Chapter Eighteen AND Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Eighteen- The Wedding

I woke up early the next morning and pulled out the dress that Wanepi had put in my closet. It was a deep red and very full. The top was fitted and had off the shoulder sleeves that came to the middle of my upper arm. At the waistline, there was a belt of jewels and then it immediately flared out. It was much less moveable, but if it was what Wanepi wanted, I could handle it for one day. I hurried quickly to Wanepi’s room and Gracia joined me as soon as I opened my door. She wore a dress that was identical, but a slightly darker red. 

When we opened the door to Wanepi’s room, we were greeted with chaos. Young maids ran all through the room, gathering different accessories and fabrics.

Wanepi stood on a small raised platform, her dress already on. She looked beautiful in her pure white dress. It was long- sleeved and very similar to Gracia and I’s dresses. I smiled at her and she smiled back, but I could see the nervousness in her eyes. 

“You look wonderful! I didn’t think that you could put that much fabric into a dress.” I observed, circling her quickly.

“It is very full,” she laughed, “but Philippe would have no less than six petticoats. And the king’s will is my wish.”

“Well, regardless of the enormous amount of petticoats, it suits you. I don’t think I have ever seen you look so happy.”

“Thank you, Antepi.” She looked both of us up and down for the first time. “You two look absolutely amazing! I couldn’t be happier to have the two of you standing beside me when I marry Philippe.” 

“And we wouldn’t want it any other way. You mean so much to us, especially now.” Gracia smiled broadly at her before walking over and helping her place her tiara perfectly on her hair. “But for now, we have a wedding to get to. And you have a prince charming to marry.” 

A veil was placed over Wanepi’s face and hair, and she stepped off the platform. Servants opened the door and Gracia and I preceded Wanepi and her flower girls out the door. When we finally reached the palace chapel and I peeked inside, everyone was already seated and ready. I signaled the man at the organ to start playing. As he played, the doors were opened and Gracia walked serenely down the aisle. I came around the corner as soon as she was halfway down and followed her. I smiled as I walked, and could feel all the eyes on me. As I glanced discreetly around the room, I saw all of my family in the front row, while Joeté and Titro stood next to Philippe. Philippe nodded and smiled at me. Their wedding was not a traditional French wedding, but leaned more towards an Antioch wedding. Having people stand with the bride and groom was frowned upon by many, but Wanepi had informed me that she didn’t care.

Everyone stood as Wanepi started walking down the aisle. She looked only at Philippe the entire time, and his eyes became misty. Philippe wasn’t overly sentimental, but watching him tear up as his beautiful bride walked towards him could melt a heart of stone. 

As Wanepi stood next to me, I looked past her at Joeté. He smiled slightly then immediately looked back at Philippe and Wanepi. As they said their vows to each other, I felt happier than I had ever felt. I could barely contain the tears of joy and also a little bit of sadness. I didn’t know why I felt sad, but some part of me felt dark. I couldn’t place it, but it scared me. I sucked in a big breath, trying to keep calm.

 Not now Antepi. This is the happiest moment of your sister’s life. You will not panic. No. I could feel Joeté looking at me, but I refused to look at him. 

As Philippe slipped a ring on Wanepi’s finger and she one on his, the sadness dissipated. All the reasons to be happy came flying at me, and I could almost feel the weight of them on my shoulders. As I looked over Wanepi’s shoulder at her and Philippe, I realized that no matter what happened, there was joy in everything. We were in the middle of a serious war with England where countless had died, but we were still happy right now. We were happy and for a while, even if it was short, we all forgot about the war. 

“You may kiss your bride.” The priest’s melancholy voice broke through my reverie. They kissed and a cheer went up from all around the room, filling the chapel. As we all walked down the aisle, there were shouts of congratulations and yells of adoration for their new queen. Wanepi grinned and grabbed my hand. 

“Thank you for everything. For standing next to me, and for always encouraging me.” I smiled back and squeezed her hand. 

A servant led us all to the dining hall for a grand feast. We were seated on a raised dais and everyone else found seats at the other tables. Philippe stood and addressed the crowd in the room.

“Thank you everyone for coming to see me marry my beautiful wife. I could not be happier right now. You all have made this day even more special for us. When I first met Wanepi, she had just arrived here from Antioch. She was very young and innocent. I thought that she would never survive the harsh criticism of court. But then she seemed to grow more and more as the days passed. My father took her under his wing somewhat and introduced her to the court. I was shocked at the time, because I thought it would be improper, but then she seemed confident. She commanded respect from all the ladies of the court, even when most of them originally looked down on her. She was brave enough to look past her birth and past the noble births of the ladies, and make herself an equal. The moment I first realized that she was the love of my life was when an elderly lady of the court made a harsh comment directly to her face. She handled it with such gentility and did not snap at the woman or even say anything about it. She complemented the woman on her dress and told her it was an honor to  meet her. After that, I admired her- so much that I spoke with my father about making her a private advisor. My father cared for her very much, and I suppose he realized what was really going through my head, but he never let on. He agreed that it would be helpful to get advice from someone who wasn’t born into a higher life.” He smiled down at Wanepi lovingly. “And I am so glad that he did.” He sat back down and Joeté stood up. 

