Chapter Two:

Will or Won't

Arryne hit the dark, grimy stone with a muffled thud. She was aware of cold rain pouring down around her, and soaking her bare skin; almost a relief to the white-hot fire that burned through her veins. Everything ached, and her head throbbed where she'd hit it landing. She was dreaming, she knew, but Light, it hurt. Her wrists had popped nastily when she'd tried to catch herself. The force of landing rattled her; her arms buckled beneath her and she rolled onto her side with an 'Oof!' The wetness of the stone chilled her naked form, and a few minutes passed before she tried to move.

Where was she?

Her vision swam, tears welling up in her eyes. Through the blur she distantly recognized that there were buildings on either side of her, both not ten paces away. Their shadows consumed her. She recognized something of a light passing by, and a man's laughter echoed into the alley way.

Breathing heavily, in short bursts, she tried once more to lift herself, and failed, collapsing again on the rough surface. Sharp pain shot through her forearms, and left her simpering. She shivered violently, unable to control the sudden onset of spasms. A haunted, broken whimper filled her ears. She barely recognized it as her own. Her whimpers melded into sobs, and her entire frame shook.

Her voice caught, and everything constricted. Her entire frame heaved as she coughed up violently. It kept going. Arryne was unable to draw breath, and she was getting light-headed. Then, something came up. Something with a metallic taste. She spit it out, weakly, blackened spittle clinging to her lips.

The rain kept coming.

"Help…" Arryne croaked, sending herself into another coughing fit. She lay silently, for some time afterwards, drained. She still shivered, but the heat in her body was starting to ebb away.

"Help," she tried again, pausing to take a deep, gasping breath, "Help…. I'm… Here… Help..."

The only comfort she got was the rumbling from the black storm overhead.

Arryne crept silently, sword drawn and at the ready. She knew she wouldn't need it, but it was nice to feel it in her hand. She wasn't ungrateful for the birds chirping back and forth overhead, covering any noise that her cloak made brushing against a branch here or there. It was thick and the color of a healthy, dark moss—good for gallivanting about a wooded area. Her boots made little, if any, noise in the brush below, her feet naturally seeking out spots cleared of twigs or dried leaves. She'd chosen her best boots today—the most accommodating to her feet, and the most flexible. Perhaps the most worn, but that's what made them comfortable.

She'd, in unnecessary haste, donned the shirt from yesterday. She'd woken up in a foul mood of sorts, and had wanted to escape the confines of her room quickly. She'd put clean trousers on though, opting for something a tad more form-fitting. That was something.

She was on her way to the usual spot. A nook set back on the eastern edge of her property that had been, for the most part, cleared. Arryne wasn't sure why she'd taken the longer way around—creeping alongside of the western side of the property and slipping into wood cover (doing that would add almost an entire hour to her journey)—when simply striding across the eastern field would have been much quicker. She had ample time though. The sun was still fairly low, yet, and her brother's snores had filled the hallways on her way out.

She played her game, along the way. It was more difficult weaving through branches and leaves, rather than clearly defined persons. Branches, trunks, and leaves would make more noise, comparatively, if she misjudged. However, the forest did not move around, or carry awkward objects. Nor, did forests glare you down if you miss-stepped.

She would occasionally swing her cloak in around her, tucking it in to keep from snagging on anything. A snag wouldn't entrap her, but it would make noise. That would break the rules. She ducked, and twisted to avoid low-hanging branches or leaves that stuck out into her self-proclaimed path. More than once, she'd spin a full circle whilst avoiding one thing or another. It brought her peace.

The dream from the night before was disturbing, but something that she'd dreamed of before. Every time it came to her, she'd awaken feeling cold on the inside. Oh, she'd cried, when it first began; The first time she had that dream. But not anymore. While it was not a frequent dream, it was one that she'd distinctly remembered having before—though always unable to pinpoint exactly where or when.

In truth, perhaps that was why she'd taken the long way. She could have made straight for Tam's designated location to begin stretching and practicing balance, and forms. But Arryne needed to play. She needed the time to clear her mind and focus on nothing but avoiding objects that could not hurt her.

Over time, she became warm, and her muscles lithe. She hopped onto a thick mossy log that white fungus had begun growing out of, pivoted on one foot, then came down on the other side smoothly. She was to change her direction. She'd gone south for a while yet, and suspected that making a eastern turn would be in order.

