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.”

Execution

I’d never seen anything like when we rode into the city this morning. Annalise was on her white mare, dressed again in her uniform. She was also wearing the traditional silver circlet of the heir to the throne. She looked taller.

“Once she’s crowned,” Athena said to me, “the silver is yours.” I looked at her. “You’re her heir.”

“No,” I shook my head, frowning, “that can’t be right.”

“Brightcoast supersedes the other provenences,” she shrugged, “it always has, and with you being her cousin. It’s a logical choice.” I nodded. “We have work to do, you and I. We’re ladies in waiting now.”

“I know,” I said, “I think I’ll be very good at that part. Helping her pick out her clothes and brush her hair, and reading aloud.”

“I’ll be abysmal,” Athena sighed. “Tristan gets to be Captain Dugarry of Her Majesty’s personal guard. I will be the lady of the hairbrush. There’s something deeply unfair about that.”

“You could have said no,” I pointed out. Athena raised her eyebrows. “She wouldn’t have sent you away, and you could lead the guard.”

“It doesn’t make sense for me to lead the guard,” she sighed, “once things are settled I’ll be going to Pantona anyway. I’ll be a countess, which is stranger.” I smiled.

“He asked then?” I whispered. She nodded.

“Last night,” she said. “I won’t hold him to it, I mean, if he changes his mind. He’s had a terrible shock.” I looked at her.

“He won’t,” I said. She smiled. We’d reached Market Square. On any other day this place would be full of merchants haggling and children running and playing. It’s always been my favorite place in Dovetail.

Today it was different though. The people were still here but they were silent. Annalise stepped up on a dais.

“I came here today to reclaim my place, and to execute a traitor,” she said. “But the execution of Lord Brayton Tramil will not take place.” Everyone looked at her. Including Brayton. “I am not going to rule my people by fear, and while Brayton’s crimes are severe, I have decided to show mercy, as I believe my father would have,” the people had begun to yell. It took a moment, but I realized they were cheering. “I swear by the Goddess Rana who has Chosen me, and by her consort the God Cornan that he will know greater torment than death.”

We were all stunned as we followed her straight towards the palace and into the courtyard. She dismounted and looked at Countess Olivia who nodded.

“I don’t understand,” Athena said. “What are you going to do if you aren’t going to execute him?”

“Imprison him,” I said. Annalise nodded. “But where would hold him?”

“Here for now,” she said simply, “and I thought they you and I, and the sisters and Mastero Anselm could figure out the next step.” I nodded. I suddenly understood. She wasn’t sure Amina would accept his death.

“It was masterfully done,” General Martin said, “it will appease those that stayed under Brayton’s rule, keep them in line but not infuriate them, and well, frankly, when it comes to learning about your destiny, he’s a resource.” I glanced at Tristan. He looked angry.

“I think it’s what Father would have advised,” Aaron said. Annalise smiled sadly.

“It is what he advised,” she admitted. “That if Brayton wasn’t killed in battle I show mercy.” She sighed. “It wasn’t easy.” She looked at me. “I’m sorry, Marina, you’re more at risk here than anyone.”

“It’s alright.” I said softly. “You’re right, it was a wise course of action.” She nodded. “If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go lie down.” I walked back into the palace and took a deep breath.

The air felt clear for once. The place less haunted. I walked up to our apartment and realized that soon, my bedroom wouldn’t be my bedroom. I was Annalise’s lady in waiting which meant I would move into one of the extra rooms in her apartment.

We also had to decide which one that would be.

Traditionally the princess or queen kept rooms in The Princess Tower, a pretty space toward the west of the palace. But their hasn’t been a reigning queen since Queen Anessa, and the reigning monarch usually lives in the grand middle apartment. Like the great throne, it’s a place Brayton never dared claim as his own.

There’s so much to do.

“Marina?” Lisette walked in. She looks contrite.

“Your Highness,” I said and sat up.

