thought he’d never shelter you.” I swallowed. He was wrong about so much.
Another vision formed of a ten year old girl, serious and quiet in a garden. I recognized her immediately. Marina. She was planting flowers, praying over them and they blossomed immediately.
“You see?” His voice said in awe. “She has such great power. Greater than yours.” I swallowed and found my voice.
“Enough!” I shouted and scattered the smoke, I realized then that it was out of his control and something else took hold of it. It formed another image, more immediate, in front of me.
It was a boy, near my age perhaps, dark skinned and haired, with a silver crown on his head. I exhaled.
“Eric,” I whispered, as if I knew him, and yet I knew we’d never met.
“Annalise,” he said softly and extended his hand, I extended mine and our fingers touched. It was the most natural feeling in the world. “I’m on my way,” he smirked, as if it were a joke between us, one we would both learn soon, “wait for me?”
“Of course,” I smiled back, “forever.” He nodded and the smoke dissolved to mist and then cleared. The hall was just a hall now, the spell, whatever it had been, was broken.
Eric. I would have to wait to be amazed at so clear a vision of the future. Or the present? I don’t know what that was. I made my way to the throne room.
“Well, you made it through the smoke,” he was sitting in the throne. My throne. My father’s throne. “I’m impressed. I would have thought the memory of Marina would break you.”
“Marina doesn’t want the throne,” I said softly, “and you’ll never touch her.” He smiled.
“So you say,” he smiled and stood up, I drew my sword. “You don’t need that cousin, though it’s nice to see it again. Who had it? Martin or Caleb? Martin probably, Anton never trusted Caleb. I did, which was foolish I suppose.” I lowered the sword. “Better.”
“I don’t understand,” I shook my head. He smiled. His smile scared me.
“No,” he said, “I could help you to though.” I grinned now. Perhaps he could. I raised the sword again and hit him over the head, knocking him out. I grabbed the rope from around my waist and tied his hands and legs. The doors swung open and Athena, Tristan and Aaron ran in.
“Dead?” Athena asked. I shook my head.
“No,” I whispered, “You’re all alright?” They nodded, but I saw that Tristan was bleeding.
“We are,” Aaron said softly, “but Lisette, Father,” he didn’t say more.
“We’ll go back,” I said. My heart caught in my throat. Goddess, not Caleb, I needed him. We walked back to camp and I saw Tristan limping as we got closer. “Go on ahead,” I said to the others. They nodded and went. “Tristan,” I said and took his hands.
“Why didn’t you kill him?” He asked. I shook my head. “Lisette what happened?”
“I can’t talk to you about it,” I said softly, “I’m sorry, I,” he nodded and kissed me. “I love you,” I whispered.
“I love you,” he said, “everything is about to change.”
“This won’t,” I said, I was lying, he knew it. “I promise, it won’t, it can’t.” He nodded and Marina walked up. I looked at her.
“Lisette, I’m sorry, Count Caleb,” she looked so pale. So drained.
“Alright,” I said quietly, “we won, I’ll be queen. That will cheer him.” Tristan squeezed my hands.
“Yes, love,” he said. Marina met his eyes. “I’m alright Marina.”
“He isn’t,” I insisisted. “You can help him?” She nodded and I left, hurrying to Caleb’s tent, praying to the god and goddesses and my father and his that he would be alive long enough that I could say goodbye.