Chapter One

The Beginning

"No, I don't wish to negotiate, I want them all killed."

The sharp words of the King Destor rang out through the silence of the large room, decisive and deadly. His advisers looked on in stunned silence, as well as the Captain of the Guards, Royal Chamberlain, and Minister of War who were gathered to advise their Lord in the crowded chamber.

"My Lord, the entire royal family of Renair? It is not..."

"SILENCE!" The King boomed, his eyes glittering wildly. It had been his plan from the very beginning, Renair was standing in his way, a blockade to his triumph. With the royal family of Renair removed, he would tuck yet another country under his belt, another treasury to add to his own, and most importantly, another crown.

Phitor, the Captain of the Guards, was not to be deterred. The King saw the determined set of his jaw and knew what was coming. "My Lord, I do not advise this action, it might very well be your downfall. Think of the loyal citizens of Renair! The death of their King and Queen will spin a revolt. If they call foul your rule will be in jeopardy, it's better to ease into position gradually without raising alarm. My Lord, if you only listen to reason..."

The King silenced the tirade with a violent jab of his hand. He was a man of massive porportions, and any move on his part was intimidating. "I am not a fool, Phitor, I don't need you telling me things I already know. I am King of two countries other than my own, what is Renair to my growing reach of power? You have not opposed the invasion of Mustak?"

Phitor's lips thinned. "Mustak was a country of divided power, Your Majesty, the people had no governing King; merely tribes and city-states. Renair will not be the same."

The King waved away his Captain's logic, he knew it well enough for himself. "The people of Renair are unsuspecting, they have long been a people of peace and with the Peace Treaty from the Golden Days they will suspect nothing. The time to strike is now."

"Yes, but the people! Their loyalty does not waver..." Phitor began, but Equin, King Destor's Minister of War cut in suddenly, having regained his composure from the first, startling announcement.

"Your majesty, you may control Renair yet, but perhaps you should go about it a more peaceable way." His dark eyes glittered beneath heavy brows. Equin was an older man, yet his hair was still mostly dark and his face was not completely given way to wrinkles. His quick wit and a cunning ruthlessness had found him the honorable position in the King's court of Minister of War. "Why not form an alliance between Bolast and Renair? Marriage is always a quick solution to such a problem.."

The King scoffed, "The King and Queen have no daughters, just the heir, Prince Bronan..."

Equin smiled indulgently. "I was speaking of the young Countess, Sire, the daughter of the King's sister. She comes from Canaris blood, her great grandmother was Queen Aeridia The Great. Ballads are still sung of her in Renair's halls. The people of Renair remember the Canaris rulers, they won't revolt against one of their own lightly, especially one of so prestigous a line. Most importantly she has blue blood, without falling in immediate suspicion of being used to gain the Crown."

The King heard his Advisor's suggestion out, slumping in his thrown contemplatively. It was reasonable, he admitted, much more practical, really, than simply invading the country. Destor was not a patient man but he did wish to secure the loyalty of the people, and what better way of doing so than by marriage to a child of such an ancient and trusted lineage?

He thought of his son, the Crowned Prince Cialan Olandret and the possibility of the alliance.The boy was the mirror image of his mother with his white-blonde hair and stunning blue eyes. He dressed lavishly and was known for his extravagant feasts and balls.

Courtesian fop. He thought derisively. His son was a dandy, through and through; though his appearance often disguised a cruel and calculating interior. A court decoration he may be, but he had cunning. The Stradivari girl could be potentially very useful, and the peasant's were known for their love of her mother Eladnor le Canaris. He would consider the proposal but would wait before accepting his Advisers instruction. He would not be considered weak and easily swayed to his men.

"I will reach a decision after much thought," He said simply, but menacingly enough that no one could find the gumption to argue with the decree. "Now leave my presence, I wish to have silence."

His High Advisers and lords obeyed immediately.

The King had spoken.

xXXXx

SMASH!

The screeching of metal against metal rang out sharply across the open courtyard; two figures circled around each other, their rapier's dashing at each other in a dance of silver. A jeering crowd of teenaged boys looked on, their amusement evident.

