"You look beautiful, my little one," Kari crooned, holding out her arms to Kera. "Come here to me. Your father will soon be here, and then I fear that he will be taking you with him to sparring practice."

"Mother, I hate dresses," Kera protested. "Do I have to wear it? Surely Grandfather would not be angry. He also knows I don't like them. He only makes Nerva wear them because Uncle Lern gets angry if she doesn't. I know Father wouldn't ever do that."

Sighing, Kari walked across the room and thanked Kera's maid. As the maid left, Kari picked her daughter up and took her to the window. "My little one, tell me what you see down there."

Looking down into the training courtyard, Kera's eyes narrowed against the light reflected by the swords. "I see noble warriors, brave bastions of truth and honor against all invasions to the mighty kingdom of Zura!" Kera giggled. "Do you not see them, Mother?"

Kari's heart sank at her seven-year-old's words. "You have been listening to your father again. No, Kera, I see only one bastion of truth and honor down there. And look, he has noticed us now," Kari answered as Jeran looked up at the window and waved.

"Father! Father! Lookout behind you!" Kera screamed as General Hren tried to use Jeran's distraction against him. Swinging around, Jeran blocked the general's battle axe before kicking the older man in the stomach and holding up his hand to stop the fight. General Hren, captain of the king's personal guard, bowed low to Jeran before turning on his heel and walking away.

"I'll be right up. Don't go anywhere!" Jeran yelled, racing back into the palace.

"Come, my love. We must hide before your father comes up," Kari winked. "What a fright we shall give him."

"But Mother, my dress is too noisy," Kera pouted. "It would help if I could change."

Laughing, Kari set Kera down and took her hand. "You may change after you scare your father. Now, we must hurry before he arrives." After they had taken refuge behind one of the curtains, Kari held her finger up to her lip. Even though Kera's train trailed from behind the curtain, she knew that Jeran would pick up on the game.

As the door to their quarters slammed open, Jeran burst in. Noticing a great length of cloth trailing out from behind the curtains, he quickly picked up on the game. "Hmm. I wonder where Kari and our little daughter went. I know that I asked them very politely to wait for me. Such disobedience…perhaps Kera should not come to sparring practice with me today!"

Choking back a laugh at Kera's panicked look, Kari came out from behind the curtain. "We are here, Milord Jeran. The young Lady Kera and I merely wished to surprise you," she admitted.

"No, you wished to frighten me," Jeran laughed, pulling Kari into his arms. "And your beauty has done just that," he whispered into her ear. "I am, as ever, your faithful servant in all matters."

"My lord, might I remind you that our daughter is behind the curtain?" Kari grinned. "I doubt that such words are appropriate around her."

"No, but they are true," Jeran declared, his gaze intense as ever. At the praise, Kari blushed and lowered her head. Lifting her chin, Jeran kissed her soundly. "And eventually Kera will find what it means to love someone as much as I love you."

"Let us hope," Kari smiled sadly. "I fear what may happen if she marries a man of this court."

"I will see that she has means of protection, Kari," Jeran vowed. "She will be safe."

"She will be beautiful, so I will hold you to that promise," Kari told him. "Kera, come here to your father and show him your new dress."

"Must I?" Kera inquired from the curtain. "I don't like it!"

"Kera Teman, come show your father your new dress! Krina spent four days making it!" Kari insisted. Reluctantly, Kera emerged from the curtain and walked over to her father.

"Do I have to wear it, Father? It's very itchy!" Kera complained.

Laughing, Jeran picked Kera up and kissed her forehead. "No, you don't have to wear it, my girl. Not until dinner tonight. I know that Omer will not be happy until he sees that you excel the Rynnian ambassador's daughter, so you must humor him tonight."

"But Father…" Kera started.

"No buts, my little warrior. You must learn to soldier on in situations like this. Otherwise, I doubt that you will make it through two years in the army," Jeran teased.

Giving it much deep consideration, Kera finally gave up. "Very well. But only tonight!"

