“They’re here, they’re here!” Althea Graves-Willis exclaimed running into my office, followed solidly by her mothers. Mercy smirked at me, while Elodie scooped up their little girl, actually an orphan they’d adopted from Brightcoast. Althea was nearly five now, and positively doted on, not just by her parents but by most of court.
“Althea,” Mercy cautioned, “what did we say? If you could behave you could announce to Her Majesty.”
“I’m sorry Mother,” Althea sighed and wiggled out of Elodie’s arms and curtsied deeply. “Your Majesty, The Count and Countess of Pantona and their family have arrived in the city, if it would please you to greet them when they arrive at the palace.”
“Thank you, Lady Althea,” I bent down and kissed her forehead, “it does please me. As do you.” She laughed and ran off down the hallway. “You’re too hard on her Mercy,” I cautioned her. Mercy rolled her eyes.
“I won’t have her be a little savage,” she said, with a smile. “But she is excited to see Calla.”
“Of course,” I nodded, I looked at Elodie. “You’re ready to brief them, Commander?”
“Of course,” Elodie laughed, “not that Athena won’t have more questions than my briefing could possibly cover.” I smiled. We arrived on the palace steps and Marina was already waiting with Raymond and Evan. I wondered where Nika was.
“Some traders arrived and asked for a blessing,” Marina said, anticipating my question. I nodded.
“It’s downright eerie when you two do that,” Raymond grimaced. “I’m your cousin too, why can’t I guess what you’re thinking?”
“I haven’t any idea,” I said, “perhaps it’s from Mariah, not Tumona or The Goddess.” He rolled his eyes. The gates opened and I couldn’t help but grin widely as Aaron and Athena walked up in full dignity. They were followed by Olivia and Thomas, Olivia holding Calla in her arms. Tristan and Carolina were next.
“I’m going to kill her,” Marina muttered. I looked at her.
“I’m sure she had her reasons,” Elodie murmured. I exhaled, one of them was pregnant then.
“Your Majesty,” Aaron smiled and bowed, I nodded and he rose and kissed me on the cheek.
“Your Grace, Countess,” I nodded to Athena. “Countess, General,” I smiled at Olivia and Thomas, “Viscountess.”
“Your Majesty,” Calla squeaked shyly, and placed her thumb in her mouth.
“She’s rather sleepy from the journey,” Olivia smiled.
“Of course,” I said and kissed her. “I am glad you’re here, Lady Calla,” I whispered, the little girl nodded. “Commander Dugarry, Lady Dugarry,” I accepted their bow and curtsey. “Please, come in and get settled, we’re going to have a private supper tonight.”
“That sounds perfect,” Athena said cheerfully and Marina glared at her, “but I think I have to receive a lecture first.”
“Ah,” I nodded. “Congratulations,” she laughed followed me inside. “General, Commanders, if you don’t mind, Commander Willis has briefings for you.”
“Of course,” Tristan smiled at me and kissed Carolina and they walked through the hall and Carolina disappeared down the hall
“Is Mama in trouble?” Calla loudly asked. “Is it because of the baby?”
“You told a child and then rode across the country without telling us?” Marina practically roared. Elodie’s nostrils were flaring.
“It’s almost as if I wanted to avoid this very interaction for as long as possible,” Athena sighed.
“The briefing can wait,” Elodie said, taking Athena’s hand and dragging her away, “we are examining you immediately.” Marina marched after her, Athena looked pleadingly over her shoulder and Aaron shrugged, barely containing his laugh.
“Your Mama is not in trouble,” I said gently. Althea nodded.
“My Mama helps all kinds of ladies with babies,” Althea said, Calla frowned. “Isn’t that right Mother?” She looked at Mercy who was laughing.
“It is indeed,” Mercy kneeled down to the two girls. Calla nodded and looked at Olivia, my heart broke.
“Come sweetheart,” Tristan picked her up, “why don’t you nap, and then you can tell Lady Althea all of your adventures on the journey from Pantona, hm?”
“I’m not sleepy,” Calla whined as he carried her away. I exhaled and moved into a sitting room and collapsed.
“I apologize for our lack of organization,” Aaron said, “I told Athena it was a bad idea to surprise the healers.” I smiled and poured tea for them.
“They’d have been hysterical no matter what,” Raymond shrugged.
“Where’s Prior?” Thomas asked. I exhaled.
“He’s leading training exercises today,” I explained. “He’ll be at dinner.” Aaron raised his eyebrows at me.
“At family dinner?” He said. “Has something changed?” Thomas shrugged. “You told them?”
“I shared some thoughts in a letter,” I said, “I haven’t decided anything. Just,” I exhaled, “considering some things.” He narrowed his eyes at me. “Much like Athena not telling Marina and Elodie she was pregnant, I was trying to avoid a lecture.”
“My father would be thrilled,” Evan piped up, “and you’d spare me and Marina.” Aaron snorted.
“Your father would put one of his horses on the throne and be thrilled,” Aaron said. “What about Calla?”
“Calla will be my heir,” I said, “until I have a child. Then she will be appointed protector, I won’t abandon her, or the new one. Or any children of Tristan and Caro’s.”
“How does Marina feel about it?” Olivia asked. I smiled.
“Relieved, I think,” I looked to Raymond who nodded, “gods know I rely on her for too much, taking one burden off her shoulders will surely help.”
“And how are your studies, Lord Raymond?” Olivia asked. Raymond preened a little.
“I’ll take my vow before we leave for Westran,” he said. I smiled at him. “I had hoped Mastero Anselm would come with you.”
“I excused him,” I said softly. “Is he doing better?”
“He’s weak still,” Olivia said gently, “but he’s improved.” I nodded. “Perhaps you can visit, that might cheer him up.” I nodded. It made me sad that my old teacher’s health was failing and I couldn’t be by his side. But the injection of chaos from my family was so welcome, I couldn’t help but feel joy fill my heart.