Testing

Marina

It was dusk the next day, when I was sitting with Nika, Annalise and Evan in Raymond’s lab, to test a shadow against his new technique. Nika unwound her scarf a little and pressed her hands together.

“Are you two ready?” She looked at me. We nodded. If she lost control of the shadow, we’d have to harness it. Annalise picked up the block of obsidian and filled it with light and Nika’s pulled her hands apart and a shrieking shadow appeared. I flinched and Evan put his arm around me.

I’m grateful for him and his steady presence right now. I’ve never gotten used to shadows. Every single time we face one, I shudder, and right now hearing it’s voice hissing in my mind, it’s taking all my strength to not scream.

He’s coming for you, My Lady. His patience wears thin. I look forward to watching him bind you.

Annalise carefully pressed the brick into the shadow and it shrieked and broke up, Nika collapsed and looked pale, I ran to her and cupped her face.

“What did it say, my love?” I whispered. She looked at her.

“I betrayed her, abandoned them,” she sniffed. “The Dark Lady will make me pay for my arrogance.” I pressed my forehead to hers. “You?”

“He’s coming for me,” I whispered, “the shadows long for my binding.” She nodded and I kissed her. “You betrayed no one.”

“I would die before I let him take you,” she whispered. I nodded. I loved her so much. I would have died without her these past few years, I’m sure of it.

“Glad you’re both alright,” I turned hearing the singsong laugh in Annalise’s voice and then saw the beam of pride on Raymond’s face, “but more importantly, it worked!”

“It did,” Nika said, standing up. “It didn’t take too much out of you?” Annalise shook her head. “That’s good. When Athena gets here we should discuss weapon design.”

“Absolutely,” Raymond said. “But I think you two need to go lie down.” I nodded.

“Come on,” Evan said putting his hand gently on my shoulder. “I don’t think you should try to get back to the palace.” We walked carefully back to their little house and settled on a bed in their spare room.

I slept for a while in Nika’s arms, and found myself struck into a Dream. I shouldn’t have been surprised after dealing with magic all evening, but it’s still always jarring.

I was running through the black marble palace of Amina. I knew it as well as Dovetail now. I heard the laugh, Brayton’s cold, detached laugh.

Then I found a mirror and saw myself, dressed in white and vieled, a bride. I closed my eyes and opened them to Brayton behind me, his hands around my waist.

“Oh sweet one,” he whispered in my ear, “you’ll be mine so soon.” I woke with a start, and looked at Nika, glad I hadn’t woken her. I stood up and walked out into another room, where Evan was sitting with a book, and he smiled at me.

“A Dream?” He asked closing it. I nodded. “I felt the table rattle. I assumed it was one of you.” I laughed and sat down.

“It might be all of us,” I admitted, he poured me a glass of the wine he was drinking. “Thank you,” he looked at me.

“I’m worried about him,” he said softly. I nodded and took his hand. “Rina, I mean it. Not hearing from Karina or Lefty, his sister just repeating herself.”

“I know,” I said quietly, “but he’s working so hard, he’ll take vow soon.” Evan laughed.

“Yes, any day now,” he shook his head. “My father sent instructions for my council voting, I’m supposed to fight against Calla.” I bit my bottom lip.

“Does he have an alternative?” I asked. He sighed and pointed to himself. “Goddess.”

“Well, I’m also supposed to marry you, obviously, solidifying both of our claims,” he laughed darkly. “Are you interested? I don’t know how Raymond and Nika would feel, but I imagine the wedding itself would be fun.” I laughed and sipped my wine.

“Oh it would be very grand,” I nodded. “Raymond would perform it, I assume.” Evan nodded.

“If not the Queen herself,” he laughed. I smiled. “Of course, I imagine you’d get halfway through your vows and Damian Lestoff would simply appear, powered by pure anger.” I smiled.

“He would not be thrilled,” I shrugged, “but he’d prefer you to others, at least he’d still feel he could be my lover then.” He laughed. “If your father’s whole plan hinges on our marriage, I’m even less worried than I was before.”

“Mm,” Evan smiled. “He is predictable, and underwhelming. I think Prior being made consort is his backup.” I snorted.

“It’s more likely than us marrying, but not by much,” I sighed. “How does Prior feel about it?” Evan sighed.

“My cousin adores Annalise,” Evan admitted, “but if he has any hopes for the future, he keeps them to himself.” I nodded. “I’m worried about Raymond.” I sighed.

“I know,” I said, “I am too. And he’s worried about me, and Nika’s worried about you, and it goes around and around.”

“The wheel turns,” Evan nodded. I smiled at him. “The Border and Westran will be interesting.” I grinned.

“They usually are,” I said.

Never Tired

Athena

I’m very lucky that my mother and sister in law are good hostesses, because no matter how hard I try, how many times I watch Olivia run even the smallest of gatherings, I’m not good at it. There are plenty of other things about being Countess I’m very good at.

But hostessing is just not one of them. And tonight is worse because Carolina is willfully ignoring William, who had staring at his drink like it might offer an escape, and then left quickly after dinner. It’s so unlike her.

Tristan standing with his hand on Carolina’s lower back. I looked at Aaron who shook his head at me.