“As the man who had known both of these people for a majority of my life, I think that they are some of the best people I have ever met. When, as King Philippe said, Wanepi first left for the Capital, things were very strained because no one in Antioch believed that she was strong enough. But month after month, we would receive letters telling of the pleasures of the palace. She talked of the kindness of the king and the prince, as well as the trials that she faced. At the time, King Philippe and I had been corresponding for various reasons, and he wrote to me about her. He asked me questions about her, and then after that he told me what had happened with the ladies of the court.” Joeté smirked a little. “I knew as soon as I read the letter that he had fallen in love. I could not be happier for the two of you.” He smiled down at the two of them and raised his glass. “To our King and his beautiful bride, our new Queen!” A cheer rose up as everyone lifted their glasses and drank to our King and Queen. 

I smiled over my glass at Wanepi and she grinned. I had never seen her that happy. 

After the feast, everyone once again fell onto their beds and slept. 

We all slept until well after the sun had risen. I slowly got out of bed and slipped into the blue dress I wore last time I was here. I pulled one of the lighter chairs out onto my balcony and sat in it, covered in a blanket. As the days got chillier and shorter, I would have to get out my fur cloaks. We wore the same style of clothes all year, but in the colder months we added a fur cloak over top. 

I sighed. Yesterday had been a long day and I wasn’t sure what to do. Everything seemed so uncertain and confusing right now. Joeté was acting strange and I didn’t know how to respond to that and details about what would happen with England were unsure. Before this week, everything had seemed so simple. I knew life was full of twists and turns, but I never expected everything to change so quickly. I had never liked change. 

As a child I had hated it when my father would suddenly change a plan. If he promised to teach me some new skill, I expected him to teach it to me, regardless of what happened. And I was still like that. I could not adjust as quickly as others could, and that caused problems for me often. Catania always told me that was why I had the panic attacks, but I just brushed her off. Looking back now, I realized that she was right. Life would never be the same as long as I kept trying to dwell in the past. I could move on, and I would. 

I sighed again. I needed to clear my head and get back into the warrior mindset. We would return to Antioch tomorrow, and things would become much more serious. Philippe and Wanepi would be with us, and they would need protection. Antioch was the safest place they could be at a time like this, regardless of how many English soldiers were imprisoned there. Wanepi didn’t know this, but when I suggested that they spend their brief honeymoon in Antioch, it hadn’t been an accident. After a wedding is when a king and his queen are most vulnerable. They let their guard down and relax more than they should. And whether Philippe liked it or not, Wanepi was now a liability. She would be the first person an enemy would target because she is his closest confident. 

“You’re up early.”

 I looked over quickly. Matthias stood on his balcony on the other side of mine. 

“Early? This is late comparatively.” He nodded, smiling. “And I could say the same about you.” 

“Are you alright?” He asked. I looked over at him, confused. 

“Why wouldn’t I be?”

“Well, I couldn’t help but notice yesterday during the ceremony, something happened.”

I sighed and smiled a little. “I don’t know what happened. I just freaked out all of a sudden. I could feel the panic welling up inside me. I was feeling happy for them, and then all of a sudden this sadness just washed over me. And then I started panicking. But only for a moment, and then it was gone. Then I felt perfectly fine. But just for that split second, I couldn’t control it. And I hate that I let that happen during her wedding. That was the last place that should have happened.” I noticed Matthias’s eyes trained on Joeté’s balcony. I turned my head slowly, but no one was there. Then I noticed that the door was open a crack. I gritted my teeth and turned back to Matthias. “I have also been so worried about people eavesdropping on my conversations here. The servants are always around, and I never know when someone might listen in on my conversations.” Matthias grinned and nodded. 

“I agree. Some conversations are private and should never be listened in on. Especially when they are about personal things and between family members.”

The door opened fully  and Joeté walked out onto his balcony with his hands up. “Alright, alright. You caught me.” He was laughing, and so was Matthias, but I kept my expression cold. “But to be fair, I am practically family, and I was going to ask the same thing later. And I wasn’t sure if you would answer me honestly, so I wanted to hear what you told him first.” 

“But it is still our conversation. And you should not have been listening.” I protested.

“Lighten up Tepi. Can you honestly say that you would have told him the truth if he asked you?” Matthias was smiling, but I couldn’t imagine why.

“Honestly? No. But that is because it is not really any of his business.” 

“Antepi…” There was warning in Matthias’s voice. 

“I am not being unreasonable Matt. I don’t like to be eavesdropped on, and both of you know that.” I stood up, the blanket falling on the chair. The cool air brushed my arms, but I didn’t notice. “Both of you seem to think that it is not something serious. But really, it is very serious. If it was so easy for Joeté to do it, what makes you think that it would be hard for some servant to? Or an English spy for that matter?” 

  Joeté sighed. “I thought that we were passed this.” 

“Passed what?” I turned to face him fully and could hear Matthias slip back into his room. 

“Passed the distrust. You know that you can trust me, so why won’t you?”

“This isn’t a question of whether I trust you, Jo. This is a question of why did you just listen to my private conversation with my brother?”

“I did it because you don’t trust me enough to tell me the truth. Tepi, you are like family to Cat and I. I want what is best for you. You just openly admitted that you would not have told me whether you were truly okay or not.” 

“Because you are being different. Because right now, I am not sure who or what you are.” I raised an eyebrow. “Can you honestly say that you do not see it? Just because you are not with Hannah anymore doesn’t mean that things are different. It doesn’t take away from the fact that you were with her this whole time. You can not just break off your engagement and shift your focus. I won’t let you. I am not going to be your next pick. The one that you move to right after you leave someone. I know that you never loved her, but some part of you must have. You would never have stayed with her so long if you had the choice.”

“Antepi, I am acting different because I care about you. And I want you to realize that.” Any trace of humor was gone form his face.