“I know that keeping Brayton alive is harder on you than others,” she said. I nodded. “The others don’t fear him,” she paused, “don’t have reason to fear him the same as you.”

“He’s going to die,” I said. “I’ve never been more sure of anything than that, Annalise. And I won’t go to him, but that I’m less sure of.” She nodded. “I’ll stand by you, of course I will, and Martin was right it is a good political decision.” I sighed. “I need to sleep.”

“Of course,” she said. “If you’re feeling up to it after,” she said softly, “I, there’s a girl who won’t stop following me begging me not to behead her father and she claims to be a friend of yours? Meri or something?”

“Mercy?” I asked. She shrugged. “Her father is a minor lord who used to spit on Brayton’s boots.” Of course Mercy Williams would take this chance to make the day all about her.

“Whoever her father is, she’s quite irritating,” Annalise shrugged. “Athena suggested a tower cell, which is why I need you.” I nodded and laughed.

“I’ll speak to her,” I said. Annalise nodded and left the room. I curled in a ball and slept, Rana saw fit  to not send me any dreams. I thanked her for that.

Attack

We were standing in the trees when two black guards came upon our small camp site. Elodie, who a few minutes before had seemed like simply a perky country girl jumped, quickly dodging a blow from the first guard. She swung her sword back at him and sliced his legs.

The second guard was engaged with The General and The Count, which seemed unfair, and almost certainly was. They fought like lightening, that was until the guard manage to land a blow on the General. Although it didn’t take long for the Count to then behead the guard.

“It’s safe,” he called out and we ran to them. “Martin, are you alright?”

“I will be,” the general stood up. He didn’t look alright.

“You’re bleeding,” Elodie said softly. “We have to get you back to camp.”

“Are they?” I swallowed, staring at the sprawled bodies of the guards.

“Dead?” Elodie said. I nodded. “As close to it as they get. They aren’t alive to begin with so whether than can be dead or not, well, it’s a question of semantics really.” I blinked at her again. “She doesn’t know.”

“No,” The General said, “she does not.”

“They’re shadows,” I said. “They were once men, but they aren’t any more. They’re shadows, now, they serve Queen Amina.” The Count and General looked at my father. “He didn’t tell me anything, I,” I swallowed, “about a year ago I had a dream, where Brayton pledged himself to Amina. I never told anyone, it was too frightening.”

“I have to get to Pantona,” Caleb said and shook his head, “I have to talk to Anselm about it. We suspected, but,” he inhaled. “He actually pledged himself to Queen Amina?” I nodded.

“You can’t go to Pantona now,” Father shook his head. “You’re supposed to be at Brightcoast.”

“Gods,” The Count muttered. “Fine.”

“I don’t mean to break this up,” Elodie was kneeling, hovering her hands over The General’s side. “But he is losing a lot of blood, if we ride hard we can get to the camp by nightfall.”

“Is he alright to ride?” Papa asked.

“Stop talking about me like I’m not here,” the general grumbled and we got onto our horses. I winced and we all started riding through the woods again, moving too fast for conversation. We arrived at a large encampment, I exhaled.

“It’s beautiful,” I said softly.

“Aye, it is,” Elodie smiled. “Busy place, full of folk who want to help your cousin rise to her proper place.”

“Why did you join the resistance?” I asked. She smiled.

“There wasn’t really any other place for me to go,” she shrugged, “my parents owned a tavern in Dorin, but they refused to pay the local merchant family, The Dumanis protection money. It was burned to the ground, and they died.”

“I’m sorry,” I said. She nodded.

“Lady Athena found me making my way south and brought me here,” she explained. “She feels responsible, as Carland Dumanis is her grandfather. Lord Brayton isn’t the only evil in Cammadan, Lady Marina, and if Princess Annalise returns I expect much justice to be done in her name.”

“You know Lady Athena and Sir Tristan then?” I whispered. Elodie nodded. “Their grandfather had your parents killed?”