“What is it?” I whispered.

“I’m not sure yet,” he admitted, “but it’s not good.” I sighed. “I had a letter from Harran today. He sent one for you too.”

“I read it,” I smiled. “I’m excited to see him.” He smiled at me. “I was wondering if we’d bring Calla?”

“Bring her where?” Caro settling in next to me. Tristan in a chair nearby. Something was wrong

“To the border,” I explained. “I don’t know if it’s safe.” Caro smiled at me.

“I think she can handle it,” Tristan smiled. “I wrote to Lotte, we ought to get her a pony.”

“She’s three,” I said. He shrugged. “You’ll spoil her.”

“She’s going to be a Countess,” Aaron laughed, “possibly even a queen, I don’t think she can be spoiled.”

“Don’t be silly,” Olivia settled in, “you complained plenty that we spoiled Lisette.” Aaron laughed. “She should learn to ride though, she loves horses so much.”

“We were five on ponies, Thena,” Tristan said. I glared at him.

“Perhaps I want Calla’s childhood to be different from ours,” I said. Carolina looked at me. “That still leaves two years anyway, but you’re right about talking to Lotte and Drea about it.” We talked for a little longer, some about going to The Border and then Tristan’s plans with the queen in Westran after.

“Will Marina be with you?” I said. Tristan shrugged.

“I suppose so,” he said, “I know Nika will be and I can’t imagine they want to separate.”

“They’re separate more often than their together,” Aaron said, “I think it suits them, honestly.” He was looking at Caro.

“I’m sure it does,” she said, meeting his gaze. “They’re both so busy.” Tristan looked at me.

“Of course,” Aaron said. He seemed angry with her, I wish I could figure out why.

“I’m afraid I have to ask you all to leave,” I said abruptly. Olivia stared at me. “My stomach is still often unsettled, with the baby.”

“Of course,” Tristan smiled and kissed me on the cheek and then Olivia. I embraced Caro and we made our way up to bed.

What is going on with you a Caro?” I asked Aaron as we slid into bed.

“I think something is happen with her and William,” he said. “She was incredibly upset this afternoon leaving the inn, and then he seemed on a another planet.” I laughed.

“Well, yes, he’s in love with her, he has been for years,” I shrugged. He stared at me. “Oh, don’t look at me like that. You must have seen it.”

“I really didn’t,” he muttered. “She isn’t,” he exhaled, “it’s not mutual?”

“I don’t think so,” I said, “but she is often lonely. And I know that she was furious when she found out about Tristan and Marina.”

“What about Tristan and Marina?” Aaron said. I sighed. “I mean beyond the usual, stare at one another intensely and make everyone uncomfortable thing that the two of them do occasionally.”

“Before their wedding, Tristan went to her to comfort her about Lefty and they slept together,” I said. “I think Caro found about maybe a year later? She almost left.”

“And you think she was with William out of revenge?” He frowned. “That doesn’t sound like her.”

“No,” I said softly, “I think that she’s been very unhappy recently, and you know what he can be like. If something happened, I’m sure he’s not making it easy for her to step away.” He frowned. “Love,” I rested my hand on his chest. “What are you thinking?”

“I’m thinking that it is bizarre that William and Tristan like the same women, every time, nearly without fail,” he muttered, “with Lisette and Marina I could have chalked it up to their similarities, but Caro too?” I laughed. He kissed me. “Were you really not feeling well?”

“No more than is normal,” I assured him. “I’ve been having trouble keeping richer food down, but that’s why I kept it simple tonight.” He nodded and he kissed me. I exhaled.

“Are you worried about Calla?” He asked. I bit my bottom lip.

“A little,” I admitted. “Lisette hasn’t declared she’s the heir, Aaron, and she’s no nearer children of her own. Which means Calla doesn’t have a place in Dovetail. She belongs here.”

“I know,” he said, “but I always resented my parents leaving me behind, and there’s no reason for us to leave her.” I smiled. “Marina said Council will vote on her being the heir this session.” I nodded. “There’s of course a third option, beyond the guard and being Lisette’s heir.”

“Don’t even tease,” I groaned, “she’s welcome to join the guild when she gets older, but handing her over now would please my grandfather far too much.” He laughed. “I want him to die wondering if Tristan and I will ever come back.”

“That may be the most terrifying thing I’ve ever heard you say,” he laughed and kissed me. I smiled and pulled close. “And that includes every time you offhand talked about cutting off my appendages when we first met.” I giggled. He kissed me.

“I’ve grown rather fond of those appendages,” I whispered. He smirked and rolled on top of me. “Aaron,” I whispered.

“Yes, love,” he said and kissed me, pulling my shift over my head.

“Don’t stop,” I whispered. He nodded, he kissed my neck and I wrapped my legs around him. I arched into him as he pressed into me. We moved with each other, I never got tired of how he felt in me.

We finished and I fell back against the pillows. Aaron curled up behind me and snuggled close, burying his face in my hair.

“Thena,” he whispered, “what are you thinking about?” I smiled.

“I’m barely thinking at all yet,” I said, “but I suppose I’m wondering if when I’m massive with this baby you’ll still want me.”

“I wanted you when you had Calla,” he laughed.

