The Holly and the Ivy

Author's Note: This is an entry for A Drop of Romeo's Star-Crossed Round 13 writing contest. This round was a one shot. This is set in the same world as "Whoever Brings the Night" and "The Haunting." Most of the characters are the same. If you want a deeper look into the world, make sure to check them out. I think you should be fine without reading the other two. I am in the process of writing a full length story using this world called "Once." I have no idea when it will be posted.

Oh, I did Selfie Stick."

Once upon a time, there were two kingdoms, Xandria and Trelia, each one just as powerful as the other. For hundreds of years, these kingdoms worked side by side in perfect harmony. That was until the fairies arrived in Trelia to celebrate the birth of their princess.

Three of the four fairies gave the princess great gifts, but the last did not. This fairy placed a curse on the land claiming that on her sixteenth birthday, she would pick her finger with a spindle and fall into an eternal sleep. The only way to break the curse would be through true love's kiss. The royal family did everything in their power to prevent the curse from happening, but in the end, they failed.

A great barrier surrounded Trelia, cutting it off from Xandria. Xandria sent legions to try to break the barrier, but each time, they came back defeated.

Panic arose in the once peaceful kingdom of Xandria. Differences in class and lifestyle cut unfixable holes between the rich, the poor, and the nonhumans. For the first time in the history of Xandria, assassins roamed the streets supported by the rich and backed by the infamous Assassin's Guild. The only problem was that no one knew who was friend and who was foe.

What made everything worse was the fact that these fairies were still at large.

The vast lands of Xandria had finally been covered in the great winter snows that the air had been threatening to deliver for weeks. The ships at Srilurk Landing were officially iced in. The cool waves from Nikirs Ocean's beat against the icy blast, causing it to feel colder than it actually was. The snow howled from the north, making everyone dream of warmer days or of crossing the barrier that surrounded Trelia to reach warmer lands.

However, for once in their lives, most of the people of Xandria were not thinking about those awful events in Trelia or worrying that the curse could spread to their lands. This was actually a time of great enjoyment and fun.

Ryanon narrowed her eyes as yet another group of people ran into her. Since Queen Amberfall of the Nature Fairies of Zania had arrived, King Teodric Morninghelm had decided to be rather generous. For the first time since anyone could remember, the castle was going to be open to everyone for a Yule Ball.

She could actually sort of understand why everyone was excited. Come on, it was a castle and most people wondered about how the royal family lived. Plus, it was also Yule, which was supposed to be the happiest time of the year and there really was not all that much to celebrate.

Still, it was not a time to forget how to act in public.

Alis wrinkled her nose up as a young child threw a snowball at her. "So, what are you up too?"

Ryanon watched as a couple of girls, who were about her age, rushed into a dress shop. "Not much. There hasn't been a lot of jobs lately. I figure it will pick up once all of this is open." Really, she hated that no one had been visiting the Assassin's Guild; she was running out of money.

Alis stared into a jewelry shop's window. "Well, I'm sure that things will get better. Family does tend to hate each other after the holidays are over. I'm so busy that I don't know which way to turn. I've actually have to turn down jobs, can you believe it?" Of course, Alis would have a lot of work now. People bought each other time with the courtesans for Yule gifts.

Ryanon peered into the windows, trying to figure out what in the world had Alis so interested. Jewels never held her attention. "So, are you going to the party?"

Alis turned away from the shiny jewels. "Of course!" She looked Ryanon up and down. "Are you?"

Ryanon really wasn't planning on it. However, annoying Dak would be her prefect Yule.

Alis put her hands on her hips. "You know, you would be pretty if you were to let me get you ready. I bet you would be on the arm of a nobleman by the time the night was over if you were to just let me take care of you."

Ryanon looked down at her street clothes. Sure, they weren't as elegant as Alis's, but they really weren't that bad. She figured they were only a few years out of style. "I really don't want a nobleman yelling at me from under my tower, proclaiming is love to me."

Alis smiled. "I had no idea you were such a romantic." Her eyes scanned the different dress shops. "There surely must be something out there that you will like."


Alis waved Ryanon's objection the side. "I know you love this time of year. I've seen the tree that you have in your room and I know you are the one who is doing all that decorating. Just let me do this for you. It will make your Yule all that much more magical." She gave Ryanon a big smile. "Now, you do want to spend your Yule in that smelly old Guild or would you rather be a princess for the night?"

"Alis, I just don't think it's a good idea. If I want to go, I'm sure I could find something in my closet."

Alis looked horrorstruck. "Where something from your closet?" she stammered. "Oh, no, no, we can't have that!" With that she grabbed Ryanon and dragged her toward the closest shop.

Ryanon tried to dig her heals in. After all, she was a fully trained assassin with an intense workout, but all she did was slid along the sidewalk. She really should have known better than to cross Alis when she was on a shopping mission.

As soon as they entered the shop, Alis began pulling dresses off the racks and piling them in Ryanon's arms. There were dresses of every colour and every style from all the nations of Eaken. She thought that she even saw a few from the Trelian court.

Alis piled her own arms high. "Well, that should get us started. Just remember not to fall in love with the first thing you try on. You should never have to settle."