“The only thing that I am realizing is how fast you are able to move on. How quickly you just let it go. I am not going to be your second pick again. I let it go before because I was in love with you, but I will not just forget it so quickly this time. And the truth is, I do care about you.” I hesitated a little- I hadn’t meant for that to come out. “But until I know for sure that you aren’t going to move on the moment I become less than perfect for you, or someone tells you that there is someone better out there, I am not going to go running into your arms.” 

I stepped inside my room and closed the door. I leaned against it and sank to the floor. I did want to go running into his arms. I wanted to so badly. 

But I couldn’t just settle for second again. I had done it last time and had constantly been second guessing myself. 

Before we were engaged the first time, he had liked a girl around my age, Yamina. Watching him pursue her had crushed me. But when she left the valley, he moved on quickly. And I loved him so much that I let it go; but I couldn’t do it again. I couldn’t just let him do it again. He needed to learn that I was not going to just return to him as quickly as I could. 

A knock came at the door and I stood up quickly and strode to the door. I opened it slightly and looked out to make sure it was not Joeté. A young servant girl stood in front of me. 

“Lady Wanepi sent me to help you  prepare for the coronation.” Despite what had been said the night before, Wanepi was not officially queen until the coronation today. 

“Thank you.” I opened the door wider and let her in. “Did she specify which dress she wished for me to wear?” 

She walked over to the wardrobe and opened it. She pulled out an extravagant purple and gold gown. The top was all gold with fake jewels embroidered into it and had long sleeves that opened at the forearm. The bottom was full and a deep purple. Traces of gold riddled it’s ruffles from top to bottom. 

“I believe this was the one she mentioned.”

I laughed a little and surveyed it from top to bottom again. “I can see why she sent someone to help me. I could never get into this on my own.” 

“I don’t believe anyone could.” She fingered its fabric and said, almost absentmindedly. “I wish I could have something as fancy as this to wear. Just once.” She looked up quickly, realizing that she had said it out loud. “My apologies, my lady. I did not mean to say that out loud.” 

I smiled kindly at her. “No offense taken.” I watched her curiously. “What is your name?”

“Elisiana. My  mother’s name was Elisia and my aunt’s name was Anna, so they mixed the two.”

“That is a lovely name.” I clasped my hands and surveyed the dress again. “Now, to get into this dress, get my hair done, and get down to the throne room before the coronation starts.” 

The wheels in my head were already turning. This girl seemed nice, and could be helpful for certain tasks that I had a harder time performing myself with how busy I was. She assisted me into the dress and then led me carefully over to the chair in front of the vanity. She took my long hair out of it’s bun and let it all down. 

“When did they say to be in the throne room?”

“Two o’clock madame.”

“That is a long while.” I was surprised that they would have it so late in the day.

“They knew everyone was tired, so they wanted to allow enough time for everyone to get some rest and still be fully ready.”

“And are other servants assisting the other woman in my group?” She scrunched her brow before shaking her head.

“I believe you are the only one receiving this type of attention. Although I do believe someone is assisting the young girls with you. Lady Wanepi was very insistent that someone help them. She had the most extravagant dresses made for them after she met them. The seamstresses have been rushing nonstop to finish them on time.” 

I smiled. Of course Wanepi would do that. She knew how much it meant to the two girls to be here.

“How old are you Elisiana?” I asked innocently.

“Seventeen madame; I will be eighteen in three months.”

“Please excuse the personal questions, but are you able to read and write?”

“No harm in asking questions madame.” She smiled as she started brushing through my hair. “I can read and write.”

“And I assume you speak French as well as you speak English?”

“Yes, madame.” She smiled a little wider at that.

“Veren gruda.” I observed to myself before realizing that I had said it out loud. 

She scrunched her brow again at my words.

“I’m sorry.” I grimaced and sighed a little. “You probably already know that I am Antioch, but I sometimes slip into our language. I only said very good. Speaking two languages fluently is a great accomplishment.”

“Although you seem to speak three very well.” She laughed as she brushed through my long blonde hair. Then she bit her lip as if wishing to say something, then said it. “Could you teach me some? I know that I would never use it, but I would love to at least know some.”

“Your curiosity for the language is interesting. Honestly, from the moment you commented about wishing for a dress like this, then being so modest, I knew you were different.” She looked at me through the vanity mirror, question on her face. I turned in my chair to face her. “I would like to speak with my sister about allowing you to return with us to Antioch. My sister and her husband will be coming for a short time for their honeymoon, and if you do not like Antioch, you can return with them. But if you do, I would like to have you help me with certain things. You would be my apprentice.” Her face lit up. 

“You would really do that?” Tears sprang into her eyes.

“You sound very surprised?”

“I am. I never expected someone of your rank to even want to associate with me other than ordering me around.”

“Well, you will soon learn- if you choose to accept- that I am not a regular lady of my rank.”

“I accept, madame. I have no one here to take care of, and I would love to leave this place.”

“Well, the first test will be if you can conduct yourself well when helping me with certain tasks. So your first task will be to accompany me to the coronation as my personal companion.”

“Oh but madame-”

“Please, call me Antepi.”

“Yes, Antepi. But I have nothing to wear! I have never owned something fancy enough for a barn dance, much less the coronation of the queen!” 

“Do not worry about that.” I waved my hand dismissively, acting as a high lady of the court. I sized her up. “I believe that you are about the size of one of my very good friends, and I know for a fact that she has some clothes here at the palace that I am sure she wouldn’t mind you borrowing.” I reached over and pulled the silver cord on the wall. An elderly servant knocked on the door a moment later and came in. “Please find Catania of Antioch’s best dress and bring it to me. I will return it after the coronation, I promise.”

