"Why you impertinent brat," growled Scarface, while Crimson grinned broadly as Dias pushed Shavra behind him. "Are you trying to imply that I am a henpecked husband? Get out of my way, Dias, and let me teach your beloved liege lady a lesson in manners!"

"Oho, that's rich," chuckled Dias, feeling Shavra behind him measuring the best way to get past Scarface and to Crimson, who had moved towards the plinth where she had left Lyorax, and now beckoned her to join him for their own sparring session. The Black Wing continued, "Considering how many times you have led my lady into mischief."

"Mischief which she has always managed to get out of, and with a great deal of natural skill," answered Scarface, making a half-hearted feint at Shavra as she darted out from behind Dias, a move that she ducked easily, speeding towards Crimson on light feet. Both men watched as she fetched up in front of the swordmaster, then dropped to one knee in respect, remaining still until Crimson offered Lyorax to her.

Shavra rose easily and received the sword in both hands, drawing the blade easily from its scabbard as Crimson removed his sevalle cloak, revealing a broad, muscled chest that filled out his shirt in an extremely pleasing way. She smiled as he came to stand beside her, Silver Sword in his hand, and at a nod from him, began the set of exercises that preceded their every sword sparring session.

Dias felt his heart warm at his first sight of Shavra using the sword he had crafted for her coming-of-age ceremony. Crimson had come personally to Blorfan to make the request, on a beautiful spring day. As he watched Crimson and Shavra turn their exercises into a beautiful dance of metal and light, the memory of that day returned to him.

* * * * *

"Wine?"

At Crimson's nod, Dias poured out a generous meaure into a goblet and handed it to the older sevalle. Their fingers met, and Dias felt the slight tremble that shook the warm grip over his own, bringing a faint flush to his tanned face. Crimson brought the goblet to his lips, eyes twin cobalt coals marking the slow smile lifting up the corner's of the valle's mouth. A faint flush crept up Crimson's own face, further evidence of Dias' continuing hold over the older man's affection. Catching the burning cobalt gaze, Dias' emerald eyes sparkled with mischief as he raised his own goblet in silent toast.

"Lyvalle white," murmured Crimson appreciatively, as the mellow liquid warmed a path to his belly. Dias nodded.

"From the southern slopes," he replied, the green eyes turning into cloudy jade. "The last vintage we tithed to Kuruda, the year Lord Avedon and Lady Kyra. . ."

"I know, Dias. I know," sighed Crimson, as the valle's voice faded. He turned the goblet in his lean fingers so that the crest engraved on the cup flashed in the sunlight. "That's why I'm here. To speak of Lyvalle."

At once, Dias was alert, his eyes boring into Crimson's with wary concern.

"Shavra? Is there danger?"

Crimson shook his head. "Nothing immediate."

"Then what?"

"She turns sixteen this year."

Dias furrowed his brow in puzzlement, then his emerald eyes flashed in understanding. Seven years before, he had spirited a terrified child out of a mountain fortress, fleeing the mercenaries sent out to do the bidding of the treacherous uncle who had murdered her parents. Seven years had passed since he left that silver-haired child with eyes of amethyst bravely waving farewell from the ramparts of Kuruda's palace royal. Seven long years, in which the child had grown into a woman ready to come into her heritage and her powers; time and enough to have missed the presence of Shavra Lyvalle, heiress of Lyvalle Hold, in a way he had missed no other woman save his sister Elle.

"Sixteen?" murmured Dias, studying the crest on the goblet that matched Crimson's. A crest of a lion rampant quartered with a phoenix rising -- Lyvalle and Solaris, Shavra's birthright. "Has it been so long, then?"

"Long enough," agreed Crimson, "this year, Shavra comes of age. In three more years, when King Iba Stola invests her as the true Holder of Lyvalle, she will need a sword worthy of her rank."

"Sethor still lives, Kai. And continues to hold Lyvalle."

"By treachery and not by right, as we both know," ground out Crimson in suppressed anger, tightening his grip on the goblet in his hand. "Avedon was my best friend. And Kyra..."

Dias heard the catch in Crimson's voice and looked away as the older man struggled for control. Kyra Solaris had been Kai Sink's first love, in the days when Crimson had been fostered at the Solaris manor in Juliannes. It was a love kept secret, for he had nothing to offer her -- nothing at all, until the day he captured the title of Kuruda's 56th sevalle. Kyra had come to the tournament, and he would have declared himself then, except that in the same moment, it became plain to all that there would be no other man for Kyra but the Lord Holder of Lyvalle. Crimson's best friend.