Ryanon could hardly see where she was going as she followed Alis to the back of the shop. Her arms were actually burning under the weight of all the dresses. The only time her arms burned was when she was beating the crap out of Dak.

Alis shoved Ryanon into a dressing room, adding her own dresses to Ryanon's pile. "Now, I want to see you try on them all."

Ryanon looked at the dress littered room, knowing better than the argue with Alis. Why did the gods have to be so mean?

She slowly pulled on the first one. She did have to admit. It did actually make her look good. It hugged her curves in all the right places, a lot better than her normal clothes. It actually make her look like a young woman, not a killer. She had never really tapped into her womanhood, because she always thought it would make her look weak in the eyes of the other assassins. This really was making her think otherwise. She could look like a woman and still be strong.

Alis was going to have to say yes to this one.

Ryanon stepped out in the dress, trying to hide her smile. "Well?"

Alis leaned forward in her seat, studying Ryanon in a way that made her sweat. Her frown only deepened the longer she stared at Ryanon. "It's good. I never knew you were actually a girl under there, but I don't think it's you." She waved Ryanon away. "Keep trying."

And she got the same reaction with the next dozen or so dresses. Ryanon wanted to come across that floor and just simply kill Alis. All of the dresses had been very beautiful and in so many different colours and styles. They had all transformed Ryanon from assassin to a young noble woman. However, there had been something wrong with each and every one of them.

Ryanon came back out in a simple black one that had a beaded belt around it. "Look, I'm running out of dresses in there."

Alis wrinkled her nose up at the current dress. "There is no way you are wearing that one. It's so last year."

Ryanon rolled her eyes. "Look, maybe we should go see what I have and go from there."

The wrinkles on Alis's face deepened. "That would be worse than death. Actually, that may be a good idea. We could have a fire and warm that place up."

Ryanon gave Alis a long look before going back into the dressing room. This really was hopeless. Nothing was ever going to pass Alis's inspection. She really didn't see why everything had to be perfect. Besides, she wasn't even sure if she was going to this stupid ball. What was so wrong with wanting to spend Yule at the Guild?

She slipped into the final dress and stepped out. "This is all I got."

Alis's mouth dropped open. "This is the one."

Ryanon looked down at the dress. "It's yellow," she said flatly. She really didn't have anything against the colour, but she did not find it to be all that interesting.

Alis got to her feet, giving Ryanon a good look over. "It is not yellow, it's gold. Gold is a very fine colour and it is the style this year." She finished circling Ryanon. "Yes, I will say that this is the one."

Ryanon looked back down at the dress. "Alis, I'm just not sure about this." The dress was a lower cut than she was used too.

Alis waved her away. "Don't worry about it."

The golden dress really did bring out Ryanon's features. The sparkles just danced off her skin, making it look like her glow was a result of wearing this colour. It clung to her body in a way that made her look elegant, not cheap, and it ended on the floor in a puddle of golden sparkles.

Alis pulled out her gold bag. "We have to get it!"

Ryanon almost gagged when she finally saw the price. "Um, no, it's way too much!"
Alis took the price tag from Ryanon, her eyes narrowing. "This is actually kind of cheap for a dress. You see what I pay for my little numbers."

"I'm not getting it. It's too much." Ryanon jerked away from Alis and headed back into the dressing. She pulled on her old clothes, still grumbling about the cost of that dress. The amount of gold that people spent on things like this would feed a family of five in the slums for a month.

As soon as Ryanon came out of the dressing room, Alis grabbed the dress and marched up to the counter so fast that she didn't have time to react.

"Alis!" Ryanon went charging after Alis. She really should have known better. Nothing got in the way of Alis and an outfit she liked. By the time she got up front, Alis had already paid for the dress and was in the process of having it gifted wrapped.

Alis gave Ryanon a sweet smile. "Don't think it will look lovely on here?" Alis said, sweetly to the shop girl. "She's one of those people who doesn't know how beautiful she is."

Ryanon crossed her arms over her chest, glaring at Alis.

The shop girl smiled at Ryanon. "You should listen to her. She knows what she's talking about."

Alis's smile widened. "I am the expert after all."

Ryanon's scowl only deepened as the pair of them went on about shoes and jewels that would really bring out the dress. She completely tuned out their talking when it turned to how to keep the dress from getting ruined in the snow.

By the time they left the shop, the snow was falling harder than ever. People would walk by them and a few seconds later, their footsteps and retreating backs would be gone. Ryanon narrowed her eyes. In this, she couldn't even see the holiday lights that the shops had put up.

Alis wrinkled her nose as they made their way back toward the slums. "This is not what I had in mind. Snow is supposed to fall to the ground gently, not hit you in the face."

Ryanon smiled. It really wasn't hitting you in the face, but it certainly wasn't like the snow out of a story. "Just think about how the snow will look in the pictures."

Alis got a dreamily on her face. "Ah, yes, there is nothing more wonderful than a snowy background."

"So, who are you going with?" Ryanon asked as a snowflake went up her nose. She snorted. Okay, snow, this was not how it was supposed to be.

"Some baron has me for the night," Alis said, a smile coming across her face. "He is actually dreamily. He's not like the other nobles who come and see me. He's not married and the other reason he hired me was because his mother couldn't stand the idea of her son showing up without a date again."
"So, he bought a whore." Ryanon said flatly.

