I woke in the morning and began my day as I usually did. I didn’t disturb Annalise, if she and Tristan had made up I didn’t want to see them together. I don’t want to see him at all, if I’m honest, but I know it can’t be helped in normal circumstances, I can avoid seeing him and Annalise together that way though, and I will.

As I got breakfast settled there was a knock on the door. I knew it wasn’t Athena, as she’d never knock, and I went to open it and smiled seeing Lefty standing there.

“Good Morning,” he said. I smiled. He was wearing the same uniform he wore when they first got off the ship.

“Good Morning,” I said softly. “I was getting breakfast arranged, if you’d like to come in.” He nodded and entered.

“Eric sent me to see if Annalise was awake,” he said. “It’s a flimsy excuse but I thought it would do.” I laughed as he wrapped his arms around my waist. “I grabbed at it because I wanted to see you.”

“I assumed as much,” I said, “I ought to be on the move,” I explained. “I have to see my father and the count and countess off.” He nodded. “You’re welcome to come with me.” He smiled.

“I wouldn’t want to intrude,” he said softly. But he was still holding me. I smiled. “Or to upset your father.” I hadn’t mentioned my father’s misgivings to him. I wondered if Raymond had? Or if he just perceived them? I nodded and Annalise’s door creaked open. She stepped out. “Your Majesty.”

“Lieutenant,” she smirked. “Marina, are you going to the carriage house?”

“I’d planned on it,” I said, “do you need anything, or would you like to come?”

“No,” she shook her head, “I spoke with Olivia and Aaron last night, and paid my respects to Caleb, but I’d like to go to the temple, later.” I nodded.

“Of course, I’ll arrange it,” I said. “Your breakfast is here.” I turned to Lefty. “You can report to the prince that she’s awake.”

“So I will,” he said, “I’ll walk with you as long as it’s convenient.” I nodded and we walked out. “She’ll go to the temple? Did The Count of Pantona honor the Goddess? I would have thought he’d worship Cornan.”

“No,” I shook my head, “Count Caleb, like most of the Cammadie nobels didn’t really honor the gods at all. They honor their ancestors, and the land they lived on. But Annalise honors the goddess, so,” I shrugged.

“And you?” He said.

“I honor the goddess,” I said simply, “but I light candles for my mother, and keep an altar of sand from Brightcoast as well.” He nodded. “Are you awfully interested in religion?” He grinned.

“No,” he said, “I honor the goddess, I’m a sailor, and the son of a long line of them. It would be unwise to tempt Rana’s wrath.” I laughed. “You knew him well? Count Aaron’s father?”

“Yes,” I whispered, “he was my father’s closest friend, and he was always very kind to me.” He nodded as we approached the apartments they were sharing. He took my hand and kissed it.

“Can I see you, after you’ve come back from your goodbyes?” He said. I nodded and he walked inside. I was out to the carriage house last, it would seem. Papa was standing with the countess, and General Martin, of all people!

“Come to say good bye, Rina?” Aaron winked at me. Athena was snuggled against him. I’d give anything to love as easily as they do.

“Yes,” I said, “I’m sorry to see you go, but I hope we’ll see you soon.” He let go of Athena and we hugged. “Your Grace,” I curtseied to Countess Olivia, who nodded. “I hope that the earth of Pantona hold Caleb’s spirit well.”

“So do we both, my darling girl,” she said and kissed my forehead. Papa looked at me and I hugged him tightly.

“We’ve never been apart, you know,” I said softly. “Not really.”

“I know my love,” he whispered. “Be strong.” I nodded and stepped away. They all boarded a large black carriage and I was standing with Athena and the general.

“I’ll be following them on horseback,” the General explained. I nodded, finally understanding, whatever was now between him and the countess, it would be inappropriate for him to ride to her husband’s burial alongside her son and her husband’s dearest friend. “Thena, be good.”

“Always,” she said and kissed him the cheek. “Come Marina, we have a lot to talk about.” She slid her arm through mine. “My brother has decided to stop being an idiot?”

“I think so,” I shrugged. “Either way, I’ve decided to stop being an idiot.” She nodded. “Why aren’t you going to Pantona?”

