Chapter Six

A/N: Hello all! I've decided to re-post, this time with the whole story. Here it is: Chapters 1-6! I'm working on the sequel, so let me know what you think. I'm sorry that the chapters aren't posted separately; if anyone know what it means to put in a value for the upload field, please let me know! And tell me if you want the sequel! Thanks to all who reviewed my first chapter.

Dedicated to my best friend Shayna who encouraged me to write this story in the first place, to writers like J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis for inspiring me, my bro Zach for helping with the research on weapons, and too Jenice, my good friend, for letting me prattle on even though she had now idea what this was about. Also, thanks to Mrs. Lopez and Grant, who have promised to read this story and tell me what they think. (Takes deep breath). Okay, I don't think I left anyone out. I love you guys!

Side Note: Just to tell you, Richard and his friends and family have a strong, almost Irish – like accent (which accounts for the spelling). Yin has a Chinese like accent and pretty much every one else has an English like accent.

Chapter One

Far, far away, in a land where elves sang, fairies cast their mischievous spells, and dwarves still wrest from the earth her treasures, there lied a land called Ithania. It was ruled by King Arman and Queen Silhal. They had two daughters, Moreena and Gabrielle. Though both sisters were equably beautiful, their dispositions were very different.

Moreena, the eldest, was a sweet-tempered young woman, who was wise beyond her years. Her only fault was her regality, which she employed when in a foul mood. Gabrielle, the younger, had a swift temper, and a tom boyishness that both shocked and dismayed her parents. They hoped, however, that at her sixteenth birthday party, she would behave properly for a princess, and perhaps make a good match. It was on this same subject that Gabrielle complained to her maid, Lara, too…

"I hate this." She said, as Lara braided a string of pearls into her brilliant red-gold hair. "I hate having to dress up, and go to parties, and listen to those pigs they have nerves to call gentlemen talk about themselves."

Lara only smiled patiently. "I'm sure you will find some way to amuse yourself, m'lady."

Gabrielle didn't answer. Instead, she opened her jewelry box. "Lara," she asked, after looking through it, "where is my horse brooch?"

"Oh, the clasp broke, so I took it to my room to fix later."

Gabrielle sighed. "Are you finished?"

Lara smiled again. "Yes." She stepped back. "Come look at yourself."

Gabrielle walked to the full-length mirror. Her hair braided with the pearls glistened softly at the top of her head. Her pale blue velvet dress set off her eyes of the same color, and her fair skin. She nodded.

"That will do, I suppose."

"Very good, m'lady." Lara curtsied, and headed for the door.

"Wait, where are you going?"

"I am meeting my brother at the castle wall tonight."

Gabrielle looked surprised. "I didn't know you had a brother."

"Oh, yes. Richard. He helps our father with our farm." Lara stammered a little. Gabrielle looked rather sharply at her. It was very unlike Lara to act so nervously.

"Well, go on then." Gabrielle dismissed her with a wave of her hand. Lara curtsied again, then left the room.

"Shh, someone'll hear us." A farmboy, by the name of Wes, whispered.

"If we get caught, it's all Richard's fault. This was his idea." Jemmy, the blacksmith's son whispered back.

Richard rolled gray eyes. "Yes, Jemmy, I thought it up all by me-self."

"Where's yer sister?" Hobbs asked. His cherubic face peeked over the bushes they were hiding behind.

"Get down you dolt!" Wes shoved Hobbs down.

"Shh!" Jemmy and Richard admonished.

"I don't think we'll get away with this." Jemmy said. "We're flirtin' with fire lads."

"Yer're such a sissy." Hobbs waved away Jemmy's fears . "The worst that can happen to us is five days in the stocks."

"Quiet." Richard said, holding up his hand. "I hear footsteps a-comin'." The four boys fell very silent, as the footsteps came closer, then stopped near the bush.

"Richard?" a soft, feminine voice called.

"Here, Lara, behind the bushes." Richard said softly. The petite girl joined them, carrying a large canvas bag. Wes, opened it, to reveal clothes that were often worn the "lower" classes of the nobles.

"This was the best I could do." She whispered. Richard lifted a red velvet tunic. He grinned.

"This is great."

"An' you all know what to say if questioned?" Lara asked anxiously.

"Aye." They answered.

"All right." Lara smiled shakily. "May Teranis protect you." Softly, and swiftly, she swept away.

Wes watched her go, a wistful look on his lean, brown face.

"Come on Wes." Hobbs prodded him. "You can't go on watchin' Lara all night. We've got to get dressed."

Gabrielle, finally escaping from a Lord Santir, who was rather nice, but also rather brainless, located her sister Moreena, talking to the younger jester, Merru.

"Moreena." She whispered, tugging the long green-sleeve of her sister's gown.

"Excuse me, Merru." Moreena turned. "What's wrong?"

"Rescue me, please." Gabrielle begged.

"Rescue you? From what?"

"From all of them." Gabrielle jerked her thumb at the gathered nobles.

"Don't point like that, it's rude." Moreen said absently. Gabrielle sighed.

"Moreena!"

"The only way they'll leave you alone is if you're married or engaged." Her sister pointed out. "That's all I can tell you. I was never left alone until my betrothal to the King of the Galamans."

"You're not going to marry that awful old bore are you?"

Moreen grinned. "Correction; the future king of the Galamans."

"That's better." Gabrielle sighed again as the heralds announced the arrival of some young merchants from the sea villages of Gathamoore. "I suppose I have to be introduced."

"Just get it over with." Moreena advised. "Who knows, maybe you'll like them."

"Yes, maybe in a hundred years." Gabrielle muttered under her breath. She walked over the four figures, forcing a smile.

"Greetings, gentlemen." She said, and curtsied. "Welcome to my father's kingdom and palace."

The young men bowed back, murmuring their thanks and salutations. Then there was an awkward silence.

Hobbs elbowed Wes, and they both headed for the food table. Jemmy excused himself and followed. Gabrielle felt a little confused. She turned to the remaining merchant.

