I sat at my vanity brushing my hair. I was already tired and the season was only just starting.
“Caro,” my sister Emily bounced into her room. “Alex is downstairs.” I rolled my eyes at my sister. We’d both once harbored hope that the Dumanis heir would propose and while I’d been disappointed, Alex seemed genuinely attached to Emily.
I’m trying to be happy for them, which I think would be easier if everyone’s faces didn’t turn to pity every time I walked in a room.
“Tell him I’m not seeing people today,” I said. I was too tired, too bored, to sit listening to him crow about his recent trip to Dovetail.
“He’s not alone,” Emily said and bounced on the bed. “His cousin is with him.” I turned in my seat. “He did tell you that Sir Tristan DuGarry was coming, didn’t he?”
“Yes, but Alex says a lot of things,” I stood up. Emily giggled. “What does he look like?” I asked, as Emily stood up and grabbed my hands and spun me in a circle.
“Like all of them,” Emily shrugged, “Tall, fair, though he seems more, well, you’ll see.” Emily giggled and skipped out of the room. I shook my head and looked in the mirror.
I wouldn’t make the best impression, but I’d do. I wasn’t expecting to do anything but maybe read today. I walked downstairs to the parlor. Emily was chattering quickly and I heard Alex’s laugh. I walked in and Emily smiled at her.
“Carolina,” my mother said, standing up and encouragingly placing her hand on my lower back to push me forward. “Master DuCray and Sir Tristan can’t stay but they invited us to the house tonight for dinner.”
“Always an honor, Mr. DuCray,” I said to Alex who smiled at me. It was then that I noticed the other young man in the room, he was standing awkwardly, as if he’d risen from the chair he was beside quickly when I entered.
“Goddess, where’s my manners,” Alex said and stood up, “Miss Carolina DuKarras, this is my cousin, Sir Tristan Dugarry.” I curtsied.
“It’s a pleasure, Miss DuKarras,” he said and walked over, taking my hand. I expected him to look like Alex, and he does a little. He’s tall and blonde, he has the same narrow nose, but his eyes are a striking green color, offset by his guard uniform. He was also more broad than his cousin, and I realized it was likely because the sword on his hip wasn’t worn for fashion like most of the boys I knew.
“That’s kind of your Sir Tristan,” I said softly, “or do you prefer Master Dugarry?”
“If you’re going to be formal,” Alex said teasing, “it’s Captain Dugarry now, isn’t it?”
“Commander, actually,” Tristan grimaced and sat down. “Lis-that is Queen Annalise promoted my sister and I after her coronation but Tristan is fine.”
“What’s she like?” Emily breathed out. I sighed and tried not to roll my eyes at her. I also realized Mother had slipped out. She was good at that.
“Who? My sister?” Tristan said. “Infuriatingly stubborn, The Queen couldn’t spare her obviously, and her betrothed, the Count of Pantona had an opinion too. This is the first time we’ve lived apart, it’s very odd for me.”
“I think my sister meant Queen Annalise,” I smiled. I liked how nervous he was, he met my eyes. “Although I am disappointed we won’t meet your sister. From what your cousins tell us, she seems very interesting. You both do.”
“Right,” he said, “The Queen is,” he stopped, like he was looking for the right words, everything about him softened, “well she’s not like anyone else. She’s very intelligent and dedicated to her duty and the people she loves.” He stopped. “She’s decided to go South this year instead of come North, which is probably for the best. The Prince of Phania is visiting so Brightcoast is the logical choice.”
“How disappointing for us,” I said and sipped my tea, “I’d hoped to meet her, and it’s always nice to see Prince Eric and Lieutenant Lestoff, they’re quite popular.”
“Are they?” Commander Duggarry’s voice went flat. “They must be very congenial then, they’re well liked in Dovetail too.” I suddenly got the impression that neither man was popular with Commander Dugarry himself. Alex cleared his throat.
“Emily,” he said, “perhaps we should take a turn in the gardens.” Emily nodded and followed him outside. I realized then that we were alone.
“I’m sorry if I said something,” I started and he shook his head.
“You didn’t,” he sighed, “I’m just, awkward in new spaces.” I nodded. “I don’t know the rules here, and don’t say there aren’t any, there are always rules.” I smiled.
“Well,” I shrugged, “yes, but I think you’re sufficiently grand that no one will take note when you break them.”
“Exciuse me?” He laughed.
“Well,” I said, “first and foremost, this is Dorin, and you’re a Dumanis. You could slap every man in every room across the face as you entered and then insult their mother’s and they’d thank you and ask after your grandfather.” He laughed. “And you’re a personal,” I cleared my throat, “friend of the Queen’s, that doesn’t mean nothing.” We weren’t so disconnected from the real world that I hadn’t heard the rumors of the extent of Commander Dugarry’s relationship with the queen.
“I see,” he said. “So asking for your help would be useless?” I smirked at him. He was good. “I don’t like games, Miss DuKarras.”
“Then I’m afraid you’ve certainly come to the wrong place, Commander,” I said softly. “It’s all a game.”
“Do you intend to win?” He asked.
“I intend to stop playing, however possible,” I said. “I don’t particularly like this game either.”
“I’m glad we agree then,” he stood up. “There’s going to be some sort of ball or party tomorrow night at my grandfather’s. My Aunts are arranging it, but I would be very disappointed not to see you.” I stood and offered my hand again.
“We’ve only just met,” I said softly, “but I would very much hate to disappoint you.” He took it and kissed it and then left almost silently. I sat back down almost in shock.
Alex hadn’t been lying. He was here to take me away.
“Well,” Emily rushed back in. “What do you think?”
“I think that,” I looked at her and smiled, “I think that I’m going to be getting out.”