Alis's eyes narrowed. "Are you going to try and steal a dance with a certain Captain of the Royal Guard?"
Now, it was Ryanon's eyes turn to narrow. "And why would I do that?"

"Because you two are partners. Everyone can see it, that's why you two were put together in the first place."

Ryanon grabbed Alis's arm. They both stood looking at each other as the snow drifted around them. "What do you mean?"

Alis's smile widened. "You two would make the prefect couple. You're just like something out of those plays."

Ryanon's frown deepened. "And don't those plays always end up with the lovers dying?"

Alis waved her away. "Those are just minor details." She tucked her arm under Ryanon's. "Now, come on. We don't want to be out on the streets when the disrespectable people come out. They might try and take away our honour."

Ryanon rolled her eyes. They were probably one of the most unworthy people around. The assassin and the whore...It couldn't get much worse than that.

In the days leading up to the ball, Ryanon actually found herself getting excited. In between training sessions, she would actually run up to her room and stare at her dress. At some point, Alis had shown up with jewelry and shoes that were a perfect match for it.

No one else in the Guild knew about the dress and she preferred to keep it that way. Once the other assassins found out, she would never hear the end of it. To make matters worse, the others would probably see her as weak and will feel the need to actually protect her.

It really was sad. Sometimes she just wanted to be a normal young woman and wear pretty things without having to worry about what the others thought.

Well, being a young woman did actually help her in her line of work. Everyone always thought as murder as being male and that no woman was strong enough to commit such an act.

The Guild was starting to look rather homely for the Yule season. A number of trees had been brought in and the assassins spent many of their evenings drinking ale and covering the tress in the decorations they found in the streets. Holly and ivy covered all the staircases and fireplaces with lights poking out of them. It really did look like little fairies had moved in and were calling the plants home.

No one else was really talking about going to the ball. A few of Ryanon's fellow assassins were talking about going to see family or friends over the Yule holiday. Business was actually so slow that there was no need to keep the Guild fully manned. It was kind of depressing to see everyone acting like this. It made Ryanon wish that she had something outside of here.

As it got closer to Yule, more and more assassins were leaving. Pretty soon, it was only Ryanon left. The holiday decorations didn't seem an inviting now that she had no one to share them with. However, it was pretty cozy to sit in the nicest armchair, pull it close to the fire, and pass the howling nights away with a good book and one of her many stuffed animals.

Of course, she had to tend to the fire on her own.

And it would be really nice if someone would stop poking her. She really should just get up and kill them, but this warm spot made it too difficult.

But biting wasn't.

The next time the finger came back down on her, she sank her teeth into the person's boney finger, hard to drew blood. The person gasped and yanked their finger away the moment Ryanon released it.

"Was that necessary?" Ryanon looked over her chair. Dak was standing behind her, rubbing his ever so slightly bleeding finger.

Ryanon shrugged. "You're just lucky it wasn't a knife." She calmly closed her book and moved her stuffed dog to the side of her chair before standing. "You should know better than to sneak up on me."

Dak just glared at her. "Well, you weren't answering. I wasn't even sure if anyone was around. I have a report and this is the first time I've been able to get away."

"Ah, did the poor Captain of the Guard actually have to do something instead of sitting in his fancy office?" Ryanon taunted.

Dak's eyes just narrowed. "I'll just put my report in the office and be on my way."
Ryanon smirked. "Are you busy getting ready for the ball?"
Dak lowered himself into another arm chair. "I see you've been getting ready for the season." His eyes scanned all the decorations. "The ball is all anyone can talk about. The only person who doesn't seem excited is Queen Amberfall."

"Maybe the Nature Fairies don't have balls." Ryanon lowered herself down next to Dak. "It really could not be her thing."

Dak just shrugged. "Don't know, don't really care. All I know is I'm supposed to have my best present in the best uniforms. Other than that, my father really doesn't care."

"I'm surprised you're allowed to have a part," Ryanon muttered.

Dak got to his feet and threw a couple of logs onto the dying embers. "Well, we still have to pretend that they don't hate my guts."

She just nodded, staring into the now brightly glowing fire. "Do you ever get sick of playing the nice act?"

Dak lowered himself back down into the soft sofa. "Do you the fact that it is so hard to put up with jerks when you know you could kill them in about two seconds? Yeah, I think I know what you are talking about."

Ryanon smiled. "So, tell me what are you wearing to the ball?"

"Dress uniform." He paused and his smile widened. "At least, I can say that my medals are real, unlike the ones that will be on my father's and brothers."

Ryanon laughed. "Well, you do have that much going for you." She got to her feet. "I could use some milk and cookies." She started out of the room. "Are you coming?"
Dak jumped to his feet and followed her. His eyes widened as they made their way toward the kitchen. Every bit of the house had been covered in Yule decorations. "You really like this time of year."

Ryanon was pulling out glasses out of one of the cupboards. "The others helped. There's been nothing to do besides train and we really can't do that all the time."

"I see." Dak poured some milk into the two glasses. "And where did all of this come from? I just don't see everyone going out and buying Yule things."

Ryanon finished out the cookie jar. "Oh, we didn't. People really do need to lock their stuff up a little better. It really was quiet simple to walk in there and just get what we needed."

