Interlude: Sparks Fly

Note: The Merriest Of Christmas Weekends To You, Marina Chronicle Readers! As a Christmas present to you, (and me!) I’m publishing two interludes, about my two favorite people in this world right now…Prior Chastain and Evan Allred. Who are these cousins who popped up and suddenly fit right in with our A list? What’s their deal?

Now Evan. So much pining. Much kissing. Please understand that Evan is my precious cutie pie and I am nervous to share this much of him with people, because I want to protect him. Think of Chris Lowell if it pleases you.

Evan

“And you’ll join me as soon as possible,” Count Wyatt Allred said to his son. Fifteen year old Evan stared at his father. “Once I have a good read on the situation?”

“Join you?” Evan choked on his words. “At court?” Wyatt looked at him. “Father, I’m not sure that,” his father stared him down.

“Annalise is a girl of seventeen,” Wyatt said, “no attachments as far as anyone knows, it’s an excellent opportunity.” He clapped him on the shoulder, got on his horse and rode off. Evan was speechless. His own seventeen year old cousin Prior Chastain was standing behind him and started laughing.

“Don’t,” Evan said. They were closer to brothers. Prior’s parents were long dead and he’d come to the Allred house as a ward. They’d grown up together. “Is he actually suggesting,” Evan sighed. “Gods, does he want me to marry Princess Annalise?”

“It would seem so,” Prior grinned as they walked into the house. Evan groaned. “Would her being a princess erase the fact she’s not a man?”

“It isn’t funny,” Evan laughed along with him. “Gods, what am I going to do?”

“You’re going to go to Dovetail,” Prior shrugged. “You’re going to dance with a princess and then not overtly pursue her so she won’t notice you anyway. Your father will be so angry he’ll drink a whole case of wine and then leave me another farm to ‘punish’ you.” Evan grinned. In his father’s mind he and Prior were in an eternal power struggle for his approval. In fact, Prior was least ambitious man he’d ever met, and Evan wanted badly to do well by his family’s Provenance, and saw no reason why that required marriage to a queen. Or any woman, since Evan had known most of his life that his interest lay with boys.

Evan was surprised by how much easier life at court was than he’d expected. He did get to blend into the crowd, and he’d found himself studying magic and history and even working a few basic spells. His father was furious that he’d retreated from being in Queen Annalise’s inner circle and it hadn’t been long before Prior arrived to join the royal guard, bringing him to the city as well.

Of course Evan’s desire to be near Annalise flipped the day after her coronation. When Prince Eric and his entourage came and he saw him for the first time.

Lord Raymond Quents made Evan’s knees weak. He made him want to compose sonnets and build monuments in his honor. He wanted to hold him close and kiss him and build sandcastles and dance in the rain. It was embarassing how he started thinking whenever the Phanian boy walked in the room.

It was quickly followed by the sharp voice, He’s not for you. Aside from the fact that he didn’t want his father to disinherit him, Lord Raymond already had someone. And he was a close member of two royal families. And he was beautiful.

“Lord Evan,” Duchess Marina walked up to him one day when they were both studying in the palace library. He looked at her. “I wanted to invite you to dinner this evening.”

“Dinner?” He parrotted at her. She nodded. The Duchess was a strange creature to observe. Unlike most of the people their age at court she’d lived her whole life in Dovetail, the rumor was that Lord Brayton had been grooming her for marriage. Now she stood beside her cousin and ran her household. She was small and bursting with energy, both normal and magical.

“Yes,” she said, “it’s a meal, you typically eat it in the evening, among friends or family.” He laughed. “The Queen wants to get to know all of the heirs.”

“I’m an heir,” Evan said. The Duchess nodded. “Is this about marriage prospects?” Duchess Marina burst into a laugh.

“Gods no!” She said. “You seem like a very nice boy, but Annalise is rather attached to the idea of having a husband who’d enjoy bedding her.” Evan smirked. She strung her arm through his. “My cousin Raymond is going to be joining us of course. I think you two will get along very well.” He swallowed to keep from babbling.

“My lady,” he said, “I wouldn’t presume,” she looked at him and smirked. “How much do you know?” She shrugged.

“I’ve seen you not be able to pay attention to anything else when he walks into a room,” she said. “It’s a feeling I’m familiar with so I pick up on it.” He laughed. “I suggest beginning with ‘Hello,’ as, ‘I believe I’m in with love you,’ tends to frighten people.” He smiled.

It had been a summer of doing his best to behave like a person when Raymond crossed his path. He didn’t always succeed. Quite often he was too tongue tied to say much of anything, not to mention the object of his affection was so serious. He smiled sometimes, usually in the presence of his cousins. But they were two of the only people who regularly went back and forth between Brightcoast Palace, Brightcoast Manor and Cammadan’s University Outpost, a small library

“Do you have plans for when you go back to Dovetail?” Raymond asked him one time as they walked back from the University outpost to Brightcoast Manor. Evan’s eyes got wide.

