Aaron is pacing nervously and I shook my head.
“You’re doing the thing,” I said. He frowned at me. “You’re doing the thing where you’re thinking as her overprotective brother rather than her advisor.” He rolled his eyes. “Aaron, she’ll be fine. This will all be fine.”
“I think you’re taking your soothing spiritual leader role a little too personally,” he said. I rolled my eyes at him. “If Eric decides to leave, it’s bad Rina.” I nodded.
“I know,” I said and straightened my skirt. “And I’ve been thinking about that, probably more than anyone.” He sighed and sat down next to me.
“Of course you have, I’m sorry,” he said. I looked down.
“I’d go with them,” I whispered. He stared at me. “Not permanently, but,” I exhaled, “I’d go to Tumona, go home.”
“This is your home,” he said, “and we need you here, Marina!” I exhaled.
“We need to keep King Daniel happy,” I said. He nodded. “Or at least, convinced we’re still serious about a real alliance.”
“Yes,” he said, his tone careful. I looked down.
“Well, Annalise isn’t the only one available for that sort of arrangement,” I said softly. He exhaled.
“Marina,” he whispered, “I can’t ask that of you,” I stood up and walked over to a small portrait of my aunt, it really was like looking in a mirror. “And I doubt Lefty and Eric,” I looked over my shoulder.
“They’ll play along,” I said softly, “they don’t want war anymore than we do.”
“So you go South,” he said. I nodded. “Athena and Annalise go west to hunt for the gods?” I nodded again. “And if they need you?” I sighed.
“I don’t know,” I said, “I do know we’ll get nowhere with the mandate while fighting off a Phanian invasion of Brightcoast.” He sighed. He kissed my forehead.
“We don’t deserve you,” he said, “you know that, hm?” I laughed and patted his hand carefully.
“I know,” I said softly. “I love you though, so that makes you worth it.” He laughed sadly. “So I hear you’re going to have a stepfather.” That lead to a bark of laughter.
“Athena is not pleased,” he said. “Meanwhile, I’m just glad my mother is happy.” I smiled.
“Athena is protective of her people,” I said, “that now includes your mother as well as The General, I can’t imagine it’s an easy equation for her.” He nodded. “I think it would be good for my father, to go back.”
“If you think so,” he nodded. “It always seemed to me he was happy to never go back.” I swallowed. “And if Eric doesn’t leave?”
“I might still go,” I said softly. “Damian wants me to see it,” I admitted, “and Pharras. I want to, too.” It was the first time I’d said it out loud. I did want to. I felt at peace here in Brightcoast, but I knew there could be no real peace until we free the gods, so I was building in restlessness. Or maybe it was real. Who could say?
Rana had been frustratingly quiet lately. Lisette said the same. Raymond too. Though he was more concerned with the whispers in his sleep from Amina. I couldn’t tell Aaron about that, though I desperately wanted to. It wasn’t my secret to confide.
“Ah,” Duchess Norvine walked in with the others trailing behind her, “Duchess Brightcoast, nice of you to join us for a change,” I blushed.
“I apologize for my absence,” I muttered taking my seat. “As it turns out the people my father had in charge were less than reliable.” She nodded. Harold Friers scowled at me. He’s less than thrilled with our treatment of his son, but it can’t be helped that he’s too young and too shy, and frankly, if the way his eyes follow Raymond are to be believed he’s probably even less interested than we are.
“Will Queen Annalise be joining us?” Friers said. Aaron looked at me.
“She was alerted to the meeting’s importance,” he said, “I’m sure she’s on her way.”
“The matter of her marriage needs to be settled,” Duchess Norvine said, “or at least addressed. If she’s set on the Phanian or he border tribes boy, that’s all well and good, but if she hasn’t someone needs to reach out to Rastan.” She glanced at me. “They can’t be ignored forever.”
“If this is literally another meeting where we discuss nothing but whether Annalise is going to get married soon,” Aaron groaned, “I’m leaving. Harvest is coming, I should be in Pantona supervising.”
