written for fiefgoldenlake dot proboards dot com's 2012 Secret Admirer's Exchange

one.

She's six minutes early to class and he's five minutes late.

The lecturer turns and shakes her head at him- ", was it? Please note for tomorrow that this class starts at 8:45, not 8:50, thank you"- and he slides into the empty seat next to her. It's the only one remaining.

She offers her hand and he smiles at her, a flash of white teeth. Her new lab partner is golden-skinned and not much taller than she is. He had jade-green eyes and a thin blade of a nose; whip-handsome and clearly knows it.

The professor begins to hand out the lab syllabus, walking down the aisle, and Sandry smiles back. "I'm Sandry fa Toren," she says, shaking his hand. "It's nice to meet you. What was your name again?"

"Briar," the boy sitting next to her says, and then his eyes go wide. "Wait a second, Sandry fa Toren?"

She shifts, smoothing her skirt over her thighs so that the pleats fall around neatly around her knees. "That's why I said," Sandry nods.

"Your uncle is the governor, and- you're related to half of Congress. And a dead president. What're you doing here?" His gesture, Sandry assumes, is supposed to encompass the entire campus, not just the slightly dingy biology labs. The sciences aren't huge at this place, small liberal arts school that it is, and they're due for a renovation.

She sniffs, turning up her nose. "Fulfilling my science requirement, for one," she says.

"Let me guess," Briar mutters. "You're an art history major."

"Political science," she says. "Not that it should matter."

"Right, Duchess." He smirks at her, but it's friendly, and hesitantly, Sandry smiles back.

two.

The new duchess of Emelan is not at all what Briar expected. For one, she's short.

Duchess Sandrilene fa Toren grew up at Winding Circle, when he was a novice, but they never interacted. He thinks he saw her once, maybe, with all the other daughter of Bags, daintily crossing a path. She hadn't been there long, anyways; her uncle pulled her out to live with him in the Citadel once he disinherited his son and named her heir when she was fourteen.

Mila of the Grain, Briar can't imagine what that must have been like.

Her clothes are not especially showy, but they're well made. He bows to the lady, smiling. "Dedicate Briar is the new head of the Earth Temple," Moonstream says kindly, a hand on his shoulder. He supposes that she thinks he's nervous. He can't imagine why.

Duchess Sandrilene smiles at him, cornflower-blue eyes warm. She has the littlest button of a nose, unlike her hawk-beaked late uncle. "It is a pleasure to meet you, Dedicate Briar. I am certain you will have great success at Winding Circle; I have already heard so many wonderful things." She clasps his hand, and he murmurs a thank-you, but there's something else imperceptible, under the skin-

Briar's eyes go wide.

Sandrilene's brow furrows. "Is there something wrong, Dedicate?"

"It's just- beggin' your pardon, your grace, I don't know if you knew this before and were trying to keep it quiet, but- did you know you've got ambient magic?"

The duchess's look of astonishment mirrors his.

three.

"We found knives on her," the Air dedicate hisses to Niko. "Young ladies shouldn't be carrying knives with them, Master Goldeye, I don't care what talent you think this child supposedly has-"

Sandry pads away from the door when she hears a telltale creak of people getting up from their seats, sits neatly in the chair outside and arranges her threadbare skirt neatly in her lap. Niko and the dedicate walk over to her, and he dismisses the dedicate with a hand that Sandry internally notes as haughty.

"I wasn't tryin' ta-" she says hurriedly, pre-emptively. "Master Niko, you got to believe me."

"I know," Niko says. "Sandry, you must understand that this cannot happen again. You do not need knives here. This is not the Mire." He holds out a hand. "Give them to me."

She scowls. "I can't."

"You must," Niko says, and she reluctantly hands them over with a glare. "As for your housing- the Air temple has requested that the temple move you to Discipline."

Blue eyes narrow. "I'm bein' punished?"

"No," Niko says. "It is for children that require- more personal attention. It will be a better place for you. I am sure of it. And Dedicate Lark especially will be good for you."

She stands, takes his other offered hand. "Are we going now then?"

"Yes," Niko says.

Discipline Cottage is certainly better than the rooms in the Air temple, and she has her own room, not that there's much to put in it. It's a few hours before there's a knock on her door, after she's met Lark and Rosethorn.

"Hello," a youth says. He must be the kid Niko talked about, the one from Sotat. "I'm Briar doa Molsa."

Sandry recognizes that name faintly, heard one of the street kids talking about it once. He's related to the king in Hajra. Briar inclines his head to her.

Her face goes hot.

four.

Sandry doesn't really like Corus. It's a city, in that it's loud and there are too many people and she can feel the magic pressing in all around her- not magic like in the City of the Gods, comforting layers of ancient spells, but sloppy magic, war magic, charms and potions and healing magic, stacked on top of each other until she can feel her skin crawling.

