The cloaked figure nimbly ducked under the straw roof of a merchant's shop. He slipped through unnoticed, only stopping once at the entrance, fingers resting gently against the post that supported the roof. With a quick glance, he peered at his possible choices of direction.

Left, right, or across the cobble stone street?

He stepped onto the uneven ground before him. Cobbled street it was.

With a hasty stride, he made his way through a small alleyway between two stone walls.

How he missed the sun, and the brightness of the day. How he missed the freedoms of his old city.

He knew it was close, now. A grin made its way onto his face, and he let excitement propel him to the other side.

A left turn and several paces later, the cloaked figure stood under another straw roof, this time inhaling the warm aroma of food.

"Bali, my friend, where art thou?" he called out.

He maneuvered his way further into the shop, searching for the one named Bali.

"I'm here," came a reply.

The cloaked figure, surprised, peered behind the counter. "Where?"

"A moment, my friend," replied Bali's gruff voice.

He rose, suddenly, from behind the block of stone. "I suppose you've come for more, eh? Silly boy."

The boy grinned again. "Naturally!"

He shook the hood off his head, revealing a young man with bright eyes and dark hair. "It's become obvious, hasn't it?"

"Of course," Bali nodded. "But I humbly propose that you stop visiting me, friend. Even if I do make irresistible meatpies."

The boy shook his head. "I don't think I can, Bali. Val'eir is too dark for me. This is all I've got from home. I can't stop for the sake of stopping."

"Are the wizards' lights too dark for you, boy? Because they would be a wonderful sight on these tired eyes. The fires become tiresome to look at after a while."

The boy had to suppress his smile as he hopped onto a nearby stool. "I know, Bali. I've a wonderful life, and I should be grateful. But I crave more. I can't help it. I can remember the last sunrise I saw. It was beautiful, and it was warm. The cool air of the wind whipped around me, and I had breathed in the smell of the green meadow, and the red flowers that grew around me. Don't you remember that?"

Bali only smiled half-heartedly.

"Val'eir is shut in. The air is stale, like rusted copper. And it's always dark."

"But it's where we live now," said the big man. "If we--if I leave, I would be in danger. Don't you be getting ideas, now."

"All right," the boy sighed. "I suppose I can manage . . . if I can get a famous meatpie from the legendary Bali!"

Bali gave him a broad smile, shaking his head. "Of course. Anything for you, boy."

He emerged from the shop full and happy. He had already paid the man - in wealth - and had said his goodbyes. It was a treat for him, to be able to sneak about without catching notice.

Pulling his hood over his head, the boy began to think of how he would navigate his way back to the center of the city.

But before he could step onto the cobbled street, a disturbance to his left stopped him. The groups of common-folk that puttered about the streets had scattered at the sounds of clattering hooves.

No, not clattering. Thundering.

"Make way for the Enchantress! Make way!" A mighty voice shouted from hidden view.

The boy stood on his toes to peer at the incoming sight. It came faster than he thought it would.

A great white steed galloped in the streets, with a beautiful woman on his back.

Surprised, he stepped back. And then he realized, deep in the pit of his stomach, that he would be in trouble if he didn't return to his lodgings. Perhaps it was the marks imprinted on the mighty horse's flank. Perhaps it was the way the Enchantress looked at him. Or it was the symbol of his house that stained the leather pouches on the horse's saddle.

He swallowed, eyes wide, and turned to run.

Instead, the horse wheeled around and scrabbled to a halt in front of him, blocking his way to escape.

"So you've been leaving the castle grounds," the Enchantress remarked. Her tone of voice was almost jeering.

The boy fumbled with his hands, thinking of possible ways to avoid trouble. Only wit could save him now.

"You caught me," he said. He held his hands in the air, as if surrendering. "So what now? What do you plan to do?"

She smiled tightly. "I do not plan to do anything . . . your majesty."

He jerked his head self-consciously. But the murmurs he heard around him confirmed what he had dreaded. He had been spotted, and pointed out, far from the center of the city.

"Under normal circumstances, I would dismount my horse and bow down to you."

"Please," the boy replied as demurely as he could. He tried to ignore the stares of the gathering crowd.

The Enchantress gave him a petty grin instead. "I will tell you now, boy. These are no normal circumstances, and these are not normal times. I have traveled for three moons, from the village of Naz'rith. For three moons, I have evaded the seven shadows of darkness. Do you know why I have done this?"

"No, my lady. I was unaware that you would even be coming to Val'eir," he replied politely. The crowd was quite noticeable now. He could see the people from the corners of his eyes, even though his hood obscured most of his vision.

"Obviously," she scoffed. And then, with a single graceful movement, the Enchantress dismounted the horse.

"This horse," she said, "is also from Naz'rith. He is bred from the finest bloodlines, and by the finest breeders. His name is Moscovitz's Glass. I call him Mosco, but that is my preference."

The Enchantress took the reins over the horse's head, then held them out to the boy.

"Your father gave me the simple task of finding you a great steed. So I've come to fulfill my deed."

The smile she gave him made him feel inferior.

He took the reins gingerly, and as he did, the horse snorted and threw its head up. It trotted forward, looking to sniff its new master.

"I believe we should make for the castle now," the Enchantress said. "Shall we?"

"Of course," the boy replied.

((A/N: Here you meet Tirren. He's kinda shy, don't you think? But anyways . . . I got the name "Bali" from some Greek God or something (I forgot what)'s name, Balios. So it should be pronounced "Bahl-i". At least, that's what I do. Oh, and Tirren is like "Tih-Rin". But the "tih" part is more of a mix of "tih" and "tier". I guess, what I'm trying to get at is it's pronounced like "tier" but less emphasis on the "er" part. And . . . I don't need to explain the Enchantress :P But she's kind of a bitch. Hopefully she'll become nicer, but only time can tell!

These characters make me so happy lol. ))