Disclaimer: Alani's mine, but not much else is!

Chapter 14 - The Effects of Writing Home: Alani sent off the latest batch of letters. She'd heard of a ship leaving for Emelan, and had quickly gotten them together and given them to the captain. Now she would have to wait for replies.

She kept busy over the next couple of weeks, spending her time at Court or at the university. Two weeks after arriving in Corus, her relatives went home to Pirate's Swoop. Alani, caught up in her work with the university mages, didn't. Myles and Eleni offered to let her stay with them, but King Jonathan gave her quarters in the palace. It made things convenient.

She enjoyed spending time with her young noble friends as well. Jaden dragged her out on rides with him, Khurram, Michel, and Kalasin - Tereze's fear kept her from joining them - and to some of the Court gatherings. He and the other boys were young knights who, as of yet, did not have border duty. They were restless, and only getting more so. Kalasin, meanwhile, was getting edgy, as the date of her official betrothal approached.

"But haven't you known for a few years?" Alani asked. They were walking together in the gardens one evening, having escaped from the party. Kalasin grimaced.

"Well, yes, but it wasn't official, you see. As long as it wasn't official, I could pretend that it wasn't going to happen. I could... It's not that I'm not ready to do what I have to. And Kaddar's a good man, from what I know."

"Daine likes him, doesn't she?"

"Yes, she said that. But I'm a bit nervous all the same. I've never met the man, and he is six years older than I am."

"George is older than Alanna, and look at Daine and Numair."

"But they chose each other. And I don't know why I'm talking to you about this. I guess you remind me of Alanna."

"People keep saying that."

"Well, you do look like her." Kalasin sighed. "What's it like, to not worry about making a political marriage?"

"I've very little idea, Kally. I'm not really looking for romance, so the freedom I have is one I haven't used as of yet."

"What about Jaden?"

"A noble, who will be expected to make a proper marriage himself."

"You're noble."

"Not really. I'm a bastard, anyway. So I'm not proper."

"True." Kally sighed again. "I wish I had a choice. I wish I could get to know Kaddar before I have to meet him. We won't even meet until I go to Carthak."

"What? He won't come here for the betrothal!?" Alani was stunned.

"No, the betrothal is by proxy. His ambassador will stand in. He's got too much to do, with the rebels that still haven't been quashed."

"Now that's insane. I'd heard about marriages like that, but it's so stupid. If you've never met, how are you supposed to... er..." She broke off.

"Share a bed?" Kally suggested dryly.

"Well, yes."

"People do it all the time. You're telling me men always know the women they pay to bed?"

"No, but that's... well, it's a one-time thing. And that's not all I meant. People should get to know each other first, then get married. The noble custom's backwards." She wanted to laugh at her words. It was the kind of thing Tris might say. She had said it, when Sandry had visited her while Alani was there, talking about the latest marriage contract she'd been offered. "At least in Namorn, they courted you," Tris had said then.

"Thank you! If nothing else, I want to meet Kaddar once before I go to Carthak to stay. I don't think it's much to ask for, do you?"

"Not at all." They were interrupted then by Kally's younger sister, Lianne. She told them that the queen was looking for Kally and Jaden was looking for Alani. The two followed the younger girl inside.


The next day, Alani spent her day at the university, trying to explain to Numair and Harailt the difference between ambient and wild magic.

"But it's in things, not so much in the mage, which makes it a type of wild magic," Numair argued. Alani shook her head.

"No, it's not."

"Well, then why is it so similar?" Harailt put in. Alani bit back a groan.

"Because, wild magic isn't all that biddable, correct?" She addressed the question to Numair, who knew the most about it. He nodded, and she continued. "Daine told me that she can only control her power so much, but that it can break away from her. Like sometimes, she mentioned her ability to heal is pulled from her."

"That's rare," Numair said.

"I know, but it proves my point. Ambient mages have things like that happen - power spilling out of them without their controlling it - when they haven't had enough practice in control. Depending on what their power is connected to, control is easier or harder to get. But once they reach that level, they only burst out like that when, like any academic - sorry, Gifted - mage, they lose control due to temper or something like that. Ambient magic is similar to wild magic, but they aren't the same. At least, not based on what you've said about it." She smiled, then frowned. There was something outside, something that reflected the sunlight. Shock made her freeze as she realized it was Chime.

"Um, I've got to go. I'll be back." She fled, leaving two confused men behind. "Chime?" she called when she got outside. The dragon glided down to her, making the sound that was her purr. "Hey, girl," she said, stroking the glass dragon's head when Chime landed on her wrist. "So, Tris is here, then? Why didn't she just send a breeze after me?" The dragon simply took flight again. Alani laughed. "All right, then, but not too fast. I can't fly - not without drawing attention to myself, anyway," she said, smirking when she remembered the trick with cyclones Tris had taught her for when she didn't want to use the stairs.