“Mmm,” I sighed, “yes, but maybe you’ve changed in three years.” He kissed me.

“I promise to still want you,” he smiled. I laughed. “Sleep well, Countess.” Every night for four years he’d whispered this in my ear. I would never ever get tired of it.

Thinking Politically

Annalise

“And if Your Majesty would consider it,” Liesel Norvine was sitting next to me, “I know it’s difficult with the trip to Westran, but Dorin,” I nodded at her. “Mama is concerned.”

“Of course,” I sighed, “is she feeling better?”

“A little,” Liesel shrugged, “she’s frustrated to be missing Council, I’m not sure she trusts me yet.” I laughed.

“I think she just misses lecturing me,” I grinned. “I even miss the lectures.” Liesel laughed.

“You may be right about that,” she said. “Have you heard from the others?” I shrugged.

“Lord Evan is sitting for his father, Count Aaron leaves in a few days I believe, Marina is here,” I said, “we can convene soon. Is something wrong?”

“No,” she said, “just impatient, I guess.” I nodded. “Evan’s sitting for Wyatt, not Captain Chastain?” I glanced down the table at Evan and Prior. “I’m surprised.” I glanced sharply at her. “Given their own family strife I mean,” she sipped her drink, “obviously.” I shook my head. She took after her mother, sharp tongued and observant.

“I haven’t, and won’t give Wyatt cover to marginalize Evan,” I said, “unless Evan asks for it.” We’d discussed that. His disinheritance would give him a chance to become a Mastero, to go wherever Raymond decided to settle.

I’d hate to lose him on council though.

As dinner finished some musicians began playing and I got up from my seat and walked out onto the terrace. I glanced, hoping to catch Prior’s eye.

“I think I’m a disappointment,” Nika teased coming beside me. I laughed.

“Never,” I shook my head. “If only because tonight was the first time I saw Marina smile in a month.” She nodded. “Do you have news for me, Lady Nika?”

“Only to tell you that your arrival at the border and in Westran is highly anticipated,” she smirked, “my sister is beyond honored at your acceptance of her invitation.” I snorted.

“I’m sure she is,” I mumbled.

“I refuse to feel sorry for you,” Nika shook her head, “you rebuffed him enough times, he was bound to finally turn his head.” I sighed. She wasn’t wrong. For a year or so, Harran and I carried on as if nothing had changed.

Then he asked me to marry him.

Now he was marrying Brea. It was my own fault. Then I couldn’t have seen it, I was still so sure Eric would be back.

“Have you seen anything interesting?” I asked. Nika shrugged.

“No,” she sighed, “nothing new at least. The Dark Lady is quiet. Shadows gather and then they disperse. I see nothing of their king.” I nodded. “It’s as if he disappeared entirely.”

“That’s not possible,” I said. She looked at me.

“No, it is not,” she said, “he’s somewhere, but he’s hiding too well.” I looked at her. “I know Marina is unhappy, I do my best.”

“You know that has nothing to do with you,” I said. Nika shrugged. “Nika, she loves you.”

“Yes,” Nika sighed. “She does. But like anyone you love, Annalise, it won’t be enough for her.” I stared ahead at the mountain.

“Sometimes I think you see too much,” I mumbled. She laughed. “Did Raymond show you the obsidian?” She shook her head.

“Rina told me about it,” she said, “I’m going tomorrow to test it against shadow.” I closed my eyes. “It would be a powerful weapon. And maybe a way to bind without destroying to question them, or even restore their humanity.”

“I hadn’t considered that,” I mumbled. She sighed.

“I consider it every time I watch one shatter,” she whispered, “each shadow was once a person, a soul, corrupted by Amina’s false promises.” She looked down. “It’s my honor to help you, you know that, but it’s not what I’m supposed to do. I’m supposed to settle the souls of the dead, I’m supposed to mind my people,” I nodded.

“I know,” I said, “and I want to get you back to that, Nika.” She nodded. “Your sister chose not to accept my hospitality this time?” Nika snorted.

“My sister,” Nika sighed. “No, I seriously doubt she’ll come to Dovetail again.” I nodded. That was probably for the best. My relationship with Brea could be described as cold at best.

“Of course,” I said, “please let me know when you all plan the test, I’d like to be there.” She nodded and I walked back inside.

I’d done my best to emulate the more casual summer court in Dovetail too, the problem is that the palace isn’t really set up for it the same way as Brightcoast. It was autumn now, and I longed for summer. I looked over at Marina, who looked better than she had that morning, standing talking to Raymond and Evan, but she was still too pale.

“Your Majesty,” Prior appeared at my side and bowed. I smiled at him.

“Captain Chastain,” I said, offering my hand and he kissed it. “Did you speak to your cousin?”

“I did,” he nodded, “and yours.” I smiled softly. “Anya thinks you should take your uncles seat on council.”

“An honor I could do without,” he snorted. “Sometimes I think Evan and I are fighting each other to not take on those responsibilities, rather than who has to.” His eyes moved down me. “I forget sometimes that for years I only saw you like this.”

“Did you think about me much, then?” I asked as we moved into the hallways and down the stairs. He shook his head.

