"Gentlemen! Gentlemen! I suggest we all relax and speak one at a time, I would hardly like to have Lady Elana, our honoured guest, think that we are like mere children!"

The woman was sorely tempted to roll her eyes at Councilman Roth's chiding. The Inner Council were like children. Weak, helpless men who could not foresee the consequences of their actions if it were emblazoned on the side of their castles. Roth had done extraordinarily well, surrounding himself with only the most hapless of advisors, men who would follow his rule to the ends of the earth for fear that they would be stripped of their positions. And Darius, poor weak Darius. The thought of the boy brought a small smile to the woman's lips. He was a mere pawn his entire life, ignored by his mother, abused by his father and led around like a mere pack mule by the one man he trusted.

"Prince Exeter would have routed the Renians for this outrage if he were still alive!" one man shouted.

"Yes, well Prince Exeter is not alive and now his son, Prince Darius has gone to meet him."

"How do we know this Lord Roth? Surely the Renians would have left some sign of their entrance to the palace? Would Prince Darius have not called for aid if he were attacked?"

Roth growled under his breath at the man. The Duke was perhaps the only council member who could find his own horse in a stable, but he was far too loyal to the bastard whelp, Darius. Unfortunately, the Duke was the only permanent member of council, his position hereditary and only removable by treason or death—both of which took far more time to contrive than Roth currently had at his disposal. "Duke Bolton, that is pure speculation—"

Bolton laughed, "and so are your conclusions, Councilman Roth."

"We must be prepared for the worst case scenario. As such, it is imperative we assume Darius to be dead. In this case, with Solan so young, the Council must act as regent while Lady Elana rears him in Darius' stead."

"And who is this Lady Elana that she is entrusted with rearing our prince?" another voice drawled.

At this, Elana looked up at the speaker amused. The lord in question met her gaze briefly and then quickly sat down again. Just looking at her was sufficient. Roth glared at the council member, his dark eyes practically burning holes into the other man.

"I am the half-sister of the late Prince Exeter and as such, I am Solan's great aunt and his next of kin." Her voice took on an imperial tone, efficiently conveying her thoughts to the gangly, balding man who had challenged her. The man was clearly another of those who, if not for the backing of Councilman Roth, would have been set to cleaning the stables years ago. Elana briefly considered sending a spike of fear through the man's heart, but quelled the thought. There was no need to flaunt, or even hint at her powers. Sorceresses weren't exactly welcome in Davenport any longer. Instead she pasted a small smile onto her features and nodded graciously.

"Councilman, I apologize for interrupting your meeting, but I am tired from my journey. I think I shall retire shortly. First, however, where is my nephew?"

Roth sighed. "You may find Prince Solan with the sword master. The boy should just be through with his history lessons, and he tends to run to the training corral as quickly as possible."

"The sword master! Solan is barely six years of age. Why is he allowed to witness such violence?"

Roth looked uncomfortable at the shriek which escaped Elana. Women were far too queasy and protective when it came to war and children. "It was Prince Exeter's wish that Solan be taught the art of war at a young age, and it was Prince Darius' decision to honour this."

Elana made a sound of disapproval and with a swish of her skirts exited the council chambers in search of her grandnephew.

Roth frowned at her back. She made a tall, dark, imposing figure—obviously kin to their dead Prince. The woman was, however, far too controlling. If she tampered with Solan's regimen she would have to be dealt with accordingly. Each of the boy's teachers and playmates were hand selected by himself and Exeter—no one would get in their way.

"Councilman, have you considered sending a party to the Renians? Perhaps they would be willing to trade for Prince Darius."

Roth turned his attention away from Elana's shrinking form and to the weasel-like man who had spoken. He shook himself briefly. Women were all sensitive when it came to children. Elana was Exeter's sister—half-sister perhaps, but flesh and blood nevertheless. She would cause no trouble.

His eyes rested upon the man that had spoken. "Ah, Councilman Jena that is an excellent idea. Perhaps we should all discuss this possibility. A diplomatic party could be the answer to all of our problems."

