Author’s Note: A Shift In Perspective

Hi Everyone!

So, here’s the deal. I’ve reached kind of a plot standstill, and while I try to journal, look through old journals and saved documents, and untangle the bit of a knot I’ve tied, I didn’t want to stop playing in Cammadan and sharing it with you.

I have been here since I was 15, I do know all of the beginning and end points, I know where this is going, it’s the road along the way where I get fuzzy, and sometimes things take on their own life. For a clear example based on today’s post, Marina and Lefty were supposed to flirt a bunch to make Tristan jealous, but once I put them together they fell stubbornly and frustratingly in love.

Marina’s always had a way of not doing what I want her to do. Seriously, she began life as a vaguely sci-fi psychic character in a space opera (Think River Tam, or a Jedi feeling the force), but then she popped up with a massive crush on Tristan and an inferiority complex as big as all get out, and I knew where she finally belonged.  But, now there’s this mess, and I need to get it sorted because seriously, these two were not supposed to be together. For someone so mild mannered and passive Marina can be awfully frustrating.

ANYWAY, it did seem that Marina and Lefty sleeping together, Tristan leaving and Aaron and Athena setting a date was a logical breaking point, so, we’re going to do an experiment for the summer.

I’m going back to Year 1, but we’re seeing things from Annalise’s POV this time. This is in some ways easier (I know everything that happens! I wrote it already!) and harder (Marina’s a lot more like me, personally, than Annalise, so it’s tougher to get into her head!) so it should be a fun challenge. We’ll start by covering a time period I’ve always called “The Golden Summer,” that is, the months that the twins spend at Pantona.

I’m excited for y’all to get to know Lisette and Aaron a bit better, to take a slightly kinder view of Tristan (he’s still TOTALLY the worst, but he’s way LESS the worst to Lisette than he is to Marina) and just to have a ton of time to hang out with Athena.

See you next week!

What If?

I woke seeing Damian sitting up. I looked at him then noticed it was still dark out.

“Where are you going?” I asked. He laughed and kissed me.

“I didn’t want to wake you,” he whispered. I nodded. “But I probably shouldn’t be found here either.” I nodded. “I will see you in the morning.”

“No,” I whispered and took his hand, “stay a little longer.” He laughed and kissed my hand.

“No,” he said. “I’ll come again tomorrow night, if you’d like.” I nodded. “Sleep well, my love.” I fell back against the pillows and exhaled. I wasn’t going to be able to sleep anymore no matter how hard I tried. I wrapped myself in a cloak and walked to my maze. I reached the center and found Tristan at the fountain.

“Hello,” I said softly. He looked at me.

“Hello,” he smiled. “I can’t sleep.” I nodded.

“Me neither,” I said and took his hand. “Do you know her name?” He looked at me. “This girl you’re going to marry?”

“Carolina DuKarras,” he said softly, “nothing is decided or final, of course, but that’s who Grandfather and Uncle Geno have in mind. Alexander, my cousin, said she’s pretty at least, and she’s rich.” He skipped a rock against the pond. “She’s a good candidate for me because her father’s main territory is the midlands.”

“Ah,” I whispered softly, “so with Athena being married to Aaron.” He nodded. “I slept with Lefty last night.” He looked at me. “I’m so in love with him, Tristan, I sometimes can’t breathe.” He nodded.

“You’re frightened?” He asked. I nodded. “Of him?”

“No,” I sighed, “no, it’s just, before him, there’s was only you, and we,” I looked down, “we knew everything about each other.”

“And he’s a stranger?” He said. I nodded. “I’m tying my future to a girl I’ve never seen, and you had a stranger in your bed. I feel the two very serious children who sat in Brayton’s dining room would disapprove heartily of us.” I giggled and he laughed too. “I’ll miss you.” I slid my hand into his. “I still have that handkerchief, you know,” I blushed. “The one you gave me when I went to Pantona.”

“I remember,” I said softly. “That feels so long ago.” He nodded and leaned down and kissed me softly.

“I thought it was my turn this time,” he whispered and slipped a simple gold bangle into my hand. I saw the small AD engraved into it.

“Tristan,” I whispered.

“It was my mother’s,” he said. I nodded and he slipped it over my hand onto my wrist. “Don’t tell Athena. I think it’s technically supposed to be a part of her dowry but I doubt Aaron would miss it.” I laughed but I realized I was also crying.

“I hope she deserves you,” I said softly.

“I hope he does,” he said. “I need you to watch out for Athena,” he said softly. I looked at him.

“She has Aaron,” I said. He nodded.

“Aaron is in love with her,” he said, “he doesn’t see when she loses control,” he exhaled. “Sometimes she needs someone to pull her back.” I nodded understanding.

“And who will pull you back?” I whispered. He laughed and kissed my hand again.

“I’ll have to rely on my memories of you and Athena for that,” he said softly. I nodded.

“Have you seen Lisette?” I asked. He shook his head. “Tristan!”

“I can’t, Rina,” he exhaled. “If I stop to say goodbye to her, I won’t go.” I nodded and kissed him on the cheek going back to the palace and then to our apartments. Annalise was standing on the balcony looking out as we watched his horse exit through the gates. She was crying and I slipped my arm around her.

“Can I not be the queen?” She asked softly. I looked at her. “Aaron and I used to play a game, you see,” she exhaled. “What if I was Lisette? What if Annalise was someone else, another girl, hidden somewhere else. What if I was really just Lisette, a the daughter of a barmaid and a Phanian sailor who died or abandoned her? What if one day a travelling soldier came to Pantona, and I loved him?” She was sobbing now. “So you see if I wasn’t the queen, I could be married to Tristan. If I was Lisette, I’d be training to be in the guard now, because his wife will be expected to,” she exhaled, “I’ll have to smile at her, and call her Lady Dugarry and induct her and it’s going to be the worst thing I have to do.”

“I’m glad that you’re you,” I said softly. She looked at me. “I understand what you’re saying,” I looked down, “but this other Annalise, I don’t know who she would be.” She smiled. “And you can’t not be queen, because then have to be and I don’t see that going terribly well.” She laughed.

“I suppose not,” she said and blinked at me. “I think Mercy owes me money.” I blinked at her.

“You bet on tonight?” I sighed. She nodded. “Goddess, that’s dignified behavior.” She giggled. “I don’t want him to go.” She smiled.

“I am trying,” she said softly, “not just for your sake, I promise, I really do care for Eric, it’s just he’s not,” I nodded. “It’ll be easier now, I think.”

“I hope so,” I whispered. “And there’s still the other thing.” She nodded. “He can’t come to Brightcoast, Annalise, I feel that, so deeply, it’s,” she swallowed.

“I know,” she said. “He’ll stay here, Anselm is going to as well.” I nodded. “If I haven’t killed him by then.”

“Anselm, or Brayton?” I smirked. She laughed.

“Both,” she said, “or either.” She hugged me. “I’m so glad I’m not alone.” She whispered, I understood her completely.