“I thought about you all of the time,” he said, “That you were beautiful, and mysterious.” He took my waist and pulled me close. “And my uncle hated you,” I giggled. “And I used to hope one day you’d even know my name, let alone call it out the way you do.” He kissed me. I wrapped my arms around his neck. “And that was just being here, when you were with Tristan,” I looked at him. “If I’d seen you in Brightcoast, I might have actually lost my mind.”

“What do you want?” I asked gently. “From me, from this?” He pressed his forehead to mine.

“I want you,” he said softly. “I expect nothing else.” I nodded. “Annalise, I mean it, I know what this is,” I pulled away.

“I can’t put off marriage forever,” I sighed. “Aaron reminds me every time I see him.”

“Mm hm,” he nodded and we leaned against a wall.

“Politically,” I said, “I could do worse than you.” He laughed.

“You could do better,” he pointed out, “Otto over in Failan would take you. One of Harran’s brothers, one of the Rastani princes.” I shrugged.

“Council seems to want someone Cammadie,” I said. He laughed. “They were willing to stomach Eric or Harran, I think, but now,” I shook my head.

“Are you proposing?” He asked.

“No,” I said, “no, just thinking out loud.” He nodded. “If I were, what would you say?”

“I’m at your command,” he whispered and kissed me, “I’d refuse you nothing.” I smiled.

The Mistake

Carolina

I walked into the inn in the village and the girl behind the bar nodded to me and motioned her head to William’s office.

“Hello Lady Dugarry,” he grinned. I smiled and sat down as he gestured to a couch. “I was expecting you earlier.” I frowned at him.

“Sir Tristan arrived home,” I explained arranging my skirts, “he had,” I swallowed, “other plans,” he smirked at me. “Don’t look at me like that.”

“I’m not looking at you any way in particular,” he said as the girl walked in with a tea tray, “thank you Izzie.”

“You’re welcome,” she said and bounced a curtsey to me, “My Lady.” I nodded at her, and she shut the door behind her.

“You are looking at me, and you can’t,” I mumbled. He stood up and came next to me. “Don’t,” I said, “my husband is back, and we’re,” I looked down.

“Caro,” he mumbled, “I don’t want to complicate your life.” I nodded.

“Then don’t,” I said, standing up and looking out the window. He stood up and kissed my neck, “William,” I mumbled.

“Do you love him?” He whispered.

“What kind of question is that?” I turned around. “He’s my husband.”

“I’m aware he’s your husband,” he said, “that wasn’t what I asked.” I frowned at him.

“I do, yes,” I said. “And it’s awfully presumptive of you to think I love you.” He smiled.

“I never thought for a moment that you loved me,” he said. “But I know you want me.”

“No” I said sharply. “You’re the one who keeps bringing it up.” It shouldn’t have gone further than this, his teasing, a few kisses, glances we hope no one sees. But there was that one night, which I know he’s thinking of now.

“You’re the one who came to me,” he whispered softly, “lonely and wanting.” I swallowed. “I wonder sometimes if you told him, and that’s why he hates me so much.”

“He hates you because you didn’t recognize Brayton, he has no idea about us,” I whispered. He nodded. “I wouldn’t hurt him like that.”

“He did,” he whispered. I closed my eyes.

“That was different,” I said as he kissed my knuckles. “William,” I said softly. “Please?” He nodded and stepped back, “I just wanted to,” I exhaled.

“You wanted to tell me Tristan was home, which I already knew,” he said, “and see if I had any news.” I nodded. “I have no news for you my lady.” I swallowed and pulled my shawl around me.

“Good, then,” I said softly, and walked out. I frowned and exhaled. I shouldn’t have gone to him that night. But I thought that I wanted something, anything but what I was feeling, so alone and lost. That night, sobbing in his arms, taking comfort in his touch, and kisses, felt horribly wrong now that Tristan was back.

“Oh, Caro,” Aaron was walking down the lane when I saw him. I dipped into a curtsey. “I didn’t expect to see you about.”

“Your Grace,” I said. He laughed. “Are you going to my house?” He smiled.

“Not just yet,” he shook his head. “I’m giving the twins a wide berth.” I laughed. He glanced at the inn. “And I’m supposed to invite William to dinner.”

“Oh,” I said softly, “well, that should make for an entertaining evening.” Aaron looked at me. I wonder sometimes how much he knows. He knows so many things that are impossible to know.

“Caro, I,” he sighed, “I wonder if maybe you ought to have gone to Dorin these past few months.” I laughed.

“If I’d been invited I’d have gone, I can assure you,” I said gently. “Unfortunately my in laws are not quite at the point where they wish to completely alienate my father, as much as my sister seems to wish it.” Aaron nodded. “Dovetail will make a nice change.” He lifted one shoulder.

“It always does,” he said. “The Queen is nervous about council convening.” I nodded. “Did anything happen?”

“No,” I said quietly. I was reporting and reassuring him, I realized. He nodded. “I don’t want,” I exhaled.

“You don’t have to say anything,” he said. “I know none of this has been easy for you,” he looked down, “but don’t,” I rested my hand on his elbow.

“Aaron,” I said, “I swear, there’s nothing to tell.” He nodded. “But, thank you.”

