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The Exiles

The Exiles is a story of a Sims 2 Fantasy neighbourhood. The technological level resembles that of the Medieval or  the Renaissance time Europe, but many other things are very different.

The place where the main characters of the start come from is an island far north. The climate resembles our Iceland and the people are all rather pale. Black hair is unknown and even brown is rare. The society is very strict and the rulers forgive no deviancy. It is, for example, believed that people with pointy ears are witches or demonspawns and must be eliminated. Some of them are lucky enough to get transported to "The Place of No Return", but many just die.

The Islands, as the people inhabiting the destination of the lucky exiles, are subtropical or even slightly warmer. Plants not known in the rest of the world flourish. Corn, pumpkins and potatoes are a stable on any table, but bananas, papayas and coconuts are also available. Fish and meat as well as dairy products are also a part of most people's diet though they are rather expensive if bought.

The Islands have been the haven for the unwanted for three centuries. The people come from all regions of the world and the range of genetics is wide. Supernaturals are not uncommon, but quite ordinary people live there as well. Although some groups strive to wear their traditional garb, most people wear whatever pleases them. Therefore there is a wide variety of fashions that are all acceptable, at least in principle.

Chapter 1: garambola.livejournal.com/2011/03/29/
Chapter 2: garambola.livejournal.com/2011/03/31/
Chapter 3:garambola.livejournal.com/1773.html
Chapter 4: garambola.livejournal.com/2521.html
Chapter 5: garambola.livejournal.com/2579.html
Chapter 6:garambola.livejournal.com/2914.html
Chapter 7: garambola.livejournal.com/3111.html
Chapter 8: garambola.livejournal.com/3515.html
Insert for only those over 18: garambola.livejournal.com/3736.html
Chapter 9: garambola.livejournal.com/3910.html

Things happening it other parts of the world that have an impact on Exiles:

Preample 1 explains about Fria's birth: garambola.livejournal.com/1854.html
Preample 2 Fria's life before exile:       garambola.livejournal.com/2238.html
Preample 3: Amalia and Sten move:    garambola.livejournal.com/4269.html

Exiles: Amalia Learns a Few Things

The place wasn't exactly a cave for it was open all the way to the sky. It was rather bare the only furniture was under ledges and there wasn't very much. Just a pile of plants that appeared to function as a bed, a fireplace, some lights and a trunk. A few dry fish hung from a pole waiting to be cooked.

Compared to the extravagant personal decorations on the lady of the domicile, it looked positively ascetic. Speaking of her, Enora was bouncing up the stone steps alone. I wrapped the towel more tightly around me.

"Got rid of him. Now we can talk in peace," she announced gleefully.

Him obviously referred to my husband, and her grandnephew, Sten. I had not had the faintest idea she had set out ot get rid of him.

"Where did he go?" I asked rubbing my aching back.

"Sent him to find some seaweed that'll do you good. It is very healthy, you may know. Keeps people strong." She pointed at the plant pile. "Lie down, I want to see how things are progressing."

One did not easily argue with a person of the obvious authority Enora had, so I carefully positioned myself on the leaf bed. It was surprisingly soft and had a pleasant scent to it. Apparently it was very fresh. Without further ado, she started going over my belly with her hands. They were firm and while the outside had some scales on then, the palms were soft and cool.

"Ah. Hmmmh. I see." Enora was muttering as she prodded and poked. "This one is almost ready to come out."

That could not be right, I felt the blood leave my face. I could not lose another one, not after everything we had gone through. Not now, not so close. Enora must have noticed my distress, not surprising for someone dedicated to other's well-being.

"Is something wrong? Are you afraid of giving birth to a sea monster?" Enora quirked up an eyebrow and pursed her lips together. She looked very displeased. "Something with tail and scales?" Her tailfin flapped up and down like the tail of an upset cat.

"I just don't want my baby to die." The last word caught in my throat, it felt horrible to say that as if voicing my fear made it more real. In some way, it also helped, for I was no longer alone with my concern. I wept the second time this day and I wasn't even ashamed of my weakness.

"And whatever made you think that?" Enora asked gruffly, still sounding rather peeved.

"It is far too soon." I stroke my belly, pleading in my mind for the little one to wait. "Just over six months. Far too soon."

It wasn't just the slit pupils in her eyes, but a Enora reminded me very much of cats, which sounds ridiculous when speaking of a mermaid. Right now she looked like a kitten studying the very first spider of her life, unsure what to make of it, but rather curious.

