Talsun wrapped his fingers around the black ribbon that Mersera, Rytvaire's daughter, had given him. His fingers were entangled in the rope, drifting back and forth across the silky texture. At times he even brought the fabric to his nose, trying to remember where he had smelled that scent before. With a sigh Talsun observed the clock and was deeply anxious as the hands pointed to a quarter past two. Zxalvia had not been here when he had returned to the room more than three hours ago, and for a while he was able to brush it off because she was so incompetent. She most likely couldn't even read a clock, but as the minutes slowly turned into hours, a slight worry burned in the pit of his stomach.

Through journaling what had happened so far he was able to brush off some of this feeling, but writing only went so far in one night. Talsun was now pacing in front of the fire, sweat forming along his forehead. In his mind he figured the temperature must have risen and he brushed his jacket off and carefully folded it. After setting on a chair, he began another round of pacing while he still stroked the ribbon with an increasing force as his step rose in speed. After long moments he realized that he was now simply rubbing his fingers against each, giving them a raw and chapped look. Allowing his gaze to drift downward, Talsun saw what remained of Mersera's black tie, two broken pieces, each faded to a dull gray at one end.

With deep shame and confusion Talsun sunk into a large chair, feeling alone despite the cradling of the cushions. Slowly he rubbed his hands on his face, trying to smooth out the lines of worry and frustration. How did someone so intolerable and impossible plague his mind and fears so often? Zxalvia was a knife in his side, if he kept her in there was an infection and if he pulled her out he would bleed to death! Since their first meeting they had butted heads, but somehow then they had been friends. It seemed so long ago, but he remembered that day like the moment was now…

A gangly girl of about 13 years swung a stick at a bag stuffed with straw. The dummy was elevated with a stake that stuck in the ground, and stood its ground as this youngster beat at it. Her hair was messy and a dull brown, cut short and hanging in her bright eyes. With dirty clothes that seemed three times to large and plain looks, it didn't seem she would get very far except as a kitchen assistant. Little did she know that she was being watched by someone who was very intrigued by her skill, or lack of it.

Slowly a boy stepped into the court yard, still unseen by the kitchen girl. Her face was hard and determined, jabbing and hitting the bag figure over and over again. Gently this young man touched her shoulder, which turned out to be a very stupid thing to do. Startled, the girl twirled around and kicked him in the chest, causing him to fall on his back. Fiercely she aimed the stick at his heart, examining this person in the dirt. He looked to be about 16, a couple years her senior. With reddish hair and golden eyes he seemed almost foreign to her, but something told her he was definitely from around here. Probably his prudish clothes and the way he was staring at her like he owned her or something. This only caused her greater dislike for him, and she refused to lower her "weapon".

"What do ya want?" Her voice was slightly wavered, but she held her gaze. Pa had always taught this one that a look in a man's eyes could determine whether they would win or not. She hardly blinked as she stared at this courtier.

"Why, I didn't mean to frighten you, I don't mean any harm at all," the boy smiled brightly. This girl was so barbaric, and she was so perfect.

"Well, fine then. But you still haven't told me why you are buggin' me!" The girl jabbed her stick a little farther into this boy's good clothes. She was sure he had plenty more in his precious castle.

"Perhaps if you removed your stick and let me stand up I might tell you." This girl was a pain. She was exactly what he needed, but still a pain.

Slowly she lowered her stick, and watched as he didn't get up. He stared at her as if expecting some sort of…something. "What is it now?"

"Aren't you going to help me up?"


Shocked the boy looked at her, and then angrily got up. By the time he dusted himself off he was all smiles once more. She didn't trust him, he seemed like a schemer.

"So, what is your name?" He asked, trying to look innocent.

"Zxalvia Mersdaughter, who are you and what do ya want?" Flowery talk and beating around the bush was a rich-persons thing. Zxalvia didn't have time for stuff like that.

Slightly put out by her forwardness the boy answered, "I am Talsun son of Duke Charles of Candirth. The reason I am here is to make you an offer you can't refuse." He smiled again, smiles always worked on the girls.

Zxalvia just stared at him, waiting. "So?"

"What do you mean, "So"?"

"So what is your offer thing?"

