Althea and Calla sat on the floor watching Baby Carlo play after dinner. They seemed amused by him, certainly more than Calla had been that afternoon. I glanced at Alex, talking with Olivia a few times, he met my eyes and I stood up and walked outside onto the terrace.
“Did you know I asked Uncle Trey for permission to court you?” Alex said. I looked over my shoulder.
“What?” I laughed. He smiled.
“I was fifteen, I think,” he said. “So you would have been, thirteen?” I nodded. “And you were dazzling, even then. I had a whole plan, for how it would consolidate the family’s power, fully unite the Dumanis with the guard.”
“What did Trey say?” I smirked.
“That if I could beat you with a sword, I was welcome to try, but that would be what it would take,” he laughed. I smiled. “So I moved on.”
“To Caro,” I said. He nodded. “And then Emily.”
“I was powerless, when I realized I loved Emily,” he sighed. “I hated myself for it. I hated myself for hurting Caro and leaving her open to ridicule. I hated myself for giving up on loving you. That was my plan you know, like something from a novel, I would love you, while doing my duty while you became a countess.”
“Why are you telling me this?” I asked him.
“Because we don’t always get to choose, Athena,” he said softly. “I know you don’t like it. I know there’s too much Dugarry in you, too much of Martin,” she looked down. “But Calla is a part of this family, you are a part of this family.” She nodded.
“Calla may be Queen of Cammadan,” I said simply, “she will be Countess of Pantona.” He nodded. “She isn’t a Dumanis, Alex, and her future isn’t yours or Uncle Trey’s or Grandfather’s, or even mine to dictate. She’ll make her own way.”
“And what has that attitude gotten all of us?” He said. “Anton married Marie, making his own way, and it lead to estrangement from her homeland, our closest neighbor, it lead to Brayton’s rage and their deaths and over a decade of destruction.” I stared ahead at the mountain. “We won’t survive something like that again.”
“Our family?” I said. He looked at me.
“Cammadan,” he said. “Annalise’s control is precarious, everyone knows it. She has no allies outside the country besides Harran,” I swallowed. “Her stubborness regarding her marriage, and Marina’s? Naming your and Aaron’s child her heir? These aren’t the choices of someone who is thinking long term, or outside of herself.” I looked at him.
“You don’t understand,” I shook my head.
“Maybe not,” he said. “But I can’t imagine what I’m missing out of the picture.” I sighed. “Tell me what I’m missing.” I looked at him.
“You’re missing the mandate. You’re missing that none of the politics matter if we don’t free the gods, if Amina comes and we can’t stop the shadows, if we can’t free the gods, it won’t matter that Otto of Failon was insulted that Marina wouldn’t marry him, or Daniel of Phania thinks he’s too high for us. It won’t matter, Alex,” I said. “Because we’ll all be dead, the world will fall into darkness. Annalise has to follow her heart because if she isn’t free to, she’ll be blind to the path she needs to go down. Marina can’t solidify an alliance with another throne because she has to be at her side. My daughter has to be Annalise’s heir so that my bond to Cammadan’s home soil is maintained if I fall in battle, so that Cornan can stand against his sister for his chosen home.” He stared at me terrified. “You’re missing the mandate, Alex, you’re forgetting the gods.” He looked down. “Don’t do it again.” I turned away and walked inside and wiped my eyes.
It was the first time I’d said it out loud and I felt like I’d cut my wrists open. I slipped past the group and into the same small lobby where Marina had bound the three of us years ago.
“Athena?” She walked in, all of her serenity focused on me. Sometimes it was just frustrating, but right now it felt soothing. “What’s wrong?”
“It’s nothing,” I said, “just, it’s been a long day.” She smiled and sat down with me. “It was all supposed to be over by now.”
“I know,” she said softly.
“I yelled at Alex,” I said. She smiled. “It’s not his fault though.”
“I don’t think it’s anyone fault, Thena,” she whispered. “Maybe Brayton’s or Amina’s.” I smiled. “I know you’re worried.”
“I was worried five years ago,” I said. “I’m terrified now, it’s paralyzing, Marina.” She nodded. “I don’t want to leave behind a broken world for Calla and this one,” I said, my hand on my belly.
“I know that,” she said. She sat down. “None of us do.” I looked at her. “I have visions sometimes,” I nodded, “of other threads, and there’s a few,” she looked down, “I have son. With Brayton.”
“What?” I stood up.
“It’s over and over,” she explained, “A little boy, with grey Dovetail eyes and curls like mine and my father’s smile.” I blinked at her. “And he’ll never exist, not in this world.” She hugged herself. “And that’s what I’m fighting for, I’m fighting so that he never exists. And so that your children will be safe and whole.” I nodded. “You aren’t the only one who’s paralyzed by terror at what we have to do.”
“Marina,” I said softly. “I’m sorry, I didn’t,” she shook her head.
“No it’s alright,” she whispered. “I’ve never talked about it before. With anyone. I wrote it in a letter to Damian once, and then burned it before I could send it.” Her knees were curled to her chest. “Caro is miserable because she can’t have a baby. Elodie and I treat women who’ve lost their’s all the time and I am fighting so that my little boy is never born and the world stays whole for yours.”
“My boy,” I whispered. She nodded. “How long have you known?” She laughed.
“Just now when I said it,” she shrugged. “It isn’t particularly precise, that magic.” I laughed. “But yes, you’re carrying a boy, it seems very obvious now.” I smiled.
“My boy,” I whispered softly. She nodded. “I’m sorry.” She shrugged. “You don’t want to have Brayton’s child?”
“No,” Marina said, “no, because that would require many terrible things.” She looked sad. “I would like to have a child. Nika doesn’t, and I have no idea what Damian,” she looked down. “And he has my father’s smile.” I wrapped my arm around her.