A/N: I don't know what I'm doing as much as I thought I did, guys. I have so many excuses for not updating sooner, but I think the only important one is the fact that I have decided I'm not going to stress myself out over getting things done by a certain time and rushing and freaking out when I don't make it. Once I start freaking out, it's all over for me, so it's best that I keep relaxed and enjoy what I'm doing. I appreciate you all sticking with me through this absolute disaster haha. Anyway, I realized that my original numbers were kinda sketchy and inconsistent, and by numbers I mean the number of soldiers travelling with the caravan, so I picked the number 24 and I'm sticking to it. I'll go back and change everything to reflect that. Also, regarding the whole idea of that foreign (to Terence) language that Kieran and Fidele speak…I'm a linguistics nerd and I'm into creating languages and shit like that, but I'm not going to make up a whole language and then just like confuse and convolute everything so…my question is, does it need to be stated that when Kieran and Fidele are speaking to each other, they're talking in a different language than when they are speaking to anyone else? Or is it just enough to tell you they have their own language and you just assume that when they're talking to each other they are using that language? I don't want to make it difficult, but it's kind of important to this new and improved (hopefully haha) storyline I intend to follow.


Chapter Two: Fealty and Servitude

Kieran never hit the ground after Fidele pushed him through the cut that had been sliced through the canvas of the burning tent. He couldn't keep his feet underneath him after the force of Fidele's shove, but he didn't have to. Fidele enveloped Kieran in one of his arms, cradling him safely as they both went down, and broke the fall with his other arm. As the guards swarmed him to pat out the patches of flames that had erupted on his clothes, Fidele remained unmoving, on his knees and one hand, holding Kieran against him. And Kieran held Fidele in return, his slim arms cast about his bodyguard's neck, fingers clutching at the fabric of his top, face buried in the man's chest.

Now that he was hidden, Kieran was free to be afraid. He was free to scrunch his eyes closed and scream at the sight of the terrifying man who had intruded upon him, threatened him, touched him so unceremoniously. A whimper passed through his lips, one that only Kieran himself knew of, and was immediately smothered by the folds of Fidele's tunic.

"In the tent!" Fidele commanded the guards, his words tumbling about clumsily until they fell from his lips heavily accented. "Put out the fire and kill the assassin!"

Kieran felt Fidele drawing himself up to his full height, and it was then that he realized his legs were wrapped around his bodyguard's thick waist. It took half a moment of convincing before he forced himself to straighten them out and alight back on the ground. There was no reasoning with his arms or his fingers just yet, though. Even with his feet safely on the ground and Fidele's arms still encircling him, Kieran didn't let go, nor did he raise his head. He was out of control, his breathing ragged and his heart hammering; he couldn't show himself until he had calmed down.

"Kieran, are you hurt?" The sound of Fidele's voice, reverted back to their language, should have soothed Kieran. But it didn't. It didn't chase away the sound of the gruff, growling drawl of the intruder that had bored through his ear and into his mind.

"Kieran," Fidele urged the prince once more, reaching to pull Kieran's arms down from his neck, "Let me look at you."

With his huge hands cuffed around Kieran's fragile wrists, it would have been easy for Fidele to wrench away the grip of the prince's threadlike fingers. But he only tugged gently, coaxing Kieran rather than forcing him to let go.

"You're safe now," he said. "I have you."

Fidele had him. He was safe. Of course he was safe. Kieran knew that. With his own two eyes he had witnessed Fidele overpower that villain. But that didn't erase the memory of the way his hair stood on end at the touch of his captor's hand on the side of his head. No one outside of Fidele and his mother ever touched him. And neither of those two had ever touched Kieran like that. No one had ever looked at the prince with such fearlessness, and no one had ever touched him curiously, as though to see just what he was made of. No one had ever spoken to Kieran so easily. Kieran didn't make it easy for people to speak to him.

"Kieran," Fidele implored him once more, "Please, don't be afraid."

Afraid? Kieran couldn't be afraid. It wasn't allowed. There was nothing to be afraid of. Kieran had Fidele to ensure as much. This uneasiness that he felt was not fear. It was something else. Indignation, offense, outrage. Not fear. Kieran couldn't let himself be afraid.

You must never show fear, child, Kieran's mother had repeated to him time and again when he was a boy. Fear was a weapon, and to give an enemy any more weapons than he may have already had was the worst possible mistake to be made.

Not that Kieran had much—or any—experience with battles or enemies. But that was how his mother taught him: in terms of war. The queen was convinced that a fight was always on the doorstep, brewing in every dark cloud, lurking in every shadow cast across the land.

Kieran had always heeded her words, listened to her lessons, and followed her advice, but never quite as she intended. He applied her principles to his daily life in all the ways that he could. He gave away no secrets, he did not trust easily, and he didn't do foolish things. And yet, somehow he had ended up in a horrible predicament today.

His mother's suspicions had taken human form this evening. Kieran had been put to the test and he had failed. But how could he have been anything other than terrified of the man who had invaded his safety? The only other thing that the prince may have been was awestruck. He had never seen anyone like that man before, with his ghostly white hair adorned with glass beads that caught the candlelight and burned like fiery dewdrops. It couldn't have been natural, that hair the color of moonlight. Kieran had read about people from distant lands who could change the color of their hair with potions. He had also read of supernatural demons that appeared almost as men, but with glowing eyes or skin or hair.

Those were just stories of course, fables made up to keep children from wandering outside at night. The man—he was only a man, nothing more—who had visited Kieran must have been from one of those faraway places where things that were not normal here were quite typical.

Kieran was finding it difficult to convince himself that the white-haired intruder was typical, though.

Fidele was not typical, either. Fidele was spectacular. More spectacular than Kieran's attacker. Fidele had defeated the man tonight, and if he came back, would beat him back once more, as many times as necessary until Kieran was safe. As long as Fidele was around, Kieran was safe.

The prince exhaled deeply and pried his fingers open so that he could step back from his bodyguard with a face clear of any clues as to his distress.

Fidele maintained a hold of Kieran with one hand and used the other to tilt the boy's chin upward to allow himself to better peer down into his eyes. "Are you hurt?" he asked once more.

Slowly, Kieran turned his head from side to side to indicate that he had no injuries. He wasn't ready to speak just yet; he wasn't sure that his voice wouldn't betray him by wavering.

"Master Fidele! The assassin has escaped!" One of the guards had come running from the tent to inform them. He skidded to a halt a short distance away and collected himself long enough to bow respectfully to the prince before lifting his head once more to continue. "There's no one to be found."

Kieran felt his stomach flip. He would have shrunk to hide against Fidele's chest if his bodyguard hadn't moved first, drawing him in protectively. That man was on the loose? Would he come back?

He would come back, Fidele knew. And he might bring more with him next time, after realizing that he couldn't finish the job himself. How many more, though? Fidele had two dozen men besides himself, a number he was confident outmatched his opponents. And now that they had revealed themselves, it would be impossible for the Fidele to be taken by surprise. His best option was to stay put and bolster his defenses, rather than scattering his men in a pointless search. Let them try to return for Kieran; the only thing they would find was their death, by Fidele's hand.

