Several Discussions


The desert tribe meetings went well, seeing how the people are rallied to Harran and Brea is very encouraging. I’m too tired most nights to do anything but curl into Prior’s arms and sleep. His patience and gentleness astound me. When we’re back at the border, is the first time he’s ever, in the year of our relationship asked something of me.

“I want us to go to Allred,” he said. I blinked at him.

“Why?” I asked. He frowned and ran his hand through his hair.

“There are some, things I need to get,” he muttered. I smirked at him. “For you.”

“Prior,” I laughed and kissed him gently. “I don’t need,” he pressed a hand against my lips.

“I want to give you my mother’s engagement necklace,” he said, “I want our family to have an altar with Allred soil. Will Rana accept it?” I laughed.

“I think she will have to, if you insist like this,” I said. He laughed and kissed me. “We still have to push it through council.”

“Hmm,” he nodded, “so who do I have to convince? Your Uncle, since Marina is away, I will vote for myself, if you don’t object?” I giggled. “Aaron, and Leisel, Martin voting for the guard, I assume? Harran, or whoever he proxies.”

“I do not anticipate it being difficult,” I said with a grin as we toppled back onto the bed. “But it still has to be done.” He nodded. “Prior,” I mumbled.

“I’ve missed you,” he said softly. I sighed. “I know this is a difficult time, Annalise, lean on me.” I looked up at him.

“I am trying,” I whispered. He nodded. “But not I’m thinking about,” I sighed. “In all of this mess, you’re thinking about our family.” He smiled. “And you’re going to be a wonderful father, Prior.” He kissed me again.

“I’m sorry,” we sat up, Olivia was standing at the doorway. “I was hoping to speak to you, but if you’re busy,” she smirk on her face was inescapable.

“I should probably check on the guard anyway,” Prior cleared his throat, “Countess,” he nodded to her.

“Captain,” she said as he left. I looked as her and smoothed my hair. “Athena has asked that I bring Calla home, rather than to Dovetail.”

“Of course,” I said, “she did very well.”

“I agree,” she said.

“We’re going to Allred first though,” I aid softly. She raised an eyebrow. “He truly doesn’t ask for much, it’s not terribly out of the way.”

“It’s a serious declaration of intention,” Olivia said, “you’re sure of this then?” I sighed.

“As sure as I can be, I think,” she sat down with me. “I love him, it snuck up on me, but I do.” She nodded. “You disapprove?”

“No,” she said. “No, I think,” she exhaled. “You two remind me of me and Caleb, I suppose.” I smiled. “Our match was also so practical that everyone saw our feelings as suspect.” I laughed. “I think it will surprise people.”

“Well, I’ve always hated being predictable,” I said with a sigh. She shook her head with a chuckle. “Aaron doesn’t like it.” She shrugged.

“Aaron has never liked it when you liked anyone better than him,” Olivia smiled. “You were two years old and we went through at least six nurses before he stopped terrorizing them.” I looked at her curiously. “With Prior all of his previous ways to object aren’t there. You aren’t too young or in hiding like with Harran at first, you aren’t miles above him like with William, Prior’s sense of duty and being your consort don’t conflict like with Tristan, and we know him far too well for the question of motive like with Eric.” I smiled. “All he can do is stamp his foot and insist that you are in fact indifferent to him when you clearly aren’t.”

I’d never considered Aaron jealous before this trip, but Olivia was right. His other objections were stripped away. And I didn’t rely on him like I used to. I’d leaned on Marina much more these past few years. Aaron had his own life, why was he resisting letting me have mine?

“He is like Caleb isn’t he?” I said. “Prior.” Olivia smiled and nodded.

“Very much so,” Olivia said. “How long have you been considering it?” I looked down.

“Like loving him,” I sat down, “it wasn’t all at once. It was the first time I was in a relationship where no one tried to tell me not to be or to be, and it gave us time to get used to each other. And he never asked me,” I said, “not once, he didn’t expect it or demand anything of me, so I could breathe with him and that was,” I exhaled. She nodded.

“I know what you mean,” Olivia smiled. “The Old Lords will love it.” I laughed at that. “Gods, Wyatt Allred might even smile.” I smiled. “Now, I insist on planning the wedding.”

“Olivia,” I shook my head.

“Aaron and Athena’s was so rushed, understandably, at the time, of course, but I’d like a proper wedding,” she exhaled.

“Of course you’ll plan it,” I said. “Well, you might have to fight Mercy.”

“Don’t be silly,” she stood up. “I’d certainly beat Mercy.” I smiled. She was right about that. “I’m proud of you. You’ve handled this well. I know losing Tristan and Marina by your side is difficult for you.” I smiled.

“I’m worried about them,” I said. “It feels like when you would go, and I would never know when or if you’d come back.”

“I hated leaving you,” she whispered. “Both of you, I hated it so much.” She smiled. “Do you think Rana will approve of this choice?” I snorted.

“Absolutely not,” I shook my head. “She’ll be furious. He’s much too Cammadie! He doesn’t even honor Cornan, he’s one of you ancestor worshippers.” She laughed and kissed me on the forehead.

“Well, I’ll just approve double then,” she said with a smile. I nodded.




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.



I was sitting in the parlor of the apartment. I was still a little overwhelmed by the luxury of life here. It made Dorin feel simple, and Dorin made Dovetail feel like hovel. I was longing for my quiet, comfortable life in Pantona. My little house, and garden, my long talks with William, and watching Calla run through the wheat.


I hadn’t thought of him in so long, my friend, my lover, the only person who saw me. I’d been so unfair to him, used him so awfully.

“Lady Dugarry?” I looked up from the book I was attempting and failing to read, and saw Princess Karina and Lady Katrin standing before me. I smiled at them. Everyone staying in the palace seemed to appreciate the sheer warmth and light these two girls seemed to bring into every room they entered. The Princess was exceptionally lovely. I’d never seen her mother, but had heard her compared to Marina a few times, but I didn’t think they were much alike. Karina was darker and softer than my friend. Katrin, however, shared her older brother’s sharpness and sly good looks, I think if she hadn’t been handed over to mind her cousin, she’d be quite the trouble maker. In some ways they reminded me of me and Emily. “I’m sorry to disturb you.”

“Not at all, Your Highness,” I said. Karina smiled shyly. “What can I do for you?”

“There are a few ships that entered harbor today,” Katrin said quickly. I nodded.

“Merchant ships, mostly,” Karina explained, “and a market set up on the docks.”

“Really, just some stalls,” Katrin said, “but news from everywhere, and shopping and food and well,” she sighed. “We’d like to go.”

“I see,” I nodded. “And what is stopping you?”

“Well,” Karina explained, “we really aren’t allowed to go alone.”

“And my brother claims to be too busy,” Katrin said, “though with what, I haven’t the slightest idea. And he suggested we ask you to come with us.” I laughed at that. “We understand if you don’t want to.”

“But we thought you might like news from Cammadan as much as we would from Phania,” Princess Karina explained. “And well,” she looked down a little ashamed.

“And I’m a merchant and know my way around,” I finished. The princess looked at me and nodded. “Of course I will take you.” They smiled broadly. “But Lady Katrin, I insist you tell your brother while I change into something appropriate, I’ll meet you at the gates.”

“Oh Damian won’t,” Katrin went to speak, and Karina elbowed her. “Of Course, my lady, thank you.” They giggled their way out and I shook my head.

I went to my wardrobe. It was the first time in a long time I realized I’d be a representative of a Cammadie merchant family as well as The Dugarrys. I landed on green wool gown and a fur cloak. I hurried to the palace gates where Princess Karina and Lady Katrin were waiting. Captain Lestoff was with them.

“Captain,” I smiled, “I had been told you could not spare the time.” He shook his head.

“My schedule opened up,” he said. Lady Katrin let out an annoyed huff and rolled her eyes. He offered his arm and I took it. He was up to something. “They’d never have invited you if I hadn’t said they had to, and the thought of shopping with them alone terrified me.” I smiled.

You could have simply asked.” I pointed out. He smirked at me. “Goddess, poor Marina, she must have been putty in your hand.”

“Don’t tease me about Marina,” he said. “To be honest seeing you every evening is the only time I’ve felt warmly towards Tristan, he was in Dorin a whole twenty minutes before they put you in front of him? I’d have spent every minute chasing you too.” I wrinkled my nose at him. We reached the docks and watched the girls scurry. “Kat!” He called out, and sighed.

“They’ll be fine,” I said. “Honestly a makeshift dock market is too hastily organized to be much danger to them.” He sighed.

“Lady Dugarry!” A voice called from a table. I smiled and walked over. Ralph DuParin was a friend of my father’s I’d known since I was very small. “My, how our little Caro has grown.”

“Master DuParin,” I smiled. “May I introduce Captain Damian Lestoff,” I said. Lefty smiled. “Master DuParin used to bring my sister and me chocolate from up here when we were little.”

“Your mother asked me to look for you or Madame DuCray,” he bowed. “I may tell her you’re well?”

“Yes,” I said, “Emily and I are both quite well.” He smiled. “You’ll excuse us?” We continued on. Lefty eventually found the girls and I wandered a bit. I stopped at one stall and bought a lemon, the merchant claimed it was from Pantona, and even if he was lying, just holding it made me feel better.

“Caro,” I turned and inhaeld, “I mean Lady Dugarry.” In four years, Andrei Arrain had barely changed. His light hair was brushed back, and his cool dark eyes pierced mine.

“Captain Arrain,” I said softly. He exhaled.

“Just Master Arrain, now,” he said softly. “I no longer have a ship.” I nodded. “I had heard you were in the city. And alone.” I stepped past him but he followed me. “Caro,” he whispered, taking my waist.