“Yes madame.” She left and returned quickly, carrying a heavy peacock blue and forest green dress. 

Elisiana fingered it admiringly and could not take her eyes off it. 

“We should probably get you into it and finish getting both of us ready if we are going to make it by two.” She smiled up at me, grinning from ear to ear. I helped her into it, regardless of my enormous dress. She finished arranging my hair, and then I did hers. Her hair was just past her waist and much easier to style than mine. I pinned it up and the two of us stepped into the hall. Matthias looked out from the door to the tea room and called back inside. 

“She- they are ready.” He looked questioningly from Elisiana to me. 

“Matthias, this is Elisiana. You all have been saying that I should get someone to help me, and someone to train so that I can continue to develop my skills back to where they were before the battle, so that is what I am doing. Elisiana, this is my brother Matthias.” Matthias nodded to her and smiled kindly. I had a feeling that all my brothers would like Elisiana very  much. And maybe father her, just a bit. 

As the others filed out of the room, they all shot quizzical looks at Elisiana, but I heard Matt explaining to them quietly on the way down. I didn’t look at   Joeté at all but I could feel his eyes burning into the back of my head. The pages opened the door  to the throne room and as we entered, a hush fell over the people. They all turned and stared, some discreetly, but others blatantly. 

“She is wearing something that is actually appropriate for court, for once. But who is the child with her? That’s definitely not Lord Joeté’s sister, but I have never seen her with their party before. She  was not even at the wedding.” I heard one elderly lady whisper to her husband and my back involuntarily went rigid. 

“Inoria thesma.” I heard from behind me. I glanced back at Joeté and he was looking straight into my eyes. He told me to ignore them, but it was hard to. Regardless of what we did, we were never enough in the eyes of the court. We could save all of France, and they would still look down on us. 

“Liska I ami yook?” I turned back around. I could ignore him just like he told me to ignore them. I knew that my comment hurt him, but it had slipped out before I had thought about it.  I turned to Elisiana. “Just stay next to me, and do not speak unless you are spoken to. Be polite. When we return to Antioch, things will be different, but here we will practice etiquette.”

She nodded. “What did you just say to that man? Who is he?”

“That is Lord Joeté. He is a very good friend of mine.” The words brought a bitter taste thinking of what I had just said to him.

“Really? I am sorry if I sound forward, but you didn’t seem as if you liked him very much.”

I sighed lightly. “Joeté and I are on somewhat shaky ground right now. We both have made choices that we have to live by. Some of the choices he had to make in order to survive are choices that I do not agree with.” As we sat down in the front row, I smiled at her. “I will explain everything once we are back in Antioch. Without seeing it, you can not really understand the challenges that we have faced.” She nodded slowly then faced forward. The trumpets started playing the national anthem of France and everyone stood. Philippe walked Wanepi down the aisle to the front of the room and they both turned. Philippe wore his crown and Wanepi wore a small tiara. Philippe’s most trusted advisor stepped forward and motioned to me. I looked at him questioningly, but he just motioned me again. I stood up and walked over to stand next to him, in front of Wanepi and Philippe. He kept preparing the crown that she would wear, but discreetly whispered to me. 

“When the time comes, take my lady’s tiara off so that it may be replaced with her crown.” I nodded slightly and smiled at Wanepi. The two of them knelt and Aron nodded to me. I lifted Wanepi’s tiara off gently and placed it on the pillow provided. I stepped to the side as Aron lifted the crown over her head. He raised his voice and it filled the room. 

“Do you swear to be loyal to the country of France till the day you die?”

“I do.”

“Do you promise that you will uphold this country and advise the king as you see fit?”

“I do.”

“Then Lady Wanepi Teviana Perivia Antioch, wife of King Philippe the First, I crown you Queen of France.” Aron stepped back and bowed. 

I curtseyed until my knees almost touched the ground beneath my dress. Everyone bowed from where they stood. Wanepi and Philippe walked to their thrones and sat down. 

“All hail Queen Wanepi and King Philippe.” 

“All hail our beautiful queen.” The words echoed throughout the hall as they were repeated again and again. I rose from my curtsey and turned. Joeté and I walked side by side out onto the balcony. We stepped to the sides of the doors and I looked out over the crowd. The entire garden and grounds were filled with people of all kinds. Peasants and noblemen- noblemen who were not allowed into the throne room- alike stood side by side, not caring about who they were with, only caring that they had a new queen.

As Wanepi and Philippe walked through the doors, trumpets sounded all around and rifles were fired. I smiled as everyone cheered and shouted. Wanepi and Philippe waved to the crowd and smiled more than I had ever seen either of them smile before. 

After Wanepi had met with some of the townspeople, everyone quickly returned to their rooms and prepared to return to Antioch. Elisiana followed behind me like a puppy. She was doing all that she could, but it was hard to not be doing things for myself. I carried my pack down to the courtyard and waited for everyone else to come. Elisiana stood slightly behind me, waiting. 

“Elisiana, you can stand next to me. You are not a servant anymore. Even if you were, you could stand next to me.” 

“I know madame, but you are still a lady, regardless of my rank, so I want to stand behind you.”

“Alright.” I didn’t like it, but if that wereas  her choice, then I would have to accept it. 

Joeté walked out and stood next to me. “How fast do you think that we can get back? I don’t like the idea of Cat being there by herself for so long.” 

I didn’t look at him, but kept staring straight ahead. “You forget that your Meisha is there with her. That will keep her occupied for at least a little while.”

“Well, she lost some interest in Meisha when she- not knowing where Cat stood in the subject- agreed that putting Respato in prison for what he did was the correct decision.”

