Reunions

“No,” said Athena simply as I held up what felt like the fiftieth gown to wear that night. I frowned. I’m seventeen today. I should feel different. I don’t.

The others will be home tonight. Aaron. Countess Olivia. Papa.

I keep focusing on Papa. And Lefty. And what he’s going to say.

“No, it isn’t right,” I sighed and flopped on a chair. “I have nothing to wear.”

“You have plenty to wear,” Athena said simply, “if you’re going to the temple, or trying to make yourself invisible to Brayton, or remind my brother of that oh so innocent waif he was falling in love with,” I glared at her, “but there is sadly nothing in your wardrobe even remotely appropriate for seducing Phanian Naval lieutenants.”

“I’m not seducing him,” I said, “I’m fairly sure that would only take me saying, ‘Lefty would you care to come to my room?'” She laughed. “But tonight is special and I want to look,” I sat up, “I don’t want him to even think about anyone else.”

“Ah,” Athena nodded, “I’ve found that nothing does that spectacularly. Why didn’t you just buy something new?” I rolled my eyes. “Marina, what’s going to be different, tonight?” I bit my bottom lip.

“They’ll be home tonight,” I said. She nodded. “My father,” I said softly. Athena nodded and walked over to me. “If he’s completely in love with me, maybe my father.”

“I see,” she nodded. “You know that when I first asked Martin what he thought of me marrying Aaron, he said I was being foolish and that certainly Caleb and Olivia wouldn’t allow it.” I looked at her. “He came around, your father would too.” I nodded.

“Am I intruding?” I glanced over my shoulder at Aaron slouched against the door. “Gods bindings Marina to you have any other clothes?” Athena laughed and ran to him. “Hello my darling,” he said softly.

“Hello,” she said. “I missed you.” He nodded. “It went well?”

“It did,” he said. “Where’s Lisette?”

“Lisette is in meetings trying to make a decision regarding Brayton,” I said softly. He nodded. “I have been barred.”

“As have I,” Athena said, “apparently our suggestions of ‘kill the bastard dead,’ were ‘not constructive or appreciated.'”

“Wyatt?” He said. I nodded. “I’m sorry Rina, it must be difficult for you.” I nodded. “This might cheer you up.” He handed me a letter.

“William?” I asked. He nodded. I opened it. “He’s getting married.” Aaron nodded and I sat down on the couch. “Heavens, that was fast.”

“I said the same,” he admitted.

“Who?” Athena asked snatching the letter from my hand, “Kathy Sampson?” She scrunched her face.

“You met her?” I asked. Athena nodded. “And?”

“Well, whoever it was would never compare to you, obviously, but Kathy is,” she paused, “can we raise their taxes?” Aaron laughed.

“I missed you so much,” he said and kissed her. “She’s a farmer’s daughter we grew up with. She’s very nice.” Athena snorted. “Athena doesn’t like her.”

“Obviously,” I said. “I should go see my father. Is he better?” Aaron frowned. “Worse?”

“No,” he said, “better, certainly, thought I’d use the word determined.” I nodded and walked quickly to my father’s apartment, where books were already strewn everywhere.

“Papa,” I called softly. He walked out of his study. “You’re back.”

“Yes,” he said. He walked over and kissed my forehead. “You’ve grown.” I laughed at the old joke. “And you’re safe.”

“Yes,” I said. “What are you working on?” I glanced at the papers. “The translation for Annalise?”

“No,” He said. “It’s something else she asked me for.” I nodded.

“About Brayton?” I said. He nodded. “You agree with her? Keeping him alive even though we know he’s lost the blessing of Amina?”

“I haven’t decided,” he said softly and put his hands on my arms. “And it isn’t my decision anyhow, nor is it yours.” I nodded.

“You’re worried about my safety,” I whispered, “for picnicking with new friends but the man who would imprison me and marry me against my will and destroy me can be killed and you haven’t decided how you feel yet?” He sighed.

“Rina, this isn’t that,” he said. “I want Brayton dead, for his threat to you, for killing my sister, for everything. But, it isn’t up to us. It shouldn’t even be up to Annalise, justice is for the gods.” I nodded and sat down. “I’m glad we made it back in time for this festival of yours.” I smiled.

“It’s for Caleb,” I said softly. “He asked me about it once, a long time ago.” He smiled. “I want you to speak to Lieutenant Lestoff today.”

