'Ello, all! Won't bother groveling, I do it every chapter - though, admittedly, it's because I need to. Um . . . Will give you a pretty little summery.

Kiyra and Korlav have entered Looria, after riding through Tielarian countryside, including a stop at Kiyra's fief and encountering a bard who spoke of Halshea, a girl who married into a Clan with an affinity for dragons - an important bit of information considering that the pair are looking for a dragon's heart. Kiyra, however, is wary as it is her grandmother's Clan.

In Looria, they stayed at a Border fief, which was the first time Korlav had to pretend to be Loorian, which went fairly well. Kiyra was visited by a lutist who gave her seemingly meaningless advice and the runestones of a Lady Evytora - returning those to her would help the Tielarians integrate themselves at court.

The morning dawns . . .

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They were half a day's ride from the Border fief when Kiyra realized she had a dragon's load of work to do with the prince.

It had all started as they chatted about inconsequential things - the ride, future lodging, the general geography of Looria. In growing dismay, Kiyra watched as Korlav snapped his fingers as he forgot a province, mangled name. While his Loorian was well enough, he tossed in Tielarian catch phrases. He smiled too frequently. They crossed through a woodcutter's yard and when a young child darted too close, causing his horse to rear, he laughed it off. Topping it all, he quoted philosophy on how children's lives are the precious jewels of tomorrow's future.

Kiyra wanted to cry.

"Korlav," she interrupted when they stopped for supper at the remains of a fortress, the prince chattering about the structure and when it dated from, "name the seven Clans."

He stopped in surprise, his hand stilled on the ancient stone. "Sorry?"

"The Clans. Name them, describe them - assure me that you know them."

He raised his brows. "Why?"

"Because with every action, every sentence, you scream Tielarian. Mortese only knows how you hid it near the Lord of Ellwenyi. To find the Stone, you need to seem Loorian to the core and know every quirk in their culture."

"Am I so bad you must invoke the god of death?" he asked unconcernedly.

"I should invoke the god of hopelessness," Kiyra said through ground teeth. "I was assigned to this mission, you're just tagging along. Wouldn't it make sense to listen to whoever has the most knowledge?"

"It would also make sense to give command to my father's only son, but I don't see you doing that."

"I'm remembering what you said in the beginning - it doesn't matter what happens to you, your sister would be capable in your place. I'm almost willing to chance that!"

"Oh, is my lovely bride to be angry at me?" he said sadly.

Kiyra started as the prince's face slipped from annoyance to humor in a heartbeat, looking up at with huge green eyes and a tearful expression. Then, as if he could bear it no longer, his mouth wobbled, and he broke into an unrepentant grin. "It appears she is."

Kiyra, at the moment, was concentrating on not smiling, or blushing in mortification. She pushed aside the realization that she had just been called "lovely," something no one had said of her before, and tried to turn back to instructing. "The Clans, Korlav."

He sighed deeply, his mouth trying very hard not to curve into a smile. "Very well. The Eighth Clan -"


He looked at her, truly startled this time, and frowned. "I can't be wrong. I just started."

Kiyra groaned. "I know - I know you know the Loorian Clans, you must being - being who you are. Only, you know them as a Tielarian. Automatically, of course, you label the Clans of Tielar as the first seven of the fourteen Clans. Only the Loorians do the same with theirs. Don't recite the Clans as a Tielarian, but as a Loorian."

He considered this, then nodded. "The First Clan is Ghelliadde, known for their artistic talents, such as writing, painting, and singing. The Second in Cassive, which has a reputation for the war arts. The Third Clan is Möshica, which the Traitor - what?" He asked at Kiyra's look. Rolling his eyes, he continued, "that is, the First King of Looria was born into that Clan. The Fourth Clan is - the, uh, Eleventh - it's Sallinroya, then. The A'shavion Clan is the Fifth, which is power hungry. The Sixth Clan is Tangianakoe, the most open of the clans, as Loorians go. Clan Kearope is the royal one." He cocked his head. "Satisfied?"

"How would you greet the king?"

"I would kneel on both legs, look him in the eye, and say Until the dusk we are sworn.' Dusk meaning his death."

