Sorry this chapter was so slow in coming! See the author's note at the bottom for part of the reason. It's not entirely my busy schedule's fault (though that is a big part of it).

Disclaimer: You all know what's mine and what's not- if you don't, why are you even reading this?

Reviewer Responses:

Dom's Lover: I think I stated that this fic is an AU, but that's beside the point. Most of your confusion seems to be that you haven't read the prequel Being His, which really is crucial to this fic making sense. Though I still recommend going and reading BH (it will be useful, not to mention I'm very proud of it) I'll give a brief synopsis of this AU. Basically, this is my interpretation of what would have happened if Alanna had married Jon. Thayet never came to Tortall and Kalasin and Liam don't exist. Instead the three royal children are Lianne (the oldest), Roald (the heir) and Jasson. Alanna and Jon had marriage problems that ultimately resulted in loud, angry and sometimes physical fights and Jon having an affair with Delia of Eldorne. They had an illegitimate son, Roger of Eldorne, who everyone knows exists and no one talks about. Delia killed Alanna about four months before this fic starts, was charged with regicide and hanged. Hope that clears things up a bit! Go read Being His and everything will make a lot more sense.

cookxenya: That stinks. I would die without internet!

atsuibelulah: Since this is a question I'm getting a lot, I'm going to answer so everyone pay attention! This is set in an AU, in which Numair went to Galla instead of Tortall and met up with Daine there, before she ever went to Tortall. When he discovered Ozorne was trying to release Immortals into the Mortal Realms, Kaddar contacted Numair (who was still Arram at that point- he's going to go by his given name in this story) and asked him to come back to Carthak to help stop Ozorne's mages from breaching the Divine Realms. Numair came back, bringing Daine to Carthak. They stayed there after Kaddar's coronation and are currently his resident Black-robe and Wildmage. Hope that clears everything up!

maliaphire: Zhai'helleva is a word from Mercedes Lackey's books (which I recommend- they're really good!) which means Wind to thy Wings. It's a multipurpose hello/goodbye sort of thing.

Atlanta Enchanted: Lianne is nineteen, Roald is eighteen and Roger and Jasson are sixteen. Kel is around seventeen. I think I will make her and Roger be at least friends- their personalities seem to click- then maybe I will take him off to Carthak with Lianne. Food for thought…Anyway, thanks for the very complimentary review! I really appreciate it.

k4writer02 and Meggie : I'm so glad you think my AU is believable! You absolutely made my day with that comment. Believability is not the easiest thing in a fic like this and something I really struggle to have happen, so I'm glad you think I'm succeeding.

milky way bar: That's what I love about summer: NO HW! BTW, Ivan still likes you. And he's single again. Have fun in India!

Sariana of the Wind: Oh! You cried! I feel oddly complimented and sorry at the same time- hope that makes sense.

chocolategirl: I'm really glad you love my fic. I kind of like it too.

lillycat: I'm sorry you think it's evil that I'm waiting for ten. I do agree it is a bit extortionate of me, but I really do want reviews, and a lot of people don't review and just read. I like feedback, and I like knowing people have read and appreciated my story- if there's not a big enough audience, it's just not work the sweat and mental blood that goes into it. But I'm glad you like this, and would've been willing to put in an extra couple reviews.

"We are going to my rooms," Sima said, gently steering the princess in the general direction. "And we are going to talk."

Lianne went unrelentingly, too upset to put up much of a fight. It'll be nice to talk to girl, I guess…she thought reluctantly. And she seems nice-

Because Sima was the only woman with the delegation, she didn't have to share a sitting room with any of the other delegates. So there was no worry of being disturbed as she ushered Lianne into the outer room of the suite. Lianne swept the room with her eyes, never having been in one of the suites granted to foreign delegates before. It was a decent sized room, with several chairs and a couch ringing a rug in front of the fire place. A door on the wall opposite that Lianne assumed led to the bedroom stood ajar; Sima closed it as she stepped into the room before settling next to Lianne on the couch.

"What's wrong?" she asked gently.

Lianne crossed her arms, a hardness showing in her eyes. "How do I know you won't just go tell Kaddar?" she asked softly. "I've only known you for three days and not well. Why should I trust you? I don't know anything about you." Sima shrugged, refusing to be put aside.

