I was fully dressed and pacing in the hall of the house we’d be staying in. It was lovely, I couldn’t argue with that. The dress I was wearing had been especially made for whenever I was being presented to the Queen and now I was so nervous I couldn’t breathe.
“Miss DuKarras?” A maid stepped in. “There’s a carriage here,” I nodded. “And The Lady Marina is in it.” I exhaled.
“Oh,” I whimpered, “I thought we’d be going soon. Has there been any word from Sir Tristan?” She shook her head. “Alright, the parlor, I suppose.” She nodded again and I walked into the parlor and waited.
She walked in, practically floating. Her hair was arranged artfully in curls and she was dressed in a silvery blue color and smiled so gently.
And she was tiny. I’d heard her teasingly called The Little Duchess and I could see why now.
“Your Grace,” I said softly and curtsied.
“Miss DuKarras,” she said and walked over to me and sat down. “I’m sorry I couldn’t greet you this afternoon, and I’m sure you were expecting Tristan but he’s been detained.”
“Of course,” I sighed, “I imagine he has a lot to catch up on.” She nodded. “I’m glad to meet you, finally. Tristan speaks of you often.”
“That’s nice to hear,” she said softly. “I don’t want things to be awkward between us. Tristan is my oldest friend and I adore him and it’s clear that you make him terribly happy which is nice because he’s almost never happy.” I laughed.
“You flatter me, Your Grace,” I said softly.
“Marina,” she said, “please.” I nodded and then Father walked in. “Oh, you must be Mr. DuKarras.”
“Yes,” he said shortly.
“Father, Duchess Marina came to meet us and escort us to the palace,” I said standing up and taking his arm. “Tristan was delayed by work, wasn’t it kind of her?”
“Very kind,” he said, “thank you, Your Grace.”
“Not at all,” she stood up and began walking out. “My own father won’t be there, I hope you won’t take offense. He absolutely refuses to attend any event that Admiral Franz will be present at for personal reasons.”
“What are those reasons?” I asked as we climbed into the carriage. “I thought your father was Phanian?”
“Oh he is,” she nodded, “but Papa is rather eccentric. And he deeply disapproves of Annalise and I and well, our attachments to the Island, shall we say. He thinks it’s dangerous.”
“He may not be wrong,” Father said. “I recall some of the talk around Phania when your aunt became queen, none of it particularly kind.” I looked at him. “You look shocked, Caro. You know I spent time in Vacana during my apprenticeship.”
“I long to go,” The Duchess sighed. “I think the Goddess wants me to, but she certainly isn’t being helpful.” I stared at her.
“Isn’t that disrepectful?” I said softly. She smiled at me.
“Oh terribly,” she sighed, “but while losing the blessing is traumatic, I sometimes think it might be worth it.” Father and I both stared at her baffled. “Ah, here we are!” I looked out the window and saw the palace. “Don’t be nervous, Annalise is wonderful, really. She might be a bit stand offish at first, but that’s because she’s a bit shy of new people.” She happily bounced out of the open door and I swallowed and stepped out.
Tristan was smiling waiting for me. I exhaled and took his hand.
“I’m sorry,” he said, “Rina insisted.”
“I did not,” she said sticking out her tongue. I laughed. “Mr. DuKarras, would you mind escorting me inside?”
“Of course not, your grace,” he said offering his arm. She winked at me and continued chattering to my father.
“Did she frighten you?” Tristan asked with a soft smile. “I warned her not to.” I laughed.
“No,” I shook my head, “no, she’s lovely. A bit odd.” He laughed.
“She is that,” he sighed. “She’s lived a peculiar life so far. I doubt it will get more normal.” I nodded. “I’ve missed you all day.”
“Don’t be silly, I’m sure you’ve been very busy,” I said and straightened his jacket. “I was worried when you didn’t come tonight, but Duchess Marina explained you were working.” He nodded.
“Yes,” he said, “and Athena had a thought. We’re going to see Annalise.”
“Well, yes,” I nodded as we started walking inside. “That is why I’m here.”
“No,” he sighed. “I mean, yes, but I meant now, before the presentation. I think it will be easier.” I stared at him.
“What?” I said, “Just waltz into the Queen’s bedchamber like,” I stopped. Of course, it wouldn’t seem at all strange to him. He looked down. “Oh Tristan, I don’t think it is a good idea.” I pressed my lips into my mouth. “I understand if you want to speak to her first, I can find my father and your uncle and be fine until,” I swallowed. “Duchess Marina said she’s shy of new people?” He smiled.
“I don’t know if shy is the right word exactly,” he said. “But she’s not good at it. Most of her life it was just her and The Count, you see, she never really could make friends.” I nodded. I was familiar with that idea.
“Alright,” I said softly. “I mean, I suppose so.” He smiled. “But my father,” I drifted. I was making an excuse, he knew I didn’t really care about my father’s comfort and it seemed he and the Duchess were getting along just fine.
“Caro,” he said softly, the softness in his voice, that he usually used just for me, returning, “it’s alright.” I smiled and nodded and followed him upstairs.