"Your first girl," Enora queried in a tone one would expect of a midwife, "Mari? Was she born early?"

I had thought of that at the time, but she had been a big, happy baby and there wasn't a certain way to know, for we had been together with Sten many months. I could feel my eyes filling with water again, remembering the baby days. Where were my girls now?

I drew a deep breath. "I thought so, but she didn't look like one born too soon. I thought she came just after seven and a half months, but I must be mistaken."

"I see."

I hated that cryptic answer for I did not see. Unlike most times I had been told that, this time I was about to receive an explanation.

"What does he have for brains? Has he not told you anything about our young ones?" When I shook my head, she nearly snarled. " I need to have a long talk with that boy. But you first."

Enora furrowed her brow, looking thoughtful for a moment, probably putting the words together in her mind.

"You must have figured that we and the sandpaws, like you, are nearly same. If we weren't, there wouldn't be children like yours at all. Like there are no turtlerabbits or such."

She paused long enough for me to nod. I had seen pictures of turtles and knew they lived in the warm seas and I knew what a rabbit was. It was clear they wouldn't be compatible.

"But this is one of the things that is different. We carry our young a shorter time than you. Half a year. They get ready to be born quicker. This one feels about ready. I'd say a week or two at the most."

The relief washed over me like the waves on the beach. Again tears came to my eyes, which was rather embarrassing.

"Thank you." Without asking leave I squeezed her hand. "Thank you so much telling me that."

She patted my hand, not upset for a change. "You should have been told this before. What exactly has Sten told you?"

I tried to remember. "Not much at all. Just that to change legs one must be dry and I knew Britta was ill with her baby because the father was from Kirwyn. That's about it."

The light blue eyes rolled up, leaving only the lower half of the pupil visible. "Then I must fill you in. What would you like to know first?"

There was aquestion in my mind, one that had been nagging at the back of my head ever since asked if I was afraid of giving birth.

"The baby," I started, "This one will probably look like you rather than me?"

"Not like me." Enora laughed suddenly, a very sweet sound that probably was not heard often enough. "That would be a huge surprise. No, it will be like Sten and you, this one will look like." She thought a moment. "Could look a bit like other relatives of that side of the family, but not like me."

I felt stupid and blushed, but laughed along. "I rather meant the tail versus legs thing..."

"Oh. That. That definately. I could feel the tail. Why?" She soundend simply curious, not offended, for which I was thankful.

"I was just wondering how can the tail can come out." I wished I had been able to be more elaborate, but she caught my gist.

"That is not a problem. If the head can come out, the rest can too. Our toes go in there somehow." She lifted her tail to the side and the solid looking fin folded.

"I take it you haven't played with his tail? You should, we like it very much. Especially before lovegames."

I blushed. That was where all those foot massages had come from, it was his foreplay. I had to admit, the merpeople weren't the only ones 'liking it very much'.

"I haven't even seen his tail more than once before today." I blurted trying to veer my thoughts off of privy things.

"Really? Did you give him the idea you hated it, by any chance?" An eyebrow quirked.

Had I? More than likely, now that I thought about it.

"He was supposedly dead. I thought he was a ghost or one of the sea spirits that entice a meal by looking desireable. I was scared to death, but he talked me over it. But ever after he never would talk to me about anything related to his people back home nor did he ever take me swimming with him." I paused. "The last would have been hard to arrange anyway with two little ones at home."

Enore spat out a long line of very imaginative curses. I watched her, concerned of having once again gotten her nettled.

"That accursed bastard." She muttered something I could not hear.

"Sten?" I asked cautiously.

"What? No. The bloody man who told Britta he was still having nausea over the idea of having bedded a slimy fish. Friedelinde's progenitor. I'd go gut him personally, if he wasn't dead already."

"He what? But surely he didn't? I mean it is not even possible is it?" I wasn't sure what had gone into me, but I did want to know. "Bedding and tails." I felt very uncomfortable asking, unsure how she would react.

"He did not. But it is quite possible." Enora was calming word by word and at the end she winked. I would not have been more surprised if she had hit me over the head with a dryed fish. "Surely you didn't think we'd change legs for that every time?"

Frankly I had not ever given that one thought until now.

"But how? The necessary parts aren't there." That much I knew, for I would certainly have remembered, even after all these years, if that had been dangling in front of him.

