We stood, side by side at the war table. His hands splayed out across the surface as he gestured to various positions. I kept my eyes trained on figures, but I could feel the warmth of his body. He was very distracting. His eyes sparked with excitement as he glanced up at his generals across the table. His lips curved in a cruel smile as they talked battle strategy. He ran his fingers through his hair and held the back of his neck, exposing his throat to me. He was so sinful. He turned his warm eyes on me and I was enchanted. His lips moved, but I heard no words, only saw the shape of them. I realized he was saying something. To me.

"Lyra," his voice suddenly broke through my thoughts, "Lyra." I blinked, shaking off the daze I had been in.

"Yes, Your Majesty?" I asked. A polite, practiced smile graced my lips. I turned this smile on all who ranked above me, even though they were few. I caught the amusement in the twitch of his lips. His look was all I needed to know. The king had asked me a question while I had been off thinking. He knew I had been distracted as well. I had served this king since his reign had begun twelve years ago. He knew my body language and my tells as much as I knew his. He had known I was distracted and yet he still had the audacity to ask me a question. My polite smile became a bit more strained when I remembered who was standing across from us. His generals stood, oblivious to the silent war going on between the king and I. Triston, though I dare not call him that in front of the generals or alone, had just embarrassed me in front of generals who had served beside my father, who would come to serve beside me. They needed to respect me and if I seemed like a distracted woman, which was what they expected, they would view me as less than my father.

I raised a brow in a silent challenge, daring him to condemn me to further humiliation. His warm honey hazel eyes settled on mine for what seemed like a lifetime. I forced myself to keep my eyes on his, not daring to let them travel to his lips which seemed to beckon me. They nearly cried out of their own accord saying 'Have me! I'm yours!' His eyes darkened for a fraction of a second, but it was as gone as soon as it had come, leaving me wondering if I had imagined it. I let out a slow breath through my nose to keep myself focused. For a moment, I thought he was going to say something else, but he turned his eyes to his generals. The pressure that I hadn't known was in my chest lifted as I turned to face the table. These moments I had with this king were becoming more frequent and I wasn't sure I would be able to control myself.

"I was asking you if you and your band of rogues could capture, not kill, the captains of this war camp? We need them for questioning." I immediately felt my emotions and feelings slide behind a door in my mind, sealing with a heavy thud. I slipped into my role as a leader of a group of men and women who relied on my skills to keep them safe and provide them their wealth. I followed his finger to the red flag placed squarely in the mountain range to the west. I knew the area. The camp probably sat comfortably in a valley. They had no escape routes if we swept in like a rising tide. I heard Triston's voice through my thoughts, "...the chain of command won't shift if Lyra captures the captains alive, soldiers will be running scared. So, you can sweep in with your troops after she reports that she has gotten them out." He turned those warm eyes back to me and I held his gaze for a moment, a breath, before settling my eyes on the four men across the table.

"I can do my job," I started, speaking to Triston, but I trained my eyes on the generals. My eyes lingered on each man before moving to the next, "but I need to be positive I can trust you and your soldiers to back me." Each man held his ground and the oldest, a stooped man in his fifties leaned over the table towards me.

"I served with both your fathers," he addressed the king and I. His voice, despite his appearance, was strong, "and I will serve alongside both of you." I felt pride and pain swell like twin birds in my chest. My father had gone too soon. But to hear the tone of reverence this general spoke in when referring to my father... He would have been happy to hear that. I gave him a single nod but I knew it conveyed everything I was feeling. If the time came, I would ask him about the battles he and my father fought in. But that was for another time. I turned my eyes to the king. He gave me a firm nod.

"When Lyra captures the captains, you will send your troops in full force and capture their food and their weapons supply. They will not get further than the pass." The tone of his voice was firm and commanding. Each general gave a single nod in confirmation. Satisfied, Triston crossed his arms. "You are dismissed." The generals each bowed before taking their leave.

The king turned to me now, the only one left in the room to encompass his attention. A chill ran down my spine. It sent waves of excitement down my limbs, causing me to shift my weight from foot to foot. I hated that he seemed so cool and collected while my blood skittered and danced in my veins. I bit my lip out of habit, needing something to do, but not wanting to move lest the tension be broken, but the silence suffocated me. I watched in horrified fascination as his eyes started a blazing hot path down my body. The temperature in the room went up ten degrees. I could feel my clothes being removed layer by layer with his eyes. My heart skyrocketed into my throat as his fingers trailed down my arm, coming to rest around the jewelry, the spoils of war, on my wrist. His touch felt like delicious fire on my skin. I wanted-needed more of it. His fingers toyed with the beads at my wrist. I heard a breath of mirth. It was barely a sound, an exhalation of breath, but I knew what it was. I pulled my wrist back sharply. The jangle of the bracelets sounded like a gunshot in the too quiet room. I looked up at the king in confusion. There was a smirk on his face. It wasn't much, a simple curve of his mouth upward, but I saw the glint in his eyes.

"Despite your reputation as a ruthless mercenary," he started, leaning against the war table. He crossed his arms and pulled his shoulders back, giving him that aloofness that a man always wore. But I could see in the flick of his eyes that he was not as calm as he wanted me to think, "you have been wise counsel for me over the last few years." I nearly gaped at the king, my jaw locking shut at the last possible moment. His looks. His touches. Had I read them all wrong? Had I been wrong to think his touches were more than a friend aiding a friend? Or that the fire and lust I had seen in his eyes was something else entirely? This was a massive blow to my mind. My mind froze for a few moments. To me, those few moments lasted a lifetime. I was always ahead of the game, always reading the people in a room. I always knew what was going to happen next, but Triston had put me on my ass like a child. I recovered quickly, taking a step away from him.

"Do not think I am doing this for your well-being," I rolled my eyes and turned away from him, grabbing a compass off the table. Despite this casual action, my heart slammed into my chest so hard I could feel it pounding against my ears. He had done this to me without even so much as a look. How had I come undone so easily now? I had resisted him before when we had worked together. But we had never worked this closely before, had we? No, we were never this close before. I had been in his court often and I had talked battle, but that had always been from the other side of the table. Now I stood side by side with the king because he enjoyed my counsel, my advice. I almost laughed at how ludicrous that sounded. I opened the instrument and started to walk it across the table like a bored child. I had to seem indifferent, lest the king see that he affected me so shockingly. "I simply want to make sure I am on the right side of this war and I come out clean once it is over." I had been called by several kingdoms for this war. Some were allies of Triston. Others were not. They all paid high, but Triston, knowing my crew and myself for over a dozen years, had been our first and only option.

