The group of bandits crept through the forest, knowing that ahead lay a caravan of merchants. When they finally reached it they observed that the only female was a young woman with red hair dressed in silver leggings and a teal tunic. The leader of the bandits hissed and said, "She's the one, the noble we're lookin' for." His followers nodded and he added, "She's not t' be harmed, his Majesty would be truly vexed if she was."

Once again they nodded and with a yell they charged the woman. She looked up quickly, her brilliant teal eyes shining with fire. When the first bandit reached her she hit him in the face and he dropped to the ground, his nose bleeding, eyes shut. The same thing happened to the next three. When the fifth one reached her, however, he ducked her blow and tried to hit her. But his fist met thin hair and she slammed her fist up into his stomach and then his windpipe. He dropped gasping.
The girl smiled and the next bandit gulped and fled. The only one left was the leader who stood still as the girl watched him. "What are you?" he asked, horrified.

She flipped her hair and said, "I am Karissa of Toren, the Shang Unicorn." The bandit leader shrugged, he didn't know what Shang was or that Unicorn was a very high ranking. He advanced on Karissa, his knife drawn. With a few quick slaps she disarmed him then she punched him in the windpipe and kneed him in the stomach. He dropped to the ground, motionless.

The girl wiped the blood from her fist and turned back to the camp. He was only a bandit; he had no right to expect to live.
A week later the caravan pulled into the capital city, Corus. Karissa sighed; it was here that she left the caravan. They wished her well as she rode her horse, a golden beauty named Sungold up the winding road to the palace. When she reached the gate she was let in and the hostler, Stephan took her horse.

A small page guided her to where she needed to go, her mother's palace rooms. Inside her mother's modest rooms she saw that her mother, the Queen and the King were all sitting together. "Karissa!" her mother cried, standing to embrace her. "I'm so happy that your journey was safe. Did anything happen?"

"Nothing worth noting mother," Karissa replied.

"That is good. Now darling, this is King Jonathon and Queen Thayet." Karissa curtsied and bowed her head. "They are here to discuss the terms of your engagement to Prince Roald."

Karissa's eyes flashed and she said calmly, "You know that I do not wish to marry anyone but Beldar, don't you mother?"

Her mother's eyes flashed and the Queen gasped. "You have a suitor?" Thayet asked.

Karissa started to reply but her mother cut her off, saying, "No, just a boy she met some years ago up in Shang. He wasn't even a Shang warrior, just some merchant's boy along the way. Kari only saw him for a few hours."
Thayet frowned and said, "Roald doesn't wish to marry anyone but a girl he met a while back when he was off adventuring. He said her name was Kari, a girl in Shang. But I told him a noble would be much better."

"I'm sure," Kari's mother agreed. Kari tuned both the older women out as she focused her attention elsewhere. Three years ago exactly she had been on a trip into the Shang city and met a very handsome, witty boy named Beldar. They had exchanged a short kiss when she left and she had felt a deep passion for him ever since. Of course, there was always Jerald, the Shang boy she had trained with whom adored her, she liked him too but not as much as she liked Beldar.

While Kari was thinking and the ladies chatting the door opened and in marched a tall young man with raven-black hair and sapphire blue eyes. He wore a blue silk shirt and white leggings. He looked mad and his eyes were snapping.

"Ah, Roald," King Jonathon said. "Glad to see you could make it."

Roald turned to his father. "Father, I told you already, I will not marry a noble girl who I've never even met before." Kari frowned, she had heard that voice somewhere before! But it had been younger, not so manly.

"Roald," Jonathon said. "This is the Lady Karissa of Toren. Some people call her the Shang Unicorn."

Roald turned around and his eyes met Kari's. Both gasped and then Roald smiled, but Kari did not. "Prince Roald? You told me your name was Beldar, you lied to me?" her voice was confused.

Roald's grin faded. "Kari, listen, you have to understand. I was promised to marry a girl, you, when I was five and you were three! Wouldn't you lie about your name?"

"No," Kari replied honestly. "I told you my true name and why I was at Shang. But you lied to me."

Thayet looked worried and whispered to Kari's mother, "Linita, this is not good."

But Linita ignored her and clapped her hands. "Oh how lovely! You're Beldar! Now you can get married and everyone will be happy."

Just then Kari whirled around and ran out the door. The page standing outside asked, "Can I help you ma'm?" "Yes," Kari replied. "Show me to my rooms." The page nodded and led her to a set of simple rooms near the squire's rooms. Kari locked the door after he left and sat on the bed, sobbing quietly.

After a few minutes someone knocked on her door and she called, "Please leave me alone!"

Someone replied, "Now Kari, you know I can't do that. What sort of twin do you think I am?"

Kari jumped up from the bed and threw open her door. She embraced the red- haired girl on the other side. "It's good to see you Corin!" she cried. "Come in, come in!" Corin did so. "I hope you are well?"

Corin nodded and patted her stomach. "Married life agrees with me and I am expecting a child."

"Congratulations," Kari replied.

Corin nodded and asked, "So Unicorn, when are you getting married to the Prince?"

Kari's grin faded and she said, "Never."

"Never? Surely you don't mean that."

"I do. He's Beldar! The boy I met three years ago!"

Corin's eyes went wide. "No way! That is impossible Kari, impossible. The Prince would never be there."

"But he was and he made me think he was a simple merchant boy, never telling me the truth! I even loved him more then I did Jerald."

"Why don't you love him now?" Corin asked.

"Because, because I don't know!" Kari wailed. Then she looked up. "I guess I still love him, but I don't know him anymore. I can't marry someone I don't know!"

Corin took her twin's hand. "Then get to know him. I'm sure he wouldn't object at all. Remember, he has feelings the same as you do."

Kari sighed. "You're right Corin, as always. Could you do me a favor?" Corin nodded. "Tell Roald that I'll meet him out by the stables in the morning to go for a ride. If he objects then tell him to tell you and you'll tell me."

Corin nodded and left. "All right Kari," she called behind her. "But you owe me for this!"