William

I’ve never been one to not admit when I was wrong, and I have to admit my anxiety about returning to Dovetail was completely unfounded. Each night since we came has been delightful.

Every day it feels like new people are pouring in to join the guard, or to pay homage to Annalise, or to present their heirs.

This happens a lot. Provenence leaders, richer merchants and even vassals have brought every son who’s between the ages of thirteen and thirty. Annalise seems to find it amusing and the best part are the nights.

There are dinners and dancing and a great deal of fun. Tonight we finished eating and I was watching everyone start dancing, and smiling more than I had in ages.

“You’re alone more often than I’d think,” I turned and saw William Santino next to me. I felt my face flush. He looks so handsome in his green guard uniform. His auburn hair was reflecting the candlelight as well. “The Duchess of Brighcoast and the Princess’s right hand.”

“I’m not used to all of this,” I admitted. “Things with Brayton were more,” I cocked my head to the side, “staid and intense than now. It’s wonderful but, new.” He nodded. “What was Pantona like?”

“Not like this,” he laughed, “though Vis-I mean Count Aaron always did his best to keep things festive.” I nodded, I noticed him looking at Annalise, who was dancing with Tristan.

“Did you know them well?” I asked. He nodded.

“Would you like to hear something embarrassing?” He said. I looked at him bewildered. “I asked Count Caleb for her hand two years ago.” I giggled.

“Truly?” I asked. He nodded. “Goddess, what did he say? He didn’t tell you the truth?”

“That she was too young,” he laughed, “which she was. But no, he didn’t tell me the truth, just that he’d agreed to let her choose for herself and I was certainly welcome to continue our friendship.”

“Did she know?” I asked.

“I don’t think so,” he said, “I was going to tell her, it wasn’t as though I was madly in love with her, but we did get on well, and it made sense. We didn’t know who she was, but the best guess was she was Caleb’s bastard daughter, at the very least, so it seemed a good match for me.” I smiled.

“Why didn’t you declare yourself?” I asked, curious.

“Well,” he said softly, “the twins came, and it became very clear that a convenient match with an inn keeper in Pantona was not her destiny.” I nodded. “I still didn’t know who she was, but she was clearly in love with him.”

“I can see that being an obstacle,” I grinned. “Would you like to dance?” He smiled and took my hand and kissed it.

“I would be delighted,” he said. It was a waltz, which meant that his hand was resting on my waist the whole time. He was also chatting and flirting for most of it. I’m sure I was blushing, but the song ended eventually.

“Thank you, Master Santino,” I said softly.

“William,” he said, “please.” I smiled again. “And it was a pleasure, Your Grace.”

“Marina,” I whispered. “If you’re William, I’m Marina.” He nodded.

Later, back in the rooms as I helped Annalise undress, she asked me about it.

“I saw you dancing with William,” she said. “He’s awfully nice isn’t he? I’m so glad he decided to come. With all these strangers, it helps to have someone from home.”

“He is nice,” I said. She looked at me. “He’s an excellent dancer too.” She giggled. “Don’t look at me that way.”

“You like him!” She said and clapped. “Oh, that’s excellent! You would look well together!” I shook my head.

“I don’t know that he feels the same way,” I shrugged, “and besides, I can’t think about such things now.” She sighed as I turned down the bed. “Did you speak to Tristan?” She schrunched her nose.

“Yes,” she mumbled, “it’s all so complicated, and he’s not willing to just wait and see. I don’t even know that Prince Eric wants me, or if,” she sighed, “I don’t know.” 

“I understand,” I said softly. “I think he does too, just his pride is wounded.” She sighed.

“I suppose so,” she muttered, “if I could just marry him, I would, but I can’t! I have to at least entertain the provenance leaders and heirs, and the border princes and all of it.” She sighed, “it was easier when it was about killing shadows, don’t you think?”

“For you, yes,” I said. She laughed and yawned getting into bed. “Do you need anything else?” She shook her head. I walked out into the sitting room and saw Lady Athena walk in. “She’s asleep already.”

“Thank the god!” She muttered and fell on the couch. “I noticed you and William Santino tonight.”

“I didn’t notice you in the ballroom tonight,” I teased back. She laughed. “Or Aaron for that matter.”

“He was feeling much better,” she explained with a giggle, “much better, if you catch my meaning.”

“I do,” I said. “I feel silly about William, truly, like I used to about your brother. We only just met, and he is much older.”

“No so much,” Athena frowned. “You’re sixteen and he’s nineteen. I’d say the bigger obstacle is that you’re a Duchess and he’s an inkeeper with a Lord for an Uncle.” I shrugged.

“It was just a dance.” I said softly. But the way he’d looked at me, and the way it felt when he touched me. It was nice.

Dashing

It’s been an eventful week. Annalise decided on the grand apartment rather than the princess tower. (Countess Olivia is moving in there. She says she has good memories from it. This made Papa laugh, and General Martin’s face became quite red.) There’s been quite a lot of discussion regarding Annalise’s coronation, and what her council should look like.

And most importantly who will be coming. Aaron seems excellent at this, Annalise says it’s because he thinks way too much about people liking him. There have been two very large bones of contention so far.

“We don’t need to invite them,” Athena insisted as we debated for what felt like the thousandth time whether to extend an invitation to her and Tristan’s family. “Honestly, it might not go well if they did come.”

