Chapter 1

It was a very exciting day for Sandry and Briar Moss. Their best friends, Trisana Chandler and Daja Kisubo, were coming to visit for a week. Within a few days, Dedicates Lark, Rosethorn and Frostpine would meet up with the renowned mage, Niklaren Goldeye, on the road to join the reunion. Sandry was, of course, in a flurry of excitement and activity, rushing this way and that, making final preparations for their guests' arrival. Only the sound of a small voice coming from down the hall stopped her frantic pace through the manor in Summersea, Emelan.

"Mother."

"Pirisi, what is it?" Her oldest daughter, now ten, stood in the doorway leading to one of the larger courtyards.

"Mother, Ukeli is playing with the horses again."

"Oh dear, I'll be there in just a moment. Where's your father, Piri?"

"Right here." Briar's voice came from behind Sandry. She turned to find him holding their youngest, and most temperamental, child by the hand. Ukeli shifted his weight from one barefoot to the other.

"Uki, what were you doing in the stables?" Sandry asked, worriedly.

"Mamma, I was only playing with the horsies." His three-year-old face showed a sorrowful guilt. Briar looked down at his son, who looked so much like his father, and then to his oldest daughter, who was a miniature version of her mother. He glanced at Sandry, the love of his life, with a grim look. He knew that one day, Uki was going to show his predisposition to horses, and he worried about finding a tutor for Piri, and his other daughter, Starr.

"Pirisi, where is your sister?" Sandry asked, reading the look on Briar's face as one that said they needed to talk.

With an exaggerated sigh, Piri answered, "Probably up in the west tower again."

"Will you get Starr, and make sure that the three of you are clean and dressed? Our guests will be arriving soon."

With a cheerful smile, Piri beckoned to her younger brother.

"Come on Uki. I'll race you to the tower."

The children took off on a mad dash across the courtyard.

Briar sighed, and held Sandry in his arms. He loved to just sit with her, or talk with her. Just being with her made him happy, and he was so very glad that she had married him almost eleven years ago.

"Ukeli worries me, Sandry. His obvious taste for horses has to be his magic coming through. With Starr and her astronomy, and Piri quickly coming of age, I thought that I would have my little boy so much longer. But I wonder if I'm being selfish in not wanting him to grow up."

"Briar," Sandry turned in his arms and kissed him gently, reassuringly, "Pirisi is only ten years old; she has another four years before she must make a decision between marriage, and magic. And who's to say that she won't choose a path that neither of us ever saw coming. As for Starr, when I talked to Tris last month, she said that she would be happy to look and see if what Luna lee has is magic or merely a very strong interest."

Briar smiled, and kissed his wife.

"I noticed how you skimmed over Ukeli. His inclination to the equine is simple enough to explain. He's three years old. Like his father, Uki is curious about the world around him. Maybe it has nothing to do with magic at all. Piri is a mage, Starr an astronomer, perhaps Uki is a normal little boy. It would certainly make things less complicated around here."

"About Uki I worry little, he is very much like you. I know that whatever path he takes he will navigate with ease. It is Pirisi I'm concerned about right now. She is getting old so quickly. Wise beyond her years and her being a mage does not help matters. I fear that if I have her help too much she will wonder what life outside the manor is like. I sometimes feel that she could run a household on her own. I don't want my babies to leave."

Briar ran his hands reassuringly up and down Sandry's back.

"Now Sandrilene, as you said, she is only ten years old. It's as if we are marrying her off already." He grinned teasingly.

"Don't say things like that Briar!" Sandry punched him lightly in the chest.

"That's right Sandry. You keep him in line!" A laughing voice came from the front of the hall.

"Daja!"

Sandry ran straight to the heavy-set black woman, and threw her arms around Daja Kisubo in a hug. Briar followed at a slightly slower pace.

"So Trader girl, how've you been keeping yourself?" Briar jokingly asked as he helped extract Daja from Sandry's all encompassing grip.

"Pretty good, thief boy, how 'bout you?"

"As well as can be expected." He smiled down at a small figure peeking out from behind Daja's bulky form.

"Well hello. Who's this little dear?"

Daja grimaced at Sandry, either at her sugary sweet tone, or her subject.

"That," Daja said, jerking a thumb over shoulder, "Is Bronze. I found the little waif on the side of the road on the way here. Doesn't speak a word of Common, only has a basic grasp of Trader, and mostly gets by with fundamental hand gestures. I couldn't just leave her. I figured I'd keep her until I got back to Winding Circle. I hope you don't mind my assumption that it would be fine to bring her along. If she's going to be an imposition, I'll settle her in the stables, or something."

"Of course not! Daja, you know me better, the more the merrier! By all means, Bronze is more than welcome in our home, isn't she Briar?"

Briar nodded his agreement, and knelt down to tell Bronze in Tradertalk,

"My name is Briar, How old are you Bronze?"

Daja laughed and told Sandry in Common,

"If she won't talk to me, what makes him think -" She stopped when Bronze stuck her head out, and whispered,

"Six."

Briar glanced at Daja triumphantly, before speaking to Bronze again.

"I have a little girl about your age. Would you like to meet her?"

Bronze nodded, then shook her head.

"Why not? Why don't you want to meet Lunalee?"

"I don't want to meet your slave."

Sandry sputtered, "Slave?" then in a calmer voice, and in Tradertalk, she said to Bronze, "Dear, we have no slaves here, only a few paid servants. We don't believe in slavery."

Bronze nodded, and then told Briar, "Then I will meet your Lunalee."

"Auntie Tris! Auntie Tris!" came a shriek voice from the front of the manor.

Trisana Chandler came around the corner holding the hand of a blonde girl who talking enthusiastically.

"- and then I saw four new stars that I had never seen before, and I charted them, just like you showed me. I was so excited!"

Tris smiled down at Lunalee "Starr" Moss, Briar and Sandry's second child. Piri and Uki followed happily. Sandry cried out, and flung her arms around Tris. Daja and Briar laughed, going to help set the red-haired woman free from Sandry's grasp. When they finally worked them apart, Sandry was crying, Tris had tears, and Daja's eyes were damp. Briar just smiled. This was the first time they'd all been together at the same time in almost four years. He could feel the closeness again, as if they'd never been separated. It was a good feeling. Briar noticed Piri talking quietly with Bronze off to one side. He was happy to see the younger girl growing more comfortable with his daughter's presence. He swelled with pride. Yes, it was a very good feeling indeed.