Magic

“Marina,” Annalise rode over to me. I looked at her and nodded. “Athena and Aaron shot some rabbits and ducks, they’re cleaning them for lunch, would you get a fire started.” She looked at Lefty and smiled. “You’re about to see something impressive, Lieutenant.”

“Am I?” He raised an eyebrow. I laughed and shook my head. He dismounted and offered me a hand.

“Perhaps a bit,” I said softly, attempting to dismount, and he quickly went to help me, “She could do it herself, to be perfectly honest.” I carefully dismounted, trying not to flush at his hands on my waist. I carefully hovered my hands, sending out a warm light, that burst into a flame which hovered in the air.

“Well the queen was right,” Lefty said, “I am impressed, neither Aimee nor Queen Elana have ever done anything like that.”

“Parlor tricks,” I smiled. “That’s what Lisette calls them.” He laughed.

“Oh good,” Athena bounced over, holding a cleaned rabbit, “Marina fire, it will cook quickly.” She glanced at Lefty. “Lieutenant, could you perhaps go to the stream and get us some water?”

“Happy to,” he smiled at her. “Your Grace,” he said and walked away. She smiled at me.

“You’re both making trouble,” I said. “I assume Tristan’s decision to see your grandfather has to do with your scheme from last night?” She nodded. “So he’s considering it?”

“I don’t know what he’s considering,” she shook her head. She glanced over at Annalise and Prince Eric. “They look well together.” I nodded.

“Would you be able to show me this?” Lord Raymond walked over, gazing at the fire. I smiled.

“Yes,” I said, “not here, but in a labratory or classroom, where there’s room for error.” He nodded. “Lord Raymond has magic, Lady Athena.”

“I see,” she nodded. “I suppose it runs in families, I’d heard that.” Lord Raymond nodded. “I’ve heard of Queen Elana’s power, but I doubt it compares with our Rina.”

“Athena,” I said softly. She shrugged. “She’s bragging. I wouldn’t dream of challenging your sister’s,”

“It’s alright,” he said, “my sister and I are both well trained, but our power is limited. I was hoping to spend some time with a mastero, but Countess Olivia told me the one who trained Queen Annalise isn’t in Dovetail.”

“I believe that Mastero Anselm’s exact words were, ‘if your majesty forces me to go back to that cess pool, I will never speak to you again,'” Athena said. “He’s an eccentric man. I very much look forward to being his lady.”

“He’s at Pantona then?” Raymond asked. Athena nodded. “Do you know if he’s considered reestablishing the order?”

“The Masteros?” I asked. “That’s of interest to you? How terribly un-Phanian!” He laughed.

“I suppose so,” he shrugged. “But I wasn’t accepted into the brotherhood four years ago, which limits my options for serving the gods, unless,”

“Unless,” Athena smiled. “It’s an admirable goal, serving the gods.  Why were you refused? Into the brotherhood?”

“The mothers don’t always disclose their reasoning,” He said. I looked at him, he sounded almost bitter.

“My father said there are very few brothers,” I said, “only a few every generation.” Raymond nodded. “Still, I know it can be difficult, for your life to go in a way you didn’t hope for.” He smiled.  I keep thinking about what Annalise said about him, about how his aura reminded her of Brayton, and I keep thinking about Brayton’s claim that he traded his soul to Amina after Marie chose another.

If even a small kindness could save Raymond from that level of despair, I’ll give him that. Lieutenant Lestoff came back with a pail of water, and I felt my heart skip when he smiled at me.

“Thank you Lieutenant,” Athena smiled at him.

“Happy to help, Captain,” he said softly. The Prince and Annalise bounced over and we all ate.

“Where did you learn this?” Lord Raymond asked me. I grinned. “Not from the sisters?”

“No,” I said, “I taught myself, from the library.”

“Rina’s very studious,” Annalise said. “I’ve been trying to emulate her but I get bored sitting all day.”

“How do you prefer to spend your time then?” The Prince asked, leaning back against his elbows. Aaron met me eyes and rolled his. I tried not to giggle.

“Lisette prefers anything active,” Aaron said, “our whole lives, you stick a book in her hand, she’d trade it for a sword.” She kicked him playfully. “Well, it was knives first, wasn’t it? What did Father said to you, Lisette, when you were six?”

“Surprise is your first weapon,” she grinned, “this is your second.” She pulled a small knife out of her boot. Aaron and Athena both smiled, and I realized I was too. I suddenly missed Count Caleb very much. Annalise took my hand and squeezed it.

“I wish we could have met him,” Prince Eric said softly. I looked at him and nodded. The right thing to say.

“I think we should go back,” Annalise said standing up and walking over to her horse.

“See,” Aaron shrugged, brushing himself off. “Can’t sit still to save her life.”

 

Liar

I woke in the morning feeling better, still sad but better. I pulled my dressing gown on and walked into the sitting room to make sure breakfast was set. Annalise was already standing out on the balcony with a cup of coffee, which felt strange. It’s normally murder getting her out of bed.

She was even dressed! Not that I wasn’t aware of the fact that she could dress herself. It’s just since we came to Dovetail it’s been increasingly unusual.

“Good Morning,” she smiled.

“Good Morning,” I said and walked out. “You’re awake early.”

“Athena told you that we’re going riding?” She asked. I nodded. “I thought to the valley? It’s quite pretty and very Cammadie.”

“A good choice,” I nodded and laughed. “I’m sorry for fleeing last night, I wasn’t feeling well, and I think saying goodbye to William drained me more than I thought it would.”

“You’re entitled,” she said softly. “I’m going to miss him, not as much as you, I’m sure, but still. I know Aaron and Olivia have to go back to Pantona soon too, and it will be at least a year before I can go. My childhood followed me to Dovetail but I know it can’t stay.”

“What do you think of the Prince?” I asked. She smiled at that. “You like him?”

“I do,” she said, “he as very frank last night, he said he had instructions to stay at least year and that his brother is very eager for our marriage.”

“His brother?” I smirked. “Not himself.”

“I doubt he’d mind,” Annalise shrugged. “I’ve been thinking that I might not marry at all. Anessa didn’t.”

“Anessa had a companion who had children,” I pointed out. “She didn’t marry because she didn’t like men, and found heirs in another fashion. I don’t think it would work that way for you.” She frowned.

“You could be my heir,” she said, “or Athena and Aaron’s children.”

“If you think not marrying will solve your problem with Tristan I don’t think it will be that simple,” I said. She laughed. “Annalise, I feel like I need to tell you,” she shook her head.

“It doesn’t matter,” she said. I swallowed. “Marina, I mean it. We decided ages ago that we wouldn’t let this get in between us, right?” I nodded. “He mentioned something, after I told him,” she sighed, “if something happened I can’t blame you. Or him, really, it’s all such a mess. The only thing I can do is move forward with Eric or see if I want to.”

“Alright,” I said. “Athena seems to think I’ve been going around making conquests, or that I should.” Annalise laughed.

“Athena needs to learn that not everything is a battle,” she shrugged. “If it makes you feel more comfortable, I think that Lieutenant Lestoff and Lord Raymond are simply homesick, and you’re as Phanian as you are Cammadie. Or at least that’s how the Prince explained it to me.”

“That makes more sense,” I said. “I have to dress.” She nodded.