"We had a long journey, m'lady," He answered her unasked question. "and were not able to eat since this morning."

"I see." Gabrielle inwardly felt a gleam of hope. Maybe she could leave quickly after all. "You are…"

"Gamis." Richard told her.

"I see." Gabrielle cringed a little at the second period of silence. She looked over to see Moreena dancing with the young man who had a round, cherubic face. Richard followed her gaze.

"Do you want to dance?" he asked hesitantly.

"If you wish." She took his offered hand. Richard bit his lip a little, praying that he remembered all the steps Lara had taught them.

Queen Silhal touched her husbands arm. "Arman, I do believe that is the third time Gabrielle's danced with that young man."

"Really?" The king mumbled, half asleep. "A new record, that." Sihal frowned at him.

"He's a merchant. Not the proper husband for a princess at all. I would never hear the end of it."

Arman rolled his eyes. "Just because they've danced together three times –"

"It's not only that." Silhal interrupted. "For the past hour, she's only talked to him, walked with him, and look, their going to the out door balcony."

Arman frowned. "I wouldn't worry about it, dear. Just thank Teranis that she's actually taking interest in a boy."

"Oh, Arman, you're impossible." The queen huffed. Arman just sighed.

"It must be wonderful to live in a place like this." Richard said. Gabrielle smiled, shrugged, and perched herself on the edge of the balcony.

"It is, sometimes." She admitted, and looked at the palace grounds, ablaze with torches. "At other times, it feels like one is in a gilded cage." She looked at Richard. "You have a very odd accent. Do all the people at Gathamoore speak like that?"

Richard reddened a little. "Um, no. I, uh, am not originally from Gathamoore. I simply do business there."

"The sea must be wonderful." Gabrielle commented wistfully. "Do you swim often."

"Uh, only when it's warm."

"Do you ride?"

"Yes."

"I love riding." Gabrielle said. "My horse is Wingfeet. She's very good."

"Is she?"

"Yes."

Silence elapsed.

"Gamis?" Gabrielle asked. It took Richard a few moments to realize that she was talking to him.

"Yes?"

She took his hand. "It's been a very enjoyable evening. Thank you."

Richard swallowed a little. "You're welcome, your highness."

"Gabrielle." She stood, still holding his hand, and kissed him on the cheek. "I have to go. Good night."

"Good night." Richard managed to answer. After she left, he stood looking at the stars for a very long time.

"Hey." Richard turned to find Wes.

"We've got to." Wes reminded him. "We've got to work tomorrow."

"Oh, right." Richard looked at him for a moment.

"Wes, what was it like when you first realized you where in love with my sister?"

Wes blew out a breath. "I don't know. It was like floatin' on the air. An' when she said she loved me back, I just went up, and I still haven't come down."

Richard sighed. "I see." He started to walk towards the door.

"Why'd you want to know?" Wes asked.

"Just curious." Richard said.

Chapter Two

"So?" Wes addressed one of the palace guards, a young man by the name of Nob.

Nob frowned. "It was just a joke."

"Joke!" Hobbs complained. "We could've gotten into a lot of trouble. We won this bet fair and square."

"Yes." Jemmy agreed. "You owe us twenty curets."

Nob's frown deepened. "I don't have it."

"Liar." Richard accused. "I happen to know that you got paid yesterday. You couldn't have spent all between then and now, since you were on duty."

Nob grumbled some more, but paid the twenty curets. The four boys split it between them and went off feeling very pleased with themselves.

As they walked thorough the market, Richard was attracted by a market stall selling embroidered silk scarves. He stopped, looking a dark blue one with gold embroidery.

"Fancy that, my fine young man?" A haggard old woman, who was apparently selling the things, addressed him.

"How much?" Richard asked.

"Seven curets."

Richard winced. Too much.

"Oh," he said, and turned away.

"But," the woman continued. "I could cut it down to five."

"Three?" Richard asked hopefully. The woman seemed offended.

"Three?!" she practically shrieked. "This is imported silk. All the way from Gathamoore."

"Oh." Richard frowned. The woman eyed him.

"For a young lady?"

Richard blushed a little. The hag chuckled.

"All right. Four curets. But that's my last offer."

Richard smiled, paid the money and took the scarf.

"Hey, what's that for?" Wes asked.

"Oh, nothing."

"Nothing?" Wes raised an eyebrow.

"Nothing." Richard answered.

Richard rather glumly fed the animals. They were restless today, excitable and nervous. He did not notice. It had been a week since the party and he still could not get the princess' face out of his mind.

Wonderful. He thought. The one girl I can't have and I have to fall for her.

"Gabrielle?" Moreena asked.

"What!" her sister snapped back. Moreena frowned. Gabrielle sighed.

"I am sorry." She apologized. "It is this weather. It feels like it should rain, but all it has done is thunder, and throw lightning bolts."

"I think it is more than the weather." Moreena said softly. "Why have you been so restless lately?"

Gabrielle sat in the window seat and looked out on the over clouded land. "I think it is because I feel trapped inside here. I have never been into the city even."

"That is surprising." Moreena smiled and sat facing her sister. "I would have thought that you would have figured out a way to get past the guards before now."

Gabrielle smiled crookedly back.

"It has to do with that young man, does it not?" Moreena asked. She idly stroked Gabrielle's red hair. "Where did you get this scarf?" Gabrielle looked at her.

"Oh, I see." Moreena sighed. "You know Mother and Father will not allow it. He is a merchant."

"Why? Why can not a merchant be as good a king as a prince? What is the difference? They are both men, are they not?" Gabrielle got up heatedly, and paced the room. Moreena watched her in silence for a few minutes.

"They are." She agreed. "But, we now get into the politics of the situation. Mother and Father only want you to marry some one of our class. Preferably, a younger son, so that the kingdom would stay in the family, so to speak. I do not believe that, what was his name?"

"Gamis." Gabrielle said softly.