“Not particularly,” Evan said. “A lot depends on my father obviously.” Raymond nodded. “Why do you ask?”

“I’m considering studying to become a Mastero and I don’t know,” he sighed, “I thought.” Evan smiled shyly.

“I can’t,” he said, “I mean, I’d consider it, but I have Allred to consider. Heirs can’t take vows.” Raymond frowned.

“Seems ridiculous,” he muttered. Evan grinned.

“The two vows contradict,” he explained, “when I’m the Count, I have to pledge myself to my people and land. I can’t be pledged to the gods. I’m going to keep studying though. I’ll get some sort of degree.” Raymond nodded.

“I’m glad we’re friends,” he said quickly as they approached the house. Evan looked at him. Was he blushing? He hoped he wasn’t. That would be a dead give away.

“I am too,” Evan said softly. Raymond stood awkwardly and then ran inside. Evan swallowed.

“Why haven’t you kissed him?” Marina asked. Evan stared at her. They’d arrived back in Dovetail after a whirlwind of possible invasion and broken hearts. Including hers, if he had calculated properly. But she’d written him a note asking for a book she knew he had and he’d come over to deliver it.

“I’m sorry?” He said, handing her the book.

“Raymond,” she shrugged, “why haven’t you kissed him, Evan?”

“We’ve all been rather busy,” Evan pointed out. “You performed two weddings. And he’s still very upset about Randolph.”

“Oh no he isn’t,” Marina said. “You should. Kiss him.”

“Have you Seen something?” He asked. “Or are you avoiding the fact that you want to kiss somebody?” She scowled at him. “I’m sorry, that was insensitive.”

“It really was,” she sighed. “I might miss the kissing, yes.” Evan laughed.

“The problem with being in love with someone who’s friendship you also enjoy,” he said and sat down with her, “is that it’s impossible to know if he’d throw away both when one is offered.” Marina looked at him.

“Raymond wouldn’t do that,” she said.

“Rina, I found it!” Raymond came running, in, he paused. “Hello.”

“Hello,” Evan waved awkwardly.

“I’m glad you found it,” Marina said, taking the paper he was holding and bouncing out of the room.

“This is her office,” Raymond said. Evan shrugged.

“She asked me to bring her a book,” Evan said. “She’s trying to push us together.” Raymond looked at him.

“Why?” Raymond sat down next to him. Evan inhaled.

“Um, because of this,” he said gently and leaned closer to him and kissed him softly. Raymond leaned back.

“Oh,” Raymond exhaled.

“Can I get some elaboration on that, oh?” Evan grimaced. Raymond grabbed the back of his head and they kissed again, this time not softly at all. Evan opened his mouth and pressed his tongue in to taste Raymond. They explored each other.

“Are my feelings clear now?” Raymond teased. Evan grinned.

“Crystal,” he muttered. “Can we take this someplace besides Marina’s couch?” Raymond laughed.

It had been a year. Evan had argued with his father a hundred times about his future, about Raymond, about Allred, about Prior, about Evan becoming his proxy on Annalise’s council. He’d won most of them, and most importantly his father had retreated home, and Evan had taken a seat on council.

“I’m building a house,” Raymond burst into his apartment. Evan raised his eyebrows over his book.

“What?” Evan said. Raymond sat down, his face split into a grin.

“I got permission, from the university, and from Annalise, but she was never going say no,” he exhaled. “I’m going to build a house. On the university campus.” Evan nodded along. “And, if you want, we’re going to live in it.”

“Ray,” Evan said gently cupping his face. “We can’t,” Raymond laughed.

“Why not?” He said. Evan sighed. “We’re young, fine, but we could marry, if we wanted.” Evan sighed. “Your father won’t approve. But what can he do, Evan? Annalise approves of us, the other Provenance leaders are either supportive or indifferent.” Evan laughed and kissed him.

“No, of course,” he said. “Of course, build a house,” Raymond grinned, “for us.” He stopped before going to kiss him again. “Did you say we could marry?

“We could,” Raymond said, “it’s legal in Cammadan, and Mercy and Elodie are about to for precedent in the current court. And there’s nothing in vows against it for Masteros, most don’t but it’s only custom, it’s not in the vows.” Evan smiled.

“We could marry,” Evan whispered and kissed the man he loved again. The idea of such a future spread out in front of him.

A life of joy and love in front of him. And all he had to do was say yes. So he did.