A wind passed through the underbrush, causing her to halt in the moment. The strong scent of earth greeted her, and tickled at her nostrils. Arryne closed her eyes, shrugging her cloak back to embrace the morning chill. The summer sun hadn't yet started to heat the remnants of the evening chill. She could feel dappled rays of sunlight seep through the canopy overhead. Leaves rustled and a few branches creaked, swaying. When the breeze finally died down, she opened her eyes again. This, too, would make a nice memory.

She sauntered forward again, moving quickly, and stepping lighter. A relieved sort of smile found its way to her lips. She felt at better ease, and still wanted to make it there before either of the boys did.

Olwrick hefted his stiff leather satchel that contained his training gear (and Arryne's, who'd rushed off in the morning without letting anyone know) over his shoulder with a grunt. It tightened his shirt comfortably around his neck, and he had to pause to readjust.

"Leaving already?" asked Perrin, from behind him.

Olwrick contained a start, masking his face with an easy-going grin. That grin had gotten him out of parental retribution more times than he had hairs on his head. He adjusted his bag once more, and replied, "Yeah. Arryne's already out there, I suspect. I grabbed her gear for her." He wriggled the bag a bit, making the wooden training swords shift around inside.

Perrin nodded approvingly, closing the distance between the two in only a few strides. Light, but his father had the walk of a leader; even when he was in the home, or wiping away tears from his daughters face. He had an aura that said 'I know what needs to be done, and I'm going to see it through'. Olwrick tried, with difficulty, to imitate it. With footprints so large, it was more than a challenge to follow them.

"Your mother had them prepare a basket, for you two. Have you eaten?" He asked.

Olwrick shook his head, and offered a shrug. Food had been the last thing on his mind. He'd been mildly ruffled that Arryne had escaped the house first, before he'd even crawled out of his bed.

"I'll have someone bring it to you, then," Perrin said, then after a short pause added, "After you've been at it for a few hours."

That was good. His father already knew how he could be. Olwrick had a one-track mind, when it came to the sword. While the interruption wouldn't necessarily be appreciated, it'd make him feel better to have worked up an appetite before stuffing his stomach full of food.

"Thanks, Da," Olwrick said,

"Don't wear yourself out too much," Perrin noted, "Faile wants to take you and your sister to get measured for more clothes." He seemed a bit disgruntled by this. "More new clothes… Burn me. But you guys grow faster than weeds in a wheat field."

"Well, that is what people do, Da. They grow," he laughed, then said, "Have you talked with Master Luhnin yet, about that sword?"

"I did. It will be ready by this afternoon," Perrin said, brows furrowing. "I glanced over the blade myself. It has good form. Good craftsmanship, that one." A pause, "Don't get too attached to the blade, Son," he added, "It can drive a man to do bad things."

Olwrick had heard this line over and over again, growing up. From his father, and from Tam. He knew not to get too excited about fighting—hurting something or someone was never a thing to look forward to. But the adrenaline… The rush. The feeling of knowing that he was stronger than someone else…

"I know, Da. I know. But I can't let Arryne get too full of herself. She's already bested me twice," he joked, making light of it—as he always did. The conversation fell quiet after that, Perrin having looked like he'd wanted to say something, but held back. Finally, he clapped Olwrick on the shoulder with a grunt.

"Be safe. Be home in a few hours," he said, and strode away looking thoughtful.

Olwrick left his questions unsaid, and made a bee-line for Arryne.

The truth was, Perrin had wanted to craft the blade himself. Had he been able to make time for it, he would have. Unfortunately, being Lord of the Two Rivers occupied most, if not all, of his time. Any spare time that he had, he used it spending time with his children. The blade Luhnin had crafted was a fine one, but Perrin could have certainly added a few extra adornments. Granted, the boy didn't need anything too fancy.

Light, but his children were growing up fast. Had his own father felt the same way about him? The older that Perrin got, the faster his children seemed to grow. Olwrick was nearly Perrin's height, and just as broad in the shoulders as himself. He'd already had to start shaving every other day. Had Perrin been as imposing as Olwrick was at that age?

Perrin had to keep a wary eye on him. He'd taken nobility to the head, strutting around with that grin of his. More than one good apples had gone sour that way. He seemed to embrace born nobility as easily as a blacksmith to his hammer.

