Maia was a trader. Her mother was a trader. Her father was a trader. It was all she had ever known. She didn't want to be anything else.

Unfortunately, she had no choice but to find something else to be, after that damned disease. She was the only one of her family to have survived it, except for her grandmother. But her grandmother could not support her. So now Maia was being sailed away to an unfamiliar land to be taught an unfamiliar trade with unfamiliar people. Her worst nightmare.

Amira was the only one she had left. Amira was a mabdgol, a rare creature of Berakh that looked like a cross between a dog and a sheep. She had big, adorable eyes, and soft, thick fur. Maia had found her when she was little, and the two had never been parted since.

As if sensing her thoughts, Amira snuggled against Maia. She smiled and hugged the mabdgol as the boat lurched. Maia closed her eyes and held onto Amira.

That was another thing she hated: boats. She couldn't stand them. At least they didn't make her sick, like they did her sister.

The thought came unbidden, and Maia had to fight back tears. Amira looked up at her with her big eyes. "Oh, 'Mira," Maia sighed.


Maia groaned. She hated when people used her full name. "What, Geri?"

"We will be arriving at the port in a few minutes."

"Thanks." Maia watched Geri's retreating back. She sighed again. Geri was an old family friend. Very old, in fact. As much as she didn't like him, Maia tolerated him, for he was the last link to her family.

She stood up, stretching. Then she walked to the rail, Amira following close behind. Sure enough, land was very near. Maia whispered thanks to no one in particular and headed to where the gangplank would be lowered.

The boat pulled into port within five minutes. Maia ran down the gangplank with Amira, happy to be on solid ground again. She waited impatiently as Geri took his time. "So, what do we do now?" Maia asked.

"We are not doing anything. You are going to ride to the school, and I am going to stay at this port for a while. There is a packhorse for your bags, and several men to escort you. Good day, Valrimaia."

It took two days to get to the school. It was the most boring trip Maia had ever taken. The men did not talk, and she had never been content just doing nothing.

Now Maia was waiting to see the headmistress of the school. She sat in a room with three other young teens. One was a girl with bright red hair which didn't seem to want to stay in the horsetail the girl had put it in. She had a freckled face and bright green eyes. Her outfit did not reveal anything about her status. For that matter, neither of the boys' outfits did either. Maia looked the two over. The one was short, but very cute. He'd be very good-looking if he grew a few inches. He had light brown hair and deep brown eyes. The other boy was a complete contrast. He had long, blonde hair and bright blue eyes. He was very tall, with a face that would be considered 'homely'.

The door to the headmistress' office opened. Maia looked up hopefully, but the young woman who came out said, "Gabriel Keye," and went back in. The tall blonde stood up and went back in. The tall blonde stood up and went in. Maia sighed and slumped back in her seat.

"You don't like to wait either, hmmm?" the short boy asked. He held out a hand. "I'm Micah."

Maia took it. "I'm Maia. Nice t'meet ya."

Micah turned to the other girl and held out his hand. "And you are...."

"Francesa," the girl replied as she shook his hand.

"So, where are you two girls from?"

"I'm from Aliabrey," Francesa responded. "Do you know it? It's a fishing town and port."

"I've heard of it. I'm from Jaica, in Berakh. Aliabrey is the first town we come to when we go to Tiranel."

"Are you a trader?" Micah asked.

"Yeh, or, I was, until-" Maia was interrupted by the door opening. Gabriel left, and the lady called, "Francesa Du'lijor."

"Until?" Micah prompted after the door closed.

"I don't want t'talk about it," Maia said sharply.

"Okay. Tell me about your mabdgol instead. I've never seen one before."

"Oh, Amira? Just get me started!"

They were deeply engrossed in conversation when the door opened for a third time. Francesa walked out and smiled at Maia. Then the lady said, "Elmicahmani Liieson."

"Liieson? You're a Liieson?" Maia gasped. Micah nodded and went in, leaving Maia to sit and stare. A Liieson? Good gods! He's....he's...he's the third crown prince! Damn! Maia thought to herself. And I'm just a poor ex-Trader with no family and no money. How am I supposed to keep up with him? Damn!

After a while, the door finally opened and Elmicahmani, third crown prince of Berakh, walked out, winking at Maia. Then it was her turn to enter.