Chapter One

The apartment was light, spacious and cool, even during the heat of late midsummer, and it was a welcome relief from the brilliance of the city outside. Anari smiled on the beautiful furnishings as she helped her grandmother into a chair. Then, moving towards the table, upon which lay a crystal carafe of water and a bowl of fruit, she poured three goblets of water, brought them over to her grandmother and uncle, and they all sat to enjoy the quiet drink.

"This is lovely," Anari said, looking out on the view of the Yanoy capital of Dranthe, to which they had come for the yearly forum of nations on the Gulian Peninsula. "I never expected that it would be this beautiful."

"It is a wonderful city," Ri'a'na, her grandmother, remarked. "I remember the first time I came here—coming on forty years ago now—it was not so nice by half. The grandson, Vye, has done well with it."

"Pity he had to kill his grandfather for the opportunity," her uncle Natan's voice was low and grim.

That thought soured the taste of the ginger water in her mouth, and Anari only took one swallow before feeling the familiar sensations of anger, resentment, and jealousy rising up in her stomach. Standing again, she looked out the window.

Her first impressions of Dranthe, a place she had never seen (but had heard enough of to last a lifetime) had been rather favorable, despite what she had intended to find there. From the view out their windows, her impressions were again confirmed. The wide, bright streets of finest marble (probably imported from the Continent through Vienne, the border nation) were lined with graceful buildings that housed schools, libraries, and research laboratories, both scientific and medical.

The city of Dranthe truly was the jewel of civilization on the Peninsula.

How that made her hate it! The glory she saw here might very well have existed in her own country, Mato'i'ya, save for the years of oppression by the Yanoy government that continued in small measure even now. How she would love to have these schools and resources available for all the children of her land…how many fewer deaths there would be of the cruel eastern winters if these hospitals were available to the peasantry!

That future was blighted because of the country of Yanoy…because of the ruthlessness and single-mindedness of Chancellor Leo Vye.

As always, her grandmother saw everything.

"Calm yourself, Anari," she said, sipping her water calmly, "rage will do you no good. Our battles were fought long ago, and now is the time for politics."

"A much more ruthless battle," her uncle remarked.

"And one not half so satisfying," Anari smiled tightly as she resumed her seat. "Besides, grandmother, you were the one who fought our battles. You faced Vye's grandfather down face-to-face."

"Yes, to win our freedom…I have heard the story so often that sometimes I even wonder if that brave idiot was really me!"

Underneath the summer tan and careless smile of the more than seventy-year-old woman the signs of strain and sleepless nights were concealed well, but not perfectly. Anari knew her grandmother almost better than anyone, so she knew that her uncle was right.

Politics was a different battleground than the ones that Ri'a'na, in her youth, had been used to, and though she might have walked three hundred miles barefoot through the desert at seventeen, the hundreds of tiny defeats in procedure, bureaucracy, and litigation were almost more than she could bear at seventy.

To one who had idolized the woman all her life (and how short twenty six years seemed in comparison to seventy four!) these frustrations were just as painful to her, and Anari was determined that when she came of age, which date was little more than a month away, she would be damned if she allowed Vye to bog her down with pathetic and evasive time-wasting paperwork.

Natan finished his water in two great gulps and then stood, stretching with a yawn.

"No rest for the weary," he said, "I'm going to get down to the great hall and make sure that there are no nasty surprises waiting for us at the welcome reception tonight."

"What, you think they might have forgotten our table again?" Ri'a'na smile was a bitter one.

"As though they forgot last year," Anari growled, "Vye is so low. He just wanted to delay our recognition in Peninsula affairs. Although what damage we could really do to Yanoy is beyond me."

"A man will do anything to protect his pride," Ri'a'na said, lifting herself ponderously out of her chair, "remember that well. It may be gratifying to take a low blow at the Chancellor, but I've paid the price too many times to recommend it."

"He's a touchy bastard," was Natan's remark as the door swung shut behind him.

