I’ve never been one to not admit when I was wrong, and I have to admit my anxiety about returning to Dovetail was completely unfounded. Each night since we came has been delightful.
Every day it feels like new people are pouring in to join the guard, or to pay homage to Annalise, or to present their heirs.
This happens a lot. Provenence leaders, richer merchants and even vassals have brought every son who’s between the ages of thirteen and thirty. Annalise seems to find it amusing and the best part are the nights.
There are dinners and dancing and a great deal of fun. Tonight we finished eating and I was watching everyone start dancing, and smiling more than I had in ages.
“You’re alone more often than I’d think,” I turned and saw William Santino next to me. I felt my face flush. He looks so handsome in his green guard uniform. His auburn hair was reflecting the candlelight as well. “The Duchess of Brighcoast and the Princess’s right hand.”
“I’m not used to all of this,” I admitted. “Things with Brayton were more,” I cocked my head to the side, “staid and intense than now. It’s wonderful but, new.” He nodded. “What was Pantona like?”
“Not like this,” he laughed, “though Vis-I mean Count Aaron always did his best to keep things festive.” I nodded, I noticed him looking at Annalise, who was dancing with Tristan.
“Did you know them well?” I asked. He nodded.
“Would you like to hear something embarrassing?” He said. I looked at him bewildered. “I asked Count Caleb for her hand two years ago.” I giggled.
“Truly?” I asked. He nodded. “Goddess, what did he say? He didn’t tell you the truth?”
“That she was too young,” he laughed, “which she was. But no, he didn’t tell me the truth, just that he’d agreed to let her choose for herself and I was certainly welcome to continue our friendship.”
“Did she know?” I asked.
“I don’t think so,” he said, “I was going to tell her, it wasn’t as though I was madly in love with her, but we did get on well, and it made sense. We didn’t know who she was, but the best guess was she was Caleb’s bastard daughter, at the very least, so it seemed a good match for me.” I smiled.
“Why didn’t you declare yourself?” I asked, curious.
“Well,” he said softly, “the twins came, and it became very clear that a convenient match with an inn keeper in Pantona was not her destiny.” I nodded. “I still didn’t know who she was, but she was clearly in love with him.”
“I can see that being an obstacle,” I grinned. “Would you like to dance?” He smiled and took my hand and kissed it.
“I would be delighted,” he said. It was a waltz, which meant that his hand was resting on my waist the whole time. He was also chatting and flirting for most of it. I’m sure I was blushing, but the song ended eventually.
“Thank you, Master Santino,” I said softly.
“William,” he said, “please.” I smiled again. “And it was a pleasure, Your Grace.”
“Marina,” I whispered. “If you’re William, I’m Marina.” He nodded.
Later, back in the rooms as I helped Annalise undress, she asked me about it.
“I saw you dancing with William,” she said. “He’s awfully nice isn’t he? I’m so glad he decided to come. With all these strangers, it helps to have someone from home.”
“He is nice,” I said. She looked at me. “He’s an excellent dancer too.” She giggled. “Don’t look at me that way.”
“You like him!” She said and clapped. “Oh, that’s excellent! You would look well together!” I shook my head.
“I don’t know that he feels the same way,” I shrugged, “and besides, I can’t think about such things now.” She sighed as I turned down the bed. “Did you speak to Tristan?” She schrunched her nose.
“Yes,” she mumbled, “it’s all so complicated, and he’s not willing to just wait and see. I don’t even know that Prince Eric wants me, or if,” she sighed, “I don’t know.”
“I understand,” I said softly. “I think he does too, just his pride is wounded.” She sighed.
“I suppose so,” she muttered, “if I could just marry him, I would, but I can’t! I have to at least entertain the provenance leaders and heirs, and the border princes and all of it.” She sighed, “it was easier when it was about killing shadows, don’t you think?”
“For you, yes,” I said. She laughed and yawned getting into bed. “Do you need anything else?” She shook her head. I walked out into the sitting room and saw Lady Athena walk in. “She’s asleep already.”
“Thank the god!” She muttered and fell on the couch. “I noticed you and William Santino tonight.”
“I didn’t notice you in the ballroom tonight,” I teased back. She laughed. “Or Aaron for that matter.”
“He was feeling much better,” she explained with a giggle, “much better, if you catch my meaning.”
“I do,” I said. “I feel silly about William, truly, like I used to about your brother. We only just met, and he is much older.”
“No so much,” Athena frowned. “You’re sixteen and he’s nineteen. I’d say the bigger obstacle is that you’re a Duchess and he’s an inkeeper with a Lord for an Uncle.” I shrugged.
“It was just a dance.” I said softly. But the way he’d looked at me, and the way it felt when he touched me. It was nice.