Dak rolled his eyes. "You do realize that if one of my men saw you, they would have to arrest you?"

Ryanon waved him away as she dunked a cookie into her milk. "We all know their too big of pansies to wonder into this part of town." She took a bite of her cookie. "Besides, they wouldn't catch us anyway."

"What makes you say that?"

"They were trained by you, after all."

Dak through a dishtowel at her. "Hey, I have trained one of the best Royal Guards in all of the kingdoms. My father even gives me that much credit."

"But you see we are assassins, ninjas of the world," Ryanon pointed out, throwing the towel back at Dak.

"Did you really just claim to be a ninja?" Dak snorted. "Now, I've heard it all."

"Just shut up and eat your cookies before I decide to kill you."

"It's now like I haven't heard that one before and I'm still standing here." He did shut up though for about a total of thirty seconds. "So, what are wearing?"

"To what?" Ryanon could feel her heart racing. It was one thing to discuss these matters with Alis, but with Dak it was a whole different game.

"I know you went dress shopping with Alis."

"How do you know about?" Ryanon was pretty sure that Dak hadn't been around earlier.

He smiled. "I have my ways."

"I'm am going to kill Alis." She looked at Dak. "Please, tell me you didn't bed her."

Dak laughed. "What makes you think I would do something like that?"

"Because you're you."
He bit into another cookie. "So, tell me, are you really going to the ball?"
Ryanon shrugged. "You know everything, so why don't you tell me?"

He smiled. "I really think you will end up showing up." He paused. "You know why? You can't stand the chance of missing me in my dress uniform. You can't stand to miss the chance of trying to pick a fight with me."

Now, it was her turn to smile. "Ah, you really do know me too well." She tossed her hair back over shoulder. Alis said it was supposed to seduce men, but it made Ryanon feel stupid. "I can't stand missing the chance to make fun of you."

He stuffed the last cookie in his mouth. "Well, I'd better go. I'm supposed to baby sit Queen Amberfall tonight."

"Ah, tell me how did you get picked for such a big honour?"

"I didn't. I was told this is what I'm going to be doing tonight."

He got to his feet, looking around. "Um, where's my cloak? I don't remember taking it off."

Ryanon smirked as she pulled it out from behind her. "And I thought you were supposed to be Captain of the Guard and, yet, you can't even keep track of your own belongings."

Dak grabbed the cloak from her. "Everyone else knows not to cross me."

"You know, I could have laced that with poison and you didn't even check it." She shook her head. "What kind of an assassin are you?"

He just glared at her as he stormed out of the kitchen and let the front door slam shut behind him.

Smiling, Ryanon started to clean up the mess. Ah, it really did feel good to get under Dak's skin. Still, he was of royal blood and had been taught manners. He could have at least cleaned up after himself before leaving.

Yule was here quicker than Ryanon thought. She spent most of her days either at the Guild or walking the streets with Alis. It really wasn't as lonely as she thought it would be.

And the night of the ball was on her before she really had the chance to think about rather or not she would be attending.

The dress stared back at her, as if it was begging her to wear it. It really was kind of a shame not to give the dress what it wanted. Plus, it would be funny to make fun of Dak in his uniform. She had never seem him in his dress uniform.

And she hadn't given him his Yule gift yet.

It really was a shame to let this night slip by her.

She got up and slid into the dress. It still clung to her like it had in the shop. It looked even better with the tiny Yule lights dancing off it. Yeah, it really was a shame to let this dress go to waste and not give it a chance to shine. Plus, the shoes were really comfortable and the jewelry was probably the finest she had ever known. Added to all of that, Alis had shown Ryanon a really simple to style her hair in an elegant manner.

Yeah, it was just a shame.

And she could not let this chance to make fun of Dak slip by her.

Ah, what the hell! She was going to a ball!

About an hour later, she was ready. Now, she had just had catch one of the carriages the royal family was sending out to everyone.

She threw on her fur lined cloak, gave the Guild one final look over, and out she went.

The snow had changed from the earlier blizzard to a gentle flurry. The Yule lights shone brightly against the still, starless night while the soft bells jingled in the gentle breeze.

Ryanon joined a line of dressed up people. All of them talking happily. A few of the women actually glared at her as she joined them. It wasn't her fault that her dress was fancier than hers; she just did not understand her fellow females. What kind of person got jealous and judged based on how a person looked instead of their character? Well, Ryanon supposed she would be getting these looks based on her character too, but still.

A sled, drawn by two horses as white as snow, approached them. Their harnesses must had been lined with bells, because every time they tossed their wonderful heads, a sweet melody played. It was a rather festive looking sled. The sides were lightly covered in holly and ivy with little lights of different colours trucked about them. Mixed in with the lights, holly, and ivy were little tiny berries, dotting the sled in a manner that was both elegant and classy. The seats were lined with a thick layer of white fur that did not seem to get one bit against the snow. The driver was dressed in an outfit that made Ryanon feel like she was a high born lady.

The sled came to stop in front of them. Everyone stared at it for several before climbing on.

Ryanon found a seat in the back. The furs not only kept snow of themselves, but her as well. Plus, there seemed to be something on them that was keeping her nice and toasty against the breeze. Smiling, she leaned back, not for once caring that the cameras were watching her.

