The trip to Dorin, visits with everyone and the quick voyage were over. I was grateful for it. I was amazed to note the changes Emily has mentioned in everything. My mother spent most of her time at Emily and Alex’s house, when Alex petitioned Geno and Trey for permission for this mission there was no lengthy debate.
And I didn’t see my father once. Not even incidentally. I was surprised as we moved into the harbor to see several Phanian ships and standing on the dock, what I assumed was a few members of the royal family and guard waiting for us.
“That’s Prince Nikolai,” Alex said to me, “he’s the third child, second son.” I nodded. The Old King had ten children, nine sons. Raniere, Princess Rila, Nikolai, and Kristoff were the ones old enough to be in public life at this point. Armand, Galen, Gregor, Albert and twins Richard and Mikhail were still considered too young, though we were likely to see them at some point.
“Lady Dugarry,” Prince Nikolai said and took my hand and kissed it as I curtsied after getting off the ship. Alex looked at him. “Master Ducray, Madame DuCray, Rastan is happy to receive you.”
“Thank you, Your Highness,” I swallowed and he smiled at me. “Her Majesty is glad you were able to receive us early.”
“Of course,” he said and we began walking. “We are sorry your husband is not with you.”
“Commander Dugarry has many responsibilities,” I explained. I glanced at the harbor. “There are several Phanian ships.”
“Ah,” The Prince frowned, “yes, we thought that might alarm you. The Princess Karina has come with her household. She is betrothed to my younger brother, and apparently begged her father to allow her to console him. She has been a great help to Kristoff.” I nodded.
“The Princess,” Emily said softly. “Not Prince Eric.”
“No,” Nikolai said, he sounded disappointed. “Not the Prince, it’s unfortunate as he and my brother were once quite close.” We arrived to the palace and were escorted to a small parlor. “I will see if you rooms are ready.”
“Thank you,” I said. He disappeared. Emily frowned. “What’s wrong?”
“I don’t know,” she scrunched her face, “doesn’t it feel odd?”
“That’s just Rastan,” Alex said. “It’s so bleak here it makes Dorin look like Brightcoast. Goddess, no wonder my father left.” I shook my head at him and laughed. But Emily was right something did feel off here. Like everything was unsettled.
Annalise has told me to look sharply and carefully. Four Phanian ships, Eric wasn’t here, and a strange chill in the air.
“Oh I’m sorry,” someone entered the parlor. I stood up and smiled. Damian Lestoff was unchanged from the week or so I’d known him in Brightcoast. “Lady Dugarry,” he said, wide eyed.
“I think you can call me Carolina, Lieutenant,” I said. He laughed.
“It’s Captain, now, actually,” he said, “and Lefty, to you.” I nodded and shook his hand. “They mentioned a contingent was coming before Annalise, and I thought,” I swallowed and cut him off before he could finish that thought. Of course he’d hoped Marina was with us.
“I’m being rude, this is my sister, Madame DuCray and my brother in law,” I said gesturing to Emily and Alex, he shook both of their hands. “You were promoted! Marina never said.” His smile faltered a little. “She’ll be so glad you’re here. She’s been so worried!”
“She is coming, then?” He asked. I nodded.
“Of course,” Alex frowned. “She wasn’t able to leave The Queen while they were in Westran but she’ll come as soon as she can.” Lefty closed his eyes and shook his head.
“She can’t come here,” he said softly, “it isn’t safe for her.” I frowned at him. “Is your husband here?”
“No,” I said, “I don’t think Tristan is planning to come at all. He’s leaving his regiment soon and needs to tie up loose ends.” He swore.
“He’d have understood at least,” he muttered. “I came to protect my sister and the princess,” he looked at me. “It’s why we wouldn’t let Eric come,” he sighed. “Lady Dugarry, Marina cannot come to Rastan.”
“Why not?” I asked, not indignant on her behalf. If he were trying to avoid her that was a fool’s errand.
“Because Lord Brayton is here, serving as a court advisor to Raniere,” he said. “He’s using an alias, he calls himself Braga, but it’s Brayton.”
I stared at him. That was the feeling. The dark and chill was the same as that night in Brightcoast, when Brayton tried to take Marina.
“You’re sure?” Alex said, looking horrified. We all grew up under Brayton’s regime, the fear and lack of security didn’t effect us as much as others. The guilds protected us, but we weren’t untouched.
“It’s hard to forget the man who tried to drag your soul into darkness.” Lefty said sharply. “It’s why I stopped writing to Marina, it’s nearly killed me, but I couldn’t,” he swallowed, “if he knew that she and I were still,” I rested my hand on his and calmed him. “I won’t risk her safety.”
“Of course,” I said gently. “Alex, do you have any way of getting word of this back home without anyone knowing?” He raised his eyebrows at me. “I’m sorry that was insulting, of course you do.”
“Obviously,” he said, “it was a pleasure, Captain, but I have business to attend to,” he kissed me on the cheek. “Caro,” he embraced Emily. “Emily, be safe.” She nodded and kissed him.
“You’re an interesting group,” He said and crossed his arms. Emily scoffed at him. “I’m shocked Dugarry allowed it.” I shook my head and stood up and went to the mantle.
“You have a very skewed idea of who my husband is,” I said, “do you honestly think he grew up beside Athena and believes he has any say over what the women in his life do to protect Cammadan?” He shook his head.
“There is a difference between a twin sister being Cornan’s own champion and your wife being a spy,” he grinned, “but I see your point.”
“Merchant girls make excellent spies,” Emily said cheerfully, “we’re raised to ingratiate ourselves and trust no one on first glance.” He laughed. Then he looked at me.
“How is she?” He asked softly. I looked at him.
“She’s fine,” I said, “sad, and tired. She’s often frustrated that they haven’t made more progress on the mandate, but she’s well enough.” He closed his eyes and nodded. “You could come back with us. Even for a short time, Alex’s network is,”
“No,” he said, “no, if I go back, if I’m with her again, it has to be forever, I’d never survive leaving her again.” I looked at him and nodded. I wondered if he knew. If he knew that four years ago, in her devastation Marina had taken my husband into her bed.
He nodded. I realized he was wondering the same thing about me.
“She’s ended things with Nika, which I think took a toll” I said gently, he looked away. “But they were content together. They aren’t, Tristan and her, I mean, they did, but it was only once.”
“You forgave it,” he said, his voice caught in his throat. I nodded. “How? I’ve come to accept he’s probably a good man, but there was a time that the thought of your husband even touching her drove me out of my mind.”
“It’s all very complicated,” I said. “He was always very upfront with about his feelings for her, and she was so broken then, I don’t think I could have held onto it,” Not to mention Tristan’s forgiveness of my own indiscretions. He looked at me. “Annalise is the one who drives me out of my mind.” He laughed then.
“I know it’s shocking when Caro reveals she’s actually a flawed human and not a perfect character from a novel,” Emily said. She paused. “Who drives Annalise out of her mind? It isn’t you, I always go the impressions she rather likes you.”
“Brea,” Lefty said at the same time as me and we laughed.
“And Harran is Eric’s tick,” Lefty sighed. “At least we’re all hung up on different people.” I grinned. I liked him, more than I’d expected to. “Makes the mess even messier.”
“That’s true,” I mused. “I wonder what Prince Eric will think of Prior Chastain.”
“That’s the ranger?” Lefty asked. I nodded. “He’s not fond of the idea of him.” I laughed. “Do you think she’ll listen? And stay away.”
“I don’t know,” I said. But I was lying. I did know. And I knew that this news would only bring Marina here faster.