Chalinda… She was turning into a fine young lady. She spent most of her time with Faile, learning the subtleties of being a noblewoman. The lass spent the majority of her time at her mother's heels, learning to imitate calm expressions, commanding but reconciling tones, and perhaps the most important, getting to know her people.

She was young, yet; the youngest of his dear children. She probably resembled her mother the most of the three of them. Dark hair, and an angular face. She was lean, borderline wiry just as Faile had been when they'd first met. She carried herself well, her posture straight but without giving the impression that she was gazing down her hooked nose at people. However she seemed… Distant. Reliant, even. She rarely took initiative to do anything without either asking, or being told.

Overall, Perrin was proud of the two. Proud that they'd stepped into their roles without egos that would put Matrim to shame. He'd done his best to stomp out spoiled behaviors when they were much younger—engraving in them the values of hard work and simple tastes. Well… Perhaps he still had to work on them a bit with that last one. Every time he turned around, they requested a touch more embroidery or lace to their coats or dresses.

Arryne however, though he'd spent the least time with her, was probably the closest to him in thought and presence. She was simple at heart and Perrin wasn't oblivious that she'd taken ample of her brothers old outfits despite the near constant pressure from Faile to get things that were more appropriate. Perrin himself had inquired on her unusual tastes, and had only received a grin and the reassurance that she was comfortable, and therefore more useful in her endeavors.

He worried over the girl. Perhaps more than he should. He contributed that to the sudden disappearance, and how she's returned to him. She'd grown so much in that time away. It bothered him. He should have been there. He should have gone after her… How different would she have been if she'd never gotten ensnared?

'No point in thinking about what-ifs Perrin.' He told himself, settling down behind the dark, engraved desk that Faile had placed in a room that she designated for his paperwork. He glanced down at a stack of papers, sighing. It never ended.

Olwrick approached, and his sister took no time to break her stances to greet him. She was working on balancing, sword outstretched over her head, slipping from one form to another. She interchanged hands often, smoothly rotating hand over hand on its hilt. Her cloak had been tossed aside on the ground near-by, the sleeves of her shirt rolled up past the elbows. Her eyes were half-lidded, and her expression serene.

He felt only a little bit guilty as he bent down, plucked a small twig from the grass below him, and chucked it towards her face.

It struck, and her concentration shattered. Her sword nearly tumbled from her hands, as she jerked back, eyes widening and mouth forming into a surprised 'O'. Olwrick burst into laughter, dropping the leather bag from his shoulder with a clatter, and clutching at his sides.

"Oh Light!" He gasped between laughs, "That expression. It was priceless!"

She stared blankly at him for a few moments, as if she were going over a list of responses in her mind that would be suitable. Olwrick held his grin, willing her to take it in a good way. More often than not, the girl had the sense of humor of a tea-spoon. Finally after a few moments a reaction seemed to click into place, and she dropped her sword arm and laughed with him.

"Blood and bloody ashes!" she exclaimed, "That scared me half to death, Olwrick! Don't do that! I could have lopped your head off!"

"With that kind of reaction?" he prodded, "Yeah, right. You would have been offed in an instant"

"I wouldn't have reacted that way if I didn't know it you!" she said defensively. "I saw you approach. But I didn't think you were going to start assaulting me with nature. You could have just said, 'Hi. Hello. Great to see you out here, already."

"Oh calm down. No need to get your trousers in a twist," said Olwrick casually. Women's moods were all insufferable. One minute they'd be glad to see you, and the next they were ready to tell you ten different things about yourself that they deemed that you didn't know. His sister might be emotionally incompetent, but she was no different than any other woman in that aspect at least. "It's not like I chucked a rock at you or anything."

She grumbled intelligibly in response, raising her sword, and shifting into her stances again.

"Arryne, I'm getting a new sword today."

"Oh? That's nifty." She turned her head to look at him, maintaining poise. Her arms and legs continued to work, "What are you going to do with your old one?"

Olwrick had to think about that for a minute. "I don't know," he said finally.

"Can I have it?"

"But you already have a sword," he said, bending down to dig out the wooden training swords from the satchel he'd brought along.

"So do you," she pointed out dryly, "Besides. I know how to use two at once."

"You do?" Olwrick asked, doubtful. He stood straight, a wooden blade in each hand.

