Modern Crusaders: Adeptus Major

By PsiDraconis

For disclaimers see Chapter 1

Author's Notes: This chapter is dedicated to my mother, who supplied me with the initial poem. In thanks, I have inserted one of my favourite stories about her. I'll give you a hint: the "Cursor Story" is true. Yeah, maybe I'm not being as kind and thankful as I could be, but I couldn't help myself.

In reference to feedback, my mother also says, and I quote, "Write them all and tell them you want to hear from them, or I'll put a hex on themÓ or words to that effect." End quote.

Thanks, Mom.

"'Tis not too late to seek a newer world.

Push off, and sitting well in order smite

The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds

To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths

Of all the western stars, until I die.

It may be that the gulfs will wash us down;

It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,

And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.

Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho'

We are not now that strength which in old days

Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are, --

One made equal temper of heroic hearts,

Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will

To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield."

- Alfred Tennyson, Ulysses

Chapter 13

"Thank you, Rifa," Evelynne said to the servant as he cleared the remnants of the morning's breakfast from the table. "Please be sure to compliment Latifa for me."

"Tell her thanks from me, too," Ally added. "I think I'm getting fat, much to my mother's delight." The princess looked on sceptically as she patted her stomach, which was still flat as a board.

"Of course, Your Highness, Ishta," Rifa said. Smiling and bowing slightly, effortlessly balancing an arm full of plates, he left the room.

Sitting back in her seat, Evelynne smiled across at her breakfast companion. "So what were your plans for the day? I suppose you'll be catching up with your parents."

"A little later I will," Ally admitted. "This morning I think they'll be sleeping in. Jet lag and all. Right now I wouldn't mind going for a walk with you, though, if you have the time."

Evelynne couldn't keep the grin from spreading across her face. "Absolutely. I'm pretty free these days. Za is the one who's being run off his feet."

In fact, the King had barely had a chance to sit down to breakfast before he had been pulled away by some emergency with which apparently only he was qualified to deal. Murmuring an apology to his guest and daughter, he had hurried off to take the call.

Chorus was also absent from the breakfast table. When Maïda, appalled by the scheduling of an official banquet on such short notice, had announced her intention to travel into Kilim to obtain some "absolutely vital" supplies, the young man had attached himself to her entourage. He had claimed a desire to immerse himself more in Atlantlan language and culture, but Ally suspected from the gleam in his eye that he had some secret mission.

So the two young women were alone as they left the small breakfast room and made their way outside into the outer gardens. The day had dawned bright and clear, and despite the early hour, the day was promising to be a warm one.

Ally and Evelynne wandered through along the pathways, enjoying the bright colours of the floral beds. To one side of the garden James the Groundskeeper - Ally had never been able to learn his last name - was diligently tending his charges, although he waved in greeting when he saw the pair.

In the distance Ally could make out the forms of a few Guards, and knew that no matter the location, they would be under watchful eyes. It was standard procedure when the princess was out of doors.

Still, it was easy enough to imagine that they were alone, and when Evelynne naturally took Ally's right arm, the taller woman was able to accept the familiarity without even flinching. Instead, she simply relaxed, leaning more of her weight into Evelynne's body and less on her cane, and enjoyed the warmth of the contact.

An internal part of her winced, however, as the action brought up the memory of the visit her mother had paid her the night before.

The knock on her bedroom door came just as she was preparing for bed. The unforgotten "nudity incident" made Ally quickly check to make sure that she was, in fact, dressed in her red silk pyjamas before calling, "Come in."

Catherine Tretiak cautiously opened the door and entered. She took in the bedroom's décor, impressed. Seeing her daughter standing by the huge bed, she commented, "I should have known you would manage to get yourself a room with lots of dragons in it. Of course, it's a bit bigger than your old room at home, isn't it?"

Ally quickly crossed the floor to hug her mother with one arm. Releasing her, she said, "It is a little large, huh? I think we could fit half the house in here. Although you're right, I do like the motif."

"It's quite impressive. Your father and I are in a room with thoseÓ you know, those fiery birdsÓ what do you call them?"

"Oh, the Phoenix room. That one's gorgeous."

"That it is. However, I'm a little worried about my reaction if I wake up suddenly in the middle of the night. I'll probably think the room's on fire."

Ally laughed. She led her mother over to the bed, where she eased herself into a cross-legged position. Catherine perched on the edge. "Of course, Dad will sleep through it. I'm assuming he's asleep now."

