Chapter One

A soft melody interrupted a polite silence. Couples slowly joined King Mireon and his wife in dance. Anya watched as Fondore left the small stage. Instinct forced her behind a man taller than she. But she still watched. Fondore was greeted by a man half his age with blonde hair that fell perfectly flat on his head, dressed in the same gray uniform and adorned with the same haunting emblem. But Fondore's gaze still lingered searchingly over the crowd. He was too close. She spun around and headed for the balcony.

He doesn't know who you are, Anya told herself. Short in breath, trembling, the world she lived in once more became petrifying. Every year she found herself even more crippled by fear. You look too much like her. How much longer can you hide?

She approached quiet. The balcony was welcoming and safe for it showed no sign of Fondore. Unfortunately, it was already occupied by a man who towered over a giggling blonde, a man whom she recognized. How could she forget his untidy brown hair, his green eyes, and that long nose? He was Sirian, her former nanny's son. Anya ignored them and leaned against the stone balustrade on the opposite end. Don't notice me, she prayed.

"You're so beautiful, love," she heard him say. Anya wanted to vomit but the girl did the unthinkable; she giggled. She hated giggling girls especially the ones that looked like harlots. There was a faint whisper, then another giggle, and then footsteps. Sirian then stood beside her and leaned against the stone balustrade. "Hello, Anya." She glanced at him but remained silent. They were friends as children, before he saw her as a girl. But mostly, before their friendship became inappropriate. "I see, too good for we peasant folk, are you now?"

"You know that isn't true. Just for you," Anya said. She could feel the sting of her own words.

"What happened to you?" Sirian asked, "Of course it was only natural. Luck of the draw, wasn't it? Being born in such a high place, it's all gone to your head."


"Don't worry; you don't have to waste your precious aristocratic breath on me." She turned and watched him leave. She closed her eyes and took a breath. Guilt settled. Anya looked out onto the courtyard that was blanketed by darkness, only lit by the crescent moon and small specks of candlelight that lined the cobblestone paths. When she was younger she and Sirian would often avoid dancing by sneaking off into the courtyard's maze or by wondering about the castle. The fountain with a stone woman in the center with hands held high from which the water spilled was still visible even in the darkness; the fountain that they once fell into and ruined their best clothes. But as they grew older, their friendship faded and adventures ceased. Their worlds separated. Funny, how easily things can be lost.

"Oh, there you are!" It was her adoptive father, Jaim Jolan. Jaim was a relatively average man despite his small fortune. He stood not too tall nor too short, thin but not muscular, with his graying black hair pulled into a short pony tail and dressed in a simple yet elegant black suit. "I have someone I have been meaning to introduce you to." Anya reluctantly followed. She knew very well who she was to meet; her fiancé, Soland Landore. She had yet to meet either him or his family despite that their engagement was arranged several years ago.

She followed Jaim through the crowd of people mingling; the ball was the perfect time for socialites to network. The candle lit ballroom worked wonders for disguising a lady's age and the warmth allowed them to use fans to flirt. Some stood while others sat at the purple clothed tables which outlined the dance floor. Then there were others who leaned against the golden walls and then those who danced.

They approached Lenia Jolan, his wife, and their son Dionandre. The only similarity between Lenia and Anya was that they both stood rather short in height. Though on the heavy side, Lenia still maintained some of her former beauty which was held mostly in her blue eyes. Dionandre was the spitting image of his father, with black hair styled in a short pony tail and bright green eyes. Anya often wondered how people believed she was not only a blood relative to the Jolan family, but one of their children. Her hair was neither blonde like Lenia's had once been and nor was it black. Instead she possessed many of her real mother's features; the same wavy brown hair, the same grey eyes. She was, however, tan like her father had once been.

Jaim drew her attention to the stranger chatting with her family. He wasn't exceptionally handsome but he wasn't atrocious either. His hair was blonde and flat, his eyes brown and framed by dark eyebrows that made his light hair seem quite unnatural. His thin lips curled into an awkward smile. "Anya, this is Mr. Landore. And this is my daughter, Anya."