“Marina,” he said softly and shook his head.

“Papa,” I said. “This is important to me.” He nodded. “He’s not like anyone I’ve ever known.” He snorted.

“I’d imagine not,” he muttered. I looked at him. “I have a sudden surge of affection for your grandfather.” I smiled and kissed him on the cheek. “I will try, I doubt we’ll have much to say to one another, even when I was his age, I had little in common with the naval men.”

“I would appreciate the effort,” I said. “I have work to do, but I am glad you’re home.” He nodded. I was headed to the ballroom to make sure everything was set, when I felt his hands slide around my waist. I giggled and turned.

“Hello,” Lefty whispered.

“Hello,” I smiled. “I’ve just been to see my father.” He nodded. “I think he’ll be nice to you, but,” he kissed me.

“How precisely,” he whispered, “was I supposed to concentrate on anything you were saying without kissing you.” I giggled. “I’m sorry, your father?” I nodded.

“But how am I supposed to concentrate when you’re kissing me?” I asked. He laughed. “Tonight, I mean, after,” I swallowed, “I think I’m doing this wrong.”

“Marina,” he whispered, “I’m in love with you, but you know this.” I nodded, “but you need things, that I’m not sure I can give you.” I swallowed. “I’m not respectable, for all that Eric’s tried to prop me up as so.”

“So you won’t come?” I said softly. “Even if I said I didn’t care?” He kissed me again.

“I’m not quite that strong,” he said. “I’m only saying think on it. I can’t marry you, I mean, I would, but I doubt we’d be allowed.”

“You’d be amazed what I’m allowed,” I whispered, “Annalise, after all, is going to,” I stopped and swallowed, I was about to say the thing we didn’t say. He smiled.

“Ah, and there’s the rub, isn’t it?” He said sadly, “If Annalise does as she will, I have to return to Phania, or to wherever it is Daniel sees fit to fling Eric next.”

“You’ll have to?” I whispered. He nodded. “Why?”

“You’re chosen,” he said. I nodded, “you have a divine mandate of some kind?”

“To aid Annalise in her reign,” I said, “and in her ultimate quest to free the god and goddess from their bindings.” He nodded.

“I’m not chosen,” he said softly, “but to stand by my brother, that is my divine mandate, to protect him.” I hugged myself close to him. “I wouldn’t refuse a night with you if I didn’t know I’d have to break both our hearts when this is all over.” He couldn’t know that by refusing me he was already breaking my heart.

The Queen Of Hell

I slept fitfully last night. I had my first True Dream in what felt like ages. I was in the throne room, dressed in white, a bride. But it didn’t look like the throne room does these days. This was the throne room of my childhood, the dark and frightening place of mocking laughter and cold eyes.

“Such a beauty,” a cold female voice echoed, “yes, yes, he chose well.” I swallowed and looked at the throne, Annalise didn’t sit there, but instead a woman, skin whiter than any I’d ever seen, with eyes blazing in fire. I was frozen. “And to take you from my darling sister at that, will be satisfying.”

“I serve Rana,” I whispered, “not you. She will protect me.” She laughed then.

“Your faith in my sister is charming,” she stood up and walked over to me. “But I am Amina, queen of darkness and hell, and you will bear my sword. Rana knows this, deep down, it’s why she gifted you with such power.” I swallowed as she lifted my chin, her hands cold. “And you will only grow more powerful, Marina, daughter of Anne. He will show you so much more.”

“You’ve forsaken Brayton,” I whispered. She laughed again.

“Yes,” she said, “I have forsaken Brayton as my champion, but I still require him for you. For the child.” I woke up in a cold sweat. I ran didn’t walk across the apartment and into Annalise’s room. She already standing at the door. I saw Tristan sitting in her bed.

“You saw?” I whispered. She nodded and hugged me. “You were there?”

“Yes,” her voice trembled, “Marina, when I was hoping to Dream of your wedding that wasn’t quite what I meant.” I blinked. “Your wedding to Brayton, I Saw it.”

“No,” I whispered, “no, I,” I started shaking. We walked back into the sitting room. “I was before Amina.” Annalise swallowed, “she touched me, I,” Tristan sat down next to me and took my hands. “I was dressed for a wedding though.”

“She hasn’t foresaken him then?” Annalise asked.

“He’s no longer blessed,” I said and swallowed, “but she still wants him as the father.”

