A Gift And A Goodbye

I rose early the next morning to go training, but couldn’t find Athena. I wondered if she was out already, but made my way out to the stables, Tristan had mentioned wanting to go riding and I decided to join him, when I saw Caleb standing waiting.

“Good Morning,” he said. I smiled softly at him. “Are you alright?”

“I don’t want to talk about it,” I said, “is that alright?”

“Perfectly,” he shrugged, “I have something for you,” I smiled, “come.” I walked in with him and saw standing in the middle a horse I’d never seen before. “It’s a bit early, but I thought a birthday present would be alright.” I giggled softly and walked over. “You’ve never had your own, but it wouldn’t do for The Lost Princess to return on a borrowed stable horse from someone else’s stable.”

“Caleb,” I whispered, petting her neck. “What’s her name?” I knew she was a mare immediately. And perfect. Clean white, shining, almost like a star.

“Doesn’t have one yet,” he grinned. “The Dumanis don’t name their animals. Charlotte showed her to me when I met them along the way back.” I smiled. “She’s shrewd that one, just a smile, and ‘I thought you might want to look at a horse, your grace, something suitable for a young woman.'” I remember the half smile on Charlotte’s face when she’d mentioned I was Phanian. I’d wondered what she’d guessed then, know I knew for sure.

“I’ll have to think it over,” I cooed, “thank you Caleb.” He smiled. “Have you seen Athena?”

“She went into town to find someone who could send her letter,” he said. I nodded. “William ran so quickly last night, before I could mention that I think,” I laughed.

“You think I should tell him the truth,” I said. He nodded. “Olivia told me, that he asked for me.” Caleb laughed. “I can only imagine you two scrambling for something to say.”

“It was something we’d anticipated,” he shrugged, “not with William specifically, but well, you’re a reasonably appealing young woman, and certainly not without local position, even if you were simply our ward. We’d assumed a village boy, or a younger merchant son might ask for you at some point.”

A younger merchant son. That gave me a pang. In another world, the world where I was really Lisette, and Tristan was really just a guest of my foster parents, he’d have asked for me. I’d be Lady Dugarry, not Queen Annalise.

“I’ll talk to him today,” I said softly. I pressed me forehead against the horse’s nose, not knowing what to say exactly.

I walked out towards the village and found Athena on her way back, she looked agitated.

“Are you alright?” I said. She frowned.

“I was,” she said, “I’d even calmed down about the General, but then I ran into that awful farmgirl, Katie?”

“Kathy,” I said. She nodded. “Yes, I don’t think she’d like you much.” Athena pressed her lips into her mouth.

“I certainly didn’t ask Aaron to abandon her minutes after she slept with him to chase after me,” she muttered, “it isn’t my fault.” I giggled, realizing this seemed like a familiar problem to her. “Where are you off to, and why isn’t my brother tailing behind you, in case a shadow or spy pops out of the orchard to carry you away to darkness?”

“He’s asleep,” I said, “and it seems unlikely at this juncture. If a spy were watching us, they’d probably wait until we’re all on the move to grab me.”

“Hmm,” she nodded, “I suppose so.” She was grinning now.

“I’m heading into town, but since you just came from that way, I’d assume you don’t want to join me,” she shook her head.

“No,” she said, “I have to talk to Aaron, and you’re likely going to have a rather serious conversation that should be had alone?” I nodded. “Good luck.” I smiled and waved.

Once I reached town, I noticed Kathy at her father’s stand looking very grumpy. I decided not to poke at that. That was a benefit to not being Lisette anymore, not having to deal with fallout of Aaron’s entanglements. I reached the inn and walked in. The maids all nodded at me and one pointed me towards William’s parlor. He smiled when he saw me.

“What a nice surprise,” he said, “Two days in a row at that.” I laughed.

“I wanted to talk to you,” I said, “but I didn’t get a chance last night.” He nodded. “William, I,” I swallowed. “We’re leaving soon.”

“I see,” he said quietly. “Going west?” I nodded. “This has something to do with Sir Tristan?”

“Yes,” I said, “and no.” I folded my hands. “I mean, he’s coming with us, of course, but,” I swallowed. “I’m not Lisette.” He scrunched his face in confusion. “I mean, I am, but she’s not, a real person.” I frowned. “I’m botching this. You see a lot of people come through, you’ve probably heard, rumors, stories,” I swallowed, “sightings.”

“Of?” He asked. “Last week I had a man who swore his horse was actually a unicorn, but I’m not following.”

“Of girls like me,” I said softly, “orphaned half Phanian girls,” I sighed, “who might not be what they seem.” His eyes widened.

“Gods, I’m a fool,” he muttered. I bit my bottom lip and glanced down. “Lisete, I mean, your highness, I guess.” I nodded. “So you’re going west, to go,” I nodded again. “Are you terrified?” I suddenly felt a surge of affection for William and flew across the room and hugged him.

“I’ll miss you,” I said softly, “really, before you came I didn’t have any friends except Aaron, and it’s been wonderful to have someone else.”

“Yes,” he smiled, “and just think what a good story it will be,” he whispered, “I courted the Queen of Cammadan herself, not that she had any idea of course.” I giggled. “I think we’d have made a good match though.”

“I can think of worse,” I said. “You don’t hate me?” He laughed.

“No, Lisette,” he said, “I don’t hate you.” He frowned. “Can I still call you Lisette?” I smiled.

“In private,” I shrugged, “I’ll be Your Highness in public though, until it’s Your Majesty.” He nodded. “Come with us.”

“No,” he said, “maybe, later when things are settled, but I’m not much use in a fight Lisette.” I smiled.

“Fine then,” I said softly.

The Next Step

Supper was one of the better ones we’ve had in a while, William even came, as Caleb had stopped by the inn to invite him.

I hadn’t seen him since that very odd market day, and I wondered now, knowing how he felt about me, if it would change anything between us. I found myself less talkative than usual but William was still himself.

“All things considered how do you find Lord Brayton these days?” William asked curiously. Athena took a long sip of wine.

“He’s changed very little,” Caleb said, “though he talks of marrying soon.” I exhaled, and thought of my dream. Tristan looked curiously at me.

