We didn’t know what we would find when we got to the palace, and delayed on the route as much as we could.
“You said we took you by surprise,” Lietenant Lestoff said. I nodded. “You knew we were coming, though? Surely?”
“Queen Elana wrote that you would come next year,” I explained.
“I know that,” he said, “but surely you knew.” I blinked at him. “I mean no offense, Your Grace, but I was raised by a woman with the Goddess’s gift, and you clearly have it.”
“I can assure you I’ve never had a vision that clearly showed me someone’s time of arrival,” I stammered. “Once I heard a ship had arrived, I knew it was you, but no, I didn’t See it.” I paused. “Why would I take offense?” He shrugged and walked ahead then.
“Are you alright?” Aaron asked me. “I suppose you ought to get used to people mistaking you for Annalise.”
“He’s a strange one,” I said, wrinkling my nose. “Lieutenant Lestoff.” Aaron frowned.
“I can’t tell if any of them are strange or this situation is just strange.” He said. We approached the gates, where Annalise was standing, having taken my advice on the blue riding dress, flanked by Athena and Tristan. She was also wearing her crown. It was a very impressive sight. She stepped forward as we walked in. “Your Majesty.” Aaron smirked.
“Count Aaron,” she said, “Your Highness, I apologize for not greeting you myself, had I known you were coming I would have.”
“I quite understand,” the prince said. They were staring at one another. He’s taller than her, but at least a head smaller than Tristan. Who did not look happy. “Your cousin and brother were quite kind to greet us so quickly.”
“They are good at things like that,” she grinned at me, “May I also present Sir Tristan and Lady Athena Dugarry, the captains of my personal guard.”
“An honor,” Prince Eric smiled. “We’ve heard stories of you, Captain Dugarry and Captain Dugarry, we spent a good amount of time in Dorin a few years ago. Your home town is quite proud of you both.”
“We aren’t from Dorin,” Tristan said cooly. “We don’t have much to do with our mother’s family.”
“Tristan,” Athena said, “don’t be rude. My apologies your Highness, it has been a long few weeks.”
“I understand,” He said, “may I present my companions, my stepbrother, Lieutenant Damian Lestoff, and my brother in law Lord Raymond Cranas.”
“I believe you are my cousin, Lord Raymond,” Annalise said. He nodded. “I’m glad to have you all, please come in, a breakfast has been set.” We followed her in, as Prince Eric went to stand beside Annalise, Tristan blocked him. I sighed. She wasn’t going to be happy about how he was behaving.
I decided not to attend breakfast and came back to the library. I ought to be studying, but instead I’m just here, sitting, wondering. There was so much oddness about their arrival. And both Lord Raymond and Lieutenant Lestoff made me feel very strange.
“There you are!” Annalise said walking in. “Honestly! You can’t just leave me like that.” I laughed.
“I’m sorry,” I said, “I needed to think.” She nodded. “Lord Raymond, there’s something about him.”
“It’s Brayton,” she said. I stared at her. “That feeling you get around him, his aura, it feels like Brayton.” I shuddered. “We’ll have to watch him.”
“Of course,” I said. It was Brayton that he reminded me of. “What do you think of the Prince?”
“I don’t know yet,” she said, “his timing is clearly terrible, why did he have to come while Tristan and I finally.” She sighed. “We should talk about that.”
“We really don’t need to,” I mumbled. She looked at me. “I’d really, really rather not.” She sighed. “You don’t regret it?”
“No,” she said, “only the timing.” I nodded. “You don’t hate me?”
“I don’t know how many more times I can tell you that I don’t,” I shook my head. “He chose you, and that’s that. It was just a surprise this morning is all.” She nodded.
“I thought that you and William might be similarly occupied,” she said. I shook my head.
“No,” I said, “I’m not ready, and William is too ready. We’ve ended things.”
“I’m sorry,” she said. I shrugged. “I’ve convinced Olivia to stay a bit longer, but I don’t think it’s any good, she does need to go home, and I suppose Aaron will have to with her.”
“Aaron is more likely to stop breathing than leave while you need him,” I said. She laughed. “I should see to dinner tonight.” I walked out. That was ridiculous. I never arranged menus, Countess Olivia saw to that sort of thing.
I was supposed to take over when she left, but well, now she wasn’t leaving. I sighed deciding that it was best to see my father.
“Duchess,” I turned and saw Prince Eric behind me. I smiled at him.
“Hello!” I said a little too brightly. “Is there something that I can help you with.” He smiled.
“I hope so,” He said, “the apartment we were placed in is lovely, but there is the question of the rest of my crew.” I nodded. “Lady Athena suggested that you would be the best person to speak to.” I cocked my head to the side.
“How many?” I asked.
“About fifty,” he said. I nodded.
“I’ll go speak to some people, I’m sure that even if we can’t find space for them in the palace, the barracks must have space,” I said.
“I appreciate it,” he said. “I feel the need to apologize, and again, I have the feeling you’re the one to apologize to.” I looked at him. “I wrote to my brother and sister in law that we were coming back south and would stop in Cammadan to pay our respects. I do not know why that was interpreted as we wouldn’t come for a year.” I nodded.
“I am not the one to apologize to, Your Highness, although I appreciate it,” I said, “if Annalise has heard your apology and offered understanding, take her at her word.”
“I also wanted to invite you to come to the temple with us,” he said. “Lefty won’t go in, but still.” I smiled.
“Of course,” I said. Phanian men did not enter temples to Rana, out of respect. My father wouldn’t. “But you will? And Lord Raymond?”
“As members of the royal family, we carry the blessing,” he shrugged. “Or something.” I laughed.
“I’m not positive that how it works, but it’s your tradition, not ours,” I said. “My father will want to speak to you, I’m sure.” He smiled.
“I’m eager to meet your father,” he said, “my mother speaks highly of him.” I nodded. “Duchess Marina,” he said, “I didn’t come here to,” he looked down, “my brother has plans, I do not.”
“Good,” I said, “but again, I am not the one to speak to about these things.” He nodded. I walked away and closed my eyes to take a breath. I didn’t know what was coming next, but when I look at Prince Eric I saw something.
A tiny voice in my head echoed, He is meant for her, child. The bonds must be cut. I didn’t know the voice but it was deep, and comforting.