“Father?” Tristan said. I nodded. “I don’t understand, Lisette?”

“Brayton had a theory,” Annalise said harshly, “I had hoped it was only a theory, but now. Amina needs a vessel, like I am for Rana.”

“And Marina’s to be the mother,” he said, “and Brayton the father.” She nodded. “And you two kept this secret and kept him alive?”

“You would have had us debate it in council?” Annalise said. “We couldn’t kill Brayton while he had the blessing.”

“Besides which,” I said, “it’s not your concern.”

“Not my,” he stuttered, and put his hand to my face, “Rina, you are my concern, your safety, your,” he stopped.

“No,” I said quietly, “no, Tristan, for everything that we are to each other, could have been or whatever it is. That part of me isn’t yours, none of it.” I looked at Annalise. “He has to die and we have to figure out freeing Rana and Cornan. There’s no hope without that.”

“All that studying you do,” Tristan looked at me, “you still haven’t found anything.” I shook my head.

“It isn’t the only thing I’m studying,” I whispered. “I wish my father hadn’t gone.”

“I’ll write to them in the morning,” Annalise said softly. “I need Anselm, he can’t stay away any longer.”

“He won’t like that,” Tristan said. She laughed darkly.

“He never likes anything,” she said, “but what good is being queen if I can’t get my revenge for years of horrible magic training.” I laughed at that, and was suddenly sad, missing Sister Mara, my first teacher. “I have to talk about it with what’s left of the council in the morning. Without Olivia, Martin, Aaron or Uncle Les, that leaves you two, and Athena and Wyatt and Artia.”

“You know what Athena will say,” Tristan sighed, “she’ll want to swing the axe herself.” Annalise nodded. There was something satisfying in the image, of Athena Dugarry, striking down the enemy.

“I’m going for a walk,” I said softly. Annalise nodded. I found myself wandering the market and then to the harbor. The Prince’s Glory was docked there, and I noticed that Lefty was standing on the deck. I walked up to it.

“Well hello,” he smiled and walked to greet me.

“You’re up early,” I said.

“We take turns, checking on the ship,” he explained. “Would you like to see her?” I nodded and took his hand as I boarded. I found myself in his arms. I felt safe and steady for the first time in days. “Are you alright?”

“No,” I whispered, “but I want to see your home, you’ve seen mine.” He raised an eyebrow.

“Alright,” he smiled and we walked across the ship. “We first got her three years ago. Eric was made a captain immediately, and the ship was a gift from Queen Elana.” I smiled. “Do you know anything about ships?”

“Not a thing,” I whispered. “She’s very beautiful though.” He laughed and we walked down a small staircase, and into a tiny room. “Yours?” He nodded. “Am I the first girl you’ve had here?”

“Here, certainly,” he leaned against the door frame as I walked into the room. “You seem preoccupied.” I stretched my hand out and he came to me.

“Distract me then,” I whispered. He smiled and kissed me. I lay down underneath him.

“Goddess,” he whispered, “I’m in deeper trouble with you than I’ve ever been in my life.” I smiled.

“I’ve known this sort of trouble before,” I said, “but not the other thing, so I guess we can help each other.” He grinned and kissed me again. I was lost in him, and I knew in that moment, I would always be.

Forgiveness

That night I opted out of dinner. I was still so angry with Annalise, and I couldn’t bear to see Tristan and everything felt wrong, when it had felt so right this morning.

I was lost enough that I did something I haven’t done in ages. I went to the small altar in my dressing room, which held three things. A portrait of my mother, a candle and a small bowl of sand from the beach at brightcoast.

I don’t know as much about this practice as I do about honoring the goddess. Because of my magic, and my education by sisters, that’s what I learned. I lit the candle, and I meditated quietly on memories of my mother and Brightcoast, but all I could do was cry.

There was a knock on the door. I stood up and wiped my eyes and walked over and opened the door. Annalise was standing on the other side, holding a plate.

“When you didn’t come down, I thought you’d be hungry,” she whispered. I nodded. She set it down on a table.

“You really shouldn’t have brought it yourself, it’s below the dignity of a queen,” I said softly.

“Not of a farmgirl though,” she said with a wink. I laughed in spite of myself. “I owe you an apology.”

“No,” I said softly, “no, you don’t.”

