Author's note - I'm only about 20% sure of this, but there might be a sequel to this story. Knowing my luck, it will take just as long to get that one done as it did this one (which was like seven years)... I make no promises that I will ever complete it, but the idea has started rolling around in my head nonetheless. But there's so many other stories that I need to work on that I don't really have time to think too much about a sequel for this one right now. I've always known there was more to Kassha's story...I just don't know how to tell it yet. Maybe one day... Anyway! Hope you've enjoyed this story! And thanks for reading!

Chapter #9 – Little One

"Dear, sweet, blesséd gods…" The sorcerer put his hand to his mouth, unable to believe what he was seeing. "How did you survive that?"

"Because she's a maiden," Llulshad said quietly, landing next to the sorcerer.

Yelnoir glanced at the dragon with a curious look then walked to Kassha and fell to his knees next to her. "You have to be the luckiest person in the world, Princess Kassha."

"I think I would agree with you." Her eyes returned to the little bird in her hands that was no bigger than a fully grown common bird. Could this little bird really grow as big as the one she had just seem burn itself? She smiled as it settled down into her hand, snuggling against her warmth and seeming happy. "And I'm so glad that I came here."

"I think all the sorcerers I know would agree with you. The fact they captured Akrindi…" He shook his head. She understood what he meant and how he felt. "This is not good. They know where he is. They'll come back with others and try to take him."

Kassha was sort of surprised that he did not kill them. She knew how sorcerers fought for the protection of the magical species with a vengeance. "How many escaped?"

"Two. I think their leader was one of them. If I wasn't so concerned for your safety I wouldn't have let a single one get away." He closed his eyes and sighed, relieved. "I'm just so glad you're safe."

But the princess said nothing. Her eyes returned again to the little bird, fearing the sorcerer was going to say something about him coming to rescue her. She did not want to hear what his requested reward was going to be. She had a feeling what it was going to be, though. She just did not want to have to honor that. But that law was even older than the one with the tasks…


Yelnoir's single, confused sounding word made her look back up from the bird nestled in her hands. He was looking over near the entrance to the cave and got up. He walked to a spot among the ashes and lifted from the pile an enormous feather. It was blue on the outer edges that changed to a deep purple near its center. He was gazing at it in near awe. When he looked back at Kassha, she turned away, not wanting to believe what she was seeing. How had that survived?

With a small laugh, the sorcerer returned to her and presented the feather to her. "I think I have succeeded with your final task, Princess…in a way, at least. May I now ask for your hand in marriage?"

The princess turned to him, looking like she wanted to start screaming at him then she just turned up her nose. "You didn't pluck it from the tail yourself!"

"Kassha! Come on!" He just could not believe this!

"My terms are quite absolute, you know." She did not turn back to him, trying to keep from thinking of what this truly meant… His rescuing her… His obtaining the feather… "You know the tasks must be followed to the letter."

So he sat down beside her, still holding the feather. "Does my coming to rescue you have any bearing on my being able to properly court you?"

There was no answer. She knew the answer was yes, but she did not want to say it. She did not want to think about any of this anymore. Her eyes were on the baby phoenix again, who chirped at her so cutely.

At this point, Yelnoir was very annoyed and waved the giant feather in her face. "You are utterly the most annoying woman I have ever known!"

Kassha stroked the little bird's head and it made a happy noise. "Well, that's sort of what I was hoping for. To be so annoying, so impossible, that no one would dare want to marry me."

The sorcerer looked at her in shock. He hung his head down. "You really don't want to get married, do you, to anyone?"

"No." She looked up at him, her expression dead serious, but there was a small trace of tears in her eyes. "I've never wanted to get married. I've never wanted to have children. I've never wanted to live that traditional life that everyone expects of me. I've had enough of living in a world ruled by tradition already."

Yelnoir closed his eyes and sighed. He was silent for a while before looking at the little bird in the princess's hands. Finally, he turned his eyes back to her. "Can we at least be friends?"