I scrunched my forehead, trying to remember when that happened. “When did she say that?” 

“The morning of the day that we left. You were down with the prisoners.” I nodded slowly. 

“So it’s not just us that she is mad at, it is anyone who agrees with us?” He nodded. “Just perfect.” I started walking towards the stables. “Elisiana, stay here and wait for the others. I will start saddling horses.” I saddled Amor and strapped my bag behind my saddle again. Then I saddled one of the gentler mares that Wanepi said we could use for Elisiana. 

I moved down the row of stalls to Argo’s stall and saddled him. He took longer than the others because he was so much bigger and his saddle was extremely heavy. As I was lifting it onto his back, I heard quick footsteps behind me. I grimaced, and kept lifting. 

“You shouldn’t be lifting that.” Hands reached over my head, grabbed the saddle, and set it on Argo’s back. 

I huffed out a breath. “And I can do things for myself. I don’t need you all to keep doing things for me.” I turned around and was surprised to find Joeté right in front of me. I hadn’t thought he was so close. “It’s been awhile since it happened and I should be able to take care of myself.” 

“Doesn’t mean you can.” His arms were still just above my shoulders, holding the saddle in place. “And that does not explain why you are bringing Elisiana back to Antioch with us.” He raised his eyebrows. “You barely even know her.” 

“She has no one else Joeté. I know how that feels and if I can stop someone else from feeling like that, I will. And I will do whatever it takes to make that happen.” 

“I understand that Tepi, but what do you even know about this girl’s past? She could be from anywhere in the world-” He lowered his voice- “including England.” 

“Just because the person you brought back to Antioch was from England, doesn’t mean that the person I am bringing back is.” I ducked out from under his arms and grabbed Argo’s bridle. “I am fully capable of making my own decisions- contrary to what you and my brothers seem to think.” He cinched the saddle and patted Argo’s side. 

“I believe you are capable of making your own decision, I just want to take care of you.” 

“I don’t need you, nor do I want you. I told you that already.” The words were hurting me more than they were hurting him.

“What you told me is that I needed to prove that I wasn’t just picking you as my second choice when the first one didn’t work out. And that is what I am trying to do.” He smiled a little. 

“And when you do, we can talk.” I tugged on Argo’s bridle and walked out to the courtyard. 

Elisiana gawked at him, her mouth hanging open.

“That is not what I am riding, right?”

I smiled. “No. I will ride Argo. You will ride Marley.” I tied Argo to a hitching post and ran back into the stable before Joeté could bring Marley out. 

Joeté was saddling up Parsh and I quickly led Marley into the courtyard so that he couldn’t stop me. “Have you ever ridden before?”

“Once, when I was little.” She looked sheepish. 

“That’s alright. I will show you how.” As the others slowly filtered out and went to saddle their horses, I showed her how to mount and dismount. A groom led Amor out and helped Wanepi into the saddles so that I could ride Argo. I pulled myself into Argo’s saddle and looked around at everyone. The only horse that was almost Argo’s size was Titro’s horse, Seljan.  When everyone had mounted up, I led the way out of the courtyard. We stayed in the same order as before, but added Philippe, Wanepi, and Elisiana in the middle.  

Chapter Nineteen- Unexpected Visitors 

Once we returned to Antioch and settled Philippe and Wanepi in one of the empty huts, I prepared for the Fire Dance that was beginning in less than an hour. I grabbed the torches out of the storehouse and set them by the fire that was already blazing high. Honah threw more wood onto the fire as Joeté fanned it with a giant fan. I looked around at the trees starting to lose their leaves and smiled. All the color would soon be drained from the countryside, but that just meant that the people in the country would have to shine a little brighter. My meisha had told me that every fall when I was little. 

I glanced up and saw Catania striding towards me, her face hard. I cringed- I had avoided her so far, but it appeared that there was no escape this time.

“Why didn’t you tell me that you were going to Wanepi’s wedding? How could you do that to me?” She said through clenched teeth. “You just told the King of France that I was having problems and that I was not talking to you. Specifically problems with one of his direct orders!”

“I did what I thought was right. You were in no place to go there.” I answered quietly.

“But it was Wanepi’s wedding! One if the most important days of her life, and because of you, I didn’t get to see it.” 

Her words brought the guilt that I had been feeling at the palace back. “You aren’t getting my point, Cat. You would have gone to see Respato, and just been even more mad at us. More than you are right now. We made that call, and I- if not Joeté and I- will stick to that decision. Maybe it wasn’t right; maybe I made a bad call. But I know you better than anyone in this valley, and I know that you would do anything to justify your bad attitude.”

“My bad attitude? You think that I need justification for my attitude?” She laughed harshly. “I don’t need you anymore Antepi. I leaned on you too heavily, and now you think that you can make my decisions for me? Of course I have a bad attitude. You just made a decision for me and didn’t even ask me about it. You deliberately hid it from me.” I barely even recognized the twisted, angry girl before me. Who was this girl, and where was my best friend?

“Because you wouldn’t say two words to me, much less make your own decision about this. When we told you, you just stared off into space and nodded. And I couldn’t take it anymore. I needed you to respond to me, and talk to me. You would go days without talking to anyone. I was scared.” She looked at me, her eyebrows raised. “Yes, I was scared. You are my best friend. I have no one else. Wanepi is my sister, but she is gone all the time, and everyone else has either died, is much older, or not a good influence.”

“Then why did you throw away your chance to get me back?” She glared at me. 