“Of course,” he said softly. “I’ll see you tonight.” I smiled. He smiled back. I found my way home, Tristan was back at his desk and I slid my hands down his chest. He closed his eyes and exhaled.

“How was your visit?” Tristan asked gently.

“Fine,” I said, “I saw Aaron. Are Athena and Calla gone?”

“Mm hm,” he said. “She’s having another baby.” I closed my eyes.

“I see,” I whispered. “That’s good.” He looked up at me. “It is! It’s wonderful news. Tristan,” I said, my voice breaking.

“Yes, love,” he said.

“Please don’t ever stay away so long again,” I mumbled, curling into his lap. He nodded and cradled me to him.

“I’ll try my best,” he whispered. “What’s happened? You were so determined this morning.”

“It doesn’t matter.” I mumbled. “It only matters that you’re home and you wanted me.” He lifted my chin.

“I’ll always want you,” he said softly. “Did he upset you? I can kill him.” I laughed. “I’ve wanted to kill William Santino for five years, Caro, I could muster the impulse to do it quite easily.” I liked this old joke of ours. He’d threatened Andrei the same, and I knew his antipathy towards William had little to do with me, but it still felt nice.

“Hush,” I mumbled and kissed him. “Are you terribly disappointed that Athena and Aaron will have another child, and we still have none?”

“Hmm,” he whispered and lifted me onto the desk and I giggled, “I was, but I suppose I will have to renew my resolve to use this time we have together.” I smiled and spread my legs for him. I’d married a good man, who even if he hadn’t loved me then, did now, and wanted me, wanted me to have his child.

Cocktails In Cammadan: The Viscount And The Chieftan

Aaron Pantona is infuriating. Harranof The Border Tribe is congenial. (Also their names rhyme!) One night, a long time ago, Harran gave Aaron a bottle of whiskey and they got very drunk. Aaron’s been hooked on the stuff ever since.

Pantona grows lemons (as previously discussed.) If ONLY, there was a drink that combined whiskey and lemons!

Enter The Whiskey Sour. Usually made with Bourbon, I prefer it with Irish Whiskey, because I don’t like Bourbon at all and I love Irish Whiskey.

The Actual Drink

2 oz Irish Whiskey
1 oz Lemon Juice
1/2 oz Simple Syrup
1/2 oz Egg White

Add ingredients to shaker and shake dry (without ice) for about 30 seconds. Then add ice and shake until chilled. Strain into a coupe glass

Drink in good humor and deal with it that the fourteen year old girl can hold her liquor even when you can’t.

University

Marina

Growing up, I’d been a little afraid of The University in Dovetail. It stood empty, save for a few Black Guards coming and going. I was barred from getting too close, for once an order from my father rather than Brayton.

Since Annalise reopened it, I still keep my distance because I’d spend every possible moment there if I could. The Masteros that survived have done an incredible job bringing the place back to life, and it’s filling daily with eager students from all over the country, who want to learn to harness the odd talents that for most of their lives they had to pretend didn’t exist.

Raymond has been flourishing and is going to be finishing his studies and becoming a Mastero soon. I’m absurdly proud of him, and the life he’s built with Evan Allred, who also studies, but as his father’s heir cannot take Mastero vows.

“Marina!” Raymond said as I walked into his lab, a large sunny room that we’d designed to be as close to a sea base as possible. “I was wondering what took you so long.”

“I’m sorry,” I said, “I didn’t realize it was urgent.” He rolled his eyes. “Nika’s here.”

“Ah,” he nodded. “Understood, Prior showed up today too, so you and Annalise will both be useless.” I stuck out my tongue. “Here,” he shoved a large orb into my hands. It was smooth and dark. “Hold that.”

“Raymond,” I said, “what is this?”

“It’s obsidian,” he muttered, “Tristan brought some last time they were in Failan because I asked for it. I think it will help.” I raised my eyebrows, “fill the pores with light, if you please.” I exhaled and shot my power through the porous stone. “OK,” he mumbled and swept a small cloud of smoke around it, but it wouldn’t settle on the stone.

“Goddess,” I whispered. “Raymond, that’s incredible. Do you know if it will work with shadow?” He shrugged.

“I can’t conjure shadows,” he pointed out, “maybe Nika can help with that test? But I think so.”

“Obsidian weapons,” I mumbled, “wielded by soldiers with gifts, Athena is going to kiss you.” He laughed.

“Or even rangers where one partner has a gift and the other doesn’t,” he shrugged. “Or if I can figure out charging.” I laughed. “How are you?”

“I’m fine,” I said, repeating what I’d said to Annalise, to Nika, but Raymond knew better and frowned.

“I haven’t heard from them either and it’s worrying,” he muttered. “I tried writing to my sister, but it was just more platitudes about how until I am freed from my unfair holding, they can’t risk Eric’s safety and blah blah blah,” he frowned. “Sometimes I think I should go back, bring Evan, live openly. They couldn’t really stop me, not anymore.”

“No,” I said, “they couldn’t, but we’d miss you.” He smiled. “We’re having a dinner when everyone arrives nothing formal.” He groaned.

“What did you say to him?” Evan walked in. I laughed at him. “He usually only makes that noise when someone tries to come into the house.”

“You have to come to a dinner at the palace,” I raised my eyebrows.

