Disclaimer: I don't own anything of Tamora Pierce's. The princess is my idea, and I took some artistic licence with Daja's armband. :)

Weak predawn light meandered through the window, falling across the already opened eyes of Daja Kisubo. She sighed, and looked at the palm of her hand that was covered with the living metal. Remembering the reaction of a certain Namornese noble, Daja closed her hand with a scowl.

Nursing every intention to go back to sleep, she closed her eyes and tried to relax. Suddenly from downstairs, Daja heard a soft curse. The voice was one she did not recognise.

She quickly swung her long legs out of bed and went to the door. Briar's and Sandry's rooms were down the hall, and Tris slept in the loft. Testing the magical bond they shared, Daja knew none of them were awake. Daja lifted her Trader staff from its hanging place beside her door and went out into the hall of the townhouse she shared with her friends.

Daja trod softly, avoiding each squeaky floorboard she knew of. She took the steps two at a time, her ears now hearing the soft tread of someone moving about on the ground floor.

Now down the stairs, Daja moved swiftly through the living space with her staff held ready for attack. Hearing the rattle of the back door in the kitchen, Daja's fear of danger subsided. She kept her staff low and moved into the kitchen.

A tall woman with tousled hair groaned as she shook the door handle. "Open, curse you!" she hissed desperately. The cloak the woman wore showed signs of being thrown on in haste. Daja was reasonably sure the dress underneath would not be laced properly. "Open, please," the woman pleaded.

"It won't open without a word from one of us," Daja said quietly, leaning nonchalantly on her staff. The woman squeaked and turned around, her pale skin quickly turning red. She leaned with her back against the door as if trying to walk through it. Dark blue eyes opened in shock were perched over a familiarly small nose, and long brown hair fell untidily to her waist.

"Have we met, Lady?" Daja asked, narrowing her dark eyes.

"I, I am not sure," the woman replied, moving a slender hand to pull the neck of her cloak closed tighter. The red paint applied to her full mouth had almost gone entirely, and her defined cheekbones were returning to their normally pale state. Her eyes travelled quickly down Daja's powerful frame; with a faint curse to herself, Daja realised she wore only a breast band and loincloth. The stranger's cheeks went red once again.

"Will I assume you were a guest of Briar's?" Daja asked, feeling her cheeks burn slightly.

"Yes," the woman smiled, seeming a little embarrassed. About to speak again, Daja stopped. Her eyes widened.

"I do know you! You were at the party at the palace last night. You're Sandry's cousin, Princess Talaya!"

The outed princess moved toward Daja. "Please don't tell Sandry, or my uncle. Please!"

Daja hid a smile. "You can't go through the streets looking like that. You'll be mistaken for a prostitute. I think you'd get in more trouble."

Talaya's eyes filled with tears. "What will I do?"

Sighing, Daja rubbed her eyes. She leant her staff against the kitchen wall and sat at the small table. "Sit down, will you?"

The sniffling princess sat beside Daja, watching the dark girl think.

"If you wait til I get dressed, I'll lend you a horse and escort you back to the palace. We'll tell your uncle you were a guest of Sandry's last night, and we had a private celebration, or something." Daja cursed inwardly. Princess Talaya was beautiful, and already Daja felt the familiar knot in her stomach.

Talaya's eyes lit up, and Daja smiled in spite of herself. "You'll really do that? For me?"

"Of course. You're Sandry's cousin; I couldn't in good conscience let you out there by yourself like that." Daja said quickly. Talaya paused, her mouth open about to say something.

"Of course," Talaya replied after a moment.

"Come up to my room. Tris won't be near so understanding."

"Trisana Chandler lives here too?" Talaya asked with wide eyes.

"Yes; we all live together. It's just too troublesome any other way. Come along, highness." Daja collected her staff and quickly led the princess up to her room and closed the door behind them.

Talaya sat at the chair beside Daja's table, hands clasped loosely in her lap. Daja opened her clothes chest and pulled out clean breeches, shirt and tunic, all dark red.

"Why red?" Talaya asked, tilting her head to the side.

"I'm a smith mage. See?" Daja pointed to an arm band stitched onto the sleeve, a silver blacksmith's hammer over a black anvil with a golden circle around it.

"Those stories are true?" Talaya's eyes were wide with wonderment. Daja flushed slightly as she pulled on the breeches and shirt.

"Parts of those stories are true." Daja replied. Talaya watched Daja's movements until at last she caught a glimpse of the living-metal hand. The princess gasped. Seeing what Talaya stared at, Daja turned around to put on her tunic.

"Can I see it? Your hand?" Talaya asked shyly.

Daja scowled, about to deliver a rude reply, before she saw the impish expression of genuine interest. Her heart softened; gently she extended her hand, palm up. Talaya looked down and squeaked in mock indignation.

"I meant the one with the metal!" Talaya said exasperatedly. She grinned as Daja smiled. "Hah. Made you smile. Are you always so grim?"