“An honor for any woman, I’m sure,” Olivia grinned wryly. Aaron coughed on the water he was drinking trying not to laugh. “You must have more news than we do William! After all the Dumanis camp only just moved on. It had to have been a good month.”

“I did well enough,” he said, “it’s always best when it’s the Dumanis, don’t you think, Sir Tristan?”

“Our family is generous,” Athena answered.

“That’s a word for it,” Tristan muttered. I smiled and looked at him. “Alex and Charlotte said they did well, also. Your tenants must be thriving Count.”

“I’m happy to hear that,” Caleb smiled. “Lisette, pass the potatoes.” I smiled and handed them to him. “Thank you dearest.” The rest of the meal followed in that fashion until William left. After we all sat in the parlor, Caleb had given Athena a letter which she was reading, her face getting more and more red.

“He’s alright now?” She asked.

“Yes, Athena,” Caleb said softly, “General Martin was recovering very well when I left. Lady Marina tended to him.”

“That does not inspire much confidence.” Athena mumbled. “I should write to him.” She stood up and stormed out. Tristan shook his head.

“Is he alright?” Olivia said softly. Caleb smiled at her and nodded.

“You know Tom,” Caleb shrugged, “homicidally brave, if he weren’t alright he wouldn’t be likely to tell me of all people.” She nodded. “Are you curious how he’s doing Tristan?”

“Marina is more than capable of caring for him,” Tristan said absently. I felt my face flush, “Lady Marina, I mean.” Olivia nodded. I smiled at him. “It was shadows though?”

“Unfortunately,” Caleb sighed, “they’re getting stronger, it’s part of why I think we should get you to the resistance sooner rather than later.” Aaron frowned. “You have an opinion, Aaron?”

“I don’t see the rush,” he said, “besides the symbol of coronation on her birthday, why leave when we’re safe.” I looked at him.

“We won’t always be,” I said softly. “He’ll find me eventually, I’d rather be in control of that.” I stood up and walked up to my room. I sat quietly for a minute before the door opened. I was expecting Tristan, but instead it was Aaron.

“You’re right you know,” he said, “but I worry, it’s what brothers do.” I smiled softly at him. “Lisette,” he said, “do you want this to change?”

“No,” I sighed, “no, more than anything else, I want to stay here, but we can’t, we always knew it was going to end.” He sat and took my hand. “You could stay.” He laughed.

“If it weren’t for this summer,” he said softly, “if it weren’t for her, maybe I would.” I grinned.

“It is different this time,” I laughed. He nodded. “Have you told her how you feel?” He nodded. “And?”

“She’s hesistant,” he shrugged, “but ammenable.” I laughed and kissed him on the cheek. “Lisette,” he said, “you’re worried.”

“About a lot of things,” I said softly. “I need you though, so I’m glad.” He nodded and I hugged him. “Now go away, Tristan should be here soon, and I doubt you want to be here when he comes.”

“I do not,” he sighed. “Do you know what you’re doing here?” I smiled and nodded. “Alright, I won’t bother you.” He kissed me on the forehead. “I know you talked to Father about it, and if you need me to,” I rolled my eyes.

“I’m not marrying you for political reasons, don’t be absurd,” I said, “Please leave.” He nodded and walked out.

Tristan came in then, and we didn’t talk. We didn’t need to. There’s something else there. Something deep and wild, and instinctive. I need him, it’s that simple.

I slept deeply and dreamt of Lady Marina sitting beside a lake, writing a letter. I blinked and then I was on a blue ship, somewhere covered in ice and snow. Two boys were standing looking at lights flashing in the sky.

“Where are you?” One of them, younger, it looked with long curly hair tied back. The other, short cropped hair, they were both dark skinned.

“I’m not sure,” he said softly.

“Is it time?” The first asked. The other shook his head.

“No,” he whispered, “but soon.” I woke up and realized I’d had a vision of Prince Eric. I’d never Seen him before. I swallowed and turned seeing Tristan asleep.

I have no idea what to do.

Caleb

I walked down to the cottage where Anselm lives and he was at work in his kitchen, mixing something. I had brought him some herbs and things from the manor garden and greenhouse at his request.

“Glad you found time in your busy schedule,” he said, “I thought I might never see you.” I laughed. “Is everything there?”

“Yes,” I said softly. I poured myself a cup of tea. “Mastero,” I said.

“Lisette,” he answered not looking up.

“If, hypothetically, one didn’t want to get pregnant,” I muttered, “is there some sort of potion or charm that might, you know, help with that.”

“Low magic users swear by whip willow,” he said distractedly. “It’s never been tested in a university setting. One of Aaron’s ask you?”

“No,” I mumbled, “it doesn’t matter. In a tea?”

“Do you know of another way to administer a bark than a tea?” He said. I nodded and then he stopped and looked at me. “Not for Aaron?” I shook my head. “Ah,” he sat down, “Sir Tristan, I assume.” I nodded. “That’s a dangerous game for you Lisette.”

“I understand,” I said softly. “It isn’t a game though.” I spread my fingers out. “We’re leaving soon.”

“Yes, yes,” he sighed, “I had a letter from the Count as well.” I swallowed.

“You’ll come with us,” I said. He looked at me.

“No, Lisette, I won’t,” he shook his head. “Unless you order me to. But I don’t belong with the army and I’m sure the University has moved on in directions I couldn’t abide.” I looked at him.

He looked much older than I’d ever realized in that moment. We’d all been preparing, but the world had passed him by in that time.

“I won’t order you,” I said softly, “but I do wish you’d come. I need you.”

“Bah,” He waved a hand. “You do not need me. You have the twins now, and you’ll have your cousin.” I frowned. “Now, we’ve got work to do. Dry out what you brought me and we’ll start brewing.” I nodded and hung the herbs in the window.

I sat in the living room next, breathing deeply and feeling what I could from around me. Part of me wanted to order Anselm to come with us, but the other part knew it wouldn’t be fair.

During the uprising, when Brayton’s forces pushed my parents from Dovetail, and he took control, most of the masteros were killed when they didn’t swear themselves to Brayton. Anselm fled with my parents, helping protect them as they moved. When I was settled in Pantona, he was settled with me.

