I’ve never seen my mother how she’s been for the past few weeks, certainly not with me. Perhaps when I first came out and they thought that Alex and me were going to happen, but now she’s a full whirlwind. We’ve hosted people every day, either for tea or dinner, well wishers, and gawkers.
It would be hideous, if it weren’t for Tristan being by my side in all of it. I suddeny realized how wonderful it was to be marrying a courtier. He always said the right thing.
And when we were alone, well that was a completely different thing entirely. We didn’t manage every night, but enough of them, that I’d completely lost any sense of self consciousness about it. His hands on me, him inside of me, the way he kisses me and whispers my name, it’s the most comfortable thing in the world.
There have been gifts and gowns and the one I’m treasuring the most, lost in the mess of silks and jewels that my new in laws to be have sent over, is a simple gold pendant with a crest on it, strung on a simple green velvet band Tristan sent it with a simple note.
I felt the need to have this made. It’s The Dugarry Crest, and you certainly never have to wear it, I know my grandfather is sending over something far more elaborate.
I haven’t taken it off, much to my mother’s irritation.
“I just don’t see why,” she sighed. I looked at her.
“Mama,” Emily shook her head, “Caro is going to be Lady Dugarry, not Madame Dumanis.” I smiled warmly at her. “I think it’s fitting.”
“Perhaps,” Mother said, and tied a pink sash around my waist, accenting the white dress I’d put on. “But for tonight, darling, maybe at least the earrings the old man sent over.” I frowned.
“I’ll wear the whole set, though I’m wearing the gown he sent,” I sighed. It was our official engagement party at the manor tonight. I slipped the pendant off and instead pinned it inside my sash. “Where’s Father?”
“He said he will join us there,” she said, “several ships came in this afternoon and it’s delayed him.” I frowned. My father was less enthusiastic about my engagement than I expected. For the man who was so intent on unloading me that he basically sold me to someone who abandoned me, he’s been curiously distant and stoic about the situation. To the point that my mother is worried The Dumanis are going to be insulted. I’m starting to see her point.
“Madame,” our butler walked in, “the young gentlemen are here to escort the ladies.” Emily squealed and flew off.
“Emily, do try to,” Mother called after her, “oh never mind, she’s hopeless.” I laughed. “Darling, I know you’re fed up with all of this, but it’s important to me, so I am glad you’re going along with it.” I smiled in the mirror and he squeezed my shoulders. “You shouldn’t keep him waiting.” I stood up and hurried to the front hall. Emily and Alex were already bundled in their carriage and Tristan was standing waiting for me.
“I was lucky they got out the door,” Tristan said softly. I laughed. “I’m an apalling chaperone.” I kissed him and he pulled me close. “I’ve missed you.”
“It’s been two days,” I said, “you couldn’t have missed me much.” He laughed.
“And yet, here we are,” he sighed, we walked outside. “I like this one,” he said, sliding the light linen of my gown between his fingers. “Is it from me? I’ve lost track.”
“From your grandfather, the jewels too,” I said. He nodded helping me into the carriage, where Emily and Alex were fully entwined. “Emily, Mother is joining us.” She sighed and pulled away, straightening herself. “Hello Alex.”
“Caro,” he smiled at me. Once Mother joined us the carriage carried us over to the manor and we walked inside, I relaxed into Tristan’s arm around my waist. I was surprised that not only were most of the merchants I’d ever known or seen here, so were many of the officers from the fort.
“Oh no,” Tristan said, as another one of them walked in. But he didn’t actually sound upset, he seemed, elated.
“What?” I said. He took my hand.
“I’m going to apologize in advance for how my entire family is about to react to something,” he said and we started walking. He looked excited though, even though there was a sudden hush in conversation. “Hello General.” He was beaming.
“Well, this is certainly something,” the man standing in front us laughed. I tried my best to take in General Thomas Martin, and he was quite something. If I’d thought Tristan was born to wear the uniform, it was clearly something he’d learned from The General. “You’re being rude, Tristan.”
“I’m sorry, you caught me by surprise,” he said, “This is Carolina DuKarras,” he looked at me. “Caro, love, this is General Thomas Martin.” My heart leapt.
“Oh!” I said, “Oh I’m so happy to meet you!”
“And I you,” The General said, gently, “I must say, it’s strange to be back here.” Tristan laughed and hugged him.
“Is Thena with you?” He asked.
“No,” he sighed, “honestly, this just happened to work out, I’m actually here to beg a favor if you can believe it, there have been some, developments.” Tristan frowned. “I don’t want to ruin your night, boy, we’ll discuss it later,” The General sighed. “I suppose I have to say hello to your grandfather, hm.”
“On your own head be it,” Tristan shrugged. “Trey is over there.” The General sighed.
“Yes, yes,” he said, “lovely to meet you Carolina, we’ll speak more soon.” I nodded as he left. I looked at Tristan.
“You really didn’t know he was coming?” I said. He shook his head. “I’m glad for you, and to meet him.” He kissed me gently. “You’ve gone, what is it?”
“Something must be very wrong, if he won’t tell me,” he frowned. I swallowed and turned his head, to look at me. “I’m sorry, I’m back.”
“You aren’t,” I said gently, “go speak with him. You’re useless to me in this state.” He laughed and kissed me softly. I exhaled and decided to explore a little, walking out into the hall, my father had walked into the door. “Kind of you to join us.”
“No need to be so prickly,” he said. “I’m here, I’ll make my apologies.” I frowned. “Would you prefer I hadn’t come at all?” He kissed me on the forehead. “And where is Tristan?”