“Marina,” she said. “If it would make you happy, don’t let me stop you.” I smiled.

“I know,” I said, “I don’t know what will make me happy at this point.” I stopped. “Have you been Dreaming?”

“Not lately,” she admitted, “but I’ve been expending so much energy on learning battle magic, I thought that was merely it. Have you?”

“No,” I shook my head, “it’s odd. Not since we came to Dovetail. I’ve never gone this long without one, it’s worrying.” She nodded. “I thought perhaps after going to the temple yesterday.”

“I’ll write to Anselm,” she said, “perhaps he’ll finally come.” I nodded. I went inside and dressed quickly. I picked a red riding dress that Athena had given me as a birthday gift. I didn’t wear the color much, which is I think why she’d chosen it. We walked out to the front and saw the horses waiting. And the twins, and Aaron.

“Good morning,” Annalise smiled.

“Good morning Lisette,” Aaron said, “Duchess.”

“Count,” I said walking over to my horse. Papa gave me Rosemary a few years ago. I lifted to mount and Tristan came beside me to help. “Thank you.”

“Anytime,” he said. Annalise was looking away pointedly. “Could we talk later?”

“I don’t think there’s anything left to say,” I said softly. The Phanians walked out then. I glanced at Annalise as the prince walked to her and took her hand and kissed it. She was blushing.

“If you’ll excuse me,” Tristan said, “Your Majesty, may I be excused from this morning’s excercises? My grandfather has asked to see me before he returns to Dorin.”

“Of course,” Annalise said, “but Tristan, I,” he bowed and left. We rode out through the back gardens and into the valley behind the castle. The ride was pleasant, and the valley is beautiful, especially as the fall colors were changing.

“I was disappointed last night,” Lieutenant Lestoff said, coming beside me. “I was hoping for a dance.” I smiled at him.

“I’m afraid I’m not much of a dancer,” I explained, “however, last night especially I wasn’t feeling up to it.” He nodded ahead to where Annalise and Eric were talking. I noticed her laughing.

“He likes her,” he said.

“Good,” I nodded, “she likes him.” He nodded. “He called you something yesterday. Not your name.”

“Lefty?” He tried. I nodded. “Before I was his lieutenant he was my step brother, it’s an old childhood nickname, I use my left hand for most things, and my surname.” I nodded. “Still, I can’t help but be jealous, I understand you spoke of the Goddess with Raymond.”

“Only incidentally,” I said. “And if you’re to stay a year, I imagine there will be plenty of chances for dancing.” He nodded. “What do you think of our valley?”

“In general, I’ve always enjoyed Cammadan,” he said, “we never spent much time here, but Dorin’s a favorite, and we’ve sailed by your home often.”

“Dovetail is my home,” I said, “but I suppose you mean Brightcoast?” He nodded. “I’ve not been there since I was very small.”

“We’re always happy to see it,” he said, “where we grew up, Eric and I, Brinecliff, you can see it from certain heights and in the right weather. It means we’re close to home.” I smiled at that.

“He’s your step brother?” I said. “He was fostered with you? Like Annalise was at Pantona?”

“No,” he said, “when King Philip died, Queen Aimee married my father. We have a sister in common, Katrin. She’s not yet twelve and is quite insistent that I tell her everything about Annalise.” I laughed. “What she wears and eats mostly.”

“Perhaps next summer when we move court to Brightcoast you could send for her,” I suggested, “if Brinecliff is so close.”

“She’s no longer in Brinecliff,” he said. “At ten, Phanian girls are presented to the sisters in Vacana and then either taken to convent to begin training or given to Queen Elana and Princess Karina to be trained as ladies of court.” I nodded. “Katrin had no desire to become a sister, so she lives at the palace now. My father and Aimee are back in the city as well. We were on our way there when we received notice of the coronation and changed course to Dovetail instead.”

“I’m glad you did,” I said. He smiled. “For the queen’s sake, that is. She was anxious to meet the prince.”

“Of course,” he said. “For the queen’s sake.” He spurred his horse on. I smiled. I feel silly, I was moments away from Tristan being my lover just last night, and before that William.

But there’s something different about Lieutenant Damian Lestoff.

Everything I’ve Ever Wanted

I lay on my bed half dressed, Tristan on top of me, kissing me, stroking me, whispering over and over that he loved me.

I don’t know if he was drunk, or upset, and in that moment, I didn’t care, which I think makes me awful, but I didn’t care about that either. I had Tristan, he was saying the things I’d always wanted him to. He went to unlace himself, and I stopped him.

“It’s alright, love,” he said.

“No,” I whispered, “I love you, but not that, not like this, not when she,” he nodded and rolled off of me. “Besides which, I’m not ready.” He nodded.

“Alright,” he mumbled, and we kissed again.

“Tell me again,” I whispered.

“I love you,” he said. We kissed deeply. “I love you.” He drew back and placed his hands on my hips. I spread my legs, and there was a knock on the door.

“Marina?” The voice on the other end was Athena’s. “Are you in there? We saw you leave.”

“I’m here, give me a few moments.” I said. Tristan looked at me. I pulled my dressing gown on. I went to the door and cracked it open.

“Are you feeling well?” Athena asked. “You left so suddenly.”

“I’m alright,” I said, “just, it’s been a trying day.” Athena nodded. “Does Annalise need me?”

“No,” Athena said, “she’s with The Prince. She wants to go riding all together tomorrow though. Will you be up for  it?”

“Of course,” I said. “I’ll see that her things are set.” Athena nodded. “Anything else?”

“Have a lovely evening Tristan,” she called, pushing the door open. He was on his back with his hands against his forehead. “I suggest you go back to your own rooms. You’ll both think better of this in the morning.”

I looked back at him.

“How did she know?” I asked. He sighed.

“Because she’s Athena, and she knows me,” he said. “Marina,” he said as I sat down. He kissed my shoulder. “How I feel about you isn’t new. When we were younger I didn’t know how to love you.” He kissed me. “I’ve learned.”

“I know,” I said and pulled away. “You learned by loving Annalise.” He exhaled. “Tristan, we can’t do this. Like I said earlier, it isn’t fair.”

“To Annalise,” he said standing up, “she’s abandoning me for him.”

“It isn’t fair to her, but it also isn’t fair to me!” I said. “Or you. It isn’t what any of us want.”

“I want you,” he said. We kissed again. I pulled away.

“Please go,” I whispered. “I won’t be able to say no again.” He nodded and left, silently. I’d only seen that look on his face a few times before, now it was worse, tempered by hurt and pain.

“I saw he left,” Athena said softly. I nodded. “You didn’t, it didn’t finish?” I shook my head. “She wouldn’t forgive you, you know.”

“I know,” I whispered. “I didn’t care. Tristan,” I sighed, “he said he loved me, I’ve waited half my life to hear him say it.”

“This afternoon, while you were studying,” she said, “he asked Annalise to marry him.” I swallowed and nodded. “She said no, obviously, I’m sorry, I know this hurts you, but he’s angry and confused and.”

“I should have known,” I said. “I mean, I did, I knew he wouldn’t have come to me if they hadn’t quarreled, but,” Athena hugged me close. “He’s given up on her.”

“For now,” she nodded, “but when Prince Eric leaves, and our Lisette is free to look at Tristan again,” she sighed, “I don’t want you to be left in the dust over it, that’s all.” I nodded.