The Palace is quieter, but not by much.

She's met at the entrance to the Rider's barracks by Evin Larse, who is tall and lanky and blond, with the friendliest smile she's ever seen. "You must be our mage," he says, grinning at her. "Glad you're here to help us out of a tight spot, milady."

"It's just Sandry," Sandry says. "Really." She offers her hand and Larse takes it.

"Let's get you settled in," he says. "Meet the rest of the crew, so to say. You'll be working with Group Askew on this case, so I doubt you'll be going too far away from Corus." He frowns. "You look a mite disappointed by that, Lady Sandry."

"I don't like the city," she admits. "It's all too overwhelming."

"Many find it that way, at first." It's another voice, male and well-tenored. "I know I did."

"That's cause you're a country boy, Briar Moss." Evin beckons the man over. "Meet our new mage, why don't you- she's to work with the group you lead, anyways. This is Lady Sandrilene of Toren."

Briar bows to her, and Sandry holds a hand up, shaking her head. "No, please- just Sandry. I'm not a noble when I'm doing my work."

"Alright," Briar says cautiously. Evin shrugs equitably.

"It's all fine," he says. "Anyways, aren't you from around that damp area up in the forests just like Lady Sandry?"

"Yes," Briar says. Evin keeps walking, and both of them fall into step. Sandry lengthens her stride, making sure to keep up. "I left just before-" he glances at her. "Well."

"Before I ran away," Sandry responds, filling in the blank he's hesitant to mention. "Though Briar came here, I suppose, and I ran to the City of the Gods."

"Ran?" Evin inquires. An eyebrow arches. "Really?"

"I was fostered at an aunt's- my mother didn't want to send me to the convent. I came home for my brother's wedding, to Eslinna of Marti's Hill, and then instead of going back to my aunt's, I, well, I bribed the coachmen to take me in the opposite direction. " Sandry blushes prettily, blue eyes glancing down. "The story has gotten a bit infamous now, unfortunately. Before I left, when I was still planning everything, I was going to join the Riders. But after accidentally setting part of our dining hall on fire, it was suggested to me by a visiting mage that I go and learn to control my Gift instead of running off to fight bandits. It wasn't altogether a bad suggestion, I think. I've an invitation to visit him at the university once I finish up here."

"It's more than a bit infamous, milady," Briar says, corners of his mouth quirking up into a grin. Commander Larse looks more than impressed.

Sandry smiles happily back.

five.

"Marry me," Sandry says.

Briar blinks. "What?"

She looks like desperation, hair askew and eyes determined, and she takes his hands in hers. "Marry me. And then everyone will have to leave us alone."

"Sandry-"

"She won't give up," Sandry whispers. "It doesn't matter that she's my cousin. I won't choose any of her toys, the ones she can control, and I won't let anyone get away with- with exercising their vile little custom either. People never realize what a stitch witch can do when she puts her mind to it."

"People never realize what you can do," Briar corrects her. "You'd be just as terrifying even if you didn't have magic."

"That's the thing." Sandry sniffles, and looks annoyed about it. "It runs in the family."

Briar squeezes her hands. "I hate it," she hisses, "but I can't stay here forever, not with Summersea and Uncle and Winding Circle. If I'm married, I'm practically untouchable. I can still help my people, and my cousin- and these horrible things she practically condones- they don't win."

six.

He isn't a bad man. That's the thought Sandry clings to as she goes through the motions, puts on the dress and headpiece and shoes, wraps herself in her siblings' magic like a well-loved blanket. She likes him. She could love him, someday, if she's lucky.

"Maybe I should have a talk with Jak," Briar says, from where he's lurking in the doorframe. "Make sure he respects you, y'know."

She can't touch her eyes or let them dampen; she'll ruin her makeup. "You don't have to do that," Sandry says. "He'll- it'll be fine."

He comes closer and presses a kiss on top of her head. She slips her hand in his. He's walking her down the aisle, since Uncle is home in Emelan and will be staying there.

She's got to stop thinking of Emelan as home.

"It'll be fine," Sandry repeats. "You all- you'll visit me, right? In the summers?"

"Winter or no, I'd stay here in Namorn with you if you asked," Briar responds quietly. He kisses her again. "All you have to do is say the words, Duchess."

"You know I wouldn't- can't. I won't. And I could, well. I could love him," Sandry says, testing out the words. "Someday." If I'm lucky, she doesn't add. It isn't needed. He already knows.

"Come on," Briar says. He doesn't respond to anything else but leans over one more time, kissing her softly at the tender spot behind her ear. "Let's go get you wed."