“General Martin surprised him by arriving today,” I explained. Father nodded.
“Honestly, Angelo,” the man who swept in behind him, made my heart jump. “I’d rather not have come here first,” but then he smiled at me. “Well, hello Caro.”
“Andrei,” I managed a whisper.
“Ah, there’s the bride,” Trey Dumanis came in, “I was sent to fetch you.” I nodded, numbly and followed after him. I swallowed. “Are you alright?”
“I, thought,” I exhaled. “My father arrived.” He nodded.
“Yes,” he said, “and with Captain Arrain at that.” I nodded and took a glass of water he offered me. “May I give you some advice?”
“Yes,” I said, taking a large sip.
“Don’t let him rattle you,” he said. I swallowed. “Tristan knows everything?” I nodded. “And he’s standing by you?”
“He says so, but it was different, when he wasn’t,” I sighed, “he’s here.” Trey smiled softly. “Do you know everything?”
“I know that you and the Captain were involved,” he said, “and that you were rather changed after he left.” I smiled softly.
“Are you happy to see General Martin?” I said. Trey let out an indulgent sigh.
“Yes, I am always happy to see Tom,” he admitted, “though his appearance doesn’t bode well for how things are going in the south. Apparently he’s here to see about using guild ships for some conflict with Phania.”
“Oh,” I whispered, “I should find Tristan.” He nodded and I went back to the ballroom. Tristan was standing by his grandfather who looked, for probably the first time in my life, not just mildly irritated, but genuinely furious. Tristan’s brow was furrowed, and he’d lost all of his color. I walked over to him. “Are you alright?”
“I will be,” he said softly and kissed my forehead. My heart stopped beating so quickly. “I may have to leave earlier than I planned.” I looked up at him.
“I’ll come with you,” I said simply, “whenever.” He smiled. “My father finally arrived.” He smiled.
“A relief,” he said. He paused and saw them walking over to us. “Who’s that with him?”
“Commander Dugarry,” my father said and shook his hand. “May I present Captain Andrei Arrain? He’s the reason for my delay.” I exhaled and stared at the floor. “We had some matters to settle.”
“Of course,” Tristan’s voice was ice cold. “I’ve heard a lot about you, Captain Arrain.” Andrei looked at me then.
“Yes,” he said cautiously, “I imagine you have. I want to wish you both immeasurable joy.” I swallowed.
“That’s kind of you,” I said softly. He nodded and they walked away. “I was coming to warn you.”
“I could kill him,” Tristan said evenly, “would you like that? I bet Lisette would even pardon me for it.” I burst into a laugh and then kissed him. “Are you alright?”
“I think so,” I whispered, “I was shocked, and I don’t know what my father was thinking bringing him here.” He bit his lip. “Why is the old man so riled?”
“Oh, Martin always riles him,” Tristan shrugged, “they can’t stand each other. I’m sure Grandfather will threaten to kill him six times before breakfast.” I giggled. “Can we go to the gardens, I want to tell you everything, and I can’t here.” I nodded and we walked out into the courtyard. “I have to leave as soon as possible.”
“We have to leave,” I corrected him. He frowned. “Why?”
“There is a flotilla of Phanian ships in the Brightcoast Harbor,” he swallowed. “The General came to ask Grandfather for ships.” I sat down on a bench.
“My father,” I said. He sighed and nodded. “My father manages all shipping under your grandfather.”
“Yes,” Tristan said, “he does.” I looked at him.
“This will not look good, for us,” I said. “My family I mean, not you and I. Suddenly, we’re married and Alex and Emily,” he sighed. “But my father is now indispensable to The Old Man.”
“Look at me,” he said, “I don’t care about any of that. I want you with me, I want to marry you, I love you Caro,” I swallowed realizing it was the first time he’d said it out loud. “But it won’t be the same, if you come to Brightcoast. I thought we’d have time to figure out our new life.” I looked at him.
“Are you worried about seeing her again?” I whispered. I realized that’s what was worrying me. He swallowed and cupped my face.
“No,” he said, “I am worried that she’ll hate you though. And then I’ll have to hate her and that’s very complicated.” I kissed him. “You don’t have to come, I could send for you when we go to Dovetail.”
“No,” I said, “I’m coming with you. You aren’t leaving me behind.” He smiled.
“Alright,” he said softly. “You’ll forgive me for not coming over tonight?” I nodded. “You’re wonderful. I’ll come in the morning and bring the general. I’m sure he’ll want to talk to you.” I laughed.
“I look forward to it.” I whispered. He slipped his hands through my hair. “What is it?”
“I lived most of my life in war,” he said, “it was a secret one, but still. I don’t know that I’ll like the open kind any better.” I kissed him softly. I didn’t know what else do. “Being here has been so different and wonderful.”
“I don’t,” I sighed and pressed my forehead to mine. “We’ve talked about me wanting a different life, but if you,” I drifted off. He swallowed and shook his head.
“I didn’t mean that,” he said, “besides, Athena would never forgive me.” I laughed. “Are you alright?” I nodded. “I didn’t want to make a scene, that was right, wasn’t it?”
“Yes,” I giggled, “that was right.” He smiled.
“You’re doing what?” We heard Trey shout from the terrace. Tristan grimaced.
“Well, I think Martin just told him that he’s been involved with Dowager Countess of Pantona,” Tristan sighed. “I didn’t expect him to take it well, but a public outburst is something else.” I smiled. “I said it earlier but I really do apologize. I love him but Martin brings out the absolute worst in The Dumanis.”