“She gave you a handkerchief?” I said with a loud laugh as we rode out of the city. Tristan scowled at me. “You cannot be serious? Like in a fairy tale about knights and ladies?”
“Don’t make fun of her,” he said. “Ma-Lady Marina care about me, about us, and our mission.” I sighed and rolled my eyes.
“She’s in love with you,” I said. He frowned.
“Don’t tease, it’s cruel,” he whispered.
“I’m not the one being cruel in this situation, Tristan,” I said softly. He frowned. “If you don’t have feelings for her, it’s wrong, cruel to use your word. She’s young and silly and she might be our queen one day.”
“It isn’t like that,” he said, “between us. You don’t know her, you’ve never bothered to try.” He had me there. “And maybe I do I have feelings for her.”
“If you say so,” I said and rode ahead a bit to where our charge was sitting, side saddle and serenely beautiful. “Is everything, to your liking, Your Grace?”
“Quite,” She smiled at me. I didn’t know the Countess as well as I should, after Tristan’s barb about Lady Marina Sanpierre, that stung a little. But I’d always felt an odd loyalty to General Martin, who’d raised me, to give the Count and Countess a wide berth. The Countess had chosen the Count over the General when they were young. “I’m sorry to take you away, I know your life in Dovetail is full.” I looked oddly at her. “I haven’t traveled without Caleb in a long time, it made me nervous. Thomas was kind enough to volunteer you and your brother.”
“You’re lying,” I said. She winked. “I mean, I know that’s what we told Lord Brayton, but,” she shrugged. “Is this about Lady Marina? Are we preparing to challenge,” she shook her head.
“Lady Athena, I assure you,” she said, “you’ll know everything you need to soon.” I nodded as we kept riding. I wonder sometimes about her, about her marriage and the choices she made. Lady Olivia Bano is treated almost like a legend, when people whisper about her. Like a Princess in a Story, courted by three suitors, one a king, one a hero and one a country lord. When a shadow swept over the king’s domain, and the hero felt called to defend it, the country lord swore to protect her and take her away and so she chose him. I doubted it was so simple, nothing in real life is.
“They don’t trust me anymore,” I said softly. She looked at me again.
“Oh, no, Athena,” she said, “you are not the first of us to make a mistake.” I nodded. “You loved him?”
“I thought I did,” I whispered. “But I didn’t even know him. Not really.” Warren Davis destroyed my trust, blew up my life and took my virginity. But I did not love him, if I loved him then there is something very wrong with my heart.
“I hope that you two will stay in Pantona,” she said, softly. “At least for a bit. We ought to have had you long ago.” I smiled at her.
“I wouldn’t have come,” I admitted. She laughed.
“Yes, I know,” she said, “you’ll never forgive me on Thomas’s behalf. You can forgive Trey though?”
“That’s different,” I said, “I was the reason for that.” She reached out and took my hand.
“So much your fault,” she said, “for one so young. Your Uncle’s and Thomas’s intransigence was not your doing. Your mother’s wish was that you be free to pursue your own heart. Now if that heart wants one of those pretty merchant boys your grandfather sends down to Dovetail every spring and fall, so much the better.” I giggled. “But I don’t think it is. You’re too much your father’s daughter. John knew duty, he knew Cammadan and the family,” she looked at me. “If the plan was to crown Lady Marina, would you serve her?” I looked at the Countess then.
“With every breath in my body,” I said softly. “But if in the next year we all do nothing? And I’m asked to serve Brayton, I’ll flee to Dorin so quickly your head will spin and if my grandfather won’t have me, I’ll cut my wrists.” The Countess nodded.
“And that,” she whispered, “Lady Athena, is why we trust you.”