"Yup. Ma taught me," said she, pivoting on her heel, swinging her arm across her torso, and into what would be a strike against an invisible foe.

That was news to Olwrick. He certainly hadn't been taught anything of the sort. Tam had overseen his training since he was old enough to pick up a training blade. Those girls were spoiled rotten, if you asked him.

"Does Chalinda know how?"

"Kind of. She knows the basics, at least."

'Yup,' Olwrick thought. 'Definitely spoiled rotten.'

"Here," he said, getting an idea into his head. He held both of the wooden blades out to her, "Let me see."

"I haven't really worked with two swords," Arryne admitted, sheathing her steel blade, "I've only worked with daggers."

"There's not much of a difference, is there?" her brother replied.

Arryne shook her head. Boys could be dense. Of course there was a difference. How one held it, the weight, the balance… Despite his endearment to the blade, he certainly had a lot to learn of them. Her mother hadn't taught her that. No one had. It was something that she just knew.

"Daggers are mostly used for stabbing. Swords are for slashing." She reached for the training swords.

"Ah-ah!" Olwrick pulled back, turning so that they were just beyond her grasp. "So you can't use them both?"

Arryne felt a mild stab of annoyance. 'Boys.' She slid towards him, very similarly to how she'd slip through a small space in a crowd, and snatched them from his grasp. She'd show him. They weren't that different.

She took a few steps away from him—in case he'd try snatching them away from her—and adjusted her grip on each. Nervousness at performing with both sat in her stomach uncomfortably. If she messed up and made a fool of herself, Olwrick wouldn't let her live it down. His opinion didn't necessarily matter… but…

She took a deep breath. Tam had once taught them of an archer's trick that he'd apparently, at some point, taught all of his apprentices. The flame, and the Void. Arryne took another deep breath, and emptied her thoughts, pouring them into a single flame. That flame surged, and sparked brighter, flickering as it consumed her anxiety. She became calm, and almost entranced.

Her arms raised on their own—the wooden swords becoming a part of her. They were an extension of self. They were light, and she flicked her wrists a few times each, to better gain a feel for their balance that was otherwise distributed amongst two hands.

Then, she slid into motion.

Her arms adjusted the stances normally used for one sword, for two. She shifted her weight from one leg to the other, her arms—her swords—crossing and twisting about each other. Kissing the Adder. Sharp, short strikes that would unarm a man too close. Twin Moons Rise over the Water. An adapted version of Moon Rises over the Water—a simple slashing movement. Cat Dances on the Wall—a strike intended to sweep a man from a standing position. The motions simply came to her. She pivoted, swinging both blades down on either side, then spinning, rose from bended knees into a slashing motion that allowed the other arm—the other sword—to defend her torso.

She kept herself moving. That was part of the technique. Always keep moving. If you stopped, you could leave yourself open. You could get yourself stabbed—or killed. Momentum was the key. That was why Faile taught her. A woman could not depend on brute strength. She must use her other abilities to compensate for that.

Her arms moved like liquid, and she let them lead the way. It wasn't until Tam's voice came from somewhere nearby, that the void shook.

Arryne halted, mid-stance, the void shattering. She blinked a few times, becoming suddenly aware that her eyes were quite dry. She hadn't blinked in some time. The rest of the world came back to her, the entranced feeling ebbing away. When had her breaths started coming out so rugged? She turned.

Olwrick sat in the grass, leaning forward on crossed knees. He seemed intrigued. His eyebrows were furrowed, and his mouth was set in a deep frown of concentration. Tam looked thoughtful. The lines on his face accented the pensive look. His hand stroked at his chin, pinched between his forefinger and thumb, absently.

"Sorry," Arryne panted, raising her hand to wipe sweat from her brow. When had that happened? "I didn't hear that."

"That wasn't something I taught you. You looked as cozy with those two blades as an Aiel does with a spear," said Tam, nodding to himself. "Not bad, Lass. Not bad, at all."

Olwrick suddenly looked up sharply then, his concentration breaking. His facial expression changed to something Arryne couldn't quite place. He lumbered to his feet.

"I hope you didn't use up all of your energy."

"Of course not, Tam. And Olwrick didn't budge an inch!" said Arryne lightly, regaining her breath. Olwrick looked as if to protest.

"Good." Tam interrupted, "You two will be sparring today."