Roth surveyed the room's opulence. Davenport's coffers would soon be at his beck and call. And perhaps, later on, in Prince Solan's hands—the rightful ruler of Davenport.

-----------

Darius sank to the stone floor. There was no way out of the cell. The lone window was located high above, its iron gratings strong and too close together to permit escape. The door was barred from the outside and unmovable, its opening far too small for even a head to fit through. And then there was Lithara. The woman had finally ceased her pleading. After her eerie pronouncement she had burst into hysterical laughter that had sent shivers up his spine. Then just as suddenly, she had began sobbing again.

A shiver traveled up his spine as he observed the sobbing woman. The beautiful, strong, somewhat rebellious woman he had married was no more. In her place was a half-crazed, emotionally and physically fragile creature. For a brief moment, Darius allowed himself to feel the pity he harboured for her—he had loved her once, shared her bed and—and he thought they would raise their children together.

Anger hardened his heart once more at the memory of her sobbing confession. No, this woman did not deserve his pity. This woman deserved her years of solitude. If anyone, he deserved pity. All his life he had been lied to, ignored, abused, rejected, and now cheated on. A harsh laugh escaped him as he looked at his hands. He had no purpose for existence—his son was no longer his and his country would probably fall to the barbarians within the year.

Lithara looked down to meet his eyes. Her tears had ceased their flowing and her blue eyes sparkled with those still unshed. Darius felt his throat constrict at the sight of her. The one thing in his life that had come to him of it's own free will—not because of his father—but through his own merits. She too had thought him a fool. A mere child to be twisted to suit her own purposes. How they must have laughed at him!

"I never meant to hurt you, Darius."

Darius looked at her, his expression blank. It was as if he had used up his store of emotion—there was nothing left to say or do. There was only time. Time to wait, time to die.

Lithara's eyes hardened at his unresponsiveness. "You bastard. Listen to me! We must escape. Solan, our son, needs our help. We must escape."

"Our son, Lithara? We have no son."

"A father is much more than flesh and blood Prince Darius Laen of Davenport. You of all people should know that. In the same way a prince, a ruler, is more than just a bloodline. You are as bad as Exeter if you do nothing."

"Do not mention his name," Darius spat angrily. "That man has done all he could to ruin my life from its outset. I am shocked he did not have me killed in my mother's womb. He beat me, ridiculed me, slept with my wife, stole my first born, and now my freedom and my crown!" Darius began to laugh hysterically. "Even from beyond the grave he tortures me! So, dear wife, do not dare mention that man's name in my presence."

"You dare speak of hardship? You have been free for the past two years. You have been able to breathe fresh air. Drink fresh water that does not taste of bitter metals. Your servants have catered to your every whim! You have been free of your father. Free to rule Davenport. Free to raise Solan."

Lithara's face was flushed. Her voice hoarse, yet powerful. Her eyes flashing in anger. Even with her powers restricted for the past two years, Darius could feel the pure power rolling off her in tidal waves. If she were unrestrained her anger would surely have thrown him against wall as easily as a child would throw a doll in the midst of a tantrum.

"Do you know what I have suffered, Darius? Exeter pursued me for years. Years! I dared not harm him. And you would never listen to my warnings of his treachery. He threatened your life so many times. So many times he told me that I could not protect you. Do you not see? That is why I had to sleep with him. It was the only way to spare your life. It was only until after Solan's birth that I realized his true intentions. With Solan he had the perfect leverage—I could not let him harm my child. "So you see," she said matter-of-factly, "I had no choice. I had to kill him."

A loud grating sound interrupted any response from Darius as the cell door's shutters were opened. They turned to see the greasy face of the dungeon master that had served as Lithara's only companion for two years. The man smirked. "And how are we enjoying our stay, Prince Darius? I apologize for the lack of finery, but it is the best cell I could muster on such short notice you see. Councilman, or should I say Regent Roth—that does have quite a nice ring to it, ain't it? Yes, Regent Roth gave me quite short notice it was. But I must say you do at least get good company. The crazy wench bites and screams on occasion, but she ain't bad to look at, at least. An' I'm figuring since you her husband an' everything, tis in your rights to—should I say—claim your husbandly dues?"