Afterglow

Lefty...Damian…is asleep now. I can’t sleep, I’m too happy.

Well, I mean, I am happy, but I’m also worried, and distracted and I’m not sure what else. After the ball wound down, I escorted Annalise back to her room. She was distracted, I can’t imagine what she’s feeling, with Tristan going away now. I hurried back to my room and undressed. I loved the gown that I had finally settled on, but I felt as though I ripped it off. I glanced at my normal night gowns and swallowed. I didn’t know if I should put one on, but before I had much time to think about it, there was a knock on the door and he walked in.

“Hello,” I managed to say, suddenly feeling quite shy. He smiled.

“Hello,” he said and kissed me softly. “You’re still sure?” I nodded and took his hand and we walked to the bed, still kissing I exhaled as we lay down and he straddled me. “I love you.”

“I love you,” I whispered and swallowed as he undressed me, “Lefty,” I whispered, as he used his hand inside of me. I knew I liked this, from William, obviously.

“Damian,” he whispered in my ear and kissed it. “If I’m your lover, Rina, I’d rather you called me by name.”

“Damian,” I exhaled, it felt right, he kissed me and well, the rest I can’t write down, but he made love to me. I think I said his name a hundred more times. Afterwards, he held me for a while and we were quiet.

“Are you alright?” He asked. I rested my chin on his chest. “Did I hurt you?” I smiled.

“A bit,” I mumbled and kissed him. He nodded. “But it was,” I tried to think of the right word, “nice.” He laughed.

“Nice?” He muttered. “I think I ought to be offended.” I giggled. “If you aren’t satisfied, Duchess,” he rolled over onto me again.

“No,” I giggled and kissed him, “no Lieutenant, I’m satisfied.” He grinned at me, his hair was curly and wild and perfect and Goddess, I wanted him so badly again. We kissed deeply. “Damian,” I muttered as he grew hard and then pushed into me again. This time was different. I thought I’d been satisfied the first time, but this time, we both felt more urgent and moved faster and I felt a wave of pleasure rush over me and I cried out, not able to think of his name, or anything but how amazing I felt. I fell away from him, panting. “Well,” I mumbled, “no wonder Annalise and Tristan won’t stop! That’s wonderful.” He laughed and began playing with my hair.

“I think you just told me something you weren’t supposed to,” he teased. I blushed. “I won’t tell,” he whispered, “I’d guessed a while ago though.” I nodded. “And what about you and the good Captain Dugarry?” I swallowed.

“That’s complicated,” I whispered. He nodded. “We grew up together, and I,” I sighed, “well, it never mattered because he didn’t feel the same way.” He kissed me again.

“I don’t understand that,” he whispered, “not loving you seems completely impossible.” I blushed.

“When did you know you loved me?” I asked. He laughed.

“When I saw you,” he said. I rolled my eyes. “Goddess, you think I’m corny. But it’s true. You and Count Aaron walked up and we thought you were the queen and you smiled, and corrected us and I was lost forever.”

“You know that if,” I sighed, “the council wants me to try to marry Eric if Annalise won’t.” He laughed. “It’s not funny! It would be awful!”

“No love,” he said, “it would never happen.” I blinked. “love you, I’ve loved you since the moment I saw you and Eric knows and honors that.” I looked at him.

“This has come up before,” I said. He smiled.

“Once or twice,” he said. I nodded. “It’s why we have rules. I imagine you and Annalise must have them around Sir Tristan as well.”

“We don’t talk about it,” I said, “that’s the only rule.” He nodded. “You said this afternoon that you weren’t respectable. What did you mean?” He smiled sadly.

“My mother,” he said softly. “She was,” he swallowed. “well, I don’t know precisely that she was a prostitute but she was a barmaid at the least. My father was a ferryman, a rich one, to be sure, but still. It wasn’t a scandal, and he married her.”

“But then he married a queen,” I whispered. He nodded. “How?”

“Aimee’s father wasn’t high ranking,” he said softly. “But she was pretty, and Chosen and young, so the old king married her, and then she had Eric and he sent her away. To where she grew up, to Brinecliff, and then he died.”

“And your mother?” I asked. He smiled.

“She died later, with my brother,” he explained. I kissed him. “Aimee and my father were childhood sweethearts, but their circumstances had prevented them from marrying. It was frankly a good scheme for Daniel and Elana who wanted Eric and Aimee out of the way.” I smiled and kissed him. “I got the brother I lost in the bargain, Papa got a title, and Aimee got as much peace as I imagine she’ll ever have.”

“Do you remember her?” I asked softly. “Your mother?” He nodded. “I wish I remembered my mother.” He kissed me again. “Was it hard, at court?” He shrugged.

“Not really,” he said, “my father is very popular at court, he gets along with everyone, and Aimee’s always been. If it weren’t for Katrin needing to come out though, I think they would have stayed happily at Brinecliff forever.” I smiled. “Our childhood was happy, simple.” I nodded. “Why do want to know all of this?” He asked lacing our fingers.

“I like hearing about other people’s family’s and childhoods,” I said, “mine was so odd. Papa and I shut up, alone with our books, the sisters running around like frightened cats. I was afraid of everything.”

“When did Brayton set his sights on you?” He asked. I swallowed.

“I was fourteen,” I mumbled. “It was awful.” He kissed me. “Tristan was always kind to me, you see, and his parents too.”

“Not Lady Athena?” He said. “You two are such good friends.”

“Yes, now,” I laughed. “But no, before, Lisette, we weren’t. She thought I was silly and I was afraid of her.” He laughed. “Did you really come here hoping to court her?”

“Yes,” he grinned, “I’ve never had a warrior woman.” I rolled my eyes. “Of course before tonight I’ve never had a witch or a duchess either.”

“I’m Chosen,” I said softly, feeling his breathing get deeper. “Not a witch.”

“Six of one,” he whispered, before falling asleep. He’s sleeping soundly, my lover. Damian. And I’m so frightened. I know so little about him.

A Winter’s Ball

I don’t think I’ve seen Annalise this happy in ages. She’s thrilled that Aaron’s back, but even more her giddiness at Mastero Anselm sitting beside her is infectious.

He keeps looking at Raymond like he has six heads, the poor thing, but Raymond is chattering at him quite a bit, and as an oft victim of Raymond’s chattering, I can see it getting a bit off putting, especially given his similar natural aura to Brayton.

I was enjoying the fruits of my labor fairly immensely, mostly happy to see Papa sitting in a chair nodding to the music, not hiding in his study. Countess Olivia said it would pass, and it seems to have.

But I sighed quietly watching the door. He still wasn’t here. Perhaps he’d gone. But Prince Eric was still there. Then it was like the crowd had disappeared. I inhaled as he walked into the room and went to him.

“I thought perhaps you’d stay away,” I said softly.

“No,” he said quietly, taking my hand and kissing it. “No, my love.” I wanted to kiss him, to throw myself into his arms. But something stopped me.