Enora burst in a coughing fit of a laughter. "Tides. You are a funny girl. The 'parts' are there, they are just hidden. Rather well too. The male has a sort of a fold here." She paused to gesture to the correct spot. "The parts rest there most of the time, but they will come out when needed. You should ask Sten to show you." The last part was added in such a mock innocense that I could not help laughing.

"The female parts are similarly hidden behind." She sounded like a prim teacher suddenly. "You must take my word for it. I am not showing you mine, it would not be ladylike at all."

"Thank you, Enora. That is good, for I am not really interested in your parts." I replied in a tone my mother had thought me to use when thanking adults. "But the rest of your parts I like just fine." It was odd for a woman of nearly four decades to feel like a little girl, but on some level I did with her. Even more so for this great aunt did not look a day over thirty, if even that.

She hugged me gently. "That's sweet. I think I like your other parts as well, girl." Then she grinned. "And Sten likes all your parts quite well, I can tell. You should ambush and seduce him when you get to your house."

"Won't you come too?" I asked suddenly worried of losing this budding kinship.

"I'll visit, of course. And I'll come help with the baby, of course." Her tone was warm and gentle. "But now, before Sten returns, I want to surprise him. There is a thing you need to be fully acknowledged in the Pod. Sit there and I will get the equipment. It doesn't hurt much."

It didn't hurt that much. There was a brief, burning pain that seared every drop she applied, but the pain faded extremely fast.
"It is not quite permanent. About once a year it must be done again. but while it is there, it is good for anything. Even living under water, which you won't be doing, of course. So what do you think?" She raised a mirror in front of my face.

The woman looking back had soft rosy cheeks, excited green eyes and disheveled red hair. She was fairly pretty though not out of the ordinary, except for the decoration above her eyebrows. I had never seen a mirror so clear, but it was the same woman I had seen reflected before.

"I rather think it becomes me, Aunt Enora."

Exiles: Take a Rowboat Through the Night

The rowboat was small and stank of seaweed and stale fish. Thankfully the air was fresh, otherwise Amalia would have thrown up even more frequently. Had it been anyone but Sten with her, she would have been terrified to be out on the sea at night. Even now she was somewhat uneasy, but the destination was worth it. She was so weary of feeling ill all the time.

"Sten, this Healer? Tell me about her?" She was both curious and looking for something safe to talk about.

Sten let go off one of the oars and wiped his brow. He heaved a sigh, but took a firm grip of the oar again and started rowing faster. Then he took just as firm an approach to the other matter at hand.

"She saved Britta's life and Lindy's too. She is, simply put amazing." The admiration in Sten's voice was almost enough to make Ami jealous before he continued. "She is my great aunt, Enora." He thought for a moment then sighed. "Listen, she doesn't look, as you would say, human."
Amalia waited for a few seconds for Sten to elaborate on his statement, but when he didn't utter another word, she could no longer contain her inborn curiosity.

"What would you say she looks like?"

"Human." There was a touch of bitterness in his tone as well as defiance.

Amalia gritted her teeth, he was starting to seriously irritate her. He hadn't been like this since the early days of their marriage. Since she had stopped asking him about his people, in fact. It was, she realized, why she had stopped asking, as hard as it had been.

"So, she doesn't look like us? What does she look like? Octopuss? Shark? A seasnail? What?" With every word she was getting more upset.

"Like a mermaid. She is beautiful!" Sten defended his kin passionately. "There is not a thing wrong with her, she just could never walk to your market place without being killed. That's all!"

They had had arguments before. Numerous arguments over the years, but never had Sten's words had such an effect on Ami. All air escaped her lungs, her face blanched and she hunched over deflated. It had been a secret fear, a fear that had grown stronger ever since boarding the ship. He thought mermaids beautiful and who would not? According to all the legends they were too lovely to resist even if it meant drowning. No woman could compete with that. She closed her eyes, fighting the tide of tears inside.

"Ami, love, are you unwell?" Sten let go of the oars and sat next to his wife. He wrapped his arm around her, but only managed to break the dam. Her tears forced themselves out and she was sobbing against his shoulder. "What is wrong? Is it the baby?"

"The baby is asleep." She still could not hold back the tears.

"Hush, my raspberry. You are wetting my shoulder and you know what happens when I get wet." Of course involuntary transfomation took a complete soaking, but he could not stand seeing her like that and had to lighten the mood.

Amalia sniffed, her spirits lifting a little. She knew well his weakness for the raspberries. The whole family had laughed about it often.
"Would that be so bad then? If you got wet." She intended to wipe her tears, but he was faster. "There is no-one here who would mind."