"How's this?" she said easily. "I tell you about me, and then you tell me what you're upset about." Reluctantly, Lianne nodded. She shouldn't have given in, she knew. But it had been so long since she'd had another woman to talk to- and she really did want to trust Sima- She nervously spread her skirts more neatly as Sima leaned back.

"I'm really only half Carthaki," Sima began, a thoughtful look on her face. "My father's from Maren. He came to Carthak for the University, met Mother and stayed. Mother was the youngest daughter of a fairly well-ranking noble. She had Grandfather wrapped around her little finger, and when she wanted to go the University, she went. When she fell in love with a Marenite commoner, a fairytale wedding was arranged. I've got two older brothers- one's a commander in the Legions, one works on Grandfather's estate. Since I had the Gift I was sent to the University. That's where I met Kaddar.

"I worked hard, spent time with friends- I enjoyed the University." Sima sighed. "But as wonderful as it was, it was impossible to ignore Ozorne. Little things started happening- some of his closest friends, those who had been privy to all of his schemes when he was younger, began to leave. One fled the country, one locked himself in with Ozorne and his plotting, and one was nearly executed. Kaddar and one of my teachers –Lindhall Reed- began pulling me into a close circle. They were mages who supported Kaddar, who were trying to discover what Ozorne's pet mages were doing, closeted in the library for hours on end.

And then, someone found out. They were trying to discover the spells that unlocked the Divine Realms, and released Immortals into the mortal realms. And they succeeded. You probably know this part- we had most of the strength of the University behind us, and we were able to call in alliances and bring some valuable friends into the country. Between our black-robe mage, his student and the combined strength of the rest of us, we were able to expose the planning, force Ozorne's abdication and deal with the mages who had been helping him.

I lost friends in that battle. It was the first time I had seen magic used to kill. Because there were killings- assassinations more often than not, and untraceable. There were no 'battles' as such- only one long struggle that went on quietly under the surface. And by the end of it, I was exhausted, physically, mentally, emotionally and magically. So of course, I turned to my friends for support. Briefly, yes, I was involved with Kaddar. But it was more because I was emotionally drained than that I was in love. I trust him, he's one of my closest friends, and I do love him- but it's the way I love my brothers, not the way I'd love a lover.

After Ozorne was dethroned, and Kaddar was crowned, I began to be pulled more and more into the court circle. Most of my friends either remained at the University, becoming teachers, or migrated to the palace, joining Kaddar's inner circle. A few left, but most went no further than Thak's Gate. So I took Kaddar up on his offer to get me a room in the palace and I've been working with him for the last half a year. We're beginning to see progress in getting rid of Ozorne's supporters- unfortunately we can't get rid of them all.

As to the reason I'm here now-" Sima hesitated slightly. "Well, to be perfectly honest, as soon as Kaddar heard about the betrothal idea from his advisors, he asked me if I would be willing to come. He said he wanted a woman along with the delegation who could- oh I don't know- talk to you, make you feel more comfortable I guess. I think he's about as excited about this marriage as you are. Remember, if you two get married he's as stuck with you as you are with him." It was the woman's blunt words and wry smile that convinced Lianne that she wasn't just Kaddar's spy.

Sima settled back slightly against a cushion. "Well that's my life," she said. "Your turn." Lianne smiled slightly.

"I don't know why I was crying," she began slowly. "Just- well, I've always known I would have to make a political marriage, but somehow, tonight I just felt so- used." The words came, haltingly at first, picking up speed as she continued. Her voice rose and fell as she spoke. She talked about the obvious: the feeling of betrayal, of being used, a fear of the unknown, worry about the prospective husband. And then she began to open up, talking about the fear of marriage, a foolish child's dream of love, the fear of a husband. Sima gave no outward sign of shock, besides widening her eyes slightly when Lianne talked about her parents' relationship and the fear of marriage it sparked.