“I’m not alone,” I said sharply stepping away. “Emily and Alex came with me.” He exhaled.

“I meant, your husband is not here,” he said. “Caro, come see me. Even I’ve heard that you’re not happy, and I think I could,” I glared at him and was grateful as Lefty came quickly to my side at that.

“Lady Dugarry, Princess Karina is quite ready to return if you are.” He said. “Damian Lestoff,” He extended his hand.

“Andrei Arrain,” He said. “I trust you’re enjoying Rastan?”

“I’ve been here many times,” Lefty said. “You’re from here? I think I remember seeing you in Brightcoast when Lady Dugarry and her husband came there before their marriage.”

“May I call on you at the palace?” Andrei asked me. I nodded, not wanting to prolong this. “Captain,” He nodded to Lefty, and he bowed.

“Rana be praised you were saved from that one,” he said as we found Katrin and Karina, both carrying canvas bags full of parcels and gigglin. “When I saw him in the Brightcoast ballroom it was shocking since I’d only known him from brothels before.” I looked at him. “I don’t pretend to be virtuous, Carolina, but I am faithful to Marina.” I smiled.

“He maintains that he’s actually my husband legally, if you can believe it,” I said. “My father sides with him too. I think if Tristan weren’t Carland Dumanis’s grandson, I’d be stuck with him.”

“It’s funny,” he said, “my father marrying Aimee changed the course of my whole life,” he said, “I would have lived very comfortably, I think drinking myself into a stupor and collecting from my father’s business until he made me pursue someone respectable. Like say, the charming daughter of a wealthy and upcoming merchant family.” I laughed.

“Well, if that was your plan, if we’d have met incidentally, my father would have deeply approved,” I shrugged, “so long as you agreed to pay.” He smiled.

“Yes, in another life, I think I would have very much enjoyed being reformed by you,” he teased. I smirked.

“I repeat my earlier assertion,” I said. “Marina had no defenses against you, it was unfair.” He smiled and leaned close to me.

“When I made my intentions to Marina known,” he said, “and told her to run in the other direction, she reminded me that Brayton forfeit his soul for her, your husband had betrayed the queen for her, William Santino declared her the most beautiful woman to ever live and she was running a kingdom,” I smirked at him. “She was well armed.” I smiled.

“Lady Dugarry,” Princess Karina walked over and slid her arm through mine, “do you know Queen Annalise well?” I looked back at Lefty.

“Reasonably,” I said. “Why do you ask?” She sighed.

“My mother insists she is my ally,” she explained, “and obviously my Uncle, Prince Eric, has his opinions. But my father thinks she’s untrustworthy.”

“If I can set your mind at all at ease, Your Highness,” I said gently, “if there is one thing that Queen Annalise is absolutely sure on in this world, it is that she wants you named officially as your father’s heir.” She smiled. “She suffers, daily, with the Prince’s absecence.” She smiled at me.

“I am glad to hear it.” she said. “I know that were Kristoff and I were divided now, I’d been absolutely devastated.” She sighed. “My Uncle has not taken their separation well.”

“Nor did the queen, at first,” I said gently. I had no intention of betraying Prior to the princess. I knew that Prince Eric knew about him, but I didn’t know how far that extended. “But four years is a long time.” She nodded.

“I think it is harder on my uncle that Captain Lestoff is so stalwart,” she said. I looked at her. “Is Duchess Marina truly so wonderful? He was so wild before.”

“I don’t know if it is that Marina is so wonderful,” I said, “though she is, well,” I sighed, “it’s difficult to explain when you haven’t met her,” she looked at me, “but she’s equally as dedicated to him. Even her relationship with Lady Nika was always conditional on his return.” She looked at me.

“And what can you tell me about Lord Evan Allred?” She asked. “My Uncle Raymond was my closest companion until he went away and they gave me Kat. At home they talk like he’s a demon.”

“Evan is the best of the nobility in Cammadan,” I said softly. “Besides my brother in law, obviously,” she laughed. “His father is the worst of them.” She nodded. “But your Uncle Raymond is a dear friend to me as well, and he worries about you constantly.” She beamed at that.

“I love his letters,” she admitted, “I felt I knew you before we met because of them.” She sighed. “Kat is more wary because of how Lefty and Uncle Eric feel about Sir Tristan.” I sighed. “I’m sorry, is it difficult for you?” I looked at her.

“It’s complicated,” I said gently. She smiled. “But I’m glad we’re friends, Your Highness. Your Uncle Raymond will be glad too, I promise you.” She sighed.

“I hope he’s proud of me,” she said softly. I thought of Prior for a moment, and how he spoke about how much Annalise carried, I saw the same weight sitting on Karina. She brightened as we reached the palace gates and Kristoff was waiting.

“Princess,” he grinned at her. She smiled. “Lady Dugarry,” he said, “a guest came for you, we sent him to your parlor.”

“Thank you, your highness,” I curtsied. “Princess Karina,” I nodded to her.

“Kat,” Lefty looked at his sister and the prince and princess scampered off. She groaned and followed them. “Do you want me to come with you?” I looked at him softly.

“I’ll be alright,” I said, “but thank you.” I walked back to my suite and Andrei stood up quickly. “I don’t know how many more ways I can tell you this is over for me.”

“Caro,” he mumbled, stepping closer to me and lifting my face. “You never heard me out.”

“You left me,” I reminded him, “and then humiliated me. And you did the second one at the behest of my father because he didn’t get his way.”

“I loved you,” he said, “what was I supposed to do? I was penniless and stranded and then The Dumanis were throwing an heir at you.” I rolled my eyes and pulled away.

“You were gone for months before anyone introduced me to Tristan and I hadn’t heard a word from you,” I said. “And that doesn’t excuse the challenge.” He frowned. “If you loved me, why would you,” I choked back a sob. “I can’t go home, Andrei, because of you. Because you made me a scandal.” He nodded.

“I don’t suppose there’s any point in telling you I could give it to you now,” he said, his voice sad. “I have a good business here, a house,” he sighed. “Asking you to stay when they call you back.” I glared at him.

“Even if I wanted to, which I do not,” I squared my shoulders. “I couldn’t.” He stared at me. “I’m pregnant.” I couldn’t believe he was the first person I was telling. More humiliation.

“I see,” he whispered. “So it’s over then.” I swallowed.

“Andrei, it was over years ago,” I said.

“I’m sorry to have bothered you, then.” He left and I collapsed on the couch, my hand on my middle. I prayed that Tristan arrived soon, we’d received word they were on their way, but nothing since. I couldn’t even go to a healer because I didn’t trust anyone. I was alone.

“I saw him go,” the door creaked open and Katrin walked in. “Who is he?”

“A mistake I made when I was your age,” I smiled at her. She blushed. “Shouldn’t you be with Karina?”

“They don’t need me for what they’re doing,” she shrugged. I laughed. “I can’t wait until they’re married and I can have a life again.”

“Marina says your brothers used to talk about you coming to Cammadan,” I said. She rolled her eyes.

“Like everyone else, my brothers assume I want what they want,” she said and collapsed on the couch. I nodded.

“What do you want?” I asked. She sighed.

“Something exciting,” she said, “an adventure.” I nodded. “I’d really like a ship of my own but girl’s aren’t allowed, not in Phania.” I smirked at her.

“Perhaps that’s why they want to bring you to Cammadan,” I shrugged. She smirked.

“Perhaps,” she said.



I sat watching Calla run around chasing a butterfly. I was trying so hard to not just hold her tight to me. It was irrational. Brayton wasn’t here, he was across a sea. He couldn’t hurt her, and she was blissfully unaware of who he was, and what if any threat he was to her.

“Do you want to go?” Aaron asked, sitting next to me. I looked at him and I shook my head. “Are you sure?”

“Yes,” I whispered. “It’s not my fight.” He nodded. “She gets to be so free.” I rested my head on his shoulder.

“When are Tristan and Rina leaving?” He asked.

“Soon,” I sighed, “tomorrow, I think. Raymond and Evan are going with them too.”

“Quite the party,” he mumbled. I laughed. “Thena,” he whispered. “What if it is your fight?”

“I’m supposed to be here,” I said. “I know it. I can’t explain why, but,” he nodded.

“Mama,” Calla ran over to me, “what’s wrong?” I smiled at her.

“Nothing Duck,” I said and gathered her too me. “I’m going to miss Uncle Tristan is all.” She nestled her face next to mine.

“Oh, I’ll miss him too,” she said. “I miss Aunt Caro, most I think.”

“Oh sweetheart,” I said softly. Caro was such a deep part of her life, of course she missed her. “I’m sure she misses you terribly.” She sighed.

“How is my little brother?” She asked looking up at me.

“Would you like to say hello to him?” Aaron asked. She nodded and stood up and leaned over my belly.

“Hello Baby John,” she whispered. “I love you very much, even while you’re still inside Mama.” I smiled at her.

“Come here, sweet girl,” Aaron said and hugged her. “Do you know what your job will be with your baby brother?” She scrunched her nose at him.

“I have very many jobs now Papa,” she said. I laughed.

“Yes, but this one is easy,” he assured her. “You must love him but make sure he doesn’t think he’s too important. Only a sibling can do that.” I shook my head and laughed. “He’ll do the same for you of course.”

“That doesn’t sound fun,” she pouted.

“It is though,” I assured her. She burrowed deeper into Aaron’s arms. “What did you learn with Lady Brea, yesterday?” She looked at me and sighed.

“I learned which flowers will help people sleep,” she said, “the blue ones, mixed with the yellow.” I nodded. “She said that we should plant a garden with them at home.”

“I’ll bet,” Aaron said, “that Mastero Anselm will know the perfect place.” She nodded. Tristan walked over his sack over his shoulder. “Is it time?” Aaron asked gently.