He never seemed to like Caleb much, but Caleb takes it in stride. After we finish the potion and he gives me the whip willow, I head home. Tristan is waiting for me at the woods border. He doesn’t ever go into the woods, he doesn’t like it.

“Did you have a good lesson?” He grinned. I shrugged, feeling like the bark in my bag was terribly heavy.

“Yes,” I whispered and kissed him softly. He pulled me close. “What were you doing, running?”

“Getting tack together actually,” he shrugged, “I’ve neglected Elian,” I smiled. “Would you like to come with me?”

“No,” I said, “I have some work to do, and there’ll be plenty of riding soon,” he nodded. “I’ll walk with you though.” I slid my hand into his. I wanted to ride with him, go back to the hills and tumble around, cling to him and never leave.

“You’ve decided then,” he said. It wasn’t a question. He knew. I nodded. “Are you alright, Lisette?” I wanted to tell him everything, about Prince Eric, about the goddess, about my visions, the path I knew I had to take one day, and how I would have to kill the part of my heart that loved him to survive it. I kissed him again and we walked to the stables, and I saw a large grey horse out in front. I smiled then.

“Gods!” I exclaimed, Tristan smiled at me. “Caleb!” I ran quickly to the house and to his study, where he was standing over his desk, looking at something written.

“Good morning, Little One,” he said happily I ran and hugged him. “Let me look at you, Lisette.” I stepped back. “You’ve grown. That’s good. I don’t know how I was going to present a five foot tall commander to the army.” I laughed. “You were at market?”

“With Anselm,” I said, “he’s going to stay behind,” I said softly. Caleb nodded.

“I suspected he would,” he sighed, “it will be difficult without him, I was hoping he could guide you and Marina a bit but I wasn’t counting on it.” I nodded and sat down. “Olivia said that you’ve come to care for the twins.”

He spoke around it, but he knew.

“Yes, they’re,” I stopped, “I’m glad to have them by my side.” He nodded. “When will we leave?”

“Two weeks,” he said, “and then it’s a week of hard riding.” I nodded. “You’re ready.”

“Aaron says I’ll never be,” I said, “I think sometimes that he’s right.” He nodded. “Olivia and I were talking about,” I sighed, “when it ends, and what’s next for me.” He smiled.

“Dovetail and coronation,” he said. I nodded. “Oh, you mean after that.” I nodded again. “Well, the provenance leaders will want you to see their sons, of course, at least two of the nine are out the running, unless a great deal has changed between you and Aaron since I’ve been gone.” I laughed. “The borderland tribes have a prince or two the right age, and likely one of the boys from Rastan, there are ten of them.”

“And Phania?” I asked carefully. He pressed his lips.

“And Phania,” he said, “I know what you’ve Dreamt, dearest, and I know what you think will come, but I have to tell you politically it could be a miscalculation, if he even comes.”

“Daniel and Elana never backed Brayton,” I said.

“Not officially no,” he sighed, “but the also never forgave your Uncle for staying in Cammadan rather than accepting their offer of asylum for you and his family.” I looked at him.

“I could have lived at Tumona?” I said softly. He nodded. “But then, why,” he sighed.

“A lot of reasons,” he said, “mainly, we all thought it was important, given your calling and your mother, that you be as Cammadie as possible. Many of the border chiefs and provenance leaders didn’t like having a foreign princess and queen.” I nodded. “We’re a few steps from it, but clearly it’s been weighing on you?”

“Tristan and I,” I sighed, “it’s wrong, it’s cruel to him but I couldn’t,” I swallowed, “I love him, it’s impossible not to, I tried.” He laughed.

“Lisette, to crush your heart would be a grave mistake,” he said, “you love him, then love him, that’s all there is to it. Tristan isn’t a fool, he knows that he can’t be your husband.” I nodded.

“I’m glad you’re back,” I said. “I missed you, you were gone too long.” He nodded.

“I agree,” he sighed. “I wish we could stay longer, but I don’t think it can be helped. We have to be to the city by your birthday, and so we have to move.” I nodded.

Little One

Tristan was asleep and I stood up and got dressed. I like him sleeping. He sleeps like a child, sprawled everywhere, his face relaxed. I kissed his forehead and walked down to the kitchen. Aaron was sitting brewing tea.

“Good Evening,” he grinned, “you look, well, different.” I picked up a rag and threw it at him. “Is Sir Tristan content?”

“Don’t be vulgar,” I wrinkled my nose. “Why are you up?”

“A similar venture,” he shrugged. I raised my eyebrows. “Lady Athena has thawed a bit.” I laughed. “It’s different, this time.”

“If you say so,” I said softly. “Why aren’t you with her?”

“Her words,” he shrugged, “were ‘I want to trust you. But in order to do that, we have to take it slow.’ So that will be new and interesting.” I laughed. “And a messanger came and brought letters.” He handed me one.

I opened it, recognizing Caleb’s handwriting.

My Dearest Lisette,

I’ve been worried about you, my little one. It’s been too long since I heard you laugh. Sometimes I hear one of the girls here and I turn and I think it may be  you.

I saw Anselm, he told me of your visions. Both the one of Lady Marina at Brayton’s side and of the goddess. I know what you fear. You must be brave, which I also know you despise hearing. 

There’s a lot of talk here about what all of our next step should be, but I think, given the way things have progressed keeping you apart from everything is no longer an option. Discuss it with Anselm and let me know your thoughts. I promised you this summer and I will hold to that unless you say differently.

Be strong, Little One, hard days are coming, but you won’t be alone.

Your Loving Father.

I smiled. Aaron looked at me.

“What does he want?” He asked.

“You didn’t get one?” I frowned. He rolled his eyes. “He wants us to join the camp.” I folded the letter. “I think it might be time.” He nodded. “We’re ready, aren’t we?”

“I don’t know,” he said, “I don’t think we’ll ever be ready, not entirely, but I think it might be time.” I nodded. “Think it over, like he said. He’s usually right.” I could hear the bitterness in his voice.

