Firstly, let me apologize, loud and long with much emphasis on the fact that I did not update in over a year. I can only offer the fact that real life, unfortunately, got in the way. I won't say much more than that. However, as evidenced by this chapter, I absolutely will not be giving up on this story, though the updates may sometimes be sluggish. Thank you, everyone who has reviewed to the previous 14 chapters, and I hope that you will enjoy the next installment of the one, the only…

The Lady Knight's Squire


Eavesdropping: To listen secretly to a private conversation

"So now what?" I asked, feeling as though I had voiced the question too often for comfort.

"They've still got her under some sort of spell preventing me from speaking with her, and they must have several other spells on her, because I can't detect a more precise location, though I did verify that Daine is still being held at the location that Lia specified." Numair raised his arm, briefly revealing a silver locket on a chain around his wrist. It looked like nothing more than a lover's token in my opinion, but there was no way to confirm my suspicions, as I didn't quite dare to ask him. "If we knew exactly where Daine was being held, we could go right after her. However, I'm understandably unwilling to go in on the grounds that we don't know. I don't like not knowing the odds."

"Well, that sounds like our type of job," Peter said calmly, gesturing first at himself and then at Jumper. "We'll be able to scope out the building without being seen. It's something of a…specialty."

"A specialty?" Alanna said, then frowned. "No, don't tell me any more. In this particular case, the less I know, the better. That way I can't incriminate myself, nor can Neal or Numair. I won't speak for Master Kallum, on the grounds that I don't know what he knows."

"I have nothing more than suspicions," Master Kallum said as soon as Alanna finished speaking. "And I'd rather like to keep it that way, thank you."

Peter shrugged. "Sounds like a plan, then," he agreed, brushing back that brilliant red hair. "Jumper and I will scope things out. Where exactly are they?"

As Numair began detailing what he'd learned from Lia, Alanna dragged me down to that main portion of the inn, where we gathered lunch for everyone and took it back up the stairs. "We'll go out after lunch for a little while, and do some sparring. I want to know what level Peter and Jumper are at. I won't send unprepared children into the belly of the beast, as it were."

"But don't you think that George wouldn't have sent them unless he felt they were prepared?"

Alanna scowled at my pronouncement. "Our ideas of prepared tend to come from different sources. I know George wouldn't send them if they didn't know how to use the weapons they're sporting, but…"

"It would make you feel better?" I suggested, trying to keep my voice casual.

Alanna cuffed me on the shoulder. "Yes, I suppose it would."

I smiled a little, but it wasn't very strong. "How did they do it? How did they bind down wild magic? I thought that you couldn't, since it came from the world itself."

Alanna pursed her lips. "I don't know for sure," she began, purple eyes looking straight ahead. "I could probably ask Numair for his theories, but I'm betting they're using a combination of drugs, like dream flower, and a binding spell not unlike what they used to bind immortals when Ozorne was still Emperor. He used locking spells that tied a griffin's, for example, wild magic to a little piece of his own, and used that to basically force a physical barrier into existence. The harder a griffin would try to remove the bars of the cage, the more of its wild magic would be used to keep the cage in existence, tiring the creature out."

I knew my eyes had gone wide when I caught Alanna's wry look. "Yes. It's not exactly something you learn in everyday class. Not only do you need some serious power to pull it off for more than say, a dozen or so creatures, but that sort of magic requires…" Alanna looked a little pale. "Blood, amongst other things. He may have even used a medium, like one of his slaves, and used their life force as the binding instead of his own magic. In fact, that sounds very much like something that he would do. He wouldn't want to constantly expend that much magic just to keep his menagerie in control. For someone with the amount of wild magic as Daine has, I bet at least one of their mages, if not more, has to work around the clock to just keep the binding in place, though I don't know if the mages are bound directly or if they're bound through another person. I would be directly, as the binding would have more power; Daine has enough strength that anything less could be overcome in time. It would also explain why Numair can't communicate with Daine directly, and she can't use animals to contact us. The amount of magic would stand out to Numair like a sore thumb once he was looking"

"You learn something new everyday," I muttered darkly under my breath.