“I appreciate it,” I said softly. “You won’t tell Annalise?”

“No,” Athena said softly. “I won’t. I might even have a solution, that would help Tristan and keep you from being hurt.” I looked at her. “My grandfather and aunt spoke to me tonight, they’re eager to reunite Tristan and I with The Dumanis.”

“A merchant marriage,” I whispered. “For Tristan?”

“For both of us, actually,” she said. “But I have Aaron, and no merchant in their right mind would want to alienate Pantona, it’s too much good territory.”

“Tristan would go to Dorin,” I whispered. She nodded. “Leaving Annalise free to pursue Eric without him looking over her shoulder and giving him a chance at something.” Athena nodded. “Have you mentioned this plan to him.”

“No,” she said, “I was going to find him, and here we are.” She stood up. “I’ll see to Annalise tonight. We are actually going riding in the morning, so be sure to dress up. Lieutenant Lestoff asked if you would be coming. Sir Raymond too, you’ve clearly made an impression.” I wrinkled my nose. “Being the belle of court is fun, Marina, I promise. I even thought it was fun under Brayton, with Annalise it will be an absolute scream.” I giggled. “Tristan does care for you, I think he always has he’s just abominably stupid.”

“I know,” I said. “You’re going to make a very good Countess of Pantona you know.” She laughed.

“Olivia has very large shoes to fill when it comes to providing comfort and counsel, but I’ll do my best,” she said softly. “If you’ll excuse me, I have a brother to go castigate.” She got up and bounced out.

I sighed and leaned back into bed, knowing that I was moments away from having the thing I’d dreamed of since I was twelve.

And knowing that it wasn’t the right thing anyway.

The Second Ball

There was already another coronation ball planned for tonight, but now it was also a welcoming ball for Prince Eric. I was sitting beside Annalise, The Prince on her other side.

I glanced across the room and caught William’s eye. He’s trying not to look angry at me, or look me at all, I think.

“You’re quarreling with a lover?” I glanced over my shoulder and saw Lieutenant Lestoff. I blushed. “That guard, he’s yours then?”

“No,” I said, “not anymore.” He smiled.

“A shame,” he said, “for him, I mean.” I nodded. “I want to apologize, I believe on our ride here, I startled you.”

“I think it’s worth saying that your presence in Cammadan startles me Lieutenant,” I answered. He nodded. “You mentioned offending me, by bringing up my Sight.”

“It isn’t polite to discuss magic back home,” he explained. “We tend speak frankly about it because of my step mother, and of course The Queen, but I didn’t know,” he shook his head. “I didn’t know if it was something you would be comfortable discussing with a strange man.”

“I don’t find you terribly strange, Lieutenant,” I smiled. He grinned. “If you’ll excuse me.” I stood up and walked out onto the balcony and exhaled. I’d never done anything like that before.

But there’s something about him.

“If you were hoping to make me jealous it worked,” William said walking out. I looked at him.

“I wasn’t,” I said. He nodded. “We were just talking. And I told you yesterday,” the words caught in my throat. He came close to me, “William,” I whispered.

“I told you I was leaving,” he said, “and I am. I don’t belong here, and Aaron has offered to make me his manager so that he doesn’t have to leave.” I nodded. “But you could have waiting until I was gone to start throwing yourself at Phanian Navel Lieutenants.”

“I wasn’t throwing myself at him,” I said, not making eye contact. He lifted my face, “I’m going to miss you,” I said softly. I meant it to. I am going to miss him.

“I could have loved you, if you’d have let me.” He whispered.

“William,” I mumbled and he pulled me close kissing me. I knew this was our real goodbye. I didn’t know when he’d leave but I knew that it would be soon. I wrapped my arms around his neck. I thought of Annalise and Tristan as I’d found them this morning.

It would be easy to go with William tonight, I wouldn’t even be missed, I don’t think anyone would even think of looking for me in the barracks. I doubt he’d say no.

There is life beyond Dugarry. Brayton’s mocking echoed in my ears. But it was shut out by the warm soft voice, from earlier, assuring me that no, I was fine as I was.

“Lady Marina, The Queen was looking for you,” Tristan stepped out onto the balcony, “Master Santino, The Countess wanted to speak to you before you left in the morning.” William nodded and walked away. Tristan smirked at me. “Revenge is sweet.”

“Don’t tease me,” I said. “Are you alright?” He sighed.

“I was,” he said, “I was beyond alright, last night. and then,” he sighed. We looked inside and saw Annalise dancing with Prince Eric. “He’s what I feared he’d be.”

“I’ll keep my promise, if you want it,” I said. He took my hand.

“No,” he said, “no, this is between Annalise and I,” he looked at me. “Are you alright?” I nodded. “Truly?”

“Yes,” I said, “we were saying goodbye.” I sighed. “We knew we would have to eventually.” I leaned against the railing. “I was thinking today, about this room,” he smiled.

“It’s better now,” he said, “but I do remember good times here before.” I nodded. “My parents, and you, always so pretty in the candle light, leading the prayers to the goddess.”

“Don’t do this,” I said softly, realizing that he was still holding my hand. “We agreed, we were friends, and you and Annalise, it would be worse now.”

“I’m sorry,” he said, “truly, I didn’t mean to,” he looked down.

“What do you think of me?” I asked stepping back. “I love her, I’m sworn to protect her, and so are you, last night you were in her bed, and now you expect me to,” I looked down.

“I don’t expect anything,” he said softly, “Marina, I care for you. I always have.”

“But it’s only when things are difficult that you come to me,” I said softly. “Only when we don’t know the outcome of the battle or she’s dancing with a Phanian prince. All those years, those nights in that ballroom when I lead prayers you didn’t say anything, when I all but told you I loved you before you left, you laughed at me.” He looked down. “It isn’t fair, Tristan, let me go, please!”

I walked down the stairs into the gardens and took a deep breath, seeing the moon full, but even more stranger, Sir Raymond was sitting by the salt pond.

“You’re praying?” I asked softly. He looked at me and nodded.

“I like to pray at the full moon,” he explained, “Rana controls the moon too, because of the tides.” I smiled. “I expected you to be dancing, not out here.”

“I needed air,” I said softly. “Surely your sister didn’t send you all the way to Cammadan to pray at a salt pond. Come inside, most of the girls are quite eager to meet The Queen of Phania’s brother.” He laughed.

“The girls inside are eager to meet Eric,” he said, “not me.” I smiled softly at him. “Captain Dugarry is the queen’s lover?” I blinked at him. “And yours too.”

“Do you See, Sir Raymond?” I said softly.

“Yes Cousin,” he smiled, “the Gift runs in our family. It isn’t as strong as my sister’s, or yours at that, but yes.”

“You won’t tell them?” I asked. He shook his head. “Why not?”

“Secrets are useful,” he said, “and my sister and brother in law wish for Eric to marry Annalise, I wouldn’t defy that wish for an audience with the Goddess herself.”

He scares me, he really does look so much like Papa, but his aura, and the way he speaks are so like Brayton. It’s chilling. I made my excuses and went to my rooms, but it wasn’t what I thought it would be. Tristan was waiting for me.

“I think you’re in the wrong room,” I whispered. He walked up and kissed me. I was pressed against the door. “Tristan,” I said softly.

