I awoke a few days later, happily in my comfortable green and blue hued bedchamber in my apartment. The Grand Apartment. The bed alone was almost the size of my chamber in Pantona, and that wasn’t a small room. I stretched and rolled over.
It still felt strange, waking in the morning without Tristan there. Since we’d arrived he’d been quiet and withdrawn. Athena tried to make up for it by constantly chatting, but it doesn’t work. I miss him, I want him and I know I can’t have him anymore. They all tried to warn me. I sighed and pulled on a dressing gown and walked out into the parlor. Athena was already there of course.
I’m convinced that she doesn’t sleep at all.
“Good morning,” she said and poured me a cup of coffee.
“Morning,” I grumbled.
“Duchess Norvine came last night,” Athena smiled, “you’ll like her, I think, very no nonsense.”
“An heir?” I asked. I’d spent the past three nights smiling, nodding and pretending to laugh at the jokes of Provenance Heirs. They’re nice men and boys for the most part, but not what I want, and they’re all trying far too hard to ingratiate themselves.
“No, thank Cornan,” Athena sighed. “Her heir is her daughter, who is married and pregnant, you’re safe. No one’s going to betroth you to an unborn baby.” I smiled and sipped on the coffee. “At least I hope not, the Rastani might try, but they have ten others to throw at you first.”
“Yes, I got the letter,” I groaned and stretched. “Anything from Phania, yet?” She pressed her lips into her mouth.
“You have to stop asking at council,” she said, “the others,” the Provenance leaders other than Aaron and Uncle Les, that’s who she means by that, “are worried. I don’t think they understand.”
“Why should they, I barely do?” I snapped. “I’m sorry, I’m cranky.” She shrugged. “Have you seen Marina?”
“Can I help you?” Marina said stepping in. She was still wearing the nursing uniform she’d grown used to in camp. It suited her, she seemed more like the sisters at the temple of Rana than a great lady.
“I need help getting dressed,” I wrinkled my nose. She laughed and nodded following me back into my bedroom. “I feel like an infant.”
“I had a maid or one of the sisters dress me every day of my life before we left the capital,” she said, pulling my night gown over my head and a petite coat over that. “It was unusual even for my friends. We know why now.” I nodded. How Marina turned out as sweet and competent as she did when she was being groomed and trained to be Brayton’s wife amazes me. “Duchess Norvine today isn’t it?” I nodded. “This will work.” She pulled a green dress out of the wardrobe and tightened the corset. I’m always in green these days. I wonder what The Goddess thinks about it. “All done.”
“A crown, today, do you think?” I frowned.
“Just the circlet,” she smiled. “Anya Norvine isn’t fussy. She’s my cousin too, on my mother’s side.” I looked back at her over my shoulder. “I don’t know her well. She hated Brayton, so she wasn’t here much.”
“He allowed her to come and go?” I asked. She nodded.
“Papa was the only Provenance leader who wasn’t free, now that I think about it,” she said. “Caleb came and went. And Warren Corsar, and Duchess Norvine.” I nodded.
“Come with me,” I said, “to greet her.”
“I should change,” she muttered. I shook my head.
“Like you said,” I kissed her on the cheek, “not fussy.” She laughed and we walked to the throne room. A few moments later a woman, tall and proud looking woman in her mid fifties walked in.
“Your highness,” She said and dipped into a low curtsey.
“Duchess Norvine,” I said and extended my hand. She took it and kissed it. “Thank you, for returning. I imagine the northern coast is chaotic, with the change.”
“Lucky for you Carland Dumanis is fond of his grandchildren and they are loyal to you,” she said. “Otherwise, I’d be asking you to build a navy immediately.” I grinned.
“Yes, the twins are useful,” I laughed. “You know, Lady Marina, of course.”
“Of course,” she said and nodded to Marina, “I’m glad to see you free child.”
“I’m glad to be free, Lady Anya,” Marina said.
“We’re three women who rule in this land,” I said. The Duchess nodded. “We’re not unheard of, but still not common. I’m happy you’ve made your daughter your heir.”
“Your father made it the law,” she said, “although I’d have done it anyway. Leisle’s a smart girl, she married a fool, but it can’t be helped. Brayton narrowed her options.”
“I want to invite you to join my council,” I said. She smiled. “I understand if you refuse, if you’d rather return to Norvine, but I’m at a loss. Corsar is a good man but we don’t get on, and Marina and Count Aaron are as inexperienced as I.” She nodded.
“Youth is good for a country,” she said, “but I accept gratefully. I had great respect for Count Caleb, despite not knowing how much he did for all of us.” I looked at her. “I’d have helped, if they’d trusted me.”
“I expect they thought you had enough on your plate,” Marina said. The Duchess smiled. “But I will make Papa apologize. I made him apologize to me for not telling that she was alive.” The older woman laughed.
“Ah, Lady Marina,” she shook her head. “Your Papa knew his business. You were as skittish as a black cat in the palace anyway, if you’d held that big a secret you’d have jumped through the roof anytime a person said hello.” I laughed aloud at that.
“Truly, I thought Lady Athena was exaggerating.” I shook my head, “Marina I can’t imagine you so scared.” Marina blushed.
“Still, they were quite wrong about many things,” she shook her head. “Thank you, Duchess for accepting. We will need your wisdom.”
“Goddess hold you both,” she said. taking one each of our hands in both hers. I smiled, feeling safer already.