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Finding a Home- The story of Numair
by me!!     Claire
Scroll down until you see red to find the new part.    

       Heat lay over the city of Carthak like a blanket. Inside the palace, though it was magically cooled, the warmth seemed to make the place stifling. Not for the first time, I cursed the heavy black robes I wore to signify my rank as one of the most powerful mages in the world.
“Arram,” I heard the shrill voice of Varice. “There you are, I've been looking for you.” I turned toward her, trying to wipe the sense of uneasiness I felt off my face.
   “Sorry, love, I was just thinking.”
   She kissed me, “His Imperial Majesty is looking for you.”
   I sighed, “Can it wait until morning?”
   Varice looked at me sternly. “When his Majesty wants something, it doesn't wait until morning.”
   She was right, but answering to Ozorne's beck and call was annoying me more and more. As I went to find him, I was lost in thought. I had known Ozorne for half my life and we had been close friends for years. Lately, ever since Ozorne had been crowned Emperor, he had changed.
   “Arram,” Ozorne emerged from a corridor. “I assume Varice found you.”
   “She usually knows where to look.” I replied.
   His hair was sparkling with gold and his dark face was painted the same color. Gold was Ozorne favorite color, so as a result he covered himself in it. The boy I had befriended ten years ago would never have worn so many rings and bracelets, he would have called them impractical. That boy would have never worn face paint, instead his face would have been covered in dirt. But, as I said before, Ozorne had changed.
   “We have a slight problem,” he told me as we entered his council's room.
   “A slave uprising,” Ozorne sat in his golden chair covered in emeralds.
   I sat in a chair on his right hand side. “That could be more than a slight problem, the slaves outnumber us.”
   “Which is why we must crush it before this rebellion spreads.” His eyes glittered dangerously. “I have appointed you to be in charge of this small uprising, I expect you are well suited to the task.”
   I bit my tongue so as not to say something I would latter regret. Ozorne knew I didn't like slavery and didn't own any slaves. There were hundreds of men who would handle this better. But I knew better than to argue with Ozorne, I would have to halt this insurrection.

   “Sir! We've cornered the last of the slaves.” The soldier saluted briskly. I glanced up. The man seemed to notice Ozorne for the first time. “Your Imperial Majesty.” He bowed deeply.
   We followed him as he led us through the streets of Carthak to a dark ally filled with soldiers. Approaching the slaves, I felt sick with dread. They were dirty, dressed in rags, and shaking. I noticed some were young, no more than fifteen.
   “Very good, men.” Ozorne said from his throne. “Arram, we can't allow them to live, they need to be made an example of.” He stared at me. “Kill them.”
   I looked away from his piercing eyes. Instead, I gazed at the slaves. They were young, innocent people who only wanted their freedom. With terror they awaited their deaths. How could I kill them? But if I didn't kill them, what would happen? Ozorne didn't like insubordination. I knew I couldn't live with myself if I obeyed Ozorne, but I wasn't sure I'd live if I disobeyed.
   “What are you waiting for, Arram?” Ozorne demanded. “Kill them!”
   Instead, using all my powers, I transported the slaves to a different part of the city. I collapsed against my horse.
   “What did you do?” I dimly heard Ozorne shout, but then everything went black.

