We had a large dinner that night with most of the guard and household in attendance. Annalise was sitting in the center with Prince Eric, although I kept noticing her catching Tristan’s eyes and blushing.
I suppose that means they’ve made up, as she’s also been avoiding me.
“Hello Marina,” Aaron settled in next to me. I smiled at him. “I’m going with my mother and your father, to bury my father.”
“I’m glad,” I said, “it’s important.” He nodded. “Why are you telling me?”
“If there’s anything you want me to bring to William,” he explained. I nodded.
“I have a letter for him,” I admitted. “Are you alright, leaving her?” He sighed and looked at her.
“I think I’m leaving her in good hands,” he said.
“The Prince is very attentive,” I nodded. He looked at me.
“I meant you,” he said. “I need you to watch him.”
“You sound like my father,” I shook my head, “I honestly, do not think that there’s sinister intent here.”
“Still,” Aaron said. I nodded, understanding, and took his hand. “My father would have been so happy now. He fought so long for her to sit there, it was his life’s work, everything, and I mean everything we did revolved around Lisette reclaiming her place. Now, I don’t know.”
“He would be happy,” I said, “of course he would, Aaron!” I looked at him. “You should ask Athena to go with you, and you should be married.”
“No,” he said, “no, I can’t ask her. No without Tristan, or you, or Lisette there. Or Martin, and he can’t,” he looked down.
“You’re right, of course,” I said. “What do you think of them?”
“I like them,” he admitted, “I’m not sure we can trust them, but I do like them.” I nodded. “You feel the same?”
“I do,” I whispered. “How long will you be gone?”
“I don’t know,” he said. “It depends on my mother, and how well William is doing with the management.” I nodded and stood up, seeing Lieutenant Lestoff walk in.
“Excuse me,” I said and walked over to him. “Lieutenant,” I whispered.
“Duchess,” he smiled. “I hope you’re feeling better today.”
“I am,” I said, “I wanted to thank you, for your kindness the other night.” He smiled. I thought my knees were going to go weak, the way he was looking at me, and his beautiful eyes. “And mention that there will be dancing tonight.” He laughed.
“I hope you won’t run out on me then,” he said. I smiled and glanced at Tristan. His face looked red.
“Lefty,” Prince Eric called out. He took my hand and kissed it before walking over to the main table. I walked out to the balcony, followed by Tristan.
“When do you leave?” I asked. He sighed.
“Not until Aaron and The Countess return,” he said, “Lisette asked.” I nodded. “I never meant to hurt you.”
“Clearly you managed it even without meaning to.” I said harshly. “You’ve made up with Lisette then?”
“Yes,” he said, “it’s still, well, tangled, and I’m still going to Dorin.”
“Well, I imagine whoever your uncle and grandfather find will have to be uniquely understanding, then,” I said softly. “Prince Eric I’m sure will have to be as well.” We both stared at the mountain in front of us. “Just let me go, please?”
“I never meant to,” he whispered. I nodded and walked back in to the ballroom. Athena was sitting with Aaron, and they were whispering. I wouldn’t have interrupted them for all the world. The music had started and I walked to the main table.
“Rina,” Annalise said looking at me, I could see her apology on her face, and I nodded, she smiled. “We were just discussing a winter faire, we always had one in Pantona, but I don’t know if it was something that was done here.”
“There certainly wasn’t one in Vacana,” Prince Eric laughed, “but there wasn’t much of a winter, though. At solstice we honored Rana though, and we attended the winter faire at Rastan.”
“Did you really capture an ice bear for your niece?” I blurted out. “In Rastan, I mean?” Lieutenant Lestoff laughed.
“That’s a persistent rumor,” he snorted, “not that you’ve done much to dispel it Eric.”
“I come off well in that story,” the Prince grinned. “No, I did not capture the bear. Prince Kristoff keeps a family of bears and the cub was born during our visit. He’s hoping to encourage good feelings from Katrina, for obvious reasons.”
“Quite obvious,” Annalise laughed. “I would have liked an ice bear, I only got a letter.”
“I think the reasoning behind that is rather obvious as well,” the Lieutenant winked at me. I blushed. The music started. “I believe I was promised a dance.” We stood up and I took his hand.
“I’m afraid I made rather a fool of myself,” I whispered. He laughed.
