Alanna frowned as she dubiously inspected the many and varied bolts of material before her. Dressed as a well-to-do young lady and chaperoned by Mistress Cooper, she had ventured out in to the merchant district to purchase a new ensemble for her slowly growing feminine wardrobe. They had spent the greater part of the morning browsing through materials and designs and as yet, had made little headway.

Buying women's clothes was not so unfamiliar to her these days and more often than not Alanna enjoyed the experience of selecting pretty skirts and soft stockings, but this time was a little different- this dress had to be very particular.

Of late she had noticed that the rest of her friends were not so subtly ribbing Jonathan about his 'changed ways'. At court functions Jonathan would flirt half-heartedly with the beauties that shamelessly threw themselves at his feet, but had not left with one for months. Obviously none could know the true reason behind his restraint so Jon had simply laughed the comments off, something she was particularly grateful for.

Though no one would ever comment aloud, Jonathan's reputation with court ladies was well known and Alanna could see his suddenly chaste behaviour was probably the subject of many a rumour among the gossips. She appreciated the lengths he was going to for her sake and had come up with a way to possibly combat the rumour mills- but she was yet to consult Jon, and wasn't even sure if she could pull off a stunt of the kind she was planning.

She would attend the next ball not as the crown Prince's squire, rather as one of the many court ladies, giving Jonathan someone to devote his attentions to. Squire Alan would be sent on an 'errand' while Alanna appeared as the daughter of a rich merchant passing through Corus. She held no illusions of the difficulty, and extreme risks, involved in such an undertaking- her disguise would have to be seamless. The copper hair and purple eyes would have to go and she would have to be well dressed but inconspicuous simultaneously. It would seem strange for the Prince, who had his pick of all of the female courtiers, to choose a mere wallflower; but her alias couldn't be allowed to be too memorable.

Here in lay the difficulty of choosing a dress. It needed to be fashionable and well designed without being eye catching or the topic of conversation for the next week; not too revealing or in unconventional shades. Of course balancing practicality, there was also her somewhat sheepish, almost embarrassed, desire to look good for Jonathan's benefit. The thought seemed flippant and ridiculous, not to mention quite out of her own character, but she could do little to suppress the wish besides simply trying to ignore it.

The vibrant materials delighted her developing feminine tastes but practically, she knew that she could not realistically consider colours like the vermilion reds or acidic greens in front of her, if she did not wish to draw a great deal of attention to herself. So instead she directed her interests to the more demure pastilles and whites.

After long consideration and a lot of advice from Mistress Cooper, Alanna settled on cream brocade, with delicately picked coppery-gold embroidery. Her chaperone assured her the cream suited her colouring while the fine copper thread would bring out what reddish tones she would have left in her hair after she had done dyeing it.

For reasons unknown, she was loath to part with her fiery curls, and had decided on a natural henna dye that would temporarily darken her hair to a rich chocolate brown, without completely covering her hair's natural ruddy tint. The dye she had purchased was supposed to rinse out in one wash, and she prayed to the gods above that it would do so- a newly made brunette Squire Alan would be very suspect indeed.

However, compared to her eyes, the problem of her hair was insignificant indeed. She knew of no other way to change her eye colour than by illusion and that would use a great deal of her energy. The problem with illusions was that the magic wasn't directed at the object, rather at those who saw the object. This meant she would have to basically broadcast the illusion to everyone in the great hall. She knew that would take huge amounts of concentration and leave almost no room to focus on anything else. The idea of an illusion really was quite unrealistic.

Feeling Mistress Cooper tug none so gently on her elbow, Alanna quickly returned her attention to the dress patterns spread on a counter before her. There were so many to choose from and she looked at her chaperone with a slightly panicked and bewildered expression. Here Mistress Cooper took charge.

"Well, we can forget these," she said, removing the most revealing of the dresses. "And this," she added, also taking a conspicuously old fashioned design from the group. Eventually, unable to decide on any particular dress, she spoke with the store's seamstress and managed to work out a deal that would incorporate the best parts of two designs she liked. Unfortunately this meant she would have to pay for a customised dress- a far more expensive dress.

After being measured, she forked out the considerable sum thinking her latest 'amusement' was becoming very pricey indeed and vehemently hoped Jonathan would be 'very bloody grateful' for her efforts.

Later that afternoon, as she ate tea at Mistress Cooper's house, she broached the subject of her eyes. Much to her relief her mentor in women's business was able to offer a possible solution to the complication. Mistress Cooper explained that magics other than the Gift might be more suitable for such a situation, magics such as the kind a hedge witch dealt with. At first Alanna was greatly reluctant to trust something as crucial as her sight to an unknown hedge-witch, but the older woman was quick to inform her of a friend who could be trusted with such a task. By the end of the conversation Alanna was quite satisfied that a hedge-witch's potion would cure her of her purple eyes for a short while without harm, and best yet, would require no effort on her part other than taking a draught.

That evening as she made her way back to the palace she thought about what to say to Jon. Should she even say anything at all? It would certainly make for a brilliant surprise when he eventually identified her. She imagined the look on his face, and the idea immediately sold itself to her. She would keep her plan a secret.

Spring was arriving in the coming weeks and with it would come the beginning of the party season. The opening ball was to be held in two weeks time, giving her plenty of time to return for a dress fitting, strike a deal with Mistress Cooper's friend and find a suitable excuse for Squire Alan's absence. Simple.