Her mother nodded. "You know your father. I'll be joining him soon, but first I wanted to talk with you a little."

Ally swallowed the trepidation that was slowly growing inside her. "Sure."

"First of all, Ally, are you sure you're okay? We've been out of touch with the news for the last six weeks, but I saw a few of the reports when we were flying out here. Now tell me, what exactly happened?"

"WellÓ" Ally paused. This was one of the questions she had been dreading. Seeing her mother's expectant eyes, she finally decided to go with the truth. "When Evelynne was visiting Marseilles someone tried to shoot her. I, umÓ I saw them and knocked her down. They kept shooting, though, and theyÓ I was hit twice. Three times, actually, but only two did anything."

As she had been expecting, Ally's mother's face was pale. Her voice was remarkably steady, however, as she asked, "Can IÓ see?"

The young woman didn't say anything, just pulled down the collar of her shirt to show the still shiny scar on her right shoulder, then turned and pulled up the back of her shirt to display the one in the middle of her back. She flinched slightly as Catherine's cool fingers reached out to gently touch the scar. Feeling suddenly exposed, she let the hem fall and turned back.

The older Tretiak's pallor had increased, but her voice was still eerily calm as she said, "Oh my. WhatÓ happened?"

Deciding that the straight truth would be appreciated, Ally explained, "I was actually really lucky. The shoulder bullet went right through with only a flesh wound. It actually hit Evelynne in her left shoulder too. The one in my back missed the spine and all of my organs. I was paralysed for a couple of days because of the swelling, but that passed quickly. Since then I've mostly been repairing the damage to the muscles and rebuilding strength. The doctors say my prognosis is good. It still hurts a lot of the time, but it's not too bad." She spared a glance at her mother, who was still looking at her levelly. "You seem to be taking thisÓ rather well," she said tentatively.

Mrs Tretiak rubbed a hand over her eyes. "Right now I'm extremely tired and in shock," she admitted. "I've scheduled my breakdown for tomorrow." She sat in silence for a moment, then said carefully, "ExactlyÓ howÓ did you do all this? Am I correct in assuming that it wasÓ with special assistance?"

"Yes," Ally confirmed. "I just knew when they were going to shoot, and I managed to push the gun enough with my mind to make the first shot miss." She paused.

"But you said you were hit three times but only two 'did anything'. How did that happen? I don't think you could do that before. Are you bullet-proof now?"

"Not quite. You remember that monastery I visited in Thailand?" Catherine Tretiak nodded. "There was a monk there who knew how to do it. He was a Kung Fu Master, and he could direct his chi to minimise blows. So he showed me how. I didn't tell him," Ally hastened to add. "He just knew I had the potential. I would have liked to stay longer, but the other monks didn't like the idea of a woman staying for an extended period of time, and Lung Shou Wei wasn't willing to leave. I promised to visit again, though."

"I see. And does anyone hereÓ know? About you?" This time the anxiety was clearly evident.

"Chorus knows," Ally admitted. "Don't worry, he won't tell. He's special himself."

"Oh? How so?"

"He's a savant. You know, kind of like Uncle Philip is with math. Chorus picks up languages incredibly fast. He spoke Thai fluently after three weeks. He speaks twenty-three languages. The last time I checked, anyway."

"That's incredible. I'll have to talk to him." Ally waited as her mother processed this information. "So does anyone else know? Does Princess Evelynne know?"

Ally felt her cheeks heating and cursed herself for being unable to control her reaction. "No, nobody else does. No one's said anything, anyway, and I think they would, if only in disbelief. Not even Evelynne."

Catherine watched the blush pass over her daughter's features and sighed as more evidence was added to her suspicions. "Ally, what is going on between you and Princess Evelynne?"

Ally felt herself heating more. "What do you mean?" The question came out more defensive than she had intended. "We've become friends."

"Is that all?"

"Of course it is! What are you trying to say?"

Catherine sighed. "Ally, when we were downstairs at lunchÓ I read you. I know."

"You what?" Ally exclaimed indignantly. "Mom, how could you? We have rules, remember?"

"Ally, as your mother there are times when the rules do not apply. I didn't read anyone else, just you."