That was new in the past year, the way they spoke to and about eachother, Aaron and Caleb, and it made me sad. There was something between them that I couldn’t see, no matter how much I knew them both.

“Get some sleep,” I whispered and kissed his forehead and walking back up to my bedroom. Tristan was sitting up now and smiled at me. I slipped in and let him hold me, forgetting the world for a minute, lost in him.

“Where are you?” He asked softly. I smiled.

“Right here,” I said softly. He nodded and kissed me. “Have you spent much time at the resistance camp?” He laughed.

“A fair bit,” he said softly, “more when we were younger, when my parents were still alive.” I nodded and rolled over resting my chin on his chest. “Why?”

“Tell me about it,” I whispered. He nodded.

“Are we going?” He asked.

“I don’t know yet,” I said. “Part of me never wants to go, part of me wants to stay here, safe and apart from it forever,” I straddled him, “with you.” He grinned and kissed me again.

“I wouldn’t particularly mind that either,” he whispered, I pushed hair off of his forehead. “Lisette,” he said softly, “tell me what you’re thinking.”

“I’m thinking,” I said, “of the threads of time.” He kissed me again.

“The what?” He laughed.

“You’re going to tease me,” I shook my head.

“Never,” He said solemnly.

“In the old times,” I explained, “when the chosen ruled and communed with the gods, they believed that the events of the universe were threads being plucked and spun together on the wheel of the world,” Tristan kissed my neck, “threads are untangled and cut as people’s decisions are made,” he pressed into me.

“And what does this have to do with us, or the resistance camp?” He asked, I whimpered as he moved inside of me.

“I,” I exhaled, “I’ve been thinking about the thread we’re on, where my parents were killed and so we met now instead of when we were very little.” He nodded. “You might not have loved me on another thread.”

“I’d always have loved you,” he whispered, “no matter what thread we were on.” He rolled over and we kissed again as he finished. I lay in his arms and wished with everything in me that nothing would change, and that our what if was real. “You wanted to hear about camp?” He whispered. I nodded. “It’s a busy place. General Martin does not accept laziness.” I nodded. “He’ll be furious about this, by the way, putting you at risk.”

“You haven’t put me at risk,” I said.  He sighed. “How could I be safer than having my bodyguard, quite literally in my bed.” He laughed.

“My family,” he whispered, “The Dumanis,” I shook my head. “They aren’t, good, Lisette, I love them, but they’re,” he sighed, “my grandfather does terrible things to maintain his hold on the guild, and my aunts and their husbands, and my cousins.” I kissed him.

“You aren’t them,” I said softly. He looked at me. “My cousin murdered my parents, my mother’s closest family is the Queen of Phania and she abandoned her to that death and me to this exile,” I touched his face. “We’re supposed to build a new world, apart from that.”

“We’re supposed to?” He laughed. I nodded. “I think you, Your Highness, have that mandate, not me.”

The word Mandate, startled me. Chosen have mandates, from the gods. Of course I am Chosen, but no one knows that except, well, Caleb and Anselm and me.

“I can’t do that alone,” I said.

“You’ll never be alone,” he said softly. “I won’t leave you.”

Sweet Treason

It was like a tidal wave, when he kissed me.  It pulled me under and nothing else matter, there was only Tristan, filling my lungs, overwhelming my body. My knees went to jelly and we both tumbled into the grass. I started giggled and he pushed my hair off my face.

“I love you,” he said, “every inch of me is yours, Lisette.” I swallowed and kissed him again.

“Prove it,” I mumbled into his lips. He kept kissing me and wiggled to be on top of me. I hiked my skirt up around my waist and he unlaced the front of his pants. I was never more sure of anything, than I was in that moment. I needed Tristan inside of me if I was ever going to be satisfied.

He pressed into me slowly, inch by inch, and I felt myself opening for him, and our lips never parted. Once I’d taken him, he started thrusting, and I did my best to match his rhythm. I briefly wondered if anyone could see us and then quickly realized I didn’t care. Tristan began to trail kisses on my jaw, and then my neck, and I whimpered softly.

“Lisette,” he panted, “I can’t, I have to,” I met his eyes and nodded and he pulled out, I gasped at the sudden absence of him and he finished against my thigh. We didn’t linger, quickly, pulling apart then, without a word, and walked back to the manor in comfortable silence, my hand in his.

I wanted to ask him a million things. How many other girls he’d been with? Did he know he was my first?  Did he understand that once we left here, this, whatever it was, between us couldn’t continue? But I was silent. I couldn’t shatter this moment. We got back to the manor and I excused myself to change for dinner. He kissed me softly and I went up to my room.

That night, at dinner and after we barely spoke. He couldn’t look me in the eye. It was only later, as we sat by the fire, everyone else gone to bed that he finally broke it.

“Do you regret it?” He said. I was startled.

“What?” I said. “No! Of course not! Do you?” He stared at me, baffled.

“How could you think,” he swallowed, “no, I don’t. I just thought,” he laughed and sat down, “you’ve been so quiet, and you’re normally, well,” he smiled, “not.”

“I didn’t want to scare you,” I frowned. “I didn’t know how,” I shook my head, “I’ve never done this, that, what we did.” He kissed me.

“Well, neither have I, but I thought that part was obvious,” he said. I laughed. “I enjoyed it though, and I got the impression you did.”

“Of course,” I blushed, “I mean, it was,” I swallowed. “How have you never been with anyone else?” He’s too perfect.

“There isn’t anyone else,” he said, taking my hand and tracing the lines with his thumb. “I came to life when I met you, that’s what I was trying to say this afternoon before you so rudely insisted I prove my devotion.” I rolled my eyes as he kissed my palm.

“What about The Lady Marina?” I asked. He drew back, surprised to hear her name.

“Marina?” He blinked. “What does Marina have to do with us?”

“You write to her,” I said, “and you carry that handkerchief. And you’ve said yourself that she’s beautiful, and wise, and powerful.”

“She’s been my friend since we were children,” he said, “it isn’t like that between us.” I looked at him. “She has a bit of a crush, but nothing ever happened.” I swallowed. “I only want you.” We kissed again.

“Come upstairs,” I said softly.

