William the Valient - as he thought of himself - looked into the beautiful crystal ball he had begun a war to capture. He had hidden it in an unused portion of the castle, an old bedroom from some forgotten low-level family member or servant, and only the guard outside marked the room as important.

"Show me the Princess Alondra," he said quietly. He didn't want to risk the embarrassment of being overheard. Of course, he could always claim he was spying on an enemy, but he thought that getting caught spying on her at night might reveal his true intentions.

She was sleeping, fully clothed and ready for battle at a moment's notice, as usual. He watched her sleep for several minutes, and then he sighed and told the ball to stop the vision.

She was generally on the battlefield, and he had only seen her out of her armor once. She had been injured, and his heart had sunk as he watched one of her comrades remove an arrow from her shoulder.

She was nude from the waist up, which shocked him a bit, but what was more shocking was the state of her body.

His own court had a complicated sense of fashion, and high-class women were expected to be soft and delicate. Their skin should be buttery and flawless, and the eyes lustrous and large with enhancements from paint and belladonna.

Her body was thin and hard, with muscles that looked more as if they had been sculpted than grown. She was filthy from battle, and he had never seen a dirty woman except for the peasants he passed on the streets.

But what truly fascinated him was the evidence of her victories and defeats. Scars covered her torso, and even though he had no knowledge of battle or medicine he could discern that the one across her stomach should have been fatal.

He admired the strength she must have to survive such a wound and return to the battlefield again.

Large and small scars covered her as a rich woman might cover herself in gold chains. One ragged scar reached down from her neck and over her collarbone.

She should have disgusted him. He generally despised peasants, but he felt irresistibly drawn to her. He unconsciously reached toward the crystal ball, his fingers itching to run lightly down the scar that crossed over her left breast, barely missing her nipple.

He caressed the crystal longingly, and he carried that memory with him for the rest of his life.

He spied on her for months, but he never saw her body again. It was maddening, knowing what was under the dented, befouled armor. His own men wore the best armor and carried the most up-to-date weapons, but the woman from the mountains beat them back in her battered and poorly made armor.

One summer night he was finally rewarded with the sight of her sleeping in just her smallclothes, and he spied, almost fearing to breathe lest the vision fade.

He saw a few new small scars and a bandage around one leg. The bandage had blood seeping through, and he feared lest she should die of infection.

She moved in her sleep, and he caught his breath. He wanted to see more of her, more of her dirty skin, her barbaric long, unbound hair, and more of her scars.

He was too entranced to hear the door open behind him, or the carefully measured steps that approached slowly behind him.

"William the Coward, turn and face justice," he heard behind him. The voice was cold and full of hate.

He turned and saw General Alondra before him. She looked exactly as she did in the crystal, except fully armored and holding a sword dripping with blood. He hoped it was only one of the guards or servants she had killed and not a member of his family.

"But - " he said, glancing back at the crystal, where he still saw her sleeping.

"My mages made the scrying sphere," she said. "Did you really think we couldn't control our own creation?"

"You knew what I was doing?" he asked, horrified.

"You were easy to trap. I knew we could distract you this way."

He was terrified, and he opened his mouth to bargain for his life, but instead what came out was, "let me touch your scars."

The hot pain as her sword pierced him was only overwhelmed by the knowledge that she was smiling as he died.