"But still, Mom, that's -"

Her mother interrupted. "Ally, we can argue about that later. Right now I want to know what you're planning to do." Seeing her daughter about to object again, Catherine overrode her. "You're not listening, Ally. I know that you like her. That's fine. I know you're attracted to her. That's also fine; she's a beautiful girl. However, I know that you're also in love with her. And that's what I'm worried about."

Ally couldn't find the words to speak.

Catherine's tone lightened in sympathy. "I'm only saying this because I don╝t want to see you hurt. She is not just your friend Evelynne. She is Crown Princess Evelynne, the next ruler of this country. Even if she were to reciprocate your interest -" Which I suspect she might, she added to herself. "- princesses simply do not date women. Even if you were to somehow begin a relationship, eventually she would be forced to leave you."

"Annie said the same thing," Ally murmured softly.

"She did?" asked her mother, startled. "When was this?"

"A few weeks ago. I talked to her on the phone." Ally took a deep breath. "And I'll tell you what I told her. Right now Evelynne and I are just good friends." She no longer bothered trying to deny her emotions. "Nothing more is going to happen, and when I finally have to leave, or she does, I'll be depressed for a while, then move on." She took her mother's hand and strove to inject some humour into the discussion. "I expect you to be there to get me ice cream while I'm moping. Annie's offered to supply the consolation sex."

"Alleandre Tiffany Tretiak! I do not need to hear about that!" Though she wanted to maintain the light tone, Catherine knew she had to make her next words serious. "You know I love you, and I only want what's best for you. I don't want to see you hurt."

"I know, Mom, and I really do appreciate it, but remember that it's my life, hurt or no hurt. And you know how one makes a swordÓ" Her mother nodded in understanding. Ally leaned forward, ignoring the warning twinge in her back, to wrap her mother in a tight hug. "It's okay, Mom. I have things under control."

"I have things under control."

The words rang through Ally's head mockingly as she tried to control her body's reaction to Evelynne's proximity and casual intimacy. She could feel her emotions expanding, and knew that she was less in charge of herself than she had confidently informed her mother. Damnit, this is going to be hard, she thought.

Ally became aware that her companion was speaking and attempted to focus her attention on the words, rather than the body the words were issuing from. "Pardon?"

"Are you okay? You seem a bitÓ spacey. I was asking what you were talking about with za yesterday afternoon. You were alone for quite a while." Two hours and seventeen minutes, to be exact. Not that I was timing it, or waiting, or anything, the princess told herself. No, I really wasn't. She was aware of an internal voice laughing hysterically.

"Oh, yeah. We talked for a while. That's actually kind of what I wanted to talk to you about. I, umÓ I have a favour to ask you." Spotting a stone bench, intricately carved with startlingly lifelike flowers, Ally delayed by asking, "Do you mind if we sit down?"


The next few minutes were spent arranging themselves comfortably on the seat. Ally sighed in relief. Most days her back was relatively pain-free, but today it was bothering her more than usual for some reason.

"I love the view here," Ally commented as she took in the scenery. They had walked up the slight hill behind the Palace, and could now see all the way to the ocean several kilometres away. The land in between seemed to glow in the morning sunshine. "Especially on days like today. It feels like you could almost see Spain from here."

Evelynne laughed. "Not quite, unfortunately. But if you went out there -" She pointed out across the distant water. "- about thirty kilometres you're able to see Portugal on a clear day. However, from here you can seeÓ" She twisted around to look at the mountain rising behind them. She searched for a moment, then pointed triumphantly. "Right there, see? What looks like a faint cloud near that cliff?"

Ally squinted through her glasses. "I think so. Right where that split is?"

"That's it. That cloud is actually steam from a series of hot springs on the side of Mount Sekemat. Most of them are completely inaccessible, and the only way they can be seen is by the steam escaping from the pools."

"Cool," Ally said. Completely inaccessible, eh? Methinks not.

Returning to a position looking over the ocean, Evelynne prompted, "You said you wanted to ask me something?"

"Yeah," Ally said, suddenly more nervous. "UmÓ Your father was talking to me because he wants to reward me forÓ you know, what I did. I told him I didn't need anything, but he wasÓ quite insistent."

Evelynne grinned. "Good for him. You deserve everything you're offered."

"Yeah, well, apparently the Hall of Nobles is going to give me some sort of cash reward - I don't know how much - and your father is going to give me some gift, although he won't tell me what it is."