The afternoon sun bore down from overhead, casting shadows just barely from underneath them Olwrick and Arryne both faced each other, hands on their knees, panting. Sweat dripped from their brows and clung to their hair. Not shortly after they'd begun, Olwrick had discarded his shirt, and tossed it next to Arryne's crumpled cloak. He gleamed in the light and his arms quivered.

Arryne was envious. Her shirt clung to her and had cost her a few stances (which would be later marked by bruises) by tugging at her skin uncomfortably. In the afternoon heat, she certainly wouldn't have minded being able to toss her own shirt to the side.

Midday had long since come and gone. A serving man had approached the field timidly, and left a basket of goodies. Tam, who half-sat, leaning against the trunk of a tree in shade, had picked it up, informing them that they wouldn't be eating until they finished. Arryne's stomach rumbled loudly, and she gazed longingly at it.

"Alright you two," Tam said, eyeing her, "You've done well. Get some drink, some shade, and some food."

Arryne grinned at Olwrick, who had let out a large, guttural sound of relief and thrust his free first into the air. The both of them, Arryne waving her free hand in hopes to cool her cheeks, sauntered to Tam's spot beneath the shade. Immediately, the difference in temperature became apparent, and she flopped into the grass heavily. Light blessed that it was cooler under here. Now all there needed to be was a good breeze…

Her brother seemed to have similar thoughts. He drank from a waterskin he'd plucked from the basket deeply. Arryne reached her hand out, expecting—rather hoping, really—for him to share. Olwrick merely glanced down, and with waggling brows and a devilish grin, poured what she assumed to be the last of it over his head.

Tam clicked his tongue disapprovingly, but the upturned corners of his mouth betrayed him.

"You milk drinker!" Arryne complained, wrinkling her nose and stretching out for the basket.

"Hey now! I was going to share. There's still some left. Now you can get your own."

Arryne groaned.

"Oh, and Ma wants us to go to market with her, today," he added.

"When?" she asked.

"When we're done training," he shrugged, "Chalinda's getting new measurements and I'm picking up my new blade."

"Well," said Tam, who hadn't moved from his spot against the tree, "We're pretty much finished for the day. Your mother informed me of her plans last night. I fear you two may be a bit late as is."

"So eat up," he continued, "and head back. We'll continue around the same time tomorrow."

Chalinda grunted unintelligibly when servants knocked at her door. She was still in bed, yet. She refused to remove her blankets. Sometime in the morning, she'd suddenly awoken, feeling quite ill. She'd dry-heaved a few times before clambering back into bed. Her head still throbbed, her stomach rolled, and she felt like death itself.

Sunlight poured in through the open windows, and her room felt sweltering hot. She was sweating. She hated sweating. Without opening her eyes, she clutched her pillow—one that had been tossed aside some time in the night—and pressed it against her face. Maybe she could just smother herself. Sweat be burned, she wasn't going to remove those blankets.

Another knock came again, this time much sharper. That was her mother's knock. In fact, it was her mother's 'you should have been up hours ago' knock.

"Chalinda," came Faile's deep voice, "I'm coming in."

Of course. No need for permission or anything. Chalinda grunted again.

The door swung open, and a few maids tailed her mother in, sweeping back any remaining closed curtains and placed a tray on the table with a soft clatter. The noise caused Chalinda's head to pound unpleasantly, but she kept her mouth closed.

"Are you ill?" her mother asked plainly.

Chalinda finally pulled the pillow from her face, opening her eyes to a thin squint. The midday sun filled her room and made her dizzy.

"I'm not feeling the best," she admitted, "But I expect after some breakfast and a spot of tea, that I'd be fine."

"Lunch," she corrected dryly, then with a softer tone, "It's past noon, dearest daughter. Are you sure you will be able to go out? Perrin wishes you to rest."

So they knew she'd been ill already. Ah well. That was too bad. She would be going to get that new dress today anyway, even if Father didn't want to buy it, and even if she felt like dung. She'd been very specific in ordering it, and it would look wonderful on her newly developing bosom. She hadn't needed it for any particular event, or anything. But a girl who was nearing marrying age had to look sharp.

"I promise, mother. I'll be alright," she reassured, forcing herself to sit up without a wince, "I just needed a bit of extra rest."

Her mother nodded, seeming satisfied.

"It is good that you can convince yourself and another at a same time," she said, turning to leave, "That skill is a useful one. One I have used many times. Eat."

