I walked into my office in the palace, to the eager greeting of my secretary, Bethany. She took my cloak and I settled in on a couch. I like working this way better than at a desk.
“What is most pressing today?” I asked her. She looked at a list in her hand.
“Well,” she said and sat down, “Your grace has several invitations.” I sighed.
“Decline them,” I said, “Lady Nika is in the city and I wish to spend the evening with her.” Bethany nodded.
“Adept Quents wishes to see you,” she said, “he asks if The Duchess can possibly join him at the lab in the university sometime this week, that is if her busy schedule allows.” I laughed. I did owe Raymond some attention. “And Her Majesty is wondering if there is a plan to welcome Sir Tristan and Lady Dugarry when they return from Pantona.” I swallowed.
Carolina had found Bethany for me. She was a merchant’s daughter who’d joined to guard to avoid marriage and found the life didn’t suit her. I had plenty to do, between running Annalise’s household, and managing Brightcoast, (though Papa did most of that.), continuing the frustrating negotiations with the Westran tribes to search the desert for The Great Wheel. Having someone to help me was nice.
“I’ll go to see Her Majesty in a bit to discuss the Dugarrys,” I said, “and I’ll go to see Adept Quents this afternoon.” She nodded. “Nothing from Phania?”
“No, Your Grace,” she said, “but there is one from your father.” I nodded and dismissed her. I hadn’t had a letter from Damian in months. I was a little worried. I usually hear from him every few weeks.
“Thank you,” I said gently. She nodded and stood up walking out. I closed my eyes and frowned, opening the stack of letters, and got to work answering them. Papa asking questions about what to do with the increased Guard presence at home. Feed them, keep them entertained. And our most important instruction. Watch to see if anyone has magic, then write to Raymond or Elodie. It’s what Tristan and Carolina are doing in Pantona, it’s what Papa is doing, it’s what the Norvine’s are doing.
We need magic users and we need them to be trained, and we need to know they’re loyal. It isn’t easy.
“Are you busy?” Annalise walked in a hidden door. I shook my head.
“You were on my list,” I said. She laughed and plopped down. “I think just a dinner for Caro and Tristan, you know they don’t like a fuss.” She rubbed her face. “Is it just them?”
“I think so,” Annalise frowned. “Aaron didn’t mention coming, not that I blame them, Calla should be at Pantona as much as possible, not here.” I disagreed. So did Athena.
“She’s a Dugarry too,” I said softly. Annalise frowned. “And your heir.”
“Until I have children, there’s not much for the next generation of Dugarrys.” She muttered. “And officially speaking, you are still my heir.” I sighed.
“Have you heard anything?” I asked softly. She shook her head. “When did he last,”
“Two years,” she said, “two years ago. An apology, freeing me, if you can imagine.” She’d never said anything. Not a word.
“Oh Lisette,” I said gently, “I’m sorry.” She sighed. “It’s been a few months.” I swallowed. “I’m worried.” I stood up and picked up a tea pot. Thank Rana for Bethany, who prepared it every morning, I poured myself a cup and offered it to Annalise who shook her head. “Raymond asked to see me today. He might know something.”
“Oh you mean our hostage,” she said, I laughed. “Nika arrived safely?” I nodded. “Alone?”
“I’m sure Brea is very busy,” I said. She rolled her eyes.
“I’m sure Harran is at his wit’s end,” she frowned. I nodded. Brea and Harran were getting married. Annalise wasn’t happy about it. I got the feeling that Harran was. “Rina,” she said softly, “I’m worried about you.” I smiled.
“Don’t be,” I said, “I’m tired is all.” She nodded. “When do you want to go west?” She sighed.
“When everyone comes here,” she said, “then we go west. And hopefully we can do some ranging.” I nodded.
“I hope so too,” I said, “Lisette, I’ve been thinking about Rastan,” I drifted off.
“Me too,” she said, “apparently the king is not doing well.” I nodded. “I’ll go when Ranier’s crowned.”
“Right,” I said. “Good meeting.” I said and stood up.
“Rina,” she said softly, “You’d tell me if something was wrong right?” I nodded.
“In what way?” I asked. “I haven’t had any Dreams out of the ordinary, or anything.” She nodded. “Have you?”
“Nothing new,” she admitted, “but still concerning.” I looked at her. “I worry about you.” I shook my head.
“Annalise, I cannot think of anything less likely to happen at this point in time than me pledging myself to Amina and joining Brayton.” I raised my eyebrows. “Among other things, when the hell would I do it?” She laughed at that. “I don’t hold it against you, you know.” She frowned. “I’d have wound up stranded in Phania if you’d let me go.”
“But you’d be with Lefty,” she said.
“But I wouldn’t be with you,” I said, “or my father, or Raymond, or Nika.” She smiled. “Anything else?” She shook her head and stood up and left.
I left my notes and walked back to my apartment, Nika was sitting on the couch with a book.
“You’re early!” I exclaimed and sat down with her. She laughed and kissed me.
“I wanted to surprise you,” she said. I smiled and carefully unwound her veil. She slipped her hands to my back and started undoing my laces.
“You succeeded,” I whispered. “I’m supposed to go see Raymond.” I said softly.
“I’m sure he’ll be plenty patient,” she smirked. I giggled and fell back against the couch. “Oh gods, I want you,” she said taking her rings off. I ran my hands through her hair. I love her hair. It’s silky and brown with flecks of gold highlighting it. I asked her once if she kept it veiled because the color made Brea jealous. That made her laugh.
Four years and we didn’t get nearly enough time together. Nika travels more than I can, but whenever we’re in the same place we’re together. We both understand what this is, we can’t be with one another permanently, it doesn’t suit us.
But our moments are worth it. I kiss her neck and down her chest.
“Marina,” she whispered gently, breathy as she touched me. I groaned softly. “Oh I never get tired of that,” she whispered. We tumbled onto the floor and I laughed kissing down her and between her legs. “Oh, love,” she exhaled. We finished, panting happily and wrapped up in each other. “Why does Raymond want to see you?” She asked.
“Who knows?” I said, “but he asked me to come to the lab so probably some experiment he needs help with.” She nodded. “How was home?” She groaned and fell back against the carpet and I laughed.
“Brea’s already crowing about her sons and how they’ll be chieftains and leaders,” she shook her head. “She didn’t particularly like when I pointed out that Harran might change his mind again.” I shook my head and stood up.
“I don’t think he will,” I said, “I think he loves her, in his way.”
“You think too well of people,” she pecked me lightly.
“You’re too cynical,” I teased. She laughed. “Do you want to come to the University?”
“Not today,” she stretched, “give Raymond my best.” I nodded and kissed her. I stood up and straightened my gown. “Rina,” she said and kissed my hand. “You seem sad.”
“I’m happy,” I said, “when you’re with me, I’m happy.”