Epilogue {Part Two}: A Crown of Sorrow



Carina exhaled slowly and turned as the three Bastiallano knights jogged up behind her. The General, a man who had insulted the Church and the Royal family by wearing his helmet inside the cathedral, bowed respectfully. His subordinates mimicked their commanders’ motions silently.

“It is my responsibility to safeguard your person, your Grace,” the General explained as he straightened. “To do that, I must remain at your side.”

“You are bold,” Carina observed with a pointed look at his helmet. “You would make demands of your Duchess without a proper introduction and with your face covered?” She scoffed and turned around. “I am headed to the west chapel room where Lady Hana is preparing for her ennoblement. You may escort me there.”

“Yes, your Grace,” the General responded as he strode up beside her and offered his arm.

“I can walk that far without assistance,” Carina retorted with a sharp glare at his helmet.

Their muffled footsteps proceeded through the hall as the choir sang once more, signifying the beginning of Lord Marco’s ennoblement.

‘Thankfully, Nicholas insisted on Eleanora escorting Marco for this ceremony since they are cousins.’ Carina smiled as she brushed her fingers over the small swords on her dress that were roughly the length of her palm. As much as she would have liked to spectate Marco’s ceremony, having never witnessed an ennoblement ceremony before, aside from her own just now, Carina had a more important task to fulfill.

A nervous but excited smile crossed her face as the Duchess’s pace quickened and the marked chapel door came into view. Before Carina could raise her hand to knock, a familiar voice that did not belong to Lady Hana rang through the closed door.

“You will regret this decision, Lady Hana!” Lady Isabella snarled furiously. “You and that half-blood betrayed my daughter’s trust and favor. The idea that you would turn on Eleanora now, all because some half-blood got lucky, just goes to prove what I’ve known all along. You were using Eleanora! I will never forgive—”

Carina shoved the door open and glared at Eleanora’s mother, who had Hana pinned down in a chair against the wall. “You are distressing my friend, Lady Isabella,” Carina said coldly as she entered. “I believe it’s high time you left. Your nephew is being made into a Viscount as we speak.”

Hana’s turquoise blue eyes flew towards Carina with a welcoming smile. The blonde woman took in a quick breath and then offered Isabella a cold smile. “I owe you nothing, Isabella. I am grateful to Eleanora for her friendship and kindness. And while I hope to remain friends in the future, I do not belong to her.”

“You—” Isabella hissed, then withdrew her hands from the arms of the chair as she stepped back with a repulsed expression. “How quickly you forget what you were when my daughter found you! With that attitude, it would be better if you had nothing more to do with Eleanora in the future.”

“If that is Eleanora’s wish, then I will respect it,” Hana replied as she crossed her arms. “I certainly have no desire to see you ever again in the future, Lady Isabella.”


“Lady Isabella,” Carina interrupted as her gloved hands tightened into fists. “I believe you must have misheard me. Leave now!”

Isabella whipped around to face Carina. The noblewoman’s amber eyes, which very much resembled Eleanora’s, ran over the Duchess’s dress, the circlet of swords she wore, and the General who stood in the doorway behind her. “Oh, how far you have risen, Maura. Do you really think a title, some pretty clothes, and a new name will do anything to hide your status as a half-blood?”

Carina placed a hand against her stomach as she threw back her head and laughed. Isabella started in surprise.

“I admit,” Carina said quietly as she moved closer, “that I did not expect such discrimination from a half-witch like yourself, Lady Isabella.” The Duchess smiled as she relished the look of uncertainty that crossed Isabella’s face. “But since you brought it up, I would like to take a moment to correct your misunderstanding.” Carina paused as she traced one of the swords below her throat. “I don’t give a damn about my heritage.”

Isabella scowled and clenched her jaw stubbornly before making a reply, “That—”

“I was not finished,” Carina cut in sharply. “You should know that the more each and every one of you try to hold me back with such pathetic insults, the more I want to rise and bury you all in my success. I am no longer Maura, the unfortunate half-blood of an abysmal noble family, which no one can recall. I am Lady Kirsi Valda, Duchess of Bastiallano, Lady Protector of the Royal Family and the Kingdom of Lafeara.”

Isabella flinched as Carina closed the distance between them and leaned towards the noblewoman’s ears. “In case you and Eleanora haven’t noticed, the more you try to knock me down, the further I rise above you. So please, tell her Highness for me that if she does not wish to see me rise further still, the both of you should be careful not to become my enemy.”

