I finished wrapping a parcel of food that I had bought in the village square, then turned away to join her friends. The square was filled with villagers, dressed mostly in drab, gray colors of modest cut. Mules and donkeys moved throughout the place, leaving their unmistakable smell behind them. Merchants called out their wares, and musicians were scattered about, hats tossed on the ground to collect coins. Farmers gathered here too; it was Market day, tenth and last day of the week, the day of market. Noises drifted through the air, loud and shrill ones penetrating my thoughts. I sighed; lifting my brown skirt to avoid a puddle of mud, I walked on.

Soon enough I reached my four closest friends, whom had also bought or bargained for the item that they'd been sent to fetch. For Kayli, Ela, and Sonir it was their parents that had sent them - but Oren and I had been sent by their father and stepfather to obtain their things.

Oren was the only one of my stepsiblings that I liked. My mother had married his father - the blacksmith Geor - when I was four, and had died two years afterward. Geor had already had five children - Nieyn, Calli, Shayt, Oren, and Lors. Oren was my age, and the only quiet child; he excepted his new stepsister in a way none of the others did, and stood up for me when my mother died and the years afterward. Geor would have liked to through me out, but family ties in the kingdom of Lyraine were impossibly strong, for either noble or peasant, if they were known of. So he had kept me those next eight years, treating me like little better then a servant - but he fed me and clothed me, which was better then some people got.

Kayli, Ela, and Sonir were the only other children in town that excepted - and became friends with - me. The blacksmith's children were known to beat up on anyone that was nice to someone they didn't like, and they did not like their father's charge.

I had just reached my four friends when the village bells started ringing. The children looked up, startled, for the bells did not ring except to signal a wedding, death, or emergency. The five of us looked about, standing on our tiptoes to see what the problem was. Hoof beats could be heard; the center of the square and a path leading to it were quickly cleared.

"Ani," whispered Kayli, leaning over to me, "what do you imagine is going on?"

"I dunno . . . but look there!" And the two of us and our friends did look. Fourteen men on horses had entered the square, and one of then was holding the reins to another horse. The horses were very fine, finer then any the village had seen. On them sat men that were obviously of importance; they wore rich clothing, and one carried a banner. The villagers gasped as they recognized the banner. It was white with gold fringes and had a green circle inside it. In the green circle was a dragon, white, rearing and breathing fire. The outline of the dragon was embroidered in gold. This was the banner of a duke from the east, near the sea and near the capitol. It was the banner of the House Laelcorei, ruled by Duke Edloron. This family was very powerful, and the duke was the best friend and head advisor of the king.

"Fallai," Sonir swore, using the god of fires name. "What's one of the most powerful dukes in the realm doing here? In this tiny village?" This five of us children stood on tiptoe in order to see better, but we did not really need to, as the men on horses sat much higher then any of the people.

"Which one's the duke?" I heard a little girl that stood nearby her ask her mother. I myself turned to look at the group, and found it easy to pick the head of the Laelcorei out. He sat upon his horse next to his banner bearer, clothed richly in the three colors of his house. He was to far away for me to see much detail, but I strained to.

"Silence!" shouted one of the men accompanying the duke. "Silence in the presence of Duke Edloron of Laelcorei!" The crowd immediately calmed, and hushed stillness washed over them. A baby cried out and was quickly muffled; then the duke started to speak.

" Good villagers, thank you for your attention. Listen good people; is there a woman here by the name of Ralla kaiAmla? If she stands here, let her come forward."

I stiffened, aware of my four best friends looking at me. My mother was Ralla kaiAmla, but she had died eight years ago. No one walked forward into the space cleared for the duke and his escort.

"As this women does not come forward, I must ask another question. Is there any here that knew Ralla kaiAmla closely?"

Now several people started to move, but stopped when they saw my stepfather step near the duke; she had been his wife, after all.

"What is your name? And how, peasant, did you know the woman Ralla kaiAmla?"

My stepfather was shaking, his hands clasped behind his back. "I am -" he stopped, cleared his throat, and tried again. "I am Geor keiDonlan. Ralla kaiAmla was my second wife, your Grace."

"Does she live?"

"N-no, your grace. She passed away eight years back."

"And when did you marry her?"

"Ten years b-back, your Grace."

"Ten years back," the duke mused. " And did she have a child of four years with her?" I breathed in sharply, and felt many pairs of eyes turn to me. I was that child.

"Aye, m'lord, she did. My stepdaughter."

The duke smiled slightly. "This girl still lives?"

