Title: Playing With Fire

Author: Jedi Buttercup

Rating: PG

Disclaimer: The words are mine; the worlds are not.

Summary: The debt between them had been settled in Ianthe's favor at last. 600 words.

Spoilers: "Dragon Prince" by Melanie Rawn

Notes: For Ryuutchi in Yuletide Madness 2012. The seed of a potential AU, for nostalgia's sake, because I spent half my teenage years obsessed with this series myself. :-)

Triumph swelled in Ianthe's breast as she approached the knot of guards in her courtyard. Feruche's great, bronze gates were already groaning shut behind them, confirming that the single intruder in their midst was the only one expected that night; the torchlight flickering from the walls reflected sparks of red-gold light like captured flames in the prisoner's hair. Answering embers burned in Ianthe's heart at the sight, and the corner of her mouth curled upward in recognition.

So this was the Desert's response. She'd known its armies would be too busy elsewhere to send more than a token force, despite the provocation she'd offered; that had been a key factor in her plans. But she had not dared hope for so remarkable an agent: a lone faradhi, foolish enough to approach after sunset; a princess whose claim to that title had graced Ianthe's bed more recently than her own; and a rival, dropped into Ianthe's lap at the perfect moment to pay witness to the seed of her own eventual defeat.

Ianthe smoothed her expression as the guards dropped Sioned's rings in her cupped hands and allowed herself the span of a breath to savor the moment. The gem-surmounted circles of precious metal were only symbols of a Sunrunner's power, not the wellspring of the power itself – but they were symbols of authority as well, of the control Ianthe had taken from Sioned when she'd stolen her husband from her. And now she held that control in sign as well as in fact: proof that the debt between them had been settled in Ianthe's favor at last.

Five years ago, Sioned had bet the emerald now in Ianthe's hands against all the silver Ianthe had been wearing: necklet, earrings, bracelet, and belt, each piece more valuable in itself than the ring and gem together were worth. But the ring had been gifted by Rohan in reward for saving his nephews' lives, whereas the silver was merely a none too subtle expression of High Prince Roelstra's wealth – and regardless of the cost, Ianthe had not intended to lose.

"My emerald against whatever you like that neither you nor your sister will win him."

Nothing had been said of Sioned temporarily earning his favor, nor any time limit put on the wager. Sioned may have walked into the Lastday feast that Rialla at Rohan's side and accompanied him back to Stronghold while Ianthe was exiled to Feruche; but Ianthe had never sent her the silver, and now the emerald – and Rohan, in all his fevered, fertile glory – had fallen into her victorious grasp.

Poor barren Desert princess. Sioned of River Run had never stood a chance against a daughter of Castle Crag. The initial battle may have gone to the faradhi – but the war would be Ianthe's.

She gestured the guards out of the way, studying Sioned's weary face and slender form. The other woman was not as withered as Ianthe had imagined, despite the years spent in her arid new home; clad in worn riding clothes, long fingers bare of jewels and hatred sparking in her eyes, she was still as proud as the day Rohan had announced his Choice, wearing heavy white silk with gold dusted on her cheeks and hair framing her face like plaited fire.

Even moreso than the dragon's son she had presumed to claim, she did not seem to know the value of submission: when it was wiser to acquiesce than to fight.

... Perhaps she wouldn't leave the woman's care to her guards after all. The lesson would be doubly satisfying, delivered by Ianthe's own hand.