"That's my za, trying to be mysterious. But I don't know what you want from me. Do you want me to try to find out what it is or something? I really don't want to spoil his surprise, but if you really want me toÓ"

"No, that's okay. Although it's still very weird to be receiving gifts from the King of Atlantl. Actually, there was one other thing he wanted to do, and that wasÓ wellÓ he wants toÓ knight me."

The princess looked blank for a moment, then a huge grin spread across her face. "Isis, Ally, why didn't you tell me? Why didn't he tell me?" she gushed. "Oh, this is perfect! Dame Alleandre Tretiak! I can't think of anything more appropriate." She hesitated when Ally failed to match her enthusiasm. "Wait, you did accept, didn't you?"

"Well, I actually told him I'd think about it. It was a bit of a shock, you know? I never in my wildest dreams imagined that anything like this would happen to me. WellÓ maybe in my wildest dreams, butÓ"

"Okay, I can understand that," Evelynne sympathised. "I think you should accept. Of course, I am a little biased. So did you want my help in deciding?"

"NoÓ It wasÓ Your father explained to me about being nominated to an Order, and all of their entrance requirements. Some I don't meet, of course. I'm not a Christian or Muslim, so that knocks out four Orders right there. Out of the ones remaining, a few just don't match my lifestyle." She reddened slightly, remembering the discussion about the Order of Saint Mary the Virgin. "I think I qualify for about four Orders. In fact, the one that seems to fit me the most is the Order of Sir George and the Dragon." Ally took a deep breath. "To make a long story short, even with the Orders I could be raised to, I'm not really comfortable with having an organisation, even a benevolent one, control my allegiance. So the other option is apparently getting a noble to Sponsor me. I don't really know many of the nobles, so my choices have been basically narrowed to Duke Thomas andÓ well, you." She stole a glance at Evelynne, who was watching her with an unreadable expression. Steeling herself, Ally finished, "So, umÓ I was hoping you would Sponsor me. I trust you."

Evelynne sat staring at her friend for a moment, leaving Ally to wonder if she had done the wrong thing, before exploding forward to envelop the taller woman in a fierce embrace. The princess pulled Ally tightly to her, striving to put across the emotions she was feeling.

Ally returned the embrace, tentatively at first, but then with more strength. She felt Evelynne's upper body pressed to her own, and the princess' chin was resting on her shoulder. Despite her resolution to avoid any intense emotional entanglement, for several moments she just enjoyed Evelynne's warmth and the sensations her proximity generated.

Finally they pulled apart, with a great deal of hidden reluctance on both sides.

"So, um, is that a 'yes'?" Ally asked.

The question startled a laugh out of Evelynne. "Of course it's a yes." She reached down to take both of Ally's hands in her own and looked her friend directly in the eyes. "Alleandre Tretiak, I would be honoured to Sponsor you for elevation to knighthood." She laughed again, and dashed a hand across her eyes. "Now look what you've done. You've made me cry."

"UmÓ sorry?"

"Oh, stop," Evelynne chided. She gave Ally another shorter hug before sitting back. "So did za say when this was going to happen?"

"Well, he suggested some time around Christmas for the actual ceremony itself. Not on Christmas Day, since I'm not a Christian, but maybe on the Solstice. It would allow my parents to come without my Dad having to miss school, and my Mom has less work in winter. It's also exactly six months from my birthday, so that might have some symbolic significance."

"Christmas, huh? That's just over three months from now. Well, that should give me just enough time to get everything ready."

"It'll take that long?" Ally asked, surprised. "I'm obviously no expert on knighthood ceremonies, but what do you have to do."

"Oh my. Well, I have to file the paperwork, construct the ritual, design your blazon, actually arrange for the necessary components, commission your weaponÓ And then review and edit everything, rehearse, and so on and so forth."

"Oh." Ally looked uncertain. "I didn't mean to make this so hard on you. I don't -"

Evelynne interrupted with a finger to Ally's lips. She firmly suppressed the shiver that shot through her. "Hush," she instructed. "Don't worry, I'll have help. Besides," she continued softly, moving her hand to the side of Ally's face, "you're worth it."

Evelynne and Ally heard King Jad well before they saw him. Entering through the back door, which was close to the Palace's main study, they could clearly discern his frustrated bellows. Ally couldn't understand what he was saying, since he was speaking Lantlan, and catching a glimpse of Evelynne's wince actually made her glad she couldn't.

"Uh oh," the princess murmured. "Someone isn't happy. I'd better try to calm him down before that number grows. Come on." Still holding Ally's hand, she began leading her towards the study.