"Stop wiggling around like a fish, Ta--"

Talinsa silenced her cousin with an sudden, fierce attack that the boy had wholly unexpected.

"It's Fedik, flea-brain!" Talinsa hissed, eyes flashing liquid fire.

Bronan just laughed, finding a weak spot in her wildly executed attack and pushing her back again, banging his sword away at her face. She has no clue what she's doing with that blade.

"As you wish, Fedik!" He teased, smirking gratingly at his slight cousin. Sweat poured down the side of his flushed face. He wouldn't have been so worked up over an untrained opponent such as Talinsa if he had not been practicing with Rydon into three consecutive duels earlier. He wondered at her determination to beat someone older, stronger, and actually trained, but then again he knew Talinsa, and he knew she often tried to do things she ought to know were impossible. "You're not fooling any one, baby cousin. You've never held a sword in your life!" Bronan watched for the familiar reddening of her face that marked he'd pushed her buttons. He smiled broadly when her face turned as red as a tomato.

"Shut up, Bronan!" Talinsa squealed in frustration, her dignity stung. She'd secretly practiced in the inner courtyard for several days with her cousin's practice swords and stupidly thought herself ready. It was clear now, however, she'd been seriously deceived. She thought she could borrow a tunic and trousers, tuck up her hair and fence with the other boys in the practice yards, she hadn't counted on being so easily batted about. Her eyes stung with humiliation at the snickers of the onlookers; boy's who'd been practicing since they were half her age! She parried another half-hearted blow... barely. She scowled, angry with herself for being so stupid. "You're holding back, Bronan." She hissed at him, flushed. He shrugged, a grin on his face that snapped Talinsa's last thread of self-control.

Hovering on the outside one of the Duelist's Squares, which was really a round perimeter of marble with blue and gold inlays, eighteen-year-old Rydon Alastair, the son of the Duke of Tavroth who was a good friend of the King and Queens' looked on, wincing. Once again the meddlesome cousin of his best friend had managed to humiliate herself in front of everyone. She'd thought she could fool them by challenging Bronan to a duel but they'd recognized the little imp right off the bat, despite her disguise (her face was easily recognizable), only humoring her because she wouldn't shut up otherwise. The practicing court lads all thought it a great joke, in an uproar of laughter at the scene. The stocky Prince of Renair dueling the notorious troublemaker, Talinsa Stradivari.

Ryd cringed at the holes in her defense, terrible footwork and hacking movements, not to mention that ridiculous get-up. Where did she smuggle that, anyway? He was rather surprised she hadn't quit and run off blubbering yet though, especially after Bronan had bruised her multiple times already. If there was anything you could say about Talinsa it was that she was stubborn!

Bronan blocked another wild lunge half-heartedly, noticing the feverish glint to Talinsa's eyes, and her sweaty red cheeks and decided, a bit reluctantly, to end the game and knock the sword from Talinsa's hands before she hurt herself..

... That is until, in a fit of frustration, she smashed the small heel of her boot into Bronan's toes.

"Oooowww!" Bronan howled, dropping his rapier and clutching at his swelling foot. "Foul! Oww, that was illegal, you little brat!"

Ryd's brows rose in surprise and the crowd erupted into even louder gales of laughter. He choked back a grin at Bronan's incredulous face.

Meanwhile Talinsa was looking rather pleased with herself as she turned to leave the court but as soon as her back was turned Bronan lunged to tackle her.

She shrieked on the fall to the ground, smacking her hands against marble and nearly breaking her nose before rolling to get away, but Bronan grabbed a booted ankle and dragged her back, his face twisted into a scowl. "You're gonna get it you little..."

"Bronan! What are you doing? You'll hurt her..." Rydon said, trotting up to the aid of the wiggling imp. His blue eyes were filled with concern.

Bronan scowled at his friend, but loosened his grip on his shrieking captive, which unfortunately was all she needed to wriggle away in a flash, throwing a sharp kick to her defender's shin before dashing away in gales of laughter.