   I awoke with a pounding headache. The room I was in was white and square shaped. Some food lay in one corner and a cot in the other. Clothing and a bucket were the only other things in the room. I closed my eyes, wishing it was a dream, but when I opened them nothing had changed.
   “Mithros! What did I do?” I muttered clutching my head. I tried to use my Gift to cure my headache, but the only thing that happened was the pain in my head increased. Forcing my tired, muddled brain to think, I remembered the rooms below the palace, which blocked the gift. Without my gift I knew I was helpless. I also knew a famous saying: `an emperor never forgives.' If this was true, my life was as good as over.
   After what I judged was two or three hours, a click sounded on the other side of one wall. Quickly, I stood up; knowing there was little I could do. A door opened.
   A soldier walked in. I had known him for years, his name was Kay. “Uh… I'm sorry Arram, about this whole thing. The emperor hasn't told us what he means to do with you, but I think you should expect the worst.”
   “I've accepted my death hours ago.” I was surprised at how calm I felt. “The slaves? Have they been caught?”
   Kay shook his head.
   “Then at least I know I won't die in vain. Tell Varice goodbye for me, will you?”
   “Arram…” Kay began. “I'm to take you to the throne room. The emperor his another soldier who's guarding the door, that's all. Only two soldiers. I'm going to tie your hands your hands behind your back, but the knots won't be tied well. Do whatever it takes to escape me. Bradley, the other soldier, won't chase after you any faster than I will. You're well liked in Carthak; few will betray you. Get on a boat, go across the Great Inland Sea to Tortall.”
   I stared in shock at Kay. “You'll be punished,” I protested. “Why are you doing this?”
   “Three years ago, I fell off a boat and couldn't swim. You saved me. A life for a life, it is the way it has always been.”
   Numbly, I allowed Kay to tie my hands. Sure enough, Bradley was waiting outside the door. He gave me a grim smile. Carefully, I loosened my bonds. When we entered a stairwell, I pulled my had up and gestured. Kay and Bradley immediately froze.
   Grabbing Bradley's spear, I muttered a thank you and ran. With another wave of my hand I changed my face so no one would recognize me. Once I was effectively disguised, it wasn't difficult to leave the palace. The commoners in Carthak took no notice to one man hurrying along the road. No one knew I had escaped yet, so I had some time to leave the city.
   The docks were dirty and filled with rats. I hardly took notice. A boat was preparing to leave, I located the captain.
   “Sir,” I said to him. “I need passage out of Carthak. I'm a mage, a good one and I can do something about the bad weather you've been having. I can also do most anything you need a mage for.”
   The captain's eyes narrowed. “You'd have to sleep with the cargo, I don't have any spare rooms.” I nodded. “Can you keep the rats away with your magic?” I nodded again. The captain sighed. “You can come aboard.”

   The next few days I spent killing rats and trying to sleep when cargo kept banging into me. I wasn't the most pleasant experience, but I was just thankful to be alive. It was a relief when we reached the shore.
   The city the boat docked at was a small shipping town called Amir. A stranger would be recognized immediately in such a tiny place and I couldn't afford to be noticed. Ozorne was likely to pursue me so I would have to be very careful. If I left Amir and traveled around Tortall I might be able to elude Ozorne. I would have to change my name.
   I'd always hated Arram Draper and the prospect of choosing a name made me cheer up slightly. As I began walking along the Great Road South I considered names. For about an hour I thought; it was the only thing I could do. The road was boring and very few people passed me.
   When I was a child, my mother told me stories of Numair the wise. He was an ancient king of Siraj, long before it became apart of the Carthaki Empire. Numair had been a hero for me and I decided to take his name. Salmalin, a favorite food of mine, I changed slightly and used as a last name.
   For the next six moons I traveled along the Great Road South, moving from village to village, never staying in the same place for more than a week. I missed my old life desperately. I especially missed Varice and my old friend Lindhall. I survived as a street magician and a juggler. I used very little real magic, mostly just the slight of hand. Saving every coin I earned, I was able to afford a horse. It was very old, battered, and weak, but I needed it since I began riding through the desert.
   I'd heard tales of the fierce Bazhir tribes, but hoped I wouldn't encounter any on the Great Road. The usually stayed near their camps. In the past few years Carthak had received word of political unrest in Tortall. The late King Roald was betrayed by his nephew Duke Roger and the plot was discovered about six years ago. Two years ago, a powerful sorcerer brought Roger back from the dead and he tried to kill the new king, Jonathan. I had a rather low opinion of a mage who brought a treasonous sociopath back to life.
   Rumor had it that King Jonathan was also very important to the Bazhir, but the reason remained unknown. I sincerely hoped this didn't mean the Bazhir would be leaving their tribes and traveling to the capital more often. Luck didn't seem to be with me. Two Bazhir in white flowing robes were riding towards me. When they noticed me, they slowed to a halt.
   “You know,” One began. “It's usually not a good idea to ride through the Great Southern Desert alone, unarmed, and with a sorry horse like that one. The hillmen don't take prisoners and will rob anyone they see.”
   Getting a closer look at them, I was very confused. The one who had spoken was a very unusual Bazhir. From what I had read, Bazhir were dark skinned with black hair. Women were kept in camp and rarely spoke out of turn. Either the books in Carthak were very wrong, or this was not a Bazhir.
   She was a woman with shoulder length red hair and beautiful purple eyes. Her companion could pass for a Bazhir, but obviously wasn't. His face was tan, but not dark and his hair was a dark brown. Hazel eyes looked sharply at me.
   He spoke, “Are you going t' sit and gawk at us or d'you want to say anything.” He asked with a city accent.
   “Uh… forgive me, I am Numair Salmalin. I was startled by your appearance, you are wearing the clothes of the Bazhir, but I do not think you are.”
   “Well Numair, you be correct. At least about me. Alanna, here really is a Bazhir.”
   I turned in shock to the woman. “Not Alanna the Lioness, is it?”
   She smiled, “The same. A Bazhir tribe, the Bloody Hawks, adopted me. Where are you headed, Numair?”
   I shrugged, “It doesn't matter. I suppose I'll get to Corus eventually, but there's no hurry.”
   “What is it you do, Numair?” Alanna asked.
   Warily, I replied. “I'm a street magician, nothing special.”
   “An educated street magician.” The man observed. They exchanged glances.
   “You look hungry,” Alanna observed, it was the truth. “George and I were just going for a morning ride, we would be honored if you would join us in the Bloody Hawk camp.”
   It didn't seem like a good idea, but the promise of a good meal was too tempting an offer. I agreed.