“It is,” he said, “I think Marina is going to explode.” I stood up and hugged him.

“Please don’t do anything foolish,” I said softly. He smiled.

“Me? Never.” He said. I laughed. “I’ll see you at home, Thena.” I nodded. “Calla, may I have a hug or are you too serious for that now.” She stood up a clapped him around the knees. He lifted her up and snuggled her. “I love you, Little One.”

“I love you too,” she said. “Will you tell Aunt Caro that I love her?” He smiled gently.

“Of course, Duck,” he whispered. “First thing when I see her.” I smiled at him.

“Good,” she said as he put her down and she ran back into the field. I looked at him.

“What’s the plan in Dorin?” Aaron asked.

“Evan, Raymond and Marina are going to stay with Duchess Norvine,” Tristan sighed, “I’ll be at the manor, shall I send your best Grandfather?”

“And let him choke on it,” I grinned. He smiled. “If he has anything to say about Calla,” I drifted off.

“Not a word,” Tristan shook his head. I smiled and hugged him again. “I love you.” I nodded. “Aaron,” he said.

“Be safe,” Aaron nodded. Tristan smiled and walked away. “Are you alright?”

“I hate that I’m used to it,” I sighed. “I hate that we’re apart more than we’re together now.”

“I know, Love,” he whispered and held me close. “Hopefully this is the end of that.”


Interlude: John And Alexia

Note: Sorry I missed last week everyone! I was away, and also I’ve been working on other projects and I realized the post was not ready. Anyway, here’s the John and Alexia interlude I’ve been working on for a while.

Alexia Dumanis pouted as the wagons rolled away. She’d begged to go to Dovetail, but instead she was stuck in Dorin. She was ten years old, she knew how to stay out of the way. It didn’t make sense. Her brother Tristan was going and he was only eight. Practically a baby.

“Don’t be sad, Lexie,” her sister Andrea said and petted her hair gently. “I know it’s not as exciting but you are going to be a big help for me with the wedding.” Alexia looked up at Drea.

“I want to see the city though,” she sighed.

“You’re going to live there one day,” Andrea gently pushed her inside. “And then you’ll be telling your husband that you just want to come back to Dorin.” Alexia frowned. Her marriage to Sir John Dugarry was spoken of with such finality. But she was never sure if it was going to happen.

“But wouldn’t it be better if I went to Dorin and I found out if Sir John liked me?” Alexia knew better than to add and if I like him. No one in her family cared if she liked Sir John.

“Why wouldn’t he like you, sweetheart?” Drea smiled and cupped her face. Alexia sighed. “Cheer up, without Papa here I think it would be a good idea for us to try all the different cakes I have to choose from instead of dinner.”

“Really?” Alexia said. “Mama said it would make us stout.”

“Eh,” Drea flipped her hands, “we both already have husbands picked out, we can eat as much cake as we like.” Alexia giggled following her sister.

“This is boring,” Prince Anton said as they stood in the secret passageway outside of his father’s office, but John Dugarry rolled his eyes at his friend and charge.

“I didn’t make you come,” John said, “and shh, we’ll get caught, and I’ll catch a beating.”

“I would too,” Anton frowned.

“No you wouldn’t, you’re the prince, everyone lets you do whatever you want,” John said. His father was sitting in a meeting with a merchant named Carland Dumanis.

“I’d like to meet the boy,” Dumanis said, “if it’s at all possible.” John’s father, Avery frowned at that.

“I don’t think it will be,” Avery said, “my wife and I still worry this is all too early. We of course planned on sending John to Dorin when he’s older, but he’s a protector, it’s a lifetime commitment, and a great deal of John’s future is wrapped up in Prince Anton’s. Whoever he marries will need to understand that.”

“Since when are you getting married?” Anton made a face at him.

“Shh!” John hissed. “Since always. My parents made the match. Merchants do it all the time.”

“But you’re not a merchant,” Anton said. John shrugged. It wasn’t worth trying to explain it to Anton.

“Are you having second thoughts, Avery?” Dumanis said slowly. “That would be unfortunate.”

“No,” Avery smiled, not taking the bait, John felt a swell of pride at his father. “But I want to be clear, this moves on our timeline, mine, and my sons. Not yours.” Dumanis frowned but nodded and they shook hands and he left. “You two can come out of there now,” Avery called. Anton looked at John, they pushed the secret door and walked out. “Your Highness, I am very disappointed in you.”

“It was John’s idea!” Anton said indignantly.

“Yes, but John follows your orders,” Avery said, “may I have a moment with my son?” Anton nodded and rushed out mouthing, ‘I’m sorry,’ while John glared at him. “So what did you think of him?” John raised an eyebrow. “Dumanis, what did you think of him?”

“He’s arrogant,” John said, “and he doesn’t like not getting his way.” Avery nodded. “Is he dangerous?”

“Very,” Avery said. “But you’re right about his arrogance.” He clapped John on the shoulder. “Don’t do that again, or at least don’t bring Anton, he’s terrible at sneaking.”

8 Years Later

John lay on his bedroll staring up at the stars. They’d reach Dorin tomorrow, and he couldn’t sleep.

“You are thinking so loud, that it’s keeping me awake,” Tom said, and John rolled over and looked at him. “So you might as well talk.”

“I don’t know,” John said softly, “I always knew this was coming, I should be ready. But I’m just, not. Everything is running though my head. What if I don’t like her? What if she doesn’t like me? What if I do something to offend her sisters? What if I offend her father? What if we’re fine but we get back to Dovetail and Anton can’t stand her? Or Livvie does that thing where she acts like she’s complimenting another woman, but she’s really saying something that makes her cry?”

“Well,” Tom said, “first of all, Livvie hasn’t done that to Marie and she and Anton were actually something, so I think your Alexia is safe from that.” John laughed. “And if she doesn’t like you, I’ll convince her otherwise. And if you don’t like her, I’ll offend her father so that you can leave without it being your fault.”

“You’re a good friend,” John said, “I mean relatively useless in this context and I should have asked literally anyone else to come with me, but I know you’re trying.”

Alexia looked in the mirror and frowned. Briana walked in and saw her piling her hair on her head and looking over her shoulder.

“What are you doing?” Brie laughed. Alexia sighed.

“I don’t know,” she said, and flopped on the bed. “Is he here?” Briana shook her head. “What if he hates me?”

“I don’t see how that’s at all relevant,” Brie said. Alexia looked at her. “Even if he hates you, you’re beautiful and rich and his father made an agreement with Papa, so I doubt he’ll back out.” Alexia frowned.

“You have just named the only scenario worse than him hating me,” Alexia said, “he hates me and marries me anyway because he’s afraid of Papa.” Brie laughed.

“He’s not going to hate you,” Brie said softly. “And if you hate him, Amos has already agreed to ship you to his brother in Rastan, so you’ll be fine.”

“Ugh,” Alexia stood up. “You’re not helping. When does he get here?”

“Oh, he’s in the parlor,” Brie smirked. “Trey’s with him, and his representative.” Alexia gulped, “Well, I was going to tell you but then you were being dramatic.” Alexia frowned and walked downstairs. She started to make her excuses but also she was immediately struck by the way he was staring at her.

“John, this is the part where you talk,” his friend said with a smile on his face. Alexia swallowed.

“I’m John,” he managed, “it’s nice to finally meet you.” Alexia’s entire body released. Trey and the other boy excused themselves.

“It’s nice to meet you too,” she managed. “Should we sit, I think there’s supposed to be lunch, did your friend want,” she took a deep breath. “I’m a little nervous.”

“Me too,” he said and they sat down. “Tom should have introduced himself, that was rude.” She smiled and then stopped.

“Tom?” She said. He nodded. “That’s Thomas Martin?” He laughed.

“Of course you’ve heard of him, don’t tell him that, his head is already far too inflated,” John said. She giggled.

“He’ll be busy,” she said, “there are plenty of families that would take a son from a noble family, and a reputation as the best warrior in the kingdom.” John Dugarry smirked.

“They’ll be disappointed,” he said. “Tom is engaged.” She smiled. “I’m sorry this didn’t happen earlier. I kept expecting you to be with your family when they would come to Dovetail.” She rolled her eyes.

“I think my father was afraid you’d get bored of me,” she said. “I was never allowed to go.”

Bored of her. John wanted to throw the tea cup he’d picked up when she said that. He’d assumed that meeting Alexia would be pleasant. But he didn’t expect that he’d be sitting opposite probably the most beautiful girl he’d ever seen. He kept thinking about how he felt like he was going to swallow his tongue.

Or kiss her until she fell over. He really wasn’t sure. Gods, she was gorgeous though.

“Sir John?” She said softly. “Is everything alright?” He swallowed. “You look very pale.” He took a deep breath.

“I’m sorry, I,” he sighed, “it was a long journey.” She smiled and nodded.

“Of course,” she said. “And it isn’t as though we don’t have time. Our whole lives, in fact.” He smiled at that. “Let me show you to your room.” She stood up and he followed her with a large swallow. Room. Bed. Alexia. Alexia in his bed. All that blonde hair, which was long down to her waist, and her wide green eyes, a little bit lighter than his own, her lips, which default seemed to be pouting.

“Thank you,” he managed. She nodded and left him. He sighed. He was going to figure out how to actually talk to her, while looking at her. Might be tricky.

Alexia went to her room and fell back against the bed and giggled. Normally she got annoyed at the vacant and distracted look on men’s faces and manner when she walked into a room, but with Sir John, she was pleased by it. Probably because he seemed more shy than lascivious, and because it was a good first step.

“So, how did it go?” Trey said from the doorway. She sat up.