“Oh, well he can survive that,” Evan laughed and rested his head on Raymond’s shoulder.

“I can’t,” Raymond mumbled.

“You will,” I said. “Also, you’re a genius.” He grinned at me. “Raymond, I,” I swallowed, “you’d tell me, wouldn’t you if something happened,” I exhaled, “I mean, if you knew he wasn’t alright?”

“Oh Rina,” Evan said softly, I was trembling and swallowed the tears in my throat. “I’m sure he’s alright.” He hugged me tightly. “Raymond, reassure her!” Raymond looked at me.

“I wouldn’t keep it from you,” he said gently. “My best guess is they’re in Rastan, honestly, with the news of the king’s health failing, Eric would want Karina and Kristoff’s engagement settled, and Katrin basically serves Karina the same way Lefty does, well did Eric.” I nodded.

“I’m sorry, I,” I swallowed, “I’ve been so worried and today Lisette was asking, and then Nika and, I can’t,” I swallowed, “I feel like I can’t breathe anymore.”

“I know,” he whispered, “it’s alright, it’s going to be alright.” I swallowed. “You should go home.” I frowned. “I mean it, you’ve been landlocked too long, I think you need the sea.”

“I can’t,” I hiccupped, “We have to go to Westran, for Brea and Harran’s wedding.” Evan frowned.

“I’m sure you can be excused from that,” Evan said. “If you need to be home.”

“I’m sure I can’t miss it,” I said, “it would be very insulting to the tribes, and the Witches in particular, and Nika’s whole family.” I wiped my nose. “I’ll be alright.” I kissed him on the cheek. “You ought to come tonight though, to see your cousin.”

“I seriously doubt Prior has any interest in speaking to me, but I’d like to see Nika, so I’ll come,” I kissed him on the cheek. Raymond looked at me. “He’ll come too.” I laughed.

Cocktails In Cammadan: Yellow Roses

Yellow Roses

Carolina DuKarras starts falling in love with Tristan Dugarry when to thank her for dancing with him his first night in Dorin, he gives her a single yellow rose. She later becomes a spy. For this reason, I wanted to do something light, that played on The Vesper Martini, James Bond’s signature libation, shaken not stirred.

I subbed out a few liqueurs, including 007’s standard Lillet, (which I LOVE, but I didn’t want Caro just stealing Jame’s drink!) before landing on Saint Germaine, derived from Elderflower, a little sweeter, a little less subtle, and one of my all time favorites.

The Actual Drink

1/2 oz Saint Germaine
1 oz Vodka
2 oz Gin

Add liquor to shaker over ice. Shake (don’t stir!) until chill, and strain into a chilled martini glass.

Drink while quietly listening to the people around you and intuiting what that means for you and the people around you.

Cocktails In Cammadan: The Little Duchess

The Little Duchess

People call Marina Sanpierre “The Little Duchess” because of her youth and her size. She’s itty bitty. For her cocktail I wanted something a little bit unexpected, I wanted to use rum (which Lefty introduced her to) and something really refreshing, with a little bit of . And so, here’s a lightly modified mojito.

The Actual Drink

1 tsp sugar
About 5 mint leaves
2 1 inch squares of Watermelon
1 lime (juiced)
1 Shot Silver Rum
Sparkling Water (I like a carbonated water rather than a mineral for this type of drink, for a cleaner flavor)

Juice the lime into a glass, add the sugar, watermelon and mint leaves. Muddle until the sugar is well mixed and the liquid from the watermelon and mint have matched the lime juice. Add ice and rum, stir, and top with sparkling water.

Drink next to water if possible, follow your heart even when it hurts.

Prior

Annalise

I walked back through the tunnel from Marina’s office, to my apartment. It was a new door, to those rooms, built off of the ones to the Princess tower, which these days sat vacant more often than not. It’s still Olivia’s when she’s here, but she and Thomas are here less and less.

I understand. Pantona is safe and happy and full of life. Here it’s tedious and quiet and it feels like the clocks have stopped. I miss them and I wish that I could be with them. And Aaron. And Athena and Tristan and Caro. In Pantona, watching Calla grow and explore. Seeing her climb the lemon trees, and run through the wheat and play by the lake.

But I’m here, stuck, waiting for Eric, who can’t come back. Won’t maybe. He could. It would cause all out war, but he could come.

“Well, someone looks preoccupied,” I smirked seeing Prior already lying on my bed, his boots tossed to the side.

“You are unbearably disrespectful Captain,” I smirked. He laughed. Prior Chastain was recruited not long after my coronation and rose through the ranks quickly. He joined Tristan’s Rangers and that was when we met.

He’s easy. I’ve had too little easy in my life.

“I apologize, Your Majesty,” he sighed. “Would you have preferred a great announcement and a lot of bowing?” I walked over and slid down beside him.

“Honestly?” I said and kissed him. “Yes, I wouldn’t mind it occasionally.”

“Noted,” he said and pulled me close. “I am supposed to debrief you.” I nodded solemnly. “We encountered four shadows, and stumbled into a briar nest. It was otherwise four months of staring at a blank desert horizon.”

“Tristan would give me more details,” I teased. Prior sighed.