The driver flicked his reins and they were off.

Skalavik looked wonderful. She could not tell that this was actually a fishing port and for once could see that it was the capital it claimed to be. All the rubbish that normally lined the streets was gone and had been replaced by a light dusting of snow that made everything look simply beautiful. The few people who chose to walk the streets were all dressed in their finest clothes. They did not look one bit out of place, but instead added to the painting like scenery.

The castle came into view. Even it was elegant than usual. Ryanon stared at it, trying not to let her jaw hit the floor. In everyone window, there were little lights that flickered on and off in a manner that could only be timed to music. Fresh pine had been placed on the window seals with candles placed in the centre. It almost looked like little Woodland Pixies were flying around, their wings' natural colour brought out by the bright lights.

The moat that surrounded the castle was covered in a layer of ice with people skating in the most artful ways that Ryanon had ever seen. They all seemed to just dance over the smooth ice without actually touching it. She could not even see any marks in the ice to tell her how long they had been out there.

The castle's wall was also ready for the ball. It was not done as well as the castle, but it was still better than what it normally looked like. It still had the battle ready air about it, but there was something different, something cleaner about it. Even the guards who lined the walls seemed to have a different feel about them. Garland had been draped about the tops with candles in the archery holes. At the other openings there were beautifully decorated trees.

Other sleds lined the front of the castle as people were escorted out of them and into the castle. Like Ryanon, they couldn't take their eyes off the castle.

When they sled stopped, Ryanon found it quiet hard to get out. It was just too pretty out here to go in.

The guard in his dress uniform offered her his arm. "This way, my lady."

She tucked her arm into his. "I'm not a lady."

The guard looked her up and down in a manner that almost made her blush. "Well, you could have fooled me. You are certainly holding yourself like the noble born women."

Ryanon gave him a small smile. "How much gold are you getting paid tonight to say things like that?"

The guard returned her smile. "You know the system all too well, don't you? I must say that sometimes it is hard to say those words."

The reached the open main doors. Inside, it looked like the ceilings had been bewitched or something to make it look like snow was falling from them.

"I'm sure it is quiet difficult."

The guard released her arm as a maid rushed forward to take her cloak. "Well, you enjoy yourself. For the record, you really do carry yourself like a highborn lady. I expect you'll break a bunch of hearts tonight."

She gave him what she hoped was a warm smile. "Well, I do thank you for all the enjoyment and really do hope you're job does not turn out to be painful."

The guard laughed. "We'll see about that."

Ryanon watched as he turned and went out through the great doors. Sighing, she turned and looked back at the ballroom. Most people were either sitting at one of the many small table that lined the edges of the dance floor or standing along the wall unsure of what to do. Guards were stationed in a manner that made their presence very well known, but also in a way that was not threatening. She smiled once she saw Dak standing near the orchestra, which still seemed to be setting up. He looked completely miserable.

There were at least a hundred Yule trees placed throughout the ballroom. They were all decorated differently, but they did not seem to clash with each other. Fake snow lined the steps as well as the edges of the dance floor. Holly and ivy were weaved across the centre of each table. In the room's four fireplaces, Yule logs crackled in an array of different colours.

Ryanon lowered herself into an empty table. It actually looked like there were snowman placed at the bottom of the Yule trees. Given how hot the room actually was, it just didn't make sense. Shouldn't they have melted by now? Magic really was a curious thing.

More and more people were coming in. It looked as if everyone in Xandria had turned out for the grand ball. To her greatest displeasure, people were actually sitting at her table, pointing out everything. Her eyes scanned the room. Surely Alis must be here by now.

Ah, there she was on the arm of a young, but good looking nobleman. Alis smiled at everyone who passed her and they actually returned her smile. No one would actually guess what she did to support herself.

The orchestra had finished setting up and everyone seemed to looking at an area behind it. There was grand entryway lined with Royal Guard members. Ryanon narrowed her eyes, but Dak did not seem to be up there. She scanned the room again. He was standing with his back against a wall near a fireplace, looking bored.

A lord or duke or someone important appeared in front of the of the entry way. "Welcome all! We are gathered here tonight to celebrate this grand holiday! Now, I know you are all hungry and ready for an exciting evening of dancing and socializing. Hopefully, the royal family is ready and will be quick to get out here."

Most of the people in the room laughed. Ryanon looked back over at Dak, who looked like he wanted to gag.

A page boy came rushing out from the entry way, whispered something into the speaker's ear, and rushed back out of sight.

"I am told that the royal family is indeed ready," the speaker said. "Now, if you will all rise."

Everyone in the hall stood up. Ryanon kept looking over at Dak. He should be with his family. It wasn't right that he had lost his title because of something like his reading.

"Her Royal Highness, Princess Alse Morninghelm!"

A bunch of people made noises of amazement at the sight of the princess's dress.

His Royal Highness, Prince Vicar Morninghelm!"

Ryanon could not bring herself to cheer as the heir of the throne stepped out. Dak should have been the heir, not Vicar.

"Their Royal Majesties, Queen Ariana Morninghelm and King Teodric Morninghelm!"