“Fine,” she said, “you?” Trey scowled at her.

“He’s engaged,” he pointed out. “To a woman.”

“These are not factors that have ever deterred you with anyone else,” she said. He sighed and sat down with her. “Are you going to tell him about the time you saw him fight in a tournament when you were thirteen, and then spent the rest of the summer writing poetry about him?”

“I am not,” Trey said. “Do you like him? Sir John, I mean?”

“I think so,” she sighed and leaned back again. “He likes me.”

“Yes, that was obvious,” Trey said. “They’re going to have to mop up the drool.” She giggled.

“I suppose I was born to be adored,” she exhaled. Trey laughed and looked at her and shook his head.

John was standing in the large ballroom, tugging at the sash on his formal guard uniform. He hadn’t worn it in a while, and it didn’t help that he was standing next to Tom, who looked like some kind of dream in his.

“Relax, will you,” Tom muttered to him. “You’re making me anxious.” John glared at him.

“I’m going to say something embarrassing to her,” John mumbled. “You saw her right?”

“Yes, she’s very beautiful,” Tom mused. “The brother’s interesting.”

“Tom, don’t you dare,” John growled, his friend grinned.

“If you think Livvie stopped flirting when we left,” Tom shrugged. “I won’t let it go too far, John don’t worry.” (Reenie’s Note: HAHAHA…Irony) Tom went to argue some more when he lost his breath. Alexia had entered the room and she seemed to be shining. “Go to her,” Tom said, with a gentle nudge. “You won’t get any better without practice.” John exhaled and walked over and took her offered hand and kissed it.

“Miss Dumanis,” he said.

“Sir John,” she smiled. “I hope you’re don’t mind our little celebration.” He laughed.

“Certainly not,” he said. “I’m supposed to dance with you first, correct?” She nodded.

“Yes,” she said. “Though not right this moment.” He nodded. “I want to show you something,” she said softly. He nodded and followed her into a parlor off of the ballroom.

“What is this?” He asked, she smiled and kissed him softly. He migrated his hands to her waist. “I see, thank you for showing me.”

“I thought you might find it interesting,” she said and crossed her wrists behind his neck. “I certainly have always been curious.” He smiled and then kissed her again. She was sweet and supple, accepting him gently.

“What will you father say?” He teased. She pulled back at looked up at him.

“My father would deliver me bound naked to your bed, if it would finalize this,” she said. He frowned and she left his arms.

“I don’t know that I would ask him for that,” he tried. She looked at him. “If this isn’t what you want, I understand.”

“No,” she said, “I just,” she sighed. “I’ve always felt trapped by it. And that isn’t your fault, so please don’t apologize.” He smiled.

“It was freedom for me,” he admitted. “I lived my whole life a step behind someone else. And I was able to live with it because I knew there was something he couldn’t even fathom waiting for me.” She smiled shyly. “Alexia,” he said, and cupped her cheek. “Open your heart to me, or at least don’t close it off.” They kissed softly again and the door opened. Andrea walked in.

“There you are,” she said. “Honestly, Lexi, I know you hate these but you’re being unforgivably rude.” She looked at the two of them. “Goddess, you two met six hours ago,” John looked down abashed, “out, now,” She snapped her fingers and pointed and they both flew off of the couch and back into the ballroom, Alexia giggled as they walked back.

“Your sister is terrifying,” John whispered. She laced her fingers through his.

“You have no idea,” she whispered.

Two months of parties and dinners, and Alexia spent a lot of time watching John, and kissing him, as finding alcoves and empty rooms to kiss had become their general routine. They talked too, which was nice but not quite as nice as the kissing.

One night they were back at the house and they were in the front parlor. The kissing had begun in earnest and she’d found herself beneath him.

“John, wait,” she whispered as he moved to her neck, “oh,” she exhaled, but he paused. “Why did you stop?”

“You said to,” he mumbled. She swallowed.

“Right,” she said, “so, we should probably,” he nodded and they kissed again. “John, we can’t,” he raised his eyebrows. “We aren’t married.” He stared at her.

“Lexi,” he said. “We’ve been betrothed since we were eight years old, and we’ll be married in three months.” She frowned up at him. “Or we can wait, if it’s important to you.”

“It isn’t important to you?” She asked and sat up. He sighed.

“I forgot about,” he sighed. “So you’re a virgin?” She nodded, now feeling a little bit silly.

“You aren’t?” She asked. He frowned. “But you said,” she started and scooted away.

“The kind of fidelity you grew up expecting wasn’t really,” he sighed. “It’s different at court.” She scowled at him and stood up and started walking out. “Lexi,” he sighed but she was already out on the back terrace. She swallowed.

“Oh,” she stopped seeing Captain Martin standing there. “I’m sorry, I’ll go.” She turned.

“It’s alright,” he said, “it’s your house, I can’t hog the best brooding spots.” She smiled. “I thought that you and John would be,” she glared at him. “Or not.”

“Apparently,” she huffed, “it wouldn’t mean anything to him.” Tom frowned at her.

“I’m not sure what you mean,” he said. She crossed her arms.

“And I suppose dallying with my brother will be just excused by Lady Olivia Bano too,” she said, “as these things just mean nothing in Dovetail.”

“No, I can assure you I would find myself in a great deal of pain if I dallied with your brother and Olivia found out,” he smiled. “And I think I understand what you’re talking about now, and I have to tell you it isn’t as though John was cycling through girls or anything.” She sniffed and looked at him. “When we were younger Anton would,” he sighed, “when he wouldn’t like a girl, John would have to speak to them.” She stared at him.

“That’s awful,” she said. Tom shrugged.

“Yes, and sometimes they would, well, think that being with John would,” he sighed. “Well, I’m sure you can imagine.” She gaped at him. “Anyway, that’s rather slowed down in the past few years.”

“Oh,” she said. He looked at her. “What is happening with you and my brother?”

“We are friends,” Tom said, “and I am getting married.” She side eyed him. “What did he say?”

“The same,” she smiled. “I don’t believe him either.” He shook his head. “I want to trust him.”

“John wouldn’t betray you, Alexia,” he said. “He made some mistakes, and believe me he carried the hurt of it enough.” She swallowed.

John lay on top of the covers of his bed, unsure what he should do next. He’d hurt her, and it was the last thing he’d wanted. He’d forgotten that Alexia’s virtue was a part of the deal, because it felt so horribly transactional. The door opened and he sat up, seeing her slip in, wearing a simple white night gown.

“Lexi,” he said, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to,” he said.

“Tom explained to me,” she said, “girls would use you, to get to the Prince?” John looked at her.

“Everyone, not just girls, I’m a conduit,” he said, “but yes, I, there were a few.” She sat down on the bed. “A few trying to get to Tom, too.” She kissed him.

“They didn’t see you,” she whispered. He shook his head. “You said thinking of me was freeing.” He smiled.

“You were mine,” he said, “before you’d even seen me, or I’d seen you. It didn’t have anything to do Anton, or his dramas, that was,” he sighed, “it meant everything to me, Lexi. And I know that you didn’t see it the same way, but being here with you,” she kissed him.

“I understand,” she said, “I’m one of a set remember? Three sisters, all meant to increase my father’s power.” He cupped her face. “I never thought of this, of us, being something outside of that.”

“We can never speak to your father again if you like,” he shrugged. She giggled.

“I don’t think it needs to be that extreme,” she smiled, “but I don’t want betrothals, for our children.” He nodded.

“I think that’s a sensible compromise,” he whispered and pressed a kiss against her forehead. She looked up and kissed him properly. “Lexi, I think you ought to go.” She smirked.

“Do you?” She mumbled and straddled him. He looked at her.

“You don’t want to wait,” he said, his hands against her thighs.

“No,” she said, “I think I’m falling in love with you.” He smiled.

“Well, since we’re getting married, that’s very convenient,” he teased. She laughed. “I know I’m falling for you.” She smiled.



“I think you’re being too hard on them,” Aaron looked at me. I frowned.

“Rastan,” I muttered, “he’s been in Rastan for a year. Sneaky little toad.”

“Lisette,” he sighed. I looked at him. “You can’t ask Marina and Tristan to stay with you now that we know this.” I sighed.

“I know that,” I sighed, “I do, I just,” I exhaled. “We have to be careful.”

“Do we?” Athena asked from the table. “We’ve been careful. They go, we spring the trap, Marina sticks a knife in his heart, it’s done.”

“Even if it kills her?” I argued. “Or Lefty? Or Caro? Or Tristan?”

“Yes,” Athena sighed. “Did you really think we’d all come out of war alive? That isn’t how it works. I’d mourn any of them, all of them. But this has to happen.” I looked at Aaron.

“She’s right,” he said. I sighed. “Are you afraid Eric won’t forgive you?”

“What does Eric have to do with it?” I snapped. They looked at each other and sighed. “Don’t do that. Don’t do the married and in love we can read one another’s mind thing. I hate that.”

“I’m trying to come up with any reason that you think we should delay again,” Aaron shrugged, “and what came to me first is that you’re worried Eric won’t forgive you if some action you take winds up hurting Lefty. Or Lady Katrin. Or Princess Karina.” I frowned at him.

“It’s not that,” I said softly. “I don’t know what it is. I Dreamed about him, and we talked and, I was so angry.” I exhaled. “I want to be there when it happens.”

“Oh,” Athena exhaled, “well I understand that.” She paused. “You Dreamed him?” I nodded. “Why didn’t you tell us?”

“I don’t know,” I sighed. “Everyone’s carrying their own burdens right now, it isn’t as though there was anything productive in the Dream. No locations, or hints. Just him being frustrating.”

The folds of the tent parted and Raymond walked in. I looked at him and he smiled sadly.