“Add it to the list of the ways I am not as good a man as Tristan then,” he said and rolled me onto my back and I giggled. “He is however, in Pantona with his wife, so Your Majesty must settle for me.”

“Mm,” I sighed, “a pity, that.” We kissed. “You are early.”

“I know,” he said. “It was meant to be a surprise.” I laughed. “And I missed you.” I smiled and kissed him again. We undressed and he made love to me. Not the urgent hunger of a man starved of companionship for months, but the steady calm release of someone who knew what he was doing.

Not that I expected faithfulness for Prior. Or really anything from him, beyond pleasure and discretion.

“Why didn’t you go to Pantona?” I asked. He laughed.

“While I find your family and Tristan’s utterly charming, Annalise,” he smiled, “would you believe I prefer to actually see you?” I smiled. “The detour seemed unnecessary.” I kissed him. “We did spend a day with my Uncle,” I nodded and stood up. Wyatt Allred had brought his nephew to court to make up for his son’s shortcomings, to begin with. Evan’s shortcoming’s were entirely in his father’s mind of course, he’s a wonderful young man, and he and Raymond are exceedingly happy in their little house on the University Grounds.

“Is he coming back this year?” I raised my eyebrows. “The Council gets on splendidly without him, really.” He laughed.

“He will not thank Cornan,” he sighed. “He was considering pulling Evan’s tuition. I talked him out of that.” I smiled, “no, just the usual grumblings, that you’re distracted, we were better off with Brayton, that sort of thing.” I nodded.

“If that’s all,” I said and stood up. “I am distracted, but only a mad person wouldn’t be. I’m always pulled in ten directions.” He took my hand. “Prior,” I mumbled.

“It scares me,” he said, “he could,” I shook my head.

“Wyatt is a blowhard,” I said softly. “There is no real organizing force against me in Cammadan. We’d know.” He nodded. This wasn’t arrogance. Thanks to Carolina, largely, we knew where basically all the money in the kingdom moved. Even if the old men who didn’t like me were trying to organize, they had no money to raise an army. “Is he still threatening to disinherit Evan?”

“Yes,” Prior said, “will you still deny his requests?”

“Obviously,” I kissed him. “Thank you for this, I needed it.” He smiled.

“I live to serve,” he grinned. I rolled my eyes. “Annalise,” he said softly. “Be careful, please.” I kissed him.

“I’ve faced worse,” I whispered. He smiled. “Are you coming to Westran with us?” He sighed.

“You know that isn’t up to me,” he muttered. “It could be, if you’d promote me.” I laughed.

“Oh that would certainly go over well,” I said, “and no one will question the logic behind that decision at all.” He frowned. “I can’t promote you anyway, that isn’t how the Rangers are structured.” He sighed.

“Well then by taking up with you’ve I’ve made a disastrous career decision,” he mumbled, “Tristan will never forgive me for it.” I threaded my fingers through his.

“Don’t do that,” I mumbled. He looked at me. “It’s unfair to him.” He nodded. It’s unfair to me. But I didn’t say that out loud. I know what everyone thinks of me taking up with Prior. I just didn’t realize Prior was included in everyone, himself.

The Queen has taken another guard into her bed, another potential ally, not an appropriate choice for a consort. But at least he’s Cammadie. No one’s accused him of being a spy. So that’s nice.

Discontented

Carolina

I woke up with sunlight peaking through the curtains and pulled the covers over my head.

“Caro,” Tristan’s voice sing songed. I peaked back out. “Are you awake?”

“I am not,” I said firmly. He laughed and kissed me. “I’m sleeping, go away.” He kissed me again.

“But I’m home,” he said, sliding under the covers with me.

“You’ve been home for three days,” I reminded him, “and I’ve enjoyed it, but you’re rather tiring my love.” He smiled and kissed my neck.

“Ah,” he said, pulling my hips to him. “But I was in the wilderness for four months,” I giggled, “and the thought of tiring you out was the only thing keeping me sane.” I kissed him again.

“The only thing?” I said. He nodded. “Your mission didn’t come into your mind?” He sighed and kissed me.

“Tragically,” he shook his head, “you know I tend to be singularly focused, and this round it was, ‘I am going to go home as soon as possible and make my wife moan for three days straight.'” I laughed.

“Well Commander, you succeeded beautifully,” I kissed him. “But I ask for a slight reprieve.” He sighed. I kissed him. “Now, we can’t put off everything else we have to do.” He groaned as the door opened.

“Lady Dugarry,” our maid, Elsie smiled dropping a tray on the table, “Sir Tristan.”

“Thank you Elsie,” I said standing up and opening the curtains. Tristan pouted at me. “As you can see, Sir Tristan is behaving like a child this morning.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Elsie laughed. “Shall I send word to the Countess not to expect you, again?”

“You can send word to the Countess that she can hang in the village square for all I care,” Tristan grumbled, “as if my sister would attend a godsdamned dinner party after a four month ranging mission.” I kissed him gently.

“We can’t put them off again,” I said, “please tell the Countess we look forward to seeing her tonight.” Elsie nodded and left. “You know,” I said slipping back into bed and straddling him, “when Alex and Emily came through I bought several new gowns and I haven’t gotten to wear them at all.” He laughed at my pout.