"You are a mercenary first, are you not?" he conceded with an amused smile, "but that doesn't mean your counsel is any less wanted or needed. Stay in the castle while the war wages close to home. I will need your wisdom as enemy nations come to barter for their lives." There might have been amusement on his face, but his eyes told me a far different story. He didn't want me in the countryside where he couldn't protect me, where he couldn't see me. I was vulnerable to attack and inside the castle walls I was safe, I was close. I believed he trusted my counsel, but I knew, deep down, that he wanted me close- needed me to be near to him.

"Is that an order, Your Majesty?" I asked with a teasing smile, but as with him, I knew the mirth didn't reach my eyes. A small part of me longed for him to shatter his facade of royalty and tell me he needed me. Tell me that he couldn't be without me close. But I quickly shut that part out. It was dangerous to think that way about a king, especially this one. His fingers seemed to tighten at his sides, in restraint, as if he wanted to reach for me. But I knew it was a trick of the eyes.

"It is a friend asking for a friend," he murmured. The amusement was gone and that small part of me roared to life. He had in some way asked me to stay because he wanted me here. I swallowed, dropping my eyes to the war map. I couldn't hold his gaze any longer. The words that left my lips sounded breathless in my ears.

"Then prepare me and my crew lodgings. I have a feeling I'll be staying a while."

I stood on the balcony, dressed in a deep navy blue dress, overlooking the outlandish party that occurred below me. My men drank and laughed like brutes compared to the royalty they mingled with. My women led young nobles and soldiers out onto the floor to lure and capture. The few women I had among my crew were the slyest people I knew. They were my eyes and ears in every court. They fought with words and cunning in the courts, luring and trapping any noble who fell prey to their siren's call. These women were just as ruthless in court as they were on the battlefield. My fingers folded neatly on the railing as I watched my second pull a young noble into a dark alcove. Even though this dance was celebratory and fun, she still fell into her natural instincts. Using her dark hair and those ice blue eyes, she lured in men better than anyone else I knew. Her part in the mountain raid proved that.

The raid in the mountains had gone well. We managed to capture the captains with minimal effort. Their defenses had been weak. They had not expected us to even think about raiding so as soon as my second, Thea, had brought the first captain to his knees, the rest were soon complying all around the camp. They had come willingly, being the cowards they were. As soon as the captains were captured, the king swept in with his armies and the pass became ours. The king had rewarded me handsomely with his wealth and his attentions. His fingers had lingered far too long when he lead me to the medical tent. I had felt the burn of his eyes as I walked across the captured camp in nothing but leather pants and the tight corset that I wore under my leather armor. I knew I was driving him crazy. I could see it in the set of his shoulders as he stalked across the campground and in the way his eyes burned hungrily as I sat with my men and checked their wounds under their shirts.

I hadn't been much better.

As soon as we had finished the capture, I immediately sought him out. I had sat on the ridge and looked for his brilliant red amongst the muted russets and browns of his soldiers. He had been in the front of the fray. My heart had stopped in my chest, but I had banished that thought. He could defend himself. We sparred occasionally. He was a great warrior and an even better man. He defended his men with everything he was. That was one of the traits I admired the most about him. After he had left me in the medical tent, I had watched his firm ass all the way across the dirt field. Or when all the wounded had been patched up and we gathered around the makeshift war table, I had brushed my fingers across his arm to point to various places. The muscles in his arm had tightened under my touch. We set each other on fire.

But this fire, we could not burn together. My eyes darted to the host of this glorious party and the reason for our distance. Her gorgeous auburn hair flowed down the back of her shining emerald dress. The diamonds around her neck flashed outrageously and I had to the fight sneer that rose up in my throat. Adelaide had married Triston four years ago. Their marriage had been a political one though both claimed to love each other. I doubted it. Where Triston was heroic, Adelaide was deceitful. She was a viper living within Triston's court, feeding everybody lies to keep them in check. While Triston was the king, she was truly the dictator of the court. I hated her. Anger curled like a dangerous snake in my chest, constricting and growing until I felt I was going to suffocate from the emotion.

There was a touch on my elbow. I nearly jumped, but I didn't. I resisted the fear that had shattered the anger. I was a mercenary. I didn't get frightened, not easily. My thoughts had consumed me to the point of distraction. I needed to be on constant vigilance, no matter where I was. Triston and his devil of the queen would have to wait until I was alone and secure. I turned to the perpetrator to kindly tell him to fuck off when I saw who it was.

Triston stood behind me clad in dark pants and a silk shirt that hung open at the neck, not enough to be too revealing, but just enough to tease. I could see the hard planes of muscle. His tongue darted out to wet his lips and I was drawn to the motion as if it were the most interesting thing I had seen tonight, which it probably would be. His face was taut, but it wasn't with stress. The look of restraint (oh... oh... and that was longing, wasn't it?) that shone in those warm eyes of his held me to the spot. His hair was loose like somebody had been running their fingers through it and, if the tension in his shoulders was anything to go by, he had been the one to do it. I took all of him in the span of a moment.

"You look stressed," he raised a perfect brow, his eyes falling. I flushed, immediately assuming his eyes had fallen to the dip of cleavage I had dained to show tonight, but then I felt foolish. The flush of heat turned into embarrassment as I glanced down at what he was looking at. My fingers had tightened into whitened fists. I slackened my grip and watched color return into my hands.

"I'm just thinking," I mumbled, turning my face away from the king. I felt shame grow, feeling as if he could read my mind, but I quickly squashed the feeling. We were respected leaders, not teenagers with raging hormones.

"What are you thinking about?" He asked, moving to join my side at the balcony. I felt my eyes involuntarily fall to Adelaide as she twirled on the dance floor, her auburn hair flared out like a bright red fan in the light of the chandeliers. She was gorgeous. "You can tell me, Lyra," he insisted softly, leaning imperceptibly closer. I could feel the heat of his body against my side and I felt like drowning.

"It's nothing, your majesty," I gave him that same polite, practiced smile. His eyes settled on mine. The hard look in his eyes almost had me falling to his knees and confessing my sins, but I returned the hard look with just as much force, shoving my feelings aside.

"Lyra, you are my counsel and my friend," he reached his hand out to touch my elbow. His touch sent electricity through my veins. I noticed he grabbed the elbow facing away from the crowd, away from the prying eyes who were watching us down below. "Tell me, what is troubling you?"

"I-" the words nearly fell passed my parted lips. 'I want you. I want to feel your skin against mine. I want to touch you and cling to your body. I want to know what your lips taste like. I want to know how your lips feel against my skin.' I stared up at him, my face contorting with confusion and desperation and longing. I had been near this king, been near Triston, for twelve years. I had worked with this man. I had grown up at my father's knee and watched Triston practice with him. I had felt lust for this king before when we had been teenagers, sparring against and alongside each other. But I had never let it consume me. I had never let it build so much. This feeling... It wasn't something I was accustomed to when looking at my- the king.

