Dawn came early in the summer, and with the sun rose Alainna, running to the washroom to relief her stomach of its troubles. Nihara was already up, quickly preparing ginger tea for Alainna. She held onto her belly as she retched, ignoring the sleepy male footsteps approaching.

"Ugh, you're sick again?" Ghaden grumbled from beyond the ajar door, impatience riding high on his voice. "Third morning in a row. Hurry up, my bladder's about to explode!"

Bridled, Alainna lifted her head and glared at the door, wishing her gaze would burn right through it. Ghaden had been ordering her around like a serf for the past three days; she was no longer slave, and she no longer had to tolerate it. "Then go out in the garden like any animal would," she snapped. "Eurgh." The mental picture made her gorge rise again, and she leaned over the commode.

The door quickly opened, as though Ghaden were concerned by the noises Alainna was making. He stood there in loose pants, his upper body bared to the glistening dawnlight, arms crossed over his chest as he leaned against the jamb. He waited quietly until Alainna wiped her mouth clean and began to struggle to her feet. "If you don't hurry up, I'll go ahead and do my business now," he said. "Just close your eyes and plug your ears, unless you care for a look."

Alainna glared at him. "No need to worry, I am going," she said, weakly rising. As she brushed past him, he suddenly grabbed her by the elbow so roughly that she was drawn back with a gasp. The blue eyes that stared into hers were hard and searching, making her want to melt into the floor and disappear where he could not find her. She tried to harden her own gaze, but felt that she could not match his. She realized she was mostly staring at his hard-earned, muscular torso, and her face darkened in shame.

"Are you really pregnant?" Ghaden asked, ignoring her stare altogether. His dark eyebrows were drawn together in a V over those piercing eyes. "Or is it just a cleverly mastered story to hide who you really are? Are you a spy for Anarr?"

Alainna jerked her arm free of his grasp and her blush drained away. "You're a bastard. I'm no spy." In one angry motion, she pulled her loose trousers to her hipbones and lifted the hem of her tunic. While she was still slender-framed, her belly softly swelled out in a little rounding, with a crease curving underneath it from one hipbone to the other as though cradling it.

Ghaden's eyes softened as he stared at her belly, but he did not seem to realize this, for his voice was still hard and suspicious. "That could just be fat," he said, stubbornly.

Alainna bristled. "Fat!" she cried indignantly, curling her hands into fists. "Fat, you say!" She snatched Ghaden's hand, much to his shock, and forced it to lay upon the little rounding of her belly. "Now you tell me that is just fat! I have seen you look at my belly, you know I speak the truth!" His hand was stiff against her, resisting, but then he pressed palm and fingers into the soft swell, feeling that there was no squishy flab here, just firm flesh and womb. She shuddered at his touch, but it was not an unpleasant feeling.

The soft look in Ghaden's eyes faded, and he pulled his hand away and raked it through his disheveled hair as he appraised her. "Where is the father?" he asked quietly. "Unless, of course, you have no idea-"

Alainna sighed and walked away as fast as she could, her strength returned to her with fresh anger. "I am not a whore, of course I know who the father was!" she snapped, and before he could respond, she slammed the door on him and stomped into the kitchen. I only wish I did not know who the father was, it would be better for all of us, she thought stiffly, sitting down to the hot cup of tea that Nihara was passing to her.

The day passed long and golden, fading only when stormy clouds rolling in sheathed, bruised ribbons from the southwest, after the third uncomfortably silent supper that Alainna managed to help Nihara serve. Nihara attempted to make pleasant conversation, but Ghaden was surly and would not open his mouth but to shovel food into it.

Ghaden quickly finished and, leaving his bowl and plate on the table, strode for the third bedroom as wordlessly as the other two meals of the day had been. Sun Lily cleared the table for Nihara, who made more ginger tea and threw extra wood into the stove. When a storm was coming, the summer nights were even chillier than usual, and they could all feel that electric dampness on the west wind.

