Cythera stared at Thom. "What?!"

"I said," Thom drawled, "that you should tell Alanna to cease healing the queen."

"Are you insane?" she hissed, glancing around the dark corridor Thom had pulled her into. "Lianne could very well die if Alanna does that!"

"And Alanna might die if she doesn't!" Thom snapped back. Cythera blinked, taken aback by his words and astonished by the fear in his eyes.

"What do you mean?" she demanded, arms akimbo.

"I mean," Thom said slowly, "that it's very likely that whoever is behind these assassinations is hoping for Lianne's death. If Alanna wants to stay alive, she needs to stop all her extra activities, and soon."

Cythera frowned. "You're an idiot if you think Alanna will stop what she's doing, just because you're worried," she informed Thom coldly. "She's as stubborn as a mule, and determined to do what she wants to do."

"Which is why," Thom said with exaggerated patience, "I'm asking you to help convince my idiot sister to keep a low profile!"

"No," Cythera said shortly. "Not unless you tell me who is behind the attempt."

Thom froze. "I can't do that," he said after what seemed like forever.

"Then no deal," Cythera replied. She turned on her heel and walked away, head held high.

He knew, Cythera was certain of it. Thom knew who had tried to kill his sister. Now she just had to figure out how to get the information from him.


"So what?" Gary returned, frowning at his friends.

Jon rolled his eyes. "So, you saw her fight. How did she do?"

"You saw the duel we had," Gary pointed out sharply. Jon and Alex were watching him carefully, while Raoul hummed to himself.

"Yes, but she wasn't even really trying," Alex said, frowning. "So how did she do?"

Raoul rolled his eyes, finally shutting up. Gary sighed in relief- that damned humming had been grating on his nerves.

"She held her own," Raoul said, amused by Alex and Jon's persistence. "Against professional assassins, which should tell you something."

"Any idea who was behind the attempts?" Jon queried, head tilted slightly.

Gary sighed. "None. They were freelancers, that much we do know."

"Why, then?" Jon asked, looking honestly stumped.

"Because my father told the Council who had given him the information about the Tusaine incursion," Gary said acidly. "He hadn't thought the spy could be in the Council, but it seems he was wrong. Now it's common knowledge that Alanna was the one to get the information, and someone wants her out of the way."

Jon scowled. "I hate this, not knowing who might be a traitor," he said darkly. "And who in their right mind would try to kill a girl? She's only fifteen!"

"She's stepped on a lot of toes by giving Duke Gareth that information," Alex said mildly. "She's a new player, and no one knows quite what to make of her. Therefore, our spy wants her out of the way. I doubt he cares about her age."

"What did her brother say about the attacks?" Raoul asked, frowning. Gary shot his friend a sharp glance- there was something in Raoul's tone that alarmed the future Duke. Raoul, easy-going Raoul, sounded almost suspicious.

Jon was the one who answered. "Thom didn't say much, actually. But he looked furious. He was terrified that Lady Alanna had been hurt- the first time I've seen him so emotional, really. Though he laughed when he heard Lady Alanna's been assigned a guard."

Gary snorted. "Hasn't done much good," he said acerbically. "She still managed to sneak out to the city."

"I heard about that," Jon said, curious. "What for?"

"She isn't saying," Gary said, unable to hide his smirk. "Father was about ready to start screaming in frustration."

"That'd be a sight," Raoul murmured mischievously.

Duke Gareth rarely lost his temper. But he was getting very, very close to it now.

He was furious with himself, first and foremost. True, he hadn't suspected that the spy might be a member of the King's Council...but he still should have kept Alanna's name quiet. Now there were assassins after her blood.

He was also furious with Alanna herself. What had she been thinking, going to the city like that? And she wouldn't even tell him why!

It was stupidity, sheer idiocy, for her to pull those kinds of tricks. Especially when she was so needed: without Alanna, the queen might very well relapse, the tentative new peace between Naxen and Trebond would fail, and Tortall would lose a fine citizen. She had to learn to be careful, or she would get herself killed before she was twenty.

Alanna growled, glaring at her door. She'd been pretty much confined to her quarters for the next couple of days, by Duke Gareth's order.

He hadn't been at all pleased by her "little stunt", as he'd put it. Especially as she hadn't told him exactly why she'd gone to the city.

Cythera hadn't been at all sympathetic, either. "Act like a child, and you'll be treated like one."

Alanna had barely managed to keep from choking her dear friend.

Coram had been completely furious with her. He'd spent a good hour scolding her, before going off to write her father. They both knew it was a pointless activity, but Coram didn't seem to care.

Thom, oddly enough, had seemed relieved by her internment, muttering about how it was safe.

Truth be told, Thom was really starting to worry her. He looked worried and sickly, and she was willing to bet he hadn't been getting near enough sleep.

Gary's reaction had been the strangest. He'd snapped at her for worrying them- he had an extremely sharp tongue when he was annoyed- then told her to buck up, and that he'd smuggle her some cake that night.

True to his word, Gary had appeared an hour before with some cake and a few books for her to peruse. They'd eated the cake together, discussing the attack and what Alanna had learned from George. She hadn't yet told him who her informant was, and he didn't press. He merely took her at her word, and agreed that keeping Faithful nearby was a good idea.

For some reason, Alanna felt inclined to trust Gary with that information, when she hadn't even told Cythera or Thom. Strangely enough, she rather suspected that the two people she currently trusted the most were George and Gary, despite the fact that she barely knew them.

Now, going on midnight, Alanna was sprawled in her desk chair, glowering at her closed door.

'Frowning isn't going to do any good,' Faithful informed her calmly from where he was curled on her bed. 'Just accept it with good grace.'

Alanna snorted. She wasn't exactly known for her positive attitude.

Then came a tap on her door. Startled, Alanna hesitated, wondering if she'd imagined it.

But no, Faithful had looked up as well, amethyst eyes suspicious.

The tap came again. This time, Alanna slid out of her chair and walked to the door, slowly opening it. She silently thanked Gary for leaving it unlocked.

To her surprise, a small page waited outside. He looked vaguely familiar- the page who'd been in the courtyard when she'd arrived in Corus, she thought. Harry or Harris or something like that.

"Yes?" she demanded, instincively keeping her voice quiet.

Harris- yes, that was the name, she was sure of it- looked nervous.

"Lady, can...can I come in?" the page asked, fidgeting. Alanna's eyebrows shot up- pages weren't allowed in the ladies' rooms.

Alanna, however, was in a rebellious mood. "Very well," she said, standing aside. Harris scampered in, and Alanna closed the door behind.

"Sit down," Alanna ordered, pointing to one of the two armchairs by the fire. Harris obeyed, looking rather shaky.

Alanna sat across from the lad, quite curious. "Now, what brings you here?"

"Edan told me I should come to you," Harris said, flushing. "He said you might understand."

"Understand what?" Alanna demanded, doing her best to be patient.

For a long moment, Harris remained silent. Then, quietly, he said, "I'm a girl."