His eyes searched my face expectantly, almost as if he too wanted the same thing I did. As if he wanted to hear me confirm those thoughts that swirled around his head, that consumed his mind in the darkness. His lips parted as if he was going to say something as if he was going to encourage me to speak, but nothing came out. We just stared at each other, silent and longing.

"It's nothing," I finally choked out, but the words were like bile in my mouth. I swallowed, feeling the breath in my chest leave me as his grip tightened on my elbow. This motion caused my eyes to fly to his and I was shocked by the raw emotion on his face and the heat and lust in his darkened eyes. He drew me away from the railing, into the shadows of the door that led out onto the balcony. Nobody could see us now. I felt that dangerous beast called excitement to wriggle to life in my lower body.

"Lyra, I'm done," I opened my mouth about to ask him, what exactly he thought he was done with, the mercenary, the fiery woman, about to make an appearance, but he forged on, "I'm done with these looks and these touches," he gestured wildly, almost as if all of it, all these small things had driven him near insane. "I can't take it anymore.!" He ended with a breathless cry. The calm, cool, collected king I had seen over the last few months vanished in front of me. Now I saw Triston for what he had been hiding. His warm eyes were dark with lust and the hunger was written across his face blatantly. The coiled muscles of his shoulders were not tension from war, but from holding back the urge to pin me against the wall. His fingers bit into the flesh of my tricep and I studied him for a long moment. Then without any thought, I grabbed the front of his silk shirt and sealed my mouth to his.

The first thought that flew through my head was that his shirt was going to tear between my rough fingers if it stayed on his body for much longer. The next thought wasn't even a thought at all. His lips were full and warm. He didn't move at first, shocked, his lips complacent to mine as I pushed my body into his, but in the next heartbeat, his hands grabbed my shoulders and he pushed me against the cool stone wall. Goosebumps spread across my skin. He cupped the back of my head with one hand while the other dropped to my thigh, pulling the skirt of my dress up so that he could pull my knee up. He pressed his hips into mine. Heat roared to life in my lower body. The feeling was overwhelming. It flooded every single nerve ending and set each nerve on fire. I tried to contain the moan that slipped passed my lips, but Triston captured that breath and took it as his own.

We broke apart with a shattered gasp, clinging to each other with desperation neither knew the other possessed. His hand never left the spot behind my head, if anything, he buried his fingers into my hair tighter as if he couldn't believe I was here against him. The hand on my thigh loosened and the warmth of his hand fell away. I nearly dreaded the loss of his touch against my skin, but I knew that the kiss wasn't going to be the only thing happening tonight. His hands would be all over my body before the night was over. He stayed pressed against me, gaining his focus.

Our breaths mingled as we stood there, forehead to forehead, body to body, soul to soul. My eyes stayed closed. I knew that if I opened them and I saw the raw emotion in his eyes, I would have him right here against this wall where anybody down below could hear us. My fingers cramped from where they were still buried into his shirt, but I couldn't move them. I couldn't move my hands away. I was mesmerized and frozen and shocked by the passionate moment we had just shared.

The heat had been building for months. I had known it but ignored it. I refused to acknowledge it simply because he was the king and I was a mercenary. He was married and I was bound to live a life of solitude. He was powerful just by his status. I had to work for my wealth. He was everything I couldn't have. He was forbidden.

"Your Majesty-"

"It's Triston, Lyra," he rasped, dropping his mouth to the curve of my neck. His fingers tugged gently on my hair, tilting my head back so his lips could brush against my pulse, "my name is Triston."

"Triston," I breathed into the night and it was a promise falling from my lips.

His mouth was hot. No, hot wasn't the right word... wasn't... strong enough. His mouth was burning. His mouth traced every inch of my skin he could find, could see, could touch. It was burning, burning, blazing its way through my body. It scorched and seared and made me feel alive like I never had before. I wasn't new to intimacy, but I had never felt such passion before in my entire life. His fingers twisted in my hair and tightened against my own as our fingers interlaced. The raw heat, the raw hunger, in the way he curved a path across my skin sent thrills of excitement down my spine and I arched into his touch, my head falling back against the pillows. His name fell from my lips in breathless moans, a constant promise. A constant reminder of who he was, of who I was. A constant promise that I was his now. He had consumed me, claimed me until I was no more. His hips moved in a steady rhythm with mine. Each movement, each constant touch, felt like I was going to burst. I cried out into the night, the emotion and pleasure overwhelming me like a crashing wave.

One night wasn't going to be enough. It never could be.

"Cry for me," his breath ghosted across my skin and shivers ran across my body causing goosebumps to rise all over my body. His nose trailed across my clavicle, his lips brushing the soft skin there marred only by a single white scar on the right. He had my wrists pinned above my head with his one hand and with the other he held my hip, clinging to me. I could feel the desperation in his touch even though he sounded confident and calm. His body trembled above me as he tried to restrain himself. I trembled as well. It was building, building. Again and again, it rose and crashed, ebbing like a wave on the shore. All through the night had been a storm. It crashed and shattered and thundered all around us as we got lost in each other. The smell. The touch. The sound. The taste. We consumed each other.

"Let me hear that beautiful voice," he breathed again, his mouth was by my ear, his teeth tugging on my earlobe. He couldn't hold himself together for much longer. Even kings had an end to the will they possessed. "Cry for me, Lyra. let me hear your voice echo into the night." And then I did. His name passed between my lips on a shouted cry of pleasure and longing.

I could still hear my voice, echoing long through the night even as I laid in my chambers throughout the next week.

That night had awoken a whole new side to the king (no, his name was Triston) I never knew existed. Or maybe, it had existed all along and I was finally aware of it. His eyes seemed to find me anywhere I was in the castle. Even as I knew he was gone for the week, I could feel the scorching heat on the back of my neck every turn. He had become possessive, dangerously so. Any man that had neared me would feel the burn of his glare. Any touch, no matter how small, was silently snarled at. He claimed me. My fingers tightened on the hilt of my sword, watching my crew spar. They needed to stay in shape despite the lack of action.

That one night in his bed had turned into mornings in dark corners and afternoons in hidden alcoves. Those brief moments had become my whole life. I longed for the moments when I felt his fingers encircling my wrist. After the first night, I had never been back into his bed. He had told me, his fingers thoroughly distracting me, that the night we spent together was spent in the royal bedchambers. He had nibbled on my ear at this, a rough breath drawing past his parted lips. Adelaide had known to stay away that night, though she had not known it was I who had spent the night in her husband's arms.

"So," he had dragged his lips down my neck, "we will have to make do with hallways."

