The Dinner

We walked quickly down the market to get to Uncle Trey’s house, and I wasn’t sure why I was so nervous.

“If he brings up the dowry, you don’t have to say anything,” I said softly. Aaron looked at me oddly. “I mean, this isn’t the negotiation.”

“I’m sorry, what?” He said. I sighed. “The dowry? Like, your dowry?” I nodded. “It’s something that’s negotiated?”

“Yes,” I sighed and straightened his jacket. “Though there isn’t much negotiation for me. My mother left the money for me, it’s not the family’s. And it’s up to Tristan and,” I paused, “well, I suppose your mother, or Lisette.” He shook his head.

“Anything else?” He asked. I smiled. “I know I’m a country bumpkin, Athena, but I do know how to be at a dinner party.” He kissed me gently and then knocked on the door. Gordon pulled it open.

“Lady Athena,” he said, “Count Pantona, please,” I smiled at him and he took my cloak and we walked into the parlor. Uncle Trey was there and my Aunt Brie. Brie’s son Alex and Charlotte, my Aunt Andrea’s daughter were also both there. My grandfather, Carlan Dumanis was standing, straight and tall, holding a glass of wine, dressed in the family colors of gold and blue.

“Thena,” Lotte smiled and stood up and embraced me. “Your Grace, I am so sorry for your loss, and please convey my respect to your mother. Your parents were uncommonly kind to me in my youth.”

“Thank you, Mistress Dufrey,” Aaron said taking her hand and kissing it. “My father was fond of you, and the horse you two chose bore our princess gloriously.” She laughed.

“Athena,” My grandfather said, I walked over and offered my cheek for him to kiss. “Count, what a pleasant surprise. Where is your brother?”

“Princess Annalise cannot be without both her body guards, Grandfather,” I laughed.

“Hm,” he said, “fine then. Tell him I expect to see him soon.” I nodded and he took Aaron’s hand. “Your Grace, as my granddaughter said, we were all saddened to hear about your father.”

“It’s kind of you sir.” Aaron said softly. “It’s hard to be too sad with such happiness in front of me though.” I looked at him, and felt myself flush.

“Ah, yes,” Grandfather smiled and we all floated towards the couches, “I received both your letter and Tristan’s, and I must say, it’s a pleasant surprise to have Athena so well settled. I thought we were going to have to drag her to Dorin to find someone appropriate.”

“Papa,” Aunt Brie said, with a slight caution in her voice, “there’s no need to discuss that now. Count Aaron, I suppose we’ll never convince you to have the wedding in Dorin?”

“I don’t believe it would be appropriate,” Trey said, winking at me. Aaron smiled. “It would have to be in Pantona.”

“I’m afraid so,” Aaron grimaced. “It would be one thing if,” I glanced at him, and he stopped. “It doesn’t matter, but it was something my father wanted.” I saw Grandfather’s face redden. I knew what he’d caught himself saying.

It would be one thing if we were noble. If Grandfather’s large house in Dorin were a proper manor, but it isn’t. So we’ll be married at Pantona.

“We had a wonderful summer,” I said softly, “Tristan too.” Grandfather nodded and the conversation changed again, to excitement about the coronation and the celebrations it would bring.

“Is it true?” Brie finally asked me. I looked at her. “About Tristan and The Princess?” I sighed and looked down. “Gods,” she leaned back.

“It’s complicated,” I said, “I think they’ve finished now, but well,” I shrugged.

“He can’t know,” she said, glancing at Grandfather. I nodded. “He has a girl picked in Dorin, and a boy for you, though that’s out.”

“Don’t tell Tristan,” I said. She shrugged. “He won’t do as he’s told, Aunt Brie.” She sighed. “And there’s Lady Marina.”

“Ah yes,” she smirked. “How is the Little Duchess?”

“They wrote to each other while we were away,” I said, “He’s more open to it than he’ll admit.” She nodded.

“I can work with that,” she said. I exhaled. Brie had always been our ally in the family. When Martin took us out of this house, when we enlisted, when I refused to come out in merchant society, she was the one who smoothed it.

Protecting Tristan, and so protecting Annalise, couldn’t be done without her.

“We need to discuss the coronation,” Grandfather said walking into the dining room beside me.

“I’ve barely discussed it with The Princess, Grandpapa,” I said simply. He sighed. “I have her trust but she has her own mind.” He frowned at me.

“Athena, I know you take your duty to the throne seriously, but your loyalty to this family must always be paramount,” he said. “We were the ones who kept your brother and you safe all these years.” I frowned at him.

“No you weren’t,” I exhaled. He blinked. “You didn’t keep us safe, Thomas did, Count Caleb and Countess Olivia did, we kept ourselves safe and Cornan watched over us. You all stayed close and quiet and bided your time. For that you will be rewarded, but I won’t let you lie about it.”

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