"Gamis." Moreena continued. "I do not think that they had him in mind."

"What can I do?" Gabrielle asked. She had stopped pacing. "It is not just this question of marriage. I am so sick of court life. I am tired of this life controlled by other people's ideas of what a royal family should be. Tell me, Moreena, have Mother or Father ever given us any more attention than they had to, to keep up appearances?"

Moreena looked at Gabrielle with sympathy. She walked over to her sister and embraced her. "You really have it bad, don't you?"

"Come on." Richard urged the old farm horse, Muck. Muck was stuck in a mud bog. Frightened by thunder and lightening, he had broken away from Richard in the corral, and run off. Richard had been hunting for him all morning. His little sister Jaqunet, and little brother, Blithe were trying to help the best they could.

"Maybe he doesn't want to come out." Suggested the ten-year-old girl.

"Yes he does." Richard said, through gritted teeth. He pulled harder on the halter rope. "And even if he doesn't, he's going to have too sometime."

Blithe looked at them with his large, black eyes, then walked into the mud beside Muck's head.

"Blithe what are you doing?" Richard asked tiredly. Blithe didn't answer, but instead patted the horse's neck. Muck lowered his head, and Blithe whispered something in his ear. Obediently, though slowly, the horse walked out of the mud.

"Yay! He did it!" Jaqunet cried, her monkey-like face smiling.

Blithe said nothing, just took the rope from Richard's hand and started to walk away. Richard closed his eyes, and wiped his sweaty face with a muddy hand.

"So much for that." He muttered.

The trio, plus the horse had arrived at the small barn, where Richard cleaned Muck up, when his father came in.

Otho, Richard's father, was a stern man, with curly brown hair and beard. His eyes were gray like Richard's, but one was covered with a patch.

"Were have you been, boy?" he asked.

"Muck got away again." Richard answered.

Otho grunted. "Something wrong with the horse." He looked at the feet. "Looks like he threw his shoe."

Richard bent down and looked, then sighed.

"What's wrong with you?" his father asked.

"Nothing." Richard straitened, as did his father. "I suppose I should take him into town?"

"Yes. I think Zel could have it fixed. Maybe Jemmy could do it." His father said. "Try to be back by midday. We need to finish sowing the East field."

"Yes, sir."

Moreena and Gabrielle watched as their falcons circled the sky.

"Call them back." Moreena said to their attendant. The man twirled a long leather thong with a bit of dove's feathers on the end, high in the air, so the birds could see it.

"Come on!" Gabrielle cried. "I'll race you Moreena, to the stream!" She gave her horse a sharp nudge. Wingfoot instantly began to gallop away.

"Wait!" Moreena laughed. She urged her horse, Rosebud, on. Ahead of her, Gabrielle's blue scarf fluttered in the wind. Suddenly, Wingfoot stopped short. Moreena reigned her horse in.

"What's wrong?" she asked. Gabrielle dismounted and inspected the white mare carefully. Finally she looked up.

"She's thrown a shoe." She said glumly.

"Oh." Moreena looked around. "We're near the town. We could stop there and re-shoe here." She grinned. "Besides, it is an emergency."

Gabrielle grinned back. "Of course."

Chapter Three

Richard led Muck into the interior of the stable of Zel, the blacksmith. Jemmy met him there; his face flushed and eyes sparkling with excitement.

"Guess what." He said. Richard shrugged.

"What?"

"A company of knights are here." Jemmy told him. "They're just passin' through."

"Really?" Richard asked, an idea suddenly forming in his head.

"Yeah. Apparently, some of their men were killed back South an' they're lookin' for some new members." Jemmy came closer. "And Richard." He whispered. "I heard they've got elves with 'em!"

Richard's eyes widened. Jemmy nodded in delight. Elves had always been a favorite subject of the two boys. Both had hoped some day to see one, if only for a moment.

"Did ya see them?" Richard asked. Jemmy shook his head.

"Hobbs did." He said. "He came here an' told me straight away."

"Jemmy!" Zel's voice boomed from the front. "I need ya in here!"

Zel stomped in. He was a tall, broad shouldered man with short, white blonde hair. Jemmy resembled him very much.

"Hullo Richard." The man said. "Muck threw his shoe again?"

Richard nodded. Zel rubbed the horse's dark neck.

"Think he does it on purpose." Zel commented. "Just to get out of plowin'." He turned to his son. "Jemmy! I've got two ladies wantin' a new shoe as well. Mind yer manners; they look like gentle folk."

Jemmy nodded and left quickly. Zel took the lead rope from Richard's hand.

"Only take a few minutes." He said. "Ya can wait out front."

"What ken I be doin' for you?" Jemmy asked, stepping out front. Gabrielle and Moreena turned towards him. Jemmy gulped, and felt his face pale a little.

"My horse needs a new shoe." Gabrielle said. "Can you do it quickly?"

"Y-yes." Jemmy stammered.

"Well?" Gabrielle asked. Jemmy reddened and took the reins, leading the white horse away.

Gabrielle frowned, and turned to where Moreena stood, holding Rosebud's reins.

"I've seen that boy before." She said. "But I can't place it."

"I was thinking the same thing." Moreena told him. Both girls were quiet for awhile, thinking.

"I've got it!" Moreena said. "He resembles on of those young merchants at…" her voice trailed off.

"He doesn't resemble him." Gabrielle said. "He looks exactly like him." The two princesses looked at each other.

"No, it can't be." Gabrielle said. "No. It just can't."

Moreena just looked at her sorrowfully.

Richard walked around the end of the building, deep in thought. As he approached a corner, he spied two young women. With a bit of a shock, he realized that one of them was Gabrielle. He pulled back behind the wall just in time.

"Oh boy." He whispered.

He couldn't face her right now, not like this. He had hoped to meet her later, when he had figured out what to say. He was close enough to hear what the two girls said.

"If that boy was at the party, then it's likely the rest of his party weren't what they said they were." Gabrielle said softly, almost sadly. Moreena put an arm around her shoulders.