"-I just saw how miserable it made Mother," she continued. "And it scared me. He mostly ignored her after I turned eight or so, but when I was little- I used to hide in the hall outside their rooms. And I would hear them- screaming, yelling. And then Uncle Thom would come and carry me away. But she didn't come out of their rooms for a long time. Once, when I was eight and had started to discover what having the Gift meant I could do, I snuck into her rooms after they'd been fighting. Only she wasn't normal, like always. She was just lying there, and blood was pouring out of her head-" Lianne stifled a sob. "I ran for Duke Baird- that was when their fights stopped, when he found out." The tears began to streak down her face again. Sima pulled her into the circle of her arms.

"Poor you," she murmured, stroking Lianne's hair. "You're so brave." Lianne choked.

"Brave?" she said incredulously. "I've never done anything brave."

"If I were you," Sima said. "I'd have picked up my skirts and fled as soon as someone so much as mentioned marriage. It's a wonder you're still in Tortall, let alone here in the palace agreeing to a marriage your father is arranging with someone you hardly know."

"He's gotten better," Lianne said hastily, rushing to her father's defense. "Ever since Mother died-" Sima shook her head.

"You still lived nineteen years afraid of him," she said, sighing. "Wait a moment." She ducked into her room, and came out with a basin of water and a wet cloth. Lianne laughed bitterly.

She took the offered cloth and started to clean up the mess her face paint had become. "I bet I look a mess," she said.

Sima shook her head and laughed gently. "Better than I would. I get all blotchy and my eyes get puffy and red."

"I met someone once who can cry and still look gorgeous," Lianne said wistfully. "She's a priestess of the Goddess –used to be a princess of Sarain I think. The most gorgeous woman I have ever met. When she cried, she looked so romantic, like some lovelorn princess in a tale."

"I wish I had that trick," Sima said. "I look more like the lovelorn goatherd when I cry." Lianne giggled, before her eyes widened and she covered her mouth.

"Goddess," she said. "Did I just-?"

"Yes, you giggled," Sima told her. That set Lianne off, laughing and laughing. Sima watched in amusement as the princess slowly brought herself under control, a few more tear tracks making smudges in the last of her makeup.

"Sorry," Lianne said finally.

"No apologies necessary," Sima assured her. She bit her lip as though contemplating something. "Lianne, I really think you should talk to Kaddar." Lianne opened her mouth to object, but Sima cut her off before she could. "He is one of my best friends, and I'm sure that he does not intend for you to feel used in any way. Why don't you clean up –you can use my room- and think about it." Lianne nodded- she owed Sima that much. "Good. Now, just go this way-" Sima showed the princess where she could rinse the last traces of smeared face paint off her face, as well as the tear tracks.

She then returned to her couch and, tucking her skirt around her neatly, sat. Quietly, she summoned a speaking spell, and sent the magical equivalent of a nudge to Kaddar. Soon, the emperor's voice came through the spell.

"Sima, is she all right?" he asked anxiously.

"She's fine," she assured him. "Just a bit shaken I think. I told her to talk to you and I think she will, given some time. Just- Kaddar?"


"Be a complete gentleman. Any hint of anger from you and she might well run screaming to Scanra."

"Dare I ask why?" The speaking spell made it hard to detect inflections, but Sima would bet money his voice was concerned, rather than jesting as the words would suggest.

"Ask her when she talks to you. I've got to go. Talk to you later." As she heard the sound of Lianne's footsteps, she ended the spell and rose to greet the princess.

Lianne's face was clean of the streaked face paint. She had pulled her hair back, and except for a few damp tendrils, it was tied at the base of her neck in a horsetail. "Thank you," she said quietly.

Sima smiled. "That's what friends do. I hope that we will become friends." A smile spread slowly across Lianne's face.

"I think we will," she answered. "Good night, Sima."

"Good night Highness."

Roald and Jasson thankfully didn't appear to question Lianne when she returned to her rooms. Instead, there was only a note propped up on the side table. Lianne- I'm sure you have your reasons for what you did tonight. There's no official lunch tomorrow, so we're hoping you'll eat with us and tell us what happened tonight and tomorrow morning with Kaddar. –Roald, Jasson and Roger.

Lianne didn't summon her maid, and quickly undressed herself. She tumbled in amongst the warm blankets and was asleep in moments.

The next morning, she was awakened by a knock on the door. "Highness!" The familiar voice of her maid rang through the wood.

"Come in," she called groggily. The woman entered the room quietly. Lianne rubbed a hand over her eyes. Her mind felt fuzzy with sleep and her mouth tasted horrible.

