I think Damian is at least a little bit right about how I’ve been insulating myself. But after sixteen years of being insulated by others it is a hard habit to change. As we walk through town the life of the place even puts the market in Dovetail to shame. Everything is lit by torches and magic and there are people calling to one another, and there’s music spilling out and delicious food smells coming from cafes.
And more than anything, there are probably more dark skinned people around than I’ve ever seen in my life. Some much darker than I, and others lighter.
“Are you alright?” He asked. I nodded. “Come on, it’s right here.” I laughed as he enthusiastically took my hand and pulled me inside a door. What was inside stunned me. The ceiling was round dome, held up by what seemed like magic, and the there were two floors of balconies swirling around a large open floor.
And people were dancing. The music was festive and loud and I didnt’ recognize the tune, but the dancing was fast and lively. It was overwhelming but in the best way.
“Can you teach me the dances?” I stood on my toes to reach his ear and yell over the music. He grinned and nodded.
“Of course,” he said, “but let’s get a drink first.” He took my hand and pulled me through the crowd to the bar and the girl working behind it, saw us and lit up.
“I was wondering when we’d finally see you,” she said leaning forward and then pulling him close by his shirt. “The Glory’s been in port for weeks.” He cleared his throat and then she noticed me. “Ah,” she nodded and pulled back.
“I’m sorry for your anxiety,” he teased, “May I present Duchess Marina Sanpierre, and Rina, this Elaine Addison. Lainey and I have known each other since childhood.” She sent him a look and rolled her eyes.
“Welcome, My Lady, we’re glad to have you,” she smiled softly, “be careful of this one, hm?” Damian laughed and I felt immediately small and insecure. The way she’d grabbed him had been intimate, and not friendly. I thought of how early on Raymond had made jokes to him about Brightcoast. She quickly poured two drinks and headed to another end of the bar. I scowled at him as he handed me the cup.
This was new. I wasn’t used to feeling jealous around him. I glanced back down at Elaine. Why was I jealous at that? She’s not beautiful, not unattractive, but her nose is a little off center and her hair is covered so I can’t judge that. And I knew he had a past, but having to see it is piercing.
“Lefty!” A man called out and walked over, “one more night and we were going to send out a search party!” He stopped and looked at. “Glora’s wing,” he shook his head, “I beg your forgiveness, Duchess,” he bowed, “I ought always to greet a lady first.” He wedged himself between us. “My name is Dorian Addison and I am your and Her Majesty’s humble servant.” I smiled and offered my hand which he took and kissed.
“I accept your service gladly, Mr. Addison,” I said, “on my own and my cousin’s behalf.” He smirked.
“I’m grateful to have you in my establishment,” he said, “though I have to admit my surprise at seeing you here with this lowlife.” He nodded to Damian.
“The lowlife can hear you,” he said, playfully pulling Addison away. I laughed.
“You own this place?” I asked. He looked young for it, his hair in long twists down to his shoulder. “It’s wonderful, regardless.” He laughed.
“Prince Eric owns it proper if you must know,” he said, “but only in that he gave me the money I needed, paying him back as I can. Hoping when he’s king he’ll just forgive the debt.”
“Hush, Addison,” Damian said, circling my waist protectively. “You’ll scare her off with political talk.”
“Do you mean King of Phania or Cammadan?” I jested back, ignoring Damian. “You should know Lisette is by no means certain, but by law he’ll inherit the island.” Addison laughed loudly.
“Lisette, you say? I thought you were Brightcoast, not Pantona!” He gestured and then called out. “Lainey, three more!”
“You aren’t the first flattering barman I’ve encountered since her restoration,” I shrugged. Damian twitched at that. Let him. Addison laughed and cupped my chin and then flicked it playfully.
“Any man would be foolish not to try to flatter you,” he said.
“If my brother tries to turn your head,” Elaine said walked over with a bottle and pouring the drinks, “ignore him.” I looked at her again. “Damian, will you sing?” I turned to him taking my second cup.
“You sing?” I said. He sighed.
“Only when provoked,” he said and kissed me. I was drunk enough to not fight him on the kiss.
“If I want to hear you sing, will you indulge me?” I whispered. He shook his head.