“I thought about what you said,” I said softly. “I still want you.” He smiled at that. “I disagree that you’ll leave me.” He laughed. “I understand why you think you will, but I’ve been told I’m the most beautiful woman alive. A goddess insisted that a man trade his soul for me.”

“I see,” he nodded. “And your thought is that I will be unable to resist you, then?” I nodded.

“Yes,” I said softly and took his arm. We walked and I glanced around the room, “so tonight, you will see to Eric, and I will see to Annalise.” He nodded.

“They are royal and useless and require assistance,” he grinned, “and with Count Aaron returned and Raymond beside himself at getting to speak with an actual Mastero, that just leaves us,” I nodded.

“And then you’ll come to see me,” I said and we found our way to an alcove. He pressed me against the wall.

“I’ll make you mine, then,” he said softly. I smiled.

“I’m already yours,” I said. He nodded.

“And there won’t be any further,” he looked down, “I mean, is there anything you need?” I blinked at him. “Marina.”

“Oh!” I laughed. “Oh that! No I take a potion for that.” He blinked at me again. “It’s quite simple, you see, there’s a property in whip willow bark that when isolated syncs with the tides so does a woman’s cycle and it prevents pregnancy.” He grinned and laughed. “What’s funny?”

“Nothing,” he said, “you’re brilliant, is all, and if you weren’t already the second richest woman in Cammadan, I’d guess you’d be about to be with discovering a potion like that.”

“Oh I didn’t discover it,” I rolled my eyes. “Common women have been using whip willow for ages, I just found a way to make it easier to take than boiling bark tea and choking it down.”

“Still,” he said. “You’re brilliant.” I laughed and kissed him. “Goddess, do we have to wait until the end of the night?” I giggled and slipped away from him. I found a pillar and leaned against it and exhaled.

I’d thought about this a thousand times. Not with Lefty, certainly, but with Tristan and with William, and even with horror, Brayton.

But I’d never imagined being so in love with someone I wanted so badly. And he loved me too.

“Well, hello,” Athena slid up to me. I looked at her. “So, purely out of curiosity and caring for your well being, and not because Elodie, Mercy and I have a bet, are you still a virgin?”

“Who bet that I wasn’t?” I asked.

“Mercy,” we said at the same time.

“I bet that you were until this afternoon, and Elodie said you most certainly still were,” she shrugged. “So?”

“A lady doesn’t speak about such things,” I straightened my skirt. She laughed. “When’s your wedding?”

“Fall,” she said happily. I looked at her. “Enroute back from Brightcoast we’re going to stop in Pantona. We’re doing it then.” I smiled. I glanced over and noticed Lefty talking to my father. “You won’t change his mind you know. Unless they get married, he’s going to leave.”

“I know,” I said softly, “but I have to try.” She nodded and squeezed my hand. “I love him.” She smiled.

“I know,” she said quietly. “You just have a tendency to get run over by love, my friend, and I don’t want to see it happen again.”

“It won’t,” I said taking her hands. I saw Aaron walking towards us. “You Grace.”

“Duchess,” he smirked. “I heard a rumor that this was meant to emulate our evenings in Pantona.” I nodded. “Our first winter ball was your idea?”

“Your father asked me what I thought would be fun,” I explained, “I came up with this. Also ice skating, and new dresses.” He laughed.

“Lisette had a new dress,” he said, “and there was in fact ice skating.” He turned to Athena. “A dance, Captain?”

“An honor,” Athena said and took his hand. I glanced about the room and saw Tristan in a corner, his arms crossed over his chest while Annalise sat at her table, laughing at something Eric said. I don’t know what understanding they’d come to, but I could tell he wasn’t happy. I walked over to him.

“Lady Marina,” he whispered.

“Sir Tristan,” I said, “you’ll go soon?” He nodded.

“Tomorrow,” he whispered, “if the my grandfather’s party is ready to that is.”

“I thought he left ages ago,” I said softly. He nodded.

“He always has people in Dovetail,” he pointed out. “It would be bad for business not to.” I nodded. “Am I to congratulate you?” He asked. I looked at him. “I noticed Lieutenant Lestoff speaking to Duke Lestat.”

“No,” I said softly, “no it isn’t that.” He nodded. “Brayton is going to be executed, and you’re going to find a bride, and Athena and Aaron are marrying and Annalise,” I exhaled, “tonight is the last night that things will be even a little bit like they once were.”

“My parents, teaching Athena and I chess,” he whispered, “you leading prayers.” I nodded.

“Dance with me,” I said and held my hand out. He smiled and took it. “It’s better now, isn’t it?” I whispered.

“Yes,” he said softly. “In some ways, in others, I’m never sure.” I looked at him. “I knew you then.”

“You still do,” I said softly. He smiled. “You’ll write?” I whispered as the music stopped.

“Don’t I always?” He said softly. I nodded and he let go of me. I glanced over to where Annalise was sitting, laughing at something that Eric was saying to her. This was all for the best. For the good of everything.

What Anselm had said earlier was sticking with me. The gods had sent Eric, as a way for Annalise to fulfill her mandate.

“I should,” I whispered, glancing across the room and seeing Lefty smile at a blonde girl in a guard uniform, and take her hand for the next dance. I wasn’t jealous, exactly, but I did wish it was me, “I should see to Papa,” I managed and Tristan nodded. “You know how he hates this sort of thing.”

“Of course,” he said softly. “I should,” he exhaled, “Athena,” I nodded and walked away, catching a wink from Lefty as he waltzed with the pretty guard girl. I realized how soon, he’d be mine and I almost swooned.

Anselm

I walked into the Princess Tower, at Annalise’s request, and to greet the countess and was surprised by the man sitting at the tea table with them. I don’t know why, but I expected Mastero Benjamin Anselm to be a hunched bearded wizard of a fairy tale.

Instead, the man arguing animatedly with Annalise about the properties of riverdune (a sort of sea weed found in the harbor here) is a straight backed, clean shaven man in his late sixties. He was wearing robes I’ve never seen before, a deep green color, similar to the guard uniforms.

“This is her then?” He said, noticing me. Annalise sighed dramatically and nodded.

“Yes, Mastero,” she said. “This is my cousin, Duchess Marina of Brightcoast, Marina, meet Mastero Anselm, a righteous thorn in my side.”

“It’s my honor,” I said quietly. He nodded as I went and sat with them. “I’m glad to meet you finally.”

“If you’ve half your mother’s talent, you must do well enough,” he said, “always thought it a shame Anne was first born. She’d have been marvelous in the university.”

“That’s kind of you to say,” I smiled. Annalise winked at me. “I’m afraid I don’t have a lot of time.”

“Of course,” he said, “we need to discuss this nonsense with Brayton and The Dark Lady.” I nodded. “I’ve already told Her Majesty that if she’d told me earlier I would have come.”