Alanna's grin was all teeth and terror. "We will make them wish they hadn't, laddie."

"And Alanna is quite the terror when she gets going," Numair agreed as he opened the door. "I could tell you about the one time that she decided the Rider groups at the training camp simply weren't having enough fun, and she terrorized them for three days straight, leaving traps and all sorts of nasty surprises for them before they figured out what was going on."

Alanna's eyebrows met in a scowl. "Well, perhaps you should also tell him that Rider captains should not sleep with all but one member of their Rider groups, and then set them against each other for fun. Furthermore, the members of the group shouldn't allow themselves to be set against each other. And that didn't even scratch the surface of what was going on!"

Numair shook his head. "Females," he said in a mournful tone, but his eyes had regained a glimmer of humor at the exchange.

"Males," Alanna spat back, as did Jumper, who was standing behind Numair impatiently and waiting for food.

"I'm starving," Jumper complained. "I feel like I haven't eaten in days!"

"That's because the last meal you ate was an apple yesterday for lunch. It's not my fault you had no luck hunting. You should have come prepared, like Master Kallum and I did," That was Peter, who had pulled forward the desk and bedside tables that were in the room and arranged them so that everyone could be seated, even if the chair in question was actually the bed.

Jumper didn't have a response, so she simply made a face, sticking her tongue out at the younger boy. "Well, I get to eat now, at least," she muttered, grumpy.

After they said the grace to Mithros, with a sobering note asking him to keep them safe in the coming days as they searched for Daine, I dug into the stew silently, each bite weighing heavily in my mouth. I studied my companions as I ate. Numair didn't do much more than tear up his bread to crumbs. I caught Alanna staring at him more than once, half exasperated and half worried. I caught the others looking too, and I found myself watching the other man as well from underneath my lashes, wondering if it was my place to say anything. Then I thought how I'd feel if Kel- or Yuki, though she wasn't the same as Kel at all- for example, had been kidnapped and I wisely kept my mouth shut.

"Numair, eat," Alanna finally snapped, eyes bright. "Wallowing in guilt won't help," she said tartly.

Numair's face blackened and a dark cloud eclipsed his face. Without responding, he stood from the table and stalked outside without so much as grabbing a cloak to ward off the chill.

I was the only one who dared to speak, and I wondered if I was being brave or foolish, as I said, "Alanna?" in as questioning a tone as I dared.

From her sharp inhale, I thought I was about three seconds from getting dismembered. Then she released the breath, just as sharply, and said in a voice that was tight with unspoken words, "I know I probably shouldn't have said it quite like that, but Numair also knows I'm right."

I continued to look at her, until she flapped a hand at me, and murmured, "I'll talk to him after lunch. Some time to cool off wouldn't go awry."

I nodded my agreement, having pushed as far as I dared. "You," she continued, surprising me, "will work with Jumper and Peter this afternoon while I watch." Both Peter and Jumper looked up at this announcement, and seemed none too pleased with her statement. "And don't argue," she said as she turned to face the two of them. "I want to have an idea of what your skills are before we head into this. If we want to come up with a plan that will suit our skills the best, I have to know exactly what those skills are and how far they extend, and I'm not just going to take your word for it, so don't even try it."

Peter frowned, and I was surprised at how old it made him look. I revised my estimate from somewhere around fourteen to somewhere around seventeen- the lines around his mouth and eyes that were normally barely existent darkened his entire visage. I saw Jumper looking at Peter nervously, and felt a suspicion rise in the back of my mind, but I dismissed it.

Then Peter's expression cleared, if rather grudgingly. "Alright," he agreed after another moment's thought. If Alanna was put off by such a reluctant acceptance, she didn't show it, just nodded, finished up the last of her lunch, grabbed both her and Numair's cloaks and headed out the door, presumably to calm the irate mage.