“I’m sorry, Marina,” he said quietly. “I’m sorry, I love you.” I nodded and we kissed again. He kissed my neck softly.

“I love you too,” I mumbled. I couldn’t resist anymore. This was all I’d ever wanted.

Fit For A Queen

We didn’t know what we would find when we got to the palace, and delayed on the route as much as we could.

“You said we took you by surprise,” Lietenant Lestoff said. I nodded. “You knew we were coming, though? Surely?”

“Queen Elana wrote that you would come next year,” I explained.

“I know that,” he said, “but surely you knew.” I blinked at him. “I mean no offense, Your Grace, but I was raised by a woman with the Goddess’s gift, and you clearly have it.”

“I can assure you I’ve never had a vision that clearly showed me someone’s time of arrival,” I stammered. “Once I heard a ship had arrived, I knew it was you, but no, I didn’t See it.” I paused. “Why would I take offense?” He shrugged and walked ahead then.

“Are you alright?” Aaron asked me. “I suppose you ought to get used to people mistaking you for Annalise.”

“He’s a strange one,” I said, wrinkling my nose. “Lieutenant Lestoff.” Aaron frowned.

“I can’t tell if any of them are strange or this situation is just strange.” He said. We approached the gates, where Annalise was standing, having taken my advice on the blue riding dress, flanked by Athena and Tristan. She was also wearing her crown. It was a very impressive sight. She stepped forward as we walked in. “Your Majesty.” Aaron smirked.

“Count Aaron,” she said, “Your Highness, I apologize for not greeting you myself, had I known you were coming I would have.”

“I quite understand,” the prince said. They were staring at one another. He’s taller than her, but at least a head smaller than Tristan. Who did not look happy. “Your cousin and brother were quite kind to greet us so quickly.”

“They are good at things like that,” she grinned at me, “May I also present Sir Tristan and Lady Athena Dugarry, the captains of my personal guard.”

“An honor,” Prince Eric smiled. “We’ve heard stories of you, Captain Dugarry and Captain Dugarry, we spent a good amount of time in Dorin a few years ago. Your home town is quite proud of you both.”

“We aren’t from Dorin,” Tristan said cooly. “We don’t have much to do with our mother’s family.”

“Tristan,” Athena said, “don’t be rude. My apologies your Highness, it has been a long few weeks.”

“I understand,” He said, “may I present my companions, my stepbrother, Lieutenant Damian Lestoff, and my brother in law Lord Raymond Cranas.”

“I believe you are my cousin, Lord Raymond,” Annalise said. He nodded. “I’m glad to have you all, please come in, a breakfast has been set.” We followed her in, as Prince Eric went to stand beside Annalise, Tristan blocked him. I sighed. She wasn’t going to be happy about how he was behaving.

I decided not to attend breakfast and came back to the library. I ought to be studying, but instead I’m just here, sitting, wondering. There was so much oddness about their arrival. And both Lord Raymond and Lieutenant Lestoff made me feel very strange.

“There you are!” Annalise said walking in. “Honestly! You can’t just leave me like that.” I laughed.

“I’m sorry,” I said, “I needed to think.” She nodded. “Lord Raymond, there’s something about him.”

“It’s Brayton,” she said. I stared at her. “That feeling you get around him, his aura, it feels like Brayton.” I shuddered. “We’ll have to watch him.”

“Of course,” I said. It was Brayton that he reminded me of. “What do you think of the Prince?”

“I don’t know yet,” she said, “his timing is clearly terrible, why did he have to come while Tristan and I finally.” She sighed. “We should talk about that.”

“We really don’t need to,” I mumbled. She looked at me. “I’d really, really rather not.” She sighed. “You don’t regret it?”

“No,” she said, “only the timing.” I nodded. “You don’t hate me?”

“I don’t know how many more times I can tell you that I don’t,” I shook my head. “He chose you, and that’s that. It was just a surprise this morning is all.” She nodded.

“I thought that you and William might be similarly occupied,” she said. I shook my head.

“No,” I said, “I’m not ready, and William is too ready. We’ve ended things.”

“I’m sorry,” she said. I shrugged. “I’ve convinced Olivia to stay a bit longer, but I don’t think it’s any good, she does need to go home, and I suppose Aaron will have to with her.”

“Aaron is more likely to stop breathing than leave while you need him,” I said. She laughed. “I should see to dinner tonight.” I walked out. That was ridiculous. I never arranged menus, Countess Olivia saw to that sort of thing.

I was supposed to take over when she left, but well, now she wasn’t leaving. I sighed deciding that it was best to see my father.

“Duchess,” I turned and saw Prince Eric behind me. I smiled at him.

“Hello!” I said a little too brightly. “Is there something that I can help you with.” He smiled.

“I hope so,” He said, “the apartment we were placed in is lovely, but there is the question of the rest of my crew.” I nodded. “Lady Athena suggested that you would be the best person to speak to.” I cocked my head to the side.

“How many?” I asked.

“About fifty,” he said. I nodded.

“I’ll go speak to some people, I’m sure that even if we can’t find space for them in the palace, the barracks must have space,” I said.

“I appreciate it,” he said. “I feel the need to apologize, and again, I have the feeling you’re the one to apologize to.” I looked at him. “I wrote to my brother and sister in law that we were coming back south and would stop in Cammadan to pay our respects. I do not know why that was interpreted as we wouldn’t come for a year.” I nodded.

“I am not the one to apologize to, Your Highness, although I appreciate it,” I said, “if Annalise has heard your apology and offered understanding, take her at her word.”

“I also wanted to invite you to come  to the temple with us,” he said. “Lefty won’t go in, but still.” I smiled.

“Of course,” I said. Phanian men did not enter temples to Rana, out of respect. My father wouldn’t. “But you will? And Lord Raymond?”

“As members of the royal family, we carry the blessing,” he shrugged. “Or something.” I laughed.

“I’m not positive that how it works, but it’s your tradition, not ours,” I said. “My father will want to speak to you, I’m sure.” He smiled.

“I’m eager to meet your father,” he said, “my mother speaks highly of him.” I nodded. “Duchess Marina,” he said, “I didn’t come here to,” he looked down, “my brother has plans, I do not.”

“Good,” I said, “but again, I am not the one to speak to about these things.” He nodded. I walked away and closed my eyes to take a breath. I didn’t know what was coming next, but when I look at Prince Eric I saw something. 

A tiny voice in my head echoed, He is meant for her, child. The bonds must be cut. I didn’t know the voice but it was deep, and comforting.

Prince Eric & The Others

I’ll try my best to describe the three men who were standing in front of us.

Prince Eric was in the center. He’s dark skinned, darker even than my father, and smaller than I expected. He’s only an inch or two taller than myself! He has dark hair that’s cropped short against his head. He was wearing a uniform, I assumed from the Phanian Navy. It even featured wheel embroidery on it. He was smiling, though he looked a bit uneasy.

Next to him, on each side, were two other men.

The first was younger, maybe about my age. He looked a great deal like my father, brown skinned, with his head shaved and wide curious black eyes. I learned later that this was Queen Elana’s younger brother, Raymond, so my father’s cousin then. Something about Sir Raymond makes me feel uneasy, something I can’t quite name. It’s obvious he has magic, but it’s more than that.

