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.