"Aye, your Grace."

" Bring her here."


"Yes, peasant. Now."

My stepfather looked around, desperate. He obviously had no idea where I was. "Ah, god's eye," I swore, and began pushing my way through the crowd. I was sure my face was drained of blood. The crowd parted for me, until I stood near my stepfather.

" Your Grace," I said, dropping a clumsy curtsy. I looked uncertainly at him, them stared down at his horses hooves.

"May my stepdaughter be of help, to you, your grace?" Geor said, looking as bewildered as I. " If I may know . . . has she committed some offense?"

I glanced up at the duke. I had done nothing wrong, nothing that someone as important as he would care about. The duke caught my glance, then surveyed me, then my stepfather, his face expressionless. He did not answer, but waved a careless hand and one of his men rode forward. This was the one holding the reins of another horse, and he led it forward too. Then the man dismounted - he was of middle age, with brown hair and kind gray eyes - and he led the horse over to me. I stared.

"Can you mount, my lady?" he said, quiet enough that no one but I could hear him, and hardly that. I looked at him in confusion, then up at the tall white horse, much too tall for me.

"I can ride, sir," I stumbled out weakly, as soft as him. He gave a nod, then, to my shock and everyone else's, he lifted me into the saddle, and mounted his own horse. I clutched my mount's reins, too stunned to do anything else. I looked about helplessly, then saw the dukes eye finally fall again on Geor.

"What is her name?" His voice was emotionless, his stature tall.

"I . . . she is Ani. Ani kaiRalla." He glanced at me, sitting atop the white steed, at loss for words.

"Ani?" the duke said, raising an eyebrow. "Perhaps that is a call- name? Or is it her complete name?"

My stepfather swallowed, and I felt a dart of compassion for the middle-aged man for a moment. Only a moment. "Ah . . . Ani is her full name, your grace." It was obvious he wanted too ask again if I was a criminal, but was afraid to.

"Ani," the noble said, but he was not talking to me. He frowned slightly, though I could not see why my name would matter to him. He them turned directly to me, and I stared into his eyes a moment before I looked down, frightened. " Does the name please you?" he asked of me. I stared, perplexed as why the duke of Laelcorei would care.

"It is who . . . " I am, I had meant to say, when I realized that I was probably just supposed to say, 'if it pleases you.' But I was too confused and anxious and awestruck by this formidable person then to squeak out, "Ani is all I have known for a name." Then I blushed, and added, "Your Grace.

He studied me, his gaze sweeping up down me and I felt sure all he saw was an incompetent peasant on a horse I knew nothing about. I felt my skin prickling as he watched me. He looked away as swiftly as his gaze had come, and motioned to one of his men with a very lordly gesture. The man held a pen, a real one that held ink rather then just quills, and a piece of stiff white parchment. "Make it Anirelle." I could not help myself. My mouth hung open, I looked on in disbelief. I snapped my mouth shut, and turned to the villagers who were murmuring amongst themselves, looking as disconcerted as I. Was the duke actually renaming me? "With the second name of - Londaiya." Apparently so. The voices of the village folk grew louder, yet in my mind they disappeared as my thoughts blocked them out.

Londaiya was the name of one of the queens of our realm Lyraine, that had lived centuries back. She had been a great heroine, and her name was often given to noble ladies. But nobles only. You would never find an ordinary person with the name of a queen. And names - why? Why did the noble care about me? I looked again at the duke, but he was conversing with the man next to him. I looked to my stepfather, who looked scared and a little angry - at me, I was sure.

The duke looked up from his talk, his eyes finding Geor. "You wanted to know if the girl is a criminal." It wasn't a question. The crowd stilled to watch how Geor would respond.

"Ah . . . only if it would please your Grace to tell me." His words did sound like a question, so uncertain and afraid was he, and his eyes stared at his feet. The duke was silent, until at last Geor lifted his eyes.

"To answer," again the duke locked eyes with the blacksmith, seeming to see to the mans very soul, "she is not a criminal." The crowd sighed in relief, and I looked at them in scorn; they did not care for me as much as they cared for the fact that such a drama was taking place in the town square.

"She is Lady Anirelle Londaiya Laelcorei kaiRalla, daughter of my late brother, the Earl of Taylin. She is his heir and my niece, and must be raised as such." The duke threw a heavy coin bag to land directly in front of Geor. "For sheltering her." He waved one arm and all the horses started riding, mine included. We rode straight out of the town, the villagers staring in wide-eyed astonishment. I was just as amazed as they were.