“When is my daughter planning to tell me that you two have parted?” Chief Walkin asked settling in next to me. I looked at him.
“I don’t know,” I said, “I didn’t want to lie to you. But she didn’t want to disappoint you.” He nodded. “You must be very proud of Brea.”
“Brea will be an excellent leader at her husband’s side.” He said. “But she’s done little worthy of pride yet.” I raised my eyebrows. “I have always disapproved of your relationship with Nika and the choices it lead her to.”
“I am aware of this,” I said.
“Amina is unhappy with your queen’s troops in the desert,” he said. I exhaled.
“Amina should have thought of that before she imprisoned her siblings,” I said. He smiled and I giggled.
“She should have yes,” he leaned back. “Will Nika come home now?” He asked.
“You should ask Nika,” I said. “I don’t know her plans.” He nodded. “She does help us, quite a lot. Both of them do.”
“Hm,” he raised an eyebrow.
“Marina,” Athena walked over to me, “we need you.” She looked at Walkin. “My apologies Chief.” I nodded said goodbye and hurried behind her to a council chamber.
“What’s happening?” I asked. Annalise was seated, and Harran was leaning against a wall. Aaron and Tristan joined us quickly, Carolina following behind them.
“The king of Rastan is dead,” Harran shook his head. “Messenger couldn’t delay a day?” I sighed and sat down.
“We can’t skip the visits,” Annalise said. “It would be a terrible insult.”
“I agree,” Harran said.
“The messenger also brought a letter for you,” Aaron handed me an envelope. I sighed.
“I also got a letter from them,” Annalise said, “when I was crowned. Is Raniere allergic to the sea?”
“Hush,” I mumbled as I read it.
Duchess Marina Sanpierre,
My deepest regrets for not coming to you in person. My father’s health has prevented me from travelling as I ought to have. I would be most honored if you would join your cousin to celebrate my ascension and to discuss the possibility of a future together.
Please consider me. I have heard nothing but praise for your beauty, kindness and intelligence.
Yours, should you choose so,
Raniere, King of Rastan
“It’s not the worst proposal I’ve ever gotten,” I shrugged. Tristan eyed me. “I have to go.”
“I need you here,” Annalise said.
“Lisette,” Aaron said. “Marina’s right. She can’t ignore a proposal from the King of Rastan, or dismiss it with a letter.”
“I could go,” Carolina said. We all looked at her. “While you all visit with the tribes, I could go to Rastan, stall, to give Marina time.”
“Caro,” Tristan said. She swallowed. “I thought,”
“I can help,” she whispered. “I can’t help on the visits, but I can go to Dorin first, and,”
“Alex’s father is Rastani,” Athena said. Carolina nodded. “He and Emily could go too.”
“It’s actually a pretty good idea,” Annalise mused.
“It’s a terrible idea,” Tristan growled. Carolina walked over to him and kissed him gently. “Caro, we agreed.”
“I can help,” she said. “We’ll come home together.” He nodded and she looked at Harran. “Has the messenger gone?”
“No,” Harran said softly. “I told him to enjoy the feast.” She nodded and swept out of the room. “That one’s a dark horse.” I smiled at him. “Are you going to be queen of Rastan now, Marina? You’re not grand enough?”
“I’m not accepting the proposal,” I said and sat up straight. I looked at Annalise. “Am I?”
“Of course not,” she said. “Unless you decide you want to after you meet him.” I rolled my eyes. “What’s our excuse for sending Caro?”
“Marina is nervous about leaving the country,” Aaron shrugged. I looked at him. “Given your childhood and the past few years.”
“Fine,” I said and stood up and walked out. Tristan followed after me. “What could you possibly want?” I said.
“Where are you going?” He said.
“To talk to Nika and write to Damian,” I said.
“Why?” He asked.
“Well,” I sighed, “because Nika has been lying to her family that we haven’t parted, so me leaving to answer a proposal could be embarrassing for her, and I don’t want Damian to do something stupid like try to kill the new king of Rastan when he hears he’s trying to court me.” He took my hands. “Don’t,” I said.
“She’s leaving me,” he whispered.
“Then go and talk to her about it,” I said, “I have other feelings to manage besides yours.” He frowned. “Tristan, I don’t ever expect us all to untangle this knot but let’s not make it worse. It will help us to have Caro and Alex and Emily go ahead of me to Rastan. I have to tell my lovers that a king wants to marry me and ask what they think of it.” He looked away. “If you don’t want to be parted from Caro go with her, or stay with Annalise and me. That has always been your choice. None of the three of us can make it for you.” I marched away from him and into my room.
“Rina,” Nika walked in. “Are you alright?”
“I have to go to Rastan,” I said. She exhaled. “Not right away, but, soon,” I shoved the letter at her.
“Goddess,” she mumbled reading it. “This is the biggest one, isn’t it?” I nodded. “Otto’s a crown prince, but his father is healthy.”
“And we met in person and he was as uninterested in me as I was in him,” I said. She nodded. “I have to write to Damian.”
“Of course,” she said and kissed me gently. “Are you considering it?” I swallowed and looked at her.
“I don’t know,” I said, “I know I shouldn’t be. It’s ridiculous.” I sighed. “But after these past few weeks, the idea of having a fresh start with someone who’s outside of all of my messes.” I looked down. “It’s silly.”
“I don’t think so,” Nika said softly. “Meeting you isn’t going to make him want to marry you less.” I smiled softly at her. “Oh Damian might find himself executed though. Raniere’s his friend isn’t he? He wouldn’t murder his friend.” I laughed then.
“Your father knows,” I said, “about us.” She nodded.
“Brea too,” she whispered. I nodded. “He’ll want me to come home.”
“He misses you,” I said softly. She curled up and snuggled close to me. “I’m still doing the visits.” She nodded. I threw my head back. “I hate this.”
“Me too,” Nika whispered.