“It isn’t fair to Lisette,” she said softly, “and it wouldn’t be right for me to go without any plans for a wedding.” I nodded. “I’m not overly eager to get married, but it’s frustrating that Aaron feels no urgency at all.”

“He’s had a wrenching year,” I said. “You know that if he didn’t have to figure out how to run Pantona, and honor his father, and be by Annalise’s side, he’d have married you six times by now.” She smiled. “I kissed Lefty.” She stopped and grinned at me.

“Well it’s about time,” she said, “honestly, you’ve been dancing around one another since they came!”

“I was a bit distracted,” I reminded her. “But it was very nice. He’s very nice.” She smiled and nodded. “He said something though, last night,” I looked at her. “About war, and it’s possibility if the marriage doesn’t happen.”

“We’ve discussed it,” Athena said softly, “Martin and I, and what it would mean.” She sighed, “It wouldn’t be good for Brightcoast.”

“No,” I said softly. “No it wouldn’t.” I sighed. “Back before the coronation, I promised Tristan something, I might have to make good on it.”

“If King Daniel wants his brother married to Queen Annalise,” Athena smiled, “I doubt the promise of marriage to you would soothe the wound.” She sighed. “Caleb could have made her see sense of it, I’m sure he could have.”

“Not this,” I shook my head, “she likes him, but she loves Tristan, it’s hard to go back from that.” Athena nodded. “Think about it. If Aaron changed his mind, would you be happy with some merchant boy your uncle and grandfather found who you liked well enough?”

“No, I suppose I wouldn’t be,” she sighed. “You thought about this?” I nodded. “With William?”

“Yes,” I said softly. “I was never head over heals for him, but he made me happy. If my life were different I’d probably have married him.” She kissed me on the cheek.

“Poor Marina,” she shook her head, “following after us all as we run around making our messes.” I laughed. “Tell me more about Lefty. I was under the impression that he came here hoping to seduce me, so I think I should be jealous.” I giggled.

“I can’t make up my mind about him,” I shook my head, “everytime I look at him, I feel like he’s looking at me, and he’s been nothing but kind, and he talks to me, actually talks you know?” Athena smirked. “What?”

“Nothing,” she laughed, “I just keep thinking that all of your experience is with William or my brother, who had a certain picture of you in their mind. To Tristan you’ll always be silly, pious little Marina, chasing after him with flushed cheeks and reading your prayers to the goddess over dinner.” I laughed, “And William, well, I think he was overwhelmed by everything here, including you.”

“When he first kissed me he said I was the most beautiful woman in the world,” I said. “He talked like that all the time, I hated it.” I sighed. “It’s complicated though.”

“Because of Tristan?” Athena said. I nodded. “It shouldn’t be.” We both looked up to the balcony of the grand apartment. Annalise was standing in the window watching the carriage go. “You begged him to let you go, you have to do the same.”

“He told you that?” I said. She shrugged.

“He tells me everything,” Athena sighed, “it’s annoying really.” I laughed and shook my head.

Stars and Eyes

We had a large dinner that night with most of the guard and household in attendance. Annalise was sitting in the center with Prince Eric, although I kept noticing her catching Tristan’s eyes and blushing.

I suppose that means they’ve made up, as she’s also been avoiding me.

“Hello Marina,” Aaron settled in next to me. I smiled at him. “I’m going with my mother and your father, to bury my father.”

“I’m glad,” I said, “it’s important.” He nodded. “Why are you telling me?”

“If there’s anything you want me to bring to William,” he explained. I nodded.

“I have a letter for him,” I admitted. “Are you alright, leaving her?” He sighed and looked at her.

“I think I’m leaving her in good hands,” he said.

“The Prince is very attentive,” I nodded. He looked at me.

“I meant you,” he said. “I need you to watch him.”

“You sound like my father,” I shook my head, “I honestly, do not think that there’s sinister intent here.”

“Still,” Aaron said. I nodded, understanding, and took his hand. “My father would have been so happy now. He fought so long for her to sit there, it was his life’s work, everything, and I mean everything we did revolved around Lisette reclaiming her place. Now, I don’t know.”