“Which would you prefer?” He whispered back, “to dance or hear me screech a Pharras folk tune you’ll hate?” I met his eyes.
“I want to dance with you,” I said softly, “Only you.” He smiled.
We did dance and dance some more after someone pulled him away I found myself back at the bar.
“You look like you could use some water,” Elaine said and poured mine. I nodded, realizing I must be flushed. I took a sip. “We don’t often get,” I held up a hand.
“I don’t often get to either,” I said, “never actually, it was different, in Dovetail.” She nodded, I swallowed. “I’ve never seen him this,” I tried to find the right word, “comfortable, I guess.” She nodded.
“It’s nearly home,” she pointed out. I looked at her and nodded. “He’s never brought anyone here,” she swallowed, I looked down, “I just want you to understand that.” I smiled.
“I see,” I said, “I didn’t know,” I exhaled, “Raymond,” I whispered, “he mentioned friends, never anything else.” Elaine rolled her eyes.
“I’m not surprised,” she said. She exhaled. “He’s the best man I know, My Lady.” The understanding that passed between us felt deeply familiar.
Images of that first night at Camp, when I’d idiotically thought Tristan’s accepting of my invitation was because he wanted to see me. Of William’s eyes following other girls as they entered court. Girls who wouldn’t stop him when his hands moved to his fly. Girls who didn’t worry about what came next. Only Damian, who’s love overwhelmed me, got me over that fear, and I was only one in a line to him.
“Excuse me,” I said softly and walked out.
“Marina,” Damian said, having followed me, “you shouldn’t have, run off, it isn’t exactly safe,” he looked around. I swallowed. “What did Lainey say to you?” I looked down.
“Nothing” I said, “only, it’s very clear that there is something between the two of you, and,” I looked down, “you belong here, and I don’t, and,” I sighed. “Who is she to you?”
“Lainey is an old friend. Our mother’s grew up together, we were together a lot as children.” He explained breathleslly, I nodded and his face fell. “And that wasn’t what you were asking.” I blushed and looked down. “We weren’t in love with each other, Marina,” he said gently. “It just became, a sort of habit when I was here or she was in Brinecliff.” I swallowed.
“You probably should have warned me,” I pointed out. He sighed wistfully took my hands and kissed them both. I giggled.
“You’re right,” he nodded, “I’m desperately sorry and beg forgiveness.” I sighed. “You didn’t deserve an ambush. And I shouldn’t have abandoned you.”
“I forgive you,” I said softly. He smiled. “And I did like them.” He smiled.
“I’m glad,” he said with a gentle smile. “Someday you’ll see the island, my love, and be overwhelmed.” I kissed him. “They are all counting on Eric being King of Cammadan though.”
“Even if they marry she might not make him king,” I pointed out. “Mariah wasn’t a Queen after all.” We’d begun walking back toward the beach and the manor.
“But Marie was,” he said softly. “I think you all don’t appreciate what she meant to the Pharras and the Phanians living here. What Annalise does, what you do.” I kissed him again softly this time. “They came here because there was no place at home for them, because the dream that life here might be better.”
“A dream of a better world,” I said, he nodded. “Aaron and I used to talk about it, before we took Dovetail back. We wanted to lead for her, build a place where everything we believed in could matter.” I closed my eyes and felt the breeze. “I never saw it, Damian.” I admitted. “Because it didn’t matter. As long as I wasn’t in the palace, at Brayton’s mercy, the world was better.” He gently circled his arm around me and rubbed my shoulder. “He could have named the day, and I had no power to stop him.”
“Look at me,” he whispered and I turned. “You are amazing, Marina,” he cupped my cheek. “That you survived and came out kind and true,” he pressed his forehead to mine, “you could be bitter and angry and not a soul could blame you.” I pressed my forehead to his chest.
“Do you love me?” I asked softly, “or do you love what they see me as?” He exhaled.
“I love you,” he said, “if you said you wanted to burn it to the ground and run into the Westran desert, I’d go with you.” I wrinkled my nose.
“I doubt the desert would suit my father,” I said, “and I can’t run away without him, he’d forget to eat.” Damian laughed.
“Fair,” he said, “Although I didn’t realize we’d be bringing your father.” I shrugged. He pulled me close. “I don’t want to lose you, Rina.”
“You never will,” I said.