I wasn't going to complain. The heat was being quenched. I was content. Well, it seemed that way. I wanted to believe that the heat that had been between us before we had fallen in bed together would be quenched, but it was quite the opposite. It grew to unbearable heights and it consumed me. He was never gentle. Never kind. He was all-consuming, taking, taking, and taking. His hands left marks on my skin just as his mouth did.

There was a spark of shame that smoldered deep in my body. Triston was a married man. His wife lived in the wing opposite mine. She had no idea that I had been sharing her husband's love. Me. A mercenary. A criminal. While that spark of shame existed, satisfaction and smug joy burned brighter. Adelaide was a snake who found a new man's arms every other week. While she was a queen and she was supposed to have one man, the witch managed to find a new man to lure in and blackmail. She deserved to be broken. Her husband spent all of his free time clinging to me. I smirked.

The clash of swords drew me from my thoughts. Thea drove back a younger recruit with a cry of victory, her ice blue eyes wild. The young man fell on his ass with a grunt of pain. Thea offered the boy a hand and hauled him to his feet. Her eyes turned to me. I saw the flash of confirmation cross her face. This boy would be joining us in our next battle. She moved towards me, wiping the sweat off her brow.

"You weren't paying attention," she stated bluntly. My eyes snapped toward her, a warning flashing across my face. I loved Thea to death, but her mouth sometimes got ahead of her. "No," she grabbed the rag off my shoulders to wipe her face, "you don't get to act offended or get to pull rank."


"You've been distracted for the last two months," she drawled, handing me the towel back. I resisted the urge to yank it away from her like a four-year-old. "I know it's a man. I just can't seem to figure out who it is." My heart stopped in my chest. Had I been that transparent? Had my lust for Triston truly been so visible that my crew was starting to notice? No, I had been careful about when and where Triston and I met for our daily romps. We were always out of sight and we always had perfect excuses for absences. My crew couldn't have known, but Thea might know. She had been my second for twelve years and my friend for two decades.

"It's not-"

"Don't lie to me," she leveled a hard look in my direction and I was reminded of why I had chosen this woman as my second.

"Fine," I conceded, turning my eyes away. I was afraid that if she looked into my eyes she would see exactly who consumed my every waking thought. Nobody could know I slept with the king. While the king could have his mistresses, I could not be one of them. I was a criminal. Thea studied me for a long moment, silent.

"Whoever this man is," she murmured, "he has you wrapped around his finger. You have been distracted and off your mark. You need to get yourself together." With those words, Thea turned away from me, already shouting to the next man to get ready for his fight. I felt an unwelcome breath of relief. She knew a man distracted me, but she didn't know who he happened to be. She had been right, though. I had closed myself off from my men. While I had still fulfilled my duty as their leader, I barely paid them much mind, too busy looking forward to the next meeting in the castle. When it had been just been us, Triston and I, tangled together, I had forgotten myself. Luckily, Triston was going to be gone for the next week. I could start by rectifying my neglect.

I stepped forward, hand on the hilt of my sword. Thea and the man she was about to spar with paused, their eyes looking expectantly to me. I felt a thrill of realization. They were waiting for my orders. They were waiting for their leader. I gave them a slow smile. The only way for me to start salvaging my relationship with my crew was by engaging with them. Triston could wait. Our relationship could wait. He didn't need me. But my crew did.

"Let me go. Let's see what these recruits can bring." And I lost myself in my crew, being the one they needed.

He grabbed my wrist. His fingers twisted into the cloth of my shirt. I could feel the desperation as his hands tore open my shirt, straight down the front. I groaned in frustration but his hands slipped through my shirt and his warm hands were on my skin. His lips were feverish and seeking against mine. The need with which he touched me, kissed me... it seemed like he had missed me. I let out a cry of triumph, laughing against his mouth. He had cornered me in an empty hallway and hidden me between two columns. The sun shone through an open window, casting its glow on us.

"What are you laughing about?" He mumbled against my throat, working his way south. I shivered as I buried my fingers into his hair, but I smiled.

"You missed me, Triston," I sighed, relaxing into the familiarity of his touch. His hands hesitated momentarily against my rib cage and his mouth faltered. I instantly regretted opening my mouth. He had never been the one to beg or need. He wanted, oh yes, this king wanted. And what he wanted he usually got. He never had need of anything, at least to my knowledge. He had never needed anything so badly that he begged for it, pleaded for it. He simply wanted and it was. The notion of him missing me, him going without for seven days was laughable. Triston could have almost any woman. All he had to do was ask. So why would he miss a woman like me, when there were thousands exactly like me just waiting for him? His next words shocked me into a state of near delirium.

"Damn right I missed you," he growled, pulling back to look me directly in the eyes. His warm eyes were hard like amber. They ebbed with longing, with desperation, with need. He cupped my face and slanted his mouth over mine, conveying exactly what he felt because he couldn't put it into words. I had been on his mind every single day, haunting him. He had seen my storm gray eyes flashing in his dreams and my dark hair around every corner. He had missed me.

"Come to my bed, Triston," I gasped, sharing the breath with him as he pressed his forehead against mine. Adelaide was gone. She had left two days ago to visit her sister in a neighboring kingdom. Triston could do whatever and be wherever he wanted. No one would think a thing of him walking into my chambers. We were leaders discussing strategy. "I'm done having these secret rendezvous in alcoves and dark hallways. I want a bed. I want to tangle in the sheets with you."



Silence reigned between us. We were plastered together against the wall, panting, covered in a ray of sunshine. I looked into his eyes. I saw my desire reflected back at me and I knew his answer like I knew that we had damned each other by being who we were.

"Of course," he breathed.

My hands found his hair and his arms and the muscles of his thighs and the carpet in front of the fire and the bed frame. Our breaths and gasps and moans mingled together in one, perfect harmony.

I was doomed. Doomed to love the one I could never have as my own. Doomed to share him with a witch of a queen. I don't know when I figured I had fallen in love with him. Maybe it was right now, as he whispered beautiful words against my skin. Maybe it was the days when we had fought as teenagers in the arena. Maybe it was the kiss on the balcony. Whenever it was, I knew that I had set myself on a course of heartbreak. I could never have Triston. Not as Adelaide did. But the time I had with him now?

Well, I was going to spend as much of that time being recklessly and hopelessly in love with him.

The war raged on. Although Triston and I never spoke about the upcoming battles, we knew deep down that we could not keep meeting each other. The war table kept calling us back and we supported each other's decisions whenever a conflict arose. I ran my fingers down his back, tracing the upraised white scars that crossed my path. Adelaide had kept coming and leaving, only staying for a few days before disappearing for weeks at a time. Triston had informed me that his queen was trying to get money for the troops and extra supplies. He knew of her viper tongue and he knew that if anybody could be an ambassador for the country, she was going to be the person. So, while Adelaide was away, Triston spent his nights in my bed. We hadn't slept together some nights, merely spent the night discussing random things like childhood and politics.