"Do not pursue him. Secure the camp. There are to be four men standing guard at all times tonight," Fidele ordered. That would be enough to keep him out, at least for the night.

Keeping tight hold of Kieran's hand, Fidele led the prince and the captain of the guard into the tent to inspect the destruction. There was no damage to the structure, save the two cuts that had been made to facilitate Fidele and Kieran's escape, and that of the would-be assassin. The fire had eaten up one of the beds, and also taken a large bite out of the book that was supposed to have been laid there for safekeeping.

Kieran pulled his hand from Fidele's and moved to kneel and pick up the marred volume with the same care and reverence he might have taken slipping his hands underneath the fragile body of a wounded animal. He rose to his feet, cradling the book mournfully against his body.

Fidele bowed his head shamefully. Kieran may not have showed his sadness on his lips or in his eyes, but the melancholy carefulness of his actions made clear that he was hurting. "I am sorry, Your Highness," he apologized, addressing the prince formally for the presence of the captain inside the tent.

Kieran swallowed back any sorrow that threatened to escape with his words. "It's only a book. I have others." And then he turned away, pretending to survey the rest of his surroundings for damage. He tried to believe his own wisdom. He couldn't help but wonder, though, if he would ever learn the secrets that the decimated pages in his hand had to tell.

As he watched Kieran sit still and silent in the front room of the tent while the guards repaired the cut fabric, Fidele could do little besides stew in his guilt. All of this was his fault. It was his duty to always expect danger, to always be ready for an attack. Yes, he had managed to ward off the villain before Kieran could suffer any physical damage, but the sight of the prince with his knees pulled up to his chest, his burnt book resting on top of them and his head in turn lying on the leather cover as though he was listening to the last dying heartbeats within those pages…Fidele could hardly bear it.

It wasn't only a book, as Kieran had claimed. As far as Fidele was concerned, books were more valuable than any jewels or resources. The writing meant absolutely nothing to him, since he was illiterate even despite Kieran's attempts to teach him, but seeing Kieran happy was everything. There was nothing that Fidele wouldn't do for Kieran's happiness.

The most delicate bat of the prince's eye blew through Fidele like a sweltering wind, threatening to rip from his desperate grasp the last threads of his rationality that he only barely maintained hold of after this past year. While Fidele couldn't pinpoint exactly at what point Kieran had transcended his place as the prince of Rimsceald to claim the throne of his heart, he did remember the very moment he had realized he cared for Kieran in a way that he shouldn't have. It had been almost exactly one year ago, after the king had commandeered Fidele and sent him to deal with a nasty riot near the eastern borders, keeping him separated from Kieran for an entire month.

For that entire month, Fidele missed things that he should have been relieved to get away from. He missed all the worst parts about dealing with Kieran. The prince's stubborn—albeit peaceful—resistance to the things that didn't suit him; the endless frustration of trying to argue with him about why he needed to eat more or practice with a sword; the struggle he put up when it was time to get out of bed in the morning which was always quite pathetic, but surprisingly effective since Fidele, in all his vastness, had to be extremely careful not to injure the wispy boy when manhandling him.

During his brief stint away from Kieran, Fidele had realized that he would rather bear all of those annoyances every single day for the rest of his life than spend another second without his prince. His love for Kieran had grown out of the obligated sense of responsibility it had started as nearly a decade before and matured along with the boy himself. But, even despite his occasionally astonishing intelligence that might temporarily disguise his age, the prince's youth inevitably showed through in the right light. Unfortunately for Fidele, when the right light shone down, he found himself illuminated most shamefully. He fought off his mind's attempts to see Kieran as an object of lust as valiantly as he could, but he was not always as strong within as he was physically.

With Kieran so desolate before him, though, lascivious thoughts were the last of Fidele's worries for the moment. His heart was swollen painfully with a thick, dark storm, set spinning by his guilt and then fed by his rage. How dare that foul dog disrupt Kieran's peace? How dare he put his filthy hands on Kieran? When Fidele got his hands on that scoundrel, he would take Kieran's restitution out of the man's flesh.

Or, perhaps the compensation for the prince's suffering should have been paid from Fidele, as he was the one who had allowed all of this to happen. His carelessness was truly to blame. He knew that such dangers existed, and yet he had left Kieran alone long enough for those dangers to come so very near to him that they could touch him.

Those vile hands that had touched Kieran. Fidele would rip them off that villain's arms.

By the time the repairs were finished, Fidele still hadn't settled on who to punish more severely: himself or the assassin. Luckily for him, one of the soldiers distracted him from his debate.

"Master Fidele, everything is in order. The cuts have been sewn closed."

Upon entering the back room to inspect, Fidele found that the slits in the tent had been patched adequately to ensure that no chill could creep in from the cold darkness of the autumn night. He gave a nod of acceptance and dismissed the soldiers.

There was nothing to be done about the blankets that had been destroyed by the fire. Of course they had brought extras. But the weather had turned colder than expected for this time of year, temperatures plummeting to a low point not expected for another two months, and all the spares were in use. Fortunately, Fidele was too strong to be killed by cold. He would simply ignore the missing bed.

Kieran couldn't ignore it, though. He stopped in the middle of the back room and turned to face Fidele. "Your bed has been destroyed."

"I won't be sleeping tonight," Fidele replied. "I'll be standing guard in case that scoundrel tries to come back."

Kieran didn't want to think that his platinum-haired harasser would try coming back again that same night. That would be quite foolish, as everyone would be on high alert. But, despite that logic, he still felt a chill at the possibility. After only a brief encounter, he almost felt like he knew better than to put something like that past the man who had visited him. He had a reckless determination about him, it seemed to Kieran.

"That's unnecessary." Kieran fought his visceral instinct to be afraid. "He would have to be a complete fool to return tonight."

"He would expect us to think as much, and thus might strike while our guard is down. I won't take the chance of being caught sleeping."

Even though the prince wasn't much for giving orders or arguing, he always made his point. He knew too much from all the books he absorbed. "Regardless of what's expected, all the excitement has caused everyone's sense to be heightened. The men wouldn't be able to lower their vigilance even if they tried. Even he must know that coming again tonight would be suicide."

"You speak as though you're familiar with him." Fidele's brows scrunched together curiously as he moved toward Kieran, peering curiously down at the prince as though trying to see something inside of him. Whatever he was looking for, he wouldn't have much luck; Kieran hardly ever gave away any clues that he didn't mean to. "Do you know who he was?"

"No," Kieran said. To keep eye contact with Fidele as he moved forward, eventually the prince had to tilt his head back.

"Did he speak to you?"

"He prattled quite foolishly," Kieran responded.

"Can you remember what he said?" Fidele seized Kieran's hands urgently. "You must tell me everything that happened, exactly as it occurred, Kieran."

Exactly as it had occurred? Kieran doubted he had the fortitude to do so.

"I'm cold," he said, drawing away from Fidele toward the pile of blankets. "Sit with me, Fidele."