Chime led her to an inn located in a fairly decent part of town, a middle-class neighborhood. The inn itself, called the Wanderer's Retreat, was a neat, whitewashed building with trim green shutters. Chime flew into a window on the third and top floor. A few minutes later, Tris walked out of the inn's front door, Chime on her shoulder. Her red curls were in their usual braids, and she wore her tinted spectacles. Her dress was pale blue, and serviceable. She recognized Sandry's work as Tris brushed off a bit of dirt that had gotten onto her skirt when she came outside. Forgetting that Tris wasn't usually someone you ran up to and hugged, Alani did just that.

"Well, you must be homesick, because I'm too prickly for a hug like this," Tris remarked, hugging the younger girl back. Alani grinned as she stepped back.

"You just play at it," she told her former teacher. "Not that I'm not thrilled to see you, Tris, but why are you here? Nothing's wrong, is it?"

"No, of course not. I came to help you with those university mages. You said you needed help."

"You didn't have to come. I know you have the store."

"Keth's minding it."

"Keth? I thought he was going back to Namorn... wait a minute. Tris... you... and Keth?"

"Did I say that?"

"No, but answer the question."

"You're worse than Sandry."

"Tris! Come on. And don't insult me. Sandry's far worse."

"You're right. Yes, Keth and I are seeing one another. Are you happy? And don't go thinking that you've pulled me away from him. I wanted to come help. I think setting up an ambient magic area at a school like this is good. There's too many of us who go untaught." She grimaced. "And I'm not the only one who likes it. Now, let's get up to this school and see what's what."

"Fine. Follow me. And what's this about not being the only one?" She led Tris back toward the university. Tris rolled her gray eyes.

"Sandry's talking to Winding Circle's ruling council."

"What?"

"She wants an alliance with Tortall, and she wants to send ambient mages with the delegation, as a show of good faith. I think she considers us vanguards of the delegation."

"Wonderful. Was she always like this?"

"No, she wasn't. But she learned to handle politics after Duke Vedris' heart attack. She's gotten better at it than any of us would have expected."

"Apparently. So she wants a full-fledged alliance? I'm surprised. There are no west-east alliances. Trade agreements, but not this."

"I know. Sandry always thinks big. So, this university. How bad is it?"

"Excellent, if you want academic magic. You know about the different manifestation, right?" She was referring to the way that the Gift could appear as colored fire, and was often used without full spells. Tris nodded. "Well, they know plenty about that, though I personally prefer our flavor of academic magic; less flashy. But they've got Numair Salmalin; you know about him. And Harailt, the dean of the mages' school, is no slouch. They even understand wild magic, which I told you about in my last letter. But I just had a fight with them about ambient magic. They thought it was the same thing as wild magic."

"That's ridiculous," Tris said. "From what you said, it makes no sense. And your information came from the Wildmage, right?"

"And Numair, a bit. But no one knows much about ambient magic. Even Numair only knows that it's mostly craft-based, and works through things rather than on them. But apparently, while wild magic was thought of as a legend, there's practically no kind of record on ambient magic."

"Well, we've got nothing on wild magic, so I'm not surprised. I never heard of it when I was at Lightsbridge, and Niko doesn't know anything except the term." Alani let her jaw drop in fake shock.

"Niko doesn't know about something?" Tris cackled.

"That's what Briar said."

"Ah, well, we former street rats have to stick together." Tris rolled her eyes and Alani smirked.

"So, they're hopeless, then?" Tris asked.

"Utterly. I'm not up to this; I need a scholar like you. Not that I can't help, but you know more."

"I am your teacher."

"Not anymore, technically."

"Then maybe I'll change my mind about helping you."

"You're still my teacher!" Alani said hurriedly. She didn't mind helping at the university, but Tris was so much better at that kind of thing. She needed Tris' help - Numair and Harailt needed Tris' help.

They reached the university and found Harailt and Numair. "Sorry I ran off, but I remembered that Tris was coming today," she lied smoothly.

"Tris? Trisana Chandler, the weather mage who studied with Niklaren Goldeye? The one who's supposed to be intertwined with four other mages, including the Duchess of Emelan?" Numair demanded. Tris raised her brows and looked at Alani, who winced.

"I guess I was wrong about you not being well-known over here?"

A/N: I'm so sorry about the wait. I never meant it to be this long.