She was referring to people persecuting the different folk back home. Even the ship was only a small black shape with tiny lights at each end.

"You wouldn't?"

"What?" Her confusion was plain on her face.

"Mind." He gestures from his head to toes with his hand. "If I changed?"

"Of course not." Amalia blinked. "Why would you think that?"

Before Sten could answer she suddenly turned away from him, bent over the railing and hurled. He held her hair back, but his eyes wandered to backwards and he cursed in his mind. She stopped for the time being and turned to look at him smiling weakly. Sten released Ami's hair and took her hand briefly.

"It is good that you don't,  for our oars have floated away. I have to dive in and fetch them." He stood up slowly not to row the boat, stripped and moved to the aft. He didn't jump in the water, but carefully slid himself over the edge. Amalia got on her knees and crawled the length of the boat. She sat down and tried to see what was going on, but it was very dark. A splqash and a thump startled her to turn around. One of the oars was lying on the bottom of the boat and the other followed shortly.

"Ami?" The voice came from the water at the aft. She peered down.

"Yes? Do you need help?"

"I thought since I am down here, I could push the boat. It is, if not faster, at least smoother."

"That sounds like a good idea."

Even in the dark water she could make out the outline of his form. There was a great deal of power in his tail and the movement reminded her of something else that made her cheeks burn. She placed her hand on his fingers and he looked up startled.

"Are you alright? Do you need anything?" He was slightly winded and he looked concerned.

She shook her head, "I am fine. I just suddenly understood the foolish sailors better." At his puzzled expression she explained. "The ones who jump after beautiful mermaids and drown."

Sten chuckled. "Oh those stories. Actually there is some truth to them. My grandfather, may he rest in peace, was one of such a fool."

"But he died?" Amalia's brow furrowed. "How could he be your grandfather if he drowned?"

"He only drowned to his comrades. The stories need to be kept stories. My grandfather did die, of old age, after beeing mated to my grandmother for some seventy years. It was just a few months before we met."  He winked before growing more serious.

"But there have also been total idiots flinging themselves to the sea without an invitation or even knowledge of out kind. Some of those did drown though most were hauled back on their ships. And there is the Legend of Yvaliese, but no-one knows if that ever happened. I'll tell the story another time."

Amalia nodded. "Of course." He probably needed to save his breath even though she would have wanted to hear the tale. It delighted her that he was finally opening up about his world.

"Now, if you were hinting that you'd jump after me, I'd definately catch you." He managed to wiggle a finger under her hand, tickling the palm. "Only now is not the best time. We're nearly there."

Amalia turned to look around and saw a small island ahead. The sun hadn't risen yet, but the light was already enough to see details. It was small, but it was tall. She wasn't sure why it would be called a reef, but then names didn't always make sense. Her thoughts were distrupted by a musical voice sounding grumpy.

"What's all this commotion at this early hour? Amalia looked to the side of the boat and gasped. There was a real, live mermaid in the water.

She was beautiful. Yet she was also strange. Her skin was of a slightly bluish hue and there were patches of scales on the bare skin. The scales glmmered in shades of blue, green and silver, unlike the salmon hues of Sten's tail. She was also just as round as Amalia herself normally was and looked very young.

"Aunt Enora! May the Tides carry you well!" Sten exclaimed. "May I present to you my most precious pearl, my wife, my mate Amalia Jorvis Morion ne Caldera Anemone. Amalia, the sister of my grandmother, Enora the Healer." He then added quickly, "She is a patient, Aunt Enora."

The beautiful apparition not nearly the age to be anyone's great aunt snorted. "I can see that. Pregnant, Hmm. Second child?*" At the combined nods of the other two she carried on. "Thought so. Where is the first?"

The couple looked both crestfallen. Sten managed to speak first, "We don't know. She eloped with a young man from another island. Yet when I went there, no-one had heard of him or her. Britta's daughter was Exiled."

"Hmpf. Well, nothing can be done about those two right now, so lets look at the tiny one then. Get in!" she called to Amalia, who looked startled. "I disagree with young Athelsten, this is the best time to jump in the water." A glint of amusement appeared in those pale blue, slit eyes. "After having hung him dry all this time, it is your turn. If you dare!"

Amalia dared. She wasn't quite able to jump in so she rolled herself overboard. It was sheer luck she didn't hit her head on the boat as she plummeted in the cool depths. She sank but before she could even start to strive for the surface she was on strong arms lifting her up.