Sit with me, Fidele really meant that Fidele was to sit cross-legged on the ground to form in his lap a perfect nest for Kieran to settle in after bundling himself up tightly in a blanket. With his head resting on Fidele's chest, Kieran could hear the drumming of the man's heart grow rapid and heavy, like wildly hammering fists against his sternum. That sound was his confirmation that Fidele's undying devotion was more than an oath of service to the Prince of Rimsceald, that he was dedicated to Kieran, even without the title. It was how Kieran knew that he wasn't burdening Fidele by seeking closeness.

"Tell me what he said to you, Kieran," Fidele requested again, once Kieran was snug and secure. His voice was even deeper when Kieran's ear was pressed to his chest.

"Nothing of particular consequence," Kieran responded. "He seemed to babble without reason about nothing important."

"An assassin made small talk with you?" Fidele questioned Kieran. He did not doubt Kieran's intelligence, but the prince was not particularly social, nor was he well-versed in matters of war, save what phrases of his mother's he had memorized.

It never occurred to Fidele that Kieran would purposely keep something so important from him. Kieran never lied and he never hid anything from his bodyguard; he had no reason to do anything of the sort. But now, Kieran had a secret that he felt compelled to keep. He didn't know exactly why, but he didn't want Fidele to know about the intruder's advances. Perhaps it was because he didn't want to upset his bodyguard further. Surely it would infuriate him to know the brazen things the man had said to Kieran.

"I'm not sure he was an assassin, Fidele," the prince replied. "He had plenty of chances to kill me, but he didn't."

Kieran meant no harm by his words, but still they pierced Fidele like poison-tipped darts and contaminated him with toxic guilt. How could he have been so careless? He never should have left Kieran's side, even for a moment. Years of peace had lulled Fidele's senses to sleep.

"He didn't even seem to know my identity," Kieran went on. "More than once he asked me who I was and where I was going."

"He didn't know?" Fidele spoke more to himself than Kieran, fitting the pieces together as they were presented to him. "He must have come to collect information, then…"

"If that's the case, he managed to gather some information regarding you, Fidele. He knew your name." Kieran decided not to mention the other information that the intruder knew, about Fidele's feelings for him.

"Did you tell him anything?" Fidele didn't think that Kieran would clumsily spill sensitive facts, but if the man had threatened him, Fidele wouldn't have expected Kieran to remain silent and endure. Once again, he implored the prince. "Kieran, I need to know everything that happened."

Kieran knew that he had to do as Fidele asked and repeat the words exchanged between himself and his attacker verbatim. There could be clues about the man's identity hidden within their exchange that he didn't recognize.

His memory of the encounter was quite vivid, almost surprisingly so. His senses must have been heightened, probably by his distress. He remembered eyes that matched the color of dried moss and the carnal scent of the wilderness that provoked something animal within his depths. A haze of dense heat had left him feeling suffocated. Different from the soothing warmth to be found in Fidele's arms. This heat was dangerous, like standing too close to a fire.

Of course, Kieran didn't tell Fidele those details. He only relayed the words that were spoken. When he repeated Terence's audacious declaration that he would like to take him, Fidele's thick arms tightened around him and the muscles in his jaw drew taut as he crushed his teeth together.

"I warned him to escape before you came," Kieran explained, "But he only mocked me in response."

Despite the cold exterior he maintained before anyone but Fidele, Kieran was far from it on the inside. He was tenderhearted. The queen thought it a terrible flaw in her son, and so he had learned to hide it. He would never be able to freeze himself over completely, though.

That soft heart, such delicate innocence which knew no wrath, was one of many things that enchanted Fidele. He would die before he would let anything wound his prince, physically or otherwise. Kieran's lack of interest in any political affairs suited Fidele; he would rather carry all the worries himself, shield Kieran so that the prince could walk his path without having to look upon a single displeasing sight. There were many things that Fidele kept from Kieran, just to spare the prince any fretting. One of those things was the truth about who it was that had paid a visit to their tent this evening.

The man Fidele had caught with his hands on Kieran was undoubtedly the one nicknamed the "White Phantom". Fidele had never seen him before today, but rumor had it that the leader of the bandit group which had been terrorizing all of the king's tax caravans for the past two years had unnaturally white hair and eyes black as night. While they were fighting, Fidele hadn't exactly been gazing into his enemy's eyes, thus he didn't know the actual color, but black paint around the eyes seemed more plausible than irises that were truly black.

After that night's encounter, it was evident that these bandits were more than just that. They were rebels against the royal family's rule, rising up against their king, who had never been a particularly wise or reasonable ruler, after over a decade of turmoil. Their goals, however, were unimportant. The only thing that Kieran needed to know was that they were dangerous, and that Fidele would protect him from them.

"You gave him his chance, then, Kieran," Fidele said. "Don't forget that. There is no weakness in showing mercy once, but any more than that is not prudent."

Kieran's mother had always told him that disclosing the limits of his knowledge only served to weaken his defenses. Never allowed to ask questions as a child, Kieran had learned to find answers otherwise. And Fidele was the easiest for Kieran to read. How could he not be, when the two of them had been inseparable for the last half of Kieran's life? If there was anything that Kieran could be sure he knew, it was Fidele.

And Fidele was certain that the white-haired man would be coming back, if his warning was any indication.

"It won't be up to me next time," Kieran said, surrendering to a long day and releasing the last of the tension that held his body from melting into Fidele's arms as completely as he could. He had absolute faith that Fidele wouldn't ever let that villain near him again. There was nothing to be afraid of.

"Until we make it back home, you're not to leave my side," Fidele said, his hand drawing Kieran's chin upward so that their eyes locked. There was no reason for Fidele to worry that the cautious and conservative prince would get himself into any trouble; rather it was more likely that he would be the one to make the mistake that left Kieran in danger, just as had been the case already tonight. Still, though, he prompted the prince. "Promise me that you'll do as I ask."

Kieran didn't always do as Fidele asked him. At times he was capable of being quite difficult. His dissent, however, was never petulant; he somehow managed to be agreeable even when he was acting defiantly. Perhaps his sweetness arose from being spoiled. He knew that he would always get his way regardless, so there was no reason for him to become upset.

Never leaving Fidele's side—or perhaps it was better stated the other way around, with Fidele never leaving his side—suited Kieran perfectly. The two of them were rarely apart to begin with, but Kieran's recent encounter with Terence Drust had left him shaken, and the reassurance that Fidele would never be farther than his arm could reach couldn't have come at a better moment.

"I won't stray," Kieran promised. He was warm, he was safe, he was content. There was no reason for him to ever drift.

A small smile pulled at Fidele's lips, and Kieran reciprocated the expression delicately. The prince's grin was a silky pink blossom gliding across the glassy surface of absolute tranquility. A gorgeous, momentary disruption of perfect temperance, lasting only a few beautiful seconds before sinking away out of sight without leaving even a single ripple behind. Fidele's sanctuary, to be kept safe from anything that would dare disturb such flawless serenity. He was the watchman of a forbidden pool of purity, and he was parched.

