Vision In Smoke

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.

The Farmgirl And The Merchant Boy

“I was thinking,” Tristan whispered, I lifted my chin from his chest, “about that afternoon, when we went into the village at Pantona, and met my cousins?” I laughed.

“I was furious,” I said softly, “Aaron was teasing me about being in love with you, and you were so rude to William,” he laughed.

“Athena was teasing me too,” he said, “and I wanted you so badly.” I looked at him. “I’m afraid, Lisette.” I sat up.

“Of the battle?” I whispered. He shook his head. “Of what, then?”

“Of you,” he said, I shrunk back. “You’re changed, and Marina and I,” I tucked my knees to my chest, hearing him say her name hurt. “Never mind.” I looked at him.

“I know,” I whispered, “but I can’t do this and be Lisette, I have to be the sword, after, maybe, I’ll be able to go back,” he kissed my forehead.

“Be the sword for them, for this,” he whispered, “but be Lisette with me.” I kissed him. “A farm girl and a merchant boy.”

“A farm girl took a merchant boy to a hillside,” I whispered. He laughed. “She pledged her love to him, and later it was revealed she was a queen and chosen by the gods for glory. The merchant boy took up a sword and followed her into the darkness.”

“What else could he do?” he whispered back, “when the queen pledged her love, she placed a spell on  him,” I laughed. “Will they come out of the darkness, do you think?”

“I hope so,” I whispered, “if it’s the kind of fairy tale that I loved best, they will.” He smiled and kissed me. “They’ll live happily ever after.”

“As you say,” he whispered. We fell asleep, whispering to one another.

I woke up in the morning and went to the armory, tent. Athena was already waiting, as was Aaron, I could see Dovetail below us in the valley and the army was gathered. Tristan was following behind me. Marina and I had already agreed that she would stay behind.

“Are you ready Princess,” Aaron grinned at me. I rolled my eyes at him. Caleb was standing with him too. I then ran and hugged them both.

“Where’s Olivia?” I asked Caleb. I wanted to see her.

“She begs your pardon,” he said softly, “but she can’t.” He looked in pain. I realized suddenly how very terrible today must be for her.

“Of course,” I said, I glanced at the army which would stand behind me. “And Marina, and Uncle Les?”

“Marina is with the other healers,” Aaron said, “preparing.” I nodded. A few guards brought the horses and we mounted, galloping quickly through the city. I was amazed by how quiet it was. Thomas’s evacuation had clearly worked. When we heard the first howl of shadows, we’d already reached the plaza in front of the palace.

“Duck,” Aaron yelled as one charged at me. I slashed it and jumped from horseback.

“Thomas,” I yelled, he grinned, spun his sword, “Caleb.” They both motioned to their squads and I approached the gates with Tristan and Athena and Aaron. We pushed the gates open and entered a courtyard, I saw the palace for the first time, in real life, and my heart caught in my chest.

“Lisette,” Aaron looked at me. I looked at him. “Your dreams?”

“Yes,” I said softly. We pressed carefully on when a host of shadows swirled around us. One lunged at me and Athena slashed it.

“Leave the dark one,” a hissing voice came from the center, “The Lord commands her surrvival.” I found what would likely be the eyes.

“Your lord does not command me,” I said, “and if he wants me, my companions pass as well.” The hissing started and I balled my fist, I prayed to the goddess and felt the power force a glow. The Shadows scattered and the doors of the palace creaked opened. I swallowed, knowing what would come next.

 

The March

I stood in the weapons tent, looking over what I was going to carry when we started moving. The tent parted and Caleb walked in. I locked eyes with him and he frowned.

“I don’t like this,” he said simply.

“I don’t care,” I shrugged. He sighed, and I looked at him. “Why?”

“You’re being rash,” he explained. “You can’t act without thinking things through anymore. This isn’t a game.”

“I’m aware,” I said simply. He nodded. “I knew about being the sword.”

“I assumed Anselm told you,” he shrugged, “it wasn’t for me to know or tell.” I pressed my hands against the table. “You aren’t angry with me then?”

“Not for that, no,” I whispered. He frowned. “How could you keep us apart?” He nodded. “Caleb, we could have helped each other. I could have learned,” I stopped.

“We didn’t want to,” he said softly, I scoffed. “Little One, look at me,” I stared at him in the eyes. “After your parents died, and then after Anne, Brayton wouldn’t alllow Les and Marina to leave the capital. Hell, he barely let them leave the palace, they couldn’t even live in the house the Brightcoast family usually did in the city.” I frowned. “Is there anything else?”

“No,” I muttered, “still, though.” He shook his head.

“You’re determined to march?” He asked. I nodded.

“I’m tired of waiting.” I said simply, “I know you’d prefer my birthday.” He shrugged.

“It isn’t up to me,” he said.  “You and Martin run the army, I go where you point.” I laughed.

“That won’t always be so,” I whispered. He frowned. “I’ll need you.”

“I’ll be there,” Caleb said softly, “but they’ll talk, you know. You don’t know court. They’ll say I run you. That can’t be.” I nodded. “Tell me Lisette, do you Dream, lately?”

“Yes,” I whispered. He nodded. “I see the Goddess, I see my parents, and,” I was quiet then. “It doesn’t matter, not right now.” He sighed. “Caleb, I swear, I’ll study every possible interpretation and legend around everything in every dream when we take the Capital, but I can’t focus on that now.”

“Alright,” he said. “Not Prince Eric then?” I frowned. “Will you send for him immediately, then?”

“I don’t think so,” I said, “I can’t, you’ve always said, I mean, the coronation, I suppose.” He shrugged. “Besides, not lately, anyway. Not for months.” He nodded.

“And the god?” He asked.

“No,” I whispered, “I’m chosen only of Rana, I think. Cornan needs another champion, but I don’t know who.” He nodded. “You don’t honor them.”

“No,” He admitted, “the gods are for others, my father taught me, those above us and below. We serve our family and our land, and that’s why we honor the ancestors and the soil.” I smiled. “You know this, you’re just being difficult little one.”

“Did you just come to provoke me and ask me about my dreams, then?” I asked. He shook his head.

“I’d like permission to send a healer to Davis,” he said. “He’s complaining of some ailment. I don’t see any sickness, but unless you want him to waste away.”

“Send Marina,” I said quietly. He nodded and bowed and left. He’s disappointed in me, and I know it. I’m being impatient and rash and he has to listen. I’m not Lisette, the orphan living under his roof anymore, and I think that will be as hard for him as it is for me.

“Your Highness,” Thomas said walking in after a few minutes. “You’re ready then?” I nodded. He rolled out a map and began to explain the last bits of the march to me. I smiled, knowingly. “There’s another thing.”

“Alright,” I said softly.

“When we enter the city,” he sighed, “there will be people, and there could be collateral damage.”

“I know,” I said, “but I don’t see how an evacuation could be managed.” He nodded. “You have a plan?”

“The Dumanis,” he explained. I wrinkled my brow.

“I won’t begin my rule in debt to Carland Dumanis,” I said. He smirked.

“Not Carland, but Trey might pass word along, if I asked him,” he said, “just whispers.”

“You would do that?” I asked. “It wouldn’t,” I sighed, “I know Thomas that,” he laughed.

“Years have cooled our parting, Highness,” he smiled. “Cool is the right term for it. And regardless of their father’s opinion, Tristan and Athena’s aunts and uncle have no love for Brayton. An oppressed populace is bad for bussiness.” I nodded.

“Alright then,” I said, that’s when Marina and Tristan burst in, Marina’s face a mask of fear, and Tristan flushed.

(Read what happened then here.)