“The gowns can hang along with my sister,” he said and flipped me onto my back. I groaned as he started touching me. “When we go to Dovetail, we’ll hardly have any time alone, here,” I whimpered, “I have you all to myself, just as I prefer it.”

“Oh Tristan,” I sighed. I’m weak. I know I should tell him no, that we’ve delayed long enough and we can’t spend another day simply making love.

But I’ve missed him too. Four months is the longest we’ve ever been apart. And his times out in Westran or east in Failor were getting longer.

“Tell me you like it,” he whispered in my ear.

“You know I do,” I teased and nibbled on his bottom lip. He smirked as he pressed into me. We always have this. The physical distance between us can become emotional, but in when we’re in bed, it’s the same as when we first met. We want each other and everything else doesn’t matter. “Tristan, oh gods,” I moaned, arching up into him. “I can’t, I’m going to,” I exhaled and clenched around him.

“Hang on a bit longer, sweet,” he said, “stay with me.” I nodded and cried out as we both finished. “I missed being with you so much, Caro,” he whispered. “Sometimes I thought I was Dreaming.” I smiled and kissed him.

“I felt that too,” I said softly, resting my hand on his chest. “We still have to go to the manor tonight. Athena’s likely to break down our door and then make Aaron evict us if we avoid it any longer.” He laughed.

“I don’t think he can evict us,” Tristan said, “the house was a part of our wedding contract. Unless someone in Dorin takes Andrei’s challenge seriously, he can’t get rid of us.” I barked out a laugh.

“Well, then we’re perfectly safe, since Alex has everyone in Dorin fully convinced that Andrei is out of his mind,” I said. “But we’d better not risk it.” He sighed and I kissed him. “Tristan,” I whispered, “please.”

I knew why he wanted to stay in bed, what he hoped it would lead to.

“Have you spoken to Marina about it?” He whispered. I nodded. “And?”

“Well, she said it will happen on the goddess’s timeline, not ours,” I slipped a robe on.

“Which is Marina for, be patient, the baby will come?” He asked. I shrugged.

“I think,” I kissed him, “it also means that even if we spend every moment we’re together having sex, only being together for a few days every few months, means we can’t count on anything.” He sighed and sat up. I straddled him and pressed my hands against his chest. He had so many scars now. There had been a few I’d always known, the one on his side from taking Dovetail, the small one on near his eyebrow, from a time Athena accidentally cut him as a child. But there were two on his right pectoral now, several on his back. Three on each thigh.

And I was never there for the healing, for his pain. I hated that, I wanted to be, so badly, but it was something he kept hidden away, like so many other parts of himself.

“You’re right,” he sighed. “But I know how badly you want it.” I smiled.

“I do,” I said softly. “But you’re home, and safe, and I can’t ask the gods for more than that,” he kissed me. “This one is new,” I said softly brushing his shoulder.

“Mm,” he nodded, “we walked into a briar nest, it was fine.” I nodded.

“Why didn’t Prior come here with you?” I asked. Tristan’s ranging partner sometimes came here. He frowned.

“He was in rather a hurry to get on to Dovetail,” he muttered. I frowned.

“Oh,” I said softly, “I hadn’t realized they were still,” he shrugged.

“She has to entertain herself somehow,” he sighed.

“Tristan,” I said quietly. Though that at least got him out of bed. I wanted to say something, but anything I’d say on the subject would sound hollow, jealous. She isn’t replacing you, no one could. I have to believe that. Annalise’s lovers have nothing to do with Tristan, because if they do, then what does our marriage mean? I know I can’t be what she was to him. I’d never even bothered to try.

“I’m sorry,” he said, “I know you didn’t mean,” I kissed him. “I’ll get dressed, we’ll walk into town, and then to the manor.” I nodded. “I brought some things for Calla.” I grinned.

“She’s missed you too, you know.” I said. “Annalise is considering giving her the circlet soon.” He looked at me.

“That’ll be sure to calm the Phanians down,” he said. I shrugged.

“Nothing else has,” I sighed, “we got some word that Lord Lestoff is rebuilding his launches, that’s good news, if the ferries start running.” He smirked.

“Any news from Brinecliff is good news,” he muttered. I shook my head.

“You don’t get to resent Annalise having Prior and Marina pining for Lieutenant Lestoff at the same time, love,” I teased. He laughed. “And us not having a child. It’s too much. Even you can’t sustain that level of brooding.”

“I’m very good at it though,” he grinned. I shook my head. “What is it you want to do today, besides dinner?”

“I have to go into town,” I said, he groaned. “I haven’t checked in in a few days, something may have happened.”

“I won’t speak to him,” he said.

“Oh that will be new a different,” I grinned. “You two are usually on such good terms.” He glared at me. “Tristan, he’s a useful contact. I can either do my job well, or I can ostracize William, it cannot be both.”

After I was inducted into the guard, it became abundantly clear that I was not a fighter. But Dowager Countess Olivia quickly observed how my merchant trained manners set people at ease, and how my contacts through Alex and Emily could keep the army up to date. So instead of a soldier I became a spy. I’m very very good at it.

Tristan hates it.

That is the least of our problems.