“And as soon as it became clear even with the passing of the blessing that this was still a threat I told you,” she said, as if she’d said it a hundred times.

“What’s your proposal, Lady Marina?” He asked. He simply talks like a teacher, asking this as if it were an exercise or analysis of a legend. Because of that, I was able to think on this more clearly than I have for a while.

“I think he needs to be sentenced to death,” I said. “For his crimes against Cammadan, and the threat he poses. I have no doubt that this won’t stop Amina, only Rana and Cornan have that power, but she will have to find another vessel of appropriate power and proximity. That won’t be as easy.”

“And of course if you two would commit to your mandate rather than flitting about this palace,” he pointed out, “we’d all be in a more secure position.”

“I have responsibilities beyond my mandate,” Annalise said defensively, “and we haven’t been ‘flitting about.'”

“The gods sent you an explorer prince with a ship and orders to become your husband,” Anselm said. “Visions and dreams since you were a child, telling you what you need to do, what is expected when you claimed your crown. You were chosen to free them and end the threat of darkness to the world, you’ve been given the tools and opportunity to do so, and what is it you do when they are presented? You throw parties and share your bed with a merchant guard.” I swallowed and stared at Annalise. He’d said the thing we didn’t say. “You toss the man who murdered your parents and destroyed a carefully cultivated balance in a cell and look to him for answers on your calling.”

“Don’t lecture me,” she said, her eyes narrow.

“Someone needs to,” he snapped. “If what Aaron’s told me is true, since Caleb’s death you’ve been very foolish, Lisette.”

“You go too far,” she said, her voice calm and serious. He smiled and nodded. “I am Queen of Cammadan, I am The Sword, I will not be dictated to.”

“My apologies,” he held up his hands, “indulge an old man who changed you as a baby. It’s hard to see you so grand.” She softened at that. “I worry that if you neglect this you’ll miss the rising tide. I don’t want to lose you as I did your father.”

“What if his death only enrages Amina?” Annalise asked. “Or trying to kill him only makes him stronger? We still don’t know how to harness that battle magic Marina used in the camp attack, a newly raised shadow army would not end well without it.”

“I can’t speak to military strategy,” I shrugged, “you know that, but I can heal shadow injuries, I know that much, I can teach the others.” Annalise nodded. “I disagree, Mastero, though, that Annalise should count on Prince Eric to aid in her search for the wheel. From everything Lieutenant Lestoff says, as King of Cammadan.”

“I never said I’d crown him king!” Annalise gasped.

“Lord Consort then,” I shrugged, as far as I know it’s a hypothetical, but she was agitated. “he’d probably have to relinquish The Prince’s Glory.” She nodded. “Not that you couldn’t find him another ship.”

“Your father says that marrying Eric would be playing too closely into Daniel’s hands,” she whispered. I nodded.

“That’s boyhood grudges coming to bare Lisette,” Anselm said, “I wouldn’t over invest in your uncle’s opinion of the king.” She nodded.

“I’ve missed you,” she said softly. He half smiled.

“I’ve missed you too child,” he said. “You’re right that I ought to have come much earlier.” I stood up. “You and I will speak soon, Duchess, I owe your mother that much.”

“I look forward to it, Mastero,” I inclined my head. I walked out and then to the maze, I needed to clear my head after that conversation. I sat at the salt pond meditating for a few minutes.

“Is it true?” My concentration was broken by Raymond. I sighed and opened one eye, seeing him standing over me.

“Is what true?” I asked.

“Is Mastero Anselm here?” He said. I sighed and stood up. “Marina, you know,” I needed to stop him before he started in on how he needed to train and learn from a master.

“Yes,” I said, “he’s here. Though I don’t know that he’s making it terribly public or how long he’s staying.” He nodded. “Raymond, don’t bother him, Annalise needs him right now.”

“You got to talk to him,” he pointed out.

“I’m Annalise’s advisor,” I said as he sat down, opposite me, I extended my hands and he took them, “you’re an honored guest, and chosen and a member of our family, but still a guest.” He sighed and inhaled with me.

“We don’t know that I’m chosen,” he said. I rolled my eyes. “You don’t know everything, Marina.”

“I know that,” I said softly. He sighed and we inhaled again. Slowly a ball of light rose in between us. This was something we’ve been working on. It’s not as strong as battle magic, but it shares the same properties.

We have to be ready. We don’t know what will happen if Brayton is allowed to live, or if he’s killed, when it comes to his shadows. Or if Amina finds another vessel and the shadows are upon us.

Reunions

“No,” said Athena simply as I held up what felt like the fiftieth gown to wear that night. I frowned. I’m seventeen today. I should feel different. I don’t.

The others will be home tonight. Aaron. Countess Olivia. Papa.

I keep focusing on Papa. And Lefty. And what he’s going to say.

“No, it isn’t right,” I sighed and flopped on a chair. “I have nothing to wear.”

“You have plenty to wear,” Athena said simply, “if you’re going to the temple, or trying to make yourself invisible to Brayton, or remind my brother of that oh so innocent waif he was falling in love with,” I glared at her, “but there is sadly nothing in your wardrobe even remotely appropriate for seducing Phanian Naval lieutenants.”

“I’m not seducing him,” I said, “I’m fairly sure that would only take me saying, ‘Lefty would you care to come to my room?'” She laughed. “But tonight is special and I want to look,” I sat up, “I don’t want him to even think about anyone else.”

“Ah,” Athena nodded, “I’ve found that nothing does that spectacularly. Why didn’t you just buy something new?” I rolled my eyes. “Marina, what’s going to be different, tonight?” I bit my bottom lip.

“They’ll be home tonight,” I said. She nodded. “My father,” I said softly. Athena nodded and walked over to me. “If he’s completely in love with me, maybe my father.”

“I see,” she nodded. “You know that when I first asked Martin what he thought of me marrying Aaron, he said I was being foolish and that certainly Caleb and Olivia wouldn’t allow it.” I looked at her. “He came around, your father would too.” I nodded.

“Am I intruding?” I glanced over my shoulder at Aaron slouched against the door. “Gods bindings Marina to you have any other clothes?” Athena laughed and ran to him. “Hello my darling,” he said softly.

“Hello,” she said. “I missed you.” He nodded. “It went well?”

“It did,” he said. “Where’s Lisette?”

“Lisette is in meetings trying to make a decision regarding Brayton,” I said softly. He nodded. “I have been barred.”

“As have I,” Athena said, “apparently our suggestions of ‘kill the bastard dead,’ were ‘not constructive or appreciated.'”

“Wyatt?” He said. I nodded. “I’m sorry Rina, it must be difficult for you.” I nodded. “This might cheer you up.” He handed me a letter.

“William?” I asked. He nodded. I opened it. “He’s getting married.” Aaron nodded and I sat down on the couch. “Heavens, that was fast.”

“I said the same,” he admitted.

“Who?” Athena asked snatching the letter from my hand, “Kathy Sampson?” She scrunched her face.