“You want to go too, don’t you?” I said gently. Aaron and Athena excused themselves.

“If at all possible,” he said. I looked down. “Annalise, they’re my family, too.” I nodded.

“Of course,” I said. “Of course, you’ll go with the others, Raymond.” He nodded. “Have you seen anything, lately?”

“No,” he sighed, “I’ve felt like Karina was in danger for a while, but I could never place it, now I understand. I got a letter from her with the others, she went to comfort her beloved Kristoff in his grief.” I smiled. “This was of course the first time they actually met.”

“But they wrote letters their whole lives,” I smiled. He nodded. “When I was her age I used to plan my whole life with Eric in my mind and we’d never even had that much.” Raymond laughed.

“When Eric offered to bring me on The Glory,” Raymond smiled, “I pictured lounging in hammocks with Randolph, while we sailed into the sunset.”

“Very romantic,” I said. He shrugged. “You’ve seen her in danger?”

“A little bit like you and Marina,” he said softly, “Karina is always in danger. If my sister is to be believed, the fundamentalists are gaining even more strength, but Karina is popular, coming home with a handsome, strong husband might enrage them.”

“Of course,” I sighed. “And Eric, lately?”

“Publicly?” Raymond asked. I shrugged. “The Prince is honored by his brother’s confidence in him, beloved by all. Privately, I’m not sure he and Daniel are speaking and everyone at court knows that he supports changing the law and making Karina the heir.” I smiled.

“But why would he support such a thing?” I grinned. He laughed.

“Yes, why,” he said, “sitting on the roof in Brinecliff staring at the lights of Brightcoast when he was sixteen have nothing to do with it.” I sighed.

“Will he be there?” I asked. “In Rastan?”

“I think so,” Raymond smiled gently. “He and Raniere have always been close.” I sighed. “And once he finds out Marina’s going Lefty won’t have a leg to stand on to keep him away.” I swallowed. “What does Prior think of this whole plan?” I shrugged.

“It’s not really any of his bussiness.” I said. “Tristan wants to give him the rangers.”

“That’s worked out so well for his own marriage, I can see why he’d wish it on you two,” he teased. I sighed. “Don’t lock him out, Annalise. He’s so devoted to you.” This surprised me. “Do you think I’m betraying Eric?”

“Betraying Eric?” I smiled. “No, it’s just, it matches up with what you said before,” he raised his eyebrows. “He’s your family too.” He smiled.

“Yes,” he said softly, “I guess he is.” I smiled. “You’re going to need him. With Marina gone, I mean.” I looked at him and nodded. He was the only person I could honestly say understood how much I relied on Marina.

“Is Evan going with you?” I asked.

“With permission,” he smirked. I rolled my eyes. “I want him to meet Eric, and Karina.” I smiled.

“Of course it’s permitted,” I said, I paused. “Prior will have to take his council vote.”

“Oh,” he sighed, “what a trial for you.” I smiled.

“Evan challenges me in ways Prior won’t,” I said gently. “I love him, but he wants to please me too much.”

“Aaron will fight you tooth and nail on everything, I’m sure,” Raymond laughed. I smiled. “Annalise, when I see him, he’s going to ask, and what should I tell him?”

“The truth,” I whispered. “That I meant to wait. I wanted to wait.” He nodded.

“Alright,” he said. “Marina said if we don’t leave by dawn she’s going without us, so I think I should get some sleep.” I nodded. “Annalise, it’s going to be alright,” he said softly. I swallowed.

“I can’t lose anyone else, Raymond,” I whispered. “I can’t lost Marina or you or,” I choked on it. Tristan. A world without Tristan, even the Tristan who had to stand on the opposite side of the room from me. Who I couldn’t touch or be with, who was now rabid to get to the woman he actually loved, even if he didn’t always realize it.

“I know,” he said gently. “We’ll protect each other.” I nodded.



We’d arrived at our first camp and were discussing the signs of The Dark Lady (drought, mostly) when the messenger arrived.

“Word from Rastan,” he said. He handed a paper to Annalise and then one to me.

“You’ll excuse us,” Annalise said and we all rose with nods. I opened my letter.

Dearest Marina,

I gasped seeing Damian’s handwriting and sat down.

I’ve been told that my silence has worried you. For this I beg forgiveness. Lady Dugarry assures me this will reach you safely, and that were I to claim you, you would still be mine. What a relief it is to know that.

I exhaled. He hadn’t moved on. He wanted me still. I could live on it.

“Rina,” Annalise said, “look at this.” I put mine aside.

Brayton is ensconced at Raniere’s court. He’s posing as an exile named Braga. He has been here for a year.

I looked up at her and then stood up and rushed to my tent.

“Marina!” She followed after me, as I began rifling through my trunk to a sack. “Marina, what are you doing?”

“Figuring out how much my horse can carry,” I said. She looked at me. “Then going to Dorin, I suppose and then Rastan.”

“Marina,” she sighed indulgently.

“You can’t stop me,” I said, “Damian is there with Brayton, he’ll,” I exhaled, “oh I don’t know what he’ll do, but it will be awful.”

“Lefty has been in Rastan for months, and is safe enough to write to you,” Annalise said. I swallowed. “It’s a trap, you must see that.”

“I don’t care!” I screamed. “I don’t. He’s there, alone, Eric isn’t with them. Raymond is with us.” I looked at her. “He’s alone, Lisette.”

“I know,” she whispered and took my hands. “And I know you want to protect him. But Brayton wants you running up there without a plan.” I hated that she was right. “He’s safe.” I started crying. “If you don’t want to go to Rastan at all,” she started and I stared at her. “No, no, of course you’ll go.”

“Yes,” I said. She swallowed. “I have to, you know that.” She nodded.

“I heard there was a messenger,” Tristan walked in. I looked at him and swallowed. “Is Caro alright?”

“Yes,” Annalise said softly. “Brayton is there.”

“What?” He said. “Then she isn’t alright! When are we leaving?”

“See,” I said, “it’s not just me.”

“Oh because he’s always had a level head,” Annalise rolled her eyes.

“Marina you’re not still planning on answering that sham of a proposal!” Tristan stared at me. I swallowed.

“Tristan,” Annalise’s voice was gentle. “We’re not the only people visiting for the coronation.”

“Lestoff’s there?” He asked. I nodded. “That’s why he stopped writing?”

“I think so,” I whispered, “I didn’t finish his letter.” He nodded.

“So, when are we leaving?” He repeated.

“Impossible,” Annalise threw up her hands, “both of you.” She marched out of the tent and I sat down again.

“Are you alright?” Tristan asked gently. I shook my head. “What’s troubling you most?”

“That I’m a little bit relieved,” I admitted. “He still loves me. He didn’t cut off for no reason.” I rested my head on his shoulder. “You?”

“That he’ll pursue her,” he whispered. I swallowed and nodded. We all knew about Brayton’s women. Girls sometimes. Left hollow and cool, vacant, when he tossed them aside. Some people said he used magic to warp their minds to him.

“She’s strong,” I said. “We can go tonight.” He kissed my forehead.

“Annalise is right,” he sighed, “we can’t go without a plan.” I swallowed. “Do you want me to find Nika?”

“No,” I said, “no, I have to answer him, and finish reading what he said.” He nodded and kissed me gently. “Tristan, don’t,” I said.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I don’t know what I was thinking.” I nodded and he stood up.

I picked up the letter.

I’m sorry I stopped writing. Every one of your letters to me was a treasure, but I knew that it would put you and more immediately, Katrin in danger if anyone found out we were still in touch.

I hope it doesn’t hurt you too much to know that I find Lady Dugarry utterly charming. She’s fascinatingly intelligent, and very beautiful and half of Raniere’s court thinks I’m trying to sleep with her, which I’m sure will further endear me to your Tristan.

I smiled at this. I liked the thought of them as friends. And Tristan absolutely wouldn’t.

I have been assured that you’re going to come here no matter what I say to dissuade you, so I look forward to that. To see you and be near you again. To touch you. I can’t wait for you to meet my sister, and see a place I like as much as Rastan. It won’t be the reunion I’ve always wanted for us, but we’ll be together.

I love you, and while I know this isn’t a happy time, I can’t help but smile knowing I’ll soon see you again.

Yours, eternally, yours,


I closed my eyes and breathed out a prayer of thanks and then another of protection. He still loves me. He’s still mine. I have to hold on to that.



Note: Yes, two Caro Chapters in a row. Needed to for plot reasons. We’ll get back to everyone else soon!

Dinner was elaborate, which we knew to expect, but I refused to make a scene, or draw much attention to myself. Alex and Emily would do enough of that. Alex took his role as the heir to The Dumanis family seriously, and Emily took her role as his wife with delight.

They were fit in beautiful new clothes, dripping in jewelry, I was reasonably sure I’d never seen Annalise in so much. I was Lady Dugarry, a soldier’s wife, an important one, but still, and I looked the part. I was in green, of course, lightly embroidered with the Great Wheel in gold around the trim of my skirt. I wore a small diadem around my hair which I had pinned up. Mostly to appease Emily, she and Mother never had given up that fight. And I of course had the small Dugarry crest, at my throat, these days on a thin gold chain that Raymond had woven as a gift.

“Lady Dugarry,” Captain Lestoff said, breaking away from Princess Rila, who look rather grumpy about it. That was when I realized, I raised my eyebrow at him. “I’d forgotten how the jewels of Cammadan’s court shine in simple settings.” He kissed my hand.

“Flattery suits you, Captain,” I said. He smirked. “I do not think the Princess appreciates your neglect however.” He shook his head.