"Besides," her grandmother continued, as she started to make her way towards the women's bedroom, "we wield more power than you think. Though we offered little to Yanoy when we were under their domination, our splintering away from them may be an inspiration to other sections of the country unhappy with Vye's rule. And never forget that neither Magoren nor Iofari are really happy with the way Vye seems to want to expand his empire."

"As to Magoren," Anari said, keeping pace with her grandmother and a watchful eye on her faltering steps, "you know that King Evanik would never make a move without assurances from both Iofari and Vienne, no matter how much he pretends to resist Yanoy."

"But Iofari has always been very openly against him, and since they control the major trade from the Continent to the west, over the Straits, Vye cannot help but listen to the Council of Thirteen. They, at least, are our faithful allies."

"Lastly, Vienne stands somewhere in the middle, as usual." Anari sighed, thinking back over the five long years of foreign culture lessons and diplomacy training that had ingrained these invisible lines of connection and power in her head. "If Vienne were to take a stronger stance—any kind of stance—we could achieve so much!"

"That observation is nothing new, certainly," Ri'a'na remarked tartly, snapping open the trunk that the valet had left on the deep blue satin comforter on the bed, "and if our lives were reduced to worrying about whatever new fad Queen Mariss and her oaf of a consort Alfon were going to follow this week they would simply not be worth living."

Anari laughed. "Thankfully, they are not. What do you think I should wear tonight?"

"I thought you had chosen your outfit before we left."

"I know. I just…I don't know…I want to seem powerful without being ostentatious."

Her grandmother chuckled. "We have little enough to be ostentatious with. I think your original choice of the green velvet was very nice. It sets off your hair and complexion very well."

"There's not much that can do that," Anari said, flipping her dull ash-blonde braid over her shoulder and examining the color with a sartorial eye.

"Well, I have something that might work. Let me find it." Digging through her trunk, Ri'a'na continued, "While I look, why don't you put on the green so I can see how it looks."

Pulling her crisp white chemise, underthings, and dress out of her trunk, Anari retreated behind an elaborate wooden screen and changed out of her dusty traveling dress of brown linen. It was relief enough to be out of those clothes, but not so pleasant to put on the cambric undergarments (they were stiff with newness) and wiggle into the green velvet, studded with tiny emeralds enmeshed in cloth of gold embroidery.

The idea of what the money that had gone into this dress could have done for her country was humbling, and this feeling of guilt warred with the sensation of shame should she have to appear at the forum dressed in a cotton gown and goat skin cloak, as consisted her usual attire.

Stepping out from behind the curtains and checking the dress quickly for loose threads, Anari was very aware that she had never worn anything finer in her life. Her grandmother greeted her with a low gasp of delight.

"Oh, Anari, it's perfect," she said, her smile beatific.

Her granddaughter blushed. "I feel so awkward. This dress is so soft and…fragile."

"Twenty-six years old and you've never worn anything other than cotton, linen, skins and fur. What a crying shame, and such a beauty as you are, too, when all dressed up."

This time Anari recognized the joking for what it was. No one, not even her parents, had ever described her as beautiful. Her looks were pleasant only at the best of times, but at usual times she was mud-stained, ink-stained, or worse. Though Anari was part of the ruling family, that entitled her to no life of luxury; the Yuno'a family kept its own goats and grew its own potatoes, besides attending to the needs of six domestic counties and relations with four foreign nations. Add to this her high forehead, dull hair and long nose and no one save her grandmother would ever term her 'beauty'.

Anari liked to think that she worked too hard to be really beautiful, but as such, she secretly distrusted beautiful women, knowing that they had little in common. The one time Queen Mariss had visited Mato'i'ya, Anari had been nineteen, and the shock of seeing such finery combined with such a figure in comparison with the grimy personage of herself and the dingy outfitting of all her family left a bitter taste in her mouth.

Pushing the thoughts away with a firm shake of her head, Anari managed a smile and said, "You had something for me?"