The third, well, I don’t quite know how to describe him. He’s tall, and lanky, with lighter skin, and his hair is clearly curly when it’s allowed to be, but at that moment it was slicked back and tied into a bun at the bottom of his neck. He was smiling, whispered something to the prince that made him actually laugh.

This was Lieutenant Damian Lestoff. I don’t know a lot about him, truly. He’s the prince’s step brother, he’s also a sailor. He’s sixteen.

We approached them.

“Your Majesty,” The Prince bowed. Aaron sniffed, I could tell he was trying not to laugh.

“You’ve made a common mistake, your highness,” I smiled and dipped lightly, “I’m not Queen Annalise. My name is Marina Sanpierre, Duchess of Brightcoast. Welcome to Cammadan.” I glanced at Aaron, who had begun coughing, I knew he was trying to cover his laughter. “If we’d known you were coming, of course Queen Annalise would have greetted you herself.”

He was not doing it well.

“This is Count Aaron of Pantona,” I said, “The Queen’s Foster Brother.”

“A pleasure,” the Prince nodded. “May I present Lord Raymond Quents, brother to Queen Elana, and Lieutenant Damian Lestoff, my step brother and second in command.”

“Lord Raymond,” I smiled, “if you’re Queen Elana’s brother, I believe that makes us cousins.”

“So it does, Lady Marina,” he nodded. “My sister sends her regrets, and a letter for you, Queen Annalise and your father, who she has missed dearly.”

“I’m Queen Elana has no shortage of good feelings for her cousins,” Aaron said, “however, Queen Annalise is waiting for us back at the palace, if the three of you would like to come along.” The Prince nodded and followed him. I followed after them both. I swallowed as we walked through the market.

I glanced at the various merchants who’d arrived for the coronation. The largest camp belonged, shocking no one, to the Dumanis family.

“Lady Marina,” a woman called out. I turned and nodded to her. Her name was Andrea Dufrey. I’d met her the evening before at the ball. She’s Tristan and Athena’s aunt. “It’s early for you to be about.” She paused. “Oh, I see.”

“It was a surprise,” I said softly. “I have no doubt the twins will fill you in.” She nodded. “Will you be at the second ball tonight?”

“I believe so,” she said, “I was hoping to send a gift the queen. Would it be accepted? I know the family’s position is precarious.”

“Queen Annalise would be grateful for a gift from your family, and I’ll be sure she sees,” I said softly. She nodded. “Be well Madame DuFrey.”

“Be Well Lady Marina,” she smiled.

“Duchess?” Lieutenant Lestoff walked up to me. “The Count said we should retrieve you.”

“I apologize,” I said, “I ran into one of the prominent merchant families, I didn’t want to insult her.” He nodded. I felt my face flush. What is this?

“Lefty,” the prince called him. I cocked my head. “Stop lagging behind.” I smiled and followed him to the group. “I should apologize for him.”

“There’s no need,” I said. “Aaron, Madame DuFrey wishes to give the queen a gift. Perhaps when we’ve returned, you could send Athena and Tristan.”

“Send the twins?” Aaron said. “I don’t send them places.” I rolled my eyes.

“I’m curious to meet the Dugarrys,” Lord Raymond said. “Is it true that she’s the stronger fighter?” Aaron, who until that moment, had done a good job of not laughing, let out a good strong one.

“Athena will certainly want you to believe that she is the stronger of the two of them,” Aaron said. “And I would be a fool to disagree.”

“Yes, you would,” I smiled. Lieutenant Lestoff smiled at me. I felt the hair on my arms stand on end. He is handsome. Those eyes, they’re almost amber colored. But I’m not going to swirl down another hole like that. After all, even if we ended things, William isn’t gone yet. 

“It’s serious between them then?” He asked. I nodded. “A shame, I was hoping to spend my time in Cammadan wooing the great warrior Athena Dugarry, but if she’s spoken for.”

“Lady Athena speaks for herself,” I smirked, “however, you’re welcome to ask her.”

“You’ll have to excuse the Lieutenant,” the prince shook his head. “He has a picture in his head that Cammadie girls will be charmed by his exotic and well traveled ways.”

“We’ve assured him this will not be the case,” Lord Raymond said. I felt less chilled. Why couldn’t I place who he reminded me of? (Besides Papa.)

Maybe it’s myself. He’s younger than his companions, and they seem to take his presence for granted.

 

The Ship

The ball was incredibly magical. I danced with more men than I could count, most of them provenance heirs. And William. And Tristan.

I even convinced Papa to come and watch a bit, although I drank far too much wine and had to go to bed before Annalise.

Which wound up for the best as it was the middle of the night when Elodie shook me awake.

“What is it?” I asked. She looked at me. “Elodie, I don’t understand?”

“A ship arrived,” she whispered. I nodded. “I didn’t want to wake The Queen, but, well,” I swallowed and nodded.

“Is it him?” I asked.

“We don’t know,” she said softly, “we do know that it’s here, and it’s flying a Phanian flag.” I nodded and got out of bed, pulling a dressing gown on.

“Elodie, please go wake General Martin and Countess Olivia and my father,” I said softly. “If you can find Lady Athena and Viscount Aaron, them too.” I paused. “And Captain Dugarry.” She nodded and headed out. I took a deep breath and walked through the sitting room and knocked on Annalise’s door. She didn’t answer which didn’t surprise me because she is usually sound asleep at this time. I’ll never understand how she sleeps so well.

I opened the door and gasped at what I saw. Annalise was there, but definitely not asleep. She was undressed and wrapped around an equally nude Tristan. They turned and saw me and I swallowed, frozen.

I really wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do, but I did at least manage to cover my eyes. I saw, well a lot, anyway, but when I managed to look back, Annalise had pulled a robe on on Tristan was scrambling for his shirt, his pants now on.

“I’m sorry,” I managed to stammer, “I didn’t,” I met Annalise’s eyes and we just started giggling. The situation didn’t feel funny, but we couldn’t stop. Tristan looked bewildered.

“If you two are quite done?” He said. Annalise bit her bottom lip and nodded. “Is everything alright, Marina?” I swallowed.

“It appears a Phanian ship is in harbor,” I said. “I think you should go find some fresh clothing and well, your sister and the General.”

“Of course,” he mumbled, “of course it’s that.”

“Tristan,” Annalise said softly, “we don’t know.” He shook his head.

“Your Majesty will excuse me,” he said, “regardless of who it is, I have work to do and so do you.” He started walking out.

“Tristan,” she called after him, but he slammed the door. “If this is Prince Eric, he has hilarious timing.”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt,” I said. She sighed. “Or to laugh but.”

“Well, it was funny,” she said, “I’m sure it will help Tristan if you tell him that you were impressed by anything you saw.” I laughed again.

“That may only send him into a guilt spiral about my feelings,” I pointed out, “better to pretend I saw nothing.” She smiled.

“Are you alright?” She asked. “You don’t mind?”

“I’d rather not see it again,” I said, “but no, I do not mind, I’m over him.” I picked at the blanket. “William wanted to tonight, even after I’d told him things couldn’t continue between us.”

“You didn’t?” She asked. I shook my head. He called it the perfect way to say good bye. The way he whispered that had given me chills, and not the good kind.

“I don’t love him,” I said softly, “and I’m not ready.” I looked at her. “We should get you dressed. I told Elodie to assemble every one in the council chamber.” She sighed. “I think the green riding dress.”