   “You have the look of a starved prisoner who has just seen cooked food for the first time in years.” Alanna commented with raised eyebrows. A veiled woman served us hot stew and unleavened bread. My mouth was watering and I took a bite before replying.
   “Thank the gods that isn't true,” I replied, then immediately wished I'd kept my mouth shut. Alanna may be a legend, but that didn't mean I could trust her.
   “Were you nearly a starved prisoner, then?” George asked.
   “Uh… no, just counting my blessings, that's all.”
   Alanna and George exchanged another glance. I took the opportunity to get a better look at the Bloody Hawk tribe. The tents were larger than I expected and the food far better. Then again, I hadn't eaten a decent meal in months so any food seemed like a feast. As soon as we reached the camp, Alanna spoke to a veiled woman and we were served. For reasons I didn't know, we ate farther away from the other tribesmen. I suppose Alanna wanted to get information out of me. But I wanted information from her.
   “Is it true the Bazhir, Doi, and K'mir share a common ancestry?”
   Alanna looked sharply at me, “That's what King Jonathan belives.”
   I was fascinated. “Do the Bazhir share any of the prophetic gifts of the Doi?”
   “No, the Bazhir have their own magic, it ties them together and unifies them.”
   “Oh! Like the Banjiku who are unified by their skill with animals. Their relationship with animals is truly amazing. It's because they possess special magic so animals can understand them.”
   “Normal animals? That's-” Alanna was cut off by George.
   “The Banjiku are Carthaki slaves, Master Numair.” George looked suspiciously at me. “Few'd know of their magical powers. Most don't even believe they can talk to animals. Are you, by chance, acquainted with a man named Arram Draper? He has devoted years t' studying the Banjiku form of magic, called Wild Magic.”
   Had I been discovered? Was George testing me? I decided to act ignorant. “Arram Draper? The name sounds familiar, but I don't think I've met him. Who is he?”
   “A powerful sorcerer from Carthak, he is, who was recently accused of treason by the emperor. He escaped, though, and is now a fugitive. Perhaps you can keep an eye out fer `im. He's tall, probably about your height, with dark hair, almost as dark as yours. In fact, he looks almost exactly like you. Could that be because he is you?”
   “George are you suggesting that this underfed street magician could be a powerful Carthaki traitor?” Alanna asked. I didn't say anything.
   “Not suggesting, love, I know it t' be true. Am I right, Numair?”
   I met George's eyes. “What are you planning to do with me? Give me back to Ozorne? He was just waiting for me to slip up, waiting to find an excuse to ruin me. I'm no traitor to Carthak, just a traitor to the cruel man that rules it. Would you condemn a man to death or worse for saving the lives of some innocent slaves?”
   “Calm down, Numair or Arram, whatever your name is.” Alanna said in an exasperated voice. “You don't have to make a speech. No one is turning you back to Ozorne.” I breathed a sigh of relief. “Must you both be so melodramatic? George, our trip to Port Legonn has been postponed. We must take Arram to Jon and explain the situation.”
   “Take me to see the king?” I sprang up. “Then Ozorne will know where I am.”
   “Nonsense,” George pulled me back down. “Jon knows what he's doing-”
   “Most of the time.” Alanna muttered.
   “You're Numair Salmalin, a sorcerer educated in the City of the Gods.”
   “I have influence enough to make sure the priests in the City agree.”
   It was finally beginning to sink in. I would no longer have to hide. I would have a bed, food, and most importantly I had two of the king's closest friends to speak for me. In Tortall I could become the great sorcerer Ozorne wouldn't allow me to be. Life was looking better.