Ri'a'na shook herself out of her own memories (what could she be thinking of?) and said, "Yes indeed. It's something very special. I think you know this well." And with a flourish, Ri'a'na untied the leather thong of her pendant and tied it around her granddaughter's throat, letting the soft golden circle, glimmering with the gentle radiance of the sun, come to rest against the forest green velvet of her dress.

Anari turned to look at herself in the mirror and instantly shook her head. "No, grandmother, I can't take this…this is your roundel."

"I've been meaning to give it to you for quite some time now," Ri'a'na gently took Anari's hand away from the pendant. "It has helped me to be patient and wise as God would have me be, and now as you are likely to succeed me when I am too senile to work my way around the labyrinth of international relations, I want you to have it."

Anari looked at the beautiful roundel, which she knew was her grandmother's only remainder of her wealthy childhood as a favored family under Yanoy domination, and traced the embossed inscription, delicately inscribed in the old speech. "Is it, 'God in His mercy will not let you fall'?"

"Very good. A paraphrase from the Moon story. You just translated that one, I believe."

"Yes. I wanted to tell it to Yuno before we left, but I only finished it late that night." Brushing her fingers over the soft, ancient gold, Anari wondered how many lifetimes of devout worshippers had worn the pendant. For an instant, she could feel each one of them, including her own grandmother as a child, wide-eyed, clapping her hands in fervent prayer.

Behind her, Ri'a'na suddenly sat down heavily, breathing hard. The sound roused her granddaughter who came to her side immediately.

"Is it the same pain, Tana? Shall I fetch you some water?"

"No, no," the woman hastened to assure her, "no pain this time. Just some shortness of breath, Anari." Feebly waving her hand in denial, she said, "Go and bathe, for heaven's sake, before you soil your gown with dust from the road."

Her brow wrinkled with doubt, Anari withdrew to bathe and dress for the evening, not believing her grandmother for an instant. A dark shadow of foreboding came over her, and she began to feel the weight of the pendant around her neck, the sensation of a burden too great to bear alone.

()()()

When they were all ready, Ri'a'na called them together in the central room of their suite, and together they prayed, clapping their hands and bowing their heads, as Ri'a'na murmured the invocation to God. The sound of her grandmother's beautiful strong voice, whispering the old speech in the accent so familiar, sent a lance of homesickness straight through Anari's heart, and for a moment she might have thought herself back in Mato, capital city and seat of their family home, encircled in the sharp stone and wailing wind of the Valley.

After the prayer, Natan turned to his niece and said, "Remember, Anari, peace and patience. This time they dare not deny us what we want."

Anari nodded and breathed deeply. She had trained for this for a long time, shadowing her relations involved in international politics. She was disciplined and smart, with a knack for spotting weak points in her opponents' positions. It was an honor to have been allowed the opportunities that she had, even while not being of age.

Now was her true test. Following last in the procession headed by Ri'a'na, the three left the room and fell in among the other diplomats sent from adjoining nations. Ahead of them, trailed by three ministers in robes so thick with gems that they sparkled in the candlelight with every movement, walked Queen Mariss (thankfully without her vile husband) resplendent in an elegant white gown, embroidered with a line of diamonds the size of duck eggs. The woman's long blonde curls were carefully schooled by silver and diamond pins atop her head so that her hairstyle resembled a giant pinecone sprouting from her skull.

Anari stifled her chuckle, but became acutely aware nonetheless that the only ornament in her hair was a single golden pin holding limply-curled bangs out of her eyes.

King Mar Evanik of Magoren fell into step next to them, and his massive build seemed to dwarf the petite hunched figure of Ri'a'na as he stopped to murmur a greeting. His own robes were beautiful with embroidery, and Anari recognized the brocade as being Continent imported. Certainly Magoren could afford to attire its ruler like a true king, and Evanik looked every inch as powerful as he was.

