Characters aren't mine, plot is, blah blah…

Chapter 1: An Unpleasant Task

"Kari? Kari! Rider G'ladheon!"

Mapstone's final words managed to cut through the fog of her concentration. "Almost done," she mumbled, "just have one more to go over and then I'll be done." She stabbed the pencil at the current account.

A hand grabbed her shoulder and turned her around along with her chair. "No. No more. As much as I would like those done, not at the expense of my rider." She examined Karigan's eyes and held up one of her hands, which trembled. "As I thought." She winced. "What will your father say..."

"My father?" Karigan snatched her hand back and stood up. "What's he doing here?"

"He's here to see you, and when he sees the state you're in, he'll have my scalp. Can you clean up or something first?"

When she left, Karigan ran a hand through her hair and limped over to her closet. Three days previous, Condor has misstepped on a bit of ledge, and taken a nasty tumble down that ended up with a badly sprained ankle. Luckily, only she had gone down the side; Condor came down off the cliff and taken her home. Master Mender Destarian had put her on extra light duty for at least a week, pending his approval. Karigan looked in the mirror and washed her face, then ran wet fingers through her hair. She yanked her shirt down until the wrinkles became a little less noticeable, and then approached the garden. When it was in view, she straightened up and tried hard not to limp.

When he saw her, he rose from the bench as clasped her tightly in his arms. "You look tired. Let's sit." He drew her over to a bench.

'It's nice to see you father. I hope there's nothing wrong."

"Well, not really." He took her hands, "I just wish you would come home—we all miss you."

"But I can't-"

"I know, but a father can wish. Besides the pleasure of seeing you, I have a delicate matter to discuss. The importance of said matter was duly impressed upon me by your dear aunts."

Karigan winced much as Mapstone had winced earlier. "Oh. Is it what I think it is?"

"I'm afraid so. It has been decided that with the current state of unrest and your rather dangerous occupation, that you need to get married as soon as possible. Even…well not that I don't want grandchildren someday, but…" As Karigan's mutinous look, he added a bit sheepishly, "Your aunts are insisting, Stace especially. She wants you to do the circuit. I won't force you. Just keep your mind open, please? You might actually find someone…"

"Have you talked to Captain Mapstone yet?"

"Not yet, I wanted your OK first."

"Are they really putting on the pressure?" At his nod, she gave her assent. "As long as Mapstone agrees."

"You want her for WHAT?"

"Just for a week, then she can—"

"With all due respect Clan Chief, I understood that of right now, Karigan has renounced her Clan Heir status. What am I going to do with a pregnant rider?"

Stevic blanched. "She doesn't exactly have to go that far, but the gesture needs to be made. Marriage would be the point, even if that's not what ends up happening."

Mapstone glanced over to Karigan. She looked miserable. "Well?"

"Technically Captain, when my time as a Green Rider is up, I will be the Heir again. I don't intend to make a match, but I have promised to keep an open mind. It is my duty, so I must, if you will allow it."

A smile quirked on the commander's lips. "I see a perfect solution for this little problem. You have about a week until your ankle is serviceable for Rider duties, so I will release you for one week, commencing tomorrow. Get your affairs in order tonight."

Stevic glared over at Karigan, or rather, her ankle, but she just shrugged. They all stood. "Accommodations….?" He asked.

"I am afraid she will have to stay here. Being in the king's service, though on detached leave, Rider G'ladheon needs to stay available to the crown."

Karigan's heart gave a little jump at the captain's choice of words, but she rose and followed her father out. It would simplify things, as well as having some part of her day to herself.

"Well," Stevic said, "Stace's not going to be happy you're staying here instead of in the town house, but I can see the Captain's point. I really appreciate this Kari. I'll have some of your things brought over tomorrow morning. They should still fit all right, even though they may need to be altered." He leaned over and kissed her forehead. "And now I'll have an excuse to see more of you, hey?" Then he was gone.

Karigan bowed her head. Although she wasn't "damaged goods" in the usual sense, she had the feeling her aunts would be horrified by the damage to her ankle. Maybe I can work that to my advantage. Ha!

An incessant tapping on the door finally woke her in the morning. It was an immaculately attired messenger, and he flung the door fully open and read from a light rose colored script.

To My Dear Niece Karigan;

I will expect you for luncheon at one o'clock today. Attire yourself properly.

Karigan groaned and rubbed her eyes. Once the morning grits were out, she could see about five large crates being wheeled into her small chamber. With a flourish, the messenger handed her a metal bar and ushered the men out.

"Bet he would have opened them for me if I'd been wearing a dress," she muttered. "Being helpless and useless might have its advantages."

The hopelessness of her case threatened to overcome her, so she used the bar and wooden crates to thoroughly vent her anger. By the time they were opened, she felt considerably calmer. But what was inside was another story.

When she had been Clan Sub Chief she had worn fine things, and not been unhappy about it, but these were….for a lack of another word, mancatcher clothes. She hung them all, and then chose the most modest. I'm sure auntie and I will get on wonderfully.

Karigan coiled her hair and flung her most billowy cloak over the entire ensemble and held it close in the front. Spring weather was a little late for this much cloak, but it would hide the dress. She had a quick flash of another cloak; a kingly cloak, and felt a blush flood her face. Those are the last thoughts I should be having at a time like this.

It is so wonderful to be able to make characters in a book you love do what you want them to do. They still surprised me at times, though, and acted in ways I wasn't expecting.

Please…tell me what you think!