“It wouldn’t hurt to curry favor with the families,” Tristan argued, “Grandfather is influential, and having access to his ships could be even more benefictial. Cammadan has never had much of a navy.”

“There has to be a middle ground,” I said. They looked at me. “Perhaps you invite The Dumanis to the celebrations, but not to the ceremony.”

“The ceremony is public,” Annalise frowned.

“Yes, but there are honored guests,” I explained, “The provenence leaders, other sovereigns, that sort of thing. Carland Dumanis would not be in their number, but would be welcome at the ball.”

“An excellent compromise,” Dowager Countess Olivia observed. “That leaves our other question.” We all looked around at one another. Annalise and Tristan shared a specific look. “Have you settled which sovereigns to invite?”

This had mostly been settled days ago. The closest neighboring kingdoms were all invited of course, the only question remaining was Phania.

Phania is a chain of islands to the south of us. My provenence, Brightcoast is the closest point to it. My father and Annalise’s mother came from Phania when they were young. Their cousin Elana wound up marrying the crown prince, in fact. Well, now he’s the king. We don’t know much about it, sadly, the adults seem to keep quiet, but we do know things never sat well between my aunt and uncle and King Daniel and Queen Elana.

The thing is, inviting them is fraught. Not because they would come, they likely wouldn’t, they’d send representatives.

And they’ll probably send Prince Eric, the king’s half brother.

Who is the exact same age as Annalise.

A lot of people say that King Wyatt married Prince Eric’s mother just to have a child who could be united with the Cammadie heirs. We do know that after Daniel was crowned, Elana wrote to my father asking if he thought Anton and Marie would be interested in a betrothal.

They were not.

“We can’t ignore it,” Annalise said softly, “we’ll have to invite them. If they come, all the better, if they send the prince,” she sighed, “well, then they send him.” She stood up and walked out of the room. We all stared at the table.

“I should see to her,” Athena said and walked out.

“I should,” Aaron mumbled, “I’ll start on the letter.” Dowager Countess Olivia simply stood up and left. Tristan and I were left alone.

“Has she told you?” He asked. I shook my head. “She SAW him,” he mumbled and walked over to the window. “She always has.” I swallowed. “You?” He glanced over.

“Have I Seen Prince Eric?” I asked. He nodded. “No,” I whispered. “But I,” I sighed, “well, I stopped looking for that part of her life after I realized that you two were,” he nodded and I walked over to him. “Maybe it’s not what any of us think. True Dreams are confusing, and they often don’t mean what you think they do.” He looked at me. “She loves you, Tristan, and she needs you.”

“She thinks that she’s supposed to marry him,” he explained, “something about The Goddess and a wheel and being Chosen.” He looked at me. “We don’t have to talk about this.” I swallowed and then kissed him on the cheek.

“I promise,” I said, “if it’s that important to you, will fall on the very scary sword of entertaining the probably quite dashing and handsome Phanian Prince.”

“Do you think he’s dashing?” He frowned.

“Well, the stories about him are thrilling,” I shrugged, “they say that he once returned home from the northern circles with a live ice bear for Princess Katrina. He captured it with his own hands.” He raised his eyebrows. “I’m only saying.” He laughed. “I don’t suppose dashing adventurer is Lisette’s type though, she likes you after all.”

“I could be dashing,” he said. I grinned and shook my head.

“Brooding, most certainly,” I said, “brave, without a doubt, but no, you are not dashing.” He frowned. “That does not help your case. In the stories that Mercy reads dashing knights are always smiling and saying witty things.”

“Ah,” he nodded, “don’t they also,” I was suddenly swept up in his arms, “sweep young ladies off of their feet.” I giggled and he smiled at me. “You always say the right thing.”

“Papa says it’s a gift,” I smiled as he put me down. I smoothed my gown. “Talk to her, tell her you’re concerned about The Prince. She’ll understand.” I kissed him on the cheek and walked out.

“Oh,” Aaron said, walking up to me, another young man standing with him. He shared Aaron’s coloring, but it was a common look to people from the central country. He was shorter than Aaron, and his hair had less red in it. He also had green eyes. When they met mine I felt a little silly. “Marina, are you alright, you’re all flushed?” I pressed my hands to my face.

“I’m fine,” I said, I looked at the other man, “Count, you haven’t introduced me.”

“Of course,” he said, “This is Honorable William Santino,” he gestured, “William is one of my tenants, and an, ah,” he cleared his throat, “old friend of Lisette and mine, this is Lady Marina Sanpierre, Duchess of Brightcoast, Lisette’s cousin.” William bowed.

“It’s an honor to meet you, Duchess,” he said. I smiled and curtsied lightly. “Vis-that is Count Aaron was just going to present me to Captain Dugarry, it seems Her Highness sees fit to induct me into the guard.”

“Captain Dugarry is inside,” I said, “we were just discussing the Phanian question.”

“Oh, so his mood will be excellent then,” Aaron winked. I shrugged. “The Princess wanted to speak to you, when you’ve calmed down.” I rolled my eyes and curtsied to them both again, hurrying down the hall. I glanced over my shoulder and noticed Master Santino look at me again. He winked and smiling.

Only one word entered my mind.

Dashing.