As they descended the stairs into the foyer, brilliant with the light of six massive chandeliers and countless candelabras, liveried servants circulated among the distinguished guests with refreshments that Anari had never tasted. Though she itched to take whatever offered—was that marzipan on the tray to her left?—but she did not wish to seem so unrefined. Out of the corner of her eye, she caught Queen Mariss nibbling delicately on a pecan tartlet, and did the same, savoring the rare taste of the thick molasses heavy and dark against her tongue.

Her grandmother seemed well at ease among this bunch, and even though her form had always been small and was now slightly stooped with age, Anari could still see traces of the vibrant auburn-haired revolutionary who was the leading figure in countless stories all across her country. She set a trio laughing here with a joke, stopped to exchange a nudge there, and seemed to shed years as she deftly worked her way through the room. Anari shook her head and followed each move with wondering eyes.

Turning from the refreshment tables with a glass of rosy pale wine, she caught sight of Guild lady Narrah, whom she had met while traveling with her parents in Raaf, the capital city of Iofari. Glad to be able to make small talk without seeming obsequious, Anari passed away the time fairly comfortably with the cheerful woman, who kept her well supplied with gossip and jokes until Chancellor Vye made his appearance.

When that man appeared at the head of the stairs, a slight hush descended on the crowd before scattered greetings (mostly from the delegations from Vienne and Magoren) trickled up to meet him. Smiling quietly, he gestured to the servants who stood before the massive copper doors to the great hall, and bade his guests take their seats.

Despite the fact that Anari had known of this man for what felt like her whole life and had hated him ever since he took the reins from his father (who had been declared insane and had passed away bare months ago) she had never set eyes on him. Now, as if to make up for that, her eyes never left him as he descended the stairs and started to move amongst his guests in the current towards the hall.

He was a handsome man, she thought sourly, with dark eyes and hair and skin the bronze of a man who spent the greater part of his time outdoors. His features were strong and regular, but the expression of his mouth and eyes showed her his temper and determination. Even at such a distance, he seemed to sense the intensity of her gaze, and for a moment their eyes met, his flinty black searching her pale green.

"Yuno'a Anari," the sudden voice at her ear made her start. Turning, she saw the pretty, vulpine face of Queen Mariss and returned her smile with a polite greeting.

"I see that you have no one's arm to take into the council chamber," the woman continued, shaking her head so the diamonds in her ears shimmered with the movement, "May I offer the services of my gentleman?"

"Thank you," Anari accepted with a graceful nod and took the arm of the counselor who offered it. The hard edges of the jewels on his coat poked her through the soft fabric of her sleeve, and she wondered how anyone could bear to wear something that uncomfortable.

Up ahead, her uncle and grandmother took their places at their hard-won table, and she joined them, sent on her way by the elaborate bow of the Queen's man. Natan gave her a broad smile and wink as she sank gratefully into the massive leather seat he held for her.

Despite the number of people in the foyer, only relatively few were allowed into the great hall. The largest delegation was the Council of Thirteen, the representatives of each of the ruling Guilds in Iofari. These men and women, simply attired in white robes edged in embroidered ribbon (blue for the seafaring guilds, green for the farming guilds, and gold for the trading guilds) sat to the left of Vye's desk, the center of the circle of five nations.

To Vye's right sat Queen Mariss and her three advisors, behind which her faithful scribes prepared desks and vellum to take record of the proceedings. On her other side was the small corner set aside for Mato'i'ya, and directly across from them sat King Evanik of Magoren and his two advisors and three scribes.

Two deaf-mute servants (so appointed because they could not pass on news of what transpired in the chamber) served each of the tables, and they quickly laid out crystal pitchers of water and wine for the delegates. Once this operation was done, a solemn silence descended in the echoing vastness of the audience hall, and anticipation prickled up Anari's spine like a wandering spider.

In the silence, everyone looked to the Gulian Peninsula's most powerful figure, Chancellor Leo Vye, to open the ceremonies. Though his expression was neutral—even tending towards amiable—Anari felt a sick prickle of hatred at him, knowing that he must enjoy the nearly boundless power he wielded over the assembly.