"Tides, woman. You could have given a moment's notice and probably taken off some clothes too."

A laughter so long held back bubbled out. "Oh, the clothes. They needed to be washed anyway." She wrung her arms around his neck and rubbed her cheek against his chin.

Sten kissed the tip of his wife's nose. "But they are so heavy wet," he complained." Then he whispered in her ear, "And they don't feel as nice as skin." He felt he was gambling, but she didn't seem to notice.

"You are right. They do weigh. But otherwise, I feel so light. And the water isn't so cold anymore."

Enora appeared next to them. "Of course you do. I take it my moron of a nephew has neglected Seabathing his pregnant mate. Well, I'll take the boat, you follow along."

She disappeared and the boat began to move as by itself being pulled under water.

Sten looked quite abashed. "I didn't think of it. I thought it was because Britta is..." He shook his head. "I should have realised the Sea would help you too. Though the water was also very cold up there. I am sorry."

"That's past. Don't worry about it anymore." Amalia let her thumbs play on the wet skin behind Sten's neck and smiled up at him. He kissed her. First very gently, tentatively, but happy with the response, it turned into a passionate declaration of all those bent up feelings. The kiss seemed to last forever and yet, all too soon, it ended.

"Now you have to walk the rest of the way, " Sten told Amalia stroking gently her cheek. "I can only offer a hand. The fin wasn't made to take the weight of two people. Can you do it?"

They were standing in waist deep water in front of a grotto near the beached rowboat. The Sun had risen colouring everything rosy and golden. At that point Amalia felt she could do anything. Short walk was nothing to her, but she did hold onto his arm for private reasons. "Of course I can."

*) Second baby: It works very much like Rhesus incompatibility in human mother and fetus.

The Exiles: An Unsteady Boat Ride

Athelsten Morion Jorvis sat at the prow of the ship. His tailfin glistenend with tiny droplets of  water, making it shimmer in myriad colors. His face was wet, not only from the sea breeze, but his equally salty tears. He was, of course, glad to be going home after sixteen years of exile. But the worries overshadowing his joy were greater. Two daughters gone, the Sea knows where, and a wife down at the cabin feeling worse by the day.

There was nothing he could do until they reached his birth home and it made him sick to the heart. It was evident what was wrong with Amalia. She was finally carrying a baby to term. How many they had lost over the years, no-one knew, the flawed ones barely ever made it long enough for the woman to even suspect a pregnancy.  This baby would make it, he felt that in his bones, but it grieved him to see Ami so ill. That wasn't even the worst. He knew this baby would resemble him. Unlike their firstborn Maristella, who was born quite human. He worried how Ami would take to a merbaby.

That horrified look in her eyes when she'd seen what he was had seared into his very soul. Over the years it had taken for Mari and their adopted daughter, his niece Lindy, to grow up to lovely young maidens, he had maintained a human camouflage perfectly, save for private trips to the sea when the ice was gone and to a hot spring far in the woods during winters. He had never attended anything requiring removing clothing in public, except his work as a blacksmith. That had not mattered, for it kept his skin dirty for the most part and any possible glitter could be explained as tiny flecks of metal.

It had not been intentional, but habit turned into second nature. His wife had not seen all of him since the day he'd proposed. His daughters were never party to the secret nor did they ever know Lindy's true origins. It simply was too dangerous in a place where anyone 'inhuman' was persecuted, usually to the death. That they used such a term still set his teeth at an edge. He flapped his tailfin irritably. Soon he would need to get dry and put pants on.
Amalia lay on the lower bunk in the small cabin. It was, by far, the softest, most comfortable bed she had ever rested on, but that hardly mattered. A feverish shiver shook her body again and her skin itched all over. A wave of nausea rose without a warning and she was forced to turn to the bucket again. The baby woke and started to move around restlessly.

Ami stroke her swollen belly gently. She was not stupid, she had figured out the nature of her illness fast. "Hush, little minnow," she whispered to the unborn child, "We just have to be patient. It will be better at the new home. You'll see." That which she had been prepared for so many years ago, had now come to pass. They had had to leave everything she had ever known behind, sail to a practically new world to her. A world that accepted different forms of people, a world that would be safe for her little fish and her husband.