“Because I will do anything- anything– to protect you. And I know that seeing Respato again won’t be protecting you.” There had to be some way to make her see reason.

“I don’t need your protection anymore.” She turned on her heel and walked off towards her hut. 

I sighed. I had hoped that would go a very different way. 

“She didn’t take that well, did she?” Joeté was behind me, setting a bundle of torches next to mine. 

“Not at all.” I stared into the flames of the fire. “But I can only hope that soon she will realize and understand that I did what I thought was best to help heal our relationship.” 

“She will at some point. I just can’t promise that it will be soon.” 

“Do you think we made the right decision?”

Joeté sighed. “Well first, there isn’t really anything we can do about it now. I mean, we could admit that we were completely wrong and apologize, but if neither of us believe that, it doesn’t really matter. It might make things better, but it won’t be true, and that would be worse than the place we are at now.” I nodded slowly. “Second, yes. I think we made the right decision. We did what we thought was best to help fix a situation, and that is all we can do. She may view it differently, thinking we did it to intentionally hurt her, even if that wasn’t our intention at all. At the end of the day, we did it to mend our relationship with her.”

“Then why do I feel so wrong?” I crossed my arms and sighed a little.

“Because she is making you. She is intentionally reacting this way because she is hurt. But also because she wants you to feel bad.” He put a hand on my shoulder. “Her reaction is making you feel like you did something wrong. And maybe the way we presented it to her, intentionally not telling her and giving her something else to focus on so that we could get away, was wrong. But overall, our actions weren’t wrong. To her, if she is looking for something bad about us, she will find it where there is none. It will go away with time.”

“I hope you are right Joeté.” I watched as Catania stomped up the stairs to her hut and slammed the door behind her. “Because I can’t take much more of this.” 

Joeté opened his mouth to say something when a horn blew. I whirled around and looked up at the tower. Honah was on duty today, and motioned toward the tree line where one of our warriors, Ashkan, was leading three figures. 

I pulled my dagger out of it’s slot in the laces of my sandals and started toward them. Joeté followed swiftly behind me. When we were at a recognizable distance, Joeté stopped short. Recognition lit up the face of the two women. The young man just glared. The elder woman’s eyes opened wide.

“Joseph? What are you doing here? What is this place?” For the second time, I felt my body go stiff. She had an English accent. And both the young girl and her looked very similar to Hannah. “Who are these people,” her eyes opened even wider when she saw my dagger, “and why is that heathen holding a knife?”

“Eleanor, please calm down. They are just taking the necessary precautions.” Joeté said soothingly.

“Well at least they can’t understand what we are saying. This one,” she motioned to Ashkan, “couldn’t understand a single word I said.” 

“Joeté, whoosh arka theesi popas? Oh, I’m sorry,” I turned to face them, “forgive me for speaking in a language you don’t understand. Who are these people?” 

The young girl’s jaw dropped slightly, but there was a glimmer of humor in her eye. The older woman’s jaw went the exact opposite way of the younger as she clenched it tightly. I smirked in satisfaction.

Ashkan walked over, stood beside me, and put his hand on my shoulder. 

“I found these three wandering through the woods. They claimed they were lost.”

“Tankre yook, Ashkan. You may return to your post.” I tilted my head toward Joeté. “I have a feeling that Joeté will be able to sufficiently explain the rest.” Ashkan nodded, turned, and ran back into the woods. “As for you three, please follow me to the caves.” I started to turn, but Joeté grabbed my arm and tipped his head toward me, turning slightly away from them.

“Is that really necessary?” Joeté asked quietly.  

I pulled my arm out of his grasp. “I think so.” I heard him sigh, but he fell into step beside me, leading them towards the caves. Before we entered the caves Sahara came running towards me. “Getta Hannah.” The elder lady- Eleanor’s- eyes brightened up at Hannah’s name. 

“What did she say about my daughter, Joseph?” As my suspicions were confirmed, I felt a sense of dread wash over me. Eleanor didn’t know about what had happened between Joeté and Hannah. And something told me that she wasn’t going to be very happy. Handling Hannah had been bad enough, but two of them would make it even worse. And this one seemed to be even more of a handful.

“All she said was to go and bring Hannah here. But Eleanor, please, let us answer your questions later. Things are done a bit differently around here, and if you keep asking questions, people will start to get suspicious. More than they already are.” 

“I would assume you are a person of power here, so any suspicions people might have, you can quickly silence.” Eleanor looked at me disdainfully. 

“I mean it Eleanor. This is for your protection.” Joeté told her sternly. I turned down a corridor and opened the door to one of the cells. It had a few beds and a small desk. I stood back and motioned for them to walk in. 

“You can’t mean that we are to stay in this place. I was expecting something extravagant. As the mother of the future bride of someone so important in this society, I was expecting something large, spacious, and warm.”

“I assure you, I do mean for you to stay here.” I smiled sarcastically. 

“Joseph, can’t you override her orders? You must be someone more important than her, mainly because you are a male, and she is a female.” I glared at her.

“Eleanor, you will find that we work together here. And while it is true that I do outrank her because I am a lord and she is a lady, that means nothing. Any choices Antepi makes are choices that I stand by. Without her, we would not be here today.” The young girl’s eyes twinkled again. I put a hand in front of her and stopped her from entering. 

“We will question her first.” 

Eleanor’s eyes widened. “You can’t mean to seperate us?”

“She will be perfectly safe. Hannah will be present during the questioning. We just need a few answers.” Joeté shut the cell door and slid the key into the lock. There was a loud click as the bolt fell into place. 

I led the way down the corridor into another cell with a table and a few chairs. I sat down at one and motioned for the girl to sit in another.