“You!” Isabella’s strangled reply was quickly followed by a hand flying towards the Duchess’s face.

Carina caught the noblewoman’s wrist and squeezed as the cold veins of her magic bit into Isabella’s skin and forced the crown princess’s mother to her knees with a startled cry of pain.

“That was my last warning to both of you,” Carina murmured with a glimmer of disgust as she released the noblewoman’s hand. “The next person who assaults either myself or one of my people in the future will suffer the consequences ten-fold.”

Isabella’s glare was broken by sobs of pain as she cradled her wrist, now discolored in a purple-black hue that stretched across her limp white hand.

“General,” Carina turned towards the knight who had entered the room behind her but silently remained by the door. “Have Lady Isabella escorted outside the cathedral and leave two of my knights by the door. Lady Isabella Kensington is not permitted entry until after the ceremony has concluded.”

“Understood, your Grace,” the knight commander replied as he bowed his head. He signaled the two knights, who quickly entered the room, grabbed Isabella’s arms, and dragged the injured woman outside.

“By what authority!” Isabella screamed in pain and fury. “How dare you!”

“If you have a problem with my order, take it up with the Crown Prince,” Carina replied with a cold smile. “But before you complain, remember what secrets Lady Hana and myself are privy to from our service to your daughter, Crown Princess Eleanora.”


Lady Isabella’s insults were cut off as one of the knights roughly covered her mouth, and the General shut the door in her face.

Carina laughed mirthlessly as she listened to Isabella being dragged away. Then she quickly shook her head and turned towards Hana. “Are you alright? Did she hurt you?”

“No,” Hana replied as she stood and eagerly took one of Carina’s hands. “No, I am just fine. But I’m grateful that you came. I would not have been as brave without you by my side.”

Carina squeezed the older girl’s fingers in relief but then stepped back to examine Hana’s ensemble.

It was a simple grey and white dress made of the finest silk from the Holy Maiden Boutique. Pearls fell like raindrops across the glistening material that formed a high neckline beneath Hana’s golden locks, which hung a bit loosely beneath the regal crown of pearls adorned by ornamental white flowers.

Carina brushed back the loose strands of hair and contemplated a quick touch-up when a knock at the door pulled her attention away as the General opened it to reveal a nun.

“Your Grace. Viscount Marco’s ceremony has just concluded. It is Lady Hana’s turn now.”

“Yes, thank you. We are on our way,” Carina replied as Hana turned towards the mirror and smoothed out her hair. “General, you may follow if you must but at a discreet distance for the ceremony.”

“Our knights are still guarding the aisle for your escort,” the Commander replied, unfazed. “I will escort you to the main doors and then meet you out the side door once the ceremony is over.”

Carina nodded, satisfied, though a bit uncomfortable with the thought of a constant personal bodyguard. ‘Why is it that the more power I acquire, the less freedom I retain?’

“I am ready, Duchess Kirsi,” Hana murmured, her voice low and shaking with apparent nerves.

“I will be right beside you every step of the way,” Carina assured her as she took the older girl’s arm and wrapped it around her own, mimicking the position the Dowager had used to escort her. “It will be over before you know it.”

Hana nodded as Carina led her out of the small chapel room. “I know—it’s just—a lot of people.”

“Think of them as lifeless statues,” Carina suggested as she rubbed Hana’s cold hand between her gloved fingers.

“What if I forget the words of the oath?”

“You are making your oath to me,” Carina reminded her with a smile. “As long as you speak confidently and with honesty, I will accept your oath no matter how riddled with mistakes it may be.”

Hana snorted at that and shot Carina a reproachful look that quickly transformed into a grateful smile. “Thank you, Duchess.”

“Please,” Carina grimaced and let out a sigh. “No titles when it is just the two of us.”

“Then—Kirsi?” Hana murmured with a note of hopefulness.

“That—” Carina hesitated as she glanced from Hana towards the doors of the inner sanctorium. “Yes, that will be fine, though the name will take some getting used to.”

‘From Maura to Kirsi?’ Carina sighed and straightened her spine, giving Hana a moment to prepare herself as the page at the doors waited for her signal to announce their arrival. ‘I wish I could just go by my old name. Sometimes it feels like Carina doesn’t even matter anymore.’

‘You will always be Carina to me,’ Viktor’s soothing words flowed from the bracelet at her wrist.

Carina blinked and smiled. ‘Thank you.’

“Your Grace,” the page prompted nervously.