“He would be happy,” I said, “of course he would, Aaron!” I looked at him. “You should ask Athena to go with you, and you should be married.”

“No,” he said, “no, I can’t ask her. No without Tristan, or you, or Lisette there. Or Martin, and he can’t,” he looked down.

“You’re right, of course,” I said. “What do you think of them?”

“I like them,” he admitted, “I’m not sure we can trust them, but I do like them.” I nodded. “You feel the same?”

“I do,” I whispered. “How long will you be gone?”

“I don’t know,” he said. “It depends on my mother, and how well William is doing with the management.” I nodded and stood up, seeing Lieutenant Lestoff walk in.

“Excuse me,” I said and walked over to him. “Lieutenant,” I whispered.

“Duchess,” he smiled. “I hope you’re feeling better today.”

“I am,” I said, “I wanted to thank you, for your kindness the other night.” He smiled. I thought my knees were going to go weak, the way he was looking at me, and his beautiful eyes. “And mention that there will be dancing tonight.” He laughed.

“I hope you won’t run out on me then,” he said. I smiled and glanced at Tristan. His face looked red.

“Lefty,” Prince Eric called out. He took my hand and kissed it before walking over to the main table. I walked out to the balcony, followed by Tristan.

“When do you leave?” I asked. He sighed.

“Not until Aaron and The Countess return,” he said, “Lisette asked.” I nodded. “I never meant to hurt you.”

“Clearly you managed it even without meaning to.” I said harshly. “You’ve made up with Lisette then?”

“Yes,” he said, “it’s still, well, tangled, and I’m still going to Dorin.”

“Well, I imagine whoever your uncle and grandfather find will have to be uniquely understanding, then,” I said softly. “Prince Eric I’m sure will have to be as well.” We both stared at the mountain in front of us. “Just let me go, please?”

“I never meant to,” he whispered. I nodded and walked back in to the ballroom. Athena was sitting with Aaron, and they were whispering. I wouldn’t have interrupted them for all the world. The music had started and I walked to the main table.

“Rina,” Annalise said looking at me, I could see her apology on her face, and I nodded, she smiled. “We were just discussing a winter faire, we always had one in Pantona, but I don’t know if it was something that was done here.”

“There certainly wasn’t one in Vacana,” Prince Eric laughed, “but there wasn’t much of a winter, though. At solstice we honored Rana though, and we attended the winter faire at Rastan.”

“Did you really capture an ice bear for your niece?” I blurted out. “In Rastan, I mean?” Lieutenant Lestoff laughed.

“That’s a persistent rumor,” he snorted, “not that you’ve done much to dispel it Eric.”

“I come off well in that story,” the Prince grinned. “No, I did not capture the bear. Prince Kristoff keeps a family of bears and the cub was born during our visit. He’s hoping to encourage good feelings from Katrina, for obvious reasons.”

“Quite obvious,” Annalise laughed. “I would have liked an ice bear, I only got a letter.”

“I think the reasoning behind that is rather obvious as well,” the Lieutenant winked at me. I blushed. The music started. “I believe I was promised a dance.” We stood up and I took his hand.

“I’m afraid I made rather a fool of myself,” I whispered. He laughed.

“You haven’t,” he said, “it’s taken everything in me to not ask if it’s true you defeated an entire shadow army single handed,” I nodded, pressing my lips into my mouth. “An exaggeration, I’m sure, like Eric and the bear.”

” I don’t know how it happened,” I explained, “Annalise and I have been trying to repeat it, we have not had much success.” He blinked at me.

“Oh,” he said softly. “The bear cub was rather difficult to wrangle on the ship.” I giggled. “May I see you alone, sometime? Not as a part of the queen’s entourage.”

“I don’t know,” I said, we stopped as the music did. He nodded. “I’ve been hurt, rather a lot recently.” I looked down. “Raymond said that you weren’t interested in women who aren’t interested in you.”

“That isn’t strictly true,” he smirked, “but I prefer not to chase. Love’s often difficult enough without games.”  I nodded.

“I still feel as though you’re playing one,” I whispered. “Lieutenant.”