The minute the door was shut, Jumper looked to Peter and held out an arm. "Shall we?" she asked.

"We shall indeed," Peter agreed, scooping up their cloaks, but they didn't grab their weapons. As Jumper stooped to put on her boots, bracing herself against the wall, I confronted Peter.

"You're going outside to listen," I stated flatly. When he didn't answer, I moved myself in front of the door. "Aren't you?" I stressed. My tone held a challenge, and he was forced to confront me, especially considering that I was refusing to let them out. As if my stance wasn't challenge enough, I stated clearly, "I'm not going to let you."

Peter sent a look to Master Kallum, who snorted derisively, "I think the squire's got sense. You know what curiosity did to the cat," he finished grimly.

"Yes. Satisfaction brought it back," Jumper responded promptly. Master Kallum snorted again, but seemed to deem the argument below his concern, and returned to his book without another word to the three of us.

"The only satisfaction that'll be had if you go to spy will be on Alanna's part, when she kills you," I shot back, frowning.

"It's our responsibility to make sure that Numair doesn't lose his head before the mission even starts. A person can't have clouded judgment." I treated him to an incredulous look, and without having to say a word, Peter responded to my unspoken ire, saying, "Alright, so the King probably wouldn't have let him come if he didn't think that Numair had the self-control to deal with Ozorne's Slaves as he must. We're still curious, and it's probably still a good idea to have an idea as the Numair's mental state."

I continued to stare at him. "Alright, so your knight master can probably judge that, too, as did the King," Peter agreed. "So we're back where we started. We're curious, plain and simple. And though it may kill us, satisfaction will bring us back. After all, one cannot have too much information."

"That's not a good enough reason, not when you're going to invade the privacy of a man who's lost his love," I spat back, surprised even by my anger at their behavior. "And especially when one of his close friends is handling the matter."

Peter looked at me doubtfully, and seemed to come to some sort of conclusion. With a half-hearted smile, he said, "Knights. Always too responsible and clean-cut for their own good." Shaking his head, he turned away, setting his cloak back down. I looked to Jumper, to see if she would put up a fight, but it seemed that she wasn't going to argue with Peter's decision.

Taking it as a concession, I let loose a small sigh and stepped away from the door. In a flash, Peter and Jumper shoved me aside, heedless of their cloaks or the fact that Jumper's boot wasn't on properly, and were out the door. I made a wordless sound of protest over Master Kallum's completely unhelpful laughter and sprinted after them, ignoring my own need for footwear or a cloak in order to prevent them from getting down to Alanna and Numair.

I careened down the stairs, nearly brained myself on the tray that the maid was carrying up, following the shrieks of the people in the main dining area as Peter and Jumper darted through the crowd. "Split up!" I heard Peter call, and I loosed a series of curses that would have surprised even Alanna. Jumper swerved away, headed towards the kitchens and their exit. I snarled, completely unrepentant, as my hand flew out. I was moderately powerful, as far as mages go, though my talents lay far towards the healing end of the spectrum. Even so, I had power enough that when I reached in Jumper's direction, my power flowed out, the familiar green racing to pin Jumper against the wall.

I paid for the shift in attentions, however, as the door shut nearly silently behind Peter. Jumper, ever the adult, helpfully stuck her tongue out at me. I cursed her out again, but made my way out carefully. If I went barreling out, Alanna and Numair would surely be alerted to my presence, and thus the presence of Peter.

In the same breath, however, Alanna and Numair needed the time to speak privately to each other, I felt. It would be better if I could track Peter down myself and bring him back without anyone being the wiser. That way, Peter didn't hear too much, and Alanna and Numair wouldn't be interrupted at a crucial point.