"You bastard," Lithara growled, accurately aiming her spit at his left eye.

"You bitch! You are lucky I haven't taken you myself. If it weren't for Roth's rules I would have tamed you already."

"Desist your sniveling you traitorous rat."

"What's the matter, Princey? Still defending the bitch? Even after she slept with your father, it was? She probably spread her legs for every member of the council too. I wonder if it's even possible to figure out who fathered her whelp."

Darius glared angrily and stood, aiming his spit in the direction of his mocker. He lacked Lithara's practice, however, and barely made contact with the man's ear.

It was enough however, and the dungeon master unlocked the door with haste, arming himself with his whip and short dagger. "You're not as lucky as the whore, Princey. You see, Roth didn't leave any special rules about you—I think it be high time loyal old Drayne got to 'ave some fun." He opened the door, shutting it behind him and faced Darius with a nearly toothless grin. "Ever been whipped, boy?"

-----------

A young boy, no more than six years of age, stood in the smaller of several training corrals. In one hand he bore a wooden dagger, and in the other a wooden short sword. His shoulder long brown hair streaked a lighter shade by the sun. Facing him was a large, older man holding a shield and a short sword of his own. The man was obviously beyond his prime years, but his years as a warrior granted him thick muscles and fast reflexes that had not disappeared with the onset of gray hairs.

"Now Prince Solan, what do you when someone strikes you like this?!"

The boy feinted to the right, using his dagger to block the man's swing. His movements left his entire left side open, so he pivoted quickly, attempting to strike the man's defenseless back with his sword. The sword master laughed heartily and struck the boy lightly on the side with his shield.

"Not a bad idea, lad. Not a bad idea at all, but you forget! A shield is not merely for defense."

"Yes, Sir Bredgan," he responded quietly. In truth, while he enjoyed talking to and learning from the giant of a man, the art of warfare was the furthest thing from his mind. He had lost his mother at the young age of two to the same assassin that murdered his grandfather, and now the Renians had taken his father. At the age of six, he was an orphan. An orphan who had to eventually rule a country.

"Again, Solan," Alex Bredgan said. Looking at the boy sympathetically he placed at hand on Solan's shoulder. "Buck up lad, there is hope to find your father yet." He smiled. "Mayhap you can accompany a search party if the Regent is agreeable."

"Sir Alexander Bredgan, I shall thank you to not put such thoughts into my nephew's head."

"Lady Elana," the knight said, bowing slightly. "I assure you, milady, Solan is quite able to accompany a small troop, he and his father have done so in the past."

Elana sniffed and straightened in an attempt to look even more imposing. The man still several inches taller, but she men his even stare with a small glare of her own. "And I assure you, Bredgan, that my nephew will be doing no such thing. Darius may have taken Solan with him on small jaunts, but the battle field or a camp is no place for a boy."

"And you are not my mother," the boy said fiercely. "Sir Bredgan—"

"Solan Elladan Laen, you are naught but a child. Show your aunt the respect she deserves lad or she'll take a whip to ya hide."

Elana hid a smirk. Alex Bredgan may be a grown knight, but he was still the playmate she remembered. Silently thanking whatever power let it be that he and not some other hothead knight was her nephew's mentor, she smiled at Solan. "I know I cannot take the place of your parents, Solan. That is not my job, I only seek to ensure your continued safety and education to become Davenport's ruler."

Alex's face darkened slightly at the use of the word 'job,' but he remained silent. The Elana he remembered was stern, but kind, clever and caring. It was obvious that she cared for Solan's wellbeing, but it was up to the child whether or not he was willing to see that.

Slightly abashed the boy bowed his head in deference and mumbled a halfhearted apology.