"Ladies and gentlemen of the Gulian Peninsula, welcome." Vye stood and raised his glass, toasting the company. "I thank you all for attending our yearly forum of nations, which allows us to continue to assist and communicate with each other. Most especially would I like to welcome the returning delegation from the province of Mato'i'ya."

The first cut of the evening was his blithe statement that Mato'i'ya was still nothing more than a section of Yanoy, and not a nation in its own right. Ri'a'na, knowing the ploy for what it was, merely inclined her head and sipped quietly at her wine as the assembly drank. Anari merely touched her lips to the glass, staring at the sharp, surveying eyes of the Chancellor.

He went on. "Tonight's most pressing matter is the continuing problem of collecting our promised aid from the Continent to assist us in rebuilding the portions of Magoren devastated by the mudslide of six months ago," he continued, smoothly moving into the business of the night, "As you are all aware, though our messengers reached the Continent's capital of Argon four months after the event, there have been continual delays in securing money or troops; our rightful aid considering the tribute that we pay each year."

"As to that," King Evanik replied, "the flooding of the river delta caused by the mud destroyed the seedling crops, and we could no more use the money than we could use food for the winter. I am fearful that it will mean famine for my nation if our messenger to King Makizan goes unheard."

"Rest your mind easy on the subject of starvation," Guild lord Taran put in. "I have already obtained a dispensation from the province adjoining Magoren. Refugees are welcome in Iofari, and we pledge ourselves to aide those whose homes have been destroyed by the flooding."

The King stood and bowed deeply to the Guild lord. "I pray it will be unnecessary, Guild lord; I have sent messengers to Argon every month, so it cannot be long before assistance arrives."

"We pray that it might be so," Vye put in, "but in the meantime, refugees are also welcome in Yanoy, and rest assured that we also pledge our support until it is no longer needed."

Evanik bowed again.

"Should we not take some stronger course of action?" Queen Mariss suggested. "It seems that though we pay tribute yearly—sometimes in an amount more than is right, considering the relative size of the Peninsula to the Continent—we gain little in return for our coin. I have discussed the matter of trade embargoes with my advisors."

The advisors in question nodded, shuffling papers in preparation to speak.

But Ri'a'na spoke first. "I fear there is little we trade to the Continent that they truly need," she said, her clear voice echoing lightly around the room, "therefore, if we enforce embargoes, Makizan might think that we are getting out of hand, and settle things rather more firmly than we can bear."

Vye's gaze landed on them harshly, but Ri'a'na returned his look with cool equanimity. Traditionally, provincial delegates did not speak without being addressed by their parent nation. Ri'a'na had created the perfect atmosphere of tension to make her move. The council chamber was silent in anticipation.

"Chancellor Vye," she said, getting slowly to her feet, "I must raise another pressing matter at this assembly. It has become clear that Mato'i'ya has a stronger sense of self-governance than other provinces of Yanoy. Our very presence at this forum this year and in years past is a testament to that. Therefore, I would like to suggest to this council that Mato'i'ya be recognized as an independent nation of the Gulian Peninsula, to be ratified at the next assembly of the Argonian Court."

"As you are yet a province, Mato'i'ya, dependent upon our good will," Vye said calmly, "you do not have the power to either suggest or move that your recommendation be put to a vote."

"I will make the motion, then," Queen Mariss said, "I move that Mato'i'ya be recognized as an independent country."

Anari's heart thudded painfully. One piece of the puzzle had fit into place, the piece that went astray last time when the King consort Alfon had maliciously refused to vote on their behalf.

"The Council of Thirteen seconds the motion," Guild lord Feln chimed in.

Vye acceded with the grace of a man who knew when the time had come to withdraw. "Then let the vote be taken. All those in favor of allowing Mato'i'ya to take statehood in independence?"

Guild lord Feln, who voted for Iofari, raised his hand, as did Queen Mariss. King Evanik raised his slowly, looking almost fearfully at the Chancellor, who, with a sudden sartorial smile, lifted his own hand. The motion passed unanimously, and Ri'a'na rocked on her feet, almost overcome by the wave of emotion. Anari felt it herself as she steadied her grandmother; it was the release of the unbearable life-long tension, the sudden lifting of their yoke.