“Are you ready?” Carina asked Hana with an eager smile.

“Yes,” was the trembling girl’s tense reply.

Carina’s smile widened, but she composed herself before nodding to the page.

The doors opened before them as the choir sang out once more in jubilation.

“Announcing her Grace, Duchess Kirsi Valda of Bastiallano and her Ladyship, Lady Hana!”


Dowager Octavia smiled as her half-brother slid up silently beside her. Below her balcony view of the ceremony, the audience of nobles remained focused on Kirsi, who stood beside Crown Prince Nicholas to receive Hana’s Oath of Loyalty.

“Are you satisfied?” Octavia asked smugly.

“Until I saw her bring the crown princess’s mother to her knees, I thought you had made a grave error,” the General replied in a low voice. “The magic is the same, but somehow she doesn’t feel like the Kirsi we knew.”

“Yes, Kirsi hinted that there was a complication in her rebirth due to Arachne’s meddling,” Octavia replied with a shrug. “I don’t understand it, but I have seen the effects myself. Sometimes Kirsi seems like a different person entirely.”

“Do you think that can be used to our advantage?”

Octavia scoffed and remained silent for a while as her new granddaughter placed the silver medallion around Hana’s neck. “Whatever piece of Kirsi’s soul she may be, I believe Maura will be easier to control than Kirsi.”

“But would either of them be willing to make such a sacrifice?”

Octavia smiled, a chilling, cold vision that resembled the predator her family had long taken as their sigil in memory of the Isbrand Kings. “Kirsi had no weakness because she did not allow herself to become attached to anyone or anything, but Maura—” she nodded to where the Duchess raised Nicholas’s sword to tap Hana’s shoulders. Kirsi’s arms wavered beneath the weight of the blade as she carefully removed it from Hana’s right shoulder and then announced her new title as Viscountess of Somerset, a province of Bastiallano. “This Maura has a tangible weakness that we can use to persuade her to our cause.”

“Ah!” the General chuckled. “Your favorite kind of blackmail, Sister.” He stepped back as the Duchess and Viscountess both curtsied to the crown prince and crown princess. Eleanora’s face twisted with marked unhappiness as the Prime Minister escorted the Duchess and Viscountess once more towards the altar’s side door. “But are you truly prepared to sacrifice Kirsi?”

Octavia’s smile faltered for a moment before her expression hardened. “To save Viktor and the last of our coven, I would sacrifice everything—even you, Brother.”

The General nodded and bowed deeply to the Queen Regent. “That is why the last of the ice witches have placed their trust in you, my Queen.”

“Return to your task and keep that helmet on until Kirsi has returned to the Duchy. It would not do for the Pope to learn you are here.”

“Yes, your Grace.”


Carina let out a sigh of relief and laughed to see the same emotion written clearly across Hana’s pale face. “You performed perfectly!”

“I need some air,” the new Viscountess mumbled as she clutched her chest. “I could feel—all of them staring—Oh—I think I might—”

“Please don’t be sick,” Carina replied hurriedly as she glanced about for the knight commander who had promised to wait for them here. ‘So much for protection, but I’m not going to wait for him.’ “There should be an alcove with a window we can use this way.”

Hana nodded and stumbled in the direction Carina pointed towards as she leaned on the Duchess’s arm.

“You really don’t like crowds,” Carina joked lightly as she rubbed the older girl’s back.

A door from the inner sanctorium opened, and they both jumped slightly as Percy stepped out into the hall.

“Duchess,” Percy greeted with a half bow. “I wanted to—”

“I’m sorry,” Carina replied as Hana clutched her stomach with a painful gag. “Lady Hana isn’t feeling well. We were headed to the—”

Percy nodded and slid an arm around Hana’s waist while he placed two fingers lightly against her temple and then below the bridge of her nose. The Viscountess’s eyes fluttered in surprise, but her pained expression relaxed with evident relief.

“What did you—” Carina stepped back as Percy lifted Hana into his arms and turned towards her.

“Is there a private room or a window where she can rest? This is just a temporary remedy,” the Earl explained.

“There is a balcony window up ahead,” Carina replied and hurriedly led the way.

The alcove window overlooked the small back garden of flowers and outer walls of the cathedral grounds that separated it from the rest of the capital. Hana thanked the Earl as he placed her on the circular bench and then closed her eyes as she leaned back and focused on breathing in the fresh air.