“Yes, I do,” she whispered, “I’ve been awful and taken you horribly for granted. You’re my family, and the only person who knows the deepest things inside of me, and I broke your heart, and let your greatest fear sleep soundly for six months.”

“You didn’t break my heart,” I said. “Tristan was very involved in that whole episode.” She nodded.

“But so was I,” she said. “You don’t have to forgive me tonight. But I needed to apologize.” I nodded, “and there’s someone else who’d like to see you.” She glanced at the door and then made her way to it. Then I sat down to eat and glanced up and saw Lefty leaning against the door. I blushed.

“I don’t think that you being in my bedroom is terribly appropriate,” I said.

“No,” he said and strolled in. “It isn’t.” I smiled as he sat with me. “A good Phanian girl would never let me into her room.”

“Good thing I’m Cammadie then,” I raised an eyebrow. He laughed. “I’m sorry I broke our date this afternoon.”

“Elodie said you weren’t feeling well,” he said. “A decent excuse, and I hope you’re feeling better.” I nodded.

“I am,” I said softly. He kissed me then, and I pulled away. “Not quite that much better.”

“No,” he shook his head. “But, the queen came up with an excellent idea. It seems this winter faire she’s obsessed with falls right at your birthday?” I laughed and nodded. “She thought you ought to plan it, something about a memory.” I smiled again.

“I like that plan,” I said, “you’ll help me? Something tells me that you’re awfully good at fun.” He smiled. “I can plan the ball, but the festival, normally that would be something that Count Aaron would do.”

“And with the Count away,” he said. I nodded.

“Maybe something you learned when you and the prince were up north?” I tried. He frowned.

“The northerners were not much for fun,” he shrugged, “hunting, but I think even you could come up with that.” I nodded. “We’ll think of something.” I smiled. “I think I’d trade the world for that smile.”

“The way you talk to me,” I said, “it’s like no one I’ve ever known.”

“I used to think my father was insane,” he smirked, “the way he talked about Aimee. Even before the king died and he was free to marry her. Like she was the moon.”

“And now?” I said, leaning on my hand.

“You flirt too well, Marina,” he said. I laughed. “Now, I think I am falling in love, and I have some understanding of that insanity.” I blushed. “I missed you tonight.”

“I’ll try not to be absent again,” I smiled.

“All right,” Prince Eric walked in. “We’ve gone far beyond the bounds of even lax Cammadie propriety,” I laughed. “Also as I’m royal and useless, I need help getting myself to bed.” I laughed and stood up. “Lady Marina.”

“Your Highness,” I said, I kissed Lefty on the cheek. “I should see to my own useless royal charge.” I crossed the sitting room into Annalise’s bedroom, she was already undressed and happily settled under the covers.

“Am I forgiven?” She said happily. I rolled my eyes.

“Yes,” I said and sat down at the edge of her bed. “A nice trick sending Eric in to break up the intimacy too.”

“Well, I remember you saying that William rushed you and it turned you off,” she shrugged. “See, I do listen to you.” I laughed. “Also, that was Eric’s idea. He’s quite invested in Lefty having a place in Cammadan, when,” she exhaled, “if, well, you know.”

“Right,” I nodded. “They’re gone now, if you’d like to send for Tristan.” She bit her bottom lip.

“No,” she whispered, “I mean, he said that he couldn’t tonight.” I nodded and left her, closing the door. I lay in bed before falling asleep and eventually heard him come in. I closed my eyes tightly and remembered that tonight someone told me he was falling in love with me.

I thought of how I am with him, how I’m able to flirt without being self conscious, how when he smiles it’s like someone turned on a light, how I spend every moment that he’s in a room trying to glimpse his eyes, and how safe I felt in his arms.

If this is love, I’ll take as much of it as I can.

The Loss Of The Blessing

When we got back to the palace I decided to study a bit. I’ve been trying to decifer some old stories about Queen Anessa, as a surprise for Annalise to cheer her up a little.

It isn’t going terribly well. The ancient Cammadie language is hard, and it doesn’t read well. The story were usually told out loud, rather than recorded so it’s hard to find strong records of anything.

“Lady Marina?” Elodie said quietly rousing me from an honestly far too focused amount of scribbling. “I’m sorry to disturb you.”

“It’s alright,” I said. “What is it?” She sighed and sat down. “Elodie are you alright?”

“Yes, I,” she sighed, “I don’t quite know where to begin.” I nodded again. “Lord Brayton is ill.” I exhaled.