"I'm sorry." She whispered.

Gabrielle felt a bit crushed. She knew that as long as Gamis (was that even his real name?) was a lower noble, there could be a chance of their seeing each other again. But not if he was a peasant. She swallowed, hoping to down her disappointment.

"It doesn't matter, I guess." Gabrielle said.

Richard felt a stab of pain in his heart. Gabrielle had sounded disappointed and sad. He hadn't meant for this to happen. He hadn't met to meet a beautiful girl and fall in love. It just had happened. He wished he could approach her with his plan, but he didn't even know if it would work.

"Let's go somewhere." Gabrielle said. "I don't want to talk about it any more."

Richard had collected Muck, and gone to local inn, Greene's Dragon, where Jemmy had said some of the knights went for a drink. He had met two of them there, Murdock, and Glock. There had been another young farmer there, Jadeth, who was also looking for a position. It had been a difficult interview, awkward at parts. Murdock had had a stupefying effect on Richard, making him feel very young and very foolish.

Murdock, he had found was the head knight. Tall, broad shouldered, and gray haired, he was stern, sterner even than Richard's father. His eyes had been dark, like cold steel, and his face weather-beaten and scarred.

Glock had been a different manner. Younger, more lighthearted than Murdock. His beard and braided hair was black, and his eyes a sharp green.

Jadeth too had seemed friendly. Tall and thin, with sharp aristocratic features. Friendly brown eyes, rather like a dog's, and dark blonde hair.

Murdock had told him to come to Amuien's field tomorrow afternoon. Richard left the inn, wondering how he was going to get the time off. He grimaced, realizing how late it was. So intent in his thoughts, he did not notice Iril, till he bumped into her.

"Oh, sorry Iril." He said, helping her back up.

"That's all right, Richard." She said, giving him a flirtatious smile. He smiled a little nervously back.

Iril was pretty, he had to admit. A buxom maiden with clear skin, brown curly hair, and deep blue eyes. She had also seemed to set her cap for Richard.

"Talkin' to the knights?" she asked.

"Yeah."

"Why?" She tried to catch his eye. "Lookin' for a post?"

"Yeah." Richard chided himself silently. Why when talking to Iril, he thought, did he always stutter, or answer in monosyllables.

"I think you'd make a good knight, Richard." She commented, sliding a little closer, apparently not to block up the doorway.

"I don't know." He admitted. "They did say to come to their camp. That's something."

"It is." Iril agreed. "Not many get to go there tomorrow."

"How would you know?"

"Been waitin' tables all day. We are the largest inn, y'know."

"I know." There was a short silence. "I have to be getting' back."

"Of course." Iril said, her smile fading.
"I'll see ya later, all right?" Richard asked. Iril nodded, smiled shyly, while playing with a bit of her hair, then went in side. At the door, she stopped and gave him a wink. Richard smiled a bit back, then mounted Muck and rode towards home.

Morenna looked up from her parchment and ink, and saw Merru standing in the doorway, looking at her. He blushed and looked away. She smiled at him, then he walked away.

"Who were you smiling at?" Gabrielle asked from the window seat. She still wore the scarf, it's dark blue the same color as her velvet dress.

"Merru." Moreena answered, returning to her letter. They were in Moreena's small study/library. Gabrielle loved the window seat, and always sat there when she could.

"Why?" she wanted to know. "He's just a jester, and not a very good one at that. He's so gloomy."

"I know." Moreena said. "And what's this, 'he's just a jester'? This coming from a young woman allegedly in love with a pheasant?"

Gabrielle's face flushed. "I didn't ask for him to waltz in my life." She said angrily, focusing her gaze somewhere outside.

"I know." Moreena sighed, and put down her pen. "Look's like Gerherad's letter will have to wait." She said to herself. Getting up, she walked over to her sister, and sat down.

"I'm sorry for your pain." Moreena whispered, "And I wish I could do something, anything to help it, but I can't."

"I know." Gabrielle smiled shakily. "I just have to work it out by myself."

Otho dismounted, as he came up to the Knight's camp. Murdock looked up, and came over, smiling.

"Hello, Ethero." Murdock said.

"Otho now."

Murdock nodded. "I see."

"I came to see you about my son." Otho said.

"Richard?" Murdock asked. Otho nodded.

"Thought he was yours. Takes after his mother." Murdock commented.

"I hear he's been to see you." Otho went on.

"He has."

Otho was silent for a moment. Then he said, "What are his chances?"

"What do you mean?"

"Are you going to accept him?"

"Of course." Murdock answered. "We haven't gotten many volunteers, and we need the men. Something stirring in the South; something dark."

Otho sighed. "I thought so. Elves and dwarves passing through have mentioned such things…"

"Keeping up with the news?"

"As much as possible." Otho was silent. "He knows how to fight."

"What?"

"He can use a sword, and shoot with a bow." Otho said.

"I would've expected as much, from your son." Murdock said.

Otho turned back towards his horse, and untied a bundle.

"These were mine." He said. "Except for the cloak; that was Ariel's. I thought he should have some more serviceable garments."

"You want me to give them to him?" Murdock asked. "Wouldn't it be more appropriate for him to get them from you."

"No." Otho sighed. "I don't think it's the right time to tell Richard everything yet."

"All right." Murdock said. "He'll get nothing from me, and I'll be sure to tell Mara and Okgog."

"Thank you." Otho paused, thinking. "Are Mara and Okgog the only ones of the original order?"

"And me." Murdock said. "I told things were getting bad. We lost Sema and Wisteri just on the way back."

Otho blew out a breath. "That's bad." And I'm going to send my son out to it. He thought.

Murdock saw him wince, and knew what Otho was thinking.

"Don't worry." Murdock reassured him. "I'll watch out for him."

Otho smiled a bit wryly, and remounted his horse.

"I suppose it's too much to ask for you to come as well." Murdock said. Otho shook his head.