His back rose and fell as he slept, His back was littered with scars. Most were small, white and nearly fading, but others, like the long, upraised white scar down his left side which ran from his shoulder blade down the curve of his spine, were long-lasting. I traced it carefully, wondering exactly how he had managed to get such a scar. His body shivered under my touch.

"I was thrown from a horse when I was fourteen," he murmured, turning his head to look at me. He placed his head onto his elbow to look at me, his eyes settling on my face even as I kept following my hand down his back. I felt a rush of fear for him, even though this particular injury had happened years ago. It terrified me to think that when he had barely been a teenager, still just a boy, he had been injured near death. "It wouldn't have been bad," he swallowed. I could feel his body tense slightly as I finished tracing the scar, but I never removed my hand from his body, "but we had been walking along a ravine. I was thrown down into the ravine. I hit a tree on the way down, tearing my back up. It was terrifying," he whispered. The horror at re-living such a thing was obvious in the way he fell silent after it.

I felt a rush of emotion through me and I slid my fingers under his hip to get him to roll over. He looked up at me in confusion as I threw my leg over his hips and straddled him. He wasn't objecting, but I could feel the tension in his stomach. I ran my hands up his body, smoothing him out as I leaned over him. I kissed him slowly, drawing him out, savoring his taste. I had never kissed him so slowly before. We always kissed hot and heavy and burning, but now, I was here to comfort him. He slid his hands up the back of my body and buried his fingers into my hair.

We were all passion and lust, but we were also comfort and support. I curled my fingers into his hair with the rush of emotion in me. It seemed to echo and cry through me and I gave it to him, trying to convey everything I could never say out loud.

Because, if I did, I knew Triston would throw the world away for me.

I ran my hands through my hair as I walked through the castle, gnawing on my lip. I had not been at the war meeting this morning because I had been breaking up a fight amongst my men. Someone had taken something. An older soldier had accused a new recruit, a teenager, and sides had been taken. Then an all-out fight had started. They had trashed their living quarters. Thea had sent a messenger for me so she could try and calm the raging men. I barely got back in time. As soon as I had slammed that door open, its sickening thud echoing through the massive hall, every man and woman in the room froze.

"We are in the middle of a damn war!" I had thundered. I could feel the shame radiating from my crew, "and you decide to fight amongst yourselves? Like animals?" I hoped they could hear the disgust in my voice. They were better than this. My father had taught them forgiveness and compassion to their fellow men and ruthlessness and mercilessness to their enemy on the battlefield. I had transferred my father's teachings over to them.

"The people of this castle already think less of us," I snarled, leveling a glare on any who dared look at me. Thea stood near the back of the room. I could see blood dripping from the corner of her mouth and anger roared through me like a wildfire. They had hit their second. With renewed vigor, I forged ahead. "Do you really want them to think that we are less than the dogs they have on chains to serve them? We serve no one! Now stop acting like mongrels and get this mess cleaned up! I want ALL of you out of this castle and in the training arena until nightfall. Do you understand?" The room was silent. I could hear my blood roaring through my ears. My chest heaved. "I said, DO YOU UNDERSTAND!" My voice echoed through the chamber.

Then, as one, my men cried, "Yes, Commander." I glared at them before turning on my heel and slamming the door behind me. Triston had sent another servant after me. He told me that I had missed the meeting this morning and that I should meet him in his room by lunch. And that was where I was heading to now. I had been in his room, the royal chambers only once. I stopped in front of the double oak doors leading into the royal chambers. Two guards stood steadfastly in front of it. They eyed me as I approached.

"The king sent for me," I informed them, straightening my jacket. Their eyes scanned me once for any potential threat before nodding. They stepped away simultaneously and parted the doors. I felt excitement fly through my veins at the prospect of being alone with Triston presented itself. No one had ever known when I had been with the king alone before, but now that people knew that I was to be alone with him, even if we weren't doing anything, seemed exciting.

The room was massive, but my eyes were drawn to the table in the center of the room and my heart stopped in my chest. I felt my blood freeze like ice in my veins and I could not move, even as the doors shut, sealing me in with the witch of the castle.

Adelaide sat behind Triston's desk, her hands splayed out across various papers. Her back was ramrod straight and her auburn hair fell around her shoulders in loose waves. She wore a tight black dress that seemed too tight to be comfortable. I had no idea she was back. Last I had heard, she was in a country several hundred miles away. There was a look of cruel triumph and hatred on her face.

"Your Majesty," I bowed, bending fully at the waist. I could not forget my manners in front of her. She would use it against me and force me into submission. She was the queen and she was better and smarter than me. I needed her to think that. I rose back up, my eyes trained on her face. Fear pounded through my heart and I could feel the tips of my fingers grow numb.

"You have been fucking my husband," she stated simply. I blinked at her in surprise. One, she had just used shockingly vulgar language for someone of royal status to use in front of an inferior. Two, she had known about Triston and I. How could she have figured it out? We were always so careful. I made sure nobody followed me.

"Your Majesty, I'm sorry. I don't-"

"Don't play coy with me, mercenary trash," heat flooded my body, defrosting the ice that froze my limbs. I didn't recognize the emotion at first, but then I realized what that heat was. Hatred and fury. "You may think I have no friends in the castle, but there are many servants who are loyal to me and me alone. I have known about you for a very long time." I could not bring up the shame I should know to be feeling. Hatred coursed its way through my veins and I wanted to lash out at her. I wanted to strangle her. I wanted to feel the life drain out of her body.

"Your Majesty," I started, easing my way up to the table. I placed my hands parallel to hers and couldn't help but notice the difference between us. Her hands were smooth, not a scratch or scar on them. Her nails were painted a deep maroon. My hands were scarred and rough and my nails were filed down as short as possible. She was smooth where I was rough. I felt a wave of self-consciousness flood me before I lifted my eyes and locked them with hers. Emerald green and storm gray clashed. "You must obviously be mistaken. I have not touched your husband except to get his attention when he was distracted at the war table. He is my king. My superior," I told her coolly, holding her gaze. I could see my hatred reflected back at me. Adelaide was not accustomed to being talked back to. I could see fury cross her face as she studied me. My chest ached as words kept falling from my mouth, but I was helpless to stop them. "Triston, my king, means nothing to me except that he is putting money in my pockets and giving me nice chambers in the castle. After this war is over, Your Majesty," I said the words with such venom, I felt myself become poisoned with them, "you will never have to see me again." She was silent for several moments, studying me. My heart throbbed with pain. She would expect me to keep my word and stay away from her precious Triston. I would have to. Any word from her could have me executed and if not executed, then I would be exiled no matter what Triston would say. I would be labeled a whore and no kingdom would ask for my service. I had men to think about. My feelings would have to be put to the side, no matter how much it hurt.