Chalinda made a facial expression at her mother's back that she was sure was somewhere between a smile and a grimace. She really couldn't get a thing past the woman. She tossed back her blankets, donned a light robe that wouldn't roast her half to death, and settled down at a small table near the window with the best view to eat.

She really didn't want to. The thought of cramming bread and cheese down her throat left her nauseated. However, she knew very well that her mother would hear of it if she didn't at least make a good attempt at it. For a few moments she stared down at it, before plucking a piece of buttered bread and taking a nibble.

Ugh. Food.

Maybe the tea would be better.

Getting dressed was almost torture. A torture well worth it, at least. Chalinda admired herself in the full-length mirror that had been adorned to her wardrobe. The dress she'd picked out was light-weight, pale green and flared at the sleeves in dainty lace-like embroidery. The neck-line wasn't as low as she would have liked, but it suited well to accent her thin neck. More embroidery went up the bodice, and around her ribs. She also wore a silver belt around her waist, like a chain but with wider, thinner links. Attached to that belt was a small, black, leather purse. It jingled cheerfully.

Chalinda took a deep breath, running her hands down her stomach, willing it to stop churning. The food hadn't set well and she looked a bit pale, by her judgment, in the mirror. She'd pulled up her curls into a knot, a lock or two falling down pleasantly. Hopefully that would keep her from dying of heat exhaustion. Steeling herself with another deep breath, she put on a pleasant smile and sought her mother out.

She came down the stairs the same time that her older brother and sister stomped through the door, reeking of sweat and dirt. Olwrick carried a large, heavy looking bag across his shoulders, and Arryne had a wooden sword balanced on hers, arms wrapped around with her hands hanging limply. They were both laughing. That laughter came to an uneasy halt when the noticed her.

"Dressed up already?" asked Olwrick, passing the bag to a servant who nearly stumbled under the weight of it. Arryne whistled through her teeth. While it was inappropriate for a woman to react to another that way, Chalinda felt her confidence strengthen. Olwrick paused for a moment, drinking deeply from the waterskin that'd been at his hip, then asked, "We aren't late, are we?"

"Not quite," said Chalinda, making her way down the stairs slowly. Her head still reeled. She tried to pass it off as her being dramatic, if not elegant, "But you'd best get ready quickly." It was best they didn't know she'd only just gotten out of bed, herself.

Arryne didn't said nothing, but instead made for the stairs, tossing her wooden blade at Olwrick who caught it easily. She took them two at a time, making Chalinda press herself against the hand-rail, for worry that she'd been run barreled into. Instead, somehow, Arryne pressed herself against the opposite wall, and slid past her with naught but a breeze to indicate that she'd been there.

Olwrick laughed at her, and Chalinda felt her cheeks burn.

"Stuff it," she mumbled, coming down the stairs at a faster pace.

Olwrick snickered again shaking his head, and followed after Arryne.

Chalinda watched after them a moment, before making her way towards her mother's study, which was located off of the eastern wall of the greeting-foyer. When she entered, her mother was standing, bent over a stack of papers with a few other people chattering quietly amongst themselves. Luckily, there were unused chairs in the corner that Chalinda made herself comfortable in. It was a relief to be sitting.

Finally, Faile seemed to notice her daughters entrance, and nodded towards her. This made the others turn towards her, with smiles and cheerful greetings. She placated them by nodding at each in turn, and indicated her apologies for interrupting. Faile, from behind the other's turned backs nodded again in approval.

While they went back to their conversation—which Chalinda wasn't incredibly interested in—she allowed her thoughts to wander. She wondered, idly, what her siblings had been laughing at, and why she hadn't been included in the joke.

Her head throbbed unpleasantly and she forced herself to sit up a bit straighter, and pretended to take interest in what was going on around her.

Before, she'd been more than a little irritated in being left out in sword-training. Her mother had taught both Arryne and herself how to wield a dagger in each hand, should the need arrive to protect oneself, but only Arryne had been chosen to train with her brother, and Tam. Light, the girl wouldn't even wear a dress!