"I've got a new wife and two, soon to be three children to worry about." He said. "Richard is going to be nineteen; I'm sure he can look after himself."

Murdock watched Otho ride away, a slight feeling of sadness. It would have been good to ride with his old friend again, as they had in the old days.

"Blithe, Jaqunet!" Elisle called. "Dinner!"

"Come on Blithe!" Jaqunet said, grabbing his hand.

The two children ran through the kitchen/dining room, and quickly washed in the bowl set on a wash stand near the door that led into the rest of the house. Elisle smiled at them, then finished placing dinner on the table.

"Wes." She said to the boy bringing in firewood. "Please tell Etta to come get dinner for the workers."

"Yes, ma'am." Wes answered.

Otho came in.

"Looks like rain." He said.

"Daddy," Jaqunet said, "Blithe found a squirrel today. It had a broken paw."

"Really?"

"Uh-huh."

"Jaqunet," Elisle interrupted. "Please go sit down."

"Yes, Mum."

"Where's Richard?" she asked. Otho concentrated on washing his hands.

"Couldn't find him."

"Couldn't find him?" Elisle looked upset. "I don't like him wanderin' all over the place, Otho. It isn't safe. People the trolls have awakened, and there were rumors of –"

"Rumors." Otho held a finger to her lips. "That's all they are. Don't worry."

The door opened and Richard walked in, looking a little shamefaced.

"Where have you been, boy?" Otho asked.

"Walkin'. I-I lost track of time."

Otho nodded in understanding. "I see."

"Dinner's ready." Elisle said softly. "Let's eat."

"Ma'am?" Etta entered the room.

"Dinner's on the stove, Etta. Get Nita and Wes to help you carry it."

"Yes, ma'am." Etta answered.

A week later, Lara waited just outside the castle walls for Richard. He had sent a message to wait for her here.

"Hey."

Lara jumped a little. "Richard."

"Yeah." He took of his hood.

"What's goin' on?" she asked, looking at him. "You look very different. And, a sword?"

"I'm a knight."

"Oh." There was a pause. "That means you're leaving?"

"Have to." Richard answered.

"I thought so." Lara swallowed. "Richard, what about Gabrielle?"

Richard winced a little. "I wrote her a letter." He pulled a folded piece of parchment out his leather pouch. "Would you give it to her, for me?"

"Yes." Lara took it. There was another pause. Then, choking down a sob, Lara hugged her brother tightly.

"You'd better not die." She said fiercely. "Or I'll never speak to you again."

Richard couldn't help but grin. "I won't." he promised. They pulled away from each other. Richard let his hands stay on Lara's shoulders.

"I'll miss you." He said.

"Same here." Lara told him. "You'd better get. The princess will be needing me; and you probably are leaving soon."

"Today." Richard kissed his sister's forehead. "Good – bye."

"'bye." She whispered.

Chapter Four

A girl sat alone in the large library. A small fire in the grate was her only light as she poured over an ancient and dusty book. Her violet eyes carefully scanned the pages. Her pale face was off set by her black hair and pale blue dress. It thundered outside. It had been raining for hours.

The door opened, and a young man came in. He was tall, pale with dark eyes and hair like the girl; and he had a sulky expression on his face.

"Yari!" he said. The girl ignored him.

"Yari!"

"Yes?"

"Must you sit in the dark?" he demanded, walking to the window.

Yari shrugged with feline grace. "I like it." She said, with an almost childish air.

"I don't." her brother frowned. "Not on a night like this."

"Frightened, are we Bragol?" Yari asked.

Bragol turned his black eyes flashing.

"Don't talk to me like that." He hissed. "Don't!"

"Very well." Yari shrugged again, and went back to her book.

"And get some light in here." Bragol ordered. "This darkness stifles me."

Yari frowned, but then lifted her right hand, holding the fingers close together. Concentrating, she whispered a short spell and a ball of black fire appeared. Yari whispered again, and tendrils of the ball reached out, curling around the torches hung about the room, lighting them. This done, the tendrils returned, and the ball disappeared.

Bragol looked at his sister in shock, then in anger.

"I meant real fire!" he cried. "Not sorcery! By the gods Yari!" he shivered. "Where did you learn to do that?"

Yari tapped the book, and smiled in a satisfied way. "I've found it, Bragol." Then she looked very prim. "I cannot seem to please you."

"I just don't want you do to that anymore." Bragol said. "It's dangerous. If Aunt and Uncle found out….There are other ways to gain a kingdom."

"Like waiting for them to die and leave the throne to us?" Yari asked contemptuously. "I'm sorry, Bragol, but that's too long for me to wait." She stood, her violet eyes suddenly violent and full of fire. "I want the power now. Now. Not in a few years. Now."

"You'll ruin everything if you persist in that magic." Bragol warned.

"Ruin?" Yari laughed, almost merrily. "Hardly. Magic is what will gain us the throne. And what keeps it. Don't worry." She said, closing the book. "I'll take care of everything."

Bragol looked at her in silence for a moment. She walked up to him and stared back. He looked away and stepped back a few paces.

"Afraid of me, brother?" she asked.

He swallowed. "Yes." He admitted. "Sometimes I think you would kill me to get what you wanted."

Yari's face almost softened. Almost. She put her arms around him. "Don't worry." She repeated. "I'll take care of everything."

Gabrielle sighed, and closed the letter. How many times had she read it? Gabrielle didn't know. She looked at her companion, Lord Santir. They had been playing chess. Santir had lost, twice. He hadn't seemed to mind.

Gabrielle liked him because he seemed to be the only noble man not interested in marrying her. They had become good friends in the past few days. Gabrielle had judged him as rather empty-headed, but now she had to recant. Though certainly no intellectual, Santir was clever enough in his own way. He looked at her and smiled.

"Want me to leave?" he asked.

"Oh, no." Gabrielle said.

"Letter from a sweet heart?" Santir asked. Gabrielle blushed slightly.