Fidele lifted Kieran's hand to kiss the back of it with all the protective tenderness that he would have kissed Kieran's lips, had he allowed his feelings to get the better of his honor. This time, he managed to maintain his oath of fealty and servitude. And he would continue to uphold that pledge. It was a matter of duty, and knowing one's place among others. Above all, it was about protecting Kieran. He was too young, too naïve, too innocent. Fidele would never kiss Kieran with any ill intent, but the human heart was so unpredictable and so fragile that he couldn't risk the danger. There would be no living with himself if he ever did any harm to his prince.

Before losing himself any further in the moment, Fidele begrudgingly heaved himself out of Kieran's fathomless eyes and back into the tent. There was reality to deal with, and Fidele couldn't afford to lose sight of any of the dangers lurking about, just waiting for him to let his guard down. Kieran's safety depended on him keeping his wits about him.

"I must speak with the captain of the guard," Fidele declared. He hated to disturb Kieran's coziness, but everything that he had learned from the prince's narrative of his encounter with Terence Drust called for new defensive measures, and Kieran's long-term safety outweighed the importance of his immediate comfort.

When Fidele shifted underneath him, Kieran made no effort to make it easier for his bodyguard to stand. He only slung his arms around Fidele's neck and clung there stubbornly. It was an old trick, one that never seemed to grow tired. Fidele may have thought it an act of resistance, but Kieran knew better than to enter a battle that he wouldn't win. When it came to games of the mind, he had the advantage. Every time Fidele swept him up into his arms, it was a victory for the prince.

"Don't take me out there, Fidele. It's cold." It was always colder just after leaving Fidele's arms.

"It will only be a moment." Fidele tried to set Kieran down, but the prince refused to put his feet on the ground.

"It only takes a moment for the cold to pierce straight to my bones," Kieran said. "In one second I could catch my death. If you froze me to death, you know that my mother would ensure that you suffered a worse fate."

Though he was restrained, the prince still had a little bit of mischief in him. After all, he was only sixteen. There was enough youth in Kieran that he enjoyed a bit of play every now and then. No smile graced his lips; the only sign of his teasing was the discreet wryness in his tone that could easily be misconstrued for grave sobriety. Even Fidele, who knew Kieran better than any, occasionally got lost in the prince's intricacies. There were many rich and beautiful treasures to be found within Kieran, but it took time and practice to memorize the way through the dense and disguised maze to his many hiding places.

Fidele never knew when to expect Kieran's sporadic flashes of playfulness, but he always found the surprise pleasant, like a warm and refreshing summer storm. If only he knew how to engage in Kieran's game, he would have. Unfortunately for Kieran's fun, Fidele didn't consider himself clever enough to even attempt a witty response, so he only responded seriously. "I'm not sure she would manage that. I can't think of a fate worse than losing you."

It wouldn't have been hard at all for Kieran to draw himself up to meet his bodyguard's lips for a tender kiss. But, despite being in the midst of a moment perfect for it, Kieran had come to terms with that the fact that there would never be any kisses shared between himself and Fidele. Fidele's steadfast conscience, with perhaps a bit of help from his own, kept Kieran from demanding any more from Fidele than he was willing to give. The prince would have loved to kiss Fidele, he just wasn't sure that Fidele felt the same.

It wasn't a question of whether or not Fidele cared for Kieran; it was clear that he did. However, when he looked into the uncommon grey of Fidele's eyes, Kieran could see that he was struggling with something. Something that the prince didn't quite understand, but that he respected nonetheless. He had no intention of ever burdening Fidele in such a way. And so rather than driving himself mad by pining, Kieran managed to be content with hearing his bodyguard's sincere words and reveling in the warmth of the man's amorous embraces.

Kieran nodded and, when Fidele lowered him down toward the ground, stretched out his legs to alight. "You can summon the captain to meet with you in here," he permitted Fidele.

"I'll have to leave the tent to summon him," Fidele pointed out. Surely Kieran didn't expect him to almost immediately break his own rule that he was not to leave the boy alone.

Kieran didn't expect that at all. He took hold of Fidele's hand. "Your arm can stay in here with me."

Fidele only felt a little bit foolish about standing halfway out of the tent, shouting for Brenevin, but there wasn't anything in the world that could embarrass him so much that he would unnecessarily trouble Kieran. A few short moments later, before Kieran had even managed to recover from the draft that had snuck in while Fidele was in the doorway, the tent flap was drawn open carelessly by the captain of the guard.

"Your Highness," Brenevin bowed respectfully. Then he looked to Fidele. "The four-man watch schedule you ordered has been implemented, Master Fidele. Do you have further commands?"

While Fidele laid out clear precautions for Brenevin to pass on to the rest of the guards, Kieran sat still and silent at his table. The captain's presence caused him to stiffen in both body and mind, so regal and rigid that he might have been mistaken for a statue if not for the occasional blink of his eyes as he listened. The men were to take care of the words they spoke, as Fidele was sure that more spies would come seeking to find out who they were. The prince's anonymity was crucial to not only his safety, but also that of the entire party. If anyone learned that Kieran was royalty, they would most certainly be attacked.

"Warn the men that they never can be sure of who might be listening," Fidele told Brenevin. "Even the slightest word could give us away."

"How should we pay our respects to His Highness, then?" Brenevin asked.

"For the time being, you will forego bowing. If you must refer to him in conversation, he will be known as the young master," Fidele explained. "No one is to speak to His Highness except in times of absolute emergency. All concerns will be addressed to myself."

No one ever spoke to Kieran anyway, save to utter his title in a show of reverence. Fidele always handled everything. They both preferred it that way. Kieran was fine to be left alone and Fidele wouldn't have allowed Kieran to be bothered by having to deal with anything.

"Master Fidele, the men—and myself—we have concerns. Are we under attack by the White Phantom?"

He had a name. Kieran's terror had a name, and apparently also a reputation. Inside the prince's stomach, a trembling mob of anxious butterflies rose up in riot.

"The man who came here tonight was nowhere near worthy of any title, no matter how ludicrous," Fidele responded decisively. "A bandit is dangerous and must be treated with caution, but he is nothing to fear so long as we are vigilant and prudent."

Kieran caught Fidele glancing at him as he declared there was nothing to fear. Did that mean his fear was showing? He refortified his mask of concealment as best he could.

"Make sure these orders are relayed to everyone," Fidele returned his attention to the captain. "Now, His Highness must get some rest. We won't allow this disturbance to set us back; we will still break camp at dawn."

Brenevin nodded and started for the exit. Once he was gone, Fidele turned to Kieran and extended his hands downward to help the prince up. He didn't know whether he should speak to Kieran about Brenevin's words, or keep silent. Even if it was only to assure Kieran that there was no "White Phantom" to worry about, Fidele was afraid that the mere fact that he made it worth mentioning might convince the prince otherwise. Kieran's astute eyes and ears seemed to detect anything and everything that Fidele was thinking or feeling. The only reason Fidele was ever able to hide things from him was because he didn't care to know about them; all he wanted to do was read his books.

