Here we go! I hope you guys like it! And as always, please review! I promise to update soon! I'm not as busy these days.

It's About Times

The room was deathly quiet. No one breathed and no one blinked. The tension was so thick Raisa doubted even a butcher knife from the castle's kitchens could cut it. Sitting around the table were five figures: Raisa and Han who sat across from Elena, Averill, and Edon Byrne. Both Han and Raisa were fighting the natural instinct to fidget in their seats, but they put on their usual trader faces and sat still—perfectly still. Han's hand was resting peacefully on the metal hilt of his trusty knife. The unconscious action brought him an immeasurable amount of comfort. Raisa, in turn, was slowly nudging the golden ring on her finger that she had worn devotionally for the past year.

Finally, Lord Demonai had had enough. Clearing his throat louder than he intended too, he plunged into the speech that had been swarming through his busy mind for the past few hours. "Raisa, we are delighted that you have returned safely, but now we need to discuss what needs to be done to ensure your safety."

Raisa couldn't help but roll her eyes. Her father was treating her like a child. He never treated her like child. Ever. But, today he was. Raisa suspected more had happened in the Fells during the past year than she knew. And she was determined to find out what. It was her job—no it was her right.

"Father, what happened while I was gone? What aren't you telling me?"

"Raisa, what's important now is that we plan your safety. A war is almost inevitable now. Lord Bayar has far too much power. The queen may pass you over and name Mellony heir. We cannot allow this to happen. It would destroy the Fells," Elena intervened. Raisa noticed that Elena had deflected her question, but she knew that she didn't have time to be stubborn. Time was of the essence.

Elena continued on. "You know that Alistair is here to help us defend you. He will be invaluable in this war—"

"Wait a moment! You're sending one wizard, one wizard trainee, against the entire Wizard Council? That's suicidal," Raisa interrupted, her eyes locking on with Han's. It was at that moment that she really noticed the true severity of the situation. She wouldn't make Han risk his life for her. Not like this. Not ever. There must be another way, she pleaded with herself in her head.

"This decision is not for you to decide, Raisa," Lord Demonai said firmly. "The future of the Fells depends solely on your continued existence. We desperately need a strong ruler and whether you like it or not, that day may come sooner than you think."

Raisa was quiet. Her eyes brimmed with fresh, crystal-like tears. As if she didn't know this! This is why she had run away in the first place! It was also the reason why she so desperately had wanted to return to the Fells. For so long she had been running away from this conflict. But, it was too late to keep on running. This inexorable conflict was finally coming to a head. She was afraid.

Afraid of the unknown.

This time it Captain Byrne who spoke. His voice was quiet and thoughtful as if he actually had Raisa's best interest at heart. But, Raisa, who was blinded with throbbing anger, failed to identify this. What he had done for Amon and her still stung painfully. Looking into his well-structured face she couldn't help but see the striking similarities between father and son. She saw Amon in his face. And that, too, brought more tears to her eyes.

"Your Highness, why don't you start by telling us what exactly occured down at the Academy? It would be a good place to start," he suggested.

Frustrated, Raisa shrugged. She was tired of this formality that everyone was using around her. She so desperately wanted everything to be resolved. She wanted to be a child again, when she had no concerns in the world except what she would wear the next day. But, those days were long forgotten luxuries.

"Fine," she spat out bitterly. She glanced over at Han and noticed that he was waiting just as eagerly for to start her "epic" tale down to. She shrugged her shoulders one more time and readjusted herself in her chair so she was more relaxed. There was no point in starting this rather painful story if she was uncomfortable.

She then started into her nearly ten month adventure, starting off with the nearly-disastrous encounter near Westgate. She looked over at Captain Byrne when she spoke, for this pertained more to him than anyone else.

"Well, Amon and I were in a field practicing with our swords," she began with a little white lie. Well, it wasn't actually a lie. It was more like, bending to the truth to her benefit. There was no way she wanted to discuss what actually happened between them—especially with Han sitting directly beside her. "While we practicing we were attacked by Corporal Sloat and his group of men."

Captain Byrne squeezed his fist together tightly until the skin turned snow white. Lord Demonai nodded understandingly. "Reid told me about this. It's a good thing he was there to help you."

Raisa hid back a sheepish smile. She wondered what exactly Reid had seen that day. On second thought, she didn't want to know. She met her father's gaze and he inclined his head, urging her to continue on with her story. This time is was Raisa who cleared her throat and continued on. She continued on with Westgate (and how Micah had almost caught her) and then with the Fens. Elena and Captain Byrne both seemed rather interested in how Raisa and Amon had handled the situation with the Waterwalkers.

For the next hour and a half she told them chapter after chapter in her riveting life story. She left out parts she didn't feel were necessary or that she felt too embarrassed to talk about. Most importantly, she left out her relationship with Han. She knew her father and grandmother would criticize her for her actions and she didn't want any scorn to be placed on Han. He already had enough weight on his shoulders as it was. She also left out her awkward relationship with Amon. But Raisa couldn't shake the feeling that Captain Byrne knew exactly what was going on between them. This sparked another angry spasm in Raisa's brain, but she pushed it away. Finally, she reached the night of her mysterious "disappearance."

"It was a Thursday night, I believe. Or was it Tuesday?" Raisa murmured to herself. "It doesn't matter. Anyway, I was studying for finals in the Wien House Library, top floor. I must have fallen asleep because no one was there when I woke up at nine o'clock—an hour after the library closed. A Corporal Rivers woke me up… but something wasn't right. He was wearing a blue cadet scarf. I just knew something was going to happen. There was just a look in his eyes…" Raisa's voice grew soft and Han tensed in his seat. He had seen the aftermath of Raisa's battle with Rivers. "I threw something at him, but he was too quick. He pulled a cord around my throat, but I was now by the wall so I kicked up against it and we both fell back, but he hit his head off of the table… His neck was broken… I don't know what was going through my head, but I had to get out of there. I ran toward the door, but Micah Bayar was there."