"Not really." She sighed. "What would you call some one who had a strong attraction for you, and you had one for them, but it wouldn't be able to go anywhere unless this other person did something?"

Santir looked a little confused. "I'm not sure." He gave her a crooked smile. "I'm not sure I even grasp what you're saying."

"I'm saying I'm not even sure I'm in love." Gabrielle explained. "I mean, when I met this…" suddenly she stopped. "Never mind." She said hastily.

"Probably just as well, what?" Santir smiled again, looking up at the high domed roof. "Don't suppose you want to go and walk while it's still sunny?"

"I'd like that." Gabrielle said.

They were leaving. At last. Pallaorewen longed to go further north, close to where her home was. Maybe she would be able to visit her family. She hoped so.

"Mara?" Pallaorewen asked. "Do you need more help?"

The woman smiled. "No, I don't think so. Thank you for –"

She was cut off by a voice calling "Hello! Hello! Is anyone here."

"Over here." Mara called. A petite brunette came into view. She wore simple, dark clothing, and a brown cloak.

"Hello." She gasped. "I'm lookin' for the company of knights."

"This is it." Mara told her. "What do you need, dear?"

"I need to give me brother something." She explained. "Me name's Lara, me brother is Richard. Is he here?"

"I'll get him." Pallaorewen said, and walked away.

"Is she an elf?" Lara asked.

"Yes." Mara answered, smiling. "An elf of the High Blood."

Lara didn't seem to completely understand that, but it impressed her nonetheless.

A few minutes later, Richard and Pallaorewen joined them.

"Richard!" Lara sprang to her feet.

"Lara." He answered. "What's goin' on?"

"Pallaorewen," Mara said. "I need your help over here." The two women walked out of earshot.

"Gabrielle wanted me to give you these." Lara opened her pouch, and withdrew a white scarf with intricate embroidery and a gold brooch. It was fashioned in the likeness of an oval decorated with flowers. In the center, there was a detailed image of a horse galloping. Lara put them in his hands.

"They're her colors." She said. "I'm not sure how you should put it on. Maybe one of the other knights would know."

Richard hugged her. "Thanks."

She hugged him back. "Your welcome." Lara pulled away. "I've got to go. Gabrielle will be needing me tonight."

"Good bye." Richard said.

"Good bye." Lara answered.

Chapter Five

A company of knights made their way through the forest. It was quickly turning into dusk, and they were looking for a place to make a camp. Suddenly, one of the group stopped, then whispered something to Murdock. He nodded.

"Prepare yourselves." Murdock said to the others. "Galenel says trolls are near."

Richard drew his sword and Jadeth grabbed his spear. It had been nearly a year since they had joined and both had become quite good with their weapons. Beside them, the elvish girl, Pallaorewen unsheathed her ax and stood looking grim. The other elf, Minyalosse took an arrow and strung it to her bow. Galenel and Gispar, another archer, had drawn their bows as well and stood at the ready. Murdock, Corris, Ani, and Smeth had their swords drawn. Ellis and Tundock had spears like Jadeth. Glock had a ball and chain. Yin, a tiny girl from far South, had a war club, her face set like a rock. Mara had a short sword, but planned on staying out of the fight because of her baby, Cornflower.

They waited. The wind rustled through the trees, and the light was fading fast. Richard's horse ducked his head and pawed the ground nervously. Both his ears were forward, listening. The wood was still. All of a sudden, with a great crash, three trolls came in view, swinging their clubs and roaring.

Jadeth threw a spear, hitting one in the arm. It roared in pain, and swung at him. Jadeth jumped out of the way, grabbing his second spear in case it attacked again. Minyalosse didn't give it a chance. She let an arrow loose and it struck the troll in the neck.

Murdock, Corris, and Richard had made quick work of the second troll, and Galenel, Ani, and Yin had finished off the third. They stood for a moment, then Mara screamed. Out of the shadows sprung a pack of Garl wolves. They were huge, much bigger than normal wolves. Mara was doing her best to ward them off, but they surrounded her and the baby. Glock and Pallaorewen gave a great war cry and begun to swing. Galenel spent his arrows furiously, and then began to fight with his short sword. Yin screamed in pain as a garl knocked her down, it's claws digging into her back. Richard ran forward, stabbing it in the ribs. The garl snarled in pain, then ignored the unconscious girl and lunged for Richard. He stepped back, holding his sword ready. He stabbed it again, but it only made the beast angrier. Still walking backwards, Richard tripped over a tree root and fell on his back. The garl's red eyes gleamed; it's tongue lolling out. Great stains of blood spotted its black and gray fur. It crouched ready to spring, and as it leaped through the air, a spear sliced threw its throat. It landed on top of Richard, who quickly got it off and stood, realizing that the battle was over.

Bragol and Yari walked quickly towards the throne room. They both knew they had not been called for, and they both knew that, under normal circumstances, they both would be punished severally for interrupting their Aunt and Uncle. But these were not normal circumstances.

"Today is the day!" Yari had exclaimed at breakfast. When Bragol asked what she meant, she gave him an annoyed look.

"Today we take over the kingdom of course!" Bragol had not been able to finish breakfast.

The guards let them in, and the siblings walked boldly in. Or rather, Yari walked boldly in. Bragol slunk into the room, his familiar sulky expression on his face.

"What are you doing here?" their uncle, King Cilmont demanded. He stood. Like his nephew and niece, he was fair skinned and dark eyed. His black hair was shoulder long and streaked with gray as was his small beard and mustache. Their aunt, Queen Rhea, was a prim, and rather plain woman with steel gray eyes. She too had black hair.

"We came to speak with you." Yari answered.

"You know you are not allowed in the throne room without permission." Cilmont said. He looked at the siblings' tutor and guardian, Kerris. "What is the meaning of this, Kerris?"

The elderly man looked at the king. "I could not stop them, Your Majesties." He said, gasping for breath. Keeping up with two healthy young people was difficult for the wizened and bent old man. "They insisted."

