I was standing in a parlor at the Dumanis Manor, batting a fan against my hand. I hadn’t been in Dorin since Emily and Alex’s wedding and having to stay here longer than a few days to kiss rings was making me anxious. Anya Norvine had shown us to our rooms and made it clear she was happy for our company but did not require it, which I appreciated.
We did not get so lucky with Carland Dumanis, who “kindly extended an invitation to dinner,” a week after our arrival. Tristan walked in and saw us.
“Thank Cornan,” he mumbled. “Uncle Trey thinks we’ll have a ship tomorrow.” I looked at him gratefully.
“Why the delay?” Raymond asked. Tristan shrugged.
“Because it’s my grandfather,” he said, “and the world is his to command.” I looked at him. “Mostly he was trying to convince me to bring Caro back here when we return.”
“Will you?” Evan asked him. Tristan sent him a glare. “So, no?”
“No,” I said. “I think the only person who hates Dorin more than Carolina is Athena.” Tristan sighed. “Has it been awful?”
“No,” he smiled at me. “My aunts and Charlotte have been keeping people away, for the most part. I barked at some poor apprentice when he asked after Athena’s health so I think that ended any thoughts of socializing.”
“Why?” Evan said. “Surely most people are curious about Athena’s health these days.”
“We’re not supposed to let any of the Dumanis know anything about Calla or the new baby,” I explained. “Athena doesn’t trust the old man to not manipulate the situation.”
“This all makes me feel like my family is functional,” Evan muttered.
“Oh the Dumanis make me feel like my family is functional,” Raymond grinned. “And I’m reasonably sure they’re all trying to murder one another regularly.” I laughed. They were trying to relax me and I was grateful for it. Tristan looked at me.
“Marina,” he whispered. “I promise we’ll leave as soon as we can.” I nodded. The doors of the parlor opened and Trey Dumanis walked in.
“Duchess,” he smiled. I smiled back at him as he took my hand and kissed it. “A pleasure to see you again. I think it’s been far too long.”
“I agree,” I said. “We all missed you this winter.” He smiled.
“How is your father?” He asked gently. I looked down. Papa’s mind was so far afield lately, I shouldn’t be surprised he hadn’t written to Trey, but it still hurt me to realize it. “I’m sorry.”
“He has his days,” I smiled. “But they are fewer and farther between.” He looked at Raymond next.
“Mastero, I hope the books I sent Caro were appropriate.” He smiled.
“They were much appreciated,” Raymond said. Evan grinned. “No one else thought to give gifts.”
“You were the first Mastero to take vows in a generation,” I objected. “No one knew what was appropriate and Caro thinks we’re all insane for not giving gifts when someone breaks wind.” Trey laughed.
“Ah, I see we’ve settled in,” Carland joined us. “Duchess,” he took and kissed my hand.
“Chancellor,” I said. “Thanking you for having us. Duchess Norvine was not feeling well, she sends her regrets.” He raised an eyebrow.
“Of course,” he said, “Mastero Quents, Lord Allred,” he bowed. Evan and Raymond returned it. “Now, what is this rush you and my grandson have to get to Rastan?” I swallowed.
“King Raniere has offered me a marriage proposal,” I said simply. “I’m afraid I must answer him in person.” Carland looked startled.
“That would shift things,” he said. I nodded. “Will you accept him?”
“Grandfather,” Tristan said warningly.
“It’s alright,” I said. “The Queen has told me I’m under no obligation to do so, but may if I like.” It’s the truth, after all, even if she was joking. I smiled.
“But surely as her heir, she can’t have you linked to another throne,” he said with a smirk, “unless there’s been a change.”
“No,” Tristan and Raymond said at the exact same time.
“My cousin Captain Chastain and the Queen are announcing their intention to marry, when they return to Dovetail,” Evan came in smoothly. I exhaled a smile at him. “With her own marriage settled and children likely coming, I believe Duchess Marina will have a good deal more freedom.”
“Of course,” Carland said. “A disappointment for us of course. We had high hopes for our Calla.” I smirked.
“I’d hardly call Countess of Pantona a lacking prize, Father,” Trey said. I smiled. But I wanted to scream. We were talking politics and petty gossip while two days sail away my enemy was sitting in wait like a spider.
“Excuse me,” I said and stood up, “I think I need some air.” I walked out and pressed against the rail of a terrace.
“Marina,” Tristan came out and found me after a while. “I’m sorry, I know this is torture.” I closed my eyes as he wrapped his arms around me. “Have you been Dreaming?” I swallowed and looked at him.
“I wish I had been,” I said softly. “Then I’d know something, but instead it’s all dark. I’m afraid to meditate, I’m afraid I’ll see Amina again.” He planted a kiss on my forehead. It was so comforting. It would be so easy, here, away from everyone, to have each other. He senses it too.
“Rina,” he whispered. “What do you want?”
“If I said you,” I whispered back, “what would your answer be?” He looked at me.
“No,” he said, “but I also don’t think you’re really asking.” I swallowed. “Oh Marina, what good would come of that?” I sighed and stepped away, “it isn’t that I don’t want you, you know that.” I smiled.
“I crave it, sometimes,” I admitted, “your touch, your eyes on me. Nika saw all of it, and she finally couldn’t take it anymore.” I looked down. “That night we were together was the most selfish I’ve been in my life.” He looked at me. “I’ve been thinking about it a lot, because I’m so afraid I’ll be selfish again.”
“Rina,” he said softly.
“If it comes down to Damian or the world, I don’t know that I’ll choose the world, Tristan,” I swallowed. “I don’t know that I can.” He held me close.
“It won’t come to that,” he whispered. “I won’t let it.” I swallowed. “This is my job remember?”
“Annalise is your job,” I said. He cupped my face.
“She told me to protect you,” he whispered. “So right now, that’s my job.” I let him hold me. But I realized he didn’t understand. Because he’s never had to make this choice. No one else ever has, and I chose the world and Annalise once.
And I couldn’t, wouldn’t, do it again.