“Lefty,” he said. “At the very least, Duchess, it would appear we’re to spend a good deal of time together, and we ought to be friends. My friends call me Lefty.”

“Marina,” I whispered, “my friends call me Marina.” He nodded and we found our way to a table.

“Were you named for the sea?” He asked. I shook my head. “I suppose not, a Cammadie girl.”

“I was named for my aunt,” I said, “Marie. Annalise was named for my mother, Anne.” He nodded. “And I’m Phanian too.” He laughed. “My father doesn’t trust you, or the prince.”

“He has reason not to,” he whispered. “King Daniel made life difficult for your father, and Elana and Raymond’s mother, his aunt, was no great ally.” He looked at me. “You must know all this.”

“My father doesn’t like to speak of the past,” I whispered, “it’s painful for him. After losing my mother and aunt, and Count Caleb.” He nodded. “Besides which, I’m not going to inherit Tumona, so it never mattered much to him.”

“Tumona,” he mumbled, “of course. Raymond will.” I nodded. “This is not what I wanted to talk to you about.” I laughed.

“What were you thinking?” I asked.

“Rote comparisons of your eyes to stars, that sort of thing,” he shrugged. “But I foget, you’re not a debutante at her first ball. You’re a leader, and a politician and an heir to a throne.”

“I won’t be that for long,” I shook my head. “Once Annalise marries and has children. Honestly even if Aaron and Athena have children, a Viscount or Viscountess of Pantona would be as logical as a Duchess of Brightcoast.” He laughed. “Was that your specialty then, debutantes?” He laughed.

“Yes, often stories of our wild and exciting exploration did it,” he laughed. I blushed. “Honestly? There’s wasn’t a lot of time for it. Daniel truly didn’t like Eric spending too much time in Vacana, he was awfully popular, and a popular heir is a dangerous thing to a younger king.”

“Goddess,” I shook my head, “we’ve never had anything like that. I used to cry at night, worried that Annalise was dead and the resistance was going to try to put me on the throne. I can’t think of anything I want less than to be queen.” I stopped. “I’m not a politician.” He laughed.

“You are,” he said, “and a very good one. Even just in your interactions with us, you’ve made space in the queen’s life for Eric, in the household for the crew of the Glory and an academic future for Raymond.” I shrugged. “It’s not lost on me that if the careful ignoring each other arrangement between Phania and Cammadan tips in another direction, you’re the one who’ll have to deal with it.”

“No,” I said, “The Twins and General Martin,”

“Run the military,” he said, “you run her, you and Count Aaron.”

“No one runs her,” I shook my head. “She is queen.” He nodded. “You said you don’t like games.”

“I don’t,” he agreed.

“So say it plainly then,” I said, “you expect me to convince her to marry him.” He nodded. “And if she doesn’t, it will be war?”

“It could be,” he nodded. “Again, this isn’t what I’d hoped to talk to you about.” I smiled and stood up.

“Stars, and how they compare to my eyes.” I whispered. He nodded. “Well then,” I leaned back and crossed my arms. “Do so.” He laughed and stood up and knealed next to me. I giggled.

“Lady Marina,” he whispered, taking my hands. “Were I to even attempt to compare the light I’ve seen in your eyes to the stars, the stars would be found woefully inadequate.” I smiled and giggled.

“This sort of things works with most girls?” I asked.

“Usually yes,” he smiled. “But as I said, I’m not used to a politician.” I kissed him then, he pulled me close. “Well then, perhaps I should stick to the stars.”


I think I’m going to work, and that’s it. Work and take care of my father. Athena told me that Tristan is going to Dorin. Annalise won’t excuse him until the summer though, when we go to Brightcoast.

The next few months will be miserable. So I’ll work, and I’ll take care of Papa. Who knew he needed so much caring for?

He does nothing, any more. He doesn’t read, though he writes constantly. Occasionally I can convince him to go to tea with Dowager Countess Olivia. This afternoon was once such afternoon. He doesn’t say much at these teas, but it’s pleasant to sit with her.