Alainna remained seated, staring at the place where Ghaden had been sitting. Why did he hate she and Sun Lily so? She disliked being in this lovely little house when the owner of it hated her every breath. She stood at last, cradling the hot teacup in her hands, and tore her eyes from Ghaden's chair.

"When will we go to Thornlea?" she asked, sipping carefully on the ginger tea as she walked back to the bedroom. "We have had a wonderful three days here with you... and Ghaden... but we must not wear our our welcome in your home."

Nihara straightened up from the woodbox. Her eyes did not meet Alainna's. "It'd be a lot wiser if you just stay here," she said softly. "Those awful soldiers from the palace are swarming everywhere. And you're about to see and hear too much, anyway. We can't let you leave without fearing that our information will get into the wrong hands in some way or another. My old bedroom that Ghaden is using as a storage room of sorts? That's not the whole truth. It's also a meeting room."

Alainna exchanged glances with Sun Lily before looking back to Nihara. "I do not understand," Sun Lily said. "A meeting room for what?"

"We'd have to tell you at some point. I will tell you more when they all get here." Nihara threw another log into the woodstove and sat back down, removing the kercheif from her hair and fluffing the black waves where the fabric had flattened them.

"When who gets here?" Sun Lily asked, but Nihara suddenly tilted her head to one side like a dog, listening to something beyond the windows in the breezy evening. Alainna remembered that Sun Lily had not overheard the conversation between brother and sister the previous night.

"Oh, they're here already!" Nihara exclaimed. She jumped up and ran to the entranceway, fussing with her hair the whole way. She pressed her ear to the heavy wood, her face suddenly dark with seriousness. Alainna and Sun Lily apprehensively went to the bedroom they shared with her to get out of the way of whomever was coming. Ghaden's sister did not even wait for a knock. "Password?" she demanded.

"Coffee break," came a low, cheerful voice from outside. The habitual smile returned to Nihara's pale face as quickly as the hardened one had and she unbolted the door, throwing it open to the indigo dusk. People began to file in, one after the other, some smoking sweet-smelling grass in pipes, some happily singing and laughing, all of them dressed like peasants. Most of the women shawls against the chill in the air, and the sun-tanned men respectfully took off their hats as they entered.

"Evenin', Miss Thorne!" the first guest said loudly, doffing his hat as he grinned down at the girl with merry blue eyes that crinkled hard at the corners. His touseled brown hair was streaked with grey, and he was so tall that his head nearly touched the rafters. "My oh my, looking as fine as ever!"

Nihara chuckled. "My oh my, flattering as ever, Malachi," she said good-naturedly. "Ghaden's in the meeting room already, if you would lead the way in."

"Certainly!" Malachi said, sauntering across the sitting room. "Reporting to the alpha wolf in his own den!" He put the side of his hand next to his mouth as though not wanting to be overheard, but he did not speak any quieter. "Is he in a foul mood, Nihara? I'm not looking to get my throat ripped out tonight."

"He's no worse for wear," Nihara replied. "I think he's always in a foul mood."

The other guests began to file into the house. "Lieutenant Nihara," they greeted her, smiling as though they had been calling her by her title for a long time. Of course, Alainna had no idea of how long this group had existed so far, but everyone who came in the door looked like regular people to her and not powerful soldier types. She counted twenty-three people, all of whom filtered into the third bedroom that was once Nihara's.

"We have two guests here, and as they are pregnant, I would ask that you'd not scare them with all your loudness," Nihara said at last. She threw a winking glance over her shoulder at Alainna and Sun Lily as she followed the crowd into the third bedroom. "I will introduce them to you in a few minutes." She closed the door to behind her just as Ghaden uttered an oath from somewhere within, and a one-sided argument quickly ended as Nihara ignored him to speak with two of the women.

After a few minutes, Alainna put her cup down on the kitchen table and walked over to this bedroom. She could see Nihara's pastel clothing through the inch-wide crack of the door. "After we get introduced to my friends, we'll have the nice red wine that Khalen was so generous to bring for us," the girl was saying happily. "I've also baked some bread to have with jam."