“Not blue?” She asked. “If it’s Phanians, I should be pushing the goddess.” I shook my head. “No?”

“No,” I said, “you’re the Queen of Cammadan, you’re the Sword too, but you’re Queen first, and they need to know that.” She nodded. “Wear the Goddesses crown though, not the Land Crown.”

“Just in case,” she laughed as I pulled the dress tightly around her. Then I put the crown on her head. I exhaled. “What?”

“When I used to Dream you,” I said, “this is what you wore.” She nodded. “I wanted you in it yesterday, but everyone else wanted something less,” I moved my head from side to side.

“Severe?” She tried. I nodded. “No wonder you were afraid of me,” she grinned. “I look fierce.” I laughed. “What if he doesn’t like me?”

“I think everyone who’s ever met you likes you,” I said softly. “And you don’t have to marry him, no matter what your visions said.” She smiled and hugged me. “I’ll give you a moment.” I walked out and down to the council chamber.” Papa, Countess Olivia and General Martin were all sitting on one side. Aaron was sitting on the other with Athena. Tristan was standing, staring out the window.

“He’s brooding,” Athena whispered as I joined her. “I know it’s a shocking development.” I tried not to laugh.

“How was your evening?” I asked. She winked at me. “Good then,” I said.

“What do we know so far?” Countess Olivia asked.

“It’s the Prince,” General Martin said, “two guards came back a few minutes ago and reported as much.”

“Good,” Papa said, “good then.” He looked pale, more so than he usually did lately. “Marina, love, you and Viscount Aaron are going to go greet them?”

“Not the queen?” Athena asked.

“No,” General Martin said. “Annalise will greet them here, with you two.”

“I won’t,” Tristan said. Athena sighed loudly.

“You will,” Annalise said walking in. “I need you with me Tristan.” We all felt the tension in the room grow.

“As you wish,” he said and walked out. Annalise sighed, watching him leave.

“I’ll talk to him,” Athena said.

“No Thena, it’s alright.” Martin said and followed him. I glanced at the Countess who was blushing. I wondered for a moment how many rooms he’d left when she’d chosen someone else.

“Shall we,” Aaron said standing up and offering his arm. I laughed a little and we headed towards the port. “So, you ended things with William?” I rolled my eyes.

“Yes,” I sighed, “if you were hoping for a tenant with a deep connection to Brightcoast, I’m sorry to disappoint you.” He snorted.

“Have you seen anything?” He asked softly. I shook my head. “Well, it could be worse. Mother and The Duke and General could have sent Tristan and then Prince Eric would be pitched into the harbor.” I laughed.

The harbor isn’t a real harbor. Dovetail is built in a valley, and there is a lake, that has a large canal dug so that ships can get to the city. But for the most part, no large ships come here. Small barges and ferries every day, but nothing like what we saw now.

The Prince’s Glory stood tall over the small merchant vessels there now. My father always used to describe Phanian ships as beautiful and I understand what he meant now. This ship is gloriously beautiful. It was painted stunning blue. And there were three men standing on the dock.

“I think this is supposed to be the part we’re good at,” Aaron smirked. I nodded and we walked up.

Coronation Day

Everything in the past month happened so quickly, that I nearly forgotten it was coronation day when I woke up. I was still up ages before Annalise, though I’ll never beat Athena, who wakes up before the sun every day.

She says it’s from growing up with the General, I think she’s just showing off.

“Oh, good,” she said as I entered the sitting room, she was dressed in her guard uniform and had her gown for the ball hung up. I love that gown. It’s green, for Dovetail, but it’s embroidered with Pantona’s crest, it’s officially acknowledging her and Aaron’s engagement. “You’re awake, you can help.”

“Sure,” I said, “with what? We laid Annalise’s clothes out last night, and she’s still asleep so she couldn’t possibly need anything.”

need your help,” she sighed. “Aaron mentioned you were,” she sighed, “he said you’d been working on something.” I sighed.

“Fine,” I muttered and went back to my room. “I hadn’t planned on anyone using it yet, you should know.” I handed her a vial. She nodded. “It might not work.”

“It’s better than nothing,” she sighed. I looked at her. “I thought that I might be,” she sighed, “today though, well.”

“Oh,” I smiled. “Well, it should help, I suppose.” She smiled.

“Unless you want it for yourself,” she said. I shook my head. “No?”

“No,” I whispered and smoothed my own gown, taking it from where it was hanging. “I don’t think so. William is eager, but a little too eager, I think.” Athena nodded. “We barely know one another, and I don’t know if I love him, and I can’t think of that without loving someone.” I sat down miserably on the bed. Athena smiled and sat down and patted my hands.

“Well, good,” Athena said, “just because I made a horrible mistake the first time I went to bed with a man, doesn’t mean everyone should.”

“With Aaron?” I asked. She rolled her eyes. “Oh, Warren Davis, I didn’t know that you two had.” She shrugged.

“It was a non event,” she said waving her hand. I laughed. “Thank you.” I nodded. “I’ll help you dress.” I do love my gown, it’s pure light blue silk embroidered with small waves, the symbol of Brightcoast. Athena laced me into it and we went to wake Annalise.

When we walked into the bedroom, she was already awake and dressed. Not in either the gown we’d laid out for her, or a uniform, but a simple green dress, I smiled. It suited her.

“It’s wrong isn’t it?” She whispered. “I know I ought to wear the uniform or the gown which I will wear to the ball, but this,” she looked down.

“It’s perfect, Lisette,” Athena laughed going over and hugging her. “It’s important to remember that you’re not just The Girl Queen, you’re Lisette.” She looked at me. I nodded.

“Good,” she said, “go down and tell them we’ll be right there.” Athena and I turned. “Marina, wait.” Athena nodded and went. “Thank you.”

“For what?” I asked softly.

“For everything,” she shrugged, “I’m not sure I’d be here or feel even remotely calm about it.” I smiled and hugged her.

“Thank you,” I said softly. “I’m not alone anymore. And you’ll be amazing.” She nodded and we headed down together.

The coronation itself was quick and lovely. I’d seen the people gathered outside the palace before, but it was never like this, they cheered for their new queen.

“The dress was genius,” Dowager Countess Olivia said to me with a smile as we stood behind her. I grinned. “That was not Lisette.”

“She chose it,” I said simply, “I simply had it washed and laid with her other things.” The Countess nodded.

“You won’t be a Lady in Waiting long, Marina,” she said. I frowned. “She’ll find more for you to do with your talents.” I smiled.

“I hope so,” I said softly. “I was wondering if you’ve seen my father.” She looked at me and shook her head. “I don’t know how to help him through this.”

“You don’t need to,” she said softly. “When Marie died and then your mother, he did the same thing, he came back, and he will now. He and Caleb loved one another deeply.”

“Before he died, he said something to me,” I said, “about forgiving Annalise and Tristan.” She nodded. “He said that they never forgave him, and he mentioned my parents.”

“Not your parents, no,” she closed her eyes, “he meant Anton, and Thomas.” I looked at her. “It was all so long ago. But I was never supposed to marry Caleb, there were other plans.”  I looked at her and then at the General.

“He still loves you,” I said. She smiled.