"All right," she said slowly, deliberately drawing the words out, like she was drawing out my pain. "I won't say I believe you, but I do believe I can trust your word." She leaned back in the chair a smug smirk on her perfect lips. "As soon as this war is won, Commander Lyra, you need to be gone. I never want you in this castle again. Do you understand?" I fell silent, forcing the tears that burned behind my eyes to subside. Apparently, I was silent for too long because she repeated herself. "I said, do you understand?"

"Yes, Your Majesty," I murmured, dropping my head in a bow before turning on my heel and fleeing from the room like a wounded animal. She had won the final round.

"I want the mercenaries on the front lines tomorrow, Triston," she said smoothly, tracing the scar along his back that Lyra had been tracing before. Her king shifted to look at her, rolling away from her hands, away from her touch. Adelaide felt hurt rise in her chest but she quelled it as she looked at her husband. He hadn't loved her for some time now and she had not loved him.

"Why do you want that?" he asked. His voice was guarded as he studied the woman laying across from him. It wasn't Lyra. Lyra was open and completely honest with him. He knew his queen was anything but. Her request had an ulterior motive.

"Our soldiers do not need to die when men who get paid and who are criminals could die in their place," she reasoned. He frowned at her.

"You make a valid point," he murmured. He pursued his lips in thought, "I'll take it into consideration." Adelaide gave him a warm, false smile before rolling onto the side opposite Triston. Lyra would die tomorrow in the fight and Triston would be hers again.

Triston had changed his plan in the middle of the night. He had sent a servant after me early in the morning to discuss it with me. We stood on a balcony overlooking the castle grounds. We stood an arm's length apart. Adelaide's words still say like a stone in my chest and I couldn't force myself to get any closer to him. I felt like I was betraying him.

"I couldn't find you last night," he murmured in the cool morning air. The sun had not yet risen over the ridge. Birds sang and crickets chirped happily. I almost snapped at him for waking me up so early, but I decided against it because I needed to draw away from him. He didn't need to be attached to me. He couldn't. He was a king and I was a mercenary. A criminal.

"I was gathering my men," I muttered pathetically. I wasn't wrong. I had been gathering my men. I had to see them back into their chambers. But normally, I would hurry with my duties and find him. Last night, I hadn't. I needed to avoid him. He couldn't be with me anymore. I didn't turn to look at him, but I could feel the shock and betrayal as he drew away from me.

"You and your men will be on the front lines this afternoon," he said. There was no emotion in his voice. I turned towards him sharply, surprise evident on my face. We were supposed to be surrounding the king's caravan as he rode down into the main fight after his foot soldiers had broken through. Now we were to be on the front lines.

"What?" I cried out in anger. He settled a hard look on me. If I had been somebody else, I would have closed my mouth. But I was not somebody else. I was his lover, his counsel, his friend. "Triston, you can't- we'll all get slaughtered!"

"It is better you than my men."

All the hot anger that kept me going doused. I stared at him, my jaw hanging open. He had not just said those words. Cold betrayal raced through my veins. I drew further away from him, wrapping my arms around my body. The only thing hot I could feel was my cheeks. In a horrific moment of realization, I realized they were tears. My chest grew tight as I felt sobs well up. But I couldn't sob in front of him. I had been open to him for so long. I couldn't let him see me broken now. His face was impassive. I could find no emotion, no sorrow on his face.

I took a deep breath, drawing my shoulders back. I didn't wipe the tears from my face. I was strong and powerful despite the tears.

"All right," I said, my voice shaking, but I held my ground, "we will be on the front lines." I bowed to him, the first time I had ever done so since that night all those months ago, "Your Majesty." The words tasted like ash in my mouth and I hoped they sounded like hatred in his ears. I turned and walked away from him, feeling the burn of his eyes on my back. The tears flowed freely now, but I did not break. I would not do that. My crew needed me right now. I could not break. I would stay strong. For them.

Thea and I fought back to back on the battlefield. Each of her movements complemented mine. I could feel her against my back as I blocked a sword with my shield. We had been fighting together for decades. I knew her fighting style as well as I knew my own. She lunged forward just as I leaned back to avoid a sword. The battle had been raging for hours now. Well, it felt like hours. The sun scorched down on our bodies, causing sweat to mix in with the grime and the blood. The ground had become muddy underneath our feet and I had nearly slipped three or four times, advancing forward. Russet and brown armor danced and faded in between the black of the enemy. Triston's first reinforcements had been sent in ten minutes ago when it seemed my crew was going to fall.

I felt a renewal of anger rise up in my chest and I charged a soldier, swinging down heavily against his shield. I had seen dozens of my men fall at my feet in this short hour. Many good men. Who had families. I used the hatred that scorched through my veins to knock him down with my shield and slid my sword across his throat. I stepped over him and moved on.

Triston was still sitting at the top of the ridge, watching as my men fell like trees to a group of lumbermen. He had left us down here to die. "Better you than my men." I screamed in fury, slashing an arc through a crowd of men. It didn't feel like Triston had only said those hurtful words hours ago. A shield knocked me in the face and I was sent sprawling back into the mud. I landed painfully on my back, my vision fading in and out. I shook my head trying to regain my sight. I could vaguely see a black armored soldier raise his sword, ready to bring it down across my neck when a sword appeared through his chest. I blinked at the sight in surprise before the sword was gone and the man fell to his knees. He was shoved forward and there he was.

Triston stood, covered in grime and blood. His red plume stood out like a battle cry from his helmet. He looked a war god. His face was covered in grime, but I could see the desperation in his eyes. I knew him so well, after all. He offered me a hand and I took it. As he did this, he pushed his helmet off his head. He looked even better.

"I couldn't leave you out here to die," he growled and crashed his lips to mine. I love you. He didn't need to say it. I broke the kiss with a small smile.

"Then don't." I gave him a grin as the light of battle reignited in my eyes and we turned, back to back, to start the fight renewed. We were an unstoppable team. Men fell around us. We pushed forward as one unit, him blocking, myself slashing. We were making headway. Our soldiers fell in behind us, pushing the enemy back. I felt invigorated. All my anger from his words before vanished. I had a suspicion they had not been his words, but the words of his viper of a wife.

I lost Thea in the thick of battle, but I saw her fighting side by side with the noble from the party. She was in capable hands.