"Mornin'!" the maid said cheerfully. She picked up the dress Lianne had draped over a chair the night before and shook it out. "You'd better be gettin' up. His Imperial Majesty and Her Ladyship are to meet you in little more than an hour." Lianne sat up.

"All right, I'm up."

Despite the early morning wake up, Lianne found herself late to meet Kaddar and Sima. Once in the back hallways, she picked up her skirts and ran. When she was forced to take to the main halls again, she walked quickly. Thanks to her running, she was the first one to the courtyard. Two members of the Palace Guard met her there.

Both bowed upon seeing her. "Good morning, Highness," the taller of the two said. Both men were relatively good looking, one a tall curly-haired blond, the other shorter and slimmer with straight dirty blond hair. The men both moved like trained fighters, and Lianne felt confident that the two would make good bodyguards for the morning's outing.

"Good morning," she said pleasantly.

"I'm Baden Miller," the shorter one said. "And this is Yorick of Hannalof."

"A pleasure to meet you both," Lianne said. Baden's name was ringing a bell but she couldn't place it immediately. When the identity did click, she smiled slightly but kept her mouth shut. Baden was one of Cooper's men. But of course, she wouldn't tell him that she knew that.

The need to make conversation with the two was dismissed by the arrival of Sima and Kaddar. Sima greeted Lianne with an affectionate hug, Kaddar with a distant nod and a kiss on the back of her hand.

Kaddar and Sima took horses from the Royal Stables –both even-tempered geldings, a gray and a bay- and Lianne took her red roan mare, Raina. The three rode down the city, Sima making most of the conversation between the three. Kaddar and Lianne both spoke to her, but avoided speaking directly to each other. Sima was not one to hide her emotions, and annoyance was becoming more and more prevalent on her face. By the time they reached the city, she was pursing her lips and giving both of them glares as she spoke.

They left the horses at an inn and made their way into the shopping district. Vendors hawked their wares loudly, street performers entertained idle shoppers, and loud talk filled the air. Lianne relaxed slightly upon entering the atmosphere- no tattling courtiers to watch them here.

Seeing a small store filled with odds and ends for magecraft, Sima's eyes lit up. "I'm going in there," she said, pointing. "I'll meet you two there-" She pointed to a fountain on a nearby corner. "-in half an hour." Yorick went with her, while Baden followed Lianne and Kaddar as they continued to look at vendors' wares and poked their heads into stores.

After several moments of awkward conversation, Lianne turned to Baden. "You wouldn't mind leaving us alone for a few moments?" At his immediate refusal, she continued. "I know Coo- you're not supposed to leave us alone, but could you stay out of earshot?" Baden bowed.

"I suppose, Highness," he said. "For a lady as lovely as yourself." Lianne laughed lightly and rolled her eyes. True to his word, Baden dropped back out of earshot, though he kept the two in plain sight. They bent over a tray of inexpensive jewelry as Lianne changed the topic.

"I suppose you're wondering what- upset me last night," she said finally. To Kaddar's credit, he didn't look surprised, or at all taken aback.

"I admit, the thought had stayed on my mind," he admitted with a shrug. "I had hoped you would talk to me about it eventually."

"Well-" Lianne hesitated, thinking of the best way to phrase what she was about to say. "You probably know that my parents did not have the- easiest of marriages." She smiled wryly.

"I had heard that, yes," Kaddar said.

"Probably in much blunter language," Lianne said. She laughed ruefully. "I don't think there was anyone who hasn't heard- Roger's a dead give away. Anyway, as soon as I was old enough to understand, my parents simply became- distant- with each other. Their loud fights all but stopped. But, when I was little- well, I saw some things that- put me off the idea of marriage a little bit." Kaddar's face did not reveal any emotion as she looked at him hesitantly- only polite interest.

"It's sad," he said quietly. "Your mother sounds like an amazing woman." Lianne smiled.

"She was," she said, equally quiet.

There was a moment of awkward silence before Lianne changed the topic to something else. They talked idly for the rest of the time, until meeting back up with Sima. She looked from one to the other, at the easy way they were talking, before looking back at Lianne. A raised brow spoke volumes; I'll talk to you later.