I stalked outside still without boots, and instantly regretted it. My feet were instantly freezing. There wasn't too much snow out, but the ground was a little mushy, and mud was sticking to my feet. I espied Numair and Alanna near the stables, discussing the matter in low voices, positioned so that no one could listen in. I shivered, my eyes trying to find Peter without drawing attention to myself. I caught the barest glint of his hair on the roof, of all places, and found myself wondering both how he'd gotten up there, and how he'd managed to get up there so fast.

I went around the backside of the inn, spotting almost immediately the stone wall in the back that must have been what Peter had used to scale the building. It was pockmarked, from what I didn't know, but the holes were certainly large enough and appeared often enough for Peter have made use of them.

"Get down!" I hissed as low as I could manage. I would warn him, just this once, because he clearly didn't understand me dismembering him would be a kindness compared to what Alanna would do if she caught him.

Or me, for that matter.

There was movement on the roof, the soft scrape of clothing on the wood's timbers. I could just barely hear the occasional word from the other side of the stable, Numair's warm voice and Alanna's rough one. I couldn't discern the topic of conversation, but what words I could catch were intense. Peter stuck his head out over the edge of the roof and frowned at me. He held a finger to his lips, as though I was the naughty child and not him.

I perhaps will never forgive myself for what I did next. In a perfect mimicry of my mother, I pointed at my feet and mouthed in an exaggerated fashion, "Get down here or so help me Mithros-"

Peter's head vanished over the edge of the roof.

That.

Was.

It.

I have never had particularly strong climbing skills. There were those among my friends who scaled trees and walls with ease. Even Kel, for all her loathing of heights was perfectly capable of making her way up trees with ease, assuming she focused on what she was doing instead of where she was going. Even so, I managed a credible leap, catching myself on the wall. My left foot slipped, and I dangled precariously for a few seconds, off balance and dangerously close to falling before I managed to successfully situate my foot in a crack of the wall.

I moved up carefully. Silence was as important as speed. I struggled to find footholds on occasion, and wondered how Peter had managed to swarm up so fast.

Bloody thief.

Even so, I managed to get up to the roof fairly fast. Once I actually stuck my head over the edge of the ledge, however, it took fast reflexes to ensure that I didn't fall to my death, for Peter lashed out with his foot, aiming for my head. I ducked out of the way, nearly losing my balance once more. Without a moment for delay, I heaved myself over the edge and up onto the roof proper, narrowly dodging another lashing kick that was aimed for my fingers. I rolled back, nearly falling off the roof in the process before I managed to get to my feet, stumbling at the roof's angle.

Peter was more balanced than I was, crouched near to the surface both to prevent being a larger target and- for I saw his eyes flick to the crest of the roof, over which Numair and Alanna were presumably still speaking- to prevent either of them from seeing what he was up to. I briefly considered simply fighting him for control of the roof and then forcing him to return to the room that we'd been staying in, but I didn't care anymore. "Come on!" I called, definitely loud enough to be heard on the other side of the room. I smiled, showing teeth. "I'd like to see what a little thing like you could do."

My insult had done what I'd hoped it would do- it angered Peter enough that he wished rather desperately to prove me wrong. Unfortunately, he didn't have the same advantage I did. Whereas he was rather accustomed to older, taller and bigger males- and if Jumper was anything to go by, females- being taken by surprise by what he could accomplish, I would not be. While as often as not, Kel would use her own body to train the others in how to appropriately attack someone that had the physical advantage, it was just as often that she would help the others along and use my body, as I was certainly taller and bigger than anyone but Roald or Cleon, the first of which even Kel didn't dare to use, the second of which wouldn't be moved by anything smaller than a horse. Therefore, I both knew and could counter a considerable number of moves typically used by smaller men and women to gain the advantage.

So when he rushed me with the intention to drop at the last minute and kick up at me, landing a blow on my solar plexus that would presumably take me down without him having to expend much effort, I sidestepped the blow, grabbed his foot and flung him over my hip in a move that Kel had taught me to counter that very attack. When I'd asked her why she'd taught it to me, she'd smiled, brown eyes very serious as she said, "I trust you to use it when it's appropriate."