   “Jonathan, may I present Numair Salmalin?” Alanna introduced me to King Jonathan. I bowed politely, but couldn't help staring. The king looked so… normal. He wore plain, brown breeches and a blue shirt. His hair was disheveled and his beard needed trimming. Unlike Ozorne, the only jewelry he wore was a simple wedding band. Yet there was an air of kingliness around him that far surpassed that of Ozorne.
    “Ah, Numair, Alanna has told me about your… shall we say, situation.” He indicated a seat and I took it. “You are welcome here, indeed we could use a powerful sorcerer such as yourself.”
   “Thank you, but I'm not very powerful. In Carthak, most of the magic we learn is frivolous and useless.”
   But the king didn't believe me. Instead, he asked me to instruct the Queen's riders in the magic of Carthak. Once I got over the shock of Queen Thayet, I fit right in. The Riders were from all different walks of life and they gladly welcomed me into their midst. Though I wasn't sure they would want a man of twenty to teach them, I was wrong. Soon I was going on missions with them and traveling all over Tortall.

   “The City of the Gods,” I mused, looking away from the beautiful woman beside me. “I hear it has some of the most powerful mages in the world.”
   Alicia looked at me quizzically. “Of course you've heard that, you did live there for ten years.”
     “Oh! Yes I did.” I hated lying to her, but I was careful not to tell anyone of my life as Arram.
   “What is the matter Numair?” Alicia asked, twining her arms around me.
   “Nothing,” I lied, looking at her. Sometimes she looked so much like Varice I wanted to weep. In truth I had been having dreams. Terrifying dreams that something awful was going to happen to Alicia and some of the Riders. Though Alicia wasn't a Rider, she went with us on many assignments. But not this one, not if I could help it.
   “Alicia, I'm not sure you should come with us to the City of the Gods.” I told her, staring into her emerald green eyes.
   She broke away from me. “I knew this would happen. Just because I'm nothing but a proper lady doesn't mean I can't help. Bandits in the City of the Gods might be dangerous, but I can take care of myself. I did live there for almost as long as you.”
   “Alicia…” But what could I say? I didn't want to worry her with a dream that might or might not come true.
   “No Numair, I'm coming with you.” She replied and left the room.

   Days later, I eyed the gates of the City of the Gods with mixed feelings. Dreading the charade I would have to play, I wondered why I had come at all.
   “Isn't this exiting?” Alicia asked from the horse beside me.
   I gave her a small smile. As the doors opened, I sensed that something was wrong. “Riders!” I shouted as a warning. The gates opened, revealing rows of men on horses with one man at their head. I felt my stomach sink and prepared for battle.
   “Arram?! Is that really you?” The leader kicked his horse and moved forward. It was Bradley, my old friend from Carthak. “I thought you were dead.”
   “Arram Draper is dead. Bradley, what are you doing in Tortall with a group of bandits?”
   “Numair what's going on?” Alicia demanded. The Riders looked at me curiously.
   “You're Numair?” Bradley sighed. “The emperor gave us specific instructions to bring you back to Carthak.”
   “And the Riders?” I asked.
   “Kill them.”
   The bandits rushed us, swinging swords overhead. Quickly, I cast a spell. No sooner had black fire left my finger than it encountered the forest green of Bradley's magic. I was shocked, I didn't even know Bradley had magic. I had no time for a mage's duel when my friends were dying. Furiously, I pulled out my sword and attacked the nearest bandit. Only when he was dead did I take a look around me. The bandits had outnumbered us almost four to one and it showed. All around me, my friends lay dead. Alicia had fallen on her horse in a pool of blood.
   “No!” I cried in a strangled voice.
   “Arram, I suggest you surrender yourself now without a struggle.” Bradley said.
   “No,” I repeated and concentrated. Within a moment I was a large black bird flying away.
   “We'll follow you forever, Arram.” Bradley shouted. “Carthak will not allow you to escape.”