The thunder in the room was so loud that Ryanon wanted to cover her ears. Dak's gagging face got deeper as the royal family all came together, smiling and waving like they were all one big happy family. Never mind the fact that they were all living in a world of secrets.

"And now, our royal guest from the great lands and Zania and Nimen! Her Royal Majesty, Queen Amberfall, Queen of the Nature Fairies and her escort Frostgrace!"

Ryanon stared at Amberfall and Frostgrace. They did not look like the fairies in her books; they looked, well, human. The only thing that stood out was their pointy ears and the fact that Amberfall's hair was a brighter red than most humans had.

Amberfall and Frostgrace stood with the royal family as what seemed like a million cameras flashed around the room. Ryanon really did want to join Dak and gag. They were just people; there was nothing all that special about them.

Plus, she really wanted to punch in Vicar's face as he sneered at Dak as they made their way to the High Table. There really was something wrong with him.

She really did hope Dak killed him.

Once the royal family was seated, everyone turned their attention to the now empty plate in front of them. What? Ryanon stared down at the empty gold plate. It hadn't been there just seconds ago.

Up at the High Table, the royals were already digging into their plates. Her frown deepened. She didn't see any signs of main dishes or servants. The nobles were laughing at the sights of the confused commoners.

"You have to tell it what you want," Alis said, sliding into the empty seat to Ryanon's left. Her date was right behind her. "Like this. Grilled salmon!"

Ryanon and a few of her table mates gasped as a well put together salmon appeared on her plate.

" Lord Rawlin Ravenmanen," Alis said, nodding to her date as she dug into her food. "You really must try this, Rawlin, it's probably the best I've ever had."

"I'll just take your word for it." Rawlin was looking Ryanon up and down. It only took a glare to get his attention back to Alis.

"Stuffed turkey!" Ryanon said to her plate. "So, how are you enjoying this?"

Alis shrugged. "I can't really tell you until I get to hear the music. An orchestra will either make or break a party, don't you think so, Rawlin?"

Rawlin nearly choked on his beef. "Um, I think so. Parties really aren't my thing. I'm only here because my mother is making me."

Alis waved her hand at him as she bent her head closer to Ryanon's. "Do you see that woman over there?"

Ryanon followed Alis's gaze. The lady in question just looked like any other high born to her.

"That's Lady Alexia Goldspire," Alis said dropping her voice. "Do you remember our friend down in Srilurk Landing?"

Ryanon smiled at the memory. "She really doesn't look like the kind of person to do that."

"I hear she likes to keep her men to herself and isn't one for sharing."

Ryanon stabbed her turkey. "Huh, I would have never had known that." She studied Lady Alexia, who was laughing at something Vicar was saying. "I thought she would be different. She seems to, well, high to do something like that."

Alis smiled. "People really do surprise you."

"Surprised to see you working tonight, Dak," Rawlin drawled.

Ryanon narrowed her eyes as Dak rested his hands on the back of her chair. When had he gotten over here?

"The king wants everyone on duty tonight and he does tend to get his way." Dak nicked a piece of turkey off Ryanon's plate.

"That really is such a shame," Rawlin went on.

Ryanon grabbed her fork the same time Rawlin spoke. Only a warning look from Alis stopped her from driving it into Dak's hand. Another day...She would get her revenge.

"Yes, it is," Dak said, still eyeing Ryanon. "Well, I should get back to work. The king is giving the death glare."

Rawlin's eyes drifted up to the High Table, where the king was in fact giving his son the evil eye. "Ah, yes, I can see that he really the loving father."

Dak smiled. "Glad you said it not me. Besides, the dancing is going be starting soon and I don't want to be anywhere near that." He nicked another piece of turkey off Ryanon's plate, his hand was barely saved from the knife.

"Don't they feed the Royal Guard, Captain?" Ryanon said, sweetly. "It's really such a shame that you have to nick food?"

Dak smiled. Most people would have thought it was a kind smile, but they didn't know him like Ryanon did. "I was just checking it for poison, my lady."

A few of the other ladies gave Ryanon knowing smiles. Great, now everyone thought Dak had a crush on her. Lovely...She really was going to have to kill him the next time they were alone.

Ryanon had just barely finished her meal when the music started up. The Royal Family and Court led the first dance. She did have to admit that the music was well done. She did not know a lot about music, but she could tell that this was the kind of thing that people expected to dance to.

Alis and Rawlin disappeared out onto the dance floor the moment it opened up to the public. Ryanon found herself holding back as people began to couple up. It never dawned on her until now that she may have to dance with a complete stranger.

She buried herself even further back into the crowd. Maybe if she stayed near the back, no one would notice her. Maybe she was too ugly for anyone to ask to dance anyway. Yeah, this still could work out okay for her.

The music was a beautiful mixture of soft and slow and fast. She watched as people danced to the traditional music of Xandria and Zania. She was actually surprised to see that the Zanian dances were not all that wild, but rather tame. They seemed to require the dancer to feel out the song, giving them a chance to become one with the music. It just seemed like they were gliding along inside of actually following any set movements. It really was beautiful.

"Why are you standing by here all by yourself? A pretty thing such as you shouldn't be alone."

Ryanon's eyes narrowed. There was something familiar about that voice. Maybe if just ignored him, he would go away.