And really, in the face of that sort of confidence, I could do no less. I'd practiced the move a million times, but this was my first opportunity to actually use it in battle.

I caught a glimpse of Peter's wide-eyed face as he went sprawling across the roof. I went to pin him, thus ending the fight before it really began, but I'd miscalculated, and Jumper managed to land a blow at the apex between my shoulder and neck that had me staggering away from her, giving Peter an opportunity to regain his first and attack me. I didn't have the chance to prepare for his move, however, as I was too busy fending off Jumper's series of lightening fast blows to various pressure points.

She wasn't as fast as Alanna, and I had spent too much time healing not to understand the importance of each nerve cluster. However, she didn't need to be as fast as Alanna to hold my attention for the second or two that was required for Peter to attempt to sweep my feet out from under me. I jumped them, but it was clumsy, and Jumper pressed her advantage.

It was slippery going. None of us was truly prepared for the cold weather, and we were not armed. I didn't dare spend more than a second or two wondering how Jumper had managed to escape the last binding I'd put her in. I tossed Peter off my back, using the motion to turn into a knee high sweep that knocked Jumper down. I used the second it gained me to pin Peter this time, forcing him down on the roof.

Finally feeling safe, I turned my back on him fully and faced Jumper. Attack and counter, counter and attack; we moved through several styles of combat, but I was slowly gaining the advantage on Jumper. She was tiring more quickly than I was, though sweat dripped down both of our faces and made our shirts cling to our skin. I managed to make her drop, sending her skidding down the roof. I followed her down, intending to make sure that she didn't fall off. She caught herself on the edge.

I was so concerned with making sure that she didn't cause herself undue harm that I was completely unprepared for Peter's leap. His unexpected weight on my back nearly sent me tumbling over the edge.

"Mithros curse you!" I shouted with all the breath I could muster. "How do you two keep doing it!"

"Everyone has kept mages these days," Jumper wheezed, hint of a laugh coloring her words. "If you don't have the spells to counteract their charms, you're going to spend a ridiculous amount of time either in jail or in pain. Sometimes both, because the members of the guards don't have any interest in relieving the pain of someone who tried to break into, say, a noble's private apartments." As she pulled herself back onto the roof, she pulled out a necklace strung with beads. Perhaps half the beads were cracked and blackened, while the other half were whole.

One bead per basic charm or spell. Nothing too powerful or complicated, but to undo a simply binding spell that I didn't put a lot of power into in the first place, it would handle it no problem. I bet they both have one, I realized, narrowing my eyes. It was about at this point that Peter slammed his fist into my head, and I decided that it might be more prudent if I concentrated on what was happening in the battle, instead of attempting to figure out how exactly the pair of them had managed to break my spells.

After the second blow to my head, I fought to twist back and elbow Peter in the stomach. In the process, I managed to clip Jumper's temple, sending her tumbling off the roof.

"No!" I shouted, stretching out an arm. Green and purple fire blazed, forming a soft area to land on. Jumper landed on it, looking no worse for the wear. I let out a long, strained breath. Suddenly, Peter was far too heavy for me to comfortably hold for any extended period of time. As if sensing that, Peter dropped off my back, mouth open.

I blinked sweat out of my eyes, shaking my head once or twice to clear it from Peter's repeated blows. When I finally managed to focus, I was able to center on the fact that there was purple interspersed with my green. I looked around for Alanna, knowing that she was the only possible source of that purple fire.

Iridescent black magic reached up and plucked both Peter and I off the roof, depositing us gently on the ground. Alanna was already leaning over Jumper's body, mouth tight but eyes surprisingly gentle. "When I said figure out what their skills are, I didn't mean without the proper clothing, on the roof, while we were having a private conversation."