“Her highness is used to disappointment,” he said, he nodded towards a man with dark hair, in a simple black suit. I’d never seen Brayton in person before. When he was in power he rarely left Dovetail and never came to Dorin. It was speculated that he didn’t want to rouse The Old Man. “Do you see him?” I nodded. “I can introduce you.”

“No,” I said, “I’m sure he’ll seek me out if necessary.” He nodded.

“Damian,” a young girl with her dark hair in braids and wearing a white Rastani style dress came over. “Karina is asking when we’re going on a hunt.” She stopped.

“Princess Karina,” he corrected her. The girl rolled her eyes. I that was when I notice the resemblance. “Lady Carolina Dugarry, may I present my sister, Lady Katrin Lestoff.”

“I’m pleased to meet you,” her voice turned softer, more pleasant and curtsied to me.

“As am I,” I said, “your brother is making me a good deal less homesick.”

“My brother talks of nothing but Cammadan,” she said. This fact seemed to amuse and annoy her at the same time. “Princess Karina would like to know when we may go on a hunt.”

“That isn’t up to me, Kat,” he said. “You know that. If Prince Kristoff invites her then you can go.” She pouted.

“Can’t you tell Rila,” she started, he glared at her, “oh fine, I’ll just wander around the ice garden while Karina and Kristoff make moon eyes at each other. What a wonderful use of my time.” She stalked away. He shook his head.

“I apologize, she is,” he exhaled.

“She’s sixteen,” I smiled.

“Extremely,” he sighed, “she is extremely sixteen.” I smiled. “They are all going to think I’m trying to bed you, by the way, because of Marina I’m sure you don’t know but I have an appalling reputation.”

“I grew up in Dorin, Captain,” I said as we made out way to the center of the room, “if you think I wasn’t aware of your reputation form the moment I stepped into the Guild Hall, you’re going to be disappointed.” He laughed. “My mother wouldn’t even let us near a party you and Prince Eric were known to be attending.” He smiled. “Even if you were trying I couldn’t do that to Marina.”

“No,” he said, “nor could I.” He sipped his drink. “When we first came to Cammadan, before I met Marina, I’d made up my mind to seduce Athena.” I choked on mine.

“Oh that would have been amusing,” I said.

“Instead she flattened me in a sparring match,” he sighed. “While Aaron stood on the side laughing. That first week was humbling for me, there was this girl who I couldn’t stop thinking about and she only had eyes for someone else, and then the woman I’d come to the damned place for was engaged to a count and kicked my ass into the dirt.” I laughed. “I miss them.”

“They miss you,” I said gently.

“Lady Dugarry” Princess Rila walked over. “I hope you’ve settled in. I wanted to greet you myself but I was detained.”

“Yes, your highness, thank you, our rooms are very comfortable,” I dipped lightly. “I apologize for monopolizing Captain Lestoff, I’m afraid we’re making one another terribly nostalgic.”

“Mm,” The Princess said, “of course. Your husband is an intimate of the queen, isn’t he?” I clenched my jaw. “Did you know The Commander well, Lefty?”

“Commander Dugarry and I spent a good amount of time in each other’s company, but only incidentally,” Captain Lestoff said, “we weren’t close.” Princess Rila nodded. The was the most diplomatic way I’d ever heard someone say, I can’t stand the man.

“Ah, your highness,” Brayton, Braga, I reminded myself, floated over, “Captain, I’m afraid I don’t know this lovely creature.” I saw some of Annalise in his face, which surprised me, the same cool grey eyes, and determined set of the chin.

“Of course, Master Braga,” Princess Rila’s laugh twinkled, “May I present Lady Carolina Dugarry, the first of Queen Annalise’s entourage to arrive for the coronation.” I offered my hand and he kissed it gently.

“Lady Dugarry,” he said, “Sir John and Lady Alexia’s daughter surely?” I swallowed.

“You’re Cammadie,” I said gently. He shrugged. “They are technically my in laws, though I never knew them. My husband Sir Tristan is their son.”

“I was born in Cammadan, yes, but I haven’t seen the fields in many many years,” he smirked. “Of course, no person of information could be ignorant of your family.” I nodded. “Is Her Majesty, herself coming?”

“Queen Annalise is quite occupied by events in Westran and on the border,” I explained, “she wishes to come herself, but may not be able to. The Duchess of Brightcoast will arrive soon, most certainly.” This startled him.

“I see,” he said, “I hope we can speak of home at another time,” I smiled my most innocent debutante smile and nodded. “Your Highness, your brother craves a word.” Princess Rila nodded and followed him. I exhaled. Captain Lestoff looked at me.

“Are you alright?” He asked. I nodded.

“Athena always said he liked pretty girls,” I murmured. He nodded.

“Marina said she was fourteen the first time she realized what he wanted with her,” he sighed, “I’ve seen his eyes follow Kat a few times too.” I shook my head. The thought of it was chilling. “Mistaking you for Athena was a good trick.”

“A very good one,” I admitted. “I suppose he’s posing as an exile? Someone with magic who went travelling to get away from Brayton’s control?” He nodded. “The eyes, they’re like Annalise’s, it’s unsettling.” He nodded again.

“There are a lot of reasons why I advised Eric not to come,” he admitted, “but that might have been the main one.” He looked at me. “You really won’t tell her to stay away?”

“No,” I said, “it would be a waste of time.” I smiled at him. “Do you really expect her to not come to your rescue, Captain Lestoff? It’s like you don’t know her at all.”

Interlude: Anne and Les

Note: When I put together the Caleb and Olivia interlude, it opened a treasure trove of old notes, journal entries and abandoned prequel manuscript drafts that had in their margins, the story of two quiet nerds who fell in love and eventually made all of our favorite person. This is the story of Anne Brightcoast and Lestat Sanpierre.

Anne Brightcoast was sitting at a table with a book in front of her. She glanced up and frowned.

He was here, again. The Phanian, with the ridiculous name. He’d attached himself to Caleb Pantona which meant she’d be seeing a lot of him, but he seemed to always be here in the library at the same time as her. Which was annoying. This was where she went to get away from everything and everyone else.

“Lady Anne?” One of the Adepts walked over, she raised an eyebrow at him. “I apologize but your mother sent a servant and, well, he’s rather insistent,” she sighed and slammed her book closed. “As you aren’t officially a student,” he drifted off.

“Fine,” she said. “If someone else has this one tomorrow, I’m holding you responsible.” The adept blinked at her and the Phanian snorted. “Can I help you?” She looked at him.

“No, I,” he swallowed, “are you returning to the palace?”

“No, I’m going home,” She said. He stood up.

“I’ll escort you,” he smiled and she sighed. He followed her out. “I don’t believe we’ve been properly introduced.”

“We haven’t,” she said. “But let me preempt your questions. Yes, I am inheriting the largest Provenance in Cammadan. No, I am not interested in whatever business scheme you have. Yes, I am hoping to eventually marry. No, I am not chasing Prince Anton or your friend Caleb. Are we done?”

“I was going to start with, ‘hello, I’m Lestat. I’ve wanted to talk to you but Caleb warned me not to bother you while you were studying,”” he shrugged, “but that is all certainly interesting information.”

“Oh,” she said, “well, he knows me well.” He smiled. “Lestat?”

“Les,” he said, she nodded and they started walking. “I didn’t realize you weren’t enrolled.” She sighed. It was a point of contention. With everyone.

“I’m an heir,” she said, “one can’t have everything.” He frowned.

“And so they can ask you to leave whenever?” He asked. She laughed.

“Well, my mother can summon me,” she explained, “and make a great deal of noise about it. And the Masteros hate a scene.” He laughed. “So then they ask me to leave.” He nodded. “You’re enrolled by special permission, aren’t you?”

“Yes,” he said, his stance becoming tight. “There’s some family history that lead me to the archives here. King Cyrus was kind enough to request enrollment for me.” She squinted. That was odd.

“Is your line from Mariah?” She asked. He shrugged.

“Isn’t everybody’s?” He sighed. She laughed. “It isn’t Mariah.” She nodded. He clearly didn’t want to expand and she didn’t want to pry. “What are you studying?” She looked at him.

“The aquatic plants of our coast and their probable medicinal qualities,” she straightened her shoulders. “It sounds dull, but it will help a lot of people everywhere, and make work in my provenance if I can figure out some things.” He smiled.

“It’s admirable,” he said. “You want to be a healer?”

“I wish,” she sighed, “but no, I have to get married and make another heir. Those are the rules.” He nodded.

“But not the Prince,” he said. “Or Caleb.” She blushed.

“Prince Anton only knows my name because he’s very polite, and everyone makes assumptions about Caleb and me,” she said, “but we’re friends, is all. He understands.”

“He does,” Les grinned. “Can I see you again?” She smiled.

“I don’t see how we’ll avoid it,” she said slipping into the house.

Les laughed as she walked away. He didn’t normally do this. Pursuing girls was out of the question, just as Anne had been talking about her responsibilities he had them too. It’s why he was in Cammadan. To find answers about Marie. But he hadn’t quite been able to ignore Anne Brightcoast.

It wasn’t worth pursuing of course. Anne was going to be a ruler of a Provenance and couldn’t come to Phania to marry him, and while Tumona was closer to a house than even an estate, he was the only male heir and couldn’t renounce that to move here. Let alone, leaving his sister to his Aunt’s aspirations.

He was supposed to be staying in a dorm room at the University, but since becoming friends with Caleb Pantona he’d spent most nights at his townhouse.

“Oh, you’re back early,” Caleb said as he walked in. “Did you find something?”

“No,” Les sighed. “I did talk to Lady Anne though.” He plopped on a couch. Caleb raised his eyebrows.

“That went well?” He shelved a book.