“Lisette,” he shook his head, “we can’t. We shouldn’t have earlier.” I looked at him. “I love you, but I’m not a fool. You’re a princess, you’re going to be queen. I’m a soldier, and one with a family that should not be trusted near to you. This isn’t, this can’t be real.” I pressed my face against his chest.

“It’s too late,” I whispered. “It already is real Tristan. Come upstairs, make love to me again. That’s an order.” He laughed.

“It’s a treasonous one,” he mumbled said and kissed my hair. “But it’s such, sweet treason.” I stood up and went to to my room, not looking back but knowing he was following me. He clicked the door shut behind us. I kissed him and everything grew more intense from there. We undressed each other and fell back onto the bed. The rushed passion on the hill gave way to something else here. Tristan was in me again, but as he pushed on top of me with his hips, his hands and mouth tended to the rest of my body, groping, kissing, nibling and generally consuming me. I was responding in kind, finding myself unable to keep my hands from his thighs, his buttocks, my mouth continually finding a spot on his chest that made him exhale and pull me closer to him.

I like that place.

I cried out a few times, until finally he pulled out, finishing with a sweet breath against my ear, whispering my name. I whimpered as he rolled away.

“Tristan,” I said softly. He wrapped his arms around me. “I love you.” He smiled.

“I love you,” he said. “Gods, it feels good to say it.” I smiled.

“Can you promise me something?” I whispered.

“Anything,” he said.

“I need you to tell me the truth,” I said. He brushed my hair out of my face. “It’s what I’ve always been most afraid of, when I become queen, that no one will tell me the truth. No one told my father the truth about Brayton, about his power and the people standing with him, and it got him killed.”

“I will always tell you the truth,” he whispered, “as I see it that is.” I smiled and kissed him. “Lisette,” he whispered again.

“Mm,” I cooed, “I like when you say my name.” He then started saying my name over and over again between kissing me.

Confession

Anselm went away for a bit, after I told him about my visitation with the goddess. He said he needed to speak to someone and that worries me. I’ve been journaling a lot, thinking about what she said, about tangled threads and being too long away from the sea.

But my days are as pleasant as they’ve ever been though. I get up at dawn with Athena and train, and then I study history or strategy, and then I have afternoons to myself, because I don’t have to study magic. This afternoon, I found my way to the orchard. I climbed up and pulled out a book. I started to read, lost in the same fairy tales I was that day nearly a month ago when then twins came.

I heard some whistling and glanced down seeing Tristan walking through. I grinned and grabbed a lemon and tossed it at him. He laughed and looked up at me.

“This feels familiar,” he said. I nodded and climbed down. It might be Athena’s influence, but I wouldn’t even dream of my leggings and baggy old shirts anymore. “Are you here being productive, or was your only mission to pelt me with citrus?”

“I was reading,” I said, and handed him the book. He flipped through it.

“Fairy tales?” He said. I nodded. He laughed and shook his head. “You never cease to surprise me, Princess.” His eyes were holding mine, and that tiny voice in the back of my head, the one I’d been pushing so hard to ignore for so long roared forward.

I love him. There’s no escaping it, anymore, no appeals to my duty as it might be. No distant princes I’ve never met and might never meet. There’s only him. He’s the sun.

“Lisette,” I said quietly, “please. Call me Lisette.” He swallowed.

“Gods,” he whispered, and moved away from me. “I can’t do that.” I stared at him.

“Why not?” I chased after him. We reached a hill, he looked at me. “Why can’t you call me by my name?”

“Because if I let a crack in the walls,” he exhaled, “if you’re not my princess, if I’m not serving you, protecting you,” I swallowed, suddenly I understood.

“Say it,” I whispered, “please, Tristan, please it might be easier if we just,” I went to take his hands and he stepped back. “I love you.” He stared at me. “I do, I don’t quite understand it, but I’ve never felt this way about anyone and,” he stopped and looked at me.

“I love you too,” he said, “but it’s impossible.” I swallowed and looked at him. “I’m not,” he looked down, “I’m supposed to protect you, I’m suppose to be lead your army, I’m not supposed to,” I laughed a little. “What’s funny?”

“You always do exactly what you’re supposed to do, don’t you?” I whispered. He smiled.

“I used to, yes,” he said. “But since I met you, well…” I nodded and we walked a little longer this time in silence.

“Can’t you do both?” I whispered. He looked oddly at me. “Can’t you protect me while loving me?” He sighed and touched my face.

“Princess,” he said softly.

“Lisette,” I corrected him. I felt like every hair on my body stand on end as he touched me.

“Lisette,” he whispered. “I don’t know if I can. I don’t think,” I looked at him. I swallowed.

“Pretend,” I said softly, “I’m not the princess.” He laughed. “Pretend I’m Lisette, I’m an orphan that Olivia and Caleb adopted on a whim. I’m who I say I am.” He nodded. “What then?”

“Then,” he whispered, “I’d tell you that you’re not like anyone I’ve ever met before. That I spend every morning, wondering when I’m going to see you, spend every night wondering what you’re thinking of and hoping that it’s me.” He pulled me close then and I swallowed, “and that all I want in the world right now is to kiss you.”

“So kiss me,” I whispered. He smiled.

“Is that an order?” He teased. I nodded. “But you’re an orphaned farmgirl I met by coincidence. I’m nearly a captain of the royal guard, you can’t give me orders.” I giggled and couldn’t stop myself then and kissed him.

I’ve only been kissed once before, by Aaron. I was twelve. It was uninvited and neither of us liked it much. (Well, him probably because it ended with me punching him and running away, but still…) This was different. Tristan wrapping his arms around me and kissing me back was everything.

“This is all just pretend, though,” I whispered. He looked down at me and shook his head.

“No,” he said, “no, it’s real.” We kissed again and I lost my breath.

Market Day

I woke up in the morning and got dressed quickly, also grabbing a basket and a small pouch of coins. Most of the farmers and town shopkeepers bill us, but if any merchant carravans are passing it will be nice to be able to at least consider buying something.

I walked out the front door and saw Tristan jog up. He wasn’t wearing a shirt. I swallowed, trying not to stare.