The way she said it left me in no doubt of the fact that she probably knew exactly what had taken place. The tiniest of smiles flickered over her face; only I could see it, since Peter was too busy kneeling over Jumper's still body. Alanna rested a hand on Jumper's forehead, eyes closed and her attention focused solely on Jumper. Within a few moments, Jumper's eyes were fluttering, and Peter's eyes crinkled in relief.

"So nice of you to join us in the land of the conscious," Peter teased.

"Yes, because berating someone who does not have the ability to absorb it would be a considerably futile act. I am not accustomed to acting in futility," Numair murmured. His dark eyes were not particularly furious as he gazed at Jumper and Peter, but he was in no way pleased. I backed out of range, unwilling to draw his attention towards me.

While Numair was speaking to the pair, Alanna working on healing the worst of their aches and pains, I took stock of my own injuries. I wasn't badly wounded. Bruises and a ringing head were the main complaints, but nothing that would need serious care to get rid of, something that would not have been the case if swords or daggers had been used. I suspected that Jumper and Peter had both had daggers on their person, but even they hadn't been fool enough to use them on such an unstable surface, where a wrong move could send them tumbling down on it, effectively killing themselves with their own weapon.

I heaved for breath, feeling out the bruising around my head and shoulders, and a particularly good hit that Jumper had managed to land on my ribs. I closed my eyes, letting my magic filter out the worst of my aches and pains, soothing away the worst of my injuries. My insipient headache vanished, and the bruises became nothing more than a vague, dull throb.

I came back to myself with Numair at the tail end of a lecture that had Jumper and Peter pale. Alanna was standing next to me, purple gaze also directed towards the pair. "They're lucky Numair didn't string them up by their toes," she commented, as though talking about the weather.

I raised an eyebrow. "I don't think Numair has ever threatened to do such a thing, much less actually followed through on it."

"Very well then. I suppose they're lucky that I didn't string them up by their toes, and then some, for attempting to eavesdrop."

"That I would believe."

"Well, don't blame them entirely for wanting to make sure that Numair doesn't run off and try to do something remarkably stupid, like try to rescue Daine all by himself. Unfortunately, they've underestimated both how intelligent Numair is, and how much he understands that I also desire revenge." Alanna smiled, and white teeth gleamed. "We are equally willing to go to any lengths to get her back, and thus can keep each other in check. Something I wouldn't let Numair do I certainly can't do myself. It's a matter of perspective, I suppose."

"Can't see the forest for the trees?" I added.

"Something like that. Except we're in two different forests that look exactly alike. Or maybe we're in different parts of the same forest?"

"I think you're just attempting to stretch the metaphor too far now."

Alanna shrugged. "Forests and trees, pots and kettles- it's all the same in the end, I suppose. Either way, we'd better lend a hand. Numair seems to be winding down, and I don't quite trust Jumper to make it up the stairs by herself, especially not if I want to see you all fight properly later today." I groaned, but Alanna spoke over me with absolutely no concern for me feelings, as usual. "As well as get in your usual training with me."

"I cannot wait," I muttered, making sure that it didn't sound too despondent, for surely she'd double the workload if she heard it. I paused then, curious. "You're not going to say anything to them now?"

Alanna gestured at the pair of George's spies. "Does it look like I need to?" Indeed, when I glanced over, both Peter and Jumper looked thoroughly abashed, staring at their toes as though they had been spelled to flash different colors. Both of them had crimson ears that spoke highly of their embarrassment. I wondered what had been said by Numair that had managed to elicit a response I had not been able to. "Sometimes, a little bit of true disappointment can be more powerful than any amount of anger, something that I know well." Alanna looked tired at that, then shrugged. "So no, I don't think it would be necessary to rub salt in the wound, as it would only inspire a great deal of ill will. Besides, it was Numair's privacy that they were infringing upon, more than my own."