“They don’t like to talk about it much,” Elodie shrugged, “but aye, their mother’s father.” I was quiet as we rode into the camp itself.

I used to go to the market, in Dovetail and the camp reminded me of that. People shouting to one another, children laughing and playing, the kind of busy organized chaos that is deeply comforting in a lot of ways.

“Marina,” Papa said, as we reached a large purple tent. “This is us.” I nodded to him and then to Elodie who smiled.

“I hope to see you soon, My Lady,” she said. She handed me a leather pouch. “For your discomfort. Rub it on your sore muscles, it will help.”

“Thank you, Mistress Elodie,” I said, dismounting and entering the tent. There was a small couch and I flopped on it. Papa smiled. “I like her.”

“I thought you might,” he said. “I know none of this is easy for you.” I nodded. That was an understatement, but at least he was admitting it.

“Papa,” I asked softly. He looked at me. “Count Caleb mentioned, after we talked about the Shadows that he needed to go to Pantona to speak with someone.”

“Mastero Anselm,” he said. I frowned. There were no more Masteros, Brayton had them killed because they wouldn’t recognize him as king. “He went into hiding with Anton and Marie, and he’s supervised Annalise’s magical education.”

“Oh,” I said softly. “I feel like there’s so much I don’t know.” I leaned back against the chair.

“It hurt me to keep secrets from you,” he said softly, “truly, my darling.” I nodded again. “You kept secrets too it seems.”

“I know,” I whispered, “but it was terrifying.”

Something New

I haven’t written lately, because I hate riding in the open countryside. I was surprised when Papa said we weren’t taking a coach, though I’m not sure why. He said we’d move faster this way and also because we sent our coach to Brightcoast to throw off Brayton.

This all makes sense, but it does not make a week on horseback any more fun. We’re a days ride away from the camp now. Papa, me, and Count Caleb. We’ve met up with General Martin now as well, and another royal guard named Elodie Wills.

“You aren’t used to this,” Elodie said as we settled in to eat. I nodded. “It’s better at camp, I promise, nothing like the palace, I’m sure, but better than this.”

“Why are we doing this?” I asked. She smiled.

“Camp’s place is secret,” she shrugged, and pulled out a cloth to clean her sword, “we had to make sure you weren’t followed.” I nodded. “Are you really a psychic? We have healer magicians at camp, I can heal a little, but nothing like that. No high magic.” I blinked at her. She was speaking so quickly.

I was so used to court life, I hadn’t thought about the distinction between high and low magic in a long time. Not since Sister Mara, who’d come to Cammadan with my aunt and father from their homeland Phania, had taught me when I was very small. She’d always said it was a petty distinction, usually used to make the work of women and uneducated folk seem unimportant.

“I well,” I said softly, “I have Dreams sometimes, and then things happen.” She nodded. “I suppose it’s high magic, but I’ve never thought of it as such. It’s mostly useless and kind of a nuisance.” She smiled. “You can heal?”

“A bit,” Elodie said, “if you have any magic at all you could probably learn.” I looked at her.

“That sounds like a very good idea,” Papa said settling in with us. I looked at him. “It would give you something to do, rather than just wait. Sister Mara said you had gifts, Marina, this might be one of them.”

“I suppose so,” I said, but something felt warm in me, right. I did like the idea of healing and having something to do.

“Elodie,” General Martin shouted, she snapped to attention, holding her sword out. “Someone’s coming.” I stared wide eyed. “Les,” my father looked at him, “can you get Marina to safety?” He nodded. Count Caleb nodded at Him. “Your Grace.”

“General,” he said, grabbing an axe and swinging it. I swallowed and took my father’s hand, running into the trees.

Lord Brayton: King Of Shadows

I walked into the large throne room and held my breath and counted to ten. I don’t like being in here. The great throne sits behind the large chair that Brayton has had made for himself.

After the summer. After Annalise is seventeen he can probably claim the throne and crown. Flanked at both his sides are his black guards, not proper royal protectors, like Sir Tristan and Lady Athena, but tall, large terrifying men dressed all in black, walk with him everywhere.