"Soland," he corrected, kissing her hand, "It is a pleasure to finally meet my fiancée. You are even more beautiful than your father described." Anya noticed his uniform. Gray and decorated with a red sun. "May I have this dance?" She met with Jaim's eyes. There was no choice. She had to accept.

"Of course," she said reluctantly.

"Funny, isn't it? How we are to marry in such little time and yet this is the first time we have met," he said. With a weak smile Anya wondered if she could marry a man part of the army that murdered her family ten years ago. She avoided his eyes and instead focused on the red emblem on his suit. "I promise you, Anya, I'm not really half bad."

She could only say one thing. "You're a soldier?"

A few minutes passed while they danced in silence. "My father is. My grandfather was. Really there was no avoiding it. Family duty, if you will. I cannot say that I am necessarily fond of it, but what would people say, if one in my social standing practiced medicine?" He led her into a spin. Medicine, though considered an honorable practice in Jaet, was not an appropriate path for a gentleman to pursue. "You're awfully quiet, aren't you?"

"I'm afraid so," Anya said. I don't want this. I don't want you, she thought. Most eligible girls would have done anything to marry Soland. He was, after all, one of the most sought after bachelors in Jaet. He was not handsome, not physically but rather in a monetary sense. But Anya believed marriage should result from love, not a business deal. And besides, when she looked at him dressed in grey uniform she only saw all the evils that his men committed. She imagined her people in Zelione in chains, being executed, being slaves while the Jaet soldiers sat back and reclined with drinks in hand.

Soland touched her face and gently lifted it towards him so that she was forced to look him in the eye. "I promise I'll take care of you. Even if we are not in love, or whatever it is that you women want, you'll have an easy life." She had forgotten that men of her class didn't believe in love. Instead they believed in dowry. I won't ever have an easy life, not here.

Anya stepped away from Soland when the music finished and curtsied. She excused herself and slowly pushed through the crowd. She joined her brother and a girl with blonde curls.

"Melli," Anya greeted her closest friend with a hug. Dionandre, pink cheeked, excused himself. "Are you forgetting to tell me something?" Melli shrugged innocently. "You know, that my brother is suitor number eight now?" Anya knew her brother always thought Melli was a piece of art. He was constantly staring at her and Anya couldn't really blame the man. Melli was quite beautiful with her soft blonde curls, her pearl colored skin, and blue eyes. She also came with a large dowry to complete the package.

"We were only talking," Melli said, "I saw that you and Sirian on the balcony earlier. I do wonder what that was about." Anya could tell she was suspicious. Melli spent much time at Anya's home as a child and therefore witnessed Sirian and Anya playing together frequently. She also witnessed their romantic relationship blooming as they grew into puberty. Anya often supposed it was Melli who told the Jolans about them out of jealousy.

"It was nothing. He was just being rude. I'm afraid I interrupted him with his new strumpet," Anya said.

"He's quite handsome, but really. Must he be with so many women?" Melli asked with a laugh. Anya often wondered if she was the reason he was like that. Instinct told her she was to blame. She could never forget the look on his face as she said good-bye when they were younger. He had looked absolutely heartbroken.

"Sirian, I can't see you anymore," Anya had blurted. The fifteen year old Sirian was taken aback. He laughed from sheer disbelief. He leaned in to kiss her but she turned away.

"You're not joking," he said. Anya had never seen him so shocked, so hurt. "Why? You and I both know we are meant for each other." His eyes were so pleading.

"We're not," she said harshly. Lenia's words echoed through her head. 'We risked our lives when we took her in, Jaim. We won't have her destroy us by being with a boy like Sirian.' She bit her lip and looked down. "We come from different worlds. I cannot see you anymore." They sat in silence before he stood up to leave.

"What happened, Anya? What happened to the girl who didn't care what was appropriate or inappropriate to our parents, to everyone?"

"She grew up."

Anya pretended to focus on Melli. But in reality she was looking past Melli, where not too far behind stood Sirian, pretending to listen to his giggling blonde.