Chapter 54

Author's Note- endless thanks to Madame-S-Butterfly, for this chapter is her writing. MSB has been here through it all—and I commend her for sticking around after Eliena ditched Leo for good. So, everyone thank MSB for saving the story.

Eliena blinked and stared at her mother. "Missing," she repeated.

Alanna nodded in confirmation. "Missing. Eli …"

Rubbing her eye with the back palm of her hand, Eliena yawned. Surely this was a dream. She pinched herself gently on the arm, and shuddered. No, this wasn't a dream; it was real enough. "Give me a moment, would you, mother?"

The Lioness nodded. "I'll be in my quarters, come and find me."

Eliena closed the door and looked about the room. After opening the cupboard, she pulled out the first dress she saw and threw it on. Very quickly, Eliena found a brush and pulled her hair back into a messy braid. Sam watched her bewilderedly.

"Eli, what's wron'?" Never had he seen her get dressed so quickly. Beauty is a pain, she often told him. And, by pain, I mean time!

"Leonard of Pirates Swoop has gone missing," she explained, perched on the edge of the bed. Eliena quickly put on her left shoe, then the right. She felt as if she owed Sam more of an explanation. "He may not be in my good books, at the moment, but he is one of my friends."

"Ah." Sam nodded, and Eliena suddenly had a thought.

"Would you be able inquire about him? In the Lower City?" Her tone was a pleading one. He may no longer be the Rogue, but Eliena was sure that there were one or two spies in the lower city who were still loyal to him.

Sam nodded once more. "I'll try. See what I can do." He looked so sweet; Eli couldn't help but kiss him.

"Thanks," Eliena said, truly grateful. "I'd better go tell Neal." She sighed and stood, walking in the direction of the door. At the doorframe, she turned back to Sam. "Mithros curse him, if this is a prank!"

---

"Neal!" Eliena called out. She stopped running and began to breathe deeply; she'd run the whole way here, and the palace staircase was a real workout. She sat on the ledge of pillar, and waited for Neal to come over to her.

While he took his time walking over, Eliena couldn't help but notice how miserable he looked. Neal's shoulders were drooped and a frown embalmed across his face. Surely he couldn't already know?

"Nealan of Queenscove," Eliena said, "why the frown?"

"I don't think you've realized," he told her, quietly, covering his heart with his hand.

"Leo?" Eliena asked.

Neal shook his head. So he didn't know. "They all leave me in the end. Every single one of them." Eliena had no idea what he was rambling on about, and her puzzled face showed it. "Women," he explained.

"Well it's time to stop wallowing in your misery," she told him. It came out more harshly than she wanted it to, which caused Neal to frown further.

"You care not, for my broken heart?" he asked, dramatically.

"Really, Neal. This is no time to be acting as a player does," Eliena told him.

For the first time, Neal noticed that there was something wrong, the frown around his face partially dissolved. "What is it, Eli?"

"Leo. He's missing."

"Missing? You sure he hasn't just run away?" Eliena blinked, she hadn't considered that as a possibility. "I wouldn't blame him if he did." Taking that the wrong way, Eliena scowled at Neal, who simply raised his arms and shrugged.

"He's definitely missing, mother said so."

Neal scratched his head for a moment. "So what are we going to do about it?"

Eliena sighed, and rubbed her eye for a second time. She really hoped it wouldn't have to come to this. "We? Do? What?"

"Eli, he's your friend, if he's missing, then he may need help. You're not going to turn your back on a longtime friend, are you?"

"No," she told him quietly. "But I can't turn my back on my country either and risk endangerment by leaving. The Scanrans would love to have me as a hostage."

Much to Eliena's annoyance, Neal stared at her, wordlessly. This was Eliena's decision and he was not going to influence it in any way. He didn't want to feel responsible should something happen to Eli.

She sighed. "We'll leave tonight. Maybe look around the Lower City? I wouldn't be surprised if it's gone to get a drink and forgotten who he is."

The Noon bell rang, reminding Neal that he had better hurry on his way to the Mess Hall or receive extra chores from the stump. Eliena waved goodbye and made her way to her own lunch with her parents. Only when she could smell the drifting warm food did she realize how hungry she really was.

Taking a seat next to Sam, Eliena took a sip of the warm broth, savoring the flavor. She glanced over at her parents and prayed to the goddess that they wouldn't mind her being late. Eliena winced when she saw the frown on her mothers face; she really hadn't been all that late.

"Something wrong, mother?"

"Yes," Alanna said as raised her spoon to her lips. "Cressida."

"But she's …" Eliena drifted off, very confused.

"We discovered something today," Jon explained. "She has relatives in the Copper Isles."

"Oh." Eliena kept her mouth shut and ate her lunch. She knew the way things stood between her mother and The Copper Isles. After being put to blame for a princess's death, The Copper Isles and Lioness didn't get along.

"And we all know how our Lioness loves the Isles," Jon commented with a sidelong glance to Alanna. She scowled.

"How did you come across this information?" Eliena asked as she put down her spoon. Cressida had never mentioned anything of the sort.

"Some scholars were updating family trees when they discovered this. Poor lad, didn't know if he should mention it to me or not," Jon said with a grin.

---

In the shadows of the early morning, three horses could barely be seen leaving the palace gates. A squire, a princess and what seemed to be a commoner rode down the winding path into the city of Corus. Overhead three black crows circled, a sure sign of death.

AN- right, so review! I'll PM whoever is writing next.