I lost Triston somewhere two hours into the fight. I was exhausted and bleeding. We needed to either retreat or turn the tide. My sword arm felt heavy and I could barely block a swing. I had to go on defense, blocking each strike with a thrust of my shield. My eyes landed on Triston. He was fighting a massive man. And he was losing. I felt panic shoot through me. Adrenaline raced through my veins and I drove off my attacker. I wouldn't be able to get over to him in enough time with my sword and my shield. I would have to drop both of them. And that's what I did. I dropped my weapons and sprinted through the field, shoving men out of my way. The man raised his sword. I could feel time slow down. I knew what was coming. I knew exactly what had to be done.

Triston was a great king. His people loved him. He had a beautiful wife. I was a criminal. While yes, I had my men, my crew, Thea. It was not as much as he had. My crew would miss me. Thea would mourn me, but I did not have a whole country resting on my shoulders. Besides, Thea would make a great Commander.

I stepped over Triston just as the sword came down. It was going to be okay. Triston would live. His armies would turn the tide of the war and it would be won. I would fulfill my promise to Adelaide. Triston would live on. He would have heirs. Hopefully, he would talk about me to his children. Talk about every battle we fought in together. Maybe he'll tell his children about the woman he fell in love with and when they ask if it was their mother, he will smile and think fondly on the days we had together. I smiled as the blade met my body. Triston had been my everything. I could hear his pained cry, but it was distant, far away. The only thing I regretted, I thought, my eyes closing, was that I never got to tell him I loved him.

No, no, no, no! She can't be... She was just over there! How did she manage to come here? Why are her sword and shield gone? Who left her defenseless? What son of a bitch left her defenseless! Her shadow covered his body like a dark silhouette, his guardian angel. For a moment, he thought that it was just the mental image he conjured up because she was the last thing he wanted to see before he met his end. But the blood dripping off her armor and the sweat and grime glistening off her forehead... he didn't want his last image of her to be so dirty. Of course, she looked beautiful, but he imagined her in that navy blue dress the night they first kissed. There was no way this war goddess was imagined. That moment passed. Horror gripped his chest with dagger-like talons, chaining him to the ground. Lyra was here. She was standing above him. She was going to take the blow for him. Terror shot through him and he barely registered the cry slipping past his parted lips. No, not my mercenary. Not my beautiful, intelligent mercenary. Not my love. He saw the blade meet her skin in horrific slow motion. The soldier's arc was so powerful and so fast. He wouldn't be able to grab her in time. He heard a sound, a scream of panic and rage from behind him, but he focused on securing Lyra.

Somehow, he did. His fingers shot up, curling around a strap of her armor. The blade sliced through the skin at her clavicle- her left one, the unmarked one- and sank itself down into the bone. Had he been any slower, had she not been pulled away in time, the blade would have cut all the way down through her ribs and into her heart, wedged into her like an ax into a young tree. But he had been fast enough. The blade cut through the skin at her neck and down into the bone, but that was as far as Triston let the blade go. Lyra fell down into his arms, her head rolling limply against his shoulder. The soldier raised the blade again, ready to end both leaders. Triston didn't turn his head to look up at the man. His focus centered on the hole in his lover's chest. Her blood flowed like a ruby fountain, coating his chest and his arms and his legs. She became slick in his grasp and he had to tighten his hold around her to keep a hold on her. She wouldn't survive. There would be no way. There was so much blood. He could see how pale she had become underneath the grime and dirt. There was so much blood...

A shadow descended from behind him. He glanced up, vaguely aware that there was still a battle raging around him. There was still a war. There was still destruction. But she was going to be gone. So why did it matter? The snarl of pure fury drew him from his thoughts and he saw the lithe body of Thea, the Second, descend upon the soldier in front of him. Her hair had been torn viciously from its braid and blood seeped from her, but she looked like a goddess. Her ice blue eyes were full of fire as she slashed the soldier down. He was floored as she turned that rage on him.

"Get my Commander out of here, Your Majesty, or I swear I will kill you," she snarled. He was dimly aware of thinking that threatening a royal was treason and she could be hanged for it. But his body obeyed her command, rising to its feet. He himself had lost blood and energy, but the bleeding woman in his arms was his only focus. Get her back to the camp. She could be saved. His doctors had saved his life. He had been much worse. Get her back to camp. What kind of scar would she have? What war story would she be telling? Would it be to her children? As they gazed upon the ugly, jagged mark over her chest? Would they be looking at their father, their king and be amazed that their love was so strong? Get her back to camp. Each soldier seemed to know his mission because they cleared a path for him and charged ahead, their fight renewed. Get her back to camp.

When his feet had hit solid dirt, not the changing mud of the battlefield, he stumbled, his feet catching on the solid ground. He went to his knees with a panicked shout. Somebody had to get her. Take her into a tent now. People swarmed around him, their hands feeling every inch of his body. Why weren't they grabbing the woman in his arms? She was the more important one! Most of the blood wasn't his! Check her! For fuck's sake, get her! She's dying! Fix her! Take the Commander! Look at this- the blood- it's hers! She was out of his arms and carried away into a tent. He stayed on his knees, refusing to let the medics check him. Nobody touched him. He didn't allow it. He sat there, watching the tent they had taken her into.

His heart slammed in his chest, pounding against his rib cage. If she didn't survive... if she didn't make it until tomorrow... Suddenly, he thought about all the things he wanted to say to her. All the things he should have said to her. He should have taken her to the beautiful countries in the mountains. He should have claimed her in front of the whole court. He should have sent Adelaide running for the hills as soon as he had set eyes on Lyra. He should have kissed her when he had just been a teenager and they had been forced to dance together. She had been the most beautiful girl that night. She had turned into the most beautiful woman... he should have told her he loved her when the words first appeared in his mind. He should have held her close... Now, he probably wasn't even going to get a tomorrow.

The sun had followed its path through the sky and the sounds of battle had died out. Still, no man or woman passed through that tent. There was a hand on his shoulder sometime around midnight. It was a small hand, but rough, war-hardened. Thea joined him on the ground. Her body was small compared to his, but she commanded the air around them while he couldn't.

"They followed me through the battle," she said softly, her voice barely heard above the wind, "we pushed them back when the sun went down and we won. The war has been won." He looked over at her, finally drawing his eyes away from that tent. Her face was nearly unrecognizable in the darkness, but he could see the weariness on her face. Her shoulders sagged with relief and exhaustion. Her blue eyes were focused on the tent her Commander still lay in.

"But at what cost?" He choked out, his voice ragged after several hours of no use after hoarse screaming. Yes, the war had been won, but what did he have to lose to claim such a victory?