When Ri'a'na sat down, tears glittered in her eyes. Even Natan, who was always ready with a bellowing laugh, was muffled by the importance of the moment. He clapped a huge hand over his mother's delicate palm, swallowing hard.

The Council of Thirteen applauded politely, Guild lady Narrah the loudest of them all, and Queen Mariss, smiling benignly (probably feeling the joy of self-satisfaction) joined in. Even Chancellor Vye clapped calmly, but the expression in his eyes was not joy. It was not dissatisfaction or anger, either, and Anari was at a loss to explain it until she realized that it was the determined look of a man who was steeling himself for a battle he had already anticipated.

What with disputes and questions as to the new nation's identity, it was long past midnight when the meeting adjourned, and Natan's strength was required to support Ri'a'na up the long flight of stairs and back to their suite of rooms. The woman was hanging on by her pride alone, for Anari saw the gray pallor of her skin and knew what kind of pain her grandmother was struggling with.

Walking ahead, almost running, Anari reached the rooms first and began to prepare the infusion that would dull the pain and help Ri'a'na sleep.

Even after she took the medicine, her sleep, though swift in coming, was troubled, and Anari did not leave her, instead curling up on an armchair beside the bed, ready to hand should her grandmother need anything during the night. In the morning, Ri'a'na was resting calmly, but it was clearly the sleep of deep exhaustion and lingering illness.

Leaving her bedside only briefly to eat and dress, Anari informed her uncle of her grandmother's condition, and the palace's physician was summoned to attend on her. His diagnosis was exactly what Anari expected; her grandmother was seriously ill with heart trouble and exhaustion besides. He could only proscribe rest and peace of mind to ease her condition, and advised them to give her a chamomile infusion to keep her sleeping.

As the evening drew on and it became necessary to dress for the night's council session, Natan finally took Anari aside and left Ri'a'na to the devoted care of their servants.

"We both need to be there tonight, Anari," he said firmly, "there is so much to be settled yet. My mother would not want you to waste your talents in here when you could be making sure that our new rights are not trampled on in the audience chamber."

"I know," Anari said, looking back into her grandmother's room where the servant, Iolana, bustled around like the fishwife she had once been.

Seeing her distraction, Natan started quizzing her about likely points of contention that Yanoy would raise about their nation.

"How do we defend our claim to the northern ports?"

The question yanked Anari's mind away from infusions, cool clothes, and drafts.

"The northern cities are populated almost exclusively by natives of Mato'i'ya, and they have already petitioned in their local government for inclusion in the new nation. We have copies of these documents, signed in the hands of the local administrators."

"Which city do we take to be our capital?"

"What was formerly known as the Gateway city, now renamed Mato, lying at the head of the Saddle Pass through the Grinèrge mountain range."

Even questioning her as she stood behind the screen to change clothes, Natan succeeded in pulling her mind away from worries about Ri'a'na and focusing them instead on the endless worries about her country and her people.

()()()

A long week later, the seemingly endless political discussions punctuated by dances and dinners and skirmishes of accusations and defenses, and Anari relished the hours of quiet in her grandmother's bedroom. Ri'a'na was awake and cheerful, though she had no desire to leave her bed, and far from being upset about missing some of the defining moments in her nation's birth was actually glad to have missed it.

"It is too much, Anari," she said, "I am happy to leave it to you. I set us on the path, and have seen us down the road for a long, long time. If I had had to argue over and defend the boundaries that I already take for granted, I would be dead from frustration by now."

"As far as arguing goes, there has actually been little enough of it." Anari said, standing over the teapot and pouring two cups. "Vye's only objection was the northern ports, and even there I felt as though his argument was more for appearances than anything else. He was expecting this."

"If he were not, he would be both blind and stupid." Ri'a'na said tartly. "No, he was happy enough to hold on to us while we were weak, but now that we put up a show of strength—and have the support of other nations—he is happy enough to let us go. There is little we gave him that he needed, after all."

