“And if Your Majesty would consider it,” Liesel Norvine was sitting next to me, “I know it’s difficult with the trip to Westran, but Dorin,” I nodded at her. “Mama is concerned.”
“Of course,” I sighed, “is she feeling better?”
“A little,” Liesel shrugged, “she’s frustrated to be missing Council, I’m not sure she trusts me yet.” I laughed.
“I think she just misses lecturing me,” I grinned. “I even miss the lectures.” Liesel laughed.
“You may be right about that,” she said. “Have you heard from the others?” I shrugged.
“Lord Evan is sitting for his father, Count Aaron leaves in a few days I believe, Marina is here,” I said, “we can convene soon. Is something wrong?”
“No,” she said, “just impatient, I guess.” I nodded. “Evan’s sitting for Wyatt, not Captain Chastain?” I glanced down the table at Evan and Prior. “I’m surprised.” I glanced sharply at her. “Given their own family strife I mean,” she sipped her drink, “obviously.” I shook my head. She took after her mother, sharp tongued and observant.
“I haven’t, and won’t give Wyatt cover to marginalize Evan,” I said, “unless Evan asks for it.” We’d discussed that. His disinheritance would give him a chance to become a Mastero, to go wherever Raymond decided to settle.
I’d hate to lose him on council though.
As dinner finished some musicians began playing and I got up from my seat and walked out onto the terrace. I glanced, hoping to catch Prior’s eye.
“I think I’m a disappointment,” Nika teased coming beside me. I laughed.
“Never,” I shook my head. “If only because tonight was the first time I saw Marina smile in a month.” She nodded. “Do you have news for me, Lady Nika?”
“Only to tell you that your arrival at the border and in Westran is highly anticipated,” she smirked, “my sister is beyond honored at your acceptance of her invitation.” I snorted.
“I’m sure she is,” I mumbled.
“I refuse to feel sorry for you,” Nika shook her head, “you rebuffed him enough times, he was bound to finally turn his head.” I sighed. She wasn’t wrong. For a year or so, Harran and I carried on as if nothing had changed.
Then he asked me to marry him.
Now he was marrying Brea. It was my own fault. Then I couldn’t have seen it, I was still so sure Eric would be back.
“Have you seen anything interesting?” I asked. Nika shrugged.
“No,” she sighed, “nothing new at least. The Dark Lady is quiet. Shadows gather and then they disperse. I see nothing of their king.” I nodded. “It’s as if he disappeared entirely.”
“That’s not possible,” I said. She looked at me.
“No, it is not,” she said, “he’s somewhere, but he’s hiding too well.” I looked at her. “I know Marina is unhappy, I do my best.”
“You know that has nothing to do with you,” I said. Nika shrugged. “Nika, she loves you.”
“Yes,” Nika sighed. “She does. But like anyone you love, Annalise, it won’t be enough for her.” I stared ahead at the mountain.
“Sometimes I think you see too much,” I mumbled. She laughed. “Did Raymond show you the obsidian?” She shook her head.
“Rina told me about it,” she said, “I’m going tomorrow to test it against shadow.” I closed my eyes. “It would be a powerful weapon. And maybe a way to bind without destroying to question them, or even restore their humanity.”
“I hadn’t considered that,” I mumbled. She sighed.
“I consider it every time I watch one shatter,” she whispered, “each shadow was once a person, a soul, corrupted by Amina’s false promises.” She looked down. “It’s my honor to help you, you know that, but it’s not what I’m supposed to do. I’m supposed to settle the souls of the dead, I’m supposed to mind my people,” I nodded.
“I know,” I said, “and I want to get you back to that, Nika.” She nodded. “Your sister chose not to accept my hospitality this time?” Nika snorted.
“My sister,” Nika sighed. “No, I seriously doubt she’ll come to Dovetail again.” I nodded. That was probably for the best. My relationship with Brea could be described as cold at best.
“Of course,” I said, “please let me know when you all plan the test, I’d like to be there.” She nodded and I walked back inside.
I’d done my best to emulate the more casual summer court in Dovetail too, the problem is that the palace isn’t really set up for it the same way as Brightcoast. It was autumn now, and I longed for summer. I looked over at Marina, who looked better than she had that morning, standing talking to Raymond and Evan, but she was still too pale.
“Your Majesty,” Prior appeared at my side and bowed. I smiled at him.
“Captain Chastain,” I said, offering my hand and he kissed it. “Did you speak to your cousin?”
“I did,” he nodded, “and yours.” I smiled softly. “Anya thinks you should take your uncles seat on council.”
“An honor I could do without,” he snorted. “Sometimes I think Evan and I are fighting each other to not take on those responsibilities, rather than who has to.” His eyes moved down me. “I forget sometimes that for years I only saw you like this.”
“Did you think about me much, then?” I asked as we moved into the hallways and down the stairs. He shook his head.
“I thought about you all of the time,” he said, “That you were beautiful, and mysterious.” He took my waist and pulled me close. “And my uncle hated you,” I giggled. “And I used to hope one day you’d even know my name, let alone call it out the way you do.” He kissed me. I wrapped my arms around his neck. “And that was just being here, when you were with Tristan,” I looked at him. “If I’d seen you in Brightcoast, I might have actually lost my mind.”
“What do you want?” I asked gently. “From me, from this?” He pressed his forehead to mine.
“I want you,” he said softly. “I expect nothing else.” I nodded. “Annalise, I mean it, I know what this is,” I pulled away.
“I can’t put off marriage forever,” I sighed. “Aaron reminds me every time I see him.”
“Mm hm,” he nodded and we leaned against a wall.
“Politically,” I said, “I could do worse than you.” He laughed.
“You could do better,” he pointed out, “Otto over in Failan would take you. One of Harran’s brothers, one of the Rastani princes.” I shrugged.
“Council seems to want someone Cammadie,” I said. He laughed. “They were willing to stomach Eric or Harran, I think, but now,” I shook my head.
“Are you proposing?” He asked.
“No,” I said, “no, just thinking out loud.” He nodded. “If I were, what would you say?”
“I’m at your command,” he whispered and kissed me, “I’d refuse you nothing.” I smiled.