This bonus scene is narrated from Eleri Belicoux’s point of view. Eleri is Tristan’s mother, a selkie Queen and great friend of Governor Rhian Irisavie who never actually appears in the Ondine Quartet series, though she is referred to several times by multiple characters.
Author’s Note: I originally intended this short scene for WARRIOR PRINCE. I ultimately chose not to include it because I felt it was much stronger narrated from Eleri’s point of view.
This is a poignant vignette illustrating the challenges of a mother’s love, a recurring theme in the series. It is also the start of a powerful transition in Tristan’s life, one he mentions to Kendra in BILLOW (Book 2).
The scene does contain a minor spoiler from BILLOW. Those who have already read WARRIOR PRINCE and CREST will also have a deeper understanding of several events and characters alluded to in this conversation.
A SON’S RETURN
She glided across the room, slippered feet silent beneath the rich silk length of her skirt. She pushed aside the gauzy drapes and gazed up.
Storm clouds muddied the evening sky, transforming the moon’s pale glow to a mere trickle. A faded tapestry of stars hung across the gray gloom. Rivulets streaked the window pane, the rain striking the ocean in a steady patter.
The palace was abuzz with the news. His reputation had preceded him. Speculation and rumors about the bloody trail of death he’d forged had flooded the halls.
What others spoke of in hushed, awed tones had sickened her and she’d fled the echoing confines of the main palace and chosen to remain in her rooms. He would come when he was ready.
Her fingers tightened around the drapes. The past few hours had strained her patience more than she ever thought possible.
The door opened. “My Queen.”
She turned and uttered the words she’d waited five years to say. “Is he here?”
Her loyal gardinel exited and a moment later, he entered.
He’d lost weight, the ravages of grief and rage evident in the slash of his cheekbones and sharp line of his jaw. His hair had grown longer. Rain had drenched the mahogany locks, the wind whipping them into a wild, tousled tangle around his face.
Some might see the tightened mouth, haunted eyes, and harsh lines of his expression and call him cruel. A dark warrior, relentless in his revenge and rage. Others saw a hero, a prince and soldier mercilessly meting out justice for his people.
She saw neither.
Only a son who’d once been full of laughter, the happiest of her children.
Pain came, hot and hard, and she struggled to control it. This was not the way things were supposed to be.
His arms gently wrapped her in a brief embrace. He stepped back. Dark eyes, so like his father’s, took in her appearance.
She knew what he saw. An aged and thin selkie whose power and magic were useless in stopping the decline of her traitorous body.
Silence stretched, heavy with the differences the years had carved out between them. She took comfort that at least this had not changed. Unlike his brothers, Tristan had always spoken sparingly because he understood the power of words.
“How long will you stay?” she finally asked.
“Not long.” He paused. “I’m taking over the Chief Gardinel position.”
Disappointment washed over her. He was leaving for good.
She’d hoped Ancelin would see beyond his own pain to recognize the terrible battle ripping his second son apart.
But grief held her mate too tight.
It held all of them too tight.
No wonder her son sought refuge elsewhere. Tristan stood stiffly as if expecting a rebuke.
“Perhaps that is for the best,” she said.
Haverleau had always been a much needed sanctuary for them both, providing a welcome relief from the lonely boredom of royal life in an isolated palace.
Tristan had thrived among its verdant landscape since childhood. Her dearest friend would look after him as if he were her own.
His shoulders relaxed slightly. He walked to the table, poured himself a glass of wine, and returned to the window.
“Have you seen Sian?”
He drank, then answered. “She understands.”
Of course she did. It was easier for them both if he was gone.
All her life, Sian had loved Eric. All his life, Tristan had idolized him. No substitute existed.
But stubborn loyalty was another trait her son shared with her mate. He wouldn’t abandon Sian, not as long as she needed him.
“Did you come from Haverleau?”
He nodded. “I needed to assess the current state of security.”