I am not in love with him.

But I would also not be opposed to him just never wearing his shirt again. Because this is very nice. Can I make a law about that?

From here on out all guardsmen are forbidden from wearing shirts in her majesty’s presence. That could do the trick. Or I suppose that’s like when I used to order Aaron to give me his desert and he told me that he didn’t have to obey stupid orders like that.

Still, it’s a thought.

“You’re going out?” He said seeing me. I nodded.

“It’s market day,” I explained, “I told Athena.” He nodded. “Would you like to come? It’s not terribly exciting, but I shop and then I’m having tea at the inn.”

“Of course,” he smiled. “Give me a few moments to clean up, I’d be happy to join you.” I nodded as he walked inside and I swallowed, pacing back and forth, chewing my nails. He came back out dressed a little more cleanly.

“You were running?” I tried. He nodded. “Why?”

“It clears my mind,” he said. I looked at him. “It seems to need a lot of clearing these days.” I nodded. “And I like it here, it’s beautiful, peaceful, not like home.”

“Dovetail?” I said. He nodded. “I can’t wait to see it.”

“It’s special,” he grinned, “the way the palace and castle are built, they looked carved out of the mountain, the harbor is beautiful, placid and blue.” I nodded. “You don’t remember it at all?”

“The uprising was when I was one,” I said, “my parents were going from provenence to provenence after that, and I was settled here before I was three.” He nodded. “I see it in Dreams sometimes, but that’s not the same.”

“What are they like?” He asked. “The Dreams?”

“Disorienting,” I said, “vague, sometimes terrifying, other times comforting, always frustrating.” He laughed at that. “What’s funny?”

“You,” he said. “You’re so honest, it’s refreshing.” I nodded. “Back home everyone talks in circles, they have to, kind of, but it’s a nice change.” I nodded as we approached the village and saw a circle of wagons. “Oh no,” he muttered.

“What?” I laughed, “it’s only a merchant train. They might have something interesting.”

“Oh, it’ll be interesting for sure.” He sighed as we got closer. I noticed the flag flying over the train and realized why he might be tense.

“Tristan!” A girl’s voice called out, jumping from one of the wagons. “Gods, I didn’t expect to see yeh so far south!”

“Good Morning Charlotte,” he said, seeming to unclench a bit, “Lisette, please meet my cousin, Charlotte Dufrey, clearly heading this operation in front of you. Charlotte this is, um,” he stumbled, “Lisette, she’s Count Caleb’s ward.”

“Heavens,” Charlotte said, “I was going to ask how a Phanian girl came so far inland.” I smiled.

“My mother was Phanian, Mistress Dufrey,” I explained. She nodded. “Sir Tristan, I can leave you.”

“That’s alright,” he shook his head, “are yer parents here, Lotte?” The way he slipped into the Northern accent was strange but still so natural.

“Just me and Alexander,” she shrugged, “we’re here for at least a week, and if we don’t see you and Athena I will tell Grandfather, and General Martin will surely receive a strongly worded letter about your upbringing.” Tristan let out a bark of laughter that startled me. I’d barely seen him smile before.

“We’ll be by, I promise,” he kissed her on the cheek. “I’m sorry about that.”

“Your family is the Dumanis?” I asked. He nodded.

“On our mother’s side,” he explained. “She was Alexia Dumanis, youngest of the three jewels of the house, that’s what they called her and her sisters. Charlotte’s mother Andrea is the oldest, and then there’s Brie.” He stopped. “There’s a son too, Tristan, well, Trey, they call him Trey.” He looked sad. “We see them when they’re in Dovetail, but Grandfather’s main holdings are in Dorin.”

“I see,” I nodded. I could tell he was uncomfortable. We approached the main street and the farmers and shopkeepers haggle with one another. I’m greeted with a small bow and a “Lady Lisette,” by most of them, and Tristan seems more at home now. I purchase beef, and some rabbit, which Athena mentioned was her favorite before we reach the end of the street and the inn.

Pantona Inn is a small place, with about twelve rooms upstairs and a barroom and a private parlor downstairs. It’s owned by a knight named Kinney Santino, and run by his nephew William, who’s nineteen.

“Lisette!” William greeted me as we walked in, he stopped, seeing Tristan. “Oh I see.”

“Sir Tristan,” I said, “this is my very good friend William Santino. William, this is Sir Tristan Dugarry, who escorted Countess Olivia down from Dovetail.”

“I’d heard there were guests,” William smiled, “welcome to Pantona, Sir Tristan.”

“Thank you,” Tristan said shortly as we followed him into the parlor.

“Dugarry is a merchant name,” William said. Tristan nodded. “But you’re in the guard?”

“My father’s side joined the guard with my great grandfather,” Tristan explained. “We’ve been noble since then.” William nodded.

“William is from Dovetail as well,” I said, “he came here six years ago.”

“Lisette is enchanted with her ideas of the city,” William said, “I’ve never been able to impress upon her how much nicer things out here are.” Tristan nodded. I suddenly felt very uncomfortable. They were making direct eye contact with one another as if I wasn’t even there.

“I was saying the same on our walk over,” Tristan said, “though Dovetail has it’s appeal.” William nodded. “I know a Winston Santino.”

“My Uncle,” William nodded.

“Ah,” Tristan nodded. I squirmed in my seat, I felt suddenly like it didn’t matter if I was there or not. “Lisette, if you’ll excuse me, I should probably see my cousins.” He stood up. I was baffled. He’d been so friendly and engaged outside.

“I’m sorry,” I said to William, who shrugged and sipped on his drink. “How are you?”

“Good,” He nodded, “do you like them? Your guests?”

“They’re the Countess’s guests,” I said simply, “and Aaron’s I suppose.” He nodded again.

“He came here with you though,” he said.

“Well, he wanted to see market day,” I explained. He smiled.

“Of course,” he said, “a royal guard from Dovetail wanted to see Pantona’s market day.” I nodded and we finished in silence.

“I should go,” I said softly. I walked back outside and saw Tristan talking to a vendor over some flowers. I walked over. “I suppose we should get back.”

“If you like,” he said.

