Hello, everybody! I'm on under a new pen name, now, but I'm the same author who did Short Snippet. This is the full story. And...I lie like dog. You see, I ran into a little snag: something happened I didn't know about until one of the characters told me. It's really annoying when that happens. Anyway, the fic isn't done yet, but I wanted to get some of it out there before I lose interest. This way I can get your love and adoration to fuel the creative juices. Love and chocolate, Eresh


CHAPTER 1

I glanced up toward the ceiling and strangely missed seeing the budding leaves from the Flauvic tree. This spring, like the last one, seemed rather barren without the tree in the Throne Room. My "daring" exploit with Lord Flauvic, the former goldenwood tree that sat on the dais, had earned me courtly acclaim for a while two years ago. My parents never did start sitting up on the dais, like the rulers of the past had. No, they still sat on cushions in front of it, as always.

Today's Petitioner's Court was as alternately dull, and interesting, as usual. Some of the problems brought before my parents and brother- for he is training especially hard this year for his future kingly duties since Father had gotten so sick this past winter- were mundane and completely boring. What did it matter who the pig belonged to, so long as no one went hungry for the want of it? Couldn't they share the profit of the pig if it sold at market, or the meat that came when it was butchered? And Mother said much the same thing. Others were quite interesting. Oria would have been fascinated with the issue of several of the local mages asking for a grant to establish a school for mages on the southern coast of Remalna, but she was away at Pyranarya Academy.

All in all, it was a typical session, with Alaraec sitting on Father's right, Mother to Father's left, and then me. We sat on cushions, as did many of the spectators in the Throne Room. We listened for the first green, and half of the second. We were nearly done for the day, since the petitioners had trickled off, when we received a surprise.

The doors at the end of the room were opened by the guards, and, with an armed escort, Flauvic Merindar walked in.

I was floored. Or, I would have been, were I not already on the floor. I don't think that there was a jaw in the room that didn't drop. I could feel Mother beside me go tense, which is never a good sign.

I took a moment to look over Flauvic. The two years that he had been gone hadn't been kind to him. He looked worse for wear; still breath-stealingly gorgeous, but definitely worse for wear. He was in common clothing, ragged from constant use, and he didn't look as if he had washed, much less seen a razor in weeks. Some time along these years he had cut his pale locks short. They were now hanging down to his chin in greasy hanks. One thing that hadn't changed was the confident, aristocratic, arrogant expression on his face.

He didn't spare me a glance, which actually hurt. I was the one he'd kidnapped, after all. I would have thought that merited at least a passing "oh-there-you-are."

"Well, well, well," Mother snapped. "Someone finally turn in the bounty on his head?"

Father gave her a warning look, but he wasn't given the chance to say anything, because one of the guardsmen spoke up.

"No, Your Majesty, he walked through the Gate of his own accord."

This didn't surprise me as much as it did Mother and Alaraec . Father and I flicked a glance at each other to see if we were thinking the same thing. We were: we knew he'd come back on his own.

"Yes, Your Majesty," Flauvic sneered. "I have returned home all by myself, but thank you for sending out patrols to find me. It was most gracious of you."

This time, Father put a hand on her shoulder before Mother could let slip anything else. "Where have you been these few years, Cousin?" he asked.

Flauvic sighed dramatically.

"Ah, hither and yon, Vidaneric," he answered. "First it was Sartor, then Norsunder, and then, just for good measure, I went to Sles Adran. After that, oh, about four months ago, I simply wandered around. I found myself heading this way more than any other, so I decided to follow my feet. Look where they've brought me."

"Now that you've come back," Mother asked, "what do you expect us to do? Welcome you with open arms?"

He leered at her as if she were younger than the age he appeared. It was a strange sensation I got in the pit of my stomach, something akin to eating too many sweets. Yes, I thought to myself, he's still utterly disgusting.

"Open arms?" Flauvic repeated. "I wouldn't complain. But, honestly, Your Majesties, what do you think you are going to do with me? Try me for a crime nearly twenty years out of date?"

"How about one that occurred two years ago?" Mother asked, trying to match his careless tone.

Now he looked at me. He let his eyes take in the very few changes that had taken place since he last saw me. My chest was...not as flat. My hair...was longer now. Basically, he just looked at me. I resisted the urge to wave mockingly. No one would get my humor anyway.

"She seems to have come through unscathed," he observed.

I narrowed my eyes at him in what I hoped was a furious glare. He seemed to find that rather amusing, and his mouth quirked up at the edges.

Father caught my attention. I didn't know what he was thinking, but I could tell that it was one his favorite "learn by doing" experiments. I had the distinct feeling that I was about to be put on the spot and there was nothing I could do to save myself.

"Elestra?"

"Yes?"

"If you were in the position to dole out Lord Flauvic's punishment, what would your decision be?"

"But it's not my place to pass that judgment," I said, trying to sidestep the question.

"I am making it your place," Father informed me and the Court, as well as Flauvic. "What ever you decide to do with him shall be done."