"As you would have it, Milady Teman," Jeran agreed, bowing his head.

Her eyes watering at the memory, Kera turned over on her bed and placed her forehead to the wall. So many memories. Will they never cease? she wondered, sighing deeply.

"Are they plaguing you as well?" Caden's deep voice asked from across the room. Sitting up on her bed, Kera nodded. Even though Caden couldn't see her, he knew that all the memories of their years in Darthe were tearing her heart to pieces.

"I feel such a fool," Kera chuckled sadly, scrubbing the tears on her face away..

Caden sat up in bed and lit a candle. "You are no fool, Kera. We both are aiding in the defeat of our old home; that is no easy task. Many memories reside here…for the both of us."

"How do you manage to be so calm?" Kera laughed. "Your memories are worse than mine."

"I have no love for this place anymore," Caden admitted. "Only Nerva and you do. Besides, my mother is buried in Dremina. I don't have the same burden on that account."

"But you still have your fath-"

"He is a fool. And only ever used me for his own ends. We are both orphans, Kera."

"Do you think we will ever be happy here again, Caden?"

"When this war ends, I will go back to Keeli and marry Jana. As for your own happiness, I doubt you can find it without Cyril; that is an issue that you both must decide," Caden replied solemnly.

"And if he is killed?" Kera sniffed, her voice wavering.

"Enough of this, Kera. He will not be killed; you will not allow it and neither will I. You must not let these demons plague you; tomorrow we meet with General Hren."

"What if he will not help us?" Kera inquired.

"Then we are doomed," Caden replied bluntly. "And we will most likely be killed."

"Not without a fight," Kera deadpanned, her expression once more going neutral. "As my father used to say…"

"A Zurate never runs. Jeran would have been very proud of you," Caden whispered, crossing the distance between their beds and kissing her forehead. "As am I."

"You are a good friend, Caden," Kera smiled, her eyes finally devoid of tears.

"Sleep now, little one," Caden smiled grimly. "Tomorrow will be a hectic day."

"They know we are coming," Phile said, glancing over at Cyril from his horse. "Already my men have killed three scouts this morning, but I doubt that they dispatched all of them."

"It would bode worse for us if we did not see them. You know the Zurate love for ambushes," Cyril said. "We can only hope that Kera and Caden breached Darthe safely."

"Your worry is misplaced, brother. Caden and Kera are capable of almost anything, in my experience," Phile responded.

"Has General Jorla informed you of the Mernidan's positions in the battle?" Cyril queried. "I believe that they are to be flanking the second squadron."

"He informed me, Cyril. And do not look so tense, brother. I know that you have faced circumstances like these before," Phile answered.

"I am not afraid, Phile. Not for myself…" Cyril trailed off. "If anything happens to Kera…"

"Cyril, you must concentrate on what we do. This battle will be very, very long," Phile reprimanded. "And you know that Kera would be appalled at your line of thought. Do you honestly think that she would allow herself to be in such a state?"

"If she feels for me what I feel for her, I would hope so," Cyril challenged, raising an eyebrow.

"You honestly expect me to help you bring Keelites into this city?!" General Hren thundered, his expression furious. "Have you both lost what little minds you had?"

"We expect that you will consider what we propose before rejecting it outright," Caden replied calmly. "The Lady Kera and I both realize just how this plan sounds, but we guarantee you that nothing but good will come of the Keelites' winning the war."

"You are both traitors!" Hren shouted, rising to his feet. "Had Jeran and Omer not been outstanding men, I would kill you both where you stand, regardless of your station. You have dishonored the name of Teman more than Lern ever did!"

"And you honor your own family's name by plotting the overthrow of the monarchy?" Kera scoffed. "Let us not be hypocrites if we are to bandy insults, my honorable general."

"You," General Hren growled, stalking over to Kera, "are nothing but a disgrace to your honorable father. Even his blasted Keelite wife was more honorable than you…and that is a feat for one of yours."