Pain. There was pain everywhere. It was like a fire burning the tips of my toes, my fingers, even my nose felt like bursting into flame. The pain was endless. I could not move lest the pain ignite anew in my body. Oh, it hurt! It hurt so much! I wanted to die. This was unending torture. It was heavy on my chest, right over my heart. Where was Triston? Where was he? My fingers flexed blindly, seeking, seeking, seeking- ah! Cool fingers wrapped mine, easing the burning pain in my body. Yes. He was here. He wasn't going anywhere. How long had he been here? A day? Two days? A week? I could barely tell the passing of time. I could open my eyes of course, but the pain forced me back into that darkness. Sometimes the pain would be so unbearable all I could do was scream and scream until I was so exhausted I let the darkness overwhelm me. At least in the darkness, I was free from that burning pain. Triston. Oh, Triston was always there to comfort me. I knew it was him. His comforting voice was always there, whispering soothing words into my ear. He was a king, wasn't he? Why was he sitting at my side? Didn't he have a kingdom to run? A war to fight? What had happened in that war? What happened to Thea? Oh, what happened to Thea? What did she do? Was she still alive- Triston's warm fingers were gone and then suddenly replaced by ice cold fingers. Chills ran up my right arm, but I knew those hands. Those rough small hands. Thea. Thea was okay. She must have been outside though because she was cold. She started talking about everything. How she had led the troops when Triston had carried me away (he carried me across the battlefield?). How she had taken charge of my men. How she had sent them out to collect our dead. How she had collected spoils of war. How she was so so so so sorry for not being by my side these last two weeks (two weeks!?). How she didn't care that it was Triston I had chosen. That she supported me. Her voice cracked and soon her warm, wet face was on my hand as she sobbed. She kept apologizing. I tightened my fingers around hers. She never cried. My heart swelled. It must've been hell for her. Ah, the pain! It was back again. This time it was sweeping, like a tidal wave. I cried out and the last thing I felt was Thea's fingers tightening around mine.

Two months I had been bedridden. There had been a massive hole in my chest, right above my heart. It was jagged. The flesh around the wound was hot and red, like a festering wound, which, I guess, it was. A bandage wrapped tightly around my chest, hugging me- no, constricting me. Each breath felt like fire throughout the whole wound. I almost wished I had never survived.


Triston had been by my side almost daily. He was as constant as the pain on my chest. I had moved out of the hospital wing of the castle a month ago. A doctor had been in and out every hour of the day. So many people had walked through my room I was shocked it wasn't the entrance hall. But it was my bed, so I was okay with everybody coming in. Triston never left my side. He had pulled up a chair and he had been bent over my bed I swore he was going to be a hunchback for the rest of his life. I could sit up now, but only barely. I was more awake now. So the pain was intense.

He had sent Adelaide away as ambassador to the enemy country, making them beg for mercy. The viper had fled the nest and the King and the Commander could be together. Triston was asleep, his head laying across my right thigh. He was snoring softly and I came to a realization. We had never slept together, not in the innocent, comforting way that I had longed to before. Even though the situation wasn't ideal, it was nice to be with him like this. When Adelaide came back, she would definitely have me gone, no matter my physical health. I was almost positive Adelaide had heard about Triston's heroics and actions to save me and as he waited for me. She would surely be furious. That was probably why Triston had sent her away. Fear filled me. I would not be able to go on with the constant pain in my chest. The scar that would be left behind would always remind me of him. I didn't know if I would be able to handle it. My fingers tightened on his hand.

"When is she coming back?" I asked suddenly. Triston shifted against my thigh but didn't awake. I hadn't expected him to. "I won't be able to handle it if she makes me leave," my voice dropped to a whisper and I closed my eyes, a tear falling down my cheek. "This scar would haunt me for years, a representation of what our love was... I just can't do this anymore if she sends me away." He never woke up, but he did grip my hand tighter. It was reassuring and I knew that he was here. Constant. Forever and Always. No matter what Adelaide or anyone had to say.

"Why is she still here?" her voice dripped with venom. Her nails dug into her king's arm. His fists tightened and his tendons popped under her fingers. Fear chased the confidence from her heart for the first time in several years. Fury danced in his eyes like a brewing storm. She took a step back, her fingers falling from his arm.

"Because she is my friend," he started, his lip curled back into a snarl, but then he paused. He looked like an animal backed into a corner by its owner, it's trusted ally. He hesitated before he continued, but his voice was quiet this time, deadly. Her venom was returned with just as much power. "Because she is the one I have chosen. She is the love of my life, Adelaide, and she nearly died to save my kingdom, to save me. But the only reason she was injured as badly as she was," he paused, his eyes scorching her to her core. Adelaide took another step back, drawing her arms to her chest as if she could protect herself from his hurtful words. "The only reason she was injured was because you wanted to change the battle plan. And I," he let out a laugh this time, but it was a sharp sound, cutting straight through her, "I actually listened to you! What a fucking fool I was to think our marriage could be anything except political. I want you gone. I don't care where you go, but you will stay away from this castle. You will keep your mouth shut. You will not speak one wrong thing about me or the Commander. If you speak to anybody at all, it will be to bring in allies. Do you understand?" He murmured. She was crying. How could she be crying? She was a queen. She never cried. She had never let Triston see her cry. Why did his words sting So much? She had never loved him. In fact, she had found comfort in the arms of dozens of men over the last years. She felt her fingers tighten into the front of her dress as she kept stepping backward, away from his hatred.

"Do you understand?" He snapped and she cringed away.

"Yes, Your Majesty," she dropped her head and then turned and fled.

There was a jagged scar down my chest. It ran like a wide, pink lightning bolt starting from the top of my left clavicle and ending in a deep indent above my left breast. The muscles, I had been told, would heal, but jaggedly. It would not move the same way it used to and I would never be able to go into a full battle because my arm would fail me. It was highly disappointing, but I had been able to keep training. Although I could not fight in battle, I would be able to fight in a closed, watched situation such as I did now. Sweat dripped down my body as a I dodged a swing. My left arm was tight against my body, out of harm's way, but ready to strike with the wooden dagger curled tight in my fist. It was mid-July. We were sparring out in the sun. I had forgone a shirt and decided to do a binding instead, to keep myself from being hindered. I had gone with tight leather pants so I could be free to move.

I blocked a swing with my sword, holding his swing back and diving in, driving my wooden dagger into his ribs. His laugh echoed in the empty arena. He was also shirtless and sweat dripped down his body. I looked up at him a grin on my face. He dropped his sword and turned his hands up in surrender.

"You may be broken and nearing forty, but damn," he dropped his hands, cupping my cheeks, "do you fight like a goddess." He sealed his lips to mine and I smiled.

"I love you," He murmured as he pulled away. I buried my face into his neck. It had been a long journey, but we had made it. As a team. As one body. As one soul.

"I love you too," I whispered against the curve of his neck and I was whole.