Cilmont scowled. Rhea, who usually frowned, frowned even deeper. "That is a extremely out of the bounds of decorum, Yari and Bragol."

"It was important." Yari said. "Wasn't Bragol?" She turned to her brother, violet eyes wide and innocent.

"Yes," he agreed. "It was."

Cilmont returned to his seat. "Then let's hear it." He said.

"It's this." Yari told him, walking closer to the dais. "We want the thrones."

Bragol's head snapped up. What is she doing!? He thought.

Cilmont and Rhea looked like they were trying not to laugh.

"You do, do you?" Cilmont asked, bemused.

"Yes." Yari answered. "And we'll take them from you by force, if we have too. But it would be so much simpler if you just gave them to us. It will be easier on you."

"I don't think so." Cilmont said dryly. "Guards, take the Prince and Princess away. I will decide how to punish them later."

Wonderful. Bragol thought. This was what he got for letting his sister make all the decisions.

The guards advanced, spears leveled in case Yari or Bragol thought of resisting. Yari spun around, looked at the guards, then turned towards Cilmont and Rhea.

"It would have been much simpler." She said, an odd note of regret in her voice. She turned to face the guards again, then whispered, "Akh nah handashe."

The guards screamed in terror as their spears became huge serpents, hissing and showing their fangs. The guards struggled to drop them, but the serpents had coiled around their arms and chests, squeezing. The struggle between them was soon over. Yari turned back to her aunt and uncle. Both were pale with terror and shock. Cilmont opened his mouth to speak, but no words came. Rhea was gripping the armrest of her chair so tightly that her knuckles were white.

"Like I told you," Yari said in a soft voice. "It would have been easier if you had agreed."

"Yari," Cilmont said, "Let's talk about this."

"Sorry." Yari answered. "You've lost your chance."

In Moreena's study, Gabrielle re-read the letter from Richard. Over the past year, he had only managed to send three. This one was the latest, only arrived yesterday. She had sent back a message, hoping it would reach him soon.

There was a delicate knock on the door. Moreena looked up from her book, Gabrielle from her letter. Lord Santir stood there, a small smile on his face.

"Sorry to interrupt and all that." He said. "But a certain princess offered to go falconing with me."

"Oh." Gabrielle stood up. "Sorry Santir. I forgot."

"Another letter?" he asked. Gabrielle nodded.

"I'll come back later." He said, and began to shut the door.

"No, I'm finished." Gabrielle said. "I'll be right down."

"If you're sure-"

"I'm sure." Gabrielle told him.

"Right ho then." Santir smiled more cheerfully, then left.

Moreena smiled. "I'm becoming rather fond of Santir."

"He's nice." Gabrielle said, folding the letter. "Not very intelligent, but very nice."

"I'm sure he is." Moreena commented softly, getting back to her book. Gabrielle stared at her very hard, then shrugged and left the room.

Richard looked around the group. Smeth had been killed. Murdock had mourned the loss of his friend silently, as he and Glock buried the redheaded knight. Mara had been busy, trying to calm Cornflower down and tend to the wounded. Richard had a cut along his right cheekbone and several bruises. Jadeth and Minyalosse both had cracked ribs. Galenel had been knocked against a tree hard, and his head had been cut badly. They were waiting to see if the elf would make it thorough the night. Yin's cuts were painful, but not deep enough to be life threatening. Corris, Murdock, Glock, Ani and Gispar all had minor cuts and bruises. Pallaorewen had complained of no injury. She silently handed out food and water, then went to sit beside Galenel, her brother.

Richard sat next to Jadeth. "Thanks." He said.

Jadeth looked up. "Why?"

"For savin' my life."

Jadeth grinned. "Well, couldn't let my best friend be garl food, now, could I?"

Richard grinned back. "I guess not." He looked over at Galenel. "Think he'll make it?"

Jadeth's smile faded. "Don't know." He sighed. "I hope so." Richard nodded in agreement. He, Jadeth, and Galenel had become fast friends. The elf was very serious for his kind, but the more merry side of him came out when he was with Richard and Jadeth.

Murdock and Glock came back, finished with the task of burying their fallen comrade. Glock went over to his wife and took Cornflower, who was just beginning to calm down. Mara smiled gratefully.

"If we move quickly." Murdock said. "We'll be at Okgog's in a few days." Mara looked up, a glad look on her face.

"Whose Okgog?" Richard asked Minyalosse.

"A wizard of the Yenshari people." She answered. "Mara is his daughter."

"Oh." Richard and Jadeth exchanged looks. It would be interesting to see a real wizard.

Bragol tiredly dragged himself to bed, his mind in a whirl. He was the king now, and Yari the queen. The people had not argued, and those that had had been eliminated. Bragol had thought that Kerris would have a heart attack several times that day, but the old man had pulled through. Yari hadn't seemed to get tired. When Bragol had left her, she was studying in the library again. As he fell asleep, Bragol sighed with relief. They had done it, and not a thing had gone wrong so far.

An old man, still tall and strong despite his white hair, and long beard, looked in some confusion at an old book.

"Where did I put it?" he murmured to himself.

A tiny red and yellow dragon, no bigger than a very large lizard, flew into the room, and perched on a stand that had been made especially for her.

"Okgog." She said.

"Not now, Kerill. Can't you see- Ah! I've found it!" Okgog smiled to himself, as he placed a neatly labeled herb jar on the shelf.

"Okgog." The dragon repeated.

"Not now." Okgog told her. "Can't you see I'm busy with dinner?"

Kerill stuck her tongue out at the old man, who didn't notice.

"There's people coming." She said. "In fact, they're almost here."

"What!" Okgog grabbed his staff and started for the door. "Why didn't you say so?"

Kerill sighed as only a dragon can, and shook her head.

Richard and Jadeth had seen the wizard, and were not sure whether he was amazing, or slightly of his rocker, or both. He seemed like a merry, slightly crazy old man, but underneath, you could feel that he was sharp and powerful. Galenel had woken up, and although a little paler than normal, seemed fine. The three friends were sitting out side of Okgog's small house.