"Ah, that Nihara, always cooking and baking for everyone!" the voice of a young man laughed, and through the crack Alainna saw his arm go around Nihara's shoulders. The slip of skin on her neck where her hair had brushed away from was flushing a blotchy red of pleasure. Ghaden grunted unhappily, and the arm quickly snaked away from the commander's sister.

"What kind of friends are they to have been wandering out alone, and pregnant at that?" asked the high, reedy voice of one of the women. "Sounds pretty strange, if you ask me!"

"Nobody asked you, Terina," said a male voice, and everyone laughed lightly.

The door creaked open a few inches, and Nihara's head and right arm emerged, her face welcoming and her hand motioning Alainna and Sun Lily to come to her. She opened the door wider as they nervously approached. "Come on in," she said cheerfully enough, but when she pulled them in and shut the door behind them, the tension in the air was anything but friendly.

Everyone was still, frozen in place. Several of the men flanked Ghaden as though they were his officers and glared at the two women as though they had stumbled upon something incredibly intimate, one man was frozen in the act of placing a pin in a huge map of the countryside on the opposite wall, and a woman had stopped filling her husband's pipe to stare at the newcomers. Everyone else sat on barrels and wooden crates for chairs, simply staring. Alainna desired to melt into the floor rather than face all these suspicious eyes, Ghaden's especially. She had lied to Anarr, and now she had to lie to all of these people, especially the two that were letting her stay in their home where it was safe and comfortable?

"These are our guests, Myana and Arica," Nihara said pleasantly. "My lovely brother wanted to punt them off to Thornlea. They are from the nomad lands and Cytress, respectively, but were living in Soleis. They fled, and I found them on their journey and brought them here for food and shelter. Myana and Arica, welcome to a very private meeting among this local group of the Sun Fighters, or as some of us call it, the revolution. Whatever you call it, it's bent upon the destruction of Anarr and the Sun Palace."

Twenty-four pairs of eyes were still staring at them. Silence and sweet pipe smoke hung heavy in the room, and at the head of the oaken table sat Ghaden, dark and angry in the hazy lamplight, his fingers steepled together in front of his face. His snapping eyes glared up over his fingertips, meeting Sun Lily's non-confrontational eyes and then Alainna's nervous ones. The men flanking him, two of them with a hand on their commander's shoulder, looked as though they were ready to spring like protective wolves.

It was Malachi who, sitting at Ghaden's left hand, broke the uncomfortable silence with a loud guffaw. "Well I'll be damned if they're not the prettiest gals I've ever laid eyes on," he declared, slapping his open hand on the table so hard that Alainna and Sun Lily jumped. "Why, Ghaden, we can just turn 'em loose on Anarr and have him be distracted-like while we bring down his palace all around him!"

"That will be enough, Officer Black," came the irate grumble from behind the steepled hands. "I am concerned that these women are spies for the emperor."

Malachi's face fell, but the crinkles of lifelong laughter still winged his eyes. "Oh, sorry, Commander," he said, less enthusiastically now. "Guess I'd better put on my serious face now." He was the only one who did not gasp in fear and anger at Ghaden's voiced suspicion, and now the eyes darkened at Alainna and Sun Lily, who were quick to notice that several people had sheathed swords or daggers strapped to their hips.

Ghaden only had to flicker a glance at a short-haired man standing at his right shoulder, and the man stepped up and put his right hand upon the pommel of his sword. "I am Officer Arron Bridges," the man announced. "If you lie, the truth will be outed, and you will die a horrific death." His voice seemed to echo around the room, and the expression on Ghaden's face mirrored the warning in the words. "It is commanded of you to tell us the truth. Anyone who threatens my commander will be killed right here in this room. Are either of you spies for the emperor Anarr?"

Alainna straightened at the deepening heaviness in the room, but it was Sun Lily who softly spoke through the palable tension. "No. We are not spies. We hate Anarr with everything we are, with every breath we take. We fled Soleis because we heard what he had done to Iori, and we did not want to experience a repeat of that. His soldiers hunted the streets like packs of jackals. We heard that he was even killing his own harem members without second thought."