Daja raised her eyebrows. "It's barely dawn, highness. I don't know many people who are so lively at this hour."

"Try going to a convent. They get you up at this hour to practice etiquette before breakfast." Talaya wrinkled her button nose in disgust.

"I see," Daja said. She held out the living-metal hand for Talaya to see. Gently the princess took Daja's larger hand in her own, the slender white fingers pushing the metal-like skin on Daja's palm.

"That's amazing," Talaya whispered. "Truly."

"We should get going," Daja said after a moment. Talaya stood up too quickly, and she and Daja stood almost nose to nose, Talaya looking up only slightly to meet Daja's eyes.

Talaya moved forward ever so slightly, and lifted a hand as if to brush Daja's cheek. Before she touched Daja's skin, Talaya stopped, blushed rosily, and stood back. "I'm sorry," the princess muttered, her eyes downcast.

Daja cursed inwardly. "No, it's alright." She replied. "Here, let me help you fix your cloak," Daja offered, sliding the cloak onto Talaya's exposed shoulder. The princess kept her eyes on the floor as Daja settled the garment back into place. Briskly Daja tidied the few locks of hair that fell either side of Talaya's face before bringing the hood of the cloak back up. As she turned away Talaya caught sight of herself in the small mirror Daja kept on her desk.

"How did you manage to make me look respectable so easily?" Talaya asked, gently pulling at her hair.

"Practice. I knew a woman –" Daja stopped, blushing. "She often went back to her rooms early in the morning, and didn't like looking dishevelled." Daja cleared her throat, feeling uncomfortable. "We should go, before we wake the others. This way, highness."

Daja pulled on soft boots and led the way from her room, through the house and to the kitchen door. "Open," Daja said quietly, touching her hand to metal. Recognising the magic, the door opened, and Daja continued on to the small stable of the townhouse. Showing Talaya where all the riding gear was, Daja turned to ready her own mount, a glorious mare she had named Embers. Once Embers was saddled, Daja went to help Talaya, but found the princess had finished the work herself.

Leading the mounts from the stable and onto the street, Daja felt her magical bond with Sandry give a tug. Where are you off to so early?

Daja smiled. I'm just taking a guest home. Tell your uncle Princess Talaya was a guest of yours, should he ask. I'll explain later.

"Well that's sorted out then," Daja remarked as they mounted up. Talaya gave her a questioning look. "Sandry felt me leaving the house, and I explained to her where we were going. She'll tell your uncle you were her guest."

"You really can speak in your minds to each other?" Talaya gasped.

"It has its uses," Daja replied modestly. The remainder of the ride to the palace was quiet.

Talaya led the way to a secluded back gate. The guards opened the gate at a curt nod from the princess, and Talaya took them to the entrance of a kitchen where sleepy palace staff had begun their daily duties.

Dismounting, the women stood awkwardly for a moment before Talaya pulled Daja away from the sight of the door and to the side of the building.

"But my horses," Daja began. Talaya put a warm hand over Daja's mouth.

"Thankyou, Daja," Talaya said quietly. Her eyes darted around the area, and finding it empty, she removed her hand and gently pressed her lips to Daja's.

Closing her eyes, Daja enjoyed the moment, reaching her hands inside the cloak to hold Talaya's waist. Talaya's arms went around Daja's neck, pulling the woman closer.

A particularly loud crash from the kitchen broke the spell, and Daja pulled away hastily.


"Shush. Friends call me Tally, and you will do the same or else." Talaya teased.

"I'm older than you-"

"What does that matter? A year or two is hardly any scandal." Talaya dropped her brave façade, staring into Daja's dark eyes. "Will you want to see me again?"

"Can I ask you a question before I answer yours?" Daja replied, stepping back from the princess. Talaya looked hurt, but nodded. "Why were you in Briar's bed?"

Talaya bit her lip guiltily. "I like men and women, Daja," she replied. "He is handsome, but sadly not much use otherwise."

Daja was shocked. "Will there be anything between you?"

"Never." Talaya said firmly. "I must confess Daja; I spent more time last night looking at you than I did in bed with him."

"Then yes, I do want to see you again," Daja said with a smile. Gently Daja pulled the princess closer to her, and kissed the woman once again. A few moments later they broke the kiss, and returned to where they had left the horses.

"Would you like to come riding with me this afternoon? The orchards are particularly fine at this time of year. Of course, we couldn't be alone; I'd have to bring maids and the like. But would you like to come anyway?" Talaya asked.

Daja easily climbed into Embers' saddle. "Of course, Tally." She answered with a smile.

Talaya clapped with delight. "Wonderful. I'll meet you at the stables after the noonday meal." Talaya gathered the reins of the horse she had ridden and handed them to Daja, taking the woman's hand in her own for a moment.

"Until then, Tally." Daja inclined her head, before turning the mounts around and walking them back to the townhouse, smiling all the while.