“You met her?” I asked. Athena nodded. “And?”

“Well, whoever it was would never compare to you, obviously, but Kathy is,” she paused, “can we raise their taxes?” Aaron laughed.

“I missed you so much,” he said and kissed her. “She’s a farmer’s daughter we grew up with. She’s very nice.” Athena snorted. “Athena doesn’t like her.”

“Obviously,” I said. “I should go see my father. Is he better?” Aaron frowned. “Worse?”

“No,” he said, “better, certainly, thought I’d use the word determined.” I nodded and walked quickly to my father’s apartment, where books were already strewn everywhere.

“Papa,” I called softly. He walked out of his study. “You’re back.”

“Yes,” he said. He walked over and kissed my forehead. “You’ve grown.” I laughed at the old joke. “And you’re safe.”

“Yes,” I said. “What are you working on?” I glanced at the papers. “The translation for Annalise?”

“No,” He said. “It’s something else she asked me for.” I nodded.

“About Brayton?” I said. He nodded. “You agree with her? Keeping him alive even though we know he’s lost the blessing of Amina?”

“I haven’t decided,” he said softly and put his hands on my arms. “And it isn’t my decision anyhow, nor is it yours.” I nodded.

“You’re worried about my safety,” I whispered, “for picnicking with new friends but the man who would imprison me and marry me against my will and destroy me can be killed and you haven’t decided how you feel yet?” He sighed.

“Rina, this isn’t that,” he said. “I want Brayton dead, for his threat to you, for killing my sister, for everything. But, it isn’t up to us. It shouldn’t even be up to Annalise, justice is for the gods.” I nodded and sat down. “I’m glad we made it back in time for this festival of yours.” I smiled.

“It’s for Caleb,” I said softly. “He asked me about it once, a long time ago.” He smiled. “I want you to speak to Lieutenant Lestoff today.”

“Marina,” he said softly and shook his head.

“Papa,” I said. “This is important to me.” He nodded. “He’s not like anyone I’ve ever known.” He snorted.

“I’d imagine not,” he muttered. I looked at him. “I have a sudden surge of affection for your grandfather.” I smiled and kissed him on the cheek. “I will try, I doubt we’ll have much to say to one another, even when I was his age, I had little in common with the naval men.”

“I would appreciate the effort,” I said. “I have work to do, but I am glad you’re home.” He nodded. I was headed to the ballroom to make sure everything was set, when I felt his hands slide around my waist. I giggled and turned.

“Hello,” Lefty whispered.

“Hello,” I smiled. “I’ve just been to see my father.” He nodded. “I think he’ll be nice to you, but,” he kissed me.

“How precisely,” he whispered, “was I supposed to concentrate on anything you were saying without kissing you.” I giggled. “I’m sorry, your father?” I nodded.

“But how am I supposed to concentrate when you’re kissing me?” I asked. He laughed. “Tonight, I mean, after,” I swallowed, “I think I’m doing this wrong.”

“Marina,” he whispered, “I’m in love with you, but you know this.” I nodded, “but you need things, that I’m not sure I can give you.” I swallowed. “I’m not respectable, for all that Eric’s tried to prop me up as so.”

“So you won’t come?” I said softly. “Even if I said I didn’t care?” He kissed me again.

“I’m not quite that strong,” he said. “I’m only saying think on it. I can’t marry you, I mean, I would, but I doubt we’d be allowed.”

“You’d be amazed what I’m allowed,” I whispered, “Annalise, after all, is going to,” I stopped and swallowed, I was about to say the thing we didn’t say. He smiled.

“Ah, and there’s the rub, isn’t it?” He said sadly, “If Annalise does as she will, I have to return to Phania, or to wherever it is Daniel sees fit to fling Eric next.”

“You’ll have to?” I whispered. He nodded. “Why?”

“You’re chosen,” he said. I nodded, “you have a divine mandate of some kind?”

“To aid Annalise in her reign,” I said, “and in her ultimate quest to free the god and goddess from their bindings.” He nodded.

“I’m not chosen,” he said softly, “but to stand by my brother, that is my divine mandate, to protect him.” I hugged myself close to him. “I wouldn’t refuse a night with you if I didn’t know I’d have to break both our hearts when this is all over.” He couldn’t know that by refusing me he was already breaking my heart.

The Queen Of Hell

I slept fitfully last night. I had my first True Dream in what felt like ages. I was in the throne room, dressed in white, a bride. But it didn’t look like the throne room does these days. This was the throne room of my childhood, the dark and frightening place of mocking laughter and cold eyes.

“Such a beauty,” a cold female voice echoed, “yes, yes, he chose well.” I swallowed and looked at the throne, Annalise didn’t sit there, but instead a woman, skin whiter than any I’d ever seen, with eyes blazing in fire. I was frozen. “And to take you from my darling sister at that, will be satisfying.”

“I serve Rana,” I whispered, “not you. She will protect me.” She laughed then.

“Your faith in my sister is charming,” she stood up and walked over to me. “But I am Amina, queen of darkness and hell, and you will bear my sword. Rana knows this, deep down, it’s why she gifted you with such power.” I swallowed as she lifted my chin, her hands cold. “And you will only grow more powerful, Marina, daughter of Anne. He will show you so much more.”

“You’ve forsaken Brayton,” I whispered. She laughed again.

“Yes,” she said, “I have forsaken Brayton as my champion, but I still require him for you. For the child.” I woke up in a cold sweat. I ran didn’t walk across the apartment and into Annalise’s room. She already standing at the door. I saw Tristan sitting in her bed.

“You saw?” I whispered. She nodded and hugged me. “You were there?”

“Yes,” her voice trembled, “Marina, when I was hoping to Dream of your wedding that wasn’t quite what I meant.” I blinked. “Your wedding to Brayton, I Saw it.”

“No,” I whispered, “no, I,” I started shaking. We walked back into the sitting room. “I was before Amina.” Annalise swallowed, “she touched me, I,” Tristan sat down next to me and took my hands. “I was dressed for a wedding though.”

“She hasn’t foresaken him then?” Annalise asked.

“He’s no longer blessed,” I said and swallowed, “but she still wants him as the father.”

“Father?” Tristan said. I nodded. “I don’t understand, Lisette?”

“Brayton had a theory,” Annalise said harshly, “I had hoped it was only a theory, but now. Amina needs a vessel, like I am for Rana.”

“And Marina’s to be the mother,” he said, “and Brayton the father.” She nodded. “And you two kept this secret and kept him alive?”

“You would have had us debate it in council?” Annalise said. “We couldn’t kill Brayton while he had the blessing.”

“Besides which,” I said, “it’s not your concern.”

“Not my,” he stuttered, and put his hand to my face, “Rina, you are my concern, your safety, your,” he stopped.

“No,” I said quietly, “no, Tristan, for everything that we are to each other, could have been or whatever it is. That part of me isn’t yours, none of it.” I looked at Annalise. “He has to die and we have to figure out freeing Rana and Cornan. There’s no hope without that.”

