Lianne is intelligent enough to know she is in way over her head already. She doesn't spend much time with people outside her family, usually — she has few friends, and she considers them family in all but blood (Alan and Aly of Pirate's Swoop, and Jaquetta of Naxen, for example) — and being around Lerant feels intoxicating. Freedom, it turns out, is extraordinarily addicting.

Is she using Lerant or does she genuinely like him? She's not quite sure. She'd like to think that she loves him — or at least has a romantic interest in him — but part of her says skeptically that she would feel like this around anyone who didn't know of her rank and treated her like an equal. She tells that part to keep quiet, before wondering, is she crazyinsanetotallydaft to be hearing voices in her head? She tells that voice to be quiet too.

She is not looking forward to Midwinter at all — there is nothing she wants, particularly, as a gift, except the gift of choice, in her friends and her words and her life in general, and that is something no one will award her.

Midwinter for her is just another occasion at which she has to smile&curtsey&dance, where she has to look and sound interested in what prejudiced nobles have to say, where she has to play the part of the perfectpolitemodestdutiful princes. She's not absolutely sure of Lerant's background, but she has never seen him at court — so if he is a nobleman, which she doubts, he won't be at the festivities anyway.

So she spends her time alone during the time leading up to the first night until her mother snaps that she had best stop moping and get ready for the feast.


Domitan of Masbolle has had many missions, both professional and personal, during his life, but this one is the oddest he can remember (except maybe the time Third Company convinced him it was a good idea to steal the loincloths of Rider Group Eight and cover them in glitter — but that's another story).

Black hair, blue eyes, named Lia, he repeats to himself as he sits beside Keladry and looks furtively around. None of the ladies he recognizes fit that physical description (not that he recognizes them for any disreputable reasons, Kel dear, merely from conversations he's had, of course. Not that he's defensive or anything — why would he be? What are you suggesting?).

Lerant is there himself, though looking very disgruntled and listening halfheartedly to his grandfather grumble about those gods-cursed progressives. Raoul made him go (you're part of the Own, Lerant, you deserve to take a break and have fun. Or else.). Dom can't help but snicker when Lerant's younger sister attempts to catch the attention of Prince Jasson and ends up with her wavy hair dipped in her soup. A questioning glance from Kel leaves him sober-faced again.

"So," she says, turning back to Meathead, "I said to the merchant, 'This is Yamani steel! It shouldn't be stored in such cold places, or it'll crack.' So he said—"

Oh well. Dom supposes. This conversation is too interesting to abandon right now. Lerant can find out the identity of his mystery girl on his own.


The feast is just as boring as Lianne suspected (she would know best, she has lived the life of a diplomat since she was born, after all — perfectpolitePrincessLianne). She smiles graciously and nods and counts down the hours.

The food is good at least, she notes, as her eyes drift over the rows of nobles, dressed to impress. And she doesn't have to dance (though she will at the first ball — but that's in a few days, and she will deal with it then).

"Lianne!" She is startled out of her reverie by her brother Liam, who is glaring at her — he has obviously said her name several times. "Are you even listening to me?"

"Of course," she says smoothly. "You were just talking about your upcoming Ordeal." (She wasn't listening, of course, but that's all Liam has talked about for months. He begins his fast tomorrow.)

He scowls at her — she's right, but he is aggravated already. "What is wrong with you lately, Lianne? Your head's been in the clouds. You just ignored Ambassador Bernhard — you're lucky you didn't seriously offend him! It's not like you at all."

She bites her lip to keep from responding scathingly (is she not allowed to be have even a moment to herself — alone in her own mind without worrying what others think?) because she knows without saying that the answer is no — never — because one moment of rudeness would eclipse all her hours&hours&hours of forced politeness in people's minds.

And besides, one sharp word to Liam and he will explode, in public or no. He is the insolent, thoughtless one of the royal children — although if he was just another noble, he'd be considered fairly polite, a double standard, but he is not just anyone and no one said their lot was fair anyway, and they are royalty and so lucky and complaining would be ungrateful.

Vania is the same way, but she is younger and a girl and people are more likely to excuse her as simply temperamental. Roald and Lianne are composed, Kalasin is fiery (and far away in Carthak at any rate), and Jasson is the joker with a fine wit. Clashes are frequent, but always in private.

"I am fine," she answers at last. "Thank you for your concern." He glares at her and she can tell she hasn't been let off completely, but thankfully he changes the subject, talking about some sort of conflict in the east, and she can daydream all she likes for the rest of the feast.


Lerant spends the banquet in irritated silence as his sister, Adrienn, prattles on about the handsome men of the court. She is sixteen and newly presented and overwhelmed by the sheer amount of males (and as it happens, the men in question are much more likely to accept a wide-eyed, innocent court beauty from a traitor family than a troubled young man from the same origins).

"And the one from King's Reach — oh Lerant, he's so handsome. Such dark hair and eyes, and so good with a sword, like a mysterious knight in shining armor from ballads! And have you seen Sir Merric of Hollyrose? Why, he has the nicest red hair..."

It may be understandable, but it is annoying and Lerant finds himself clenching his fists and biting his tongue. Thank Mithros, Margarry of Cavall (and it is shocking that they are sitting near someone from such a favored fief at all, even if it is only the smiling young blonde) changes the subject skillfully to the best kind of silk to make sashes from, and while he may not be interested in that either, at least it does not remind him that the word traitor is a burden that only he has to bear.

The feast is nearly over by the time the discussion is, encompassing corset styles, hairdos, and winding to commentary about the most musically inclined convent girls. Adrienn seems oblivious to Lerant's discomfort and boredom, although she sends him a quick glance when Margarry begins detailing how loyal her knightly beau, Owen of Jesslaw, is to the Crown. Perhaps she is not as naive as he believes (maybe there's a reason for these innocent topics, maybe she has a motive), but he does not notice — he never does.


When the feast is ended, Lianne drifts away to her room. After bathing and preparing for the next day, she lies awake in the dark and time flows around her. It could be midnight now or just before daybreak. She is tired, but even if she could sleep, she doubts it would help.

Her brain hums uncomfortably. She doesn't want to think about Lerant (it's much too dangerous, don't get too attached, oh Lianne) but she does anyway. She thinks about his smooth hair and his half-smile and the way he caresses her face. The way he looks at her like other men look at her crown (like she is the ultimate prize, like she is worth something — just for herself).

Lianne has tolerated these men in the past — the men who look at her and see the Conte crest and nothing else — but she will not be able to any longer, she knows. Lerant has ruined (fixed?) her, and she cannot (will not) go back — she cannot (will not) forget this, and how she feels — she cannot (will not) stop now.

She has changed, for better or for worse (or maybe both), and she cannot (will not) go back. She cannot (will not) forget how she feels now (ohsofrightenedscaredterrified), and the crazy plans and thoughts and emotions she's had since. And this is like nothing she has ever known or done or been (and what will she do now, what will her family say, oh Lianne).

But she will not stop.

Maybe she doesn't know what she will do (she is thinking of crazy, crazy plans, like persuading Lerant to court her or being independent of all men or talking to her parents or her siblings or joining the Riders permanently, crazydafttotallyinsane), but she will find out what to do. A proper princess doesn't go into things unprepared, and this will be no different.

She will (has to) control a piece of her own life.

And a hint of rose-gold dawn peeks out from under her curtains, and it is her turn (Lianne's turn, just Lianne's) to be daybreak.