The three browsed shops and vendor's stalls until almost noon. The sun was high in the sky when they returned to get their horses. In no time at all, they were back at the palace and separating. Sima agreed to meet Lianne in her rooms at fourth bell. Kaddar pressed another chaste kiss to her cheek and thanked her for the wonderful time. Lianne blushed slightly and hurried to meet her brothers for lunch.

Sima and Kaddar walked back to the wing granted to their delegation. "What did she say?" Sima demanded as soon as they were out of earshot from the bodyguards.

Kaddar shrugged. "That her parents had a rough marriage. She didn't say quite as much, but I think that what she was skirting around was that her parents used to fight a lot –how physical it got I don't know- and she saw some pretty bad things when she was little. I think she meant that she was- scared of the idea of marriage, not just leaving home or this marriage specifically." Sima nodded.

"That fits in with what I heard last night," she said quietly. "And you're quite right if she told me the truth. Like I said, be a complete gentleman if you don't want her running for Scanra. She'll be a wonderful queen I think, if you can gain her trust. I also think that you'll be able to get along quite well, unlike most political marriages."

"I'd hoped we would," Kaddar admitted. Sima noticed to her extreme amusement that a blush was faintly visible against his dark skin. "She's very- sweet," he finished. Sima laughed.

"She's gorgeous, you mean," she said teasingly.

"Right, as usual," Kaddar agreed, a smile flitting over his handsome face.

"Of course," she said, bobbing a mock curtsey. "And you will so enjoy clothing her in gold and jewels."

"As befits an empress," Kaddar replied smoothly. He opened the door to his rooms, and motioned Sima inside. She flopped in a plush armchair, with little concern for decorum. Kaddar sat a bit more gracefully in the chair opposite, while Aveela joined them and sat on the sofa between.

"So," Sima said, easily addressing the newcomer. "What has our emperor been saying about Her Highness?" Aveela's hands moved quickly as he signed the answer.

He cannot stop talking about her, he replied, grinning at the emperor. Her beauty, her flawless manners, her sweet personality- I've heard about it all. Kaddar groaned.

"I could have you arrested for conspiring against the emperor," he said jokingly.

"But you wouldn't," Sima replied. "Because when they arrested us, the first thing out of my mouth would be the size of your-"

"Treason!" Kaddar groaned. "It's a conspiracy of fools to rob me of all dignity."

I'd love to see you give that excuse to the Red Legion, Aveela retorted. Sima stood and walked over to him, and he threw a casual arm around her shoulders.

Kaddar threw a pillow at the two. "Traitors!"

"Unmanly," Sima taunted.





"Aveela make her be quiet."

I'm with her on this one.



I'm with her.

"Get out! Both of you!"

"I and this manly man will go out and amuse ourselves."


Come, beautiful lady, let us leave this babbling fool who calls himself emperor.

SLAM! Kaddar groaned as the door slammed. As soon as that sound was gone, he heard the sound of someone laughing themselves to tears and rolled his eyes. Sima and Aveela were living proof that not even the emperor of the Southern Continent, with all his hundred and one titles, was not exempt from the teasing of friends. But he really wouldn't have it any other way.

"But he's so handsome," Jasson said, voice syrupy sweet, fluttering his eyelashes. "Tall, dark and handsome."

"Oh, shut up," Lianne said, throwing a roll at him. Jasson caught it neatly and took a bite.

"Thanks for the food, sister dear," he said through a mouthful of bread. "Tastes delicious." Lianne rolled her eyes.

"There's no winning," Roald advised from where he lounged in his chair. "You know Jasson wins any argument between the two of you."

"And what about you?" Roger asked idly, toying with a fork laden with beef. "Lianne's won an argument with him a time or two, but you've never won."

"Hah!" Lianne said, throwing her brother a victorious look. "Two against two. We're even."

"For now," Jasson said with a shrug. "Then once tall, dark and handsome comes along-"

"I thought I told you to shut up," Lianne said.

"Whatever you say, Princess," Jasson said, a smirk quirking up one corner of his mouth.

"I thought we were going to talk seriously," Roald reminded his younger brother.