“All that studying you do,” Tristan looked at me, “you still haven’t found anything.” I shook my head.

“It isn’t the only thing I’m studying,” I whispered. “I wish my father hadn’t gone.”

“I’ll write to them in the morning,” Annalise said softly. “I need Anselm, he can’t stay away any longer.”

“He won’t like that,” Tristan said. She laughed darkly.

“He never likes anything,” she said, “but what good is being queen if I can’t get my revenge for years of horrible magic training.” I laughed at that, and was suddenly sad, missing Sister Mara, my first teacher. “I have to talk about it with what’s left of the council in the morning. Without Olivia, Martin, Aaron or Uncle Les, that leaves you two, and Athena and Wyatt and Artia.”

“You know what Athena will say,” Tristan sighed, “she’ll want to swing the axe herself.” Annalise nodded. There was something satisfying in the image, of Athena Dugarry, striking down the enemy.

“I’m going for a walk,” I said softly. Annalise nodded. I found myself wandering the market and then to the harbor. The Prince’s Glory was docked there, and I noticed that Lefty was standing on the deck. I walked up to it.

“Well hello,” he smiled and walked to greet me.

“You’re up early,” I said.

“We take turns, checking on the ship,” he explained. “Would you like to see her?” I nodded and took his hand as I boarded. I found myself in his arms. I felt safe and steady for the first time in days. “Are you alright?”

“No,” I whispered, “but I want to see your home, you’ve seen mine.” He raised an eyebrow.

“Alright,” he smiled and we walked across the ship. “We first got her three years ago. Eric was made a captain immediately, and the ship was a gift from Queen Elana.” I smiled. “Do you know anything about ships?”

“Not a thing,” I whispered. “She’s very beautiful though.” He laughed and we walked down a small staircase, and into a tiny room. “Yours?” He nodded. “Am I the first girl you’ve had here?”

“Here, certainly,” he leaned against the door frame as I walked into the room. “You seem preoccupied.” I stretched my hand out and he came to me.

“Distract me then,” I whispered. He smiled and kissed me. I lay down underneath him.

“Goddess,” he whispered, “I’m in deeper trouble with you than I’ve ever been in my life.” I smiled.

“I’ve known this sort of trouble before,” I said, “but not the other thing, so I guess we can help each other.” He grinned and kissed me again. I was lost in him, and I knew in that moment, I would always be.

Forgiveness

That night I opted out of dinner. I was still so angry with Annalise, and I couldn’t bear to see Tristan and everything felt wrong, when it had felt so right this morning.

I was lost enough that I did something I haven’t done in ages. I went to the small altar in my dressing room, which held three things. A portrait of my mother, a candle and a small bowl of sand from the beach at brightcoast.

I don’t know as much about this practice as I do about honoring the goddess. Because of my magic, and my education by sisters, that’s what I learned. I lit the candle, and I meditated quietly on memories of my mother and Brightcoast, but all I could do was cry.

There was a knock on the door. I stood up and wiped my eyes and walked over and opened the door. Annalise was standing on the other side, holding a plate.

“When you didn’t come down, I thought you’d be hungry,” she whispered. I nodded. She set it down on a table.

“You really shouldn’t have brought it yourself, it’s below the dignity of a queen,” I said softly.

“Not of a farmgirl though,” she said with a wink. I laughed in spite of myself. “I owe you an apology.”

“No,” I said softly, “no, you don’t.”

“Yes, I do,” she whispered, “I’ve been awful and taken you horribly for granted. You’re my family, and the only person who knows the deepest things inside of me, and I broke your heart, and let your greatest fear sleep soundly for six months.”

“You didn’t break my heart,” I said. “Tristan was very involved in that whole episode.” She nodded.

“But so was I,” she said. “You don’t have to forgive me tonight. But I needed to apologize.” I nodded, “and there’s someone else who’d like to see you.” She glanced at the door and then made her way to it. Then I sat down to eat and glanced up and saw Lefty leaning against the door. I blushed.

“I don’t think that you being in my bedroom is terribly appropriate,” I said.

“No,” he said and strolled in. “It isn’t.” I smiled as he sat with me. “A good Phanian girl would never let me into her room.”

“Good thing I’m Cammadie then,” I raised an eyebrow. He laughed. “I’m sorry I broke our date this afternoon.”

“Elodie said you weren’t feeling well,” he said. “A decent excuse, and I hope you’re feeling better.” I nodded.

“I am,” I said softly. He kissed me then, and I pulled away. “Not quite that much better.”

“No,” he shook his head. “But, the queen came up with an excellent idea. It seems this winter faire she’s obsessed with falls right at your birthday?” I laughed and nodded. “She thought you ought to plan it, something about a memory.” I smiled again.

“I like that plan,” I said, “you’ll help me? Something tells me that you’re awfully good at fun.” He smiled. “I can plan the ball, but the festival, normally that would be something that Count Aaron would do.”

“And with the Count away,” he said. I nodded.

“Maybe something you learned when you and the prince were up north?” I tried. He frowned.

“The northerners were not much for fun,” he shrugged, “hunting, but I think even you could come up with that.” I nodded. “We’ll think of something.” I smiled. “I think I’d trade the world for that smile.”

“The way you talk to me,” I said, “it’s like no one I’ve ever known.”

“I used to think my father was insane,” he smirked, “the way he talked about Aimee. Even before the king died and he was free to marry her. Like she was the moon.”

“And now?” I said, leaning on my hand.

“You flirt too well, Marina,” he said. I laughed. “Now, I think I am falling in love, and I have some understanding of that insanity.” I blushed. “I missed you tonight.”

“I’ll try not to be absent again,” I smiled.

“All right,” Prince Eric walked in. “We’ve gone far beyond the bounds of even lax Cammadie propriety,” I laughed. “Also as I’m royal and useless, I need help getting myself to bed.” I laughed and stood up. “Lady Marina.”

“Your Highness,” I said, I kissed Lefty on the cheek. “I should see to my own useless royal charge.” I crossed the sitting room into Annalise’s bedroom, she was already undressed and happily settled under the covers.

“Am I forgiven?” She said happily. I rolled my eyes.

“Yes,” I said and sat down at the edge of her bed. “A nice trick sending Eric in to break up the intimacy too.”

“Well, I remember you saying that William rushed you and it turned you off,” she shrugged. “See, I do listen to you.” I laughed. “Also, that was Eric’s idea. He’s quite invested in Lefty having a place in Cammadan, when,” she exhaled, “if, well, you know.”

“Right,” I nodded. “They’re gone now, if you’d like to send for Tristan.” She bit her bottom lip.

“No,” she whispered, “I mean, he said that he couldn’t tonight.” I nodded and left her, closing the door. I lay in bed before falling asleep and eventually heard him come in. I closed my eyes tightly and remembered that tonight someone told me he was falling in love with me.