“Perhaps,” she whispered. “Today isn’t for the past, however.” She nodded towards William. “With your father indisposed, may I offer you some parental advice about yours?” I swallowed. “He’s a good man, but not for you.” I nodded. “Not for any reason you might be thinking. I’ve never known William to make impractical decisions, and I’ve never known him to walk away from a chance to rise.” I nodded. “I don’t want to see you hurt, Marina.”

“He’s not near enough me to hurt me,” I whispered. She nodded. I knew this, this was why I’d kept him at arms length. It still hurts though.

We’re in Annalise’s sitting room now. Everyone is changing for the ball and I know I should be going to see William, but I don’t know how to tell him that I don’t want to see him anymore.

“Am I interrupting?” I looked up and saw Tristan. He was wearing a full dress uniform for the ball. Instead of the green tunic of the usual day uniform it was an embroidered green silk jacket, and straight black pants. Tristan was also wearing a blue sash because of his rank as Captain.

“No,” I said and stood up. “You’re here to escort the queen?” He nodded. “You look very handsome.”

“You look beautiful,” he said. “I hope that I can dance at least once with you. If William Santino can spare you.”

“You’re his commanding officer, I think that it’s up to you,” I pointed out. He laughed. Annalise walked out in her new gown. It was the same shade of green as the guard uniforms, embroidered with tiny blue swords.

“Hello,” she said softly.

“Your Majesty,” I curtesied, “if you’ll excuse me Captain Dugarry.” I stepped out of the room and headed towards the ballroom.

“There you are!” William walked up to me. I smiled softly at him. “I thought we were meeting before the ball.”

“I’m sorry,” I said, “The queen needed me.” He nodded. “I should get to the party.” He pulled me close. “William.”

“In a moment,” he said. “Did I upset you?”

“No,” I said softly, “it’s simply been a busy week.” He nodded. “I should go.”

“I wanted to speak to you,” he said softly, “I spoke to Lady Athena, and I’m going back to Pantona.” I swallowed.

“Truly,” I whispered. He nodded.

“Countess Olivia has decided to go, and that was why I joined the guard to begin with and The Captains have seen fit to send me,” he smiled and kissed me. “I will miss you.”

“I’ll write,” I said softly. He smiled. “And I’m sure we won’t be away from Pantona forever. If the Countess is there I know Annalise will want to visit.”

“True,” he said. “I was hoping to say goodbye properly.” I pulled away. “I didn’t mean.”

“You did,” I said softly, “I have to go.” I entered the ballroom and found Athena who was standing against a table, drinking a glass of sparkling wine. She was also in a dress uniform, though hers was styled as a gown. “William is going to Pantona?”

“Is he?” Athena said with a smirk. “You’re heartbroken of course.” I smiled. “I spoke to the countess as well, and you deserve better than a striver who can’t seem to keep his hands to himself.” Aaron walked up to us. “Count.”

“Captain,” he said and kissed her.

“I helped Marina,” she said.

“I heard,” he said. “You’ll excuse us.” I nodded as he swept her into the dancing. Perhaps I haven’t fallen in love, but I do have friends now. I’ll never be alone again.

A Letter From The Future

I think this week, has been the most incredible of my whole life. I study and help Annalise during the days and at night, when he’s through his duties and mine, I find myself in different gardens with William.

Or in parlors, or well, in his room. His room is wonderful. It’s simple and clean and smells like him. And his smell, clean linen, mixed with grass and gunpowder. He holds me close and whispers my name and kisses me and his hands move over me and, it’s wonderful.

He uses his hands on me, well, in me and that’s even more wonderful. I use mine, and I think it’s clumsy, but he hasn’t complained. It’s amazing.

“I want you,” he whispered in my ear tonight as I nuzzled against his neck in a rose garden. “I’ve never wanted anyone,” he let out a soft moan, “gods Marina, stop!” I drew back. “I’m sorry, I might,” he looked down.

“I’m not ready for that,” I said softly. He nodded. “I do care about you, and,” he kissed my palms.

“I know, love, it’s alright.” I nodded. We kissed deeply. “What we did last night should satisfy me.” I giggled and the clock struck.

“Goddess,” I mumbled, “it’s late, I have to check on Annalise.” He drew me close and kissed me again. I ran off into the palace and to the apartment.

Analise was sitting at her desk, which was unusual. She normally writes from the couch and reads from her bed.

“What is it?” I asked. She looked up. I noticed that Tristan and Aaron were standing leaning against the doors to the bedroom. Tristan was still in uniform, and he looked angry. Aaron was wearing a long blue tunic, and was pressing his fingers against the bridge of his nose, like he was fighting a head ache.

“They aren’t coming,” she whispered. “All of that, I don’t know what I expected.” She got up and walked into the bedroom, slamming her door, Tristan followed her.

“Who isn’t coming?” I asked.

“The Phanians,” Aaron said softly. “Read it, I doubt she’ll mind.” I walked over.

My Dearest Cousin,

While it is my dearest wish, and that of my husband to know you and celebrate your return and your safe begin to your reign, we will be unable to accept your warm invitation.

At the moment I don’t think that any of our beloved family will be able to join you however, we hope you would welcome a visit from our darling brother Eric this summer, to celebrate your eighteenth birthday. He is not with us now, else we would send him.

Welcome home, and may we grow ever in the light of The Goddess.

Your Affectionate Cousin,

Queen Elana of Phania

“They aren’t coming,” I repeated. Aaron nodded. “But he is, in the summer.”

“Yes,” Aaron said, “you missed quite the show. Tristan was sarcastic I didn’t think he was capable.” I nodded. “She wanted it to be over.”

“I know,” I said softly.

“You look quite rumpled,” he grinned. “Is William sitting in a courtyard feeling frustrated at the moment?”

“I think he may be,” I said walking over and pouring myself a cup of tea. “Will he stay in Dovetail?”

“William?” He asked. I nodded. “He’s in the guard, he’ll go where he’s stationed. Frankly, I thought he’d ask to be with my mother so he could go home.” I nodded. “But that was before.”

“Before,” I whispered. He looked at me. “You think he’d stay for me?”

“I don’t know,” he said, “I can see him staying because he thinks the guard is a good opportunity. He’s a fairly practical man. You of course would not be a reason to leave.” I blushed. “Rina, it’s alright, you know, for you to just enjoy something for a change.”

“It isn’t that,” I said softly. “It’s just that things are progressing more quickly with William than I am ready for.” He frowned. “Nothing like that, I mean, he clearly would like to, and I think I may too, it’s only,” I sighed. “It’s silly.”

“You don’t want to be pregnant,” Aaron shrugged. I raised my eyebrows. “I mentioned the kitchen maids and farm girls yes? It’s a fairly common excuse.”

“I’m working on something for that,” I mumbled. I am, I think I’ve found it too, it would be a potion that would regulate a woman’s cycle so that she wouldn’t have to worry about pregnancy unless she wanted to.

Elodie says it’s genius and could change the world.

“Really?” He said. “Thena would be interested.”

“I”m sure she would,” I smirked, “but that isn’t why I don’t want to go to bed with William. I don’t want him to expect anything.” He smirked.

“Ah, yes, you after all, are a Duchess, and he is an inkeeper.” He repeated Athena’s exact phrase. I nodded. “Not such a monumental difference, of course, if our queen marries a soldier.”

“If our queen marries a soldier,” I said, “it’s even more likely that a duchess has to marry a prince.”