“Les,” she said softly, “I thought you should know I’m going to Pantona soon. Not for long, but,” I swallowed, the idea of being even more alone with him. “We need to bury Caleb, and I wondered if you would come with me.”

“Livvie,” he said, they both looked different then. “Of course. I keep thinking of those nights, while Marie and Anton were engaged.” She laughed and nodded. “And with Tristan Dugarry going to Dorin.”

“We met Alexia for the first time here,” she said softly, “don’t you remember? They came back early, to celebrate the engagement, and Marie invited her,” she blushed, “of course, Trey Dumanis came too.”

“Poor Trey,” Papa shook his head, “poor Martin that night. You broke it off then didn’t you?”

“If you’d like I could go,” I said, feeling like I was invading something private. They both looked at me. “I have some work to do, I’m teaching Lord Raymond to manipulate air to make fire.”

“I’m sorry Marina, we must seem silly,” the Countess shook her head, “two old people reliving their younger days.”

“No, I,” I said softly, but I felt very sad, “I’m glad for you, Papa, I think you should go.”

“I can’t leave you and Annalise here with them,” he said. I sighed, I couldn’t fight with him about this again.

“We’re perfectly safe,” I insisted, “Prince Erik and Lieutenant Lestoff and Lord Raymond are very nice.”

“Les,” the Countess said, “I can’t make Aaron leave and who else is there?” He frowned. “I can’t face it alone, please.”

“I’ll consider it,” he said, “excuse me.” He stood up and walked out. She sighed.

“I tried,” she said.

“Thank you,” I whispered. “I don’t understand.”

“I do,” she said, “but he’ll tell you in his time.” She walked softly. “Your mother and I lived here, you know, when we were waiting on Marie.”

“Papa told me,” I said. She nodded. “What was she like?” She looked at me and smiled.

“Anne?” She asked. I nodded. “She was exceptional, very intelligent, and studious, that’s why your father saw her, always in the library, both of them.” I smiled. “She was Caleb’s oldest friend, you know. Your grandparents wanted her to marry him.” I smiled.

“What changed?” I asked.

“Well, your father came to visit, and to study of course,” she shrugged, “they fell in love. She was never really interested in Caleb anyway, she always assured me, not that I was worried.” She laughed. “She didn’t suffer fools and she was so very excited to have you.” I smiled. “I wish you could have known her better, Rina, really.” I smiled. “You remind me of her.” I nodded.

“Count Caleb said that too,” I whispered. She nodded.

“You’re probably sick of hearing how like Marie you look, though you really do,” she shook her head, “but you’re extraordinarily like your mother.” I smiled.

“I should go, I promised Lord Raymond,” I said and walk out to the main hall, where he was waiting for me. I smiled at him and we walked a bit until we reached an empty walled garden.

“This is where you practice?” He asked. I nodded and rolled up my sleeves.

“I used to, when I was training with Sister Mara,” I explained, “it should do the trick here.” He nodded. “Did you learn with sisters?”

“A few,” He said, “we had a Sister Rini at the palace, she taught me and Karina.” I nodded. “You don’t have to help me Marina, if you don’t want.”

“Why wouldn’t I want to?” I said. He shrugged. “Raymond, I think you should know that you’re the subject of a lot of gossip.” He laughed.

“I’m used to that,” he said. I nodded. “It’s in regards to you, isn’t it?” He asked.

“Yes,” I smiled, “well, us really.” He nodded. “I don’t think anything of it.”

“I ought to tell you,” he said softly. “We had our instructions coming her, Eric was to marry Annalise, and well, Lefty and I,” he shrugged.

“If there’s a girl in Phania, that’s all well and fine,” I said, “I want to be friends, and I don’t want you thinking there’s,” he blinked at me.

“There’s not,” he said quickly. I looked at him. “I want to be friends too.” I nodded. “But I don’t want to marry you.” I smiled.

“No one does, it seems,” I whispered. He frowned. “It’s not important. Perhaps you’ll meet someone here.”

“Perhaps,” he said softly. “Lefty likes you quite a bit.”

“He asked to kiss me,” I said, “is that common?” He laughed.

“No,” he said, “but that’s him. He’s not interested in girls who aren’t interested in him.” I nodded.  “I said there wasn’t a girl, but,” I stared at him.

