The hot sun beat down upon Alena as she slowly opened her eyes. She quickly closed them again, finding the light to be far too bright. Instead, she used her other senses to find out more about her surroundings. She could feel that she was laying on the sand and hear the sound of waves. And judging by the intense light, she assumed she was not in her homeland of Shyn, where most days were overcast and cold.

Alena couldn't help but start to wonder how she had ended up on a foreign beach; she could not recall leaving her island home. She pushed that thought from her mind, however, as she had to discover just where she had ended up. How she came to be there was a question that could wait.

She could hear people talking, and she listened carefully, trying to make out the words. While they were not speaking Shynian, she did recognize the language. Unfortunately, that meant she must have ended up far from home. The Tanti language was not spoken anywhere near Shyn.

Slowly, she started to open her eyes, wanting to give them time to adjust. As she did so, she started to get up, but as soon as she was upright, she started to feel dizzy, and she only had her eyes open for a brief moment before everything went dark.

When Alena regained consciousness, the first thing she noticed was that her hands were tied. Although her first thought was to struggle and get the bindings off, she managed to remain calm and instead listened to the conversation that sounded like it was going on just behind her. Unlike earlier, she could understand what they were saying.

"I found her," said a disappointed voice.

"You've already got your prize," said another. "But you can't just take some stranger washed up on the shore."

For several moments, there was silence and then a third voice, a gentler voice, joined the conversation. "I really dislike that man."

"And as soon as he breaks the law, I will arrest him," said the second man. Based on the conversation, Alena assumed the first man, the one who had found her, had left. "Speaking of the law..."

"She's not a prisoner. We don't know anything about her."

"Exactly. She could be dangerous, my lord. She was armed, after all."

"I'm not worried. If she ends up being trouble, I'll hand her over to you, but in the meantime, I am taking her."

"As you wish, my lord." The man sounded defeated. "But if she causes any trouble..."

"I know. Despite what you might think, I do care about the town. I'm not going to let her run loose."

That statement amused Alena. She wasn't the type to let some stranger control her. At least not that easily. Of course, she gathered from the conversation that the instant she caused any trouble, she'd be locked up somewhere, which left her torn. Everything in her screamed out to not go quietly, but one small part of her brain told her to play it smart and learn as much as possible before making a move.

She had not made her decision when she felt hands on her arms. Remembering the intensity of the light, she opened her eyes slowly hoping to get a look at the man. She couldn't make out any facial features before she closed her eyes again, but only saw that he was dark-skinned. She definitely was far from Shyn.

"You're okay," he said. "I'll take care of you."

Alena opened her mouth, wanting to let him know that she was doubtful of his abilities, but she didn't say anything. Not only was her mouth too dry, but she wondered if perhaps it would be better if the man thought she didn't speak Tanti.

He freed her arms and she was at least grateful for that. After that, he stood up and walked away. Alena slowly started to get up, cracking her eyelids just enough to see if he was leaving her there. She could see one figure moving away, but the other man had stopped next to something large.

Alena had managed to get on her hands and knees when the man came and crouched down next to her. He put a hand on her shoulder, and she weekly pushed against him. She lost her balance and fell back down into the sand.

"Relax," the man said. "I'm here to help. I'm not going to hurt you."

His hands were on her once again as he helped pull her back up into a sitting position. With the sun at her back, she finally managed to open her eyes enough to get a good look at the man. The first thing she noticed was his unnaturally blue eyes, and she was certain she had to be imagining that vivid color.

The other thing that was hard to miss was his size. He was broad and although hard to tell from his crouching position, he looked tall, much taller than anyone Alena had ever met before.

"Drink," he said, as he took one of her hands and pushed something into it. She looked at it and wasn't quite sure what kind of vessel it was, but it had a large, round part and a long, skinny neck with a hole in it. The man apparently thought she didn't know what to do because he took it back and took a drink before handing it back to her. "Water," he said.

If she hadn't been so thirsty, she would have refused his water since she didn't trust him, but since she felt like she would die soon unless she drank, she took the risk and lifted the container to her mouth. As soon as the water touched her lips, she was grateful, and she thought she could easily drink the entire container, but the man pulled it away from her.

She tried to take it back but he closed the top and kept it out of her reach. Not strong enough to fight him, Alena had to settle for giving him the most hateful look she could imagine.

"My name is Zahari," he said slowly while pointing to himself. "Zahari."

"Trosi," Alena muttered, insulting him in Shynian.

Zahari sighed and stood up, then held a hand out for her. Alena refused to take it, but she seemed to have worn out his patience because he reached down and pulled her to her feet. Not liking that treatment, Alena kicked him in the shin. Although weak, it was enough to make him swear under his breath.

He shoved her forward and she almost fell back to the ground, but he caught her before that happened. He continued to push her, although not as hard, but just enough to make her move until they had made it to a large, gray horse. Without saying a word, he lifted her up and put her on the back of the horse. She wanted to fight against him, but she simply didn't have the energy.

When he climbed on the horse behind her, she hit him with her elbow hoping to knock him off, but she didn't have the strength. Instead, she only made things worse for herself because he wrapped his arms around her tightly, preventing her from doing anything like that again.

She was almost glad for his arms around her when the horse started to move, feeling like she might have fallen off on her own. But once she got used to the movement, she wanted nothing more than to have him gone. Knowing that wasn't going to happen, she hoped that it would at least be a short trip.