“You haven’t,” he said, “it’s taken everything in me to not ask if it’s true you defeated an entire shadow army single handed,” I nodded, pressing my lips into my mouth. “An exaggeration, I’m sure, like Eric and the bear.”
” I don’t know how it happened,” I explained, “Annalise and I have been trying to repeat it, we have not had much success.” He blinked at me.
“Oh,” he said softly. “The bear cub was rather difficult to wrangle on the ship.” I giggled. “May I see you alone, sometime? Not as a part of the queen’s entourage.”
“I don’t know,” I said, we stopped as the music did. He nodded. “I’ve been hurt, rather a lot recently.” I looked down. “Raymond said that you weren’t interested in women who aren’t interested in you.”
“That isn’t strictly true,” he smirked, “but I prefer not to chase. Love’s often difficult enough without games.” I nodded.
“I still feel as though you’re playing one,” I whispered. “Lieutenant.”
“Lefty,” he said. “At the very least, Duchess, it would appear we’re to spend a good deal of time together, and we ought to be friends. My friends call me Lefty.”
“Marina,” I whispered, “my friends call me Marina.” He nodded and we found our way to a table.
“Were you named for the sea?” He asked. I shook my head. “I suppose not, a Cammadie girl.”
“I was named for my aunt,” I said, “Marie. Annalise was named for my mother, Anne.” He nodded. “And I’m Phanian too.” He laughed. “My father doesn’t trust you, or the prince.”
“He has reason not to,” he whispered. “King Daniel made life difficult for your father, and Elana and Raymond’s mother, his aunt, was no great ally.” He looked at me. “You must know all this.”
“My father doesn’t like to speak of the past,” I whispered, “it’s painful for him. After losing my mother and aunt, and Count Caleb.” He nodded. “Besides which, I’m not going to inherit Tumona, so it never mattered much to him.”
“Tumona,” he mumbled, “of course. Raymond will.” I nodded. “This is not what I wanted to talk to you about.” I laughed.
“What were you thinking?” I asked.
“Rote comparisons of your eyes to stars, that sort of thing,” he shrugged. “But I foget, you’re not a debutante at her first ball. You’re a leader, and a politician and an heir to a throne.”
“I won’t be that for long,” I shook my head. “Once Annalise marries and has children. Honestly even if Aaron and Athena have children, a Viscount or Viscountess of Pantona would be as logical as a Duchess of Brightcoast.” He laughed. “Was that your specialty then, debutantes?” He laughed.
“Yes, often stories of our wild and exciting exploration did it,” he laughed. I blushed. “Honestly? There’s wasn’t a lot of time for it. Daniel truly didn’t like Eric spending too much time in Vacana, he was awfully popular, and a popular heir is a dangerous thing to a younger king.”
“Goddess,” I shook my head, “we’ve never had anything like that. I used to cry at night, worried that Annalise was dead and the resistance was going to try to put me on the throne. I can’t think of anything I want less than to be queen.” I stopped. “I’m not a politician.” He laughed.
“You are,” he said, “and a very good one. Even just in your interactions with us, you’ve made space in the queen’s life for Eric, in the household for the crew of the Glory and an academic future for Raymond.” I shrugged. “It’s not lost on me that if the careful ignoring each other arrangement between Phania and Cammadan tips in another direction, you’re the one who’ll have to deal with it.”
“No,” I said, “The Twins and General Martin,”
“Run the military,” he said, “you run her, you and Count Aaron.”
“No one runs her,” I shook my head. “She is queen.” He nodded. “You said you don’t like games.”
“I don’t,” he agreed.
“So say it plainly then,” I said, “you expect me to convince her to marry him.” He nodded. “And if she doesn’t, it will be war?”
“It could be,” he nodded. “Again, this isn’t what I’d hoped to talk to you about.” I smiled and stood up.
“Stars, and how they compare to my eyes.” I whispered. He nodded. “Well then,” I leaned back and crossed my arms. “Do so.” He laughed and stood up and knealed next to me. I giggled.
“Lady Marina,” he whispered, taking my hands. “Were I to even attempt to compare the light I’ve seen in your eyes to the stars, the stars would be found woefully inadequate.” I smiled and giggled.
“This sort of things works with most girls?” I asked.
“Usually yes,” he smiled. “But as I said, I’m not used to a politician.” I kissed him then, he pulled me close. “Well then, perhaps I should stick to the stars.”