I looked at him like he was mad, but just barely managed to resist saying so out loud. The Court started humming with confusion and anticipation. I ventured a quick peek at Flauvic to see what his reaction was, and found that it nearly matched mine. Neither of us had expected this odd turn of events.

We locked eyes for a moment, and then his arrogant, conceited mask slipped back into place. I was incredibly annoyed that he did that, but couldn't think why.

I took several deep breaths, trying to determine what the best course of action was. Did he deserve to be punished? Yes, of course. But how much?

"I...I think that, despite the emotional and physical damage that was done to the kingdom, and to individuals in this room, Lord Flauvic's original crimes have been paid for. Twenty years as a tree is enough."

Again, whispers spread through the Throne Room like a breeze that someone's artfully tickled into a small fit. I looked at Flauvic again and found him silently laughing at me. I could tell that he thought that I was letting him go free, whether from some misplaced sense of companionship, or because I was infatuated with him, or whatever image his mind was tossing about. I glared back at him. I wasn't through with him just yet.

"So, Elestra, you plan on pardoning him?" Father asked carefully.

"No," I answered clearly. The noise in the room died down almost immediately. "I wasn't finished yet, regardless of what the Court thinks. I was also a victim of Lord Flauvic, and I demand retribution. You have just given me leave to be judge and executioner, and I am not done yet."

Now the room was silent. They were unsettled at my quiet statement. I had finally put the fear of me in them. Even Flauvic was no longer laughing. I took a second to revel in it.

"Please, continue," Father said. When I looked over at him, I saw that he was slightly unsure of himself. He had thought he knew what my choice was going to be, but he hadn't expected those words to ever come out of my mouth.

I looked at Mother. She was torn. Half of her was supporting me all the way to a death sentence for my kidnapping. The other half, the half that was a good and fair queen, knew that that decision was too harsh, but she didn't have any control over the matter, since Father had put it in my hands.

I smirked out over my audience. I tried not to, but it still crept out.

"Two hundred years ago, the daughter of Baron Eglestum of Herrinoedma was kidnapped and held for ransom for three weeks," I said, feeling special for knowing my history. "When the kidnappers were caught, they were sentenced to death. Two were hung from the battlements, and one was crushed under the weight of large stones piled one at a time on top of him until his ribs broke and punctured his lungs." I had added that last description for emphasis. "That seems a bit harsh for this situation, seeing as the Baron's daughter was tortured and mutilated so that her abductors could send pieces of her back to her family to reiterate-" I found Father looking at me pointedly. I cut myself short and cleared my throat before starting again. "Anyway, as Lord Flauvic pointed out, I came through my ordeal with only minor bruises, none of which were inflicted by him, and a dirty gown. I have decided that Lord Flauvic should spend the next year and a half as a palace servant. It is my hope that this shall teach him a sense of respect, and he will work off the price of that dress he made me ruin in my forced flight from the palace."

I grinned impishly. I couldn't help it. I was completely serious in my sentence, but it was just too much fun seeing the look on everyone's faces.

"Of course, if Lord Flauvic finds the thought of a year and a half of physical labor to be too much for his delicate, finicky stomach to take," I said as sweetly as possible, "I'm sure I could be persuaded to rely on the crushing-by-stones punishment. Which ever is my lord's preference."

I saw the proud looks both of my parents gave me. I was quite proud of myself, too. I met Flauvic square in the eye and gloated a tiny bit. He glared back, and I laughed silently at him, just as he'd laughed at me earlier.

"Well, Cousin?" Father asked, his voice as subdued and controlled as always. "Which will it be? A year and a half as a servant in Athanarel, or being crushed by stones piled upon you one at a time until your ribs break and puncture your lungs?"

Everyone in the Court got a small chuckle out of that. I noticed Flauvic's face contort the smallest fraction. It was then that I realized just what it was costing him to stand there and let everyone laugh at him. He had probably never been laughed at in his life as he was today. I felt sorry that I had caused it, seeing now that I was behaving toward him like everyone in my life had ever acted toward me. They thought that the jokes and barbs aimed were all in good fun. They didn't realize how much they hurt. And now I had acted just like them. It made me feel a little ashamed.

Flauvic lifted his head and acknowledged the joke as if he had been the mastermind behind it all the time. "Of course, Danric, I take the year and a day. What fool chooses death over getting to lick the boots of those he would once have ruled over?"

"Then you start your time as of tomorrow," Father announced. "For the remainder of the day, you can get moved into the Servants' Wing, and get food and a bath. Someone will wake you tomorrow morning and show you to your new duties."

"And I shall have someone with me at all times, to make sure that I don't try something dastardly, I'm sure," Flauvic drawled.

I watched as the guards lead him out of the Throne Room. He never looked over his shoulder to even give me an eyebrow scorching glare. He walked out as proud and regal as I had ever seen him, and probably anyone else. I hoped his palace uniform itched him like crazy and that he got hives from the material.