Alex laughed heartily at the petulant expression on his Solan's face. "Come now lad, I know you 'aven't had a chance to know your aunt, but the lady Elana is nothing less than a lady and you will treat her with properly." He winked at Elana and turned to face the boy expectantly.

Elana smiled at Alex and then again at Solan. "Tis alright, Alex. The boy has suffered much."

"I'm not a little boy," Solan protested.

A small tinkling laugh from Elana silenced his protests. "Oh Solan, when you have had forty long winters like Sir Bredgan and I, it is difficult to imagine you as anything but." She looked up at Alex questioningly, "are you and Solan through?"

He nodded. "Aye, we're about done for the day, milady."

"Well then, Solan it is about time you come in and have a bath before supper."

"A bath!" the boy's eyes widened and Elana laughed at the pure derision in his exclamation.

"Yes, young man, a bath! How else did you think Sir Bredgan here became one of Davenport's most celebrated knights?"

Alex nodded solemnly, his eyes twinkling at the smile Elana was trying valiantly to hide. "Aye lad! It was one of my secrets. Frequent baths do well for a man's body. Helps him grow up to be strong."

Solan looked at his elders doubtfully. "If I bathe will you tell me a story before supper, Auntie Elana?"

The woman smiled softly. For all his airs, he was still a six year old who had lost his parents. "Of course I will."

"Will you join us, Sir Bredgan?" he asked excitedly. "I remember when Auntie Elana visited us last year, she knows the bestest stories."

"Best," Elana and Alex corrected together.

Solan rolled his eyes. "You two sound like teacher Flamingo."

"Flamingo?" Elana repeated slowly.

A grin lit up Solan's boyish face. "It is a bird! Bright reddish pink with really long legs and neck. Papa brought a few home last year."

"Your teacher's name is Flamingo?" she repeated doubtfully as Alex roared with laughter.

"May as well be. The teacher is some scholar from Estrua that Darius met one day. Name is Lorn, I believe," Alex's mouth twitched. "Personally, I think Flamingo is much more suitable."

"Instilling more bad habits in my nephew, Bredgan?" Elana asked amused.

"Wait and see, Ella," he said with a fond smile. "Wait and see."

----------

"Ever been whipped, boy?"

The man's voice reverberated in Darius' mind. Over and over and over again. He had done his best. Weaponless and hungry, he was ill prepared to defend himself against the dungeon master and his whip. He flinched slightly as the tattered remains of his shirt touched one particularly painful welt. That bloody man had taken perverse enjoyment in inflicting pain. Now Darius' back was covered in whip marks, his shirt bloody and his ears still ringing from Lithara's angry shrieks.

After the dungeon master—Drayne he said was his name—had finished, he had laughed and mockingly bowed to Darius. Anger welled up again at the thought of the man. He was disgusting, and utterly despicable. How someone of that caliber had come into the employ of the throne he did not know.

Darius sighed to himself. Of course he knew.

Roth.

The very thought of the man sent waves of anger flowing through Darius' body.

"Dar, your hatred will do you no good," Lithara's soft voice called to him. Preserve your strength for when the true fight comes."

"Shut up, Li!" He had long ago come to the conclusion that the woman had long gone mad. A small pang of regret went through him at the memory of Lithara in all her wedding finery—and again of her tired face and body the day of Solan's birth.

"Awww—is Princey not being very co-operative Princess?" the slightly nasal sound came from the grating in the door.

"What do you want you foul man?" Lithara asked angrily.

Drayne chuckled. "Now, now, don't go bein' mean to little old Drayne when he is here to help you."

"Help us?" she asked incredulously. "What are you to do? Give Darius another twenty stripes?"

The door unlocked and opened, revealing the man carrying a large tray of food. "It seems Regent Roth wants you two to keep your strength." He looked admiringly at the foods on the tray. "You're lucky Drayne already ate his fill. This is what's left." Selecting one more tart from the tray and putting it in his pocket, he placed the tray on the floor. "Eat your fill kiddies. I'll be back in a moment."

