William

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Did she know?” I asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dashing

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

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

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

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

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

“The ceremony is public,” Annalise frowned.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who is the exact same age as Annalise.

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

They were not.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Only one word entered my mind.

Dashing. 

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.

Sword Meets Shadow

I couldn’t sleep and was staring at the ceiling of the tent, I jumped when I heard someone come in and whispered my name.

“Marina!” I turned and saw Annalise. She was dressed in a full ceremonial uniform, which frankly, I didn’t even know she had. I sat up. “Get dressed.”

“I don’t understand,” I said. She sighed, she looked serious.

“Something fine,” she mumbled and went to the wardrobe. “Something that makes you look important, and grave.” I stared at her and stood up. “Blue, it should be blue.”

“Lisette,” I said, “what is it?” She handed me a simple, but lush, blue velvet gown. “I only wore this when I was presented at the temple.”

“That’s perfect,” she said. She helped me slip it on. “We’re going to talk to Brayton.”

“We’re what?” I froze. She looked at me. “Now?”

“Yes,” she said. “If we wait until tomorrow, we won’t be allowed near him alone. And there are things I need to know.”

“Why do I have to go?” I asked softly. She didn’t understand, she didn’t know my fear. Sometimes I think Annalise doesn’t know any fear. She looked at me.

“Because,” she said, “I don’t want to be alone, and no one else will understand.” I nodded  and took a cloak, wrapping my shoulders and covering my head. We reached a tent, where two guards were standing.

“Princess,” one of them said softly, “the prisoner.”

“Will see me,” she said, she looked so dignified, I swallowed and we stepped in.

Brayton was tied to a post, he looked worn, he’d been beaten, but when he saw us, he smiled.

That knowing smirk. The feeling like he could see through my gown, and see through me. Annalise had her hand on her sword.

“Cousin,” he said softly, “and Lady Marina. To what do I owe the honor of this visit?”

“Don’t speak to her,” Annalise said sharply. “You’re going to be executed, and before that I need answers from you.”

“Of course,” he said, still staring at me, I tried to look away but couldn’t. “I did it for the throne, as you know.” He laughed. “You were going to ask me why I killed your parents, weren’t you?”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” she said. “I knew that.” He nodded.

“Ah,” he said, almost gently, “of course, our little seer.” I looked away then. “The Dark Lady came to me. With her brethren in chains, she saw an opportunity.”

“When?” I managed to breath. He smirked.

“She speaks,” he said. “When my Marie wed my cousin.”

“She wasn’t yours.” Annalise said. She sounded wounded. “My mother,” he laughed.

“You wouldn’t understand,” he said, “Lady Marina, however,” I swallowed. “To love and not have it returned is terrible, but the person is yours, and that stab, when they choose someone so close to you.” I closed my eyes. “Well, there is nothing worse, wouldn’t you agree, Marina.”

“Stop,” I said and looked at him. “We aren’t the same.” He laughed again. “You’re going to die.”

“Lady Amina will not accept my death,” he whispered. “Asked the Princess,” he said, I looked at Annalise, I saw fear in her eyes. “She saw you at my side, Lady Marina, my queen.”

“Visions change,” I whispered, “I saw you sitting on the great throne and Dovetail in flames as she entered the city, and here you are, helpless.” Annalise looked at me. “You’re going to die and even if you didn’t, I chose her.”

He looked stunned. For the first time in my life, I saw Lord Brayton, my greatest fear, looking small and broken.

“Queen Amina need a vessel in this world,” he whispered. “I am that vessel. But I doubt she would stop with me.” Annalise nodded.

“Your execution will be tomorrow,” she said simply. “You know your crimes.” She turned and I went to follow her.

“I’d have given you the world,” he said.

“I didn’t want that world,” I said. I walked after Annalise. She was shaking. “It’s over.”

“It clearly isn’t,” she said. “But this battle is.” I nodded. “You’re not like him.”

“No,” I whispered. “But I could be.” She looked at me.

“I’m not marrying him,” she blurted out. I looked at her. “Tristan, not right away, I can’t, I have,” she looked away. “There’s something, I can’t explain, I can’t tell him, and I,” she looked down. “And he loves you.”

“Not like he does you,” I whispered. “And I am over him, I think.” She nodded.

“What if Brayton’s right?” She asked. “What if Amina doesn’t accept his death?” I closed my eyes.

“Then you have to free Rana and Cornan,” I said. “But you have to do that anyway.” She smiled sadly. “I’m sorry, about Caleb.” She closed her eyes.

“I can’t,” she whispered, “he’s gone and, I can’t sense him.” I looked at her. “My parents, I could always, feel them, my mother especially,” she sighed, “but he’s just gone.”

“That’s good,” I said, she looked at me, “it means he’s at rest, Annalise. Your parents lingered because they needed to be avenged.” She nodded.

“I suppose so,” she said. “I’m going to be queen. I don’t know how to do that. Caleb was supposed to help me. He always said he would.”

“You still have Olivia, and Martin and,” I looked at her. “Me, you have me, you’re always going to have me.”