Ally trailed along more reluctantly, since even though she couldn't understand the actual words, the venom in the King's voice made it clear that it was not pleasant.

Reaching the closed door to the study, the pair ran into Mohammed al-Shan, the King's Chief Secretary. The small man looked as though he had run from his previous location and paused a moment to catch his breath.

"Mohammed," Evelynne greeted him. "What's going on?"

The angry shouts had subsided, although loud mutters could still be heard through the closed door, as the Secretary replied, "I'm afraid I don't know, Highness. He was working on some correspondence on the computer when I left to get some documents." He held up several files which he was holding.

Inexplicably, Evelynne smiled. "You left za alone with a computer? Oh, Isis." She patted al-Shan's shoulder in sympathy. "Don't worry, Mohammed, I'll make sure your widow gets a nice bouquet."

"Thank you, Highness," the Secretary said solemnly. Despite his sombre visage, his eyes twinkled. Then, squaring his shoulders, he knocked firmly on the door.

"Atun'at!" The order to enter was shouted.

The diminutive Secretary opened the door and entered, followed by Evelynne and a much more hesitant Alleandre. "Is there a problem, Sire," al-Shan asked calmly, as if the King was sitting peacefully at his desk, and not towering over it, glaring at a certain inanimate object with a thunderous expression. He looked like some angry God, prepared to rain fire down on any who dared his wrath.

"You're goddamned right there's a problem!" King Jad spat. He pointed at the laptop computer which was sitting innocuously on the desk. "ThatÓ thatÓ blasphemous piece of Devil-spawned machinery is not working. I was trying to send a report to Hayes when it informed me that it was unable to do so and stopped responding." The King transferred his glare to the unfortunate Secretary. "So get over here and fix it before I use it to beat you to death."

Although Ally was more than a little intimidated by the King's bluster, Evelynne and Mohammed looked quite calm, as if this kind of thing happened all the time. The Secretary walked calmly past the King, ignoring his glower, and seated himself in front of the screen. As he inspected the computer, Evelynne walked up to her father and, with a cheeky glint in her eye, said, "Are you sure it's not the cursor, za?"

The King whirled to face his daughter. "No, damnit, it's notÓ!" Suddenly seeming to really see her for the first time, he moderated his tone. "No, it's not the gÓ darned cursor." Sighing explosively, he visibly calmed himself.

"It is, however, the modem cord," Mohammed spoke up. "It's not connected," he explained when the King returned his attention to him.

Evelynne put a quick hand to her mouth, but not before a giggle had emerged.

The King looked at her sternly before saying slowly, "TheÓ modem cordÓ is not connected." His Secretary nodded solemnly. "And that is why IÓ cannot send the report." He valiantly ignored the muffled snort which escaped from his daughter.

"Yes, Sire. As you can see, the message window says, 'Modem is disconnected or offline. Please reconnect.'"

This time Evelynne was unable to hold in her laughter, and she exploded, bending almost double with the force of it. Ally, still standing uncertainly near the door, felt herself holding in her own sympathetic laughter, and al-Shan's lips were twitching, though her remained admirably straight-faced. The King simply glared at all of them, until his own face softened.

"The cordÓ wasn'tÓ plugged in," Evelynne gasped between laughs. "Oh, that one's good." She straightened, wiping her streaming eyes as erratic giggles still shook her body. She grinned unrepentantly up at her father. "That one's going to be told for a while. It's still not as good as the 'cursor' story, though."

"Cursor story?" Ally asked before she could stop herself.

The King shot a glare at her, thankfully lacking in heat, before turning to point sternly at his still chuckling daughter. "You are not telling that story," he said firmly. "I have officially classified it as a state secret."

Evelynne just smiled up at him. Grabbing his admonitory finger, she pressed a kiss to it. Both Ally and Mohammed hid smiles as the ferocious King Jad melted under his daughter's gaze. Satisfied that she had tamed him for now, the princess turned to beckon Ally further into the room. Helping Ally onto a nearby couch, Evelynne began, "Well, a few years ago I was with za in his office when he was working on his computer."

"Evelynne," her father said warningly, taking a chair of his own.