A collective gasp of disgust swept the room. "We wanted to have good lives for our children," Sun Lily continued, her accented voice strong and clear as a river. "That is another reason why we left." She had no problem with lying, so it seemed in her confident eyes.

Arron nodded once. "Are the sires imperial guards?"

The tension shifted in the room; several people were offended by such a bold question, but it did not bother Alainna or Sun Lily. "No," Alainna replied, vehemently shaking her head. "Definitely not."

Smiling triumphantly as the crowd relaxed, Nihara turned herself to face the pair. "If you would join us in our fight, both of you may stay in our home as long as you like. You don't have to leave until it's safe to do so."

"Yeah, Ghaden, what the hell is this I hear about you wanting to ship these poor girls away when the soldiers swarm like ants?" demanded a thick-boned man with short red hair. "Two girls traveling alone? If soldiers got hold of them, you know what would happen!"

The steepled fingers slowly came down, but Ghaden's glare stayed where it was. "I was going to go with them," he muttered, but was betrayed by Nihara's derisive snort.

"These two girls could be beneficial later on, too," said an older woman named Earneste. She came forward, wide brown eyes and hooded with wrinkled lids. "If Myana is of the northern nomads, she will have an enduring physique, despite how dainty she is. She is of the earth, and I can tell that she is powerful and fast, like a horse. I see the ocean in Arica's eyes. She is made of water, and water will always find a way where nothing else will. Water wears down great mountains, but it also nourishes the smallest of life." She smiled as she patted Alainna's belly. "Yes, we could use these girls to the advantge to all of us. They definitely do not lie where they come from, it is all too obvious to me."

The room was still silent. The inquisitive eyes were now glancing at one another, gathering their thoughts, and heads were nodding in confidence. A low murmur passed from one person to the other like a secret, and Nihara was smiling with her chin tilted up. The only unhappy one was Ghaden, who was glaring right at Alainna. She knew that he was not convinced like the others were, but the majority rested against him.

"Now that you have been exposed to us, you really have no choice but join us," Malachi said with a carefree little shrug. "It's just one of those things. But I'm sure you have no problem joining our ranks, do ya?"

Alainna searched each face, which now welcomed them with friendly eyes as a family would, and she tensed. She had lied to Anarr, but she had to to live. It was the same thing now, so it would not be so bad to continue the little lie to them if it meant saving her life and the life of her baby.

"Do you stand with us and live, or stand against us and die?" Arron demanded.

Lies, lies, they had to continue lying to everyone. But what choice did they have now? "We stand with you," Alainna said. That she knew for certain, but in her mind she only felt despair.

"Then it's settled. Welcome to the Sun Fighters, Arica and Myana!" Nihara grinned, gladly taking their hands in her own. "The more of us there are, the more we will triumph against that evil tyrant!"

A young woman with a low-cut bodice happily lifted up her mug of some sharp ale that Alainna had never before smelled. "May your babes be born in a lovelier time!" she said with a wide, toothy grin. "For they will be lovely." A jealous spark lit her voice and her eyes darkened, for she was not a great beauty.

The man standing next to Nihara was Khalen, a man of about nineteen, with long loose hair like Ghaden's, and a gentle smile on his chiseled jaw whenever he looked at the girl. Alainna was surprised to see such a tender expression; was he drunk? Anarr had occasionally looked at her like that, but only if he had been too friendly with the wine. The very thought of Anarr and the lies she and Sun Lily now had to stick to was making her feel ill.

"Hey Ghaden, maybe you can marry them off to two of these here bachelors!" Malachi suggested, winking to Alainna and Sun Lily as though he was doing them a favour. "With wee ones on the way, they need menfolk to protect 'em and raise the children as their own. Hell, Ghaden, you'd do pretty well with this here Cytress girl-"

"You are dismissed, Officer Black," Ghaden barked.

