A/N: Wow, I have nine chapters and nine reviews. It's all even n stuff. Except for now I have ten chapters...but anyway. And don't worry, all your questions will be answered later on in the story! ^_~

Ari leaned against the gate, feeling rather bemused. Goddess, it had been an odd day! Things had started out ordinarily enough, it was true, but it wasn't every day she had a Lord coming to visit at all--much less discussing his rather serious woes with her over the kitchen table.

At that, her thoughts took a sour turn. Why had he had to choose her to confide in, anyway? Oh, she supposed she had asked, but still. It wasn't as though she could do anything about it, except worry. Even if she did tell someone else that Lord Teliere was performing illegal memory wipes, who would believe a Farmer? All the Lord would have to do would be to deny the accusations, and in a contest of the word a Lord versus the word of a Farmer, it was easy to guess who would win. If things really went wrong, she might even get herself thrown in jail just for trying. It was a highly frustrating situation, all in all--not to mention that Jenny would probably be pestering her for the next several weeks.

With a sigh, she turned to head back into the house, and was greeted in the living room by Jenny. "Are you gonna tell me what you two was talkin' about?" she demanded, hands on her hips.

Ari glared at her. "No, I ain't gonna. So don't even bother tryin' to pester it out of me."

Jenny shrugged and collapsed into their father's armchair. Ari headed back into the kitchen, picking up her own half-empty glass of tea and taking a sip.

There had to be something she could do about this whole memory wipe mess. At the very least, she would be able to tell if Lord Teliere did a wipe on Randa as well; maybe she could even get Tiere to check up on him. She couldn't exactly tell him what they'd talked about, after all--they might not have said it in so many words, but she knew they'd agreed to keep their conversation between the two of them--but she was sure she could find a way to phrase her request without giving away anything.

If she'd been told just a few days ago that she'd be sharing dangerous secrets with a Lord, she would have thought the person telling her was quite insane. She shook her head, somewhat bemused by the whole situation.

Maybe she could ride over to the Keep sometime today and get Grandpa Tiere to agree to see if Randa still remembered their conversation by the next morning--just to check, to be sure that Lord Teliere hadn't performed a memory wipe on him as well.

Making up her mind, she headed out to the garden, where her mother was busy pulling up weeds. Instead of offering to help as she normally would, she leaned over the fence. "Momma? Would you mind if I went to see Grandpa Tiere for a lil' bit?"

Her mother looked up, trying to wipe sweat from her forehead and succeeding only in smudging dirt. "I don't mind, honey, but could it wait 'till tomorrow? I could really use some help out here with the weedin'..."

Ari shook her head. "It's sorta important, but I won't be long, so I'll help with the weedin' when I get back. If that's all right, of course."

Susan Farmer raised an eyebrow. "What is it that's so important it can't wait?"

Ari sighed, hoping her mother wasn't going to give her a hard time. "It's kind of a secret. But I promise, it really is important."

Her mother gazed at her for a moment, frowning, then shrugged. "All right, then. You can take ol' Hazel. Just be back afore sunset, an' don't you be gettin' into any trouble, all right?"

"All right, Momma," she said obediently, heading off towards their tiny two-stall stable. Within a few moments, she was on the road, feeling quite awkward riding a pony that was far too small for her. Not that Hazel was really that small--on the contrary, she was very large for her breed. But Ari was fairly tall, although not as tall as Randa, and had long legs. It made for a ride that was quite uncomfortable, especially considering that her feet were almost dragging the ground. If she'd had a choice, she would have ridden someone else, but Hazel was the only equine they owned.

Thankfully, the ride wasn't long. In a few minutes, she was riding up to the open gates of the Keep, feeling enormously out of place.

In all the time her grandfather had worked here, she'd never before actually set foot within Sorcerer's Keep. Now she rode through the open gates, doing her best to ignore a growing feeling of intimidation. The walls were patrolled by guards in the dark uniforms of Sorcerer's Keep; looking up--and up, and up--she gulped, imagining what it would be like to stand atop a wall so high off the ground. It wasn't a job she would have wanted, that was for sure. Looking towards the great double doors that led within the Keep, she was quite glad she wasn't actually going to have to go inside.

If this was what the place was like, no wonder Randa was so eager to escape for a while. She couldn't imagine how anyone could feel at home in a place as grand as this, although she supposed it was probably possible to get used to it.

Tiere came out to greet her as soon as she rode into the courtyard in front of the stables, smiling as they exchanged greetings, although curiosity was evident in his gray eyes. "Well, Ari," he said at last, looking up at her. "I take it 'tisn't just a friendly visit to yer old Grandpa made ye ride all the way out here?"

She shook her head. "Grandpa, I wanna ask a favor."

"I never can refuse a beautiful lady," he said, eyes twinkling. "Your wish is my command."

"This is gonna sound really strange," she warned him, "but please don't ask what it's about. You do talk to Lord Randa pretty often, right?"

"Just about every day. Poor boy can't get out of the Keep often enough; likes to come out an' visit me whenever he gets tired of bein' a Lord, which is pretty often nowadays. Why?"