“Well, she made it clear she’s not interested in you or Prince Anton,” Les grinned, “so there’s that.” Caleb laughed

“I could have told you that,” Caleb sat down with him. “Well, not about Anton, which I could have guessed.” Les laughed. “But she was willing to talk to you?”

“Mm,” Les nodded. “At me, for a bit, but eventually to.” Caleb nodded.

“Sounds about right,” he said, “we could go to the palace tonight if you want. Her mother makes her go most nights. And I’ve probably avoided it for too long.” Les raised his eyebrows.

“Why do you avoid it?” Les asked. Caleb sighed.

“Have you ever seen what happens when a pack of wolves smell fresh meat?” He asked. Les nodded. “Imagine that, but debutantes and I’m the meat. It’s unpleasant.” Les laughed.

“I suppose I can understand that,” he shrugged. “You don’t mind?”

“No,” Caleb said. “I really don’t. Anne is my friend, so are you. She’s over due to fall in love and you’re useless in your current condition.” He tossed a pillow at him and Les laughed.

Anne stood in the palace hall the night, wrapping a fan against her hands.

“Hello there,” Caleb appeared at her shoulder.

“What do you want?” She grumbled. He grinned.

“To say hello, to my oldest friend,” he said, “and check what she thinks of my newest.”

“You’re meddling,” she frowned. “You’re worse than my mother.”

“I am not,” he said, “I mean, I am meddling, but I’m not worse than your mother, I don’t think you should marry Les, just, enjoy him for a season.”

“You’re ridiculous,” she said. Then she stopped. “Is he here?”

“Somewhere,” Caleb teased.

“Impossible boy,” she muttered. Les walked up. She smiled inspite of herself. “Lord Lestat.”

“Lady Anne,” he said.

“Caleb,” Anne said.

“Yes,” Caleb said sipping his drink.

“Go away,” she smiled, not breaking eye contact with Les. He laughed, bowed and walked towards the ballroom. “I knew he was up to something.”

“To be fair, it’s my fault,” Les blushed, “I was worried about it.” She cocked her head. “About you, talking to you, he’s trying to help.”

“He’s bad at it,” she grinned. “Why were you nervous? Wasn’t I pleasant this afternoon?” He laughed.

“This afternoon, certainly,” he shrugged, “but you’re quite intimidating.”

“I’m too small to be intimidating,” she shook her head. He smirked. Goddess, he was attractive.

“That makes you more intimidating,” he smiled. “So tiny, and so fierce.” She blushed.

“Anne, there you are” her mother walked over. Duchess Adelaide Brightcoast looked over at Les with suspicion. “And who is this.”

“Mother,” Anne smiled, “this is Lord Lestat of Tumona. He’s visiting from Phania to study at The University. He’s befriended our Caleb, isn’t that nice?”

“Hm,” Adelaide regarded him, Anne noted that he was taking it well. “Well, Caleb has always taken in strays. Come, Queen Maura has invited us to sit with them tonight.”

“I’ll be right along,” Anne nodded. The Duchess huffed and walked away. “Do you still think I’m intimidating?” He laughed.

“When can I see you again?” He asked.

“I’ll be in the library tomorrow,” she said. He nodded. “I should go,” he smiled as she walked away.

The next few weeks, they developed a routine. They would settle in at the same table while they studied, Les would walk Anne home, and they’d speak when they could at the palace.

“Les,” she said softly, one evening when they’d manage to study well past suppertime at the palace, on the steps of the house, “would you like to come inside?” He smiled shyly and slid his hand into hers.

“Yes,” he smiled and she opened the door. “Anne, I,” he said softly as they walked into one of the sitting rooms, she slid her coat off and hung it.

“Do you want a drink?” She asked. “My father sent us a wine this week, I haven’t tried to new vintage. Have you had Brightcoast wine? It’s sweet, but not sugary, more like fruit than cakes,” he smiled softly at her and walked over and kissed her.

“I’ve had the wine,” he smiled. “Queen Amanda likes it, they serve it before dinner at Vacana. And you’re nervous.”

“Aren’t you?” She said. He kissed her again.

“Of course,” he said, “I’ve never felt like this before.” She stood on her tiptoes and kissed him. They fell back against the couch. The kissing became touching and Anne rested her hands against his chest as he reclined her back.

“Les, I,” she whimpered and unlaced the front of her dress. “I’ve never done this.” He kissed her again.

“Me neither,” he whispered. “I’ve read about it.” She giggled.

“Me too,” she said as they kept undressing. It felt good, not the overwhelming wave of pleasure she’d expected, but warm and safe, and Les’s hands on her body, his lips on hers, him moving in her felt right. After, they lay wrapped in fur blankets in front of the roaring fire.

“I love you,” she said softly. He pressed a kiss against her hair, and rested his forehead on her shoulder.

“I love you too,” he said. “More than I thought was possible. Probably more than is good for me.” She sighed.

“Caleb mentioned enjoying a season,” she rolled over, “I don’t see why it can’t be more permanent.”

“Anne, I,” he sighed, “I have to go home.”

“I know,” she whispered. “I understand that, but I thought, I don’t know, we could write, and,” he exhaled and kissed her gently.

“You don’t,” he said, “my sister,” he exhaled, “it’s complicated, but I, I came here to help her.” She looked at him. “And I found something, but I don’t know, and,” she sat down.

“What’s wrong with her?” She asked. He laughed and shook his head.

“Nothing,” he said, “Marie is perfect, she’s amazing. But when she was born, the sister that delivered her had a vision and wrote down a prophecy.” Anne looked at him.

“Your sister is Chosen?” She asked. He nodded. “You came looking for her mandate.” She swallowed. Chosen were rare, some people didn’t believe that they existed. That people claiming the title were just, mad.”

“Sort of,” Les sighed, “she was promised a gift from the goddess, to free them, the union of earth and sea.” She nodded. “I don’t know, it doesn’t make a lot of sense. Have you ever heard of the Holy Swords?” She smiled.

“The Sword Of Rana will cut her and Cornan free from the wheel of time,” Anne said. “The sword of Amina would shatter the barrier between this world and the worlds of the dead.” He nodded. “Cornan’s would fend off the armies invading from the loss of the barrier.”

“Yes,” he smiled, “but the swords aren’t weapons. They’re people, or at least, that’s my theory.” She looked at him. “And I think, Marie’s mandate is to mother one of them.”

“You learned all this studying here?” She asked. He shook his head.

“No,” he said, “I came here to learn how to stop it. A Prince is meant to father the sword. Prince Daniel has shown interest in Marie, and certain members of my family are eager for the match to continue. Marie is fourteen, and she has no desire to be Queen of Phania, but she has a prophecy on her head.”

“You want to sever the mandate,” Anne sat up. He nodded. “Defying the gods, you don’t ask for much, do you?” He laughed and kissed her.

“I’d stay with you,” he whispered, “I’d give up everything I’ve ever known to do it, Anne, really. But I can’t abandon Marie to people who don’t see her as a whole person, I can’t let her get swallowed up.” Anne kissed him.

“Do you want me to help?” She asked. He cupped his hand against her face.

“What about you sea plants?” He teased.

“They’ll keep,” she said. “This is very selfish for me,” she said, “you see if you sever her mandate, you can come back to me.” He laughed and kissed her.

“I think you’re amazing, Anne Brightcoast,” he whispered. She smiled.

Two Years Later

Anne was sitting at her desk in Brightcoast, her parents were absorbed in planning the opening ball to the summer season which left Anne to the actual work of running the provenance for the week. She liked it that way but it was still lonely. The royal family had arrived at the cliff perched summer palace a few days ago, and she knew she’d have to show her face soon. The idea of it made her sad.

“Hello Anne,” Caleb walked in and sat down on her couch. She looked up at him.

“What do you want?” She said.

“To say hello?” He asked. She went back to her work.

“You’ve done that,” she said, “go away.” He laughed. “Caleb, you’ve been here a few days, why are you here now?”

“Well, I had to get settled in,” he pointed out. “And of course there’s Lady Olivia,” she groaned.

“Please don’t,” she said, “I had a month of blessed peace from you talking about Lady Olivia,” he smirked at her.

“You were in love,” he said, “I dealt with it.”

“My love was reciprocated,” she pointed out. “And much less tedious.” He nodded.

“I have to tell you something,” his voice went serious. She looked at him. “I got a letter from Les.”

“Alright,” she said, “I get letters from him frequently.” He sighed.

“Anne, he’s coming back,” she dropped her pen. “He’s bringing his sister here, something about Prince Daniel, and being worried for her safety. They’re arriving in a few days, I’m presenting them.”

“What?” She said. “Why you?” He raised his eyebrows. “I would have,” she leaned back.

“I think he was worried that it would hurt you,” he said. “That he was coming back to protect Marie.” She nodded. But she understood that, Marie’s safety was Les’s priority. He’d told her that. “I didn’t want you to be surprised.”

“Thank you, I guess,” she said and stood up, he grabbed her hand and squeezed it.

“Anne,” he said. “Just wait until you talk to him.” She nodded.

Les looked around the ballroom. The first gauntlet of the night had been cleared, that was introducing Marie. He was more nervous about the second. They’d been in Brightcoast for four days and he’d gone back and forth between going to see Anne in his mind a million times a day.

But he hadn’t. Caleb had mentioned she’d seem hurt that he hadn’t asked her for help, and he wanted to explain himself. And he wanted her to meet Marie, who he had completely lost track of. Caleb had gone to pay homage to his doomed love for Lady Olivia Bano, and that just made him want to talk to Anne even more. He was sure she would be happy to tease him about it.

But she wasn’t in the ballroom. Or on the terrace. He paused and saw John Dugarry refilling his wine and walked over.

