There is an emerald buried deep in the sand of the Sahara desert. It has a history, a history that will fascinate and enthral the least unenthusiastic of readers. Unfortunately, that has nothing to do with this story. The real story is owned by no-one. It is useless fluff, inspired by countless other fluff stories. It can be claimed by no-one, as all of the names and characters bear a resemblance to Tamora Pierce's fantasy world. The world of adventure and excitement, of hatred and of love. Of Tortall.

***

We travel back in time past Kel and her new servant Tobe, past Daine and her animal friends, to the time of Alanna. To be exact, it is to the night of her seventeenth birthday. We will change the events of that night. With a few minor alterations, the story of Alanna will change forever.

The crown prince of Tortall, Jonathan of Conté stood on the terrace adjoining the grand ballroom. He saw in the starlight a lady walking… with the step of a man. A smile played on his lips- what better time to confront Alanna and tell of his feelings than now? He turned to go into the gardens, but a delicately gloved hand postponed his walk.

"Your highness! It is a pleasure to finally meet you! My name is Alyssa, of Pearl Coast." She looks about seventeen, Jon thought, and she is very attractive. She stole one last glance at Alanna, but she had disappeared. Jon didn't let any trace of irritation show on his face, and he said,

"It is a pleasure to meet you, lady. Would you care to dance?"

"I would be delighted." Alyssa batted her eyelashes flirtatiously. Jon escorted her back to the ballroom, and began to twirl her around. Meanwhile…

Alanna walked through the rose gardens, inhaling the heavy scent of the blooming flowers. From here the terrace was clearly visible, but deserted. She continued to walk. It was a beautiful night. The stars were bright, and there was a crescent moon in the sky. Alanna stopped walking to stare up at the heavens. Suddenly, a voice behind her made her jump.

"It is a beautiful night tonight, isn't it? Didn't you fancy the ball?"

Alanna whirled, to see Raoul behind her. If he saw through her disguise now, she would be in trouble. "I'm not one for partying and balls, I am afraid, Sir…" Alanna left the sentence open, knowing that he would supply her name. Her heart was jumping in her chest through nervousness. If he found out…!

"I don't particularly care for parties either, my lady. Would you care to accompany me in my walk?"

Alanna didn't know how to decline politely, so she had to agree. "I would be delighted, Sir Raoul. I am named…" she said the first name that came to mind, "…Ariana."

"Thankyou, lady Ariana. Are you staying at the palace?" They had started walking. Alanna tried to remember all of Mistress Cooper's lessons… pick her feet up, take small, dainty steps, keep her back straight, and look either at Raoul or ahead of her, never down.

"No, sir. I am staying in the town. But please, don't call be 'lady.' 'Ariana' will be fine." Alanna had to get rid of the formality.

"Of course, if you will call me 'Raoul' and not 'sir.'"

"Certainly! I'm sorry, I'm new to court, and all of this formality is a bit daunting. I much prefer talking strategy with my father, although my mother does find it unladylike. And small talk is, I'm afraid, not my strong point." There, Alanna thought, much pleased with herself, that should shake his polite rigidness! Raoul chuckled lightly, a real chuckle, not just a polite one. Alanna smiled to herself in the darkness.

"I'm not very good with small talk either," Raoul admitted. "But I am interested in your mention of strategy. I've not yet found such a lovely lady who speaks so frankly. To be honest, I find it much more welcome than comments on the weather and eyelash fluttering." Alanna bit back a snort.

"I can't say I blame you," Alanna said. She was beginning to enjoy herself. "They drove me to boredom at the convent."

"They drive me to boredom now!" Raoul grinned at her. Alanna realised that she had never seen him grin at a lady before. She smiled back.

"It's very refreshing to talk to you. The bowing, ever courteous knights do occasionally get on my nerves." Alanna had no experience with that, but she would bet anything that they would get on her nerves if she had to dance with them as a lady. The lessons as a page didn't count. Raoul grinned again.

"You are becoming more attractive to me with every word you say! I suppose we are being rather cruel, but it is a relief to vent my feelings!"

"And mine. I was starting to think that I was the only one who felt this way." Alanna found herself enjoying being 'Lady Ariana.' It was fun, being someone different.

"How long have you been in Corus, Ariana?"

"These last six months. You may not have seen me, though; I tend to keep a low profile at balls. I don't want knights chasing me just for my looks. I want to be liked for my personality."

"You won't have any problems there! Just out of curiosity, can you use weapons and defend yourself?"

"Contrary to my mother's wishes, yes. My father thought I ought to know some self-defence, and he taught me accordingly."

"I'm glad. Ariana, I'm taking a liberty here, but…" Raoul stopped, leaned closer to Alanna, and kissed her. Alanna was too surprised to do anything. This was Raoul!!! When Raoul drew back, Alanna didn't say anything. He was, actually, quite good-looking. She had never looked at him in that way before.

"I hope I haven't offended you, Lady Ariana! I just felt…" If Alanna didn't do something soon, Raoul would really put his foot in it. She knew he hadn't had much experience with girls. For that matter, neither had she…. So, Alanna went with her instincts. She kissed him. And then Raoul was kissing her back. When they broke apart, Raoul looked down at her, a smile playing on his lips. "I think I like you!" Raoul said teasingly.

"I should hope so!" Alanna retorted. She had suddenly found out that there was a whole new world out there. When George had kissed her, she had felt shock. When Jonathan had kissed her, she had felt pleasure. But this was more. This was the beating of her heart, and the rush of emotion that left her weak at the knees. Had she always liked Raoul, and just hidden it from herself?

"Do you believe in love at first sight?" Raoul asked, "I never used to."

"I don't," Alanna told him, "can we find a place to sit down?"

"Uh…sure." Raoul led her back to the last bench, and they sat.

"Raoul, I've got something to show you." If he didn't find out now, she would feel bad forever. So Alanna reached up and slipped off her wig.

"You have red hair? Is that all?" Then his mouth dropped. "Alan?" he whispered. Alanna knew that he didn't think that she was a boy masquerading as a girl. Her dress showed too much cleavage for that.

"Alanna. It's a long story."

"I'll bet.""

"That's why I don't believe in love at first sight. These things take time."

"Time we've unconsciously spent?"

"I didn't realise until… back then. Are you surprised?"

"I guess I kind of knew, subconsciously. I know you so well, but not at all. Would it be wrong to say I love you?"

"Is it wrong to fall in love?"

"If it is, I'm in trouble."

"So am I." Raoul kissed her again, with a gentleness that surprised them both. And then, with a gentleness that surprised her, he was kissing her nose, her forehead, and then back to her lips as his fingers lightly explored her body. They came apart for breath, and then Alanna kissed him again with a passion she didn't know she possessed. Her heart was racing, her body tingling in every place she was in contact with him. Then she reluctantly pulled away.

"We shouldn't… not here. Maybe… your rooms?"

"Are you sure, Alanna?"

"Yes!"

"Come, then." He kissed her tenderly one more time, and then pulled her up after him.

***

Jonathan still danced with the lady Alyssa. To the meddlers who had watched the previous scenes with interest, it was a fitting end.

A/N AAARGH!!! I wrote that! Ugh! I can't believe I wrote that! Fluff alert! Okay… calm down… breathe. I'm mental. I didn't even know I was capable of writing things like that. Please R/R, I want to know what you think of my madness. It might even help me to form my own opinion!

*Fire Opal*