"Like that?" Kiyra said, feeling despair creeping over her.

He frowned "What do you mean?"

"Is that how you would say it?"

"Until the dusk we are sworn - yes. That's the wording."

Kiyra dropped her head into her hands and moaned. "The words mean nothing. It's the arrangement of your breath - your intonation. The way you said it implies you have no respect for him and that you wish to speak with him at a later time. Say it, "Until, the dusk . . . We are. Sworn."

"Yes that sounds off kilter."

"To a Tielarian, but to a Loorian it signals great reverence, an underlord to his master. And if you kneel like this," she demonstrated, "you are asking for a blessing on your betrothal."

He looked at her in sheer amazement. "What a useless thing to know. And how is it you do know that? You hardly knew that much about Tielarian court life."

She sighed. "You don't understand. In Tielar, these things would be the tiniest little nuances, but in Looria, they aren't. They are everything. Picture a play, in which a servant comes before the king, and sits in his presence. Everyone knows that this is wrong, that the servant has committed a major infraction. In Looria dramas, in the traveling troops we get at Shaelin, the way someone speaks in a major infraction, the details of their dress. My knowledge of these court misdemeanors are gleaned from player's acts, the way most Tellurians form their picture of court life. I don't know everything about it, but I know the basics - and if you don't know them, we won't have a chance."

He clasped his hands beneath his chin, looking at her with wide eyes. "Then instruct me, O wise one," he said. Kiyra couldn't decide between hitting him or laughing.

"First," she said finally, "you'll have to learn how to act as we travel. You're a lord, Korlav, not a farmer. The social stigma of talking to those outside your caste is very high."

"But they rank beneath me!"

"Yes," she groaned, "so you may order them, or demand of them, or sneer at them, but please do not be familiar."

"Right. First step: increase my arrogance," he said with a grin.

"And stop smiling so much . . ."


The darkened window reflected back the interior of the richly decorated room. An elegant bed lay on the floor, the mattress and pillows unsupported by a frame, as a Tielarian bed would be. A girl with pale skin and red-ish blond hair sat upon it, a long, sweeping dressing gown flowing down her form. She faced a mirror, and held another behind her head so she could view the back of her ear lobe. Nothing was there, and yet she frowned, passing a finger over it before seeming satisfied. Next she opened up a pouch, dropping four runestones into her hands and fingering them absently. These she set down in a row, then turned to a heavy bag and drew out a box of polished mahogany. A small smiled drifted across her lips as she traced faded carvings. She unlocked a drawer, and brought out four more runestones. Glancing sharply to each side first, she kissed each smooth stone sphere. The wisp of a smile returned as she began to toss the globes in the air, catching each steadily until she had all four gems twirling up and down. Her eyes slowly shut as she juggled rhythmically. The stones rose and fell. In the window, their unnatural glow was reflected, growing as the girl tossed them faster and faster. A knock on the door caused her eyes to fly open, and the jewels' light vanished, and stones themselves being cast back into the locked drawer before she pulled open the door.


"What are you doing here?" Kiyra hissed, pulling Korlav into her room and closing the door with as little noise as possible. She drew the heavy curtains before lowering herself to the bed, motioning for the prince to sit down as well. "You shouldn't be here," she whispered, though fairly sure no one could hear them.

"Just wanted to visit," he said uncomfortably. At her arched eyebrows he rolled his eyes and continued. "I think I alienated the mayor in convincing him of my nobility."

"You had every right," Kiyra assured him, patting the bed beside her again. She did not want to strain her neck staring up at him, and the closer they were, the softer their voices could be. He sat awkwardly, and grimaced.

"I don't like these beds," he announced, and her eyebrows were thrown into an arch again. "They're too close to the ground," he explained.

"Practicality. That way you never collect dust under them. And there's something almost - decadent - about having a bed right on the floor. The nest of cushions and sheets. The ordinary classes have raised bed so they do not waste the storage space underneath, but the rich are able to throw away that extra space."

He shook his head, a small smile on his lips. "You are a fountain of unwanted knowledge. Why, then, did Tielar's wealthy not put their mattresses on the floor?"

