This had not been a good day. In fact, it had not been a good week and the last thing he needed was a tiger in his throne room. Th'Esar scuttled back towards the wall, nearly tripping over a low-lying cushion. "No, no, no, no," he whispered.

It was a beautiful thing, white fur spotless except for the black stripes running down its sides, head resting tranquilly on folded paws. It also had glowing yellow eyes trained on the ruler of Volstov. "I don't know how you got in here," he said to it once he was suitably far, "but I would very much appreciate it if you would leave. I don't own any white tigers. So just go back." He gave it a firm nod as it stood.

He gave it a slightly less firm shake of his head as it began to walk toward him. "No, go back where you came from." Th'Esar contemplated sending for his guards, but he knew any loud noise would probably spook the creature. How did it even-

"Rrrrr," purred the creature as it wound itself about his legs.

Th'Esar took a shuddering breath. "Go away," he explained again.

The tiger rubbed its head against his leg one more time and walked toward a dark alcove, tailing flicking lazily from side to side. The man's sigh of relief was cut short when a pale hand reached out from the curtained area, resting on the beast's head.

"Good girl," it cooed quietly.

Th'Esar closed his eyes and took a deep breath. "Hello there."

"Hello," said a slim, pale body as it stepped from behind the curtain. "She won't hurt you."

"I thought we agreed you would go away for a while."

"I've been away a horribly long while," said the white-blond boy.

Th'Esar shook his head and took a graceful seat on one of the cushions. "You need more control. You aren't ready to come back."

"Nonsense." He cocked his head to the side, petting the tiger. "I have plenty of control."

In the blink of an eye, the tiger was gone. "Not enough," he said definitively.

"I had enough to get back in here without using it. You can have 'Nette check, if you like."

Didn't most teenagers sneak OUT of their homes? thought th'Esar. Besides- "Antoinette knows you're here?" hissed Th'Esar.

The boy shrugged. "What she does and doesn't know has always been an intriguing mystery for me. Now, if you'd like me to find out…"

"No!"He jumped to his feet in a most undignified way. "No finding out!"

"No need to be so skittish about it," the boy reprimanded.

"I will be however I like! I have a prince being recalled, a king who feels he needs to prove his manhood, and a diplomat who would like me to slaughter the airman Rook! I do not have time to deal with your boredom." He sat back down again, breathing heavily.

"See, that's better gossip than I've had in a year," he whined, sitting on an opposing cushion. "I can help you with the other problems. Cause a situation such that Arlemagne can't wait to make it up to you."

"I have no doubt you could cause a situation," replied th'Esar with his usual dryness, "but there are still plenty of people that want you dead after last time."

"Only a few," contested the boy. "And I can take care of them."

"No, you can't. Now go back to where you were, Caius."

"Expecting that to go as well as it did with the tiger?" he asked.

Th'Esar shrugged. "The tiger is gone now."

"It could come back," he said, wiggling his fingers.

"And someday, so will you. Now go back to the estate. I'll have a fresh shipment of books sent out in the morning and I'll ask Fiacre and some of the others to stop by in a few months." He smiled his friendliest smile.

"Fiacre's dull. Send someone else." Caius stood and brushed off his coat. "And don't forget to call me back when you realize the real trouble you're in."

"I can handle Arlemagne on my own," reminded th'Esar sharply.

"I have no doubt. Regardless, the guards are skittish and Lady Madeline's pregnant again. Something's going to happen, and you're going to want me back."

Th'Esar shook his head. He had no idea where the boy got these foolish ideas. "Go back to the estate, boy."

Caius nodded and bowed slightly. "I'll be home soon."