“What is your name?”

“Melissa Alaina Jeekis.”

“Why are you in France?”

“My mother wanted to find my father and my sister.”

“You know that you are considered a criminal because of your connection to your father?”

“I know. Adam- my brother- knows. But my mother… my mother refuses to believe that we could be treated with hostility anywhere. She is used to being honored and respected.”

“Like Joeté said, we are all equal here. While we usually have a chief that we listen to and take orders from, we do not have anyone to lead us currently. So for the time being, every Antioch is equal here. While we may take orders from a general, or a lord, we can protest. If we have a good reason, we can be excluded from the order.  Unfortunately, you will be considered an enemy to the Crown, so unless you are proven otherwise, you will remain in the caves.” As an afterthought I added. “Or have someone to vouch for the fact that you are harmless. Is that clear?”

“Yes…?”

“Antepi. Or Lady Antepi- depends on who you ask.” I shrugged. 

“Then yes, Antepi.” I took a deep breath. This would be the most difficult question for her to answer, but I had no doubt what that answer would be. 

“Where do you stand on the war between England and France? And to be clear- neither answer will get you out of here for sure.” She thought for a moment, and opened her mouth to answer. Suddenly, Hannah burst into the room. 

“Melissa! I can’t believe you are here!” She stepped forward to hug her, then noticed me, and remembered the rules. She sighed a little and stepped back to sit in a chair. 

Melissa closed her mouth and smiled before looking straight into my eyes. “I believe that England, not France, is in the wrong. That England has provoked France to war.” I knew that  my surprise showed in my eyes, but I kept my face as straight as possible. I saw Hannah’s jaw drop over Melissa’s shoulder.

“Why? Why do you think that?” Hannah stood up and walked over to stand next to me. “You have no reason to believe that.”

Melissa looked her older sister in the eyes, her defiance to what was traditional showing in her grey eyes. “Because Father hurt people. He took Joseph- Joeté-, he took Joeté’s mother, he killed people. You’ve lived in this village- how can you not have seen it?”

“How can you?” Hannah looked at her skeptically. 

Melissa smirked proudly, but there was a hint of guilt in her eyes. “Because I looked through Father’s military journal after he was captured. He wrote down all the horrible things he had done. Slaughtering people. Killing innocent people… children, Hannah. He killed children. And I know that France has barely even had the chance to step on English soil, much less kill the innocent.” Her pain showed in her eyes, replacing the defiance. “The playful father we grew up with was a lie. The gentle and kind father was a false front for the horrible man beneath.”

“He isn’t like that. He was doing what he had to to protect England.”

“Enough.” I looked between the two of them. “Hannah- you know the rules. You do not interrupt an interrogation. Your sister has said her piece. You can not decide that for her.” Hannah nodded sullenly and sat back down. “Thank you, Melissa for your honest opinion. Joeté will conduct the rest of the interrogations.” I stood up and she stood up with me. Joeté nodded. I led Melissa out of the cell and down a different passage while Hannah and Joeté returned to Melissa’s family. 

“Where are you taking me?”

“You need to see for yourself what Antioch has been through and what Antioch has done before you form an opinion.”

I led her to the infirmary cave where soldiers lay on cots and sat in open cells. 

“Why are their cells open?”

“Because they are trustworthy- at least mostly. And most of them couldn’t get away if they wanted to.” I saw her eyes widen a little as she saw soldiers with serious injuries. They opened even wider when she realized that they were English soldiers. 

“The attack? These are the survivors?”

“These aren’t just the survivors. Not one of the soldiers that fought in that battle have died yet. Some are close. Closer than we would have liked- but they haven’t died yet and we are doing everything we can to keep it that way.” 

“I heard that Antioch refused to intentionally kill, but I thought it was just some story. It is true, isn’t it?”

“Yes, it’s true. We don’t kill if we have the choice. When we are old enough to become a warrior, we take an oath to never kill unless entirely necessary.”

“But why? You could have this war won in a second if you killed all these men. This is almost half the English army.” She motioned to all the men lying on cots or sitting on benches. It was an exaggeration, but she was right- it was a lot of men.

“Because to us, every man can change. We give them the option to either become a regular French citizen and we relocate them. Or we give them the option to stay here for the rest of their lives and keep their beliefs about who is right and who is wrong.” 

“What about their families?” 

“There are multiple French spies located throughout England that are currently smuggling families out. Once out of the country, they bring them to a discrete location where they will meet with their husband or father and be taken from there to their new home.”

“And if their family does not want to leave England?”

“We send the man back. But we make sure that he never joins the military or anything similar again.”

“You have really thought this through, haven’t you?”

“We’ve had time.” I stopped in front of the open cell of Tyler Morran. “How are you today, Tyler?”

“Best as I can be.” He smiled and stood up. “Where have you been?” This was the first time I had seen him since before the wedding. 

“Visiting the king and queen. The queen is my younger sister, so it was very important that I was there. Catania came and talked with you, didn’t she?”

“She did, but only once or twice. Both times she seemed troubled and not alright.” Concern clouded his clear brown eyes. 

I sighed. “I had hoped that having something to do would pull her out of this.” I shook my head and smiled a little. “Anyway, Tyler, this is Melissa Jeekis. I would like you to take her up to the huts and help her get settled in my spare room with the young girl- Elisiana- that is there. Tell Elisia that I will be there soon. I need to finish preparing for the Fire Dance.”

“We are still going through with it, even with the,” he paused and glanced at Melissa, “unexpected visitors?” I looked at him questioningly. “Word travels fast in the caves.” I smiled and shook my head again, then frowned. 