"I saw you talking to my brother earlier. I can give you so much more than he can." Vicar's breath felt hot against her ear. "Let me show you what a real royal can do."

Ryanon turned and faced the prince. "I'm sorry, but I don't know what you're talking about." She hoped she sounded like an innocent maiden.

Vicar's smile widened, but the warmth did not reach his eyes. "Oh, I think you know what I want."

Ryanon stomped on his foot. "No, I'm afraid that I don't know what you want and don't you ever touch me again!"
Vicar's smile turned dangerous. "I don't think you realize what you've just done."

Ryanon looked over her shoulder as she walked away from him. "Oh, I think I know what I did. The question is, do you?"

"You can't talk to me like that!"
She didn't pay any more attention to him. He really did need to learn that he couldn't have everything he wanted.

Dak smirked once she reached his corner. "Are you enjoying yourself?"
Ryanon gave him a dark look. "Someone really needs to teach your brother some manners."

"He's the Crowned Prince, he doesn't think," Dak pointed out. He gently grabbed her arms. "Will you walk with me?"

Ryanon eyed him, but didn't pull out of his grip. "Where?"

He smiled. "There's a garden out back. I don't think anyone has discovered it yet."

She allowed him to steer her in that general direction. "Now, I just told your brother off for this very reason, so what makes you think you do the same thing?"

"I'm not my brother and you don't seem to be fighting me." He weaved them around a group of giggling young women, who were trying to catch the eye of a young nobleman. Another herd was clustered around Vicar, who seemed to be enjoying all the attention.

Ryanon smirked. "That may be true, but you still can't have everything you want."

"No, I can't." He pushed open a smaller set of doors. "But I can show you a good time."

Ryanon's eyes got big as the sight of the garden. It had been transformed into a winter wonderful. A little ice ring stood in the centre with skates along the edge. A curved walking bridge, lined with pine with a grand wreath in the middle, completed the pond. Snow looked like it had been elegantly placed on the ground and the trees, creating a glowing, snow globe. The paths were artfully covered in enough snow to give them the allusion of walking in a snowy forest. What was the oddest thing about the snow was the absence of ice. Ryanon was pretty sure that she could run in the snow and would not slip on bit.

"Do you want to skate?" Dak asked, nodding toward the pond that Ryanon could not seem to pry her eyes off of.

"Why am I not cold?" Ryanon asked.

"Magic," Dak muttered. "Now, answer my question."

She looked at him. "What about the cameras?"

Dak shrugged. "What about them? They're not out here so everyone can enjoy all the court has to offer without their significant other finding out."

"Ah, got you." She paused. "How am I supposed to skate in this?" She pointed to her dress. She really didn't want to ruin it because of Dak's childish games.

Dak looked her dress up and down. "I think we can make it work."

Ryanon rolled her eyes. "No, we cannot make it work. Maybe some other time."

Dak smiled. "I'll have to remember to take you up on that one."

Her eyes drifted back to the bridge. "Do you think we could take a walk over that? I mean, it's stupid and all, but it just looks kind of lonely there by itself." She shook her head as the words came out. "Wow, that really was stupid."

Dak shook his head. "No, it's not supposed. It's what makes you human."

Ryanon smiled. "Are you just trying to make me feel less like an idiot?"

He returned her smile. "Now, would I ever do something like that?"

"No, that would be far too nice of you."

He linked his arm through hers. "Are you saying I can't be nice?"

She lead them over to the bridge. "You're the one who said it, not me."

They stepped onto the bridge. Ryanon had to admit that it was rather nice. She had not never been out for a walk like this. It had always been about work or talking about work; she had just never stopped and had the chance to enjoy an enjoyable walk with someone, even if that someone was Dak.

They stopped at the top of the bridge. The ice below was completely untouched. She did have to admit, it would had been fun to skate on it.

Dak turned so they were facing each other. He gently placed his hands on her waist. When she didn't turn away, he started to move in time with the faint music from the ballroom. Ryanon did have to admit that he was a good dancer, but she wasn't sure why she was letting him dance with her. They were supposed to hate each other, right?
"Where did you learn to this?" Ryanon asked as they twirled around again. It was taking everything she had just to match his prefect movements.

"I grew up in a castle, so where do you think?" Dak whispered.

"I didn't know they still taught you these things." Ryanon found herself getting closer to him with each movement.

"No, it was all my father." He lifted her up, like the other men had been doing in the hall. "My mother still wanted me to have all the skills necessary to live at court."

"Why did she never stop your father?"

Dak shrugged. "You know my father. Do you really think anyone has a chance against him? It's like going up against Nightstone."

"I guess."

Inside the music stopped, but they did not stop moving. Ryanon guessed that you really didn't need music to dance. It was a nice extra touch, but two people moving together was an even better experience. They really did fit together; they just seemed to know where each other was going to be before the other even knew.

"How long can you stay out before they start missing you?" Ryanon asked.

"My men know better than to come looking for me," Dak replied.

"Why do call them men? They aren't all men."

Dak shrugged. "Fair enough, but it doesn't sound as good to call them men and woman." His eyes narrowed. "Why are we even having this discussion?"