“Oh!” I said and laughed. “Oh, how silly! I shouldn’t have assumed, I’m sorry.” He nodded. “So there’s a boy then?”

“Not at home, but he’s on the ship,” he explained. “Eric knows, it’s why he took me. He knew Daniel wouldn’t understand.” I smiled and took his hand.

“I’m glad you told me,” I said, “Annalise and I were nervous about you, you know.” He nodded.

“I sensed as much,” he said.  “I’m not going to go to Amina, or accept her if she comes to me.” I frowned. “You’ll hate me but I went to see him.”

“I don’t hate you,” I shook my head, that’s dangerous, the calm voice in the back of my mind warned. As if I didn’t know. “What did you think of him?”

“He’s very powerful,” he said. I nodded. “He laughed at me.”

“He does that,” I said softly. “Why is my father so afraid of you all being here?”

“I don’t know,” he said, “probably the same reason my sister is afraid of us growing too close to you. She never talks about it.” I nodded. He motioned his hands and made a burst of flame in the globe.

“That’s very good,” I smiled. He smiled back at me. “Countess Olivia said something today, and I don’t know why I didn’t think of it earlier.”

“Uh huh,” he said, focusing on the swirling vortex of air.

“I know you were hoping to work with Mastero Anselm,” I said, “and I’m sure the sisters here can’t teach you anything you didn’t already learn in Vacana,” he smirked. “But there’s The University.”

“They don’t admit non Cammadie,” he said. I smirked.

“Except by royal permission,” she said, “that’s how my father attended.” He looked at me. “It’s an option, if things between Eric and Annalise proceed and you want to,”

“I do!” He said quickly. “Even if they don’t,” I smiled, “I mean even if Eric goes home, or wherever Daniel sends him next,” I nodded. “The Queen would give me permission?”

“I don’t see why not,” I shrugged and I noticed the flame burst with the smile on Raymond’s face. “Very good.”

“Why aren’t you there?” He asked. “At the university?” I shrugged. “Is it because you’re a girl?”

“No,” I said, “women have been allowed in the University for ages. I’m the only heir to a provenance. I have other responsibilities.”

“Also you’re chosen,” he said. I nodded. “So you have your mandate.”

“The mandate,” I mumbled, “I suppose.”

“Do you know what it is?” He asked. I shook my head.

“Annalise knows hers,” I shrugged, “I know mine is tied up with hers, but beyond that, no.” He nodded. “What about you?”

“My mandate?” He said. I nodded. “I’m not chosen.”

“Yes, you are,” I said. He blinked at me. “I see it, it’s all over you.”

The Maze

It’s been a very long day and even longer evening. Rather than another epic dinner and ball, we all retired to The Princess Tower, for an intimate evening with Dowager Countess Olivia.

She’s still dressed in black though it’s all very fine. In fact she looks lovely, and frankly, she was quite cheerful all night. Or at least acting the part. Papa came too, he was less cheerful.

I think he may never be cheerful again, and he was particularly wary of Prince Eric. When I asked why he was cryptic saying only “we left to get away from the vipers and now they bring one into our nest.” He’s been saying odd things like that for weeks.

After dinner Tristan walked me back to my room and we found ourselves in bed again. It’s becoming almost impossible to not have sex with him.

“You’re leaving,” I whispered as he kissed my neck. He drew back.

“What?” He said. I looked at him.

“You’re going to Dorin,” I said softly. He sighed and took a lock of my hair between his thumb and forefinger. “Athena told me. Your grandfather and uncle are arranging a match for you.” He nodded.

“They might be,” he whispered. “Nothing’s been decided, but I want to have options.” I frowned at him. “I need to be away from her Rina.”

“And me?” I whispered. He sighed.

“I don’t want to be away from you,” he said softly. “Hence my dilemma, because I know you won’t leave her.” We kissed again.

“Tristan,” I said softly. “If you’re going, we can’t continue.”

“Last night, love, you said we couldn’t if I stayed,” he pointed out. “And here I am.” I sighed and stood up. “Marina, I didn’t mean!”