   I flew for almost a day, away into the Grimhold Mountians. Landing near a stream I changed back into human and sank down crying. So many of my friends were dead, and so was Alicia. I knew I had never appreciated Alicia the way I should have and only when she was dead did I realize this.
   Through my tears, I noticed a blanket next to me. Realizing that I had no clothes, I wrapped the blanket around my waist.
   “Oh!” A soft voice exclaimed. I looked up. A pretty, bronzed woman leading a horse stood near me. She looked terrified. The large dog next to her growled.
   The blanket must have been hers. Before I could reassure her, the woman's face changed to a look of resolve and she drew out a dagger.
   “Stay back,” She was holding the weapon as if she knew how to use it. “I'm warning you.”
   “For Mithros's sake! I'm not going to hurt you.” She didn't look convinced. “So… where are you headed?”
   “Corus,” She replied shortly.
       “Corus? That's great, I live there.”
   Lowering the weapon slightly, she said. “You do?”
   “Yes, I'm a mage. That's the reason I'm not wearing anything but a blanket; I was a bird a moment ago.”
   “Look… my name is Arram, well actually its Numair…” I was even confusing myself. “I could help you when you get to Corus, if you needed a job or something.”
   “I have friends,” She replied rather haughtily. “I know the queen.”
   “Are you K'miri? Jon told me that Thayet is half K'miri.”
   “You know her too?” The woman lowered her sword completely. “I'm Onua, I think we can help each other.”

   From then on, Onua and I were close friends. As soon as we reached Corus, I made sure she got a job with the Riders. But I could not forget about Alicia and the other riders who had died because of me. I couldn't endanger any more of the Queen's Riders by working closely with them. Instead, I moved into a deserted tower near Pirate's Swoop. Of course, I helped Tortall quite frequently, especially after the immortals came. They kept a set of rooms for me at the palace. But I was careful never to allow a lover to get too close; I didn't want the incident with Alicia to repeat itself. This is how I lived my life, until I met a very special girl.

   Author's Note: This chapter doesn't have any dialogue. If you want the dialogue, read the Daine books!
   “Arram Salmalin? Arram- come on. You're too far off. It's all right, Arram- it's safe-” The voice was a teenager's, but it had incredible power behind it. The first time I met Daine, she saved my life. She was so beautiful, so fragile, and filled with an amazing gift. Wild magic. The girl had it radiating off her. When I first met her, I decided she must be a gift from the gods. Wild magic had always fascinated me. To have a pupil, no a prodigy, to teach wild magic to was nothing short of a miracle.
   It was a surprise to be able to talk so easily to a thirteen-year-old. We soon became more than a teacher and student, she was my magelet, my friend. I was determined to keep our relationship purely platonic, but everyone around me made this very difficult. Innkeepers would assume we would share a room, servants gossiped, but I didn't let it bother me. At least, I tried to. It wasn't until Ozorne insulted her, that I realized how deep my feelings were.
   My self-control was amazing. We traveled a great deal and each night she slept so near me it nearly drove me insane. She was all around me, taking over my mind. Most days, I would get up before her just to stare at her beautiful face. Daine… her name was like a prayer.
   Then came the moment when I lost all restraint. We were in the Realms of the Gods, the only mortals in the entire realm. The only curious eyes were that of a badger, a duckmole, and three very strange darkings. I thought I would manage to ignore my feelings, but everything changed when Daine fell from a cliff. The only thought running through my mind was `she's dead.' I knew that a world without Daine would be empty for me.
   And when I saw she was alive, I kissed her. Not the chaste kiss of a friend, but the passionate kiss of a lover. I would have immediately pulled away if she hadn't returned the kiss with desire and lust to match my own.  And the next morning, all she thought I wanted was to go to bed with her. Didn't she understand that I loved her more than anything, that I would die for her in a moment? She told me she loved me and I thought I would die from happiness. But my bliss was mixed with pain. The girl was a sixteen-year-old virgin, I was twenty-nine with a great deal of experience. My mind told me that I shouldn't get involved with someone thirteen years younger. There would be too many problems. But my heart and body strongly disagreed. I would die without Daine.