Fidele peered down at Kieran, trying to see through his blank expression. He must have been afraid. Fidele didn't want Kieran to be afraid; he wanted Kieran to be so confident in him that he was never afraid of anything. But he knew that was almost too much to ask of a fragile teenager who had only just been viciously violated. The image of that scoundrel's hands on Kieran roused Fidele's rare anger once more. His grip on Kieran's cold fingers tightened. Not too aggressively, though. It had taken him years, but by now Fidele recognized his own strength as well as the prince's fragility and always took care. Even those touches that seemed inconsequential were never to be underestimated.

His bodyguard's protective grasp should have comforted Kieran, but the fact that Fidele so obviously felt threatened only served to distress him.

"Sleep with me tonight," Kieran said. It wasn't quite a demand, but it was more than a request.

Fidele's heart wanted to leap, but was weighed down too heavily to do so. "You know that I have no place in your bed, Kieran, only at the foot of it."

"Your place is wherever I ask," the prince responded. Many nights he had considered ordering Fidele to join him in his bed without ever actually going through with it. Tonight, though, Kieran wouldn't go to bed without his bodyguard. Tonight it was for a different reason: he was terrified. "And I am asking that you lie next to me tonight, and keep me warm, Fidele. Keep me safe."

That was as close as Kieran would ever be able to come to admitting that he was afraid, and he would only ever do so before Fidele. He trusted Fidele in a way that he didn't trust anyone else. Kieran trusted Fidele even more than he trusted his own mother; he would never have allowed himself to appear vulnerable like this in front of the queen. Fidele had a duty to live up to that trust. He had a duty to do what was best for the prince. But, more importantly, it was his duty to do what was best for Kieran, as a person, not a prince.

He felt Kieran's hands, still icy cold even despite being wrapped up in his own warm fingers, try to pull away. He had taken too long to answer.

"I'm sorry," Kieran murmured. "I should not have asked that of you. It seems that man has gotten the better of me tonight."

As he turned away, his spindly fingers sliding straight through Fidele's grasp which seemed to have gone slack at his apology, Kieran was waging war against himself underneath his calm exterior. He truly was remorseful to have brought such clear struggle upon Fidele. He intended for his apology to be sincere. But how sincere could it truly have been, when Kieran knew that the slightest repentance would break all of Fidele's resolve? The prince knew that his bodyguard was wound around his little finger, and he was the one who determined just how tightly. It felt like it might have been cruel. Kieran would never do anything to hurt Fidele, of course. He only did it for the sake of being close to Fidele. With his heart racing at such a rate, Kieran was sure that he wouldn't be able to make it through the night without Fidele holding him.

Just like Kieran knew he would, Fidele followed him, catching up after only two large steps and reaching over him to draw back the curtain so that he could enter the back room unhindered.

"If it will put you at ease, I will," Fidele agreed, appearing before Kieran.

With a wispy of a grin tugging the corners of his lips, the prince expressed his gratitude. His happiness was fleeting, though. Even his safest place was soon infiltrated by visions of his silvery demon. Somewhere between sleep and wakefulness, the White Phantom came for him and set his pulse racing, his heart beating furiously to keep up with all the things his mind was trying to track. Drawling, sloppy words that he couldn't understand, blistering hands that he couldn't predict, and flames rising up that he couldn't control. Mossy green, pitch black, platinum moonlight.

Kieran forced his eyes open so desperately that it jolted his entire body. Fidele's concerned gaze, illuminated by the candle that had been left to continue burning, obliterated the feverish nightmare surrounding Kieran and coaxed from his lips a whispering sigh of relief. He buried his face into Fidele's chest before his bodyguard could say anything and hid there until sleep came for him.

Slumber was not kind to the prince, and he spent much of the night tossing and turning, refusing to be comforted by Fidele's hold. Noises that didn't exist outside of Kieran's head awoke him over and over, daring him to fall asleep once more so that they could creep closer. But each time that he started, Fidele was there to remind him that he was still safe and lull him back into sleep once more.

It wasn't easy, being Kieran's solace. Fidele didn't sleep that night. Even if he had wanted to, he never would have been able to with the prince thrashing about wildly. He had never seen Kieran this way; the boy had always slept so deeply and peacefully that Fidele had to take great pains to haul him from his dreams. Kieran had never faced anything like his ordeal last night, though. Kieran had never been under any stress greater than that of deciding what his next move would be in a game of Baedluck, or where he would go to find new books once he exhausted his supply.

Fidele had always wanted it that way, to bear all the burden of worry so high above Kieran's head that the prince had no idea the shadows even existed. Were those days over now that Kieran had come face-to-face with danger? The prince couldn't disguise his anxiety when he was asleep. Underneath the blanket he had burrowed into, his fingers were curled so tightly around a handful of Fidele's shirt that his bony knuckles jutted from his fists like tiny snowcapped mountains. Those slender, reedy digits of Kieran's were deceptive; their grip was quite formidable. Fidele had spent enough time trying to pry them loose to know just how stubborn they were. Less often, now that Kieran was older, but it wasn't unheard of for the prince to cling to his blankets even nowadays.

Fidele didn't know if he could bring himself to do that to Kieran right now. The sun was on the rise, its fiery glow creeping over the edge of the earth to prod all those slumbering into consciousness, but Kieran had only just fallen into a sleep that was finally peaceful. What could it hurt to let him rest just a little longer? Was there an hour to spare so that Kieran could sleep?

That was one more hour outside the safety of any castle walls. It was an unnecessary risk.

Fidele used the arm that wasn't wrapped around Kieran to peel back the covers. The prince seemed to shrink away from the sudden exposure, wriggling closer to Fidele's body, but he didn't wake. It wasn't until Fidele sat up, heaving Kieran up with him, that the youth's dark eyes opened, fluttering reluctantly against the idea of waking up. After a brief struggle, Kieran's eyes closed once more and he slid into Fidele's lap. He didn't need to see to find his way there.

"Kieran." Fidele tried to maintain austerity as went about unwrapping himself from Kieran's hugging arms, but it wasn't as easy for him as it should have been. "The sun is up."

"A prince doesn't answer to the sun," Kieran murmured, regretfully lifting his eyelids to look up at Fidele from underneath a thick fan of black eyelashes. He didn't resist Fidele's efforts to reposition him so that he sat facing the man, but he didn't truly cooperate either.

"Then what does a prince answer to?" Fidele asked, pushing the prince's sweeping bangs away from his eyes. His ponytail had been pushed slightly askew by his busy night of thrashing.

Kieran unfolded his legs so he could wrap them around Fidele, drawing their bodies together. "I suppose only his own whims and desires."

It wasn't even in the blink of an eye, because Fidele was sure that he hadn't even closed his for a fraction of a second, that the sweet, sleepy little thing in his lap became a temptation. Fidele's heart betrayed his mind, sending his blood racing downward, depriving his brain of any fuel to provide a response to Kieran. It had been a long time since Fidele had given in to his desires. He had abstained from the touch of another for more years than he could count—he didn't exactly have many options in his line of work—and he could hardly bear to indulge himself anymore when he knew that only lewd visions of his prince would satisfy him.

