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.”