Jasson waved the idea away. "Too much seriousness lately," he said. "Politics; can't stand them. That's why I'm becoming a knight. I shall rescue fair damsels, vanquish evil knights and wizards and discover treasure troves the likes of which can only be imagined!" He brandished his spoon as though it were a sword.

"When you can beat me on the practice courts, I'll believe it," Roger replied.

"Not my fault you're a demon with a sword," Jasson complained. "Fine, here's what we'll do. You'll vanquish evil, and I'll take all the credit! And the fair damsels," he added as an afterthought.

Roger just snorted. Lianne and Roald looked at each other and rolled their eyes. "Little brothers," they said together.

"I resent that," Roger joked.

"Get used to it," Lianne replied, taking a sip of fruit juice. "You always have been and always will be-" She broke off at the sound of a knock at the door. Roger got up and answered it, admitting a fourth year page.

He bowed low, face flushed. "Highnesses," he panted. "My lord. I was sent to bring you this and then escort you to the ambassador's lunch." He held out a piece of folded paper. The siblings exchanged glances. That lunch was supposed to have been business only. Lianne took the note and opened it. Her brothers watched as her face grew pale and her violet eyes widened. Roald read quietly aloud over her shoulder.

'Princess, They are about to sign the marriage contract. They have completed the preliminary treaty and are at the point where they feel a marriage contract may be signed. They wish to have it signed as quickly as possible to reassure both countries that a match has been made and neither will go back on its word. The page will bring you to the lunch in time to be at the signing if you hurry.'

The Conte children glanced at each other, and Lianne and Roald took off running, while Jasson and Roger thanked the page before sprinting after them. Wisps of red hair worked their way out of the knot at the base of her skull as Lianne's slipper-shod feet slapped the ground. Her skirts clutched in one hand, she skimmed the banister with the other, hot on Roald's heels. They were outside the hall within moments.

It took only a moment for Lianne to push most of her hair out of the way and shake her skirts out. Roger and Jasson then pulled the doors open for her and Roald to make a regal entrance. The group of men clustered around a table turned as one to face them. By the expressions of surprise on some faces, Lianne surmised that the page had not been sent openly by the group. It was the careful blankness of Sir Gareth's face that she realized who had sent the page. She made a mental note to thank him later.

Sima, Aveela and Kaddar faced her from the other side of the room. Sima's tiny braids didn't so much as hint at a speedy arrival, but Kaddar's shirt was slightly askew and Sima was breathing slightly harder than normal. Lianne realized that neither she nor Kaddar had any idea that the contract was being signed.

She shoved the fear and turmoil out of her mind and erected a mask of perfect calm. "Good afternoon," she said calmly. "Your Imperial Majesty, ambassadors."

"Good afternoon, your Highness," Kaddar replied smoothly. Everyone in the room bowed, with the exception of Jonathan.

"We were about to commence with the signing of the contract," Sir Gareth said calmly after a moment of silence had ensued.

"Yes," Kaddar said, tearing his eyes away from Lianne's. "Your Majesty," he continued, turning to Jonathan. "If you would sign?" Jonathan dipped his quill in ink. Lianne watched proudly, carefully containing the nausea she felt as she watched the pen carefully scratch out the signature binding her to a man she hardly knew for the rest of her life. Oh stop being so melodramatic, she scolded herself. But it didn't make the queasiness she felt go away.

"Lianne?" Kaddar's soft query brought her out of her thoughts.

"Yes, Your Imperial Majesty?" she replied, voice breathy and light. She winced at the sound; she would have done better to shout her fear. But no one gave any outward sign of noticing, so she pretended she didn't either.

"Would you sign?" he asked. Several of the ambassadors gasped. It was a highly unorthodox request. Normally the groom and the bride's father signed a marriage contract and the bride usually never saw it until after the wedding. Her eyes flew up to meet Kaddar's, and found only kindness and a bit of friendly humor. The warmth of those dark eyes made some of the sick apprehension she felt recede.

"Certainly," she replied.

"But Emperor," one of the Carthakis protested. "She cannot sign the contract. It isn't how it's done!"

"Perhaps it should be done that way," Kaddar said, his voice even. "After all, she is the one being married, not King Jonathan." A few nervous chuckles could be heard. "She has as much right as any, and more than most, to sign. Lianne is a capable woman, and I would not want less seated beside me on my throne." Lianne blushed in spite of her self at the praise.