“I thought it was something serious,” I said. “If that’s all.”

“He’s asking for you,” she said softly. “Captain Dugarry, that is, Lady Athena gave us strict orders not to come to you, but, well,” she looked at the table, “she isn’t a healer, she doesn’t understand.”

“What’s wrong with him?” I asked. Thinking of when I’d seen him last, looking so pale, which made sense, he was locked in a cell, and drawn like he hadn’t been eating. And that had been months ago. “Starvation, I’d imagine.”

“It has those symptoms,” she said, “but he eats, we’re sure of that. We thought maybe something with magic?”

“I’ve never heard of magical illness,” I said softly, “but it’s possible,” I paused, “Elodie, did General Martin leave yet?”

“No, I don’t think so,” she shook her head. “He wanted to wait a day.” I nodded and rushed to the barracks. Martin was in his office, clearly packing.

“Hello Marina,” he said, “I don’t know if you’ve ever been here.” I was panting. “What is it?”

“When you lost the blessing of the god,” I said very quickly, “when you lost it, were there physical symptoms?” He stared at me. “It’s important.”

“Clearly,” he said softly and sat down. “I couldn’t tell you.” I stared at him. “Well, I suppose that does tell you. I was comatose for nearly a month after. Or, that’s what John and Alexia told me. I would sometimes wake up and rant, but,” I sank into my chair. “Why?”

“Brayton is dying of starvation,” I whispered, “but he’s eating.” He nodded. “If Amina took her blessing from him.”

“He could be executed,” he said. I nodded. “Have you spoken to Annalise?” I shook my head. “Do so and quickly. Don’t let anyone else in on the meeting. Not Prince Eric, not even the twins.” I stared at him. “You know them, Marina, you know what they’ll say. Athena won’t hesitate to grab her sword and Tristan,” he sighed, “I know you two are strained at the moment, but if you think he wouldn’t do anything in the world to protect you,” I looked down.

“I know that,” I said, “I just, I don’t think it’s right to leave it up to just the two of us.” He nodded.

“It’s up to her, really,” he said softly. “Has she gotten the answers she wants from him?” I shrugged. I wasn’t permitted in Annalise’s interviews with Brayton. “Have you?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about?” I shook my head. He smiled and held up his palms. “William?”

“There were six guards on duty that day,” he said. “William didn’t betray you.” I nodded. “Still, did you get what you were looking for?”

“No,” I said, “but I don’t think I ever will. I’d rather he be dead and the threat over.”

“Tell her that,” he said, “she may not decide to execute him, but it’s your right to tell her.” I swallowed and nodded. “Elodie came to you.”

“Yes, she said that he asked for me, because none of the healers have been able to do anything,” I said softly. “We’re not soldiers, it’s a different,” I sighed, “if I can help him, I probably should.” He nodded. I sighed and got up, making my way to the castle and then to the cells. No guards stopped me this time, like everyone knew. I got to the cell and looked at him.

“Hello, Little One,” he said hoarsely. “Feels a bit like old times doesn’t it? You come when I call?”

“I came because I’m a healer,” I said, “and you’re ill.”

“I’m dying,” he said, “for want of you.” I rolled my eyes. “Well, not exactly, but my failure has hastened a few things.” I nodded to the guard who unlocked the door. “This is different. Does her majesty know you’re here?”

“No,” I said softly. I reached out and touched his glands. “I wanted to know I came because it was right, not because she ordered me to.” He grinned at that. “You are eating?” I said softly.

“Yes,” he said, “and drinking water and moving about when I can.” I nodded and stepped back, opening my bag. “You’ve a prescription then, Sister Rina?” I glared at him.

“Only because I know Annalise doesn’t want you to die until she’s ready for it,” I explained. I pulled out several herbs and began mixing them. “This should hold you over until the month is out.”

“The month?” He said. “Is that my execution then?”

“No,” I said, “that appears to be how long it takes for the shock of losing the favor of a god to pass through the body.” He blinked at me. “Lady Amina has dismissed you, has she not?”

“Queen Amina,” he said, “and yes. But how do you know that?” I didn’t meet his eyes. “Oh, Martin, of course.” I stood silently. “I spoke with your Phanian boy.”

“Raymond isn’t my anything,” I said softly. “Have your guards brew those into a tea for you twice a day. Elodie will resume your care after this.” I walked out with all of my dignity, or as much of it as I could and got outside. The sun felt good and I found my way to the salt pond. Tristan was standing there.