And Kassha scoffed. "Only if you want to be friends with the most annoying, troublesome, improper princess ever born in the kingdoms."

"I don't think I could stand the normal type of princess," he said with a smile.

That made her smile as well. She turned to him and nodded. "Yeah, I suppose we can at least be friends."

"Kassha…" Llulshad had lingered at the cave's entrance, letting the two of them talk without interruption. "What are you planning to do now? You're parents are terribly mad at you…and me, for that matter…"

"And they'll just go ahead and send me away to a convent as soon as I set foot back in the castle." She closed her eyes and shook her head. "I can't go back and face that fate. I feel like Akrindi wants me here. Why else would all this have unfolded this way?" She looked at her faerie godmother. "Didn't you say your job was to prepare me for my future, Llulshad?"

The little golden faerie dragon nodded.

"And he can't fend for himself yet. I can't let the poachers get him. He's not safe here." Her eyes returned to the phoenix chick in her hands. "I at least need to get him somewhere safe before I can think about anything else."

"I can help you take him to safety." Yelnoir touched the feather he still held to her hair. "I know a sorcerer that is very knowledgeable when it comes to phoenixes. I am sure he can take care of the little one."

But the baby phoenix hissed at the sorcerer and then snuggled deeply into Kassha's hands. The princess smiled brightly at him. "I don't think he wants me to leave him."

"He's probably imprinted on you, then," Llulshad said, coming closer finally.

"So he thinks I'm like his momma?" That only made her smile bigger. She looked down at the little bird sweetly. "Do you like me that much?"

It chirped happily at her. She laughed.

"Well, you can't stay here." Yelnoir stood. "I can take you to my colleagues' home and you can stay with him with Akrindi. He will be able to help you take care of the little one."

But Kassha just sat there unresponsive.

"Princess…" The sorcerer looked down at her, trying to figure out what she was thinking.

"You don't think I can do this, do you," she said quietly, her eyes on her new little charge that was still snuggled happily in her hands.

"I didn't say that," he said, shaking his head slightly and his eyes closed.

"But you think it." A tear rolled down her cheek. "No one thinks I can do anything other than Llulshad and Yogenara. Everyone thinks I'm just fighting my destiny. They just think I should give in and get married and be happy."

"Kassha, if you don't want that to be your destiny, then it doesn't have to be." He crouched down and gently turned her face so she would look at him. He wiped away another tear as it started to fall from her eye. "But you are a strange princess. And that's why I found you so interesting. That's why I started to watch you. That's why I started to fall in love with you."

The princess blushed a little at his admission.

"But I've never thought you were incapable of anything." He kissed her forehead. "I just don't understand why you would be so opposed to getting married."

"Because…" She turned back to the little phoenix in her hands, now fully understanding the way she had felt all her life. "Because there's just some things, in all the kingdoms, that only a maiden can do."

"But there's some things that only a non-maiden can do as well, you know," Yelnoir said, looking down quite saddened.

Llulshad cleared its throat, getting both their attentions. There was very clearly a smile on the faerie dragon's face. "You know, Kassha, if you'll remember, you only have to be engaged by your nineteenth birthday. There's nothing in the law that says you ever have to actually get married."

It took her a moment, but Kassha turned back to the sorcerer. She was smiling as well. "Then…I'll make you a promise, Yelnoir. When I've done all I want to do that only a maiden can do, I'll come find you. If you still want me then, I'll reconsider my aversion to marriage."

And he looked at her in surprise that she would give in so easily. He chuckled and smiled then nodded. "I'll be waiting. Llulshad knows where my home is and can bring you to see me whenever you wish."

Kassha straightened up and looked rather regal sitting there covered in ash. She looked so much more princess-like now. "Then your suit, Sorcerer Yelnoir, I do accept!"

Llulshad and the sorcerer laughed.

Kassha rolled her eyes.

And the baby phoenix chirped merrily at them all.