"A xre for your thoughts." Jadeth said. Richard shrugged.

"I was thinkin' about Gabrielle." He admitted.

"I see." Jadeth looked the elf. "What about you?"

"Home." Galenel answered, a far away, sad look in his eyes. "I have not seen it for a long time."

"No lady love?" Jadeth asked. Galenel smiled sadly.

"There might've been." He said. "There might have been."

There was a short pause.

"What about you Jadeth?" Richard asked.

"Me? Have a girl?" Jadeth laughed. "No girl would have me, I'm afraid."

"I find that hard to believe." Mara said, walking up behind them.

"It's true." Jadeth said in mock sadness.

"You don't seem disappointed." Mara pointed out.

"Well, the bad shortage of the fair sex in my area might have something to do with it." Jadeth said grinning.

Mara shook her head and smiled, then walked away.

"Maybe you'll find some one on your journey." Richard said. "My mother was an elf maiden, or so they tell me."

"She was?" Galenel asked. "What was her name?"

"Ariel." Richard answered softly. "Ariel, daughter of Therill and Waen."

"Ariel." Galenel repeated. "I believe I knew your mother, Richard."

Chapter Six

Gabrielle sat in her chair, as Lara did her hair. When the last braid was pinned, Gabrielle put on her small crown, then got up and smoothed the white satin of her dress. The candles in the room reflected it's gold trim and the diamonds on Gabrielle's necklace.

"Thank you Lara." Gabrielle said. "You've done a wonderful job."

"Thank you, Your Highness." Lara answered, feeling a little surprised. It was the first time Gabrielle had ever thanked her for anything.

Gabrielle swallowed a lump in her throat. It was Moreena's wedding day today. She was losing her sister, her best friend, and her confidant. It had hit her last night; she would never be able to go to Moreena when she needed advice or when she had a secret, or when she got fed up with the courtiers.

"Ma'am?" Lara asked. Her voice shook Gabrielle out of her reverie.

"Yes?"

"If you don't need me…"

"Of course. You can go now."

Lara smiled, curtsied, then left the room. Gabrielle stood for a minute longer, setting the tiara a little more firmly on her head, and arranging the curls about her face. Then she left the room. Gabrielle, knowing she was late, ran down the end of the hall, down the steps, then stopped just out side of her parents' sitting room, making sure she looked all right in one of the large mirrors on the wall. Then she entered the room.

Gerharad, Moreena's husband to be was there, as well as Lord Santir, to Gabrielle's surprise. Of course her parents were there, and they stood as she entered, and curtsied to them.

"You're late." Queen Silhal said in a slightly reproving manner.

"I apologize, Mother." Gabrielle answered.

"Well, let's go." King Arman said. He and Gerharad walked out, Silhal on her husband's arm. Santir smiled at Gabrielle and offered his. She took it and smiled back, although somewhat shakily.

"Are you all right?" Santir asked quietly.

"I'm losing my sister." Gabrielle said.

"Oh, yes. How stupid of me." Santir looked rather embarrassed. Gabrielle smiled.

"It's all right. I'll live." The thought had just occurred to her. Santir wasn't leaving, so she wouldn't totally alone in this castle.

Richard and Jadeth looked at Galenel in a somewhat surprised manner.

"You knew his mother?" Jadeth asked. Galenel smiled bemusedly.

"Yes." He said. "I am an elf, and though young by my people's standards, I am most certainly much older than either of you."

"I guess we forgot for a second." Richard explained, grinning. There was a short pause.

"What was she like?" Richard asked.

"Why?"

"She died soon after I was born." Richard explained. Galenel looked at the stars.

"She was a very merry sort of girl. Always smiling or laughing. Ariel loved to dance." Galenel had that strange look on his face. As if he were somewhere else, in some other time. "We got along well. She made me laugh. We were best of friends. I loved her very much." He was quiet for a while, then turned to Richard. "I never met your father. He and your mother met while I was in the north of my father's kingdom, fighting off enemies there. When I came back, she had chosen what she would do, and had left. I saw her riding away that night, but it was the last time I set eyes on her."

It was the next morning. The company was setting off to the Korein kingdom, ruled by Queen Derman. Okgog and his dragon also accompanied them, much to the dragon's dislike. Richard found himself riding next to Yin. For the first part of the journey, neither spoke. Presently, Yin turned to him and said, "Thank you."

Richard shook himself. "Excuse me?"

"Thank you." Yin had some difficulty speaking because of her heavy eastern accent. "You save my life."

"Oh." Richard answered. "Uh, your welcome." Yin nodded, but said nothing for a short while.

"You don't handle sword very well." She said. Richard felt himself blush slightly.

"No, I suppose I don't." he admitted. "I'm better with a bow."

Yin shot a look at him.

"Oh, I mean you good. Just not discipline. Need a teacher." Yin looked at him inquiringly.

"I see." Richard answered. "But who would teach me?"

"Me." She answered. "I teach you to fight the Hunari way."

Richard thought for a moment. It was a great honor, he knew, for Yin to offer to teach him the fighting technique of her people. Just as the Yenshari were known for the long life, and a great talent for magic, the Hunari were known for their amazing skill with all sorts of weapons.

"I'd be honored." He finally answered, smiling at the girl. Yin smiled back.

"Friends?" she asked, offering a hand.

"Friends." He answered, taking it.

And so time passes. Seasons come and go. Richard got on well with in his training with Yin, soon almost surpassing her. Gabrielle and Santir became closer friends, his presence assuaging her grief of losing her sister. And true to her word, Moreena had Gabrielle visit as often as possible. Yet during this time, the evil brewing in the Desanq kingdom festered and grew. Soon, a dark cloud would overshadow the world, and it would be up to the Knights to see that it reduced and died.

Hope you all liked it! I guess the sequel will take longer because I'm starting school on Tuesday, and it's going to be pretty heavy. See ya, peoples! – J.S.