I thought of how I am with him, how I’m able to flirt without being self conscious, how when he smiles it’s like someone turned on a light, how I spend every moment that he’s in a room trying to glimpse his eyes, and how safe I felt in his arms.

If this is love, I’ll take as much of it as I can.

The Loss Of The Blessing

When we got back to the palace I decided to study a bit. I’ve been trying to decifer some old stories about Queen Anessa, as a surprise for Annalise to cheer her up a little.

It isn’t going terribly well. The ancient Cammadie language is hard, and it doesn’t read well. The story were usually told out loud, rather than recorded so it’s hard to find strong records of anything.

“Lady Marina?” Elodie said quietly rousing me from an honestly far too focused amount of scribbling. “I’m sorry to disturb you.”

“It’s alright,” I said. “What is it?” She sighed and sat down. “Elodie are you alright?”

“Yes, I,” she sighed, “I don’t quite know where to begin.” I nodded again. “Lord Brayton is ill.” I exhaled.

“I thought it was something serious,” I said. “If that’s all.”

“He’s asking for you,” she said softly. “Captain Dugarry, that is, Lady Athena gave us strict orders not to come to you, but, well,” she looked at the table, “she isn’t a healer, she doesn’t understand.”

“What’s wrong with him?” I asked. Thinking of when I’d seen him last, looking so pale, which made sense, he was locked in a cell, and drawn like he hadn’t been eating. And that had been months ago. “Starvation, I’d imagine.”

“It has those symptoms,” she said, “but he eats, we’re sure of that. We thought maybe something with magic?”

“I’ve never heard of magical illness,” I said softly, “but it’s possible,” I paused, “Elodie, did General Martin leave yet?”

“No, I don’t think so,” she shook her head. “He wanted to wait a day.” I nodded and rushed to the barracks. Martin was in his office, clearly packing.

“Hello Marina,” he said, “I don’t know if you’ve ever been here.” I was panting. “What is it?”

“When you lost the blessing of the god,” I said very quickly, “when you lost it, were there physical symptoms?” He stared at me. “It’s important.”

“Clearly,” he said softly and sat down. “I couldn’t tell you.” I stared at him. “Well, I suppose that does tell you. I was comatose for nearly a month after. Or, that’s what John and Alexia told me. I would sometimes wake up and rant, but,” I sank into my chair. “Why?”

“Brayton is dying of starvation,” I whispered, “but he’s eating.” He nodded. “If Amina took her blessing from him.”

“He could be executed,” he said. I nodded. “Have you spoken to Annalise?” I shook my head. “Do so and quickly. Don’t let anyone else in on the meeting. Not Prince Eric, not even the twins.” I stared at him. “You know them, Marina, you know what they’ll say. Athena won’t hesitate to grab her sword and Tristan,” he sighed, “I know you two are strained at the moment, but if you think he wouldn’t do anything in the world to protect you,” I looked down.

“I know that,” I said, “I just, I don’t think it’s right to leave it up to just the two of us.” He nodded.

“It’s up to her, really,” he said softly. “Has she gotten the answers she wants from him?” I shrugged. I wasn’t permitted in Annalise’s interviews with Brayton. “Have you?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about?” I shook my head. He smiled and held up his palms. “William?”

“There were six guards on duty that day,” he said. “William didn’t betray you.” I nodded. “Still, did you get what you were looking for?”

“No,” I said, “but I don’t think I ever will. I’d rather he be dead and the threat over.”

“Tell her that,” he said, “she may not decide to execute him, but it’s your right to tell her.” I swallowed and nodded. “Elodie came to you.”

“Yes, she said that he asked for me, because none of the healers have been able to do anything,” I said softly. “We’re not soldiers, it’s a different,” I sighed, “if I can help him, I probably should.” He nodded. I sighed and got up, making my way to the castle and then to the cells. No guards stopped me this time, like everyone knew. I got to the cell and looked at him.

“Hello, Little One,” he said hoarsely. “Feels a bit like old times doesn’t it? You come when I call?”

“I came because I’m a healer,” I said, “and you’re ill.”

“I’m dying,” he said, “for want of you.” I rolled my eyes. “Well, not exactly, but my failure has hastened a few things.” I nodded to the guard who unlocked the door. “This is different. Does her majesty know you’re here?”

“No,” I said softly. I reached out and touched his glands. “I wanted to know I came because it was right, not because she ordered me to.” He grinned at that. “You are eating?” I said softly.

“Yes,” he said, “and drinking water and moving about when I can.” I nodded and stepped back, opening my bag. “You’ve a prescription then, Sister Rina?” I glared at him.

“Only because I know Annalise doesn’t want you to die until she’s ready for it,” I explained. I pulled out several herbs and began mixing them. “This should hold you over until the month is out.”

“The month?” He said. “Is that my execution then?”

“No,” I said, “that appears to be how long it takes for the shock of losing the favor of a god to pass through the body.” He blinked at me. “Lady Amina has dismissed you, has she not?”

“Queen Amina,” he said, “and yes. But how do you know that?” I didn’t meet his eyes. “Oh, Martin, of course.” I stood silently. “I spoke with your Phanian boy.”

“Raymond isn’t my anything,” I said softly. “Have your guards brew those into a tea for you twice a day. Elodie will resume your care after this.” I walked out with all of my dignity, or as much of it as I could and got outside. The sun felt good and I found my way to the salt pond. Tristan was standing there.

“What are you doing here?” I asked.

“I thought,” he said, “I know you were at the temple, but I thought,” I started crying and threw myself into his arms. “Rina,” he whispered. “I’m so sorry, I,”

“I know,” I said. “I’m sorry too.” I pressed my face against his chest. The velvet of his guard uniform felt so soft. “Just hold me for a moment.” I composed myself. “I have to go see Annalise.” He nodded. “Was your conversation with your grandfather productive?”

“It seems he and Uncle Geno have a girl in mind and everything,” he said softly. I nodded. “It’s all very cold, and I keep having to remind myself that this is how it worked for my parents. My mother was in Dorin, and my father grew up here, and then they were seventeen and he went there and they did a season together and then they were married.” I nodded. I remembered Sir John and Lady Alexia, I was eight when they died. “Why were crying?” He asked.

“I can’t tell you,” I said softly. “I’m sorry, I,” he nodded. “I have to go.” I walked away from him and into the palace. Annalise was sitting at her desk. She looked at me. “Brayton is dying.”

“I know,” she said, “well, I guessed. Our last meeting was hard to get through.”

“He’ll heal, I saw to it,” I said. She nodded. “Annalise, you can’t leave him alive.”

“I know,” she sighed, “I know that but,” she looked down, “aren’t you curious? He’s the only other chosen we know, and if we’re supposed to do this, we need help.”

“He’s not the only other chosen we know,” I said. “Martin was chosen of Cornan, and Eric,” she laughed.