Of all the torture Kieran unintentionally put him through, though, perhaps the worst of it all was the wondering. It was impossible for Fidele to decide if Kieran knew what his actions provoked. He knew that Kieran cared for him, maybe even loved him, but it was difficult to determine the nature of the prince's affections. Was Fidele the prince's beloved guard dog, or was he more? Fidele wasn't sure if he was only imagining it wistfully, but it seemed like Kieran had become exceptionally demonstrative in the past year, more likely to crawl into his lap or slip under his arm than he ever had been, even as a child.

Kieran hadn't been like any other child that Fidele knew, of course. It had been a trial, Fidele himself hardly into adulthood, taking on the responsibility of tending an eight-year-old. The prince was not wild or unruly, in fact sometimes Fidele could hardly believe that he even was a child. He didn't run around climbing on things and making noise. He was reserved and rigid, to the point that Fidele was unable to form any sort of bond with him. Two years passed before Kieran would even speak to Fidele outside of necessity, finally asking him one winter day if he would play Baedluck.

It had been years since Fidele had been able to outwit the prince at his beloved board game. By the time Kieran reached age twelve, he had outgrown Fidele's skill level. Anymore, he played against himself. Fidele wasn't even sure how, but he had watched Kieran move the pieces from both sides of the board, staring so intently down at the scenario that Fidele wondered if he was really even there, or if somehow he had transcended to another place, the place mapped out on his game board. He would stay so still for so long—not even a blink of his eyes—that Fidele sometimes became concerned and spoke to him.

At present, Fidele was the one in desperate need of a voice to pull him out of the world he had become lost in, the world in Kieran's eyes and his lips and his cold touch. The prince's hands were on either side of Fidele's face, his fingers like waxy icicles.

"Thank you for holding me while I slept," Kieran said, his gratitude drawing the corners of his lips upward coyly. His mother wouldn't have approved of such words; she thought that a thank-you only indebted oneself to another. She preferred to settle a debt with tangible payment, immediately. But the queen didn't have anyone to guard her and keep her safe like Fidele did for Kieran. "I know it was inconvenient for you. As such, I would like you to know that your sacrifices do not go unnoticed, Fidele."

It was misery, wishing the Kieran would kiss him and at the same time hoping that he wouldn't, because nothing good could ever come of it. But it was also bliss, a moment that Fidele wouldn't mind being trapped in for eternity, because it was the closest he could ever come to having Kieran.

"I am always at your service," Fidele said. "You are my prince."

How else could Fidele have confessed that Kieran ruled over his heart without being inappropriately forward?

Any disappointment that may have risen within Kieran at Fidele's response made no visible appearance as he gracefully retreated from his bodyguard's lap to stand, but the mere fact that he was moving without being forced told Fidele that he had said or done something wrong. He hurried to his own feet to hover over Kieran while the prince untied his ponytail and slid his fingers through the length of his straight hair to ease out any tangles before gathering it up in a perfectly centered ponytail. Once it was all fastened out of the way, he felt for the two thin braids that had managed to remain tightly woven through everything. But Kieran quickly dropped his arm when the sensation of a hand, even his own, touching his head that way flooded his senses with the memory of the way he'd been touched by the platinum-headed intruder last night. A shiver coursed through him.

"You must eat breakfast before we leave, Kieran," Fidele said.

"I'm not hungry," Kieran responded. He was suddenly nervous, his stomach turning and leaving him in no mood for food.

"You would be warmer if you would eat more," Fidele said. He couldn't see into Kieran's mind. As far as he could tell, Kieran was behaving normally, refusing to eat anything. Although it was mildly frustrating, it was also a bit of a relief that Kieran didn't seem to be too affected by last night's drama.

"The temperature outside doesn't change based on what I put in my body, Fidele," Kieran answered. Fidele had a fairly solid argument, but Kieran didn't want to eat anything, and therefore he wasn't going to. He would resist until Fidele gave up, even if he didn't believe what he was saying.

But Fidele wouldn't give up as easily on this matter as he would others. He was stricter about Kieran's nutrition than he was about anything else; it wasn't natural for a teenager to eat so little, and certainly not healthy either. "You won't get any books until you eat."

There was one expression that Kieran had yet to figure out how to entirely suppress. It was hereditary, Fidele guessed, because the queen also had one eyebrow which simply couldn't be controlled. Both the queen's and her son's left eyebrow couldn't resist the temptation of arching dubiously whenever someone—typically Fidele, in Kieran's case—said something particularly amusing. A substitute for laughter, perhaps. The only problem was, Fidele didn't intend to be funny.

But Kieran couldn't help it. If Fidele managed to hold to his threat for longer than an hour, the prince would have been genuinely shocked. The fact was that it would take hardly more than a discontented sigh from Kieran once they were on the road before Fidele gave in and called for a book to be brought to the carriage. At least he hadn't outright laughed at his bodyguard.

"Kieran, please," Fidele implored him. "If you won't do it for yourself, do it to ease my worrying."

Inspiring guilt within Kieran was the only way that Fidele could ever change the prince's mind once he decided whether or not he was going to do as he was asked. Unfortunately, it didn't always work.

"There are more crucial things to worry about, Fidele," Kieran replied. "I won't starve to death for missing one meal. Isn't it more important that we stop wasting time here and get moving?"

"Nothing is more important to me than keeping you well, Kieran."

"Then get me home to safety." The words came out less even than Kieran would have liked, but he had never experienced anything like this apprehension the White Phantom instilled in him. "Get me out of his reach." That part, he didn't even mean to speak out loud. His lips had been possessed.

Fidele knew exactly who Kieran meant, despite no name being spoken, and his jaw clenched tightly. He wasn't angry at Kieran for bringing up the villain; he was angry at the man himself, the nerve of him to do such things to Kieran. Fidele was almost eager for the so-called White Phantom would come back, just so that he could crush his vile skull, and thus crush Kieran's fears. That dog was lucky that the prince kept Fidele from going out and hunting him down.

If Fidele felt so compelled to go and seek out the prince's tormentor, he wouldn't have had to search far. Only about a ten-minute gallop away, Terence's camp was ahead of the prince's schedule. There were no late sleepers among them; Terence was an early riser and he wasn't one to just let everyone else lie around all day. In fact, one of his favorite things to do was antagonize his sister into wakefulness, even despite the bumps and bruises it often earned him.

Everyone was packing up and readying their horses for another day of tracking the unidentified caravan when Cataline approached Adamir on foot, leading her mount. As she approached, she made sure to maneuver the animal so that the two of them were closed off, sandwiched between her horse and his. Apparently she wanted at least a little bit of privacy. Adamir raised his attention from tying a bundled blanket to the saddle pack and settled his eyes on her face.

"I'd like to speak with you alone, Adamir," she explained to him.

That much was evident, if not by the blockade she had turned her horse into, then by the fact that she was speaking quieter than he'd ever heard her talk. A far stretch from her typical careless volume.