"Next time you see him, I want you to ask him a question for me. Ask him if he remembers the last conversation the two of us had. If he does, then don't worry 'bout it, but if he don't, could you come an' tell me? I know it sounds strange, but it's really important, trust me."

His brow wrinkled in puzzlement, but he nodded. "Aye, that I will. An' I won't bother askin' what's goin' on, either, 'cause I can already tell ye won't tell me. But did the boy at least tell ye what 'twas botherin' him so bad, afore he left last time? I couldn't get a word outta him, an' normally he's a bit more willin' to tell me 'bout his woes."

She nodded. "He did, but I can't tell you that neither."

He shook his head. "All right, then. I'll ask him for ye--an' don't the two of ye be gettin' into any trouble, all right? An' ye'd better be gettin' home, the sun'll be settin' soon."

She nodded, turning Hazel around. "Make sure you ask him, Grandpa. 'Tis important."

"Don't ye be worryin', I won't forget."

"You better not." She bade him farewell and left, leaving the overwhelming splendor of the Keep behind her with a sigh of relief.

For the rest of that day and the morning of the next, his father said not a word to him about the incident with Kre and the memory wipe. He might even have begun to think he had imagined the whole ordeal, had he not encountered Kre the next day.

He found his friend wandering outside the practice arena, looking rather lost. He'd tried to strike up a conversation with him--and Kre didn't remember him. Oh, he recognized him as Lord Randa Orbein, heir to Sorcerer's Keep, but remembered not a thing about their friendship. Even when Randa had mentioned something about sword training, hoping to spark some of Kre's erased memories, Kre had merely responded with astonishment at the thought of someone like him wielding a weapon that was reserved for nobles.

It was both depressing and horrifying, but most of all, he was angry. Who did his father think he was, anyway? What gave him the right to rule over someone else's life to the point of deciding which memories they got to keep or not keep?

He would have confronted Lord Teliere about it, but--well, he was more than a little afraid to. At the moment, his own memories were intact (as far as he knew, anyway), and he much preferred to keep them that way. Besides, Trine only knew what else the man might be capable of, if he ordered a memory wipe so casually.

On the other hand, he knew that if he sat down for a conversation of any length with his father, he'd end up saying something about it whether he meant to or not. So he'd been doing his best to avoid Teliere that entire day, and except for the little contact they'd had in the dining hall over breakfast, they hadn't spoken a word to each other all day. One time, he'd even gone as far as going off with Lady Elizabeth in order to keep from a confrontation with his father; she'd been blissfully happy for a few moments, until he found some excuse to leave her company once they were out of his father's sight.

By noon, he couldn't stand it any longer--he had to get out of the Keep, at least for a little bit. He was almost to the stables when he ran into both Teliere and Lady Elizabeth, standing in the middle of the hallways and apparently quite involved in their conversation.

He tried to sneak past them, but it was too late; they'd already seen him. "Where are you headed off to, Randa?" Teliere greeted him.

"I was just going for a ride, Father," he said, linking his hands behind his back and trying to avoid looking his father in the eyes.

"Ah." Lord Teliere frowned. "Is it just my imagination, or have you been going for an awful lot of rides lately?"

"I think so too," Elizabeth put in. "One would almost think you don't like it here." She lowered her eyes modestly, then gazed at him through her lashes.

"It's not that," he said hastily. "I just enjoy getting some fresh air once in a while, especially around this time of the year. The scenery is so pretty, you know, with the leaves changing color and everything."

"I suppose that's true," Lady Elizabeth said, sounding doubtful.

"Go ahead and go on your ride, Randa," his father said. "I'm not going to stop you, but just don't stay gone for too long. And if you have to go in the Forest, don't go wandering off the path like you did before. And--"

He nodded, interrupting. "I know, I know. I'll be back soon." With that, he left quickly, before his father could think of anything else with which to delay his departure.

Tiere greeted him with a wave as soon as he arrived in the courtyard. Randa grinned, relieved at being back among people he could actually get along with, and returned the wave.

"Goin' for another ride today?" Tiere asked when he was within earshot, busily at work grooming Charger.

"Yeah. How'd you know?"

Tiere straightened and grinned. "Well, it's gettin' to be a daily event now, ain't it?"

Randa shrugged, then smiled; Tiere's grin, as always, was quite infectious. "I guess so. The Keep has been particularly annoying lately."

"Ah." Placing aside the hoof pick, the man picked up Charger's saddle and bridle, hung over the bars on the stall door. "Ye know, that reminds me. My lil' Ari told me the other day to ask me the next time I talked to ye whether or not ye still remembered the last conversation the two o' ye had."

For a moment he was confused; when comprehension dawned, he was quite impressed. Making sure my father didn't wipe my memories without actually telling anyone else about it. Clever, Ari. Very clever.

He nodded. "I do remember, yes."

Tiere sighed. "An' I suppose ye won't be any more willin' to tell me what mischief ye two are gettin' yerselves into, either."