   The war was over. One final battle and it was over. All of Tortall was celebrating. Jon had planned a huge party for the next night. Relaxing in my rooms at the palace, I was still trying to get used to the fact that I could relax. A knock at the door startled me.
   “Come in.”
   It was Daine, looking beautiful even in a dirty brown tunic and pants. “Hey,” She smiled slightly and shut the door.
   Remembering belatedly that I didn't have to restrain myself anymore, I kissed her. “We have to talk,” She told me. “In the Realms of the Gods we agreed to talk about us after everything else was resolved.”
   I released her and sat down abruptly. She had finally come to her senses. Waiting for the gentle let down, I instead heard something very different.
   “I love you. I may not be ready for marriage, and I certainly don't want to trap you, but I am ready for something else.”
   Realizing she meant sex, I stood up hastily. “Daine… I don't think that is such a good idea.”
   “Why? Do you still think I'm too young? Alanna was only a year older when she and Jon became lovers.”
   “You talked to Alanna about this? I thought we weren't going to tell anyone until we figured out what was going on between us.”
   “It was more in an abstract sense.”
   “Well Jon was only a few years older than Alanna, that was different.”
   She sighed impatiently and didn't answer.
   “Daine, I don't want you to do anything you might regret.”
   “Numair,” She took my hand and gripped it tightly. “If it didn't work out between us, I would regret that. I could never regret being with you.”
   “What about the rest of the world? What will they think?”
   “We won't know until we find out.” She shrugged. “My mother approved.”
   I started, “When did you talk to her?”
   “After I killed Ozorne, the gods brought me back to their realm.” Daine began. “They had me make a choice. I could stay in this realm, or live in the Realm of the Gods as a minor goddess. I choose to be with you.”
   I was shocked. “You gave up being a goddess for me?”
   “Please don't make that a decision I might regret.” She kissed me softly. “I love you.”
   I grinned. “I know.” Tilting her head up for another kiss, I made a choice also. When we made love, I didn't have any regrets.

   The hall was crowded: dancers twirled on the dance floor as others mingled by the tables filled with lavish food. Daine was deeply engrossed in conversation with her friend Evin Larse, leaving me with little to do. Noticing Alanna standing in a corner by herself, I joined her.
   “No George today?”
   Alanna looked up with a smile. “He escaped to confer with Myles. I really hate these things.”
   “I know, your distaste for social gatherings is legendary.” Bowing, I said, “Would you honor me with a dance.”
   She made a face, “I can't dance.”
   “Ha, I've seen you dance before and you've never fallen over.”
   “I'm not sure that's a compliment.” Alanna muttered, but she accepted my outstretched hand. As we spun slowly Alanna asked, “How's Daine.”
   “Daine?” I took a wrong step and landed on Alanna's foot. “She was a little shaken up after her battle with Ozorne, but that's to be expected. Posttraumatic stress is common, especially after something so life threatening. In fact-”
    “I really don't want a lecture right now, Numair.” She interrupted me. “How is your relationship?”
   “Our what?” Alanna was a bit too insightful for me.
   “Don't play dumb with me, I know you have a relationship.” Craning her neck to look at me she asked, “Have you had sex yet?”
   “I would rather not discuss my sex life with you or anyone else.” I replied rather stiffly.
   “Well why not? It's very important to talk about such things. Lack of communication was one of the reasons Jon and I never worked.” She paused. “The other is because he's such a prig.”
   I looked a Jon. He was flirting with a female ambassador from Tyra. But I felt obligated to defend him. “He is helping Tortall by getting on Tyra's good side.”
   Alanna snorted, “Jon enjoys it. He always flirted, even when we were together.”
   “And your relationship with George at that time was, of course, purely platonic.” I replied sarcastically.
   Alanna turned red.
   “Flirting with my wife, are ye?” A voice sounded from behind me.
   “Now George, would I do something like that?” I asked innocently, shaking his hand.
   “May I cut in?” He inquired. I moved aside.
   “Numair,” Alanna said. “No one will think any less of you for being with her. Besides, the ones who do don't matter anyway.” She leaned against George, reminding me of the controversy behind their marriage. People still looked down upon Alanna for marrying a commoner.

