I did not speak with Maedroth for several days after the challenge. It was hard to accept that I would be trapped here forever, in this cold and windy keep. When I was informed by a servant that I now had duties to attend to the reality finally sunk in. Furthermore, they were duties that the lady of the keep would normally handle. This was simply too much and the only thing that prevented me from renouncing my master and making his life living hell as best I could was my lady's words and that wretched loyalty to propriety that I had cultured for years. Even then, I carried out my tasks with a bitter taste in my mouth, and after three days I had enough.

This time it was I who knocked on Maedroth's door and I had not brought a maidservant to keep me from being alone with him.

He was in his bedchamber when I entered. The room was poorly lit and I stayed in the main part of the room, reluctant to venture further. I could see his shadow moving about and it appeared he was putting on a tunic. I immediately regretted coming alone and supposed I should have chosen a better time than early morning.

"Nallabe," he said as he entered the main chamber, "No chaperone?"

"I don't like being here," I said, all the things I'd been planning to say – nice and respectful mind you – vanishing in a heartbeat, "I hate it."


He just stood there, waiting for me to continue.

"You are a horrible, vile person, Maedroth," I spat, "You had no right to take me from my home. You confuse me, break all the rules, and expect things out of me that I am not willing to give."

"Unwilling or afraid?"

And again, I was thrown off balance by his question. He smiled, sat down, and gestured for me to do the same. I did, folding my hands in my lap.

"You are the only person who has ever called me those names," he said calmly, "I am glad you did. And tell me honestly, Nallabe, have you ever had anyone confound you as much as I have?"

"No," I answered, for I must be honest with my lord.

"I need a strong lady for my keep. I am sure you have figured this out already." He stood up and took a small box off of the mantle. Opened it and removed a small bundle of cloth. "Someone that can stand up to my will when it needs be done. Someone that can handle the dragons in her own way and will still express outrage over my ill manners. In short, someone as strong as I. You've seen my people – they're mice! All of them. Too timid to so much as look me in the eyes."

He snorted and started unwrapping the bundle. I could not take my eyes off it.

"Can you see me taking one of those as my lady?"

"No," I replied, "but I do not love you."

A ring fell out into his hand. He tossed the cloth aside and held the ring up for my inspection.

"I know. And I can't say I love you either, but I do admire your courage and want that by my side."

I had no reply to that. He stood and put the ring up on the mantle. There was nothing on the stretch of wood now and the gold of the band seemed to shine all the brighter for the barrenness around it.

"You have the keys to every room in the keep, including my own. I have seen to that. Think on this Nallabe, and I will look to your decision."

He turned away and I sensed that my audience with him was over. I stood and walked to the doorway.

"You really are a horrible person," I whispered.

"I know," he replied.

I thought for seven days. When I passed Maedroth in the halls he would smile and give me a bow. Nothing more was said between us about the matter. We spoke only on the matters of the keep and I made what changes I deemed needed. Tapestries were brought out of storage and hung, candles were placed to provide more light. The keep started to look more hospitable. The servants started to warm to my presence and I would catch a fleeting smile from the maidservants on occasion. It was quickly becoming apparent why Maedroth needed a lady, just as Geathor had.

I remembered what Geathor's wife had said about being the lady of a dragon lord. How it was a lonely thing.

On the eighth day, in the morning, I slipped into Maedroth's room before he woke. Took the ring from the mantle and slipped it onto my finger. It fit well and I just stared at it for long moments. There would have to be some concessions made, of course. This was mine. He'd hear his when he came to speak to me, as I'm sure he would as soon as he noticed the ring gone. I smiled. If he found me. For I was going to go sit with Roderick and make him search the entire keep. The dragon, the dragon lord, and his lady. I chuckled, pulled up my skirts, and fled his room and down the hall, to where the great beast waited in the predawn light.