“What are you doing here?” I asked.

“I thought,” he said, “I know you were at the temple, but I thought,” I started crying and threw myself into his arms. “Rina,” he whispered. “I’m so sorry, I,”

“I know,” I said. “I’m sorry too.” I pressed my face against his chest. The velvet of his guard uniform felt so soft. “Just hold me for a moment.” I composed myself. “I have to go see Annalise.” He nodded. “Was your conversation with your grandfather productive?”

“It seems he and Uncle Geno have a girl in mind and everything,” he said softly. I nodded. “It’s all very cold, and I keep having to remind myself that this is how it worked for my parents. My mother was in Dorin, and my father grew up here, and then they were seventeen and he went there and they did a season together and then they were married.” I nodded. I remembered Sir John and Lady Alexia, I was eight when they died. “Why were crying?” He asked.

“I can’t tell you,” I said softly. “I’m sorry, I,” he nodded. “I have to go.” I walked away from him and into the palace. Annalise was sitting at her desk. She looked at me. “Brayton is dying.”

“I know,” she said, “well, I guessed. Our last meeting was hard to get through.”

“He’ll heal, I saw to it,” I said. She nodded. “Annalise, you can’t leave him alive.”

“I know,” she sighed, “I know that but,” she looked down, “aren’t you curious? He’s the only other chosen we know, and if we’re supposed to do this, we need help.”

“He’s not the only other chosen we know,” I said. “Martin was chosen of Cornan, and Eric,” she laughed.

“That’s just a pretension of the Phanian royal family, Eric isn’t really chosen,” she said, “and Martin refuses to discuss it.” I nodded. “That’s why you went to see him isn’t it?”

“No,” I said, “I went because he has it in his mind that his duty to the Queen of Hell is to impregnate me with her sword, her champion, your dark counterpart. But you refuse to destroy him, so I’m left in fear of it.”

“Marina,” she said, “I won’t let,”

“You might not be able to stop him,” I said, “did you ever think of that?” She looked at me. “No, of course you hadn’t, nothing is beyond you, isn’t that right?” I stood up. “Nothing is too great for Queen Annalise to conquer. But he might be!” She stood up.

“I’d stop him,” she said. “I have before.”

“Your father couldn’t, Martin couldn’t, Caleb couldn’t,” I said, “but you did, and now you won’t finish it.” I marched into my room and slammed the door.

In The Temple

The Temple to Rana in Dovetail is probably my second favorite place in the city after the library. It was always a safe a happy place for me.

My uncle built it for my aunt after they were engaged and it was opened just after their marriage. Several sisters came from Phania to help establish, what, Sister Mara, who taught me before she died, called, “a softer order.”

Annalise and I come here at least once a week, usually more, now, and it made sense to me that she wanted to come today. We walked in to the large glittering space, the salt pool at it’s center to find several sisters stop their usual bustling to bow to us, and to Eric and Raymond, who joined us. Lefty and Athena waited outside, Athena because she find prayer boring, and Lefty because Phanian men consider it an insult to the Goddess to tread on her sacred ground, being male and all. (Eric and Raymond are excepted, being members of the royal family and therefore carrying Rana’s blessing.)

“My Queen,” One of the sisters, Anna, came over and inclined her head, “Lady Marina, Lord Raymond, Your Highness.” We all nodded back to her. “We were expecting you today, I hope the goddess, and the ground keep Count Caleb. Our order always counted him a friend.”

“I’m happy to hear it Sister Anna,” Annalise smiled. The four of us made our way to a basin. I nodded to Annalise. She closed her eyes and moved her hands over the water, causing it to swirl.

As the light caught the water I saw a scene unfold. A young girl running to a man and him lifting her up in a hug. I recognized them both immediately, as Count Caleb and Annalise. She couldn’t be older than six. After the hug, Caleb knelt before his tiny princess.

“You understand what I’ve told you, Little One?” He asked.

“I think so,” she said. “If I’m the princess, does that mean that Aaron has to do everything I say?” He laughed.

“Technically, I suppose,” he said, “but a good queen, wouldn’t issue silly orders, or expect her friends to be servile.” She nodded.

“And may I still be Lisette, sometimes?” She whispered.