“Lady Lisette,” the vendor, Wyatt Sampson, said, “your young man was asking which were your favorites.” I looked at him.

“Sir Tristan isn’t my young man,” I said, “but I prefer violets.” Tristan smiled and handed him a coin and then me the violets. I sniffed them before attaching them to my belt. We walked back to the manor quietly.

I’m not in love with him.

I’m not. 

Used To It

It’s been a week since the twins came, and we’ve grown used to them, I think. Well, I have, I wonder if Aaron will ever grow used to Lady Athena. He spends a great deal of time trying to get her attention, and she either ignores him or says something sarcastic to him.

It’s very amusing.

Tonight we are sitting in the large receiving room, I’m trying to learn the embroidery that Lady Athena was teaching me, but it isn’t going well.

“I’m pretty close to hopeless myself,” she admitted, “but I think it will help in Dovetail to know a little.” I smiled and nodded as we both struggled through it. “And it’s something to do.” I glanced up and noticed Sir Tristan writing a letter.

“Who are you writing to?” I asked. He looked at me.

“M-Lady Marina Sanpierre,” he said. Athena snorted. “I told her I would!”

“I’m sure you did,” Athena said, “she’ll probably drop dead of joy when she receives it.” Olivia glanced at her.

“Be kind, Athena,” she shook her head, “I’m sure Lady Marina is very lonely and very afraid at the moment. Hearing from a friend will likely do her good.”

“Why would she be afraid?” I asked. Athena shook her head.

“Because she’s always afraid,” Athena said. “It’s irritating. She’s a silly girl.”

“She isn’t,” Tristan cut her off. “Lady Marina is very powerful but has little understanding of her power, so she gets nervous. Also there’s that business with Brayton.”

“That isn’t what Lisette was asking,” Aaron said. Lady Athena stared at him.

“From everything I’ve gathered, Lisette can speak for herself,” she said simply, “however you continue to try to speak for her.”

“I surely wouldn’t be the first spokesperson for the royal family,” he grinned. “Not even the first of Pantona to fill the role. Like the Dugarry’s it’s our lot.”

“We’re not spokespeople,” she said through her gritted teeth. “We’re protectors.”

“Six of one, Lady Athena,” he shrugged. She stood up and marched out of the room. “Does your sister dislike men, Sir Tristan?” Tristan looked over at him and smirked.

“No Viscount,” he said standing up, “she dislikes you.” I giggled as he got to the door. “With your permission Princess?” I glanced at him.

“Huh?” I responded.

“He’s asking if he can leave, Lisette,” Olivia coaxed.

“Oh,” I said, “of course. Thank you, for a wonderful evening.” He bowed slightly and left.

“Mother,” Aaron said and leaned back, “I think Lisette has made a conquest.” I stared daggers at him and Olivia shook her head, laughing quietly. “He’s clearly in love with you.”

“That’s ridiculous,” I said softly and blushed.

“It would be an impressive one,” Olivia said with a gentle laugh. “Tristan is very focused, and quite popular. Lady Marina is just one of his admirers. If you’ve turned his head it is quite exciting.”

“I don’t think he is,” I said quickly. “Not that it matters, I have other plans.”

“Oh, are we going to hear about Prince Eric again?” Aaron said. “Have you Seen him in your salt basin lately?”

“Don’t mock Lisette’s visions, Aaron,” Olivia said softly. “I know you have thoughts about Prince Eric, love, but life tends to laugh at such plans. If love adhered to them, I’d have been queen rather than your mother.” I smiled. I stood up and walked out to the terrace. Tristan was sitting looking at the mountain.

“It’s beautiful,” he whispered. I nodded. “Is there something I can help you with Princess?”

“No,” I said softly. “What’s she like? Is she wonderful?” He looked at me confused. “Lady Marina?” He smiled.

“She’s,” he whispered, “she’s not like anyone else. She’s very brave, and kind and wise.” I nodded.

“Is she beautiful?” I asked. He smiled.

“You look quite alike, actually,” he said. I cocked my head. “Your eyes are different, though, hers are dark.” I wanted to ask him which he preferred but that felt petty.

Besides I can’t fall in love with him. I really need to make sure I marry strategically, to strengthen Cammadan.

“You didn’t answer my question,” I said. He looked at me and then at the mountain.

“Yes, Princess,” he said softly. “Both you and your cousin are incredibly beautiful.”  He walked back into the house and I noticed the letter sitting on the table. It was mostly about me, well, about Lisette, who we say I am.

Will she know? I wonder sometimes, who knows and pretends they don’t.

“Lady Lisette?” Margie, one of the maids walked up to me. “I have a note for your.” I nodded and took it. I smiled seeing it.

Lisette,

As tomorrow is your usual market day, I was hoping to see you for tea. Your usual place will be set at the inn. I understand you have visitors at the manor and I’m eager to hear all about them.

Yours Always,

William Santino

I laughed. I hadn’t seen William in ages, and I am eager to catch up with him. I walked up to my room and Athena was sitting on my bed, sharpening a knife.

“Good evening?” I tried. She looked at me and nodded. “Why are you in here?”

“Because you have the good weapons,” she said. I laughed. “Is he always like that?”

“Who?” I asked. “Aaron?” She nodded. “No, sometimes he’s worse.” She snorted. “He likes you, and he can tell that you do not like him, so he’s deflecting. He’ll move on in a week or so, he always does.”

“I don’t not like him,” she said, “he’s just so,” she frowned. “Forget it. Are we training tomorrow.”

“I’m going into town tomorrow,” I said, “it’s market day.” She blinked at me. “You understand that part of being here and being Lisette means I have to do the sort of things an orphan farm girl would do, yes? Go shopping, talk to the townsfolk, etc.”

“Hm,” she nodded, “I suppose. Still,” she grinned and tossed me the knife. “Wouldn’t you rather?” I laughed and she stood up. “Sleep well Princess.” I sighed and flopped on the bed.

I dreamt of a blue ship, crossing the sea. Standing at it’s bow was a boy my age, dark skin, and hair cut short. He smiled.