"Impeccable timing—just like any Bayar," Lord Demonai barked.

Raisa nodded in agreement. She hadn't noticed that her voice was gently shaking. "Well, he grabbed me and I tried to use my knife, but he knocked it away. I couldn't get him to let go. He was just too strong… finally, he did let me go, only after I agreed to hear him out. Obviously, I agreed. So he then told me how he found me and what his father's plans were—"

"How did Bayar find you, Raisa?" Elena asked.

"That, um, letter, I wrote to Mama. Lord Bayar had Hallie followed back to Oden's Ford… and then they narrowed it down to me. I know I messed up! I was foolish, I know that now… I was just homesick… Look, can I just finish my story?" Raisa was seriously getting fed up with this retelling. She didn't know how much she could take.

"Well, after Micah told me that his father was planning to marry him off to Mellony he… he offered me a proposition of his own… He gave me a choice," Raisa said, now looking down at her hands. "He said he'd either take me downstairs to be killed by the rest of his father's assassins, or return to the Fells… and, um, marry him."

Raisa closed her eyes as she waited for the storm of protest. She looked to her father—but the protest didn't come from him. It came from Han.

"Marry you! Is he crazy? Isn't that why you left in the first place?" Han erupted from his seat, but then remembering where he was he awkwardly sat back down and ignored the curious looks from everyone around the table. Man, this girlie means way too much to you, Alistair. She's making you act like a newbie street-runner who can't keep his mouth shut. "Never mind…"

Raisa took a minute to stare at Han and she tilted her head to the side and closed her eyes slightly, appraising him. Maybe he really did care about her… Even after all the deceitful lies that divided them. Then shaking her head, she re-focused her mind. "Well… I did agree to marry him. I needed time. I honestly believed that he would kill me… but it turns out that he probably wouldn't have—no matter what my response was. He had already killed the three other assassins downstairs—the ones he was supposed to deliver me to. In any case, Micah defied his father to ensure that I stayed alive… I guess I owe him that much," Raisa admitted grudgingly.

"Well this has certainly taken an interesting turn," Elena agreed. "The young Bayar obviously isn't entirely loyal to his father… perhaps we can use this to our advantage. But, this doesn't explain how you escaped back to the Fells, Raisa. I assume Micah didn't just release you?"

Raisa shook her head. "No. He didn't. We were in Tamron, about three or four days away from Fetter's Ford and we were travelling alongside the river. Suddenly, we were surrounded by dozens of soldiers from Arden. And Gerald Montaigne was leading them—the newly crowned King of Arden."

"You've met Montaigne?" Elena asked.

Raisa shivered nervously. "He was at my debut party. Even then, I didn't like him. At first he didn't recognize me. Instead he demanded that Micah, Fiona, the Mander brothers, and Wil Mathis give him their amulets. Montaigne has decided to use wizardry in the South to help him win the wars…" Raisa trailed off for a moment before, once again, recollecting her thoughts.

"Then, Wil and Montaigne got into an argument… I guess… I don't exactly remember the details… But, in any case… Montaigne killed him. He ran him straight through with his sword. I know Wil was a wizard, but he was a Fellsian first and foremost. Gerald Montaigne killed him. And there was nothing I could do about it. Nothing…"

Han blinked uneasily. Out of the Bayar group, Han liked Wil the most, probably because Wil had never tried to kill him, he thought ruefully. His death was so unexpected that Han felt an emotion he never thought he'd feel for another wizard: sadness. Wil hadn't deserved to die. You're growing weak, Alistair.

"Micah tried to engineer my release, but it backfired. Montaigne realized who I really was and he decided to take me back to his camp so that he could arrange our marriage. He's trying to unite Arden, the Fells, and Tamron all together under his rule. I thought there was no way I was going to escape.

"Micah and the others were being led the other way because Montaigne wanted them to teach the other wizards about the magic they'd learned at Oden's Ford. But, then Tamron forces appeared and that caused Montaigne's forces to go into a complete frenzy. Most of his invasion force was still on the other side of the river. I don't know what the outcome of the skirmish was because I grabbed the first horse I could find—Ghost, Fiona's horse—and galloped away as fast as I could," Raisa finished.

Captain Byrne nodded. "Well, Your Highness, we did receive a report about this skirmish. King Marcus's eldest son led the defense force. He was forced to retreat all the way back to the Tamron Court, where they are firmly holding out against Arden's invasion force. For now, the war is at a stalemate. But, if Tamron does fall the Fells will certainly be their next target. I don't know if we'll be able to defend ourselves."

"Liam was with them? Why was he leading them? Shouldn't he have been back at Tamron Court, where it's safe?" Raisa asked curiously.

Captain Byrne shrugged. "Regardless of why Liam Tomlin was actually there, his action did save your life, Your Highness."

Raisa simply nodded and looked back at her father. She could feel Han shifting closer to her and she didn't move away. Lord Demonai's face was twisted and contorted from very different, mixed emotions. He obviously seemed concerned about his daughter's safety. But, anger and pride were also quite visible across his aging face. He tapped his hand lightly against the table. "Well, this certainly was an enlightening tale, Raisa. I'm proud of you. There will be more questions later, but for now why don't both of you rest some more. I know this is taking a lot out of you," he looked at Han as he ended his statement. Han remembered that the original purpose for him being here was for Demonai to question him about who-knows-what. How far they had strayed from this path…

"An excellent suggestion, Averill," Elena quietly agreed. "We'll continue tomorrow night. For now, the three of us will continue our preparation."

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