“If it pleases you, you can always be Lisette to me,” he said softly. She hugged him again. I could see the tears in her eyes. It was a precious memory and a good one to share.

“I’m sorry,” Eric said softly, taking her hand. She looked at him and smile. “Lady Marina?” I nodded and swirled the water. My memory was of  myself at 14. I was studying at the table in Papa’s sitting room and Count Caleb and he were sitting quietly.

“Marina,” he said to me, I looked up, “you might be able to advise me.”

“Me, Your Grace?” I said softly. Was I ever that quiet? He laughed and walked over.

“My son has gotten it into his head to host a large winter faire,” he said, “unfortunately, a sixteen year old boy’s idea of amusement might not actually please all of my tenants.” I laughed. “What would you like to do at such an event?”

“A ball,” I whispered, my voice full of longing and whistfulness. “With music, and deserts, and new dresses!” He nodded seriously. “Ice skating would be nice too.”

“Both excellent ideas,” he said taking my hand and squeezing it. “New dresses for every girl in Pantona might be a bit outside of my reach, but the rest, I think will do quite well.” It dissolved.

Annalise looked at me.

“Why that?” She asked.

“He listened,” I said softly. “No one ever had before, at least not that I remembered. And those days were the most frightening. I’d just been presented.” Annalise nodded. Eric and Raymond both looked grave. I’ve told Raymond about Brayton’s pursuit of me, and either he or Annalise must have told Eric. “We should pray.”

“Into foam, and deep into the heart,” Annalise began, and we all joined her, “hold the spirit of our beloved, most gracious and kind Goddess Rana.” Raymond squeezed my hand and we all walked outside.

“I couldn’t have imagined you like that,” he said softly. “So meek and unassuming.” I laughed.

“I was very afraid,” I said softly. “And lonely.” He nodded, we were outside, and I noticed the twins were gone, I walked to Lefty. “Where are the Captains?”

“A few of their cousins came by,” he explained. “They went to bid farewell to their grandfather.”

“We should head to the market then,” Annalise said.

“We should,” I said, “you and Prince Eric should stay here.” She rolled her eyes at me. “Lisette, please? I can’t stand sitting through a lecture from Tristan about you taking your security seriously today.” She sighed.

“Fine,” she said, “but it’s their fault for abandoning me.”

“We’ll mention as much,” I teased.

“I’ll stay as well,” Raymond piped up. “I had a question for some of the sisters.” I nodded and Lefty and I began walking.

“I feel like I’ve missed a step,” I said. He laughed. “Did they all conspire to get us alone?”

“I don’t think Captain Dugarry is that enthused by the idea,” he said. “Tristan, that is, Athena practically dragged him away.” I smiled. “Did the prayer go well?” I nodded. “Good memories?”

“I think so,” I said. “It was a great comfort to Annalise.” He nodded. “Would you like to kiss me again?” He smiled and took my waist.

“Very much,” he said and kissed me.

“Rina!” Athena’s voice called out. I blushed. “Lieutenant.”

“Captain,” he nodded. He didn’t let go of me. There was something comforting about that.

“Lisette’s done?” She said. I nodded. “Are you alright?”

“I think so,” I said. “But we should get back. She wasn’t happy about having to wait.”

“I’ll find Tristan,” she said, “as you were,” she winked and walked away. I sighed and Lefty laughed, turning my face up towards him.

“You’re quite pretty when you’re exasperated.” He teased. I blushed. He kissed me again. I pressed myself close. “Mm, that’s nice as well.”

“I spoke to one of the sisters today,” I said, “you could have come into the temple, they don’t have the same restrictions as Vacana.”

“I know that,” he said softly, “but I’m still Phanian, it wouldn’t feel right. Even seeing the sisters off temple grounds with their heads uncovered unsettles me.” I giggled. “What?”

“Nothing,” I said softly, “only that you’ve sailed the world and seeing women’s hair unsettles you.” He nodded. “That’s honestly adorable, Lieutenant.”

“Not all women’s hair,” he said softly, “I like your hair for instance.” I smiled. I turned hearing a throat clear.

“We really need to return to the palace,” I saw Tristan’s face, he looked serious. “If it’s convenient, Your Grace.”

“On your leave,” I said sharply, “Captain Dugarry.” He nodded and we walked back in silence. Once we reached the temple, I realized that Lefty had been holding my hand the whole way.

Partings

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.”

Raymond

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.

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.”