Also in the room are a few courtiers. Mercy Williams’s father, Lord Carver, who is so far up Lord Brayton’s, well, a lady shouldn’t say where, but he’s one of them. And as a surprise, Count Caleb is here. He’s my father’s closest friend, and I know now more than ever that he’s on Annalise’s side, but it’s always been a little off putting how good he is at acting like he doesn’t care one way or the other.

“Ah,” Brayton smiles from the chair, I try not to shiver. “Lady Marina, so nice of you to join us.”

“I over slept, My Lord,” I said and sank into a low curtsey. “I hope I can be forgiven.” He laughed.

“Of course,” he said. “Your father has requested that the two of you be allowed to spend the summer at Brightcoast.”

“Yes,” I mumbled, I hated the way he was staring at me. It’s not as though I’m dense, he’s not the only man to look at me. But it’s the way he does, and that one Dream. The one of him with her that I find it terrifying. “If it’s alright.”

“I had many good days myself at Brightcoast,” he said. I nodded. “I’ve not thought it appropriate to move the court there in summer, not without our dear cousin.” I nodded.

“Of course,” I said softly, “I pray for the princess’s return each morning, as I know you do as well.” He nodded.

“You’ll be missed of course,” he said, “but of course I cannot deny you the right to know your home.”

“Thank you my lord,” I said softly, “if it pleases you, I’d like to keep packing.” He nodded and waved me away. I curtsied again and headed towards the door. I got outside and took a deep breath, pressing my back against the cool stone.

I was remembering the Dream. I’ve only had it once, and I never told anyone, not even my father. I was in a great hall, not the hall in Dovetail, it was even larger, and lit by candles, but the light they gave off was an eerie blue. Lord Brayton was kneeling before a throne, where a lady was seated. She was dressed entirely in black and her skin was ghostly pale. I knew her immediately, this was Amina, the Dark Lady, The Goddess of Hell.

“Rise, king of shadows,” she said, “rise and take the world above in my name.”

And then I woke up. It wasn’t long after that when Brayton began singling me out.

“You did well,” I opened my eyes to see Count Caleb standing in front of me.

“Thank you,” I said and we started walking. “I’m trying not to be afraid of him, but he’s so,” I shuddered. The Count laughed.

“Brayton has always been unsettling,” he said. “And you have more reason than most to be unsettled by him.” I looked at him. “He has hinted to your father that he’s going to ask for a betrothal.” I blinked at him. “He didn’t want to alarm you.”

“It would have,” I said. He nodded. “I won’t marry him.”

“No,” Caleb shook his head, “nor would anyone expect you to.” I looked at him. I noticed the way he looked at me for the first time.

“We look alike, don’t we?” I asked. He smiled. “An-Lisette, and I?” He nodded.

“It’s uncanny,” he said, “except for the eyes, of course. She has her father’s eyes, grey, like a storm. You look even more like Marie than she does, come to think of it.”

“My father says that too,” I said. He smiled. “What is she like?”

“You’ve Seen her, haven’t you?” He asked. I nodded. “But that isn’t the same is it? Your Aunt used to try to explain.” We were back at our rooms and in the parlor. “She’s bright, and funny. She talks too much. She can be impatient.” He was leaning back and smiling. He was thinking about his daughter, I realized. He’d raised my cousin since she was two years old.

“Can she fight?” I managed to whisper. He smiled and nodded.

“Better than any of Brayton’s black guards,” he said. “Better even than your Sir Tristan, I think.”

“He’s not my,” I blushed. He smiled and stood up, kissing me on the forehead.

“I won’t tell,” he said. “And you don’t have to marry Brayton.” I smiled.

“She can fight him?” I asked again. He looked seriously at me.

“Yes, Lady Marina,” he said, “if there is one thing that I’ve been sure of for a very long time, it is that Lisette is more than capable of fighting Brayton.”