The next morning, Nimiar woke up at dawn out of habit. Most nobles would not be awake for at least another hour or two. She stretched and turned over under the covers, not wanting to leave the shelter of their warmth. She slowly pried open first one eye and then the other, squinting around the room. A quick scan showed that nothing was amiss. Everything was as she had left it the previous night, except… What's that white spot on the table? Nee thought sleepily. She grudgingly rolled out of bed, too tired and stiff to stifle a small groan. Dragging a robe on over her head, she stumbled over to the table. On it was a thin, folded sheet of paper. Yawning, she opened it and read the hasty scrawl.

Meet me as soon as possible. I will be in the study on the first floor.

No signature, no name. She read it over again, memorizing the handwriting. Never know when it may come in handy, she thought as she folded it again and shoved it into a drawer. She put her hair up, grabbed a knife and installed it in her sleeve pocket, and then opened the door. She caught a servant sauntering down the hallway and asked for directions to the first floor study. The servant was more than eager to help. She led Nimiar to the location.

Nee waited for the servant's retreating footsteps to withdraw before tapping lightly on the door. She heard a chair scrape against a wooden floor and then heavy footsteps coming in her direction. She stepped back and waited for the door to open.

The door seemed heavy and it moved slowly as the person on the other side pushed against it. Who could it be? Azfur? No, that would be too dangerous. He probably has things to do, anyways. Arlieth? That's possible, but if it is she, I don't want to talk to her. Besides, the writing on the letter did not look like that of a Court lady, and why would she leave it anonymous? Well, she might leave it anonymous in case I didn't come…The door was finished opening, and there on the other side stood Sarthus.

"Oh, hello. I do believe you summoned me?" He looked at her for a second and then nodded. Ushering her in, he glanced in both directions down the hall before closing the door. When he turned around, he looked tired. There were sags under his eyes and his usually sturdy posture was slouched. She had to ask, "Are you alright? No, of course not, that's a silly question. What has happened?" He gave her a half-smile and then put a finger to his lips, motioning for her to be quiet. Sarthus went to the back of the room and sat down on a cushion, gesturing for her to take the one in front of it. She did so without making a sound, aware of her surroundings and searching for any hint of an eavesdropper. Why else would he want her to be so quiet?

"This room is sound-proofed, but someone may hear if we are too close to the door. Let's talk quietly. I'd rather be safe than sorry," he said in a soft voice. "I have recently received some important news. It's a good thing that you came, because you are the only one I can think of to ask for advice."

She smiled, comforted and yet slightly irked that he would come to her of all people for advice. They hadn't seen each other in so long… "I will do all that I can to help. But what do you want in return for this information? Surely it is valuable, coming from you. I know that there are things I have not told you, or anyone, for that matter…you probably want the truth, hmm?"

He took in a deep breath. "I would like the truth, but I don't want to force it from you. You need not tell if speaking of it is awkward."

"It is awkward, but I feel that I owe it to you. I'll go first. What do you wish to know?"

She waited for a second as he organized his thoughts. Then, he suddenly blurted out, "Why did you leave so suddenly? You left nothing to imply a reason; just a note saying that you were leaving of your own free will and not to look for you. Also, how did Azfur find you? I can only assume that it was he who brought you back. And why did you agree to return?"

She chuckled a bit. "Quite a lot of questions. Well, to start, why I ran away. I was already sick of life here because there was no freedom, but I wasn't prepared to go so far as running away until I overheard my father and one other person, I don't know who, talking after my mother died. They…" she hesitated, and then sighed. "Well, I have to say it now that I've started, don't I? Normally, I would not have listened in, but I heard them mention my name, so I stayed. As it turns out, I was betrothed to someone at birth. Once my mother died, my father was reluctant to let go of me, but he had to go on with the arrangement, lest he wished to cause trouble. They didn't mention a name, but there was only one person I could think of who fit the description they gave. Maybe it was someone else, someone who I never met, but…but it sounded just like him."

She stopped and looked down, shocked at how easily it had all come out. Five years. For five years she had kept in secret her knowledge of the arranged marriage, and turned the conversation she had heard over in her mind every night before sleeping. She had prayed to all of her favorite Gods, asking them for guidance, asking them for reassurance. No matter which way she looked at the conversation, the facts that it stated were clear. There was no mistaking it.

"Who was it that came to mind?" asked Sarthus gently.

A/N: Yay, an update. Um...yeah, sorry about the slowness. Even though I had already written all of this bit, I've been kind of busy trying to get into college. It's a pain in the butt and I'm thinking of becoming a hobo instead. Much less stress that way!

Anyways, thanks to you all who reviewed:

clair-a-net: YAY, another review! Thank you so much! I'm really sorry for the slow update, but again, college process is gruelling work. > I'll try to update more often...

Wingless Cherub: Hehe, thanks, I'm ratherfond of the penname too. :P Good to know I'm not alone. Yay, you like the start! I think it could still use a LOT of editing because I guess my writing style has evolved since ninth grade or whenever I started writing this. XP Yeah, I guess by now you know who they are. I'm not sure, but I don't think I kept to that initial chapter length ; Thanks for the tip, I tried to make this one a similar length, but it's kind of hard since I have to find a place in the writing that makes for a good finish. I didn't originally divide it into chapters; I just kept writing without thinking about that. ; Anyways, I'll stop babbling now. THANK YOU very much for the review!