Quivering in rage, Kera barely managed to restrain her hand from stealing General Hren's knife and ruining their proceedings. "You, Hren, are a fool. If my grandfather could hear your words, what do you think he would say? You insult not only the heir to his throne, but also the only child of his oldest son…I doubt he would be pleased."

"He would be furious with both of you," Caden sighed, placing a hand on Kera's arm. "Kera, we are not hear to bandy insults. We are here to speak with General Hren; he was kind enough to not kill us outright, and I expect you to show him gratitude for that."

"And if I do not?" Kera growled, her gaze still locked on General Hren's.

"Then you will truly dishonor the memory of what your father stood for," Caden said softly. "And I know that you would never allow that to happen."

Glancing quickly at Caden, Kera's gaze lowered to the floor in embarrassment. When she returned her gaze to the general's, she spoke as diplomatically as possible. "I apologize, General Hren, for my breach in judgment. Thank you for taking the time to speak with us."

Glaring at her, General Hren motioned to the two chairs in front of his. "Take a seat. And speak quickly. I have no time for foolishness," he said with a quick glance at Kera's formal Zurate dress. "Not where the woman is concerned," he sneered.

"You will show my cousin the respect due a noble woman," Caden said flatly. "Or would you dishonor yourself furthur?"

"Speak, boy," General Hren snapped. "Or else meet your death slowly and painfully."

"A large force of Keelites are coming to engage Zura in battle. We were sent ahead of them to convince you to help us overthrow Lern. Will you help us, or not?" Caden asked blandly.

"Why would I ever help the Keelites overthrow my country?" General Hren sneered. "I believe that is more your line of action, Caden."

"Kera and I both realize that our actions against Zura have been traitorous, and we were not happy to overthrow the natural order of succession. But things are far beyond the issue of loyalty to Zura, my good general. Lern must be stopped, for the good of the kingdom, if nothing else. I know that your dislike of Zura's present king is intense, and I am offering you a way to see Lern deposed and a legitimate heir placed on the throne," Caden responded.

"Even if I trusted your motives, I would never believe that the Keelites would leave Zura to its own devices after Lern were deposed," General Hren replied. "What kind of fool do you think I am?"

"I can assure you, Hren, that the intention of the Keelites is merely to stop the violence along the border. They merely wish to see their country and people safe. They have never forgotten the raid on Jeba, and I doubt they ever will. But most Keelites that I have met were not focused on revenge, merely on the safety of their own families. Surely you can understand that," Caden said.

"What I cannot understand is why you suddenly trust the sworn enemy of your country," General Hren barked. "What is it? Money? Power? A woman?" he smirked when Caden's spine became rigidly straight. "Ah, as I thought. Whoever this chit is, I am sure she would not want you if she knew the depth of your disloyalty. Most women don't have the strength to survive betrayal, do they, Milady Kera?"

"The lady for whom Milord Caden fights is no chit, General Hren. Her station is acceptable for a man of Caden's station. And any experiences of my past are of no relevance here. We came for a reason, and we have much to accomplish," Kera answered levelly.

"You honestly think I will help you?" General Hren laughed. "When you both have been nothing but a thorn in Zura's side. A woman who cannot learn her place, and a man who is too weak to be king? With two people such as you in the succession, I fear for the future of my land."

"Whoever takes the throne after Lern is deposed will not place our kingdom in unnecessary danger. Lern has done nothing during his reign but antagonize the kingdoms around Zura. If you were wise, you would see the great advantage if the Keelites win," Kera argued.

"You will shut your mouth in my presence!" General Hren thundered. "A woman has no place to speak to me so! You will be lucky to escape this encounter with your life!"

"Perhaps we should test that theory," Kera laughed, glancing down at her confiscated dagger. "What do you think, Hren? Will skill and experience win against youth and agility, or not?"

"Boy!" Hren barked at Loeran. "Take them to the palace. Tell the guards that the traitors have been captured."

With a guilty glance at Kera, Loeran motioned five of his companions to bind her and Caden. "As you would have it, my lord," he murmured.