Being with this girl gave him a dirty taste in his mouth. Talsun thought his brain must be frying with each moment spent with her. He tried to quicken it up. "Alright, here is the problem. I am very studious and enjoy my studies very much. My father thinks that I need more than just knowledge to be a duke, and has hired a master of weapons and war to tutor me along with my other studies. This man has never seen me, and my father would never actually see me perform. This master would simply send him reports of my progress." He paused for a moment and looked at Zxalvia. She just stared at him blankly so he continued. "Anyway, I do not have any desire to know how to handle a sword, so I have decided I will secretly train someone to be the commander for my someday army, since I am to be Duke someday and will need someone to control all the fighting. Thoroughly I have searched each boy who is learning to be a knight, and even the servants, but, alas, have come back each time empty handed." Talsun's voice became dramatic and his eyes were distant as if to fill with tears.

"Ok, so what does this all have to do with me?" It was getting late and this guy's talk was boring her. Why couldn't he just get to the point?

Glaring Talsun answered, "I need you to pretend to be a boy and have my fighting lessons for me." He hated this girl already.

"What's in it for me?"

"You would learn to fight! Isn't that what you want to do? Become a soldier, and get out of having ten kids that all work for the King?"

It was Zxalvia's turn to look into the air and glance into nothing but future she could hold. All the places she could go, and all the glory she could own seemed so much closer in reach. Quickly she looked into this noble's eyes and replied, "Yes! I will do it."

Talsun smiled broadly, a real smile. The way his lips curled were almost evil, but now looked only like boyish accomplishment. So ecstatic he whispered, "Deal," and kissed Zxalvia on the cheek. She gave him one hard look, and kicked him in the groin. Blood rushed to his face and Talsun fell over in pain, making Zxalvia smile. She loudly said, "Deal," and walked away…

The clock chiming 3:00 in the morning brought Talsun back into reality. Again his stomach clenched and his thoughts drifted to all the things that could be happening. Then he thought back on that memory of their meeting, and the absurd and brilliant events to later take place. The scheme went on for four years, and during that time Talsun and Zxalvia had found ways to forget about how they hated each other and almost be best friends. Talsun taught Zxalvia some basic reading, writing and arithmetic while she instructed him on how to hold a sword, or at least tried.

That was a beautiful time and everything went wonderfully until Zxalvia's seventeenth birthday. The day Talsun's father had died and he became a man. Through those trials they seemed to only grow closer, until the fated day where it all fell apart.

Just as Talsun's mind replayed his memories most hated chapters, the wooden door opened gracefully. A lone, smiling figure drifted in the room as if dancing. Talsun couldn't help but feel a wave of shock overtake his body as he watched Zxalvia float towards him in a ruined dress, staring through him with a love struck expression marked on her face. He feared for the worst.

Realizing she didn't even recognize his presence, Talsun cleared his throat. It was her turn to be scared, as she nearly jumped 2 feet and turned around to find the one and only Duke Talsun smirking at her. Zxalvia gave him her signature glare, making him jump for joy on the inside. She wasn't completely lost.

"So, have a fun night?" Talsun continued to smile brightly at the woman and her sorry state.

"I'm sure it wasn't half as entertaining as you and your little lady friend had. Manage to slip into her stockings, or are you saving that for tomorrow?" Zxalvia kept staring him down, hate pulsing from her eyes. She had never been able to hide her emotions well in his opinion.

The accusation only made him equally as annoyed, and the stress and anxiety made it impossible to hide. Sharply he said back, "No, but I don't expect that you are a pure little soldier anymore, now are you? Ladies don't spend half the night with men just talking, now do they Zxalvia?"

Her eyes flashed dangerously and Talsun almost regretted what he said. But regret never did suit him. "No! It wasn't like that at all. You don't even know the Count. He is a gentleman and you can actually believe him when he says something, unlike some people." More daggers shot from her eyes and she threw her arms up in frustration.

"What are you talking about? You don't know him either! Look at yourself, you are acting crazy. Throwing yourself at someone who kidnapped you like they are your savior doesn't even make sense Zxalvia. And to think that I thought things were going well and might actually work out between us finally. That is now impossible since I can't look at you without being disgusted! Just go away Zxalvia I don't want to be near you anymore." Talsun closed his eyes and tried to block out all noise.

He could feel Zxalvia just staring at him. Suddenly she sharply whispered, "There was never anything between us Talsun. All we can do is hate each other, and for good reason. You ruined everything a long time ago. And now you have just reassured that you cannot make anything good out of anything. You just destroy everyone's lives around you, and laugh while you're doing it. You are a monster." She spat out the last sentence and it burned into his skin like thousands of brands making him writhe in pain. But her never said a word, simply listened as she walked out of the room, and again he was left alone.