I sat at dinner quietly. It’s not like me and I’m sure people noticed, so I’m glad Athena had already said I was exhausted. Tristan had taken a door duty so I don’t have to look at him, but I feel him watching me.

“I was told I owed you an apology,” Prince Eric said. I looked at him. “Or at least an explanation.”

“I’m not sure I understand,” I said. He smiled and looked down. “You have nothing to apologize for.”

“We were sailing home,” he explained, “when we received word of your ascension, we changed course. I don’t know why Elana thought,” I smiled.

“It’s alright,” I said, “honestly, I’m relieved! I was disappointed when Queen Elana wrote that none of you were coming.” He brightened at that. “I’ve always wondered, about you.” He smiled.

“And I you,” he admitted. I thought of the Dreams. Of the vision that pulled me out of Brayton’s smoke. “You should know my brother is very determined.” I laughed.

“Determined for what?” I asked. He rolled his eyes. “I’m going to make you say it.”

“He wants us married by the end of the year,” he said. I smiled. “I’m less determined, though I haven’t ruled it out.” I picked up my wine and took a sip.

“Haven’t you?” I said. He smiled.

“I mean, if I’d gotten here and you were hideously deformed I might have gotten right back on the ship and then told Daniel to go right to Amina,” he said. I nearly choked laughing.

“Good then,” I smiled. “I mean, that you don’t find my hideously deformed, you haven’t seen my feet yet though.” He laughed.

“Frankly, with the stories I heard seeing that you are in fact a girl of flesh and blood and not a witch made purely of shadow is a relief,” he said. I laughed. “I want to get to know you, Your Majesty, if I may be permitted.”

“I think it’s best if we start as friends, Your Highness,” I answered. He nodded.

“If we’re friends then it can’t be Your Highness,” he smiled. “Eric.” He extended his hand.

“Annalise,” I said taking it. I almost said Lisette, but then I realized, I’m not Lisette anymore, I don’t want to be, not with him. “Tell me about your companions, they both seem deeply interested by my cousin and I must protect her.” He smiled.

“Raymond’s your cousin too, come to that,” he said, “his mother is your mother’s Aunt. He’s no danger to your Marina, if you catch my meaning.” I nodded.

“You can say he likes men plainly, it’s not taboo here,” I nodded towards Thomas. Eric smiled.

“That will suit him,” Eric said, “I do my best by him, but we’re very different people. His temperament actually matches my brother’s more.” I smiled. “As for Lefty, that is Lieutenant Lestoff, he’s my brother and I won’t speak against him, but she should be on guard. He likes a conquest.” I exhaled. After Tristan and William, I wonder if being pursued by an experienced play boy would be good for her.

“Your brother?” I said. “Another? I didn’t realize!” He laughed.

“Step brother, I suppose is more appropriate,” he explained, “my mother married his father after mine died.” I nodded. “But I was barely three when all that happened, so I’ve known no other life.”

“I know something of that,” I admitted, “I barely remember my parents, Caleb and Olivia and Aaron are my family.” He nodded. “What do you know of Cammadan?”

“I know Dorin,” he said, “and the sea, so I know the merchants well.” At that Athena looked over.

“You know my family then?” She said. He smiled.

“We do,” he said, “your cousin Alex best, probably. But your grandfather was always very good to us when we were in his city.”

“It’s Duchess Norvine’s city,” Aaron said, and Athena pinched him. “It’s a matter of some disagreement.”

“You can see having a courtier and merchant as my main advisers is divisive,” I grinned. Eric laughed. “But you don’t know the valley at all?”

“No,” he said, “but I look forward to getting to know it.” I smiled. Later when he’d excused himself and he and Lieutenant Lestoff had left, I didn’t know where Lord Raymond had gone.

“We should do something fun,” I said to Athena. She raised her eyebrows at me and glanced at the door. “What is it?”

“It’s nothing,” she said, “what were you thinking?”

“Riding maybe?” I said, “Down into the valley? It’s so pretty and it will be too cold to do it soon.” I looked around. “Where is Marina?”

“She mentioned she wasn’t feeling well,” Athena said quickly. I nodded. “I’ll let her know the plan.” She got up quickly and then I noticed Tristan was missing too. I was suddenly very sad and very grateful for Athena.

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