He shook his head. "Sorry, Tiere. You don't need to worry about it."

"I will anyway." He grinned at Randa, belying his words of worry. "There ye go, an' I think Charger's about as ready to be gettin' outta the Keep as ye are."

It certainly seemed that way; the bay stallion was quite eager to get going, and started walking almost before Randa was settled into the saddle. Within moments, he was on his way, cantering along the Forest road.

Jenny leaned against the wall of the house, heaving a sigh. Ari was being most stubborn, and still refusing to tell her a single word of what had transpired between her and Lord Randa yesterday that had made them both look so very serious. Naturally, her sister's continued refusal just made her all the more curious. It couldn't possibly be the "nothing" Ari kept claiming it was; the two of them had looked almost depressed, and casual conversation wouldn't make a person look that way.

She was going to find out what was going on, no matter how stubborn Ari was. Maybe she could annoy Lord Randa enough to make him give in; after all, he was an only child, so he wouldn't have as much experience at dealing with a younger sibling's nosiness as Ari did. Or even if he wouldn't tell her either, she could get Grandpa Tiere to ferret out the details. After all, he and the Lord were supposed to be friends, right?
With a sigh of frustration, Jenny walked around the house to the garden, where Ari and her mother were crouched in the dirt, working. "Ari," she said petulantly, trying not to whine, "would you please tell me what you an' Lord Randa was talkin' about the other day? I just wanna know; what harm's that gonna do?"

Ari glared up at her sister. "Jenny, I told you, it's nothin'. Would you stop botherin' me about it already?"

Jenny rolled her eyes heavenward in exasperation. Why was Ari being so closemouthed about their conversation, anyway? Whatever it was, it couldn't be that important for her not to know about.

Her thoughts were interrupted by the sound of hooves, approaching their front gate. She listened as they paused in front of their house; well, at least she could guess who it was. The only people likely to be riding to their house at noon were Grandpa Tiere and Lord Randa, and it was likely Lord Randa. After all, he'd visited the past two days, so why not today as well?

"Your young Lord again?" she heard her mother ask Ari, quietly.

"He's not my young Lord," Ari protested, but rose to her feet and waved a greeting.

Turning, Jenny was greeted by the sight of Lord Randa dismounting. Ari went to greet him; Jenny quietly followed and ducked behind a bush to listen, hoping they wouldn't notice her.

"Hello," Ari said, taking the horse by the reins.

"Hello," Randa said, smiling. "I hope you don't mind me showing up here again, but I had to get out of the Keep for a little while."

Ari returned the smile. "Hey, I did say you could visit whenever you wanted, didn't I?"

"Yeah," he agreed, then added, in a much lower voice obviously not meant to be overheard, "Getting Tiere to see if I still remembered without telling him any details was brilliant, by the way. I probably wouldn't have been that clever."

Jenny was itching to burst out from the bush and start asking questions: see if he still remembered what? Not telling him what details? And what did Tiere have to do with any of it?

She managed to keep from blowing her cover, barely. Ari's cheeks turned a light shade of pink. "Thanks, but it 'twas nothin', really," she said in an equally quiet voice, then left to take Randa's horse to the stables.

Jenny was entirely lost in her thoughts for the next few moments, trying to figure out what, exactly, all this secrecy was necessary for. She didn't even notice when Lord Randa came to stand right next to the bush she was hiding in. She did notice when a voice to the right suddenly asked, "Spying, are we?"

She thought she actually must have levitated for a moment. Whirling around, she glared at him. "Don't do that! You scared me!"

"Sorry," he said with a grin, sounding completely unrepentant. "Were you trying to spy on our conversation?"

"Wasn't tryin', I was succeedin'," she told him frankly. "What the heck is goin' on? What were you two talkin' about yesterday? What's all this about not rememberin' stuff? An' what does Grandpa Tiere gotta do with it?"

He raised an eyebrow. "It's nothing, all right? Don't be spying on us again."

Jenny, seeing Ari approaching from the stables, tried to dart away before her sister could reach her. Randa, unfortunately, moved quickly, grabbing her by the sleeve and holding her there.

Ari sighed, looking from Jenny to Randa and back again. "Was she spyin'?"

"It would seem that way," Randa said agreeably.

"I wanna know what's goin' on!" Jenny wailed.

"Ain't nothin' you need to worry about," Ari told her. "Look--I ain't gonna tell Momma you been spyin' this time, but if you ever do it again, I will. An' you know the lecture you'll get."

Jenny gulped, not looking forward to the thought of a lecture from her mother on respecting the privacy of others. Instead of arguing, she nodded, hoping to get away from her sister before Ari changed her mind and turned her over to her mother now.

Randa let go of her sleeve then; she scampered off at once, darting inside the house and closing the door behind her. Once within, she collapsed within her father's armchair, heaving a sigh. It seemed like all that spying had gotten her was even more unanswered questions.

Oh well. No one could keep a secret forever, right? It would get out one of these days. And when it did, Jenny had every intention of being the first person to know all about it.