 

For Your Life

I eventually picked a simple blue dress. I didn’t know what we’d be doing all day and I did still have to go see Anselm at some point to talk about my dream. The dress was short, hitting around my ankles, but it would do. It had been the correct length when I last wore it six months ago.

I’ve always been small, so I’m happy to see I’m not finished growing yet.

“Good morning,” Olivia said walking in. I smiled at her and she sat on the bed, as I looked at myself in the mirror. “Goddess, Lisette, I think you’ve grown again.”

“Still too short,” I sighed, thinking of the tall willowy Lady Athena sitting downstairs. I sat with her. She picked up a comb from the nightstand and began slowly untangling my hair and arranging it into braids. My hair is dark, and curly, and often impossible to tame. I wish I had Olivia’s hair which is a soft silky texture and the most beautiful auburn color. “I’m sorry I wasn’t dressed, it didn’t occur to me you’d be with other people.”

“Hmm,” she nodded, “I know. Honestly, if Tristan hadn’t gotten separated, well, I think this whole day would be a bit different.” She stopped for a moment. “What did you think of him?” I sighed.

“He seems very nice,” I said, “a little serious, I suppose.” She nodded. “He’s quite handsome.”

“Yes,” she laughed, “he is that.” She finished my hair. “There, much better.” I smiled. “I explained the situation to them now. They know who you are.”

“Oh,” I said softly. “Were they shocked?” She laughed.

“No, pet, I think they were relieved,” she said, “they both had their suspicions when Caleb and General Martin ordered them to escort me.” I nodded.

“Where is Caleb?” I asked. She frowned.

“He stayed in Dovetail for bit,” she said softly, “Your cousin, Lady Marina needs to be moved from the Capital and it needs to be done carefully.” I nodded, thinking of my dream, and Marina, so cold and cruel and adoring of Brayton. Was that why they needed to be careful? “He’s fine, worry wart,” she teased. Suddenly something dawned on me.

“If you’re here,” I said, panic in my voice, “is Aaron sitting with the twins, alone?” She laughed.

“I suppose we should save them, shouldn’t we?” She said standing up and we walked out of the room and down to the main parlor. Aaron was sitting opposite Lady Athena who was glaring daggers at him. I wonder what he said? Sir Tristan was standing, leaning again a window frame, his golden hair looking almost shimmery in the sunlight. Olivia cleared her throat and all three of them looked at us.

“Hello, Mother,” Aaron said brightly and jumped up and kissed her on the cheek. “How was your journey?”

“The journey was fine,” she said. “Lady Athena, Sir Tristan, this is Annalise, Princess of Cammadan.”

“Princess,” Tristan walked and knelt in front of me. My face turned bright red, his eyes looked so big and green and he looked deadly sincere. “I pledge my life and my sword to you.” I swallowed. I wanted to cry. What an awful thought!

“Oh for heaven’s sake Tristan,” Athena said and walked over, “stand up, you’re making everyone uncomfortable.” She smiled at me. “You look more like a Princess now than you did outside.” Tristan had stood up now, and was still looking very intensely at me. “Countess, I think we should have tea. Tea always makes this kind of thing much less awkward, don’t you think?”

“Whiskey can help too,” Aaron pointed out. I giggled. I also dreaded the next time Aaron and I were alone. He’s never going stop teasing me about a knight pledging his life to me in the parlor.

“I think just the tea for now,” I said softly and sat down next to him. “You’ll have to excuse me, I’m a little caught off guard.”

“You’re caught of guard?” Lady Athena laughed. “Gods, I’ve thought you were dead for a decade!”

“Athena had little faith in your return,” Sir Tristan said softly, his eyes never leaving mine. “I always knew you’d be back.” Can he see me blushing? I hope not. She shrugged. I liked her almost immediately. I liked her honesty. We all sat quietly for a while until a page came in and handed a note to Olivia.

“Lisette,” she said, “were you supposed to be somewhere today?” I gasped.

“Goddess,” I said and ran out the door. I quickly padded into the woods, down a well cleared path. I reached a small hut in a clearing.

“Late as usual, Lisette,” an older man in a green robe was sitting with his legs crossed levitating slightly. Mastero Benjamin Anselm has been teaching me magic for as long as I can remember.

“I apologize, Mastero, it couldn’t be helped,” I said, he opened his eyes and leveled back onto the ground landing with a thud. “You see, Olivia came back today, and she brought Sir Tristan and Lady Athena Dugarry with her, and I had to get changed and then we had tea and you see,”

“You forgot,” he raised an eyebrow. I smiled at him. “You’re worse than even your father was. He thought charm and excuses would get him through his responsibilities as well.” I nodded.

“I am sorry,” I said. But I can’t help feeling proud when Anselm compares me to my father.

“So the twins have come then,” he said. I nodded. “I liked their mother. Alexia was a fine woman.” I nodded. “You’ll be going to Dovetail.”

“Not until my birthday,” I said. “Caleb promised.” He smirked.

“Your trust in The Count’s promises is a credit to you,” he snorted. “You asked to see me, before you forgot.”

“I had a Dream,” I whispered, “the same as it usually is, but my cousin Marina was with Brayton.” He nodded. “She was his queen, I think, and then she tried to kill me.”

“How?” He asked. I moved my hand to my throat. “She choked you?”

“Yes, but she wasn’t physically doing it,” I said softly.

“Well, I knew the girl has the sight, but I don’t know more,” he shook his head. “But we’d best teach you to block psychic attacks physically.” I nodded and followed him into the hut.

“Mastero,” I said softly, “the dreams, can’t we stop them?” He looked at me.

“Stop them?” He asked. I nodded. “Whatever for?” I sighed. “They may provide vital information, Lisette.”

“They’re so miserable though,” I said, “and when I have one I can’t ever get back to sleep again.” He nodded.

“Anton hated the dreams too,” he sighed, “there was a drought I used to mix him, when he was very small, I’ll see if I can scrounge up the ingredients.” I nodded, “You don’t have a lesson in you today, do you?”

“I can try,” I said. He smiled.

“Off with you,” he said, “give the countess my best. Tell her I’d like to inspect the twins if it’ll be convenient.” I nodded and headed back to the manor.