“Ah,” Aaron said, “yes, that.” He sighed. “My mother shouldn’t have told you that plan.”

“She didn’t,” I said, “I did the math on my own. But it’s been discussed?”

“Hypothetically,” he said. “What do you think of it?”

“Hypothetically?” I returned. He nodded. “I think it’s logical though not likely what they want. Brightcoast is a prize in Cammadan, but elsewhere?” He nodded. “They’d be more likely to push Princess Karina on you.”

“King Daniel’s daughter?” He frowned. “But she’s his only child, she’s the heir?”

“Phanian women can’t inherit,” I shook my head, “I’d be Duchess of Brightcoast and the future Lady of Tumona if they could.” I sighed. “It’s all very complicated.” He nodded.

“Well, regardless, it’s something worth considering, on your end,” he shook his head. “Lisette won’t do as she’s told, or what she thinks is her fate. She’s too contrary.” I nodded. “William is probably a welcome distraction.” He grinned. I picked up a pillow and threw it at him.

The Prisoner

I was studying. After the decision on the invitation had been settled and (mostly) who would officially be asked to be on the council (Myself, Countess Olivia, Aaron, General Martin and Papa. As well as the two other Provence leaders, Lady Artia of Northin and Lord Wyatt Ceras from the Westlands.) the meetings have calmed down, and Annalise has gone back to training with the general so my day to day duties are slower.

I’m glad to be at my books again, looking at potions and herbs and even looking through spell histories to find something about what had happened that day the shadows attacked camp.

The library at Dovetail Palace might be my favorite room in the world. It’s encased in a glass dome, so it glitters in the sunlight and always feels warm. And that was when I found it. Not an explanation of what happened, but well, something related to what happened. It was scribbled by the same description of The Sword of The Goddess that Papa had. I didn’t recognize the writing.

I think there may be a dark sword, made from shadow and light. 

I swallowed, closed the book, steeled myself and walked down to the dungeon. Most of the guards looked surprised, but no one stopped me until one.

“What are you doing here?” William Santino asked. I swallowed and looked at him.

“I need to speak to him,” I said.

“No one is supposed to,” he said softly. I nodded. “It’s important?”

“Very,” I whispered. “I wouldn’t dream of it if it weren’t.” He nodded and I walked down the long dark hallway. I managed to conjure a small ball of light, even in my fear and then I saw Brayton. He’d grown thinner, and his dark hair had lost it’s sheen. His eyes looked hollow, and I couldn’t help but wonder if The Dark Lady had forsaken him.

He noticed me though and smiled.

“Well, what an honor,” he said softly, that same mocking tone he’d always had for me dancing in his voice. “The Duchess of Brightcoast herself. The guards call you The Princess’s pet witch, did you know?”

“I didn’t come here to chat,” I said, wondering if he could hear my voice shaking.

“No,” he sighed, “did you come to prophesy my death again? It was terribly amusing the first time.” I flushed. “She blushes, perhaps you are not as impervious to me as you lead me to believe?”

“Did you believe that I was to be the mother of the dark sword?” I whispered. “Light and shadow to combat earth and sea?” He grinned.

“You found my notes!” He said. “Well, I knew we were a match, but that was terribly obscure. How often did you hide in that library?”

“Answer the question!” I said. He laughed.

“Yes, Little One,” he said, “when it was clear you had power, I did believe that we together would create a sword for Amina.” He smiled. “I still believe it, come to that. You’ve seen that there is life beyond Dugarry, then?” I looked away. “The Dark Sword, my dear, our child. Or mine an Annalise’s but her power is limited.” He inhaled. “Yours, it’s limitless, if only you’d let go of your fear.”

“I’m not afraid of my power,” I said. He smiled again.

“You’re afraid of something,” he whispered. “Besides me, that is, and you must believe, Marina, I would never harm you.”

“Wouldn’t you?” I whispered. As if being asked to bear a dark chosen one wasn’t harm. “You are going to die, you know, once I know how to sever your tie to Amina.” He nodded.

“As you say,” he whispered and I turned and walked down the hallway. I was outside in the sunshine and air and took a deep breath. I felt better already but sick to my stomach. How could he know? What could he have seen William? didn’t even know I felt.

“Marina,” I turned hearing my name and saw William. I looked at him. “Are you alright?”

“No,” I whispered, “no, but it doesn’t matter. I can’t tell anyone about this. Only Annalise would understand and she has enough to worry about.” He nodded.

“You have friends, Count Aaron, and Lady Athena and Sir Tristan,” he said, “and your father. I spoke to him at dinner last night, he’s quite exceptional.” I looked at his big green eyes.

“I can’t tell him this,” I whispered. “He’s too,” I didn’t know the word, since Count Caleb dies, Papa has been different. He’s quiet and he’s stopped his work, and he keeps saying that it’s time for him to go home. “He kept me locked up here, while Annalise and Aaron trained for this. He never told me what my powers meant, if he knew what I just learned.” I sighed. “And Aaron and Tristan and Athena, this isn’t their speed.” He nodded. “Brayton wanted to marry me. Everyone thought it was political, so that he could control Brightcoast.”

“I see,” he said. “But it wasn’t? It was,” he frowned, “was it love?”

“No,” I said, “obsession maybe, he claims he loved my aunt, Annalise’s mother and I look like her. There’s a prophecy about Annalise, or we think it’s about her, and apparently there’s another one, and he thought that I could help him bring it about.” I stopped. “Thinks. Thinks that he can bring it about.”

“By marrying you?” William said. I nodded. “You’re terrified.”

“Annalise saw me as his bride, he’s seen it,” I explained. “Visions are hard to shake.” I leaned against the railing.

“My father and Uncle sent me to Pantona five years ago,” he said. “We have lands there and I’m not inheriting much, but I could make a life for myself. The inn is good for me, and then I befriended Lisette and Aaron, and it was,” he looked down, “there’s no fate, Marina, you won’t marry Lord Brayton, not if you don’t want it.” I blinked at him. “If I believed we were bound to what other people saw of us, I’d be wiping dishes in Pantona, married to a farm girl I’d met twice.” I smiled. “Instead, I am standing on balcony, overlooking the greatest city ever built, with possibly the most beautiful woman in the world.”

“I’m not,” I said softly. He leaned down and kissed me.

“You are,” he said, “when I first saw you, I was stunned.”

“Because I look like her,” I said. He blinked.

“You do,” he said, “but that wasn’t it. You are beautiful, so is she, but it’s different. You’re different.” I looked down. “You’re not hard like she is.”

“You’re saying I’m weak,” I teased. He laughed.

“No, Your Grace,” he said, “no, soft doesn’t mean weak.” He kissed me again and this time I pulled close and kissed him back. “Can I see you tonight?”

“You’ll see me at dinner,” I whispered. He laughed.

“That wasn’t what I meant,” he said softly. I blushed. “I’d like to see you alone.”

“How alone?” I asked. He blushed now.

“I didn’t mean,” he mumbled, “I thought we could go for a walk or something.” He kissed me again. “Maybe do some more of this.”

“After dinner I have to see to the princess,” I said, “but she usually goes to sleep long before I do.”

“Good,” he said. “We can meet here.” I nodded and he walked off. I blushed.

You’ve seen that there is life beyond Dugarry. I shuddered. There was though. He was right about that.