I nodded my acceptance. Then, with a quick nod, I stepped forward and offered Jumper a helping hand, supporting her around her waist. She blinked a couple of times. Nervously, I held her a little tighter, wondering if I should try and persuade Alanna to wait to allow Jumper to fight until the next day. I wasn't completely sure that her landing hadn't knocked her brain a little funny, if her inability to balance quite right was any indication.

Peter, seeing me stagger when Jumper swayed, putting more weight on me than I was expecting, came to lend a hand. "Perhaps we should wait for those fights until tomorrow," I said as I redistributed Jumper's weight.

Alanna clucked her tongue, looking displeased. "Take her up, and I'll take a second look at her. Don't let her sleep until I check her."

I nodded, waving my free hand. Numair and Alanna followed close behind. I didn't hear either of them say anything during the trip back to the rooms, but I got the feeling that they were staring at us; it certainly felt like Alanna's gaze was resting on me, if the raised hairs at the nape of my neck were any indication.

I tried to shrug it off. Master Kallum was in the rooms, looking completely unconcerned. He flipped the next page of his book, and then said in a drawl, "I asked them to bring up some hot water to use as a bath. I figured the three youngsters might need it to defrost."

Despite the disinterested tone, I was ready to kiss the man. I hadn't realize just how cold I was until he'd mentioned it. The sweat which had kept me at a comfortable temperature outside during the fight quickly chilled me once I'd stopped moving so fast, and now I was shivering.

"Yes, please," I muttered. I made sure that Jumper was comfortable on the bed and Alanna was tending to her before I crouched down in front of the fire, holding my hands and feet as close as I dared to the fire. My socks sizzled alarmingly, and after a moment I peeled the muddy clothing off my feet, brushing off the worst of the mud and hanging them near the fire. Peter joined me, not quite daring to get within lunging range, which required quite a bit of maneuverability. I shook my head, moving over so that Peter had better access to the fire without straining to stay out of my reach.

"I'm not going to hit you," I growled, irritated.

"I'd rather not take the risk."

I rolled my eyes. "I swear on Mithros and the Goddess that I have no plans to hit you within the next couple of hours, and I shall tell you if those plans change."

Peter stared at me for a moment, then nodded, relaxing ever so slightly. We held our hands near the fire in companionable silence for a few moments, listening to the adults murmur in the background. When a servant knocked on the door, informing us that the bath water was ready, Alanna and Numair indicated that they didn't need a bath; seeing as they'd actually been dressed for the weather outside, I wasn't surprised. Since Jumper was asleep, it was either Peter or me.

Peter indicated that I should go, and from the sheepish look on his face, I knew that was the closest I'd get to a proper apology for everything he'd put me through today. I nodded, following the servant to a private room. I sighed when the steam hit me, curling against my skin and warming me from the inside out.

With a smile that lingered on me for a touch longer than I expected (I returned her look with a smile, but nothing that would indicate anything permanent, as Yuki's warm face eclipsed that of the serving girl's in my mind) I stepped into the room and disrobed, stepping in the warm bath with glee. When I was clean and warm, I left, indicating to Peter that it was his turn. I dried my hair by the fire, because if I truly was going to be working for the rest of the afternoon, I didn't want to go out with wet hair- I'd come back with ice crystals.

The plans for the afternoon looked as though they might change; Master Kallum, Alanna and Numair had their heads clustered over a set of papers, and they seemed completely unconcerned with either the snoring Jumper on the bed, or my presence in front of the fire. When it was dry, I sat up, staring at the trio.

"Something new?" I asked.

Numair glanced up at me, distracted only momentarily, as was Master Kallum. Then they returned to their papers, deep in discussion. It was Alanna who met my eyes, purple eyes positively blazing. "Get Peter in here," she said, propping one hand on her hip. "While you were gone, the last of Master Kallum's papers came in. We've finally got everything we need."

"War council?" I guessed, quirking a grin that I didn't feel.

Numair looked up, dark eyes meeting mine. "War council."


TBC