Eight Days Later

They had finally arrived at King's City. Dirty and unkempt from the long journey through the hills, the motley crew paraded through the marketplace to be met with cheers and gossip about the Lady Fire from the village's finest merchants. Women leaned out of their windows and tossed handkerchiefs, flowers, and silver coins upon their strange newcomer. Fire blushed modestly, and kept her head down until the procession had finally marched their way through the palace gates and away from the prying eyes of the public.

Quickly leaping down from his tall stallion, Brigan rushed over to offer his hand to ease Fire's descent. She smiled graciously, and as she placed a slender foot on the dusty cobblestones, her hands went to untie her headscarf. Just as a few bright corkscrews of hair escaped the burlap constraints, Brigan leaned into her ear.

"M'lady, it would do you well to keep that on whilst you are here at the palace." Fire sent Brigan a questioning look. "My brother, you see, has a weaker mind than most, and I cannot be sure of his actions during your visit."

Fire nodded and whispered a kind word of thanks. As they entered the grand foyer, Brigan smiled to himself, thinking of her hand in his and the tickle of her hair on his cheek.

After a wonderful feast in the banquet hall, easing the pain in the travelers' stomachs, Fire climbed a long spiral staircase to her chambers. The iron railings cut into Fire's uneasy palms, and she had to constantly remind herself not to look down. At the top of the stairs, Fire found herself in a long marble corridor, lanterns and torches casting a warm glow on the walls. Barefoot and exhausted, she crossed to the end of the hall where there was a door with a lock that would fit the key in her pocket.

Gingerly, Fire found the metal object and was about to insert it into the door handle when she heard a noise behind her. All of a sudden, Fire found herself pressed flat up against the door, a man's sour breath in her face and rough hands on her side. As she looked into the eyes of King Nash, her eyes widened.

"Nash… w-what are you doing?" Fire breathed.

"I've never met a monster as pretty as you before," Nash whispered as his hands went to her head. In one fluid motion, her headscarf was off and her hair cascaded around her shoulders in a burst of flame. Nash sighed breathlessly, erotically, and Fire squirmed under his heavy grip. "I wonder what you'd taste like…"

"No, Nash please…" Fire struggled as his slimy tongue went to her ear and slithered its way down her neck. Her skirts had ridden up to her mid-thighs and Fire's wrists were held tightly against the doors that prevented her from pulling the skirts down. Writhing under Nash's touch, Fire let a small scream echo and reverberate in the back of her throat before Nash covered her mouth with his.

Fire's heart fluttered nervously and she braced herself for the worst. If only Brocker had let her learn how to fight with more advanced swordsmen, then there might be a way out of this horrid situation. Just as Fire felt Nash's hands reach down her corset, a familiar cry echoed from over the King's shoulder.

Fire had never been so relieved to see Brigan in her entire life. Nash turned, and Fire whirled out from under his stocky frame and trembled as Brigan moved in front of her. He pulled Nash into a headlock and whispered something into her attacker's ear that sent him nodding shamefully back down the hall with a quick 'sorry' cast in Fire's direction.

Once he was gone, Brigan turned to Fire. She ran into his arms unexpectedly, sobbing and shaking with relief. "Thank you," Fire whispered to Brigan, making the space seem strangely intimate. His short stubble scraped her smooth cheek as he nodded wordlessly.

They stayed like that for a while. Brigan was finally the one to pull back. Clearing his throat, he said, "I must apologize for my… brother's behavior. There is no excuse for his actions tonight. It might be wise to have Mila stay with you if you are to roam the castle by yourself at night."

Fire nodded sheepishly. "Would it be too much- I mean, may I have permission to walk in the courtyard? I need to clear my head."

"Of course. I'll take you down- you wouldn't mind, would you m'lady?" Brigan responded politely.

Fire smiled and took his arm silently, and they walked out into the night.

The moon shone brightly in the clear night sky like the crowning jewel on a star-laced necklace. A soft wind blew through the garden, and somewhere in the distance, the tinkle of wind chimes sounded.

Brigan's mind was reeling. How dare he violate her privacy, take advantage of a guest in his own home? He knew his older… brother was weak-minded, but had it really come to this?

That was the other thing that had been bothering Brigan. What if Nash wasn't really his sibling after all? Nax seemed adamant on ensuring his oldest son healthy, keeping Brigan from the throne, "no place for an illegitimate child". That would certainly explain Brigan and Nash's differences in their builds, looks, and even personalities. Come to think of it, Brigan didn't see much resemblance between himself and his other 'siblings' either.

The Lady Fire gave a little cough, interrupting Brigan's train of thought. Snapping out of his reverie, he turned to face her.

"Something on your mind?" she asked, her eyes wide and almost trusting, if Brigan didn't know her better. Shrugging, he led her to sit on a little bench in the rose garden, sweet aromas wafting towards their noses.

"I… never mind."

"Sibling problems?"

"Something like that." Brigan sighed.

"Archer used to fight with me all the time when we were little. I would beat him in a game of chess or get him in trouble for sneaking off with some servant girl. He wouldn't talk to me for a few days, but we'd get over it. You know they matter to you if you can't bear to see them leave you."

Brigan nodded. "I suppose that makes sense. I mean, when you leave…" cursing, Brigan realized he'd almost given in to his infatuation with her and let it out of its bundle of secrecy.

Fire blushed at what he said and probably what he hadn't said. Hand in hand, Fire and Brigan sat peacefully, looking up at the navy sky until streaks of pink appeared on the horizon.