She ignored him and continued, "Anyway, I'm sitting calmly, reading, when I - and everyone else in the city - hear The Bellow: 'Mohammed!'" The princess' attempt to mimic her father's loud voice was enough to start Ally chuckling. "Now, we know that this means that something has gone wrong with his computer, so we both go over to help. So we're there, looking at the screen, and za says, 'I was trying to print something and suddenly that appeared.' Mohammed and I are looking at the screen, trying to find something wrong, but it's just that window, you know the one you get before you print, that asks how many copies and so on. Anyway, I ask, 'What's the problem?' and za just points again and says, 'That. That thing there.' We peer at the screen again, looking for some kind of error message, or to see if maybe the computer's frozen, or something. Nothing seems to be wrong, so I ask again, 'What?' and za says, 'That. Right there. That blinking thing.' And I look carefully, then look back up at him and say, 'That's the cursor, za.'"

"Well, how was I supposed to know?" King Jad asked defensively. "I'd never looked at that screen closely before. And all of a sudden there's this blinking thing in one of the boxes. I didn't want to destroy the computer by doing something wrong."

Ally looked back and forth between father and daughter for a moment, then mirrored Evelynne's earlier actions by slapping a hand over her mouth to keep from laughing. An undignified snort echoed the princess' earlier explosion. Looking on, Evelynne couldn't help laughing again.

The King glowered good-naturedly as the pair laughed. Finally they got themselves under control.

"We like to bring that story out whenever we think za's been getting too full of himself. It knocks him down a peg or two," Evelynne said.

Still chuckling, Ally replied, "We'd better not get you and my father together, Sir. He tends to have similarÓ experiences with computers. Thinking that the monitor is broken until I perform the incredibly technologically sophisticated task of turning on the switch, and so on."

"Oh, Isis, no!" the princess exclaimed in mock shock. "Between the two of them, the world isn't safe!"

"I knew there was a reason I liked, your father, Alleandre," the King commented. "We're actually the only people holding back the electronic hordes threatening to turn the world's population into a bunch of mindless drones. We are Earth's last line of defence."

"Sure you are, za." The comment started the two young women giggling again.

Much put-upon, King Jad sighed. "Of course, Alleandre, you realise that by hearing that story, I'm going to have to have you eliminated."

Bringing herself back under control, Evelynne objected, "No, all you have to do is have her swear on her knighthood not to tell anyone." This time her smile was proud as she looked at her friend.

It took less than a second for the import of her words to register with the King. Turning a frankly delighted face towards Ally, he asked, "You've decided to accept the knighthood, then?"

Shifting uncomfortably, Ally replied, "Well, I thought about it, Sir. I was a bit uncomfortable with joining one of the Orders. I guess I just don't know them well enough. Then I remembered what you said about being Sponsored by a noble, soÓ I asked Evelynne if she would Sponsor me." She cast a shy smile at her friend. "And she said yes."

"Did she now?" the King asked. "Well, I must admit that I'm slightly surprised. I thought that if you took such a course you would perhaps ask Duke Thomas. It simply never occurred to me to think of Evelynne, or I would have had her ask you herself. But yesÓ" He paused in thought for several seconds. "Yes, that should work out. Evelynne should have Assumed her duties by the time the ceremony comes around, so there are no legal boundaries in that respect," the King mused, as though talking to himself. He refocused on Ally. "Congratulations, Alleandre. I think you have made a wonderful choice, and look forward to Raising you. And Evelynne," he turned to his daughter, "congratulations to you, as well. I think you are setting an excellent precedent for your first Sponsorship."

Rising, he made his way over to the princess, enveloping her in a hug as she rose to meet him.

Then he surprised Ally by kneeling down in front of her for the second time since she had met him and took her hands in his. "Alleandre, I know I have said this before, but I am going to keep on saying it. Thank you for bringing my daughter back safe to me. You have also become her friend, which I am also grateful for." He looked at her sternly, and his tone was gentle but firm. "You deserve everything you are being offered. Believe that."

Ally needed no telempathic abilities to confirm the sincerity of the man kneeling before her. Making a conscious choice to accept his words, rather than try to brush them off as she was wont to do, she replied, "Thank you, Sir. I'm glad to have had the chance to become Evelynne's friend."

"Good." Giving Ally's hands a final squeeze, King Jad rose to his feet once more. Distancing himself slightly from the recent emotional exchange, he said brusquely, "Now, I believe your parents should be awakening fairly soon. How were you planning to tell them about your imminent rise in status?"

Suddenly picturing her mother's reaction to the news, Ally paled. "Oh, hell."

To be continued in Chapter 14

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