She swallowed her own smile at his look, for he obviously doubted she'd have that knowledge as well, though perhaps he'd be alarmed if she did know. In any case, she grinned widely, tilting her head to face the prince's. "Oh, don't you know? Tielar's designs fancied the more elaborate in furniture, evolving more in complicated patterns then viewing simplicity as luxurious."

"Ah, for I know I'd always describe Loorian rooms as simple," he quipped, gesturing around the room. A small fountain gurgled in the middle of it, and the lights hanging from the ceiling were many tiered.

"Maybe not simple," Kiyra allowed, still smiling. "Yet somehow I think of Tielar as more intricate and Looria as more flowing. Now," she said, switching topics as her attention switched, "how did you annoy the mayor?"

"Right," he said, as though remembering that was what he had come to speak of. "I charred the curtains in his parlor."

That was not what Kiyra had expected her to hear, and it made her sit upright in surprise. "You did what?" she asked, the lazy relaxation she had been covered with sliding away. "You burned his curtains?"

"Accidentally," Korlav protested.

She pressed a hand to her forehead as if she could prevent the headache that was sure to come. "Please tell me you didn't destroy anything else of our host's," she pleaded. "This isn't a very big town, and if the mayor's unwilling to host us for the night, I don't think that there's going to be anyone else inclined to."

"He wouldn't kick us out," Korlav said, appalled.

"Probably not," she conceded. To herself, she mentally moaned. She'd spent the last three days improving his Loorian manners, and purposefully picked a small place to test him out. And now he had burned curtains?

Her dismay must have shone on her face, or maybe the prince just wanted to explain. "It was a ritual, like at the Border fief we stayed at. Who, if my opinion matters, I liked much better than these men. Admittedly because they were influenced by Tielarian ways."

"The curtains?"

"Oh. Well." He shifted, then grinned at her, a charming crooked grin that made Kiyra want to smack him. "The mayor asked me, as a visiting guest, to help with the ritual. And he handed me a candle, and directed me to my position - and it had been so easy earlier this evening, you know, talking with the mayor and his friends. I suppose petty people are the same the world over, be they obnoxious Tielarian nobles or obnoxious Loorian mayors."

"How enlightened of you," Kiyra mocked gently. "Are you sure it's not too radical? Comparing both Tielarian and Loorian in the same sentence, especially with you being who you are. Imagine what would happen if the two countries admitted to sharing traits, and did not have such total enmity for the other."

"Believe me, I still hate them with a passion," Korlav said easily. "With every fiber of my being, to coin a phrase."

"I think that phrase is better left uncoined," Kiyra sniffed back. Then she blinked, and realized how stupid that sounded. She felt her cheeks turn a little red, through she was sure her room was too dark to tell. Still, she cautioned herself. The prince was the Tielarian prince, and he had been weaned on disdain for Loorians. He did not mean to insult her with his words; he did not know whom her mother was, and she did not intend for him to find out. And it was pointless to get worked up over him unintentionally maligning a nation that happened to include her mother's family. Most of the time, Kiyra hated Looria as well, for how badly they had treated her mother.

"Uncoined," Korlav mused, obviously unaware of the mental discussion Kiyra had just treated herself to. "Is that possible? It would have to be coined before it could be uncoined, or there wouldn't be anything to uncoin in the first place. But if uncoin means not to coin at all - it's not possible. Well," he said with a grin, leaning back on her bed, shifting his body sideways to prop himself up with an elbow. He looked alarmingly comfortable, as though he intended to stay there the entire night. "I could just wave my hand -" he demonstrated, "- and say, there goes a phrase I uncoined by not coining it.'"

Kiyra rolled her eyes. "I think uncoined means to just stop using it. The phrase."

"But that's not how you used the word. You used it to mean not using the phrase in the first place."

"Is this going anywhere?" Kiyra complained plaintively.

"I expect not, but isn't it fun anyway?" he said in an utterly relaxed voice, letting his lids drift shut. "And isn't that how you used it?" he asked lazily.