"-And then some fella here could take the nomad, she's quite a pretty gal, isn't she? She looks like one of them sun lilies in the north. You know, I've been north plenty of times, beautiful country." He rambled on, not seeing Alainna exchange a quick glance with Sun Lily.

"But the Cytress gal, what's your name again? Miss Arica, yes? Don't ya think Ghaden's a handsome fella?"

Ghaden's fist came down on the table. "You are dismissed."

Malachi ignored him, leaning back in his chair until the front feet left the floor. He grinned knowingly at Alainna and Sun Lily. "What do ya think about that, ladies?"

"I desire to return north to my family," Sun Lily said cheerfully. "It is where I came from, and I would like my child to know that simple, lovely life."

Alainna could not speak her own desire, for Ghaden's glare turned to her, as though it were she who were discussing marriage. "You are also dismissed," he said, blue eyes flicking from her to Sun Lily and back. "Nihara." The eyes darted to his sister, his look so dangerous that she quickly jumped in with both hands steering the two women to the door.

"It's a lot to take in at once, isn't it?" she asked. Her face was flushed as though in apology for her brother's continuing rudeness. Everyone else was uncomfortably silent, wanting to protest and let the women stay, but they dared not anger their commander. "Why don't you two get some more tea, then get some rest? You're awfully pale, Arica."

It was indeed a lot to take in at once. This entire group, as happy and rowdy as they were, were very serious about their vow to kill Anarr and everyone who resided in the Sun Palace. Of course I am pale, Alainna thought. Ghaden would behead her on the spot if he had any idea that she had been one of the emperor's lovers, as reluctant a lover as she had been. Ghaden would not care either way.

Sun Lily took a cup of hot tea and a book into the bedroom and was content, reclining on the couch, but Alainna was restless. She paced the room, wearing a path in the smooth floorboards, one hand cradling her belly. "What have we gotten ourselves into?" she said at last.

"Ghaden is a cruel man. I do not like him," Sun Lily said.

Alainna paused in her pacing. A light sweat had broken out on the back of her neck, and it was clammy where the air touched it. The rest of the group were slowly leaving, by ones and by threes, their jovial chatter ceasing carefully as they greeted the unknowing night. "Did you mean what you said earlier, about hating Anarr?"

The golden face hardly changed in the lamplight. It still looked beautiful and innocent. "I do not know," she admitted after a moment. "I was only there for a season. I liked the attention he gave me. I liked the idea of possibly becoming empress, but I did not become obsessed with that thought like the others did. I pleasured Anarr and was pleasured in return, and I loved it. I desired him. But once he started killing those other ones..."

The covered bodies of Bryana and Donella, laying side by side. The streaming blonde hair and robes of Celandine as she lay broken far below. Nettle's proud face as she died, whether guilty or not. Terya's baby, ordered dead, and then Terya herself, so suddenly extinguished herself. Alainna shivered. "I never loved him," she said. "Four years, and I never loved him. I do not know what it is to love. I don't care if Ghaden and this... revolution... kill hiim or not. I know nothing of the outside world anymore, or what Anarr has been doing to the empire besides Iori. But if he thinks nothing of life, then why is Ghaden a cruel man? He knows a lot more about Anarr than we do, and he was inside of us, he has sired our children!" The irony made Alainna quietly laugh, but there was no mirth in her throat.

Sun Lily put her book down and gazed at her belly. She was hardly even showing, despite how delicate her frame was. "He would kill two pregnant women who are innocent of wrongdoing," she whispered. "That is as cruel as Anarr." She suddenly seemed as a child, sitting there on the couch, hardly old enough to be called woman much less mother.

Alainna could not form the right words that she needed. Yes, it was incredibly cruel and unfair. Ghaden seemed to center his life upon Anarr's destruction. Had the tyrant emperor done something terrible to Ghaden's family to warrant such indiscriminate hatred, that he would not hesitate to kill Alainna and Sun Lily both? Alainna just could not fathom that Ghaden was born with such hatred. Even through his irritation and his anger, he was very kind to Nihara, and his eyes were gentle when he looked at Alainna's belly until he realized what he was doing.