“Didn’t you?” I said. “You know that both of the Prince’s companions have expressed an interest in me, don’t you? That all of the Provenence heirs except for Aaron have proposed.”

“This is supposed to impress me?” He said. I frowned at him. “You think I care about that? About the idiots who see the pretty little duchess of Brightcoast and a spot beside Lisette and a manor in the south?” I frowned. “I want you,” he cupped his hands around my face. “But I can’t stay here.”

“So you don’t want me enough,” I said, “which is what it’s always come down to between us.” He sighed and nodded. “So you’ll go,” I whispered and kissed him. “You’ll go to Dorin, and you’ll marry some pretty merchant girl with a dowry even bigger than mine,” he laughed at that. “You’ll have beautiful blonde children and,” he kissed me again.

“And I will regret you, forever,” he whispered. I nodded.

“Fine,” I said softly and stood up. He looked at me. “I need fresh air.” I walked out into the sitting room and saw Annalise. She was staring at me.

“I knew,” she said softly, “I mean, I thought,” I swallowed. I could bear all of it, really, if it didn’t mean losing her.

“It’s nothing,” I said, “and it’s over.” I walked out quickly, out of the palace and into an old hedge maze. I used to hide here as a child and I started crying. I knew I should have stayed and explained, but I couldn’t take the way she was looking at me, and Tristan needs to be a man and tell her himself that he’s leaving.

“I’m sorry,” I looked up and saw Lieutenant Lestoff. “I was looking for the salt pond and I think I lost my way.” I wiped my eyes.

“I can show you there,” I said, “if you like.”

“I would,” he said, “I’ve been lax since we left the sea, my father would be ashamed.” I smiled softly. We walked in silence after that but it felt comfortable. “Did I disturb you?”

“No,” I said, “no I was running away from a problem, I used to hide here when I was a child, I suppose it’s a habit.”

“Did you like growing up here?” He asked. I stared at him. “I can’t imagine growing up at court, we didn’t, Daniel didn’t like Eric being around, so we weren’t there until well after we were in the navy.”

“It wasn’t much fun,” I admitted, “I imagine any children growing up at court now might enjoy it, but Annalise isn’t, well, terrifying.” He grinned.

“Says you,” he pointed out. “I happen to think she’s very scary.” I laughed. “Lady Marina,” he stopped, “I think I would very much like to kiss you.” I blinked at him.

“I, well,” I swallowed, “I don’t think I’m quite in the mood Lieutenant.” He nodded and kept walking.

“Another time then,” he said. I nodded as we reached the salt pond. “Whatever you were crying about, I hope it gets resolved.”

“Thank you,” I said softly and walked back into the palace. Annalise was sitting waiting for me. “Hello,” I said.

“Hello,” she said. “How long?”

“Just these past few nights,” I said softly, “and we were trying not to.” She nodded. “He’s leaving.”

“I know,” she whispered. “He told me,” I nodded. “I wish that this wasn’t what it was.” I smiled.

“I know,” I said. “Lisette, he loves you, that’s why I couldn’t. It would have been so easy to say when he said he wanted to leave that we should leave together, but I can’t be his escape.” She nodded.

“Eric said that he wants to make a go of things,” she whispered, “that’s how he put it. It’s all so cordial and cool.” She closed her eyes. “When Tristan first told me he loved me, it felt like fire.”

“Fire’s dangerous Lisette,” I said. She nodded. “Did he go?” She nodded again. “Lieutenant Lestoff asked if he could kiss me.”

“Goddess, Marina, two in one night?” She rolled her eyes. I blushed.

“I didn’t, I told him no,” I said, “odd that he would ask, isn’t it?”

“Perhaps it’s a Phanian thing,” she shrugged. “Or perhaps he saw that you were upset and didn’t want to take advantage.” I nodded. “Rina,” she whispered, “are you alright?” I nodded. “I don’t think you are.”

“He doesn’t love me,” I whispered, “he doesn’t, he loves you and he’ll never,” I started crying, “it isn’t fair, Annalise, you said no and he won’t ever ever forgive you, but he’ll never love me either.” She nodded and just held me while I cried.