That night I sat on my bed as Olivia combed out and braided my hair.
“The beef was good,” she said. I nodded. “Did you have a nice morning?”
“I think so,” I said, eyeing the violets now sitting on my vanity. She nodded. “The Dumanis train is in town.”
“Ah,” she said, “I imagine that diverted Tristan.” I twisted and looked at her. “Andrea or Brie?”
“Charlotte, Andrea’s daughter,” I said, “you know them?” I asked. She laughed.
“I was supposed to bring Charlotte out at court, if you can believe it,” she said, “of course things changed.” I nodded. “I would have asked about Trey but I know he’d never come here.”
“Anyway, then we went to the inn, and Tristan and William behaved very oddly,” I sighed as she turned my head back to continue braiding.
“I’d imagine they would,” she said, “William’s no fool, he can spot when he has a rival.” I looked at her. “Darling, you’re not that naive, you must have realized Tristan’s regard for you.”
“Well, I suppose,” I said, “but, William??” She laughed and turned my head again.
“He came to us last year and asked to marry you,” she said. I was speechless. “We obviously couldn’t say yes, but Caleb told him you were too young, and that we were certainly not going to make such a decision for you, and that he was free to continue your friendship and ask you in a few years.”
“William has been courting me?” I asked. She laughed. “He must think I’m dense.”
“I think he thinks you’re discreet,” she said, “and now I think he thinks that he has competition.” She finished my hair. “Besides which, it’s good practice for you. Once everything is settled you’ll only have more suitors, not fewer. Not to mention it can be fun.”
“It doesn’t seem fun,” I muttered. “I like William, we’re friends and Tristan,” I sighed. “How did you do it?”
“Rather poorly in retrospect but I thought I was brilliant,” she grinned. “You’ll do fine. You’ve never lead William on, and once he learns the truth he’ll back off.” I turned and looked at her.
“There were others?” I asked. “Besides my father, and Caleb?”
“A few,” Olivia said softly, “it isn’t important, because I made the right choice in the end.” She kissed my forehead. “And no one says you have to marry. Queen Anessa didn’t.”
“I suppose not,” I said softly. “But I need heirs. A lack of heirs caused this whole mess with Brayton.” She stood up am cupped my face.
“My darling,” she said, “you are not your father, and I know that Caleb and Anselm have done their best to teach you to be a responsible ruler, but you are going to be a queen, and as such, you will not be dictated to.”
“Is that what your father told you when he sent you after mine?” I asked.
“No,” she said softly, sadness in her voice. “When your father noticed me my father said it was the first time he was grateful I wasn’t a boy.” I nodded. “And in the end, my love, no one’s plans, my father’s, or mine, or Anton’s mattered in the slightest.” She frowned. “You’ve never asked much about this before.”
“I suppose it never mattered before,” I said, “it just keeps occurring to me that I know how to fight the battles I need to but being queen, there’s going to be so much more to it.” She laughed.
“Yes,” she smiled, “but I think the flirting and suitor juggling is the least of it, and will come naturally eventually.” I smiled.
“I’ve been having a Dream,” I said softly. She nodded.
“Aaron told me,” I frowned. “Darling, he’s worried. Who else is he supposed to talk to about it?”
“Still,” I muttered, “he won’t make much of a royal counselor running to his mother whenever he’s concerned.” She laughed.
“You don’t need to worry about your cousin,” she said, “Marina’s a sweet girl, a bit odd, I suppose but she’d rather die than join Brayton.” I nodded. “Goodnight my love.”
“Goodnight,” I whispered.
That night I dreamed of a place by the sea, it felt like home, even though I didn’t recognize it. There was a soft breeze and beautiful sunlight. I raised myself out of bed and saw white curtains blowing in the breeze. I stepped out onto the balcony and saw woman standing there, dressed in a blue gown with dark hair and skin.
“Hello my child,” she said softly. “My you’ve grown since I saw you last.”
“My lady,” I said quietly. I’d only seen the goddess one time that I could remember, when I was about six or seven. “It’s beautiful here.” She smiled.
“They’ve kept you from the sea too long,” she said. “But yes, it is. You’ll know it soon enough.”
“This is Brightcoast?” I asked. She smiled.
“No,” she said, “this is Phania, Tumona, your mother’s home.” I swallowed.
“Will he bring me here?” I asked. She sighed.
“It’s all unclear,” she said, “I see nothing clearly, the threads are too tangled.” I woke with a start and saw Athena sitting at my feet.
“Are you alright?” She whispered. I looked at her. “I was walking in to go to bed and the furniture was shaking, so I came in here and you were glowing.”
“It’s godly energy,” I said, “I was dreaming about Rana.” She nodded. “You were just getting to bed now?”
“Tristan and I spent the evening with our cousins,” she explained. “Alexander had some Westerland Whiskey and well, Tristan is going to have a headache in the morning.” I laughed.
“But you won’t,” I said. She laughed.
“No, I only had a small cup,” she said, “and I can hold my liquor. My brother normally doesn’t drink much at all,” she looked at me. “He’s quite taken with you, and Lotte pronounced you charming which I believe means you’ll have access to all of her ships when you’re queen.” I laughed. “Do you often dream of the goddess?”
“No,” I said, “once when I was little and tonight.” She nodded. “I’m sorry it scared you.” She shrugged.
“I don’t like magic,” she said softly. “Brayton has these things, guards, shadows, souls entirely consumed by darkness. Everywhere they go, it feels like all the heat leaves a room.” She smiled. “But this, felt different, almost the exact opposite.”
“Rana is light,” I explained, “Amina, her sister, who Brayton most likely gets his power from, is darkness.”
“What is Cornan, then?” She asked. I grinned.
“What’s in between?” I asked. “Shadow, and mist, suits a warrior.” She smiled. “You honor Cornan?”
“General Martin does,” she explained, “and our father did. The Dumanis, in an attempt to model themselves after the provenance leaders have taken to ancestor worship.”
“The Dumanis don’t approve of General Martin,” I said. She laughed.
“That’s putting it mildly.” She sighed. “When our parents died, Martin and our Uncle Trey were, well, they were together and Trey wanted us to go to Dorin, and Martin wanted us to stay in Dovetail, and,” she picked at the bedspread. “We stayed in Dovetail. Trey never forgave any of it. He doesn’t come to the city, he won’t see us.” She sighed.
“I didn’t know that General Martin,” I said. She laughed.
“Well,” she said, “women too, though he says he’s had his heart broken enough now and ‘Please Athena, I’m an old man, let me live in peace.'” I laughed. “I don’t know who else broke his heart, but he’s adamant.” I smiled. “Is Aaron,” she sighed, “can I trust him?”
“This is the whiskey talking,” I said. She shrugged. “In terms of life in general, yes. In terms of personal relations, move slowly.” She laughed. “He tends to get entangled.”
“This may be the whiskey talking,” she said, “but I’m starting to think I could do with that sort of entanglement.” I made a gagging sound as she stood up and left.