"I need some water," she said at last, lamely.

Sun Lily's dark eyes were on her. "You are attracted to that man." Her face fell in disappointment, a young girl not getting her way.

"It is not anything like that..." Alainna hedged. How was it not? Her back stiffened. "Even if I was, I cannot be. He will kill us without blinking if he knows where we've been. We need to figure out how to get out of here without them suspecting anything."

Sun Lily sighed, a soft breeze sound. Her face had slipped even deeper, her eyes dull, and her body seemed to sink into the couch. "But he will kill us. If we leave, he will think his suspicions are true, and he will find us.

Alainna's thoughts whirled. "I do not know. I will be back." She strode to the door as fast as she could, before Sun Lily could respond, and pulled it shut behind her.

Her hand was still on the doorknob when a soft gasp made her shrink back against the door as her eyes wheeled to the far wall, the one opposite the fireplace. The girl with the low-cut bodice had pinned Ghaden to the wall, and had hiked up her long skirt all the way over her milk-white thighs as she straddled his legs. Her ample breasts spilled from her bodice as she pressed hard against her commander, her breaths coming in shallow gasps. "Ghaden... come on now. Please. I want you. I need you."

"No, Sherina," Ghaden muttered. "I don't want this. It's ridiculous." But his breath came as shallow as hers with his desire.

"Of course you want this," the girl breathed. Her hand wandered between his legs, and his breath caught in a sharp hitch. "You wouldn't be a man if you didn't want me. I've waited too long for this."

Ghaden's eyes suddenly lifted from the girl's bosom. Alainna quickly reached out for the doorknob to disappear back into the bedroom, but it was too late. He had seen her. The girl was thrust away from him with a startled cry as he charged, his face a deep red from both desire and anger. Alainna cringed against the door, mumbling an apology under her breath.

"I would appreciate it if you stay where you're supposed to be, girl," Ghaden snarled. "I don't appreciate being watched. As a matter of fact, spying."

"I wasn't spying, you outlandish troll!" Alainna exclaimed, her fear lurching into anger. "I was coming out here to get a drink, and I could not help but see such an act happening right in front of my eyes! I would request that you keep it in the bedroom." Her thoughts, like her anger, were whirling out of control, spiraling madly around her head until the sound was so loud that she could not even hear. She had never felt so irate when Anarr would have another harem member right in front of her; in fact, it made her glad. Now she was confused by what she felt when this man who hated her was about to do the same thing.

Ghaden's entire face pulled taut with fury. He thrust his face inches from Alainna, breathing hot and fast onto her flesh. "You would request?" he echoed incredulously. "You would request? Darlin', I hate to disappoint you, but I will do whatever the hell I want to in my house! If you don't like it, either stay in that room and keep it to yourself, or leave!"

Alainna let our her breath in an impatient huff. "If I leave, I would be attacked by Anarr's men, although I guess you would revel in that, wouldn't you? Well, and why don't you just take me right here and now, like you were about to do with that girl?" she said, her voice much louder and bolder than she had meant it to be. Surprised at herself, she covered her mouth with her hand so nothing more mortifying would come out. The blood pounded loud enough in her ears to drown out the roar of her raucous feelings.

Ghaden only stared at her with bottomless eyes. The red flush had not left his face; it made his eyes look even darker. "Don't tempt me," he growled. "I just might do that."

Alainna watched his retreating back with shock as he waved away the girl, bluntly telling her to go home. Sherina's shoulders and face both dropped like stone. Alainna felt a certain satisfaction as the girl stared daggers at her before stomping to the door and letting herself out.

Sun Lily looked up in alarm as Alainna stormed back into the bedroom. "I hate that man!" Alainna hissed. "He's ridiculous!" The younger girl cowered down, unused to her friend's outbursts. What Alainna found to be most ridiculous was the feeling now coursing through her, something entirely new and exciting.

Author's Note: A bit of a longer chapter for you guys, I hope you like it! :) GHADEN IS SO CONFUSED LAWL.