   Daine was sitting in a chair watching me when I approached her. “Hey,” she said, smiling. It reminded me of the night before.
   “I'm tired of hiding,” I declared, pulling her to her feet. “I don't want our relationship to be a secret as if we're ashamed of it. I'm not ashamed, I love you and want everyone else to know too.”
   “Why the change in attitude?” Daine asked as we danced. I had always been so careful not to dance with her a great deal. Each dance had been torture, but I didn't have to be cautious around her anymore. One of her hands played with my hair, while mine rested on her hips holding her closer than custom dictated.
   “A conversation with Alanna.”
   “She's a remarkable woman.”
   “She is at that,” I touched her cheek. “But not as remarkable as one woman I know.” I leaned down and eased open her lips with my own. She was surprised, I suppose I was being a little rash, but I had ceased caring. We kissed ardently until lack of oxygen forced us to break away.
   “Do you want to get out of here?” Daine asked, breathing heavily.
   “You're room or mine?”
   Daine laughed, “Unless you want to share the bed with numerous animals and be woken up by a crabby dragon, I would say your room.”
   “Would one of those animals be you, magelet?”
   “Maybe,” She replied.
   “Then I think I could face down a dragon.” I paused, thinking about what Kitten was like in the morning. “On second thought, let's go to my room.” We left the hall, my arm twined around hers.
       As soon as we were gone Daine burst out laughing. “Did you see Lord Wyldon's face? He definitely doesn't approve.”
   I shrugged, “He and his boring conservative friends never approved of anything we did. Scientifically speaking, boring people's opinions don't count.”
   “But doesn't that include you?” A voice inquired. Leaning against the wall of the corridor was a man toying with a knife. I almost did recognize him. The beard and unkempt hair was not characteristic of the clean upstanding soldier I once knew.
   “Honestly Bradley, if you wanted to kill us you could have at least used the element of surprise.”
   “I do have a sense of honor,” He glared at me. “Unlike you, traitor.” He spat at my feet.
   “Because Ozorne's minions were incredibly honorable.” He hurled his knife at my heart. Quickly, Daine knocked the knife away before it reached me. I noticed scarlet blood gush from her hand. “Daine!”
   “I'm okay,” She forced a smile. “Did I kill your leader, you poor little underling?” she inquired, I could see the pain she was trying to hide. “Thought you could make one last kill before you died? Have you ever met Numair? D'you know anything about him? He defeated Ozorne's chief mage! D'you know who I am?” She smiled again. “Well, very soon you'll find out.” Suddenly, Kitten came barreling down the corridor. Moving so quickly I could barely see, she ripped out Bradly's throat.
   “Well,” I said after recovering from the surprise. “That was interesting. We'd better tell someone about the dead body, apologize to Jon about the stains in his carpet, and find a healer for that wound.” Looking at her hand again, I added, “And definitely not in that order.”
   A few moments later we were with Duke Baird who was healing Daine's wound. “She's fine,” the healer proclaimed. “I used magic so she won't even have scars.”
   I breathed a sigh of relief. “Thank Mithros.”
   Daine rolled her eyes at me. “Of course I'm fine.” Thanking Duke Baird, we left. “Did'ya think I would die from a few cuts on my hands?”
   “You could have lost your fingers.” I replied, kissing them.
   “And you could've died.”
   “But I didn't.” We had reached my rooms. “I believe we had something very important to do before we were interrupted. It's a good thing you still have all your fingers.”
   “And it's a good thing you're not dead.” She replied and shut the door.
   For the first time I felt like I truly belonged. I had a place in the world and I had found a home.