She'd received special treatment of sorts, since her disappearance, years ago. That had been when Chalinda was nine. She remembered waking up one morning, and everything seeming… off. Servants had been quiet, and her parents as silent as the grave. They'd refused to tell them what had happened, or where Arryne had gone. When she'd finally returned in the middle of the night six years later, she was practically catatonic—never speaking and jumping at every little noise. She'd stared at the world as if it were her first time seeing it. Always looking confused. Everyone had assumed that she'd hit her head and became a bit touched, or something. It took months for her to recover.

So she'd gotten to do as she wished, for the most part. Which, incidentally, didn't include anything revolving responsibility or maintaining the family name. Chalinda sniffed, thinking about it—then remembering she was in company, covered it up with a light cough and a wrinkle of the nose. Let them think it was sinuses.

In the end, Chalinda had taken up the roll of becoming the Lady that would eventually take over, on behalf of her mother. She'd been learning the art of minor court for years, even before Arryne's return from… From wherever she went. She found that it wasn't too terrible, and even though she was the youngest of the children, people had in the past come to her to settle a minor dispute or two.

Finally, the people who had been conversing quietly with her mother stood straight, and made their goodbyes. A few bowed lightly at her on their way out. Chalinda responded with another flashy smile and a nod of the head. She was getting better at ignoring the throbs.

She didn't move from the spot that she'd claimed, even after the room cleared, leaving no one but her and her mother; who still stood behind the desk, gazing down at the papers that she'd been going over. Her dark brows were furrowed, and she seemed troubled. Finally, she looked up and gestured for Chalinda to come over.

Chalinda suppressed a groan, clenching her jaw against the headache and hefted herself out of the chair—attempting to maintain some premise of grace. She stood next to Faile, and bent over the papers, using her arms to support her balance.

The paper described a motion to set in place a redistribution in property lines for a few land-owners. She'd heard of these people before, recognizing the names. They'd bickered back and forth not a few times while in her parents' court—each on the border of whining and full-on arguments. They were, for a lack of better words, a hassle and a half.

"What do you think, Chalinda?" Faile asked softly.

"I think they're a bunch of light-blinded fools," she replied flatly. That earned a frown. "Otherwise, I think that he," Chalinda pointed to a name on the paper, "is asking for too much. If he has his way, there'd be no water on the other side of the property line. I say split in half, or divide out sections of the creek to them both, and leave a neutral ground of sorts. Though that might present a problem in the future…"

Chalinda thought for a moment. People were fickle, and often found reasons to argue when there were none.

"You could take the issue out altogether, and give neither of them the creek," she finally said.

"That's an idea," replied Faile absently, finally standing straight again. She rounded the desk to, Chalinda presumed, pace. Chalinda continued to stare down at the paperwork before her with new interest. Would that affect their agriculture too much? If neither of them had a water supply… Suddenly, she had an idea.

"What if they both got the creek? I mean. What if they diminished the property line altogether? And went in as partners?" She looked up, "that would eliminate the problem and make their business—" She went quiet, cheeks burning.

Her father had entered the room without Chalinda noticing, and was holding her mother close to him. His arms were around her snugly, though he towered over her. He was whispering something in her ear. Chalinda suddenly felt abashed, as if it were her that had stepped into the room at an untimely moment, and interrupted an intimate hug.

As if sensing her thoughts, Perrin released her, and Faile turned and said, "Now that's an even better idea."

"Already handling property disputes?" Perrin shook his head. "Light, you kids…"

Chalinda felt pride spring into her. They were impressed. 'Good,' she thought. She'd definitely earned that dress she was going to get today, then. She stood up a bit straighter, and regained some of the posture she'd lost while deep in thought, willing the discomfort in her head and stomach to disengage. She gave them one of her best smiles.

"Chalinda," said Faile, "You will leave us to talk for a time. I will send for you when we are ready to leave."

Chalinda's smile vanished, but she did not argue. Arguing was something that simply was not done with her mother. Her father would allow a bit of lip now and then, but her mother had none of it. She offered a light curtsy before leaving the room. In her small way, it was an act of defiance. 'I'm leaving' it said, 'but I'm not happy about it.'

They closed the door after her, leaving a small crack. She bit back her curiosity and forced herself to cross the foyer. Olwrick was bounding down the stairs, adjusting the cuff to one of his finer shirts. He offered one of his grins to her, then, noticing her expression asked, "What's that face for?"

"Mother is talking with father," she said slowly. She wanted to know what they were up to. Did it involve her? Or any of her siblings? Had it anything to do with the suggestions that her mother had asked for? Would she be rewarded for those suggestions?