"Sorry?" Kiyra asked, staring at him. "Oh. The word. Yes, I suppose," she said. "But if you're really thinking about it," she said, dropping back onto the bed herself, "what a strange thing to say. To coin a phrase - how do you coin it? What does that even mean?"

"Maybe that you harden it like you harden a coin? I read a book once where they described the process of making coins. More like a picture book, but I was little, and the pictures were fascinating. They would melt the metal and then poor them into these molds and then dose it in cold water . . . Though I'm not sure when that happened . . . I always liked the pictures of the molten metal . . ."

"Did you want to be a smith, at all?" Kiyra wondered, counting the unlit candles hanging from the ceiling. "If you liked the metal."

"Oh, I don't know. I think it is fascinating, molding metal to a shape, but - more when it's being molded. I'm not really interested in it after it hardens. Just when it's so hot it's burning red."

"I never thought about it," Kiyra admitted, closing her eyes for a moment.

"I don't, often. You remind me of it, now that I am thinking."


"No, really. You're just like it. The molten metal. Positively fascinating, and impossible to touch, and who knows how to handle it - the metal, now, not you. You just have the same wild, independent, untamable quality . . . Only hot metal, of course, not cold, you would never be that . . ."

"Of course," she murmured because to her tired brain his words made since. Only when he did not respond and she realized she was about to fall asleep did Kiyra sit up. "Wait," she said desperately, "You can't sleep there." He didn't stir, and she couldn't bring herself to wake him. They had been riding for three days, tense, in enemy land under false names and titles. It was a comfort to lie in bed, after a good meal and a hot bath.

"We'll be kicked out without breakfast if you don't sneak back to your room discreetly," she murmured to the sleeping prince, without expectation of an answer. She dragged a blanket over him as best she could, and pulled her own sheet to her chin, tucking her knees up as well.

"I think they'd understand," the prince said, and her face shot to his. His eyes were closed still, eyelashes lying softly against golden skin. His mouth curved. "You look very lovely tonight," he said, and she blushed.

"Go back to your room," she said, but she didn't mean it, and he didn't intend to listen. "Besides," she said, her own lids closing and sleep looming, "what about the curtains?"


"Over here," Kiyra hissed, directing her horse behind a small cottage and beckoning Korlav to follow.

"Why?" he asked, obliging her. "I don't think they're looking for us."

"Probably not," Kiyra admitted, "but I doubt they'd be pleased with us if they found us, either."

"We didn't do anything."

"It'll look like we did, after we snuck out this morning."

"Then we shouldn't have snuck away."

"It was easier," Kiyra said exasperated, then went on at the prince's arch look. "They were already on alert because of the curtains, and when that maid found us in the same bed when we told them we weren't wed, nothing good could have come of it. They could have thought we were conning them about being nobles. At best, they'd still believe our story, but force us to wed."

He looked surprised. "They can't have that kind of power over strangers."

"Of course not - but the mayor took us into his house, so we, as an underage couple, were his responsibility for a night and a day. It would look bad for him if he did not make an effort for the priorities to be observed. Everyone would know they wouldn't be, but it would be argued round until the night fell and we were no longer his responsibility."

"That's stupid."

"And a waste of time. So is being branded if they thought we were thieves. See why I wanted to avoid it?"

"I think I'd describe being branded as excruciatingly painful, not a waste of time.'"


"Fine? That's all? That's not particularly exciting. Do you mean I'm going to have to carry this conversation by myself?"

When Kiyra turned, annoyed, to Korlav, she saw he was grinning. She felt a responding grin tugging at her lips. "You win," she said. "Branding would be excruciatingly painful."

"Ah. I thought it might be. And I think they're gone by now, thankfully."

Kiyra nudged her horse forward until she could see around the cottage. The mayor's party had vanished from sight, gone to the hearing he had spoke of the previous night. The Tielarian pair trotted their horses in the opposite direction, until they had left the town and were back on their route. This path would eventually lead to the south eastern Imperial Way. Each Way led directly to the capital, which shot off eight different path like a rose compass. Looria's flat landscape, featureless except for the juxtaposing sands and lakes, made straight roads easy to construct. Once Kiyra and the prince reached the Way, they would have an easy enough time getting to the capital. Holding houses along the way would provide rest stops, though they were not intended for nobles - that breed usually stayed with their own kind when traveling. It would be easier, however, for Kiyra and Korlav to take that path - quicker to the capital, and less nobles they would have to fool.