“She should be alright in a few moments,” Percy said as he moved to stand beside Carina in the archway. “And I suppose I should also add, congratulations, Duchess.” He bowed, and this time drew her hand to his lips.

“Your Grace.”

Carina turned in surprise to find the missing General standing behind them in the hall.

“Ah, your new watchdog,” Percy muttered with a hint of irritation as he released Carina’s hand.

“Ah, the esteemed Earl Hawthorne,” the General greeted in a less than friendly tone.

“I thought you preferred to avoid public ceremonies and the capital, Commander,” Percy queried with a hint of mockery. “Perhaps you should remove your helmet and get some fresh air yourself?”

Carina frowned. She couldn’t tell if the knight was staring at her or the Earl behind his concealing helmet. “You said you would be waiting for me after the ceremony, Commander. If this is the extent of your reliability—”

“Forgive me, Duchess,” the General interrupted as he dropped to one knee. “The Dowager wanted to have a word with me regarding your security, and I failed to return to the appointed place in time. I will accept whatever punishment you would bestow for my tardiness.”

“I—” Taken aback at his sudden submissiveness, Carina exhaled and looked away. “Never mind. There is no need for punishment. We will both need time to adjust to our—current arrangement.”

“Thank you, your Grace.”

Percy scoffed and brushed past the knight as he stepped out into the hallway. “Is it so easy to beg for forgiveness, Commander?”

“I find that acknowledging one’s mistake is the first step to correcting bad behavior, my Lord.”

Carina shook her head at the continued exchange of hostilities between them. ‘Was there some sort of power struggle between Bastiallano and Hawthorne in the past that I am unaware of?’

While the Hawthornes were known for their political power, as a member of the House of Lords and leaders of their own coven, the Bastiallano Duchy was respected for their military forces, which were on parallel with those of Lord Commander General Stryker, who controlled the only other Duchy in Lafeara.

“Will you be returning to Iris Palace after the ceremony?” Percy asked as he ignored the still kneeling knight and refocused on Carina. “Or are you headed to your new Duchy?”

“The Duchy,” Carina replied promptly. “Once Hana is feeling better.” She glanced back through the archway towards the Viscountess who was gazing out into the garden with a distant expression.

“Then, perhaps I might visit you there,” Percy suggested hesitantly. “That is—I hope your new duties won’t prevent you from continuing your involvement with the orphanage at Turnbell Manor.”

“That was a charity for the Crown Princess,” Carina reminded him pointedly as she turned to meet the Earl’s winter-grey eyes. “But—I would like to see that those children are given the best opportunity that money can buy. A safe place to recover and work towards their future.”

Percy smiled. “On that, we agree. And Miss Ivy will be relieved to hear of it. She still lacks confidence in her ability to lead as Matron.”

Carina shook her head but smiled in understanding. “Then I will have to encourage her. In any case, I would like to seek her advice on the restructuring of the old manor in a few days—after I’ve had a chance to survey my new Duchy.”

“The entirety of the Duchy could take weeks to explore,” the General replied as he rose and lifted both hands towards his helmet. “Pardon my interruption, your Grace, but I would like to correct another previous error.”

Carina watched as the General pulled the helmet free and then shook out his silvery-white hair. Beneath short bangs matted against a handsome, timeless face, ice-blue eyes met hers before the knight bowed. “I wish to greet you properly this time, your Grace. I am Lord Isaac Valda, Commander of the Bastiallano Armies.”

“Valda?” Carina echoed in surprise.

“An honorary name,” Percy corrected with a smug look of disdain. “He is a half-blood like you, Duchess. But his sister, the Dowager, recognized him as family and brought him into the Duchy as its new Commander when she took her inheritance back from King Henri.” The Earl crossed his arms as he stepped towards the knight. “However, the title of Commander rightfully belongs to the Duke or Duchess, does it not General?”

“It was a title and position I was temporarily graced with while my sister served as Queen and then Regent,” Isaac replied with a humble bow. “I am content to see it go to our new Duchess who was chosen by my sister’s own hand.”

‘Are you really though?’ Carina couldn’t help but wonder. There was something in the General’s manner that made her feel uneasy. Or perhaps she was simply shocked to learn that the Dowager would accept a half-blood as family and grant him such a lofty position. ‘Well, it would certainly explain the rumors that Octavia has a fondness for half-bloods.’

“I thank you for your service, Commander—General Isaac, but—” Carina tilted her head quizzically, “—why did you insist on wearing your helmet inside the cathedral?”