Kaddar held out the quill, and she stepped forward. The men parted to allow her through. Numb fingers took the quill from Kaddar's hand. She dipped the quill in ink, and then carefully signed her name. Lianne of Conte. The moment was over quickly, and she stepped back quickly. Kaddar took the quill from her limp fingers and moved to sign his own name. Kaddar Iliniat appeared, letter by letter, next to her own name.

Kaddar in turn handed the quill off to his chief advisor. Lianne watched feeling slightly dazed as he too began to sign. So unaware was she that she jumped upon feeling hands on her shoulders.

"Are you alright?" Kaddar's voice asked. It felt dangerously close to her ear. She turned to face the man who was now her betrothed.

"Of course," she said, smiling slightly. "Why wouldn't I be?"

"You seemed a bit dazed," he said, eyes searching hers. Sima held her breath as she watched the two. They were off to the side, and no one in the room, with the exception of Sima, Aveela, and Roald were watching them, as the others were all arguing over order of precedence. "I know I am. I've never been betrothed before." Lianne laughed weakly.

"Neither have I," she said, her smile gaining an edge of reality.

"Good," he said. "So I'm not the only one. Tell me, is it only me, or does it feel like your army and mine have taken up residence in your stomach?"

"It isn't just you, Emperor Kaddar," she replied.

"How many times must I say, that it's just Kaddar?" Kaddar asked, with a bit of exasperated laughter.

"At least one more," Lianne replied. His hands which had been on her shoulders, dropped down to take her hands.

"Well, Princess Lianne," he said formally. "It would please me greatly if before the grand event I'm certain you have planned for tonight, you would join me for dinner."

"I-" Lianne stumbled. "I would like that very much." Her smile was shy, but real.

"Good." Kaddar brushed kisses over the backs of her hands. "I'll send someone to get you." He then dropped her hands, and left the room with Lord Temiat, who had recently signed.

"Congratulations," Sima said. Lianne spun around to face her.

"Oh," Lianne said. "Thank you." She laughed lightly. "It's not exactly a shock."

"No," Sima agreed. "But I do believe congratulations are still in order."

"I have to go," Lianne said, catching sight of Jasson peering in the door, trying to get her attention. "I'll see you at dinner tonight, though."

"Actually, you won't," Sima corrected. "You'll see me at the 'grand event'. Dinner is just you and Kaddar." Lianne's face showed her shock.

"But-" she floundered. "I thought-" Sima pushed her gently towards her brothers.

"It'll be fine," she said gently. "Now go. I'll see you later." Lianne walked to her brothers feeling a bit numb. Just me and Kaddar…

Lianne took extra care with her appearance that night. Her dress was a deep silvery gray silk. The back swooped lower than normal, with velvet laces crisscrossing up her back to her shoulders. The neckline was cut straight across her shoulders and flowed smoothly into sleeves that ran down to flow slightly over her hands. Slashes in the skirt revealed black silk when she moved. Her hair was pinned up, decorated with tiny clear glass beads. The only jewelry she wore was black pearl eardrops and her maid had used only a touch of face paint to draw attention to her unique eyes. She looked exquisite, regal and composed.

She felt anything but as she waited for whoever Kaddar was sending. The only thing keeping her from pacing was the possibility that someone she knew would see her. So she contained her nervous energy to any one of a hundred nervous habits, from smoothing her skirts to fingering her earrings. Her nails escaped being bitten only after her maid had shot several glares that made her message clear to Lianne. So she refrained from chewing them to a quick and instead brushed imaginary dust from herself, her dress, the sofa, the table and anything else unfortunate enough to come within her reach.

Fortunately for her rooms' sake, a manservant in Carthaki livery arrived at her door fairly soon. She followed him down several halls, to a small, private dining room she hadn't used before. The manservant opened the door and bowed her inside. She thanked him as he shut the door behind her. She felt slightly giddy with nerves as she turned around to face the inside of the room.

