Everything but the basic plot belongs to Tamora Pierce.

Chapter 1:

'This is madness', thought Alanna as she gazed at the many bookkeepers stationed around her. Papers swamped every desk, nearly submerging those who worked on them. The annual treasury report was due to the King in the coming week and clerks raced to keep to their tight schedule. Quills scratched hurriedly across parchments and loose sheafs danced in the wake of hasty messengers darting from desk to desk. Through the crowd of clerks Alanna could see the King bent over a desk at the head of the hall, looking menacing. She half pitied the poor accountant who cowered behind his paper stacks. Though she wished to speak with the King, she had no desire to wade through the organised chaos spread before her. Instead she waited by the doorway, unnoticed, being reminded of why she could never have chosen the palace life.

She had arrived that morning, after a long sojourn away from court and was eager to catch up with old friends. Though she loved her new life at the Swoop with George, she still missed seeing her friends on a regular basis, and to her great surprise she wanted to once again surround herself with the colourful disarray that was the city of Corus.

Glancing again in the King's direction she allowed a quiet laugh to escape her. King Jonathan wore an expression of supreme frustration, and it seemed the victim of his glare was unable to appease his anger. By this stage she knew that had she been in the same situation she would surely have done something rather rash. She imagined herself backhanding the clerk or simply just walking out of the hall- perhaps even slamming the door on the way out would have vented some of the stress. But then weren't they all very good reasons why she was a knight of the field and not a courtier? She generally preferred to leave diplomacy and such to others, like Jonathan or Gary, hell, even George was more politically inclined than herself.

An abrupt exclamation brought her mind back to the present, where Jonathan leant over the desk, speaking loudly with aggression at the clerk, occasionally banging the desk with an open hand to emphasise his point to the pathetic clerk. So even Jonathan was not quite the diplomat all the time. At that point he chose to look up in a gesture of frustration and caught sight of Alanna, watching on with curiosity. He acknowledged her presence with a grim smile before returning his attention to the recoiling clerk to continue his tirade.

Eventually tiring of the argument he delivered a swift ultimatum to the bumbling clerk who had little choice but to agree, unless he wished to incur the wrath of the monarch.

Alanna gave the King a smile that clearly read 'I'm so glad I'm not you', as he made his way towards her. He returned her smile with a wry one of his own.

'Having fun?' Alanna questioned.

Rolling his eyes Jonathan replied with an ironic 'Of course, sure'.

'And what problems have assailed you this year?'

'To tell the truth, not many actually, just the one issue I was dealing with back there. There's a great gaping hole in the spring trade records.'

'During the spice merchants' trade block?'

'Of course. And now we have a gods' forsaken gap in the record papers, which could have left the treasury wide open to embezzlement, fraud, theft...' the King trailed off exasperatedly.

Without warning he picked up the threads of his rant again, 'How can I be expected to run this kingdom efficiently if I have incompetent scribes and an imbecile for a treasurer! Surely a week long gap in daily records would have been noticed by someone, before the annual report. It is the kingdom treasury for Mithros's sake.'

Alanna, though unsure of the particulars, certainly had a good grasp of the general problem felt that this was probably her cue to give her friend some advice or at least reassurance. 'What's done is done. The records will probably never be found. Can't they use the records both before and after the gap to give a rough balance? If it was a truly large sum of money that had been taken, if any was removed at all, wouldn't it have shown up as deficit by now?'

'True enough, but that's not really the root of the problem. The reports should have been properly filed in the first place. And not only that, the scribes should have noted something amiss the moment the gap appeared, rather than have it surface now, nearly five months later.' 'Well then maybe you need to have Gary look into the officers of the treasury, maybe he'll be able to weed any shifty ones out. But remember, any money that's gone would be near impossible to retrieve by now.'

Alanna's common sense seemed to pacify Jonathan's temper and instead of coming back with a biting remark, he jokingly clapped her across the shoulders and remarked, 'We'll make a politician of you yet, Trebond.'

A most unlady-like snort of derision came from the King's Champion as she rolled her eyes. As if that would ever happen.

The two continued amiably on their way around the palace catching up on the latest news and reminiscing, remembering years that seemed far off now. They were brought back to the present however, by the sight of an anxious Myles waiting at the door of Jonathan's study. The old knight looked the same as ever- slightly dishevelled but closer inspection showed him to be still sharp as a tack.

Alanna moved forward to greet her adoptive father with a hug. She was pleased to see that life with Eleni was agreeing with him, but immediately wondered why he was hovering outside the King's office.

'Myles, my old friend, what are you doing standing out in the corridor?' came Jonathan's greeting.

Myles however wasted no time with greeting and jumped straight to the point. 'I have important business to discuss with you. We ought to get in', as an after thought he added, 'Alanna, you had better stay too. You'll need to hear this'. He sent a pointed look to his adoptive daughter, implying that she needed to remain present, regardless of her dislike for 'state' matters.

This piqued her curiosity and she readily followed them through to the study. Generally any appearances she made at state discussions had been a mere formality and it was rare that her presence was absolutely necessary- unless it was a matter of defence of the Crown or Kingdom. Something was wrong if Myles's behaviour was any sort of indicator. The usually calm and collected knight seemed impatient and certainly worried. Alanna hadn't seen him like this since the disaster of the coronation. It took a considerable amount to shake her near unflappable father.

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There you have it- the first chapter. You may have a very long wait for the next, depending on how much crazier my life gets. But I'm writing as often as time allows, so you'll have to be patient with me. Anyway, thanks for taking the time to read, and a review would be much appreciated.