Olwrick wrinkled his nose. "Okay…?"

"She asked me to leave. I'm curious," said Chalinda.

Olwrick looked thoughtful for a moment, then shrugged. He placed a finger at his lips. Chalinda's mask of calm and poise dropped another moment, and she forgot about the pain in her stomach and head. Was he going to spy on them? He started to tip-toe towards her mother's study.

"They'll hear you!" She hissed, trying to grab his arm.

"Not if you don't tag along with those heels of yours," he whispered, barely audible. He shooed her away with a hand gesture. Chalinda could have spat. The fool was going to get them both into trouble. She took a few tentative steps back towards the stairs, contemplating disappearing elsewhere for a time. She didn't want to get in trouble when he got caught.

'Idiot,' she thought. He moved silently, though. Training with Tam must have done that to him. Despite his spoiled dress, he could sneak around like any skilled woodsman. He crouched low, and somehow, his clothing made no noise when he took steps.

'I hear them,' he mouthed, and crouched near the wall, close to the door. Olwrick hovered there for a while, his face going through a variety of expressions. However, not long after he'd set up his post, he came creeping back towards where Chalinda had crouched.

She straightened, chastising herself on doing so. She hadn't noticed that she'd done it. It must have been the secretive nature that had done it to her. She gestured for him to follow her, and made, being as quiet as she could, for the kitchens.

"Well?" she demanded, as soon as they cleared the entry way. A few servants looked up startled, and she waved them away. Olwrick gave her a look that said 'Don't push me. I am your older brother.' Perhaps Chalinda had been a bit too sharp. She grumbled, and muttered a half-hearted apology. Light, but the man was too sensitive.

"They were talking about us," he said.

"All of us?" She interrupted.

"Yes." He continued flatly, "They were talking about our inheritance. Who is going to be named officially as their first choice as successor."

That made Chalinda's mind spring into a whirlwind of thoughts. They were thinking about that already? Were one of them ill? They weren't going to split the Two Rivers, were they? Surely Chalinda was their first choice, no?

"Some of it I couldn't hear. They were speaking really low," Olwrick went on, "but it's definitely clear that we're the top two choices."

"And Arryne?" asked Chalinda.

"They really didn't mention her. That's why I'm assuming that we're the top choices."

"I see…"

The two stood, huddled in silence. Her head and stomachache suddenly seemed small in comparison to the thought of not being her parents' first choice as a successor. That worried her. She'd certainly have to put in more of an effort—perhaps develop some sort of trade-skill that would show her parents that she could, and would, take initiative.

"What are you two up to?"

Chalinda jumped. Her embarrassment was subsided in knowing that she hadn't been the only one. Arryne had snuck up silently behind the two, hair pulled up in a messy (as usual) pony. At least, she'd changed her clothes, donning a fresh tunic and wide, billowing trousers and the a different pair of boots. They didn't shine, but they weren't caked in mud.

"Talking. Before we were interrupted," Chalinda said pointedly. She eyed Arryne crossly, who seemed confused.

"You guys were just standing around quietly," she contradicted, "Come on now. I'm trustworthy! You can tell me." She tried to smile the way her brother did, and failed. It came off as desperate. Light, for someone who was older, she could act like a child.

"I'll tell you later," said Olwrick, looking troubled, "Miss prissy-bottom might not want to share, right now."

Chalinda hissed through her teeth, and slapped at his arm harshly. He barely winced, only irritating her further.

Perrin waited to hear his son's and daughter's receding footsteps before looking at Faile with a triumphant smile. His plan had gone exactly the way he'd intended. Now, all he had to do was to wait, and see how it would play out.

"Husband," Faile said, looking confused, "You know Olwrick was outside, listening in…" She left the last part unsaid. Why, then, had he held such an important conversation?

"I wanted him to hear," he said simply, leaning back in the chair behind Faile's desk. Hers was definitely more comfortable than his own.

"I see…" she said softly, making the connection. "If he shares what he has learned, then he has honorable intentions. If he does not, then he is not yet ready."

"Exactly," said Perrin, enthusiastically. "Either he will, or he won't. Either or, it will speak volumes of his character."

"Dear husband," said Faile, wrapping her arms around his shoulders and planting a kiss on his cheek, "That was simply devious."