Interlude: Second Chances

Raymond

I’d been ignoring him. I’d forced him to come here and I’d dived so deeply into life here, I didn’t know as he slipped away, that he didn’t fit, didn’t belong.

It was my fault that everything would fall apart.

“You shouldn’t punish yourself,” Eric said, “we all trusted each other and you had no reason to believe Randolph wasn’t honest with you.” I nodded, but I didn’t hear him. “Talk to me, tell me what’s going on in that head of yours.”

“What if I’m wrong?” I said. “What if everyone here is wrong and everyone at home is right, and I’m broken and dangerous and,” he exhaled. “She’s calling to me Eric. Amina, and right now, what she’s offering me is tempting.” He nodded.

“I can’t make you feel like you aren’t broken,” Eric said, “I certainly can’t stop you from going to Amina, I don’t have nearly the power,” Raymond looked at him. “But I’d miss you, Ray, I’d miss you terribly.” He swallowed. I stood up and we stood in silence for a while before I walked back into the palace. I wanted to talk to Marina, to explain himself but she wasn’t anywhere.

“Sir Raymond?” I swallowed and looked at Evan Allred standing behind me. He joined us on the ride down from Dovetail. He looks like a lot of the midlanders, pink skinned and freckled and hair somewhere between red and brown. He was ostensibly supposed to be courting Annalise, but I’m not one hundred percent sure she even knows his name. “Are you alright?”

He’s also my age, and enrolling in the university when we go back to Dovetail as well, so we’ve been talking quite a bit.

“Hi,” I stumbled. He smiled. “I um,” I exhaled, “I think I will be.” He nodded. “You?” He shrugged.

“My father is going to be overly pleased,” he sighed and ran his hands through his hair, “if it gets you lot gone.” I laughed. “I’m waiting to tell him of course that it’s hopeless and I couldn’t be,” he cleared his throat, “I mean, she couldn’t be less interested in me, regardless of The Prince.” I looked at him. “Are you going home?”

“No,” my throat was dry. “No, I’m staying.” I looked down. “They won’t want me at home.” He frowned at me.

“Well, then they’re incredibly stupid,” he said, “who wouldn’t want you?” I really hope my eyes weren’t actually the size of my entire face because they certainly felt it.

“I um,” I swallowed, “ah, thank you?” He nodded and walked away, his face flushed. After another talk with Athena where she hugged me, which felt baffling. And then in my continued desire to find Athena, instead I found Randolph.

“You could have just told me you were unhappy,” I said walking up to him. He stared at me.

“When?” He shrugged. “Between mapmaking with the witch and your social calendar,”

“I wanted you to be a part of all of that,” I said, “I thought that was why we came here, instead of staying,” I exhaled. He took my hand.

“I thought that too,” he said, “but I don’t want that life anymore and I couldn’t,” he choked. I nodded. “I miss home, Ray, don’t you?” I blinked oddly at him.

“No,” I said, “no I don’t, at all. Well, except maybe my nieces.” He laughed and kissed me. I knew it would be the last time. “You don’t think you’ll what you’re looking for back home,” I whispered as our foreheads touched.

“Maybe not,” he said, “but I’ll know who I am, and can you say the same?” I frowned. I tried to think about how Marina or Annalise would answer that. Squaring her shoulders and ranting about The Goddess and being the most beautiful woman alive. Annalise is a Queen and that question is answered.

For once my cousins were not exactly the best models. Instead we just squeezed hands and he walked down towards the beach and walked inside. Marina walked over to me and smiled gently.

“Don’t do that,” I said. She sighed. “Athena’s being nice to me, it’s weird.”

“Before Brayton fell, Athena’s fiance told Brayton where resistance camp was and outlined some of the main hierarchy of the leadership and it lead to Martin being banished and running for his life,” she explained. “So I think she understands how you’re feeling right now.” I stared at her. “And I am sorry, Raymond.”

“I know,” I sighed. “But please don’t pity me.” She frowned.

“I’m not pitying you,” she laced her arm through mine, “I’m concerned, I care about you. It’s different.” I looked at her. “And I’m not the only one.” She nodded to Evan, who was animatedly discussing something with one of the sisters. I blinked.

“He’s, we’re, I’m,” I stuttered, “it’s not like that.” I managed. She shrugged.

“He likes you,” she said, “I’m not a particularly gifted aura reader, Lisette is better at it, but that’s patently obvious. He tries to hide it because he knew about you and Randolph. But I have a feeling things will become more plain now.”

“Maybe I’m not ready,” I said and shrugged. She smiled.

“Then you aren’t,” she said, “but just know that there are more people who care about you than you realize.” I smiled.

I came here to make a new life. I thought with him. But new does mean change. I guess I can be ready for that.