Darius glared at the man's retreating back. If only he had some strength left! The man had closed the door but left it unlocked.

"Ignore the door, Darius. Pass me a bun, if you please."

Darius looked at Lithara, astonished by the prim voice. "We are in a bloody dungeon, Lithara, not the dinner table. Get your own bun," he said angrily.

Her laughter reminded him of the Yule bells that the children played with at the Yule dinner, and his heart tightened at the thought of missing Solan's facial expression at the horse he had gotten him. Hopefully the stable hands would be intelligent enough to make sure he got the horse anyway.

"Ah, I am back and no words of welcome?"

Darius and Lithara glared at the dungeon master's reappearance. "Now, now. Let's have none of that. I see you 'aven't eaten! Why I wonder why that may be. Hmmm. Ah Princey, you cannae move! How could Drayne forget. And you, Princess, why you're all tied up."

"Get to the point," Lithara said tiredly.

"Why the Princess speaks! She doesn't have ta always shriek like she goes on about. I wonder if she'll stop that bitin' next," the man mused.

At the glare of pure anger from Lithara, Drayne laughed. "Don't you mind me, missy. Why, Drayne is just 'ere to untie the Princess. It don't just seem fair to 'ave all that food there with the Princey no moving and the Princess all tied up, now don't it?"

He moved closer to the Lithara with a small smirk. She raised her head, meeting his eyes and refusing to flinch as his filthy hands caressed her bare arm.

"Unhand her you uncouth pig!"

Drayne looked at Darius with something akin to disbelief. "Ye'd defend the Princess 'ere even if she slept wit ya father? Oh, Princey. Ye have less balls than I'd a thought." Drayne shook his head disappointedly as he unlocked Lithara's chains.

The golden coloured shackles that restrained her powers gleamed, even in the poor light and Lithara looked at them ruefully. "I do not suppose you would be willing to take these off too, Drayne?" she asked with a sweet smile.

The dungeon master laughed. "I ain't that stupid yet, missy. There's a rag an' some water over there. Clean his wounds and eat your fill," he said, gesturing to the yet untouched tray. Caressing Lithara's cheek, he smiled at her and left.

When he was gone, Lithara turned to face her husband.

"Now, Darius. Behave yourself and listen carefully. I have a plan."


A/N: I've gone back to the first chapter and changed Solan's age to six so it fits with this chapter.

Diamond-dust: Thank you very very much for your review! I'm glad you like the story thus far. I'll try to update as often as I can (which sadly, isn't very often). LOL, i've gotten a few comments on Lithara. Basically, she is supposed to be inconsistant, fickle and a little (if not a lot) crazy with moments of her older personality--that is, the sweet/loving but slightly tough sorceress. I'm actually also kinda glad you didn't like Darius. I don't like him either. But his weakness is an asset and we'll see how he turns out in the end.

Weathered: Thank you for the review and the encouragement. I'm definitely going to be working on Betrayal and AFD a little more equally now.

Tawnyfawn: LMAO. Medieval Jerry!!! With the awesome bouncers and everything. Thanks for the review and theCC! As I saidearlier, Lithara is a little crazy and has her own little plans, so never expect her to act in just one particular manner. As for the dungeon/dungeon master--I should have specified in the chapter--when I said royal dungeon, I meant dungeon for prisoners of the crown. As such, the dungeon really isn't going to be put to much use when the perfectly normal dungeon is used for everyone but say--captured royalty or nobility. I'll try to fit that in somewhere...somehow.

Kitsune Boy: Awww...you get a cookie for being Betrayal's first reviewer.Thank you so much for the review and for adding me to your favourites!

All of you, I promise I will get around to reviewing something of yours if I haven't already. I feel that reviews are incredibly important to an author--not only as encouragement/motivation, but also for constructive crit and improvement, so I will do my best to return reviews. Not just because you've reviewed me, but because it's always good to help out a fellow author :)

Til next time,

Danica