The prince was thinking vaguely along the same lines. "We never did get around to our stories," he said. "On our families and such."

"Go a head."

She heard the raised brow in his voice. "And here I was going to be a gentleman and let you go first."

"I don't have any ideas," Kiyra admitted. Somehow she had forgotten to think about that for the last several days. Their cover of being betrothed was good enough to get them through traveling. But they would be at court in several weeks, and would need a deeper story.

"None?" the prince said. "But Kitelleve, here is your chance! You can be any one you want to be, have any number of siblings . . . dramatic childhood dramas . . . intrigues . . ."

"It's unfortunate you were born to your occupation," Kiyra said dryly, "when so many others are open to you. First a metal worker, now a story teller. You could have traveled with FeVorso."

"Not if I had to wear his outfits," the prince objected with a grin.

"Oh, no - yours would have to be even more colorful," Kiyra said blandly. "On account of not being as tall and gangly, and therefore less noticeable." She smiled at him, then shook her head to clear it. "But you're right - we should have stories. And names, as well."

"Also, I wanted to look into what Clan Halshea belonged to, the dragon one."

Kiyra throat constricted, the merriment of a moment before disappearing,. "Oh?" she said carefully. "Do you think that's that important?"

He shot her a disbelieving look. "Considering it's all we have to go on, I find it very important. Don't you?"

"It's just that it's so - unreliable," Kiyra said. "The names, the story - it's probably all wrong. Maybe even made up."

"Then why would the bard make sure it was fed - and pretty thoroughly digested - by us? That was no accident."

"We don't know what side FeVorso was on."

"Does it matter?" the prince said, sounding irritated. Kiyra was glad they were riding so she did not have to face him.

"I just don't see why the story matters," she said in a small voice.

"By Camren," Korlav called on the god of patience, "Why are you refusing to see this?"

"I'm not," Kiyra protested weakly, feeling embarrassed and a bit ashamed. After all, what did it matter if they ran into her grandmother's Clan? She wouldn't run into her grandmother - not that the woman deserved that title, the way she'd treated Kiyra's mother. And even if she did see her, it would just be a glimpse. They would be dealing with the male members of Clan Cassiev, who held the public face.

Come to think about it, her grandmother had married into the A'shavion Clan, so she wouldn't even be with Cassiev unless her husband had died or she was visiting. Obviously. Kiyra had been so panicked by the Clan's name that she had forgotten that blatant fact.

"Yes, you are," Korlav said, bringing her back to the present. "This is the only thing we have. Don't ignore it."

"I won't ignore it," she said, such an about face that the prince was startled. "I just - I wasn't thinking clearly."

"No," Korlav said slowly, furrowing his brow as he looked at her.

Kiyra looked down into her horse's mane, hoping he would look back at the road soon.

"It's unusual, because you usually do."

"I was thinking about something else," Kiyra said stiffly.

Suddenly the prince face broke into a smile. "You have a secret," he said cheerfully.

"What?" Kiyra gasped, turning to face him. "No," she snorted derisively.

"Yes, you do," Korlav said, grinning.

"No, I don't," Kiyra protested, feeling ridiculous. "What would I have a secret about?"

"That's the fun part, isn't it?" the prince said, grinning. "I get to figure that out."

"I don't have a secret."

"'Telleve has a secret," he sang.

Startled, Kiyra frowned. "'Telleve?"

"Come now, we're to be married. Don't I get a pet name? You may call me Kory," he said magnanimously.

She snifled a laugh. "You are very gracious."

He gave her a how-could-you-doubt-it? look. "And you," he said softly, maneuvering his horse closer to hers, though her mare was skittish, "are very secretive." He reached out and pulled the tie from her braid. Laughing, he pushed his horse faster.

"Am not!" Kiyra yelled, and cantered after him.