I’ve only been to The Border Keep a few times. I usually stay in Pantona or Dovetail when the others come here. When Calla was a baby, I used the excuse of staying behind to care for her. But in reality, it’s that being here underlines every feeling of uselessness I have.
I don’t have networks out here, I don’t get reports. The tribes don’t like the Dumanis or the Guilds so everyone looks at me with suspicion, I wandered into a small room where Prior and Tristan were sitting with several other rangers, their dark green coats and shaggy hair giving them away.
“The rivers are shallow this year,” one of them, a woman from her voice sighed. “The Witches say it’s a sign that Amina is trying to frustrate the search.” I leaned against the door frame.
“It’s one explanation,” another said, “the other is that it was a dry winter. Only two storms.”
“Also a sign from Amina,” Prior pointed out.
“That isn’t how it works,” Tristan sighed.
“It isn’t how it works with Cornan and Rana,” Prior pointed out, he looked up. “Hello Carolina.” I waved.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt,” I said. Tristan shook his head.
“We weren’t getting anywhere,” he said, “you’re dismissed.” Most of them shuffled our. Prior raised his eyebrows at him. “You too.”
“Don’t give me orders,” he said and stood up, Tristan laughed. “I’m leaving because I want to, not because you told me to.”
“Right,” Tristan snorted. “Elodie knew what she was doing putting him with me. Sometimes I think he’s actually Athena’s twin.” I laughed and sat down with him.
“You’re going to miss him,” I said softly.
“I am,” he said. “I’m going to miss this.” I nodded. “You’re worth it.” I looked at him. “Have you decided to stay with us?”
“No,” I sighed, “I mean, no I haven’t decided.” He nodded. “I love you and I want to be with you, but I can’t do my work out here and it’s frustrating.” He grinned at me.
“You aren’t changing your work?” He said. I shrugged. “Caro.”
“I can live at Pantona and have children and do my work,” I said with a smirk. He looked at me and smiled. “So no, I won’t change it. I might need to find another contact to pass messages in the area, depending on William’s attitude when I get back.” He shook his head.
“I get to actually never speak to him again now right?” He said. “I understand that in everyone’s view imperiling the future of our world wasn’t damning enough, but sleeping with me wife?”
“You never have to speak to him again,” I said. “Though Marina is one of my closest friends, so while you forgave me more easily I am still the better person.” He laughed. “Tristan,” I said softly, “I just want to be of use.”
“I know,” he said gently. “Come on, I want to show you something.” I followed him out to the training field. There, the rangers he’d been sitting with, the royal guards we’d traveled with, several of Harran’s warriors and a group of witches were all sparring and trading techniques. I smiled.
“You’re proud of this?” I said. He grinned.
“I am,” he said, “Aaron and Marina talk about building a better world. Five years ago, this would have been impossible, even before Brayton, the crown and the tribes wouldn’t cooperate like this.” I kissed him.
“It’s very Merchant, really,” I teased him. He squinted. “They’re trading.” He laughed.
“I suppose so,” he laughed. “But don’t say that too loud.” I giggled. “Caro,” he whispered.
“Mm,” I nodded leaned back against him as he wrapped his arms around me. It felt so good, he felt so good, so relaxed. The edge to our relationship had softened.
“Thank you,” he said. “For not giving up on me.”
“Oh Tristan,” I whispered. “You can’t give up on this.” He swallowed. “You can’t, it’s so good.”
“Training Althea and protecting Calla will be good,” he said softly, “our children will be good. Being with you every single day will be good.” I wanted to smile. He’s doing the right things, saying the right things.
His arms are around me and I feel so safe there.
So why don’t I believe him? Why don’t I believe that this man is giving up something he poured his heart into for me, and willingly, happily? Why can’t I stop being angry that it’s where he put his heart, instead of with me? Am I always going to resent that he built this instead of building our life together?
And why won’t that tiny, petty voice in the back of my mind go away? The voice echoing over and over again.
He built this for her. All he ever did was leave you.