General Isaac offered a bemused smile before he pulled the helmet firmly back on. “Because there are certain people who would cause trouble for the Duchy if they knew I was still alive, your Grace. I received permission from the previous Duchess to wear a helmet in public no matter the occasion to prevent such an occurrence.”

‘People who would cause trouble for the Duchy of Bastiallano and the Dowager?’ Carina’s confusion and curiosity rose further still.

Percy appeared a bit perplexed by the General’s words but grunted and said nothing in return.

“Thank you for explaining,” Carina replied as she turned back towards Hana, who appeared to have recovered sufficiently enough to join them. “But perhaps such misunderstandings should be cleared up to avoid offending the Church or Royal family in the future.”

Isaac rested his hand casually on the hilt of his sword before replying, “Some pasts are harder to outrun than others, your Grace.”

Carina nodded, distracted by Hana’s hand upon her arm but determined to get to the bottom of whatever secret her General was hiding.

“I am feeling better if you would like to leave now, Duchess,” Hana murmured with an apologetic smile.

“Yes, alright,” Carina smiled back as she pressed the back of her hand to Hana’s forehead gently. “We’ll stop in the capital to pick up a quick snack to settle your stomach, then head to the Duchy.”

“Then I shall wish your Grace a safe journey home,” Percy said as he stepped back and offered a bow. “And I look forward to your visit to Hawthorne.”

Carina glanced towards him warily. Although her anger towards the Earl had abated, she was still conscious of Percy’s ambition and concerned about the movements of the Covens he now controlled.

‘If Percy continues towards his goal to overthrow Nicholas, will I have to fight him head-on as Duchess of Bastiallano?’

General Isaac gave the Earl a silent look before he turned and led the way back through the hall where four other knights from the Duchy arrived to escort them.

As the uniformed knights in black and silver fell in step around them, Carina felt a chill of unease settle into her stomach.

‘If the Isbrand King wanted the Hargreve family eradicated, then wouldn’t the Dowager and Kirsi share the same goal and desire? Will my oath to Nicholas be enough to stop them?’ The gloved fingers of her free hand tightened around one of the small swords which adorned her dress. ‘I have already seen how easy it is for Kirsi to stand back and watch others die. I need to be careful when and how often I allow her to take control. This is my life, not hers.’

As the cathedral’s main doors approached, Carina glanced towards Hana’s bright turquoise-blue eyes, flushed cheeks, and hopeful smile. ‘These people are important to me. I won’t let anyone, not even Kirsi, place them in jeopardy.’

“So you are choosing them over me?” Kirsi’s voice whispered disapprovingly in the back of Carina’s mind.


“Even though you and I are the same person?”

‘We want different things and have different methods for obtaining them,’ Carina replied grimly.

“You are just as prepared to kill as I am,” Kirsi challenged. “What is so different about us?”

‘Then let me ask you this, if I die, will I be reborn—or will it be you?’ Carina demanded sharply.

Silence was her only answer, and it confirmed something Carina already feared.

‘Then if this is the only second chance I will get, I will continue to live it my way—not yours.’

“I am not your enemy, Carina.”

‘But are you my ally? Can I completely trust you?’

“Trust is a weakness. The only way to survive in this hellish world—is to remove any weakness that can be used against you.” A wave of cold rippled through Carina’s left arm and made Hana shiver. “She is a weakness, and so is the other one you are so eager to protect.”

‘You and I have different ideas of what weakness is.’

“Fair enough,” Kirsi whispered as her presence withdrew. “But it would be better if you embraced your Frozen heart instead of allowing the people around you to weaken it.”

‘Says the person who trusts the Dowager,’ Carina returned with a wry grin.

“I never said I trusted Octavia, but she and her family swore an Oath of Allegiance to me a long time ago. They also have a deep respect for the Isbrand Kings and their descendants,” Kirsi replied confidently. “Anyway, should they betray us, I will be able to defeat them all easily.”

‘You mean you will kill them all?’

“What better punishment could there be for such a betrayal?”

Carina sighed and felt Hana’s worried stare as the knights cleared a path down the stairs through the departing nobles.

“They are staring again,” Hana whispered.

“Let them stare,” Carina replied firmly and squeezed Hana’s tense hand. “We will show them what two powerful and independent noblewomen can do for the future of Lafeara.”

Hana nodded and smiled as she turned to look at Carina. “I look forward to serving you, my Duchess, and seeing all the good, kind, and generous deeds you will do for the common people.”