He looked miserable I realized. He was listening to this group squabbling about Lisette’s love life, when all he wanted was to be home, doing the thing he was good at.
Lisette walked in then, looking regal and confident and took her place at the head of the table as everyone rose.
“I was told this was a very important meeting of this council,” she said, her eyes never leaving Aaron’s, I so often wondered what passed between them. “What could be so urgent?”
Duchess Norvine cleared her throat.
“My people managing in Dorin are confident that The Dumanis will be on your side given any need for naval intervention,” she said simply, “if that’s still something you want.” She nodded.
“It is,” she said. “For now, at least. In the future, however, I’d like the crown to be as independent of the guilds as possible.” She glanced at me and I nodded. “And as we’ll be intimately connected with Phania, I don’t see building and training our own navy as terribly difficult.”
“You’ve decided then,” Friers said. She looked at him.
“I haven’t decided anything,” she shrugged. “Lady Marina however,” I swallowed.
“I, well,” I stuttered as they all stared at me. I wanted to murder her. “Lieutenant Lestoff and I have discussed a few possibilities, of course, but, well,” I was flushed. She thought she was helping, that was the worst part.
“Let’s move on,” Aaron said, sending a sharp look around the table. “Before you came in I mentioned harvest, and from most of the midlands, wheat looks particularly strong this year.” Friers began talking about his orchards then and I zoned out. We provided fish, and it was going well for the summer, this was known. After we adjourned everyone left except the three of us. “What were you thinking?” He hissed at Lisette.
“What?” She said, “We’ve talked about it, and I thought you were settled,” she paused.
“She’s not settled,” Aaron snapped, “I thought we got through to you this morning, Lisette, nothing is settled until you are. Everything hinges on you. Marina’s future, Tristan’s life, Athena and my marriage,” I swallowed. I’d never seen him this angry. “I understand you hate it, but it’s what it is.” She stared at him.
“Marina will you excuse us?” Annalise said softly.
“No,” Aaron said, “forget it, Marina stay, I’ll excuse myself.” He gathered his things and stopped in the doorway. “That is with your permission?” He was so sarcastic the room got colder. She nodded tersely.
“He’s not wrong,” I said softly, “we just came up with an elaborate feint to keep the Phanians at bay if Eric decides he’s had enough.” She looked at me. “And you may have just destroyed any chance of it working.” She closed her eyes and nodded. “He’s never asked me,” I whispered. “Not once, because he knows I can’t say yes, and I don’t think his pride could take it.”
“I’m sorry,” she said softly. I nodded. “I’m going to talk to Eric.” I nodded.
“You do that,” I said and walked out of the room. I found my way to the small apartment that Papa and I had here. We didn’t use it much, Papa really never. Damian was waiting for me, balancing a pen between his knuckles, I sat down next to him and put my head on his shoulder.
“Good morning to you too,” he smiled. “It went that well, hm?” I looked at him.
“Is Eric angry?” I said softly. “I hate using you as a go between, but, well,” I sighed. He nodded.
“Eric is, at the moment,” he snickered, “indisposed. When I got to our rooms last night, he was falling down drunk, and he’s unable to do much but vomit.” I laughed and kissed him gently. “What’s Annalise thinking?”
“I barely got to speak to her,” I said, “But I think she wants you to train any navy we might build.” He leaned back and looked at me.
“Hm,” he nodded. “That’s interesting.” I laughed and kissed him again. “Are you still upset with me?”
“I was never very upset with you,” I said softly. He smiled. “I’m glad you introduced me to them, really, Damian, I want to be a part of your life.” He cupped my face.
“You are my life, now,” he said softly, “I hope you know that.” I curled into him. He kissed my hair.
“If you leave, I’m going with you,” I said. “I can’t bear the idea of being without you.” I felt him tense around me.
“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it, love,” he whispered. “But I’m glad to hear it. I don’t want to be without you either.”