Rydon's concern melted into an expression of a sort of constipated pain, then cursing anger.

Bronan laughed in spite of his own swollen toes, taking off in the direction of his hooting cousin with his equally agitated friend---he could still hear her gloating laughter as she turned the corner. That brat! Always getting away...

Just as he would have caught up to her he caught the sight of Talinsa turning back to bark a laugh at him, resulting in her running head-first into one of the family's personal guards, her head smashing against his metal breastplate. Even from a distance Bronan could see Roran's expression of surprise, then anger as he recognized her face and snatched the old, shapeless hat from her head.

Waves of burnished red-gold hair fell down around the young girl's heated face and Bronan's lips curved into a satisfied smirk as the scolding Guard grabbed Talinsa by the shoulder's and began propelling her back towards the palace, where, no doubt, laid about a dozen different women searching frantically for her whereabouts. Talinsa's head snapped back just in time to see her cousin and the ever meddling Rydon of Tavroth laughing hysterically; she stuck her tongue out at them petulantly before being tugged inside.

xxXXXXxx

" Lady Talinsa," Phoebe greeted dully as Roran the Guard stood at the door, holding the young girl at arm's length as you would a small viper.

Phoebe sighed, eyes running over the dirt-encrusted trousers and tunic, to the matted curls of hair, and finally to the small and smudged rebellious face.

She was not, in short, very surprised.

"I found her running wildly about the Royal Gardens, Phoebe. In men's clothing, no less." Roran held out an sword belt with an missing rapier that he had obviously taken from the frowning Countess. "I believe she was attempting to fence with the Squires, one of the stable lads informed me he was missing his trousers earlier."

Talinsa shot the familiar guard a significant look of dislike that clearly said 'thanks a lot, traitor!,' to which Roran shot her one back that appeared to say, 'better luck next time, squirt.'

Phoebe nodded, and moved to take hold of her young charge when Talinsa jerked herself out of the Guard's grasp and shuffled away to the back of the antechamber. Phoebe watched her go, sighing.

"Thank-you, Roran, will you please go inform Mileia and the other's that she has been found?"

The Guard nodded and set off, closing the door behind him. Phoebe turned to see her charge squatted in a chair before one of the windows, glaring childishly out at the gardens below.

"If I don't tell your mother about this you should count yourself lucky," Phoebe said rebukingly. The girl harrumphed. "You are far too old to behave in this manner, miss, nearly fifteen. There are other maidens your age who are already betrothed! Do you wish to vex your mother? She worries about you enough as it is."

"I despise Bronan." Talinsa replied broodingly.

Phoebe frowned. "He is your cousin, miss."

"I don't care!" She cried imperiously, her slim shoulder's straightening.

"He is your older cousin."

"I don't care about that, either!"

"He will be your King one day." Phoebe said finally, knowing that this particularly irked her young charge.

"Mrrphmpt," was her profound reply.

Phoebe shook her head in amazement. "Such foolishness, miss. You shouldn't think you can parade around like the other boys. Whether you like it or not you are going to be a woman and you are of royal blood. You have to protect your reputation."

Talinsa puckered her lips. "Bronan and Ryd doesn't give a whit about reputations."

Phoebe sighed, "It's different for them."

"Why! Because they're boys? Why do boys get all the fun? I hate boys!" Talinsa snapped, crossing her arms defensively.

Phoebe merely shook her head again, and moved to her charge to help her change from her clothes. What a strange child! She thought to herself as she guided her into the bathrooms to wash off the sweat and grime of a latest expedition gone awry. "In any case, Count or Countess Talinsa Stradivari; you must change out of these clothes so that we can bur... I mean... wash them."

A/N: I just found an old story I'd tossed away a couple years ago and decided to resuscitate it. Talinsa just called to me, I couldn't ignore her any longer. Anyways, tell me what you think, please, I know I've got something wrong, as usual, so pointing out any mistakes or inconsistencies would be most helpful. Thanks-so-much:D

.Saroo.