"Of course," he replied with a nod. He kept his voice low, as though worried about someone hearing him. It wasn't for the sake of the situation, though. Adamir always talked quietly. Sometimes frustratingly so to the others.

"Why don't the two of us get a head start on the others, then?" she suggested, before turning from him to step into the stirrup of her saddle and then swing her leg over. It was a bit of a stretch; she wasn't nearly as tall as her brother. She was still a very capable fighter, though, and what little she may have lacked physically, she made up for with her sharp mind.

While Cat called out to the rest of the band to let them know she was going ahead and that they had better keep their distance for a few minutes, Adamir climbed aboard his own mount and reined his horse into step with hers.

"What've I done to merit such a privilege?" he asked with gentle flippancy. The longer the sentences Adamir spoke, the more evident it became that there was something a touch skewed about his pronunciation. Different than the relaxed way Terence and Cat let their words slip easily through their lips. His r's were slightly turned and occasionally his vowels were distorted by a tongue wasn't entirely comfortable with the King's Tongue.

Cataline smirked a bit. A private conversation with her was generally not a treat. It was rare for anything to be private with Cat. If she had a problem she wasn't afraid to shout about it in front of everyone, so being asked to speak with her alone usually meant she was beyond angry. Clearly, though, Adamir already knew that he hadn't done anything to upset her, otherwise he wouldn't have been making light of it.

"I've a special mission for you. I didn't want Terence to find out and get fired up about not getting to do it himself regardless of how little sense it would make to appoint him this particular task."

Adamir nodded, but then asked, "You don't think once you explained the situation to him, he would understand?" There was obviously more at play here.

"There are some things that he doesn't need to understand just yet," Cat replied, watching Adamir's reaction closely but discreetly from the corner of her eye.

His face showed concern, a slight frown turning his lips downward and wrinkling his brow. "How can you keep something secret from your co-commander?"

"I'm about to explain that to you," she said. "I have a suspicion, Adamir. I deem it best not to let everyone else in on this until it can be confirmed. You're the only one I trust the judgment of beside myself. At least, you're the only one I can be sure to make the same decisions I would, which are obviously the smartest choices."

"What exactly is this suspicion of yours?"

Cat was constantly suspicious. She was shrewd as anyone Adamir had ever met. She saw everything and always shared her insight to keep everyone on the same page and functioning as a collective. This must have been a special case if she was keeping it secret.

"I think it's possible that Terence may have discovered the Prince of Rimsceald in that campsite last night," she revealed.

That was quite the suspicion. Adamir's eyebrows jumped up in disbelief. "The prince? Do you really think he would be wandering about the countryside alone but for only a handful of guards to protect him?"

"Obviously I haven't stacked all my tokens against those odds," Cat told him. "But, as much as I hate to admit it, I think Terence's instincts are actually legitimate this time. He makes fair points. This is something we need to look into, just in case."

"How do you plan to find out if it's the prince?" Adamir guessed this was where he came in, but he wasn't quite sure just how Cat meant to use him.

"I want you to go ahead. Ahead of the caravan, too. And then I want you to loop back around as though you're travelling the opposite direction and make contact with them."

Surely Cataline had a specific goal, so Adamir didn't understand why she wasn't just going herself. "Make contact with them? Why do you want me to do it?"

"Oh please, Adamir," she said with a roll of her eyes. "Anyone else would be a dead giveaway. You're the only one of us who wouldn't immediately scare them off. You have a gentle demeanor and you're the most personable of all of us. You could pass for an honest and innocent traveler."

Adamir couldn't argue with that logic. It seemed a requirement of the White Phantom's fearsome brood to have a bold aura. They all had their own swagger. Terence was the worst of them all, a glaring beacon of attitude. Confident, carefree, and admittedly a bit menacing. And Cataline…well, she was clearly far from being a lady with her revealing clothing, the weapons she purposely kept visible, and her habit of chewing anything that could last a few hours being lazily masticated by her molars. Pips was threatening, albeit lumbering. Then there was Ellith, who was fairly new to the group, but so obviously striving to emulate Terence in every way possible. He succeeded for the most part, although he had a tendency to appear offputtingly arrogant to Adamir, as he had yet to prove his right to strut around the way Terence did.

Of all of them, Adamir surely was the odd man out. He had no presence that was loud enough to project his intentions from a mile away. He was calm, he was unassuming, and he was unobtrusive. He kept a low-profile. As always, Cat's plan had merit.

"I want you to go now, but don't show yourself today. Wait until tomorrow. You'll manage on your own for a night?" she asked, passing over to him a bundle of rations that would last him a day.

He accepted the package. "I suppose I'll be all right," he responded, without adding out loud that he had managed on his own for a great part of his life. He saved any amusement at the irony for himself, enjoying it with half a quiet smile as he drew his reins to the right to steer his horse off the road and into the trees.

After Adamir had disappeared and Cataline pulled her horse to a stop to wait for them to catch up, it took the rest of the band fifteen minutes or so to reach her. During that time she had to herself, she formulated a list of questions to ask her brother regarding what he'd seen in the camp last night. It might be a chore getting anything useful out of him, though. Not because he was difficult, but because he saw the world completely different than the way Cat saw it. He never noticed the things that she wished he would. He could tell her exactly how many men he'd seen and every single weapon each man was armed with, but what crest was embroidered on a garment he would never be able to tell her.

"What was that all about?" Terence asked, his head swiveling about in search of Adamir. "Where's Addy? You rough him up a bit too much?"

"I sent him on an errand," Cataline replied.

"What kinda errand?" Terence prodded her. "Nothing you shoulda let me do, right?"

"Just something small," she explained. "You wouldn't have been interested."

"The interesting stuff is going to happen tonight when I go back in," Terence said with a smirk.

Cataline's head whipped to the side and her narrowed eyes locked on her brother. "You're not going back in tonight. I have a plan, Terence. The only way I will go along with this hunch of yours is if you follow that plan. Otherwise I'm calling the whole mission off and we're going home."

"So, according to this plan, when do I get to actually do something?" Terence wondered.

"Once we figure out just who we're dealing with. Now, tell me again about these people that you saw."

"What about 'em?" Terence shrugged. "The teenager was about your height—but probably only a fraction of your weight—and the bodyguard might as well have been grizzly bear."

"You didn't notice anything distinguishing about them?" she urged him.

"Besides the fact that one was a teenager and the other one was a giant?" Terence didn't understand what could be any more distinguishing about two people in the current context. His smirking lips withheld what he thought was the most distinguishing trait about the kid: he was cute as fuck. If Cataline found out about Terence's little crush, she would cancel the entire mission. "Maybe I should go in again tonight to look for distinguishing stuff."

A huff passed through her lips. If only she could have reached into Terence's brain and fished out what she needed. He had a curious nature, her brother, and even if he didn't think anything of it, Cataline knew that he had a habit of playing with things that were unfamiliar to him, touching and toying to gain understanding of such mysteries. If only she could have been there with him, just to watch him and notice all the things that he noticed without actually noticing them.