“Does… he,” I tilted my head a little towards Melissa,” know?”

“Not yet. They’ve kept him in the isolation cell all day; he acted out a little yesterday, so he’s been in the cell all day. They said they were going to take him out tonight and put him back in his regular cell.” Tyler had been trusted with a lot of information since proving he was willing to help Antioch. 

“Thank you. And yes, we are still going to have the Fire Dance. The people need something to lift their spirits. And I want Philippe to see what things are like here.” 

He nodded. “Mademoiselle Melissa, please follow me.” He walked out of his cell and out the back entrance up the many steps to the valley. I ran to the other entrance and up the long ramp to the surface. I looked around. The fire was just a tiny blaze now, but when night fell, it would become a giant bonfire. I walked over to Matthias’s hut and flopped into one of the chairs. Hypoleta turned her head from where she was cooking dinner and smiled. 

“You tired?”

“No, just a little ready for things to be normal. To settle into a groove where nothing unusual happens.”

“What has happened to make you say that?”

“Hannah’s mother, brother, and sister are here. The sister- Melissa- is fine. She agrees with France- surprisingly. She thinks that her father is a monster. And as much as I don’t want her to think that about her father- having your father is one of the best things in life- I am actually glad.”

“And the other two?”

“Her mother- Eleanor- is going to be hard. She is set in the way of thinking that she is above everyone else. That she deserves the highest respect and honor. And that England should win this war. Adam… I am not sure what he thinks. But by the way he glared at us, I would assume that he stands behind his mother.”

“Something tells me that Hannah wasn’t very happy about her sister’s opinion?”

“Not in the slightest. She was very angry in fact. But Melissa stood her ground. Something tells me that she will be good for Elisia.”

“I agree. Elisia needs someone to teach her bravery and how to stand up for what she believes in. From what you are telling me, Melissa will be the perfect one to do that.”

I looked up at her. “So you think that bringing Elisia here was a good choice?”

She turned fully around and leaned on the table. “I do,” she continued, choosing her words slowly, “I think that she will be a bit hard to teach for a while, until she learns that you are the general here, but after that I think it will be good. You pulled her out of a situation that she wasn’t comfortable in and gave her something to hope for. You gave her a family.”

“I know, but do you think that I should have thought it through more, or maybe waited a few months? Or looked into her past more?” 

“Teps, if there is one thing I have learned, it’s that we can’t change the past. So many times I have wondered if Matthias and I should have waited. I wanted so badly to meet you before we were married. I never really understood why he never wanted to bring me back to Antioch. I see now that it was because he wanted to protect me and Sahara. If we had been there during the first attack, we might not have survived.” She smiled kindly. “So stop worrying about the past and start looking to the future. If you made a mistake, you made a mistake. But you’ve made the decision at this point. Why do you doubt it?”

I laughed a little. “Because Joeté thinks it was the wrong decision. He thinks that I accepted her too quickly. As silly as it sounds, on most things, his opinion means a lot to me.” 

“Well, in most things, there is nothing wrong with that. But in certain things- such as things like this, where it affects you personally- it might be different.”

“Yeah.. but why do I feel like he thinks he is better than me because he would have thought things through more?” I looked up at her. 

“If it makes you feel like that, then you should first, talk to him. And second, he shouldn’t have said anything in the first place. My father once told me something. ‘If someone says something that makes you feel worse about yourself, then they should have kept their mouth shut and never said anything at all. Especially with family.’ We are here to build each other up, not judge each other for the decisions we make. Once a decision is made, it cannot be changed. So whether it was a mistake or it was a good decision, it is finished. And no one should try to make you feel worse for something that can’t be changed.” 

“Thanks Leta.” I pushed myself out of the chair. “I need to go finish preparing for the Fire Dance.” 

“I will be down in a little bit and I will bring a pot of soup.” 

“Alright, I will see you there.” I ran down the steps- and right into Joeté. “Did you finish with them?”

“Yes, and it was grueling to say the least.” 

“What did they say?”

“That England was the only place they could ever be loyal to.”

“And what did she say when you told her about you and Hannah?”

“Nothing. She was in such shock that she couldn’t speak for a solid five minutes. And suddenly I was no longer the favored future son- in- law. Can’t say I regret it.” We both suddenly realized that he had his hands on my shoulders from trying to keep me from falling. 

We both stepped back and his hands hung limply at his sides.

“I am going to go and… check on Elisia and Melissa.” He nodded and stepped back so that I could get by.

I ran up the steps to my hut and stepped inside. “Elisia? Elisiana?” 

“Coming.” She opened the door to the back room. “Yes, my lady?”

“Are you two getting along? I am sorry that I couldn’t come sooner and explain everything to you, it all happened very quickly.”

“Yes, we are getting along. Melissa is a very nice person.”

I walked over and closed the door to the bedroom. “What has she said so far?”

“Nothing that would alarm anyone. Only that she supports France, not England. Other than that, it has been nothing but small talk while I move my things over in the wardrobe to make room for her things.”

“Thank you. I want you to tell me everything she says from here on out. I trust her mostly, but I want to see if she is faking only to stay out of the caves. She seemed sincere and very adamant in her opinion, but I don’t know her past. I don’t know what skill she has for acting.”

“I will Antepi. I won’t mess this up.” Her eyes were slightly wide, but her jaw was set in determination. 

“Alright, go back and finish getting settled. I have to take her back down to the caves during the Fire Dance, so I need to do that soon. Don’t take too long before going to the fire. This will be a night to remember.”