Ryanon twirled out away from him. "I don't know. It's always a good time to have this discussion."

"I guess." He smiled as she twirled back into him. "I suppose it really doesn't matter who I have in the guard as long as they can fight and follow orders. Maybe that's why I can't have you. You can't fight."

Ryanon kicked at his knee. "Maybe you shouldn't be in the guard either, because I'm pretty sure that I bet you in all of our training sessions."

"I see you're getting full of yourself."

"And I see that being Captain has went to your head."

They stared at each other, breathing hard.

A few people were staring to come out into the garden.

"I think we'd better go our own ways," Ryanon muttered, looking as couples waltzed closer. "We don't want them to get any wrong ideas."

Dak moved away from her. "Yes, we should. The king will probably be looking for you."

Ryanon nodded. "Well, then, good night, Dak."

He turned. "Good night, Ryanon."

The snow was starting to fall harder as he walked away. She didn't even bother to wipe it out of her hair. She stood there letting the faint music warm her.

On Yule Morning, Ryanon awoke later than usual. It had been late when she arrived back at the Guild last night and it had taken her several hours to actually calm herself down.

She stretched with a big smile on her face. She was never going to tell Alis how much fun she had last night. If she did that, Alis would be dragging her to every social event under the sun.

She pulled on her dressing grown as she peered out the window. The snow was still falling on the empty street. It seemed so odd not to see anyone about. They must all be with their families, enjoying the rare day off. Family was something that she had never had. What was it like?

Turning away from the window, Ryanon made her way across the room and downstairs. She had thought it would be fun to have the Guild to herself, but now, that Yule was actually here, it was kind of depressing.

Really depressing.

She lowered herself down into an empty chair near the fireplace. There were presents for her under the tree, but she didn't feel like opening them yet or throwing some logs onto the fire. She was actually alone on her favourite day of the year.

Well, this was not going to do. She was not about to sit around and be all depressed about this. There was plenty of ways to enjoy the day all by herself.

She just had to think of them.

It wasn't until she heard someone knocking at the front door did she actually move. Grabbing one of the many daggers in the main room, she crept over to it. One could never be careful when it came to answering the front door.

Rechecking her grip on the knife, she opened the door.

"Well, that took you long enough." Dak marched past her. His cloak was covered in a large dusting of snow. "Did you really have to grab the knife?"

Ryanon's eyes narrowed. "I haven't decided if I'm going to use it yet or not."

Dak reached his cloak, handing a small package to Ryanon. "I was here to give you a present and, yet, you are thinking about killing me."

Ryanon looked at the small package. He had actually gotten her a gift. Granted, she had one for him under the tree, but she always got everything something for everyone for Yule. She always thought it was shame for anyone to go without a little joy on Yule.

"Yours is under the tree."

He smiled. "And you got me something as well."

Ryanon followed him into the main room. "Well, I always get everyone something." She knelt down in front of the tree, digging around for his small package. "Here."

Dak took it as she stood up. They both just stood there, holding their small package, unsure of what to say to each other.

"There are a bunch of people skating on the moat," Dak said. "I thought that maybe you would want to go."

Ryanon looked down at her current state of dress. "I really don't think I'm dressed right again."

"Go ahead and change."

"What about your family?"

"They're having a lie in. It will be hours before they decide to make an appearance"

Ryanon felt a smile forming on her face. "Well, I suppose, I will go up and change, then we can go skating." It really was kind of hard for her to keep her voice calm. She almost did run out of room.

It took them a total of fifteen minutes to be ready to go and get to the castle, but not before Ryanon grabbed two objects that she knew Dak was going to hate. One of which, he could see as they left the house, but he didn't say a word.

They stood several minutes in a hill overlooking the castle. The ice was covered in people, some of whom were very good shakers, while others were struggling to remain upright for more than a few seconds. The laughter and the careful environment made it seem like no one cared about looking like a fool.

Ryanon bent down and picked up a stick, which she poked Dak with.

"Hey!" Dak made a move to grab the stick from her, but she danced just right out of his grip. "You are going to pay for that!"
She smiled. "Well, I do actually have another surprise for you." She reached in her cloak and pulled out the other object she had grabbed.

"Give me that!" Dak reached for the camera just as Ryanon snapped a picture of him.

Frowning, she studied the picture. "You know, it wouldn't kill you to smile."

Dak's eyes narrowed as she picked up a stick and lowered herself down onto the sled. Holding the camera up, she snapped a picture of herself holding the stick. "There, happy?" Ryanon asked.

Dak just crossed his arms over his chest.

Ryanon patted the empty seat behind her. "Just get on. You really don't want to walk all the way down there, do you?"

Sighing, Dak climbed on behind her. "You better not wreck."
Ryanon just smiled over her shoulder. "Now, would I ever do something like that?"

"Just get going."

Ryanon kicked off and they went flying down over the hill.

Today there could be laughter and freedom, but soon the magic would end and they would have to go back to the real world. However, there would still always be time to get under Dak's skin.

She smiled as she steered toward a snow bank, ignoring Dak's protests. Well, he never said anything around going through one of these.

Happy Holidays! This ended up having more of a Cinderella feeling to it than Sleeping Beauty, which is what inspired this world. Oh, well, you can't win them all. :)