“That’s just a pretension of the Phanian royal family, Eric isn’t really chosen,” she said, “and Martin refuses to discuss it.” I nodded. “That’s why you went to see him isn’t it?”

“No,” I said, “I went because he has it in his mind that his duty to the Queen of Hell is to impregnate me with her sword, her champion, your dark counterpart. But you refuse to destroy him, so I’m left in fear of it.”

“Marina,” she said, “I won’t let,”

“You might not be able to stop him,” I said, “did you ever think of that?” She looked at me. “No, of course you hadn’t, nothing is beyond you, isn’t that right?” I stood up. “Nothing is too great for Queen Annalise to conquer. But he might be!” She stood up.

“I’d stop him,” she said. “I have before.”

“Your father couldn’t, Martin couldn’t, Caleb couldn’t,” I said, “but you did, and now you won’t finish it.” I marched into my room and slammed the door.

In The Temple

The Temple to Rana in Dovetail is probably my second favorite place in the city after the library. It was always a safe a happy place for me.

My uncle built it for my aunt after they were engaged and it was opened just after their marriage. Several sisters came from Phania to help establish, what, Sister Mara, who taught me before she died, called, “a softer order.”

Annalise and I come here at least once a week, usually more, now, and it made sense to me that she wanted to come today. We walked in to the large glittering space, the salt pool at it’s center to find several sisters stop their usual bustling to bow to us, and to Eric and Raymond, who joined us. Lefty and Athena waited outside, Athena because she find prayer boring, and Lefty because Phanian men consider it an insult to the Goddess to tread on her sacred ground, being male and all. (Eric and Raymond are excepted, being members of the royal family and therefore carrying Rana’s blessing.)

“My Queen,” One of the sisters, Anna, came over and inclined her head, “Lady Marina, Lord Raymond, Your Highness.” We all nodded back to her. “We were expecting you today, I hope the goddess, and the ground keep Count Caleb. Our order always counted him a friend.”

“I’m happy to hear it Sister Anna,” Annalise smiled. The four of us made our way to a basin. I nodded to Annalise. She closed her eyes and moved her hands over the water, causing it to swirl.

As the light caught the water I saw a scene unfold. A young girl running to a man and him lifting her up in a hug. I recognized them both immediately, as Count Caleb and Annalise. She couldn’t be older than six. After the hug, Caleb knelt before his tiny princess.

“You understand what I’ve told you, Little One?” He asked.

“I think so,” she said. “If I’m the princess, does that mean that Aaron has to do everything I say?” He laughed.

“Technically, I suppose,” he said, “but a good queen, wouldn’t issue silly orders, or expect her friends to be servile.” She nodded.

“And may I still be Lisette, sometimes?” She whispered.

“If it pleases you, you can always be Lisette to me,” he said softly. She hugged him again. I could see the tears in her eyes. It was a precious memory and a good one to share.

“I’m sorry,” Eric said softly, taking her hand. She looked at him and smile. “Lady Marina?” I nodded and swirled the water. My memory was of  myself at 14. I was studying at the table in Papa’s sitting room and Count Caleb and he were sitting quietly.

“Marina,” he said to me, I looked up, “you might be able to advise me.”

“Me, Your Grace?” I said softly. Was I ever that quiet? He laughed and walked over.

“My son has gotten it into his head to host a large winter faire,” he said, “unfortunately, a sixteen year old boy’s idea of amusement might not actually please all of my tenants.” I laughed. “What would you like to do at such an event?”

“A ball,” I whispered, my voice full of longing and whistfulness. “With music, and deserts, and new dresses!” He nodded seriously. “Ice skating would be nice too.”

“Both excellent ideas,” he said taking my hand and squeezing it. “New dresses for every girl in Pantona might be a bit outside of my reach, but the rest, I think will do quite well.” It dissolved.

Annalise looked at me.

“Why that?” She asked.

“He listened,” I said softly. “No one ever had before, at least not that I remembered. And those days were the most frightening. I’d just been presented.” Annalise nodded. Eric and Raymond both looked grave. I’ve told Raymond about Brayton’s pursuit of me, and either he or Annalise must have told Eric. “We should pray.”

“Into foam, and deep into the heart,” Annalise began, and we all joined her, “hold the spirit of our beloved, most gracious and kind Goddess Rana.” Raymond squeezed my hand and we all walked outside.

“I couldn’t have imagined you like that,” he said softly. “So meek and unassuming.” I laughed.

“I was very afraid,” I said softly. “And lonely.” He nodded, we were outside, and I noticed the twins were gone, I walked to Lefty. “Where are the Captains?”

“A few of their cousins came by,” he explained. “They went to bid farewell to their grandfather.”

“We should head to the market then,” Annalise said.

“We should,” I said, “you and Prince Eric should stay here.” She rolled her eyes at me. “Lisette, please? I can’t stand sitting through a lecture from Tristan about you taking your security seriously today.” She sighed.

“Fine,” she said, “but it’s their fault for abandoning me.”

“We’ll mention as much,” I teased.

“I’ll stay as well,” Raymond piped up. “I had a question for some of the sisters.” I nodded and Lefty and I began walking.

“I feel like I’ve missed a step,” I said. He laughed. “Did they all conspire to get us alone?”

“I don’t think Captain Dugarry is that enthused by the idea,” he said. “Tristan, that is, Athena practically dragged him away.” I smiled. “Did the prayer go well?” I nodded. “Good memories?”

“I think so,” I said. “It was a great comfort to Annalise.” He nodded. “Would you like to kiss me again?” He smiled and took my waist.

“Very much,” he said and kissed me.

“Rina!” Athena’s voice called out. I blushed. “Lieutenant.”

“Captain,” he nodded. He didn’t let go of me. There was something comforting about that.

“Lisette’s done?” She said. I nodded. “Are you alright?”

“I think so,” I said. “But we should get back. She wasn’t happy about having to wait.”

“I’ll find Tristan,” she said, “as you were,” she winked and walked away. I sighed and Lefty laughed, turning my face up towards him.

“You’re quite pretty when you’re exasperated.” He teased. I blushed. He kissed me again. I pressed myself close. “Mm, that’s nice as well.”

“I spoke to one of the sisters today,” I said, “you could have come into the temple, they don’t have the same restrictions as Vacana.”

“I know that,” he said softly, “but I’m still Phanian, it wouldn’t feel right. Even seeing the sisters off temple grounds with their heads uncovered unsettles me.” I giggled. “What?”

“Nothing,” I said softly, “only that you’ve sailed the world and seeing women’s hair unsettles you.” He nodded. “That’s honestly adorable, Lieutenant.”

“Not all women’s hair,” he said softly, “I like your hair for instance.” I smiled. I turned hearing a throat clear.

“We really need to return to the palace,” I saw Tristan’s face, he looked serious. “If it’s convenient, Your Grace.”

“On your leave,” I said sharply, “Captain Dugarry.” He nodded and we walked back in silence. Once we reached the temple, I realized that Lefty had been holding my hand the whole way.