Only Dias knew what it cost Crimson to hold his peace and let his beloved and his best friend have their happiness together. When they died, brutally murdered by Avedon's brother Sethor, Crimson had been on a mission deep in Soulfan. By the time he heard the news, Shavra was two weeks resident in the palace royal; and the story of how the Lady Kyra had defended Fort Lyvalle to her last breath was common knowledge. Less commonly known was how close Sethor had come to violating his sister-in-law, whom he had desired from the moment Avedon had brought her home to Lyvalle.

Dias knew that as the rightful heir of Fort Lyvalle, Shavra was the channel for Souma, the force that gave life and health to all living things. On the day Lord Avedon was murdered, he had accompanied Lady Kyra to the springs beneath Fort Lyvalle and watched as she cast locks about them which could only be opened by the hand of the true heir – and no sooner were the locks in place, than word reached them of Sethor's treachery.

In moments, Lady Kyra had led Dias, with Shavra in his arms, to a spot in the rock face that shimmered away at her touch to reveal a tunnel. Shavra cried out in alarm as Lady Kyra ordered Dias to go down the tunnel with Shavra, leaving her to deal with the approaching enemy.

"Mama!"

"My Lady! We cannot leave you here alone!"

"Shavra, poppet, Dias will take good care of you," soothed Lady Kyra, even as she pushed them both down the hidden passage to safety. "Dias, I cannot follow - there is no time, and I can delay Sethor if I stay behind -Shavra is the last of the Lyvalles, she must live to reclaim her heritage."

"But, my Lady...!"

"GO! Dias, for the love of all that is holy, go now...bring my daughter to King Iba Stola of Kuruda...give him my signet ring and tell him what you know of this day. Now go...before Sethor finds my daughter and kills her as a threat to his ambition!"

So they had fled, dodging and hiding, so that what should have been the journey of almost a day on the open highway turned into two weeks through forest and cliffs before they arrived at the palace royal. Events had moved swiftly once it was proven who Dias and Shavra were, and in the space of a day, the Lady Holder and her liegeman of years were separated.

Before long, letters for Dias arrived from the palace royal, written first in a child's hand, then in the elegant strokes of a young woman being trained for life in the royal court. Stories were told – sometimes by Scarface, sometimes by Crimson – of Shavra's mastery of throwing knives and sword skills, and the continuing distress at Lyvalle as Sethor's blatant disregard for the rituals of Souma upset its balance, bringing hardship to its people as a result.

Now, Shavra was sixteen, and nearly ready to be recognized as the true heir of Fort Lyvalle. It was a certainty that once Sethor heard of this, he would be quick to challenge Shavra's right to rule, and that he would insist on settling the question by open combat. Whether the combat would also be a fair one was highly debatable.

"Which is why she needs a sword she can call her own," said Crimson, "One whose blade will sing when she swings it in the air, strong enough to channel her energy and give it focus. The kind of weapon that only a master smith can make – and who better than yourself, who has known – no, who has loved her since she was a child?"

"Set your heart at ease, Kai," soothed Dias, putting a hand on the sevalle's shoulder. "My liege lady will have a sword like no other, that I promise you."

* * * * *

He had come through on that promise, thought Dias, as the sound of metal on metal brought him back to the present, to see Shavra matching wits with Crimson on the practice ground. It had taken him the better part of that year to complete blade and scabbard to his satifaction; and though it had exhausted him, it was worth it, to receive Crimson's heartfelt thanks when he received the sword.

More than worth it, to hear Scarface relating with undisguised relish of how the Court had reacted when Crimson presented Shavra with the sword and how she discovered its name; and there was an unholy sort of glee in the High Sevalle's voice as he told of how the Lady Holder had killed her uncle on the same day that Elle was revealed to be the 59th sevalle.

Dias watched, enjoying the sight of the two blades matched against each other, Shavra proving herself to be a worthy student of Crimson's teaching, anticipating his swift changes from one form to another with a grace that made Dias catch his breath. In the end, Crimson won out, managing to force Lyorax out of Shavra's hands with a quick countermove that she was a fraction too slow to see.

"Well done, Lyonlight," said Crimson, bowing in response to Shavra's going down on one knee. Looking at Dias, he asked, "What do you think, Black Wing? Did I not tell you, she could make a sword sing?"

.../tbc