Kaddar leaned against the wall, looking out the south-facing window. He held a glass of red wine in one hand, though it looked almost full. It matched the color of his silk calf-length robe, worn over a pair of black pants and a deep orange shirt that matched the embroidery on the robe. When he heard the doors shut, he straightened and turned. "Lianne," he greeted her. "Your Highness, thank you for joining me."

"My pleasure, Your-" Kaddar cut her off when she moved to curtsey.

"I thought I asked you to call me Kaddar," he said. "In fact, I remember asking you several times."

"Emperor Kaddar," Lianne said. "The pleasure is all mine." Mingled annoyance and laughter made their way across Kaddar's face.

"Princess, you are impossible," he said, motioning for a servant. One appeared almost immediately at her elbow with a glass of red wine. She took it, watching the garnet color shift and glitter in the candlelight.

"I miss color," she said with a sigh. "I used to have a gorgeous dress in this color."

"I think mourning isn't supposed to be gorgeous," Kaddar remarked dryly.

"Don't get me wrong," Lianne added hastily. "I miss Mother, and mourn her as much as any. But I'm tired of wearing black and gray. I feel like I'm wearing the same dress over and over again."

"You look incredible," Kaddar said. Pale pink stained Lianne's cheeks.

"It's my dressmaker," she murmured. "She's exceptionally talented."

"All the dresses in the world cannot create beauty where there is none," he said with a smile.

"Flatterer," Lianne accused.

"Is it such a crime to compliment my future bride on her appearance?" Kaddar asked mildly, taking a swallow of wine. Lianne flushed deeper, and didn't reply, instead taking a sip of her wine.

The rest of the meal passed in a blur of pleasant conversation, much of which Lianne recognized in an afterthought as flirting. By the time dessert arrived, she felt more at ease with him than she did with any man short of her brothers. Laughing at something he said, she had the startling realization that she wouldn't mind going to Carthak with him in the spring. In fact, she was almost looking forward to it. Somehow, that realization didn't shake her as much as she had thought it would.

"Princess?" he said with a smile, standing. A servant came behind Lianne and pulled out her chair. Standing, she took Kaddar's offered arm, laying her palm lightly on his forearm.

"It's Lianne," she said quietly. Kaddar smiled.

"Lianne, then," he said. His eyes danced with something Lianne couldn't quite read. "May I escort you to the party your father has no doubt planned exquisitely down to the last detail?"

"You may," she said with an answering smile. "Kaddar." His smile broadened.

When they arrived at the ballroom doors, a spark of mischief danced in Lianne's eyes. "Come with me." Without waiting for an answer, she took his arm and led him down the hall and around.

"Where are we going?" Kaddar asked.

"Wait and see," she said. "Don't you want to make an impressive entrance?" She turned to smile mischievously at him.

The Herald at the top of the Queen's Stair was someone she knew well, and though he wasn't supposed to open the door tonight, no one was about to naysay the princess and the emperor. At the sound of the titles he was supposed to announce, he raised an eyebrow but didn't comment. Kaddar offered Lianne his arm, which she accepted gracefully. He leaned over to murmur in her ear.

"Your public awaits," he teased. She could feel his breath against her neck.

"Wouldn't want to disappoint them then," she replied with a mischievous smile.

When the double doors swung open, the ballroom went quiet as all eyes turned to the top of the stair. King Jonathan, guessing what the doors had opened for shook his head in amusement, casting a glance at Kaddar's chief advisor. To his relief, the advisor too was shaking his head knowingly, hiding a smile. There would be no diplomatic incidences tonight, at least not over this.

The Herald pounded his staff on the floor, the sound ringing through the now silent room. He looked down on the sea of gray and black, with pinpricks of bright colors that marked the Carthakis not constrained to mourning colors. Every eye in the room was fixed on him, and straining to see who stood in the shadows beyond the doorway. This, he thought with amusement. Is going to be interesting.

"His Imperial Majesty Emperor Kaddar Iliniat of Carthak, and his bride-to-be, Her Royal Highness Princess Lianne of Tortall."

Queen's Own: Eleven reviews! I am bursting with happiness. For a while there, I feared that I wouldn't even be able to rack up the requisite ten! That's part of the reason this update was slow in coming, something you all can remedy next time. I know more than eleven people read this chapter, thanks to the handy new hits button on my stats page.

Reviews make my summer, loves. Again, I need ten!