“And the Irisavies?”
“Rhian is fine and Marcella is growing up fast. She’s already in her last year at Lumiere.”
The last time she’d seen her, the raven-haired beauty had been a spunky ten-year-old.
“She’s so different from Naida.” His voice grew subdued. “She still asks about her and Ansel.”
The brave chevalier her son had admired was also long gone.
Eleri suddenly felt old.
An overwhelming desire to tell Tristan about Naida coursed through her.
She could reassure him that not everyone left or died. That Rhian continued to watch her daughter and granddaughter from a distance, witnessing their survival against all odds.
But war and prophecies and unseen enemies had stained the fabric of her life for far too long. No matter how much she wanted to do that for her son, to give him a simple branch of hope, she could not.
He had to find it for himself.
“Have a seat.” Tristan gestured to the formal settee.
She walked smoothly, her gait slower than a month ago. Aware of his sharp eyes, she settled on the quilted fabric, consciously hiding the pain rattling in her bones.
Tristan approached the audio system in the corner, his movements elegant and precise. Eleri took distinct pride in his effortless bearing. Regardless of his personal turmoil, Tristan was a Belicoux. He would never lose the natural command and power radiating off him.
He inserted a disc into the player. The polyphonic contrapuntal lines of the Goldberg Variations gently reverberated throughout the room, intertwining with the faint staccato of rain.
Another sharp burst of joy. He may look more like his father, but his love for Bach came from her.
Rhian had once told her of Kendra’s second birthday. She’d stood, hidden and silent in the shadows of the trees, watching her granddaughter run on sturdy legs through the park while her daughter and son-in-law laughed and beamed with pride.
An indescribable yearning had colored her friend’s voice as she narrated the story.
It was the pain of a mother watching from afar, bound by fundamental connection, yet separated by an uncrossable distance of experience and time.
It was the pang of recognition, the awareness of simultaneously knowing someone very well and not at all.
And as her grown son walked toward her, his face both familiar and not, Eleri realized it was a feeling she understood well.
Tristan settled across from her and before she could think about it, her hand reached out and covered his. Despite the cold rain, his skin was warm.
“I’m glad you returned.”
His response was polite. “Of course.”
She wished to see her son, the boy she remembered, not the hardened Warrior Prince rigidly sitting beside her.
She withdrew her hand. “Do you remember your first day of school?”
A shadow fell over his face. He didn’t reply.
Despair stirred. Perhaps it was too late and war had claimed both her sons.
“Eric put a frog in my bag.” A trace of warmth softened the lines of his face. Memory glimmered in his eyes. “When I unzipped the bag, it jumped out and splashed mud all over the place. Scared the entire class to death.”
She couldn’t help it.
Laughter bubbled up and tickled the back of her throat. It escaped her lips, the sound rounding out the sharp melodic lines of Bach and the dreary rhythm of rain.
“The teacher thought I’d done it on purpose.” The first hint of a smile now tugged at his mouth. “I had to stay behind and wash everyone’s sweaty shirts by hand.”
“You came home smelling like a trainee’s locker.”
The smile burst across his face. “It took three days to get it off me.”
For the next few hours, they stayed in the safe realm of days long past. She knew he drifted down the stream of memories simply to indulge the whims of his elderly mother.
She didn’t care.
She could no longer do much for him. Gone were the days when a simple hug or a few soothing words could chase away nightmares and tears.
Her journey would soon end and all she wanted was to remind her son that his was still beginning.
The night expanded. Memories slowly cocooned them in the comforting warmth of nostalgia. As the tension in her son’s shoulders and face eased, the ache in Eleri’s chest deepened. She would not be here to see him find what he had lost.
What her son needed was beyond the time she had left. He needed someone to shake his core, show him what the world could hold, the possibilities beyond the throne, duty, death, and war.
He needed a revelation to regain his hope.
Perhaps then, all of their sacrifices will have been worth it.