"Your boredom makes you reckless. Why don't you get down and walk for a bit. That should get rid of some of your pent-up energy."

That wasn't a bad idea. Terence swung his leg over the saddle horn and dropped to the ground, where his dog hurried to meet him and force her head into his hanging hand for a pet. He looked up at his sister as he strode in between his horse and his dog. "So, back to this plan of yours…does it involve doing anything besides following them?"

Behind, Terence heard the rustling of someone sliding out of their saddle and the soft thuds of two feet hitting the ground. He checked over his shoulder to see that Ellith had also dismounted his horse and was tying the reins to Pips' saddle.

"Not for you," Cataline responded, just as Ellith fell into step with Terence with a grin. "I've sent Adamir to ride ahead so that he can double back and then make contact with their caravan from the opposite direction. Hopefully he'll actually be able to learn something about them."

Terence returned Ellith's smile and gave a slight nod of acknowledgement before redirecting his attention to Cat. "Good. We'll have our answer tonight then, and then tomorrow night we can make our move."

"He's not going to run into them until tomorrow," Cat said.

"Why not?" Ellith asked.

"Because I told him to wait until then.

"Why, though?" Ellith questioned her. "We shouldn't be wasting time."

Terence would happily let him ask all the questions and get on Cat's nerves rather than doing it himself.

"You're annoying me, Ellith," Cat told him bluntly.

If he'd wanted to learn, she would have been glad to teach him, but it was obvious that he was only asking questions because he wanted to argue with her decisions. He had been paying too much attention to Terence, it would seem. There was one huge difference between Terence arguing with her and Ellith arguing with her, though: Terence actually knew what he was doing on occasion. Cataline wasn't about to humor some rookie looking to impress her brother. She hadn't even seen Ellith in action, thus she had no idea if he could actually perform under pressure. He was going to have to prove himself before he was allowed to have an opinion.

"We should move into the trees; we're getting too close." Cat's arm lifted to point ahead at the caravan, which didn't seem to be moving yet.

"Looks like someone stayed up a bit too late last night," Terence smirked. Was it arrogant of him to be so sure that he was the reason the caravan was getting a late start?

"Congratulations," Cat drawled with a half-smile of her own. "You gave a teenager nightmares. You're so fearsome, Terence."

Nightmares? Terence chuckled a bit. He had been hoping to give his new friend some very pleasant erotic dreams, but he guessed nightmares were better than nothing. In hopes of getting a better view of what was happening in the camp from a higher vantage point, Terence stepped up into the stirrup of his saddle.

"Terence, off the road," Cataline snapped. "They're going to be on the lookout for us."

"And what happens if they see me?" Terence asked, waving off her concerns. "They already know we're following them. They aren't about to come chasing after us. If they were going to, they would have tailed me last night." Never the less, he followed the other three into the trees.

"Does it cause you physical pain to actually follow a plan?" Cat asked. "Will it actually hurt you to be patient?"

Terence wasn't always in a hurry. When there was nowhere to be and nothing to do, he was content to chase butterflies as much as the next guy. But when there was a finish line, a prize, or a goal to reach, Terence had a habit of developing tunnel-vision.

"Yes."

"Good. You deserve it."

They went back and forth for the better part of the morning. Aggravating his sister was a fairly entertaining way for Terence to pass the time, but eventually his interest in bantering with her faded. He frequently returned to the road just to get a glimpse of what was happening with the caravan, which had finally gotten a move-on and seemed to be moving at a pace faster than normal. It was a bit pointless, trying to run. Terence had perfected his raiding method by this point; there was no escape for his prey. Unless they turned out to be innocent and he let them go. But even if that did turn out to be the case, it would take some convincing before Terence could just take their word for it. He would have to keep their commander prisoner for at least…three days. For questioning.

And then once the questioning was over, once Terence had gotten his fill of serenading from that frosty little fellow—wait. Just when it was getting to the good part, Terence remembered something that Cataline would probably want to know. One of those distinguishing things that she had asked about. Even Terence knew that sometimes work had to come before play. His daydream would still be around after he had a quick chat with his sister.

"I just thought of something," Terence said, what seemed out of the blue to the others as he had been silent for some time now.

Cataline turned to him, already doubting the importance of what might have just struck him. But even whatever wild whim Terence was going to share was favorable over Pips constantly complaining about anything and everything. "Well you better spit it out before you lose it."

"Ya know, I still haven't figured out why you aren't married yet, what with your sweet disposition…" Terence chuckled. "Anyway, before I lose it, the kid and the bodyguard were talking in a different language."

"A different language," Cataline mused to herself for a moment. That was something. There were few who lived permanently in Rimsceald that spoke anything other than the King's Tongue. Occasionally, a foreign merchant would pass through, but with the kingdom in such hardship, they rarely came nowadays. And the clans used to speak their own tongues, but they had been assimilated and scattered by this point. She turned her attention back to Terence. "Are you sure?"

"Well, it could be possible that I just forgot how to speak the King's Tongue for a minute there and it just sounded foreign to me," Terence shrugged flippantly. "So, no. I'm not sure."

"Terence, I swear on—"

"All right, I'm sure," Terence confirmed, before she worked herself into a tizzy. "Does it mean anything?"

It could mean a few things. It could mean that they were horribly mistaken and stalking a caravan of foreign book-collectors just passing through the kingdom. That was probably the most likely. But, even though it might have been a far stretch, Cataline could see this tidbit fitting in with her theory. Everyone knew that the queen was a daughter of the chieftain of one of the warrior clans that Lothar had conquered. And if the queen was full-blooded Myrmaga, if Cat recalled the name of the people correctly, then it was possible that she would have raised her son as one as well. Was it too far-fetched to think that maybe the language Terence had heard was Myrmaga? Cataline couldn't tell anymore if she was seeing actual clues, or creating connections that didn't exist.

"The only way to know is to hear what Adamir has to report when we meet back up with him," Cataline said.

Her views on luck were about the same as her brother's: she didn't really believe in it, she believed in preparation. But it seemed like maybe they'd had a stroke of good fortune, one that couldn't be accounted for by forethought. Adamir just happened to be Myrmaga. And he just happened to speak their language. Cat couldn't even claim to have planned that. If this turned out to be what she was too cautious to get excited about, maybe she would start believing in luck.


A/N: Guys, I don't quite feel like my old self again yet. I think I've actually regressed a little bit, as far as my writing goes. However, I think that I just need to get back into it. I need to start slow and gain my momentum. I need to get a feel for what I'm trying to do here. I think I've got Terence pretty well nailed down (he's easy haha), but I'm kind of worried that this version of Kieran won't be as well-loved as the original. Let me know what you think, if you've got a moment. Was this chapter boring? I know in the original version, someone said they actually skipped over parts that were boring, so that's a concern. But I adore writing about this sweet, yet painful love between Kieran and Fidele, even though it can be slow at times. Also, the length? Do I write too much? I'd love to know what's on your mind, questions, complaints, predictions, etc. Nothing makes my day like hearing from you guys! Thank you for being so patient and sticking with me. It means the world. Much love!

KittyROAR