“Your sister is with Anton, don’t worry, I’m watching them,” Sir John said and took a long drink. Les nodded.

“I was actually going to ask if there’s a library,” Les said, “but thank you for that.” Sir John grinned.

“There is,” he smiled. “If you go down to the main hall and turn left, it’s down that passageway. She may just have gone home though, or not even come tonight.”

“Thank you,” Les smiled at the guard who nodded and winked at him. He rushed quickly to the library, which was lit by a silvery magic generated fire, and in the center in an armchair there was Anne. She had some kind of jewels in her hair, because the moonlight and fire were hitting it and shining off of it. She was wearing a pink satin gown and looked almost like a painting. “Anne,” he whispered. She looked up and then looked back down and pointedly went back to reading.

“Lord Sanpierre,” she said coolly. He swallowed and walked over to her. “Your sister did well. I think Anton swallowed his tongue.” He laughed. “I look forward to meeting her.”

“She looks forward to meeting you,” he said, “in fact, I’d hoped tonight.” She snapped the book closed and looked at him. “Caleb said you were upset.”

“Did he?” she said. He nodded. “Well, that was good of him.” He sighed. “Did you think I wouldn’t help you?”

“It isn’t that,” he said, “I knew you would,” she nodded. “I didn’t want to be in your debt.” She looked at him. “I always thought of us as, well, equals, I suppose, and if I,” he sighed, “if I owed you so much, it would break us, this.” Her face soften and she leaned back.

“What happened? With Prince Daniel?” She asked. Les frowned.

“He pursued her,” he said, “agressively. She was becoming frightened by the attention. I think she had a few Dreams about it, but she won’t say.” Anne nodded. “And when Caleb wrote that we should come here, when I mentioned I was concerned, I,” he swallowed, “I couldn’t say no, because it meant I would get to see you.” She leaned across the space and kissed him, and he pulled her into his lap. “Anne,” he whispered.

“I missed you so much,” she said, “and I was so happy you were coming, really.” He pressed his forehead against hers. “How long are you staying?”

“I’m not going anywhere,” he said. She looked at him and smiled.

“So we can get married?” She said.

“I’d like to,” he smirked. She giggled and tumbled onto the floor with him. “I love you.”

“I love you too,” she said as they fell into the kiss.



The trip to Dorin, visits with everyone and the quick voyage were over. I was grateful for it. I was amazed to note the changes Emily has mentioned in everything. My mother spent most of her time at Emily and Alex’s house, when Alex petitioned Geno and Trey for permission for this mission there was no lengthy debate.

And I didn’t see my father once. Not even incidentally. I was surprised as we moved into the harbor to see several Phanian ships and standing on the dock, what I assumed was a few members of the royal family and guard waiting for us.

“That’s Prince Nikolai,” Alex said to me, “he’s the third child, second son.” I nodded. The Old King had ten children, nine sons. Raniere, Princess Rila, Nikolai, and Kristoff were the ones old enough to be in public life at this point. Armand, Galen, Gregor, Albert and twins Richard and Mikhail were still considered too young, though we were likely to see them at some point.

“Lady Dugarry,” Prince Nikolai said and took my hand and kissed it as I curtsied after getting off the ship. Alex looked at him. “Master Ducray, Madame DuCray, Rastan is happy to receive you.”

“Thank you, Your Highness,” I swallowed and he smiled at me. “Her Majesty is glad you were able to receive us early.”

“Of course,” he said and we began walking. “We are sorry your husband is not with you.”

“Commander Dugarry has many responsibilities,” I explained. I glanced at the harbor. “There are several Phanian ships.”

“Ah,” The Prince frowned, “yes, we thought that might alarm you. The Princess Karina has come with her household. She is betrothed to my younger brother, and apparently begged her father to allow her to console him. She has been a great help to Kristoff.” I nodded.

“The Princess,” Emily said softly. “Not Prince Eric.”

“No,” Nikolai said, he sounded disappointed. “Not the Prince, it’s unfortunate as he and my brother were once quite close.” We arrived to the palace and were escorted to a small parlor. “I will see if you rooms are ready.”

“Thank you,” I said. He disappeared. Emily frowned. “What’s wrong?”

“I don’t know,” she scrunched her face, “doesn’t it feel odd?”

“That’s just Rastan,” Alex said. “It’s so bleak here it makes Dorin look like Brightcoast. Goddess, no wonder my father left.” I shook my head at him and laughed. But Emily was right something did feel off here. Like everything was unsettled.

Annalise has told me to look sharply and carefully. Four Phanian ships, Eric wasn’t here, and a strange chill in the air.

“Oh I’m sorry,” someone entered the parlor. I stood up and smiled. Damian Lestoff was unchanged from the week or so I’d known him in Brightcoast. “Lady Dugarry,” he said, wide eyed.

“I think you can call me Carolina, Lieutenant,” I said. He laughed.

“It’s Captain, now, actually,” he said, “and Lefty, to you.” I nodded and shook his hand. “They mentioned a contingent was coming before Annalise, and I thought,” I swallowed and cut him off before he could finish that thought. Of course he’d hoped Marina was with us.

“I’m being rude, this is my sister, Madame DuCray and my brother in law,” I said gesturing to Emily and Alex, he shook both of their hands. “You were promoted! Marina never said.” His smile faltered a little. “She’ll be so glad you’re here. She’s been so worried!”

“She is coming, then?” He asked. I nodded.

“Of course,” Alex frowned. “She wasn’t able to leave The Queen while they were in Westran but she’ll come as soon as she can.” Lefty closed his eyes and shook his head.

“She can’t come here,” he said softly, “it isn’t safe for her.” I frowned at him. “Is your husband here?”

“No,” I said, “I don’t think Tristan is planning to come at all. He’s leaving his regiment soon and needs to tie up loose ends.” He swore.

“He’d have understood at least,” he muttered. “I came to protect my sister and the princess,” he looked at me. “It’s why we wouldn’t let Eric come,” he sighed. “Lady Dugarry, Marina cannot come to Rastan.”

“Why not?” I asked, not indignant on her behalf. If he were trying to avoid her that was a fool’s errand.

“Because Lord Brayton is here, serving as a court advisor to Raniere,” he said. “He’s using an alias, he calls himself Braga, but it’s Brayton.”

I stared at him. That was the feeling. The dark and chill was the same as that night in Brightcoast, when Brayton tried to take Marina.

“You’re sure?” Alex said, looking horrified. We all grew up under Brayton’s regime, the fear and lack of security didn’t effect us as much as others. The guilds protected us, but we weren’t untouched.

“It’s hard to forget the man who tried to drag your soul into darkness.” Lefty said sharply. “It’s why I stopped writing to Marina, it’s nearly killed me, but I couldn’t,” he swallowed, “if he knew that she and I were still,” I rested my hand on his and calmed him. “I won’t risk her safety.”

“Of course,” I said gently. “Alex, do you have any way of getting word of this back home without anyone knowing?” He raised his eyebrows at me. “I’m sorry that was insulting, of course you do.”

“Obviously,” he said, “it was a pleasure, Captain, but I have business to attend to,” he kissed me on the cheek. “Caro,” he embraced Emily. “Emily, be safe.” She nodded and kissed him.

“You’re an interesting group,” He said and crossed his arms. Emily scoffed at him. “I’m shocked Dugarry allowed it.” I shook my head and stood up and went to the mantle.

“You have a very skewed idea of who my husband is,” I said, “do you honestly think he grew up beside Athena and believes he has any say over what the women in his life do to protect Cammadan?” He shook his head.

“There is a difference between a twin sister being Cornan’s own champion and your wife being a spy,” he grinned, “but I see your point.”

“Merchant girls make excellent spies,” Emily said cheerfully, “we’re raised to ingratiate ourselves and trust no one on first glance.” He laughed. Then he looked at me.

“How is she?” He asked softly. I looked at him.

“She’s fine,” I said, “sad, and tired. She’s often frustrated that they haven’t made more progress on the mandate, but she’s well enough.” He closed his eyes and nodded. “You could come back with us. Even for a short time, Alex’s network is,”

“No,” he said, “no, if I go back, if I’m with her again, it has to be forever, I’d never survive leaving her again.” I looked at him and nodded. I wondered if he knew. If he knew that four years ago, in her devastation Marina had taken my husband into her bed.

He nodded. I realized he was wondering the same thing about me.

“She’s ended things with Nika, which I think took a toll” I said gently, he looked away. “But they were content together. They aren’t, Tristan and her, I mean, they did, but it was only once.”

“You forgave it,” he said, his voice caught in his throat. I nodded. “How? I’ve come to accept he’s probably a good man, but there was a time that the thought of your husband even touching her drove me out of my mind.”

“It’s all very complicated,” I said. “He was always very upfront with about his feelings for her, and she was so broken then, I don’t think I could have held onto it,” Not to mention Tristan’s forgiveness of my own indiscretions. He looked at me. “Annalise is the one who drives me out of my mind.” He laughed then.

“I know it’s shocking when Caro reveals she’s actually a flawed human and not a perfect character from a novel,” Emily said. She paused. “Who drives Annalise out of her mind? It isn’t you, I always go the impressions she rather likes you.”

“Brea,” Lefty said at the same time as me and we laughed.

“And Harran is Eric’s tick,” Lefty sighed. “At least we’re all hung up on different people.” I grinned. I liked him, more than I’d expected to. “Makes the mess even messier.”

“That’s true,” I mused. “I wonder what Prince Eric will think of Prior Chastain.”

“That’s the ranger?” Lefty asked. I nodded. “He’s not fond of the idea of him.” I laughed. “Do you think she’ll listen? And stay away.”

“I don’t know,” I said. But I was lying. I did know. And I knew that this news would only bring Marina here faster.