Carina laughed as Hana’s encouragement brightened her spirit. They made their way down the cathedral steps to where two carriages adorned with the sigil of Bastiallano’s white wolf waited for them. “I will ride with Viscountess Hana in the second carriage,” she informed General Isaac as he stepped forward to take her hand.

“Very well, your Grace. I will inform the Queen Regent,” he replied formally.

“Are you sure you shouldn’t ride with her?” Hana whispered nervously as Carina steered her towards the second carriage. “The Dowager is your grandmother now.”

‘It’s Kirsi that Octavia is fond of, not me.’

“It will be fine. I can visit the Queen Regent at Iris Palace whenever I want in the future,” Carina replied dismissively. She stopped as a knight opened the carriage door, her attention focused on the tiny fluttering wings of a blue butterfly that flew down suddenly to land on the ornamental white flowers that adorned Hana’s hair.

“What is it?” Hana asked as she glanced from the open carriage door to Carina.

“Nothing, I just remembered something—” Carina murmured with a secretive smile as the butterfly flew off to find real flowers.

Hana raised a brow as she followed Carina inside the carriage. “More secrets?” the Viscountess murmured as she settled into the cushioned seat across from the Duchess and sighed. “I suppose I will have to try harder to earn your trust.”

‘Trust?’ Carina frowned as she turned to stare out the carriage’s glass window at the crowd of commoners who had come to spectate the ceremony through the cathedral’s iron gates. ‘I still don’t understand your relationship with Kirsi.’ She tapped her finger absently against the medallion at her chest as the knight shut the carriage door. ‘But still, even then, I trust you. I threw myself into a den of wolves to break you free. Now that I have the Duchy and Frost’s growing empire to ensure our safety, I can focus on the outbreak of plague that will arrive after the Coronation. I can also protect those children Tristan rescued and save thousands more by taking down Marquess Borghese.’

Carina’s fingers clenched around the medallion as her many goals suddenly merged in a straight line before her.

‘Perhaps I can do what I set out to do. Perhaps I can still change the future without becoming Queen and throwing this world into further chaos.’

The crack of a whip proceeded their forward momentum as the two carriages pulled towards the opening gates and pranced down the capital’s streets.

A thousand faces blurred outside her windows as commoners and nobles alike turned to stare after the regal carriage and its procession of knights. A group of children ran after them and waved with eager smiles at Carina through her window. She waved back before closing the curtains, trying to ease the growing tension in her chest.

It wasn’t that Carina felt greedy for power. She had taken on the position of an attendant to get close to Hana. Then she had killed Ambassador Haemish to prevent him from harming Hana, as he had done in the past timeline when he tried to take her away by force.

But there was still the mystery surrounding Eleanora’s death, along with the poisoning of Consort Rosamund’s unborn child to deal with. If Carina was going to spare Lafeara’s unwitting citizens from Nicholas’s tyrannical rule and the wrath of the Emperor’s war that would surely follow if Eleanora died once more in this timeline, then she needed to fill in the gaps of Maura’s memories.

‘And there is also the assassination attempt that happens during the Royal Hunt, which is quickly approaching.’

Carina jumped as Hana’s hand touched hers before the Viscountess moved across the carriage to sit beside Carina and wrap her arm around the Duchess’s shoulder.

“You will be a wonderful Duchess, Kirsi,” Hana murmured encouragingly. “And whatever fates the gods may bring, I will be on your side to help you until the very end.”

“Even if that fate should force me to act against Eleanora?” Carina pressed curiously.

Hana’s gaze faltered as her expression grew grim. “Eleanora is guided by her ambition, desires, and fears,” she replied. “You did all you could to help her, and she still turned on you—”

“Eleanora was jealous,” Carina countered with a soft laugh. “She thought I was stealing you away from her.”

“And you have—in a way.” Hana smiled sadly. “But Eleanora chose her ambition over me a long time ago. Even in the beginning, I was only a distraction to help her forget Tristan. It—took me a while to accept that reality and let go.”

“Well, you are free now and a Viscountess with powerful friends,” Carina replied in a theatrical voice, attempting to lighten the mood.

Hana snorted and nodded, but her eyes remained veiled behind a layer of sadness. “Whatever the future holds for us, I will treasure each day that I have left with you.”

Carina smiled as she lowered her head to lean against Hana’s shoulder. “Whatever troubles or enemies the future holds, the one they should be afraid of is me.”


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