"What of his pride? You said before that it was crucial."

"He would be more embarrassed to make a fuss over us than to gracefully allow—and that is the word, 'allow'—us our freedom. This way he seems to be reasonable."

Anari laughed. "Perhaps he is reasonable."

Though she had meant it as a joke, it made Ri'a'na pause. "He is, in his own way. Just as we are in our own way. It is only that our two ways do not coincide."

Her granddaughter considered this, then shook it away as a knock sounded at the door. On her way out she fluffed out her skirts (flattened in back from her long vigil in the armchair) and smoothed her hair away from her face. Her hand was still rearranging loose hairs in her braid when she opened the door to see Vye himself.

"Chancellor Vye," Anari said, angrily commanding her heart to stop its startled beating, "please come in."

"I came to inquire after your grandmother. Yuno'a Ri'a'na has long been an acquaintance of mine, so I apologize that I have not been free to attend her sooner." His voice was everything sincere and charming. Anari had to force her smile and grateful nod.

"She is much recovered, but she has been advised to keep to her bed."

"That is as I have been informed," he said, "and therefore I come to offer my services. I understand that your party rode here on horseback from Mato, is it so?"

"It is."

"Obviously, to return in that manner would be too taxing on your grandmother's strength. I would like to extend to you the gift of a palanquin for your use on the journey home."

Before Anari could make an answer, her grandmother's voice came clearly from the other room. "Chancellor Vye," she called.

Vye nodded quickly to Anari before going to Ri'a'na. Anari followed him into her grandmother's chamber, more bemused than anything else. The sight that met her eyes was truly confusing.

There lay her grandmother, cheerfully nursing a cup of tea while the grandson of her erstwhile arch-enemy stood like a dutiful child, offering his condolences on her sickness and repeating his offer of transportation back to Mato. Though Anari's first impulse was to reject the offer (necessary as it might be) Ri'a'na accepted gracefully and arrangements were made for the escort to meet them at the conclusion of ceremonies the following morning.

After a few more minutes of polite conversation, Anari escorted the Chancellor to the door, wondering what prior history lay between the two of them. After all, she had only met the man a week ago, but he had been in control of Yanoy for nearly five years, ever since his grandfather had died in rather suspicious circumstances. Vye's hands had come up white, but the gossip mill was frantic with rumors that he had been deeply involved. Power had then passed almost immediately to the grandson, for it was obvious that Vye's father was mentally unstable.

Walking next to a cold-blooded murderer was a new experience for Anari, and she was not sure she enjoyed it.

"Your grandmother is a wonderful woman."

The comment startled her. "Yes. Yes, she is. How long have you known her?"

He smiled at her. "Probably almost as long as you have. She has had dealings with my grandfather and father ever since I can remember."

Anari opened the door for him and bit her lip, considering whether or not to ask the question that burnt in her mind.

"You seem to respect her," she began, feeling her way slowly, "and you are familiar with all that she stands for. If this is the case, why have you never before allowed Mato'i'ya its freedom?"

He was silent, standing with one hand on the doorframe. "Freedom for Mato'i'ya. Where is the point in that?" his voice was so low that Anari almost thought he was speaking to himself. It was only when he turned to look at her that she knew he was speaking to be heard. "It is merely comparative freedom for one more faction when we are all together slaves of a greater power."

"What do you mean?"

Even though he was staring at her, the question seemed to shake him out of a reverie, and without another word Vye dipped a quick bow to her before continuing down the hallway.

Shaking her head and pondering his cryptic expressions (and yet were they really so cryptic?) Anari returned to her grandmother's room, where Ri'a'na had fallen asleep, her empty teacup overturned by her side. Smiling softly and placing the cup on the nightstand, she stared down at her grandmother.

"Tomorrow we're going home."

At the mention of the word 'home', Ri'a'na smiled softly in her sleep.

Home. Home. Finally it was their home.