I’ll try my best to describe the three men who were standing in front of us.
Prince Eric was in the center. He’s dark skinned, darker even than my father, and smaller than I expected. He’s only an inch or two taller than myself! He has dark hair that’s cropped short against his head. He was wearing a uniform, I assumed from the Phanian Navy. It even featured wheel embroidery on it. He was smiling, though he looked a bit uneasy.
Next to him, on each side, were two other men.
The first was younger, maybe about my age. He looked a great deal like my father, brown skinned, with his head shaved and wide curious black eyes. I learned later that this was Queen Elana’s younger brother, Raymond, so my father’s cousin then. Something about Sir Raymond makes me feel uneasy, something I can’t quite name. It’s obvious he has magic, but it’s more than that.
The third, well, I don’t quite know how to describe him. He’s tall, and lanky, with lighter skin, and his hair is clearly curly when it’s allowed to be, but at that moment it was slicked back and tied into a bun at the bottom of his neck. He was smiling, whispered something to the prince that made him actually laugh.
This was Lieutenant Damian Lestoff. I don’t know a lot about him, truly. He’s the prince’s step brother, he’s also a sailor. He’s sixteen.
We approached them.
“Your Majesty,” The Prince bowed. Aaron sniffed, I could tell he was trying not to laugh.
“You’ve made a common mistake, your highness,” I smiled and dipped lightly, “I’m not Queen Annalise. My name is Marina Sanpierre, Duchess of Brightcoast. Welcome to Cammadan.” I glanced at Aaron, who had begun coughing, I knew he was trying to cover his laughter. “If we’d known you were coming, of course Queen Annalise would have greetted you herself.”
He was not doing it well.
“This is Count Aaron of Pantona,” I said, “The Queen’s Foster Brother.”
“A pleasure,” the Prince nodded. “May I present Lord Raymond Quents, brother to Queen Elana, and Lieutenant Damian Lestoff, my step brother and second in command.”
“Lord Raymond,” I smiled, “if you’re Queen Elana’s brother, I believe that makes us cousins.”
“So it does, Lady Marina,” he nodded. “My sister sends her regrets, and a letter for you, Queen Annalise and your father, who she has missed dearly.”
“I’m Queen Elana has no shortage of good feelings for her cousins,” Aaron said, “however, Queen Annalise is waiting for us back at the palace, if the three of you would like to come along.” The Prince nodded and followed him. I followed after them both. I swallowed as we walked through the market.
I glanced at the various merchants who’d arrived for the coronation. The largest camp belonged, shocking no one, to the Dumanis family.
“Lady Marina,” a woman called out. I turned and nodded to her. Her name was Andrea Dufrey. I’d met her the evening before at the ball. She’s Tristan and Athena’s aunt. “It’s early for you to be about.” She paused. “Oh, I see.”
“It was a surprise,” I said softly. “I have no doubt the twins will fill you in.” She nodded. “Will you be at the second ball tonight?”
“I believe so,” she said, “I was hoping to send a gift the queen. Would it be accepted? I know the family’s position is precarious.”
“Queen Annalise would be grateful for a gift from your family, and I’ll be sure she sees,” I said softly. She nodded. “Be well Madame DuFrey.”
“Be Well Lady Marina,” she smiled.
“Duchess?” Lieutenant Lestoff walked up to me. “The Count said we should retrieve you.”
“I apologize,” I said, “I ran into one of the prominent merchant families, I didn’t want to insult her.” He nodded. I felt my face flush. What is this?
“Lefty,” the prince called him. I cocked my head. “Stop lagging behind.” I smiled and followed him to the group. “I should apologize for him.”
“There’s no need,” I said. “Aaron, Madame DuFrey wishes to give the queen a gift. Perhaps when we’ve returned, you could send Athena and Tristan.”
“Send the twins?” Aaron said. “I don’t send them places.” I rolled my eyes.
“I’m curious to meet the Dugarrys,” Lord Raymond said. “Is it true that she’s the stronger fighter?” Aaron, who until that moment, had done a good job of not laughing, let out a good strong one.
“Athena will certainly want you to believe that she is the stronger of the two of them,” Aaron said. “And I would be a fool to disagree.”
“Yes, you would,” I smiled. Lieutenant Lestoff smiled at me. I felt the hair on my arms stand on end. He is handsome. Those eyes, they’re almost amber colored. But I’m not going to swirl down another hole like that. After all, even if we ended things, William isn’t gone yet.
“It’s serious between them then?” He asked. I nodded. “A shame, I was hoping to spend my time in Cammadan wooing the great warrior Athena Dugarry, but if she’s spoken for.”
“Lady Athena speaks for herself,” I smirked, “however, you’re welcome to ask her.”
“You’ll have to excuse the Lieutenant,” the prince shook his head. “He has a picture in his head that Cammadie girls will be charmed by his exotic and well traveled ways.”
“We’ve assured him this will not be the case,” Lord Raymond said. I felt less chilled. Why couldn’t I place who he reminded me of? (Besides Papa.)
Maybe it’s myself. He’s younger than his companions, and they seem to take his presence for granted.