Morning came sooner than either were ready for stirring both Tori and the frightened girl. The sun would not listen to pleas for time or rest. Its course was followed regardless of their interrupted sleep, so Tori had no choice but to make ready for the day. Still, it was slow going and the sun hung high before he began to search his pack for food.

The day's light did little to put the girl at ease. As soon as she woke she was nervously watching Tori. His attempts at conversation were met with silence. He spoke to her often though, finding it slightly more rewarding than speaking to himself as he had grown accustomed to. Tori offered her half the bread he had left from the last town and some water from his skin. She accepted these far more readily than she accepted his words, quieting her hunger and quenching her thirst before washing the sweat and grim of the road from her hands and face.

She was not old enough to be on her own, Tori decided. She still had a few years until her Acceptance. He watched her eat, wondering what evil had befallen her parents that their daughter would fall in with such men as those. This land had not seemed dangerous before, but if such a thing was common, perhaps he should head westward more quickly.

"Are you truly from Altonia?" Her words were so sudden Tori was slow to be surprised. Her bread was eaten and she had satisfied her thirst. A need for information and fear of her fate now dominated her thoughts.

"I am," Tori answered, smiling at her words. Though another silence followed, it was comforting to hear her speak at last.

"Truly?" she asked again.


"Why is your skin so different from other Altonians?"

"Excuse me?" Tori could do little more than wonder at such a question.

"My father has had Altonians in his halls. They looked much different than you. Their skin was hard and rough. You look more like a person than they did."

"I am not sure which of my people your father has entertained, but I imagine that our flesh is much the same as your own," Tori answered before offering an arm for her to test. "Here. See?" She was slow to reach out and touch him, but still he smiled and waited. "I promise. I am not going to hurt you. It was only the armor that you saw. Beneath it, we are just the same as you."

Eventually she gathered her courage and placed her hand on his arm. Her touch was soft and careful, tentative in her testing of his humanity. In a way, Tori was amused; clearly she could see that he was indeed a man, that his body bore little difference to her own. Yet her fear for Altonians was great. She must inspect him, physically confirm that he was flesh and blood. It must be difficult to live in the shadow of a land you have such fear for.

"What is your name?" he asked.

"Trini, daughter of Tirion," she answered. Tori noted a touch of pride as she said this, but if there was meaning behind the names, it was lost to him. Her hand was drawn back but her face wore an uneasy smile.

"Convinced that my flesh is indeed flesh, Trini?" She replied only with a slow nod. "Good. Lets see about getting you home."

The remainder of the morning was spent preparing to leave. She had nothing with her to carry and little to do but watch him make himself ready. They had not food left, but plenty of water. They would have to find a town to rest in and gather supplies or spend the night foraging in the forest.

"So which way is home?" Tori asked. His pack was heavier than usual, having been filled with his armor rather than food. His shield he still carried, along with his long spear. These things would not fit in the small bag, but the rest was carefully tucked away. The girl had only just begun to relax and becoming comfortable with his presence. There seemed little sense in frightening her with the sight of his armor and the fear she seemed to hold for it.

"My father's hall is along the eastern road, but my betrothed lives in the west. We were supposed to be there some days ago for my wedding."

"Your wedding?" Tori asked. "Aren't you a little young for something so serious?"

"Father says it will help ensure peace with their people."

"Strange thing for a father to do, isn't it? Sending someone so young to be married. How can that bring about peace?"

"Father says that it is the duty of a princess to help ensure her people's safety. Just as the king protects the people with his bow, so must the princess protect them with her hand."

Silence followed them for a time after this, striking down the fledging conversation. Tori could likely be forgiven for losing his words; a girl with royal blood was not something he had expected to find on his travels. He looked at her again, studying her more carefully. This time he took note of her clothes, a fabric soft and light though worn from the road. She had used the water he gave her to wash her face. He had thought this only a bit odd but it seemed explained with this news. She simply was not accustomed to the feeling of dirt upon her fair skin.

"So your father is the king of this land?" Tori asked, feeling uncomfortable with the lingering quiet. "Shouldn't you have bodyguards with you to protect you from the dangers of the road?"

"I did," Trini replied. "But they were little match for the bandits. They came too quickly from the woods and their arrows landed before the guards could make a move to defend themselves."

The girl's voice shook and wavered as she spoke. At her age in a land so quiet and peaceful, she had probably never seen death before her eyes and to have been made a captive and forced to suffer for the first time had likely been a terrible shock to her heart. It had not been wise or kind to ask her to tell of such things.

"Tell me of the man you are to marry," Tori suggested, suddenly eager to divert the conversation toward something more pleasant. "Surely you have at least met him before."

"Prince Varium," she answered. "He courted me last summer during a visit to my father's hall. He is a picture of royal behavior and is held in the highest honor both in his kingdom and my own."

"Do you think you will be happy with him, so far from your home and family?"

"He is a good man. Father tells me that I will learn to love him and I will find great happiness when I do."

"If you do not love him, why agree to the wedding?"

"Father tells me that an alliance with the mountains will give the people peace from at least one of our neighbors, and that is something to hope for."

"Seems a horrible way to ensure peace," Tori remarked. "Sending his own daughter to marry a man she does not know."

"Well, what does Altonia do to keep the peace?"

"We fight wars," Tori replied calmly, unconcerned with the irony. To him, to any Altonian, this was a natural response.

"Is that truly a more effective route to peace?" she asked.

The two slowed their pace for a time. For Tori, his mind distracted his busy feet. It brought back images of her first reaction to his kindness. Had she shown such fear to the bandits who had taken her captive? Certainly this fear had been a blessing the night before when it drove off the enemy, but was this what Altonia had built? An empire of fear? Had he fought battles to keep his neighbors afraid of them? Was this his people's legacy?

"No, it is not," Tori admitted, too late to answer the question posed to him. He just had to speak the words aloud, letting it escape his mind for a moment. Silence drifted with them again until Tori felt the need to break it. "So am I returning you home or are we heading west to your wedding?"

"I should continue on to my betrothed," she replied, but her voice wavered and she gave voice to her fear without giving them words. Tori urged her on, gently prompting her to continue. "I am many days late and the thieves left with the expected dowry. What if he finds me unacceptable as I am?"

"You said he was a good, honorable man, correct?" Tori reminded her. "I cannot imagine a good, honorable man worrying much about money or a few days absence. I am sure that he will only be pleased at your safe arrival. Love is, after all, more important than wealth."

She gave him a smile. It was the first natural smile he could recall seeing on her face. Her hand grasped his arm, clinging to him and the small comfort he had given her.

"You are not like other Altonians."

Tori surprised himself at that statement. He was not offended by being found so different from his people. He was not a figure of terror. He could still be strong, but he did not want or need to be frightening. He found comfort in this, knowing that he need not fear being unlike other Altonians. He was, after all, not in Altonia any longer.

"No," he answered. "I am not."