Their departure had come fast, there had been only a few hours to get ready and get on board. "Only take that which means something special to you", had Sten told her, "Everything else we need can be bought. If it isn't in the villa already." Amalia glanced at the trunk that held her most treasured mementos. Worse than leaving to house she'd lived her whole life in, worse than leaving family and friends was that they had not been able to reach their eldest Mari. She'd eloped with the young man who'd courted her only for a couple of months and went with him to his home. They had left a word with a young friend, but it still worried her. She wasn't sure whether she was talking to the baby or herself more. "It will be all better. We might even find your sister soon." That thought brought a wan smile on her weary face. All the information they had pointed to that Lindy had been transported to the very same islands.

She tried not to worry, but Sten's behaviour was giving her some concern. He seemed so weary and sad almost all the time that she could not help wondering what was so heavily pressing his mind. She hoped it wasn't that something might be wrong with the baby, but she really didn't dare to ask. After all these years, she was going to finally have another little one and by all that was sacred, she would love him or her even if there was something  not quite right.

The cabin door creaked open and Sten walked in carefully, just in case Amalia should be asleep. He wore nothing but a pair of knee length pants. His skin had lost the grime he'd used as camouflage and the Sun was bringing out the golden highlights already. He was so handsome that Ami's breath got caught.

"I just spoke with the Captain. We'll be docking near Seal Reef tonight. I've purchased a rowboat." Sten spoke softly holding his wife's hand.

"A rowboat, why?" This was the first Amalia had ever heard of either boats or reefs.

"One of the best Healers lives there. She will help you feel better." He patted the hand and then let it go. "I'll start packing then. You rest, I will take care of everything."

Amalia nodded and closed her eyes. She wasn't sleepy, but it was easier to pretend since he didn't seem interested in continuing the discussion.

Exiles: The Talk

Fria was sitting at the log like she always did when Iago emerged from his tent. Only it wasn't like like always before. For the first time it was not dark, for the first time they were truly face to face, their secrets wide open to see. In fact, Fria had seen a bit more of Iago's secrets than he'd have intended as she'd walked on him taking a shower under the waterfall.

Iago walked over to the log, carefully assessing the waiting girl. She was so delicate and gentle. With her ears exposed, she rather resembled a fawn, but that he knew to be deceptive. She was tough inside, like the plants high up on mountains where there was snow and constant wind, she was small but relentless. No an easy prey for any wolfling on the prowl, but one worth the hunt.

She looked up and his heart jumped, for a second they were frozen in silence then both spoke as one.
"I am sorry!"

A short silence followed, both watching each other. Then their mouths started to quirk and both were chuckling.
"You first!" Iago called his spirits lifting like a lark with her laughter.

"Alright, but won't you sit first? It is hard to speak up there." Fria patted the log next to her and Iago seized the opportunity to sit closer to her than he would have otherwise. "I am sorry I turned in to a stupid tree stump. You are my friend and I hurt you."

"No, Fria. I am sorry I shocked you. I was afraid you would not like me as I am. That you'd turn away in disgust. Even though I know you better, I was afraid. So I hid myself. I should have trusted you and taken the chance."

She'd not have turned away, not physically, at least. She was too polite for that. But he had feared to see that specific look in her eyes, the look that read 'he is not one of us'. The look that he encountered on nearly every new so called human he met.

The feeling he described was all too familiar to Fria. She'd lived almost her whole life with that same fear because of her abominable ears. Now they were out in the open, and even in this new world of hers no-one else saw any fault in them, to her they remained a sore spot. No-one would ever understand what a gift Mari had given her, when she told the maid to leave her ears visible. While she understood, she wasn't going to let him off the hook quite that easily.

"Yes. Well, lets talk about that. How could you be different like that? And what, sorry if this is impolite, exactly are you?"

He was different from anyone else she had met though he shared characteristics with others. He was shaped much like the lion man who'd married the purple girl, but he didn't share the plush velvet fur he or Jamina, for that matter. He looked more like extremely hirsute than furred.

"You've heard of werewolves, right? The men turning into beasts at full moon?" Iago winced inside. This was not the best way to start an explanation. Werewolves in the stories were ravenous monsters. He hurried along before she got too fixated on that idea. "What I am is a kind of antithesis of a werewolf. What you saw was me too, but that me usually only comes out at full moon. We're rare and our people call my kind Wolflings."

"It wasn't full moon that night though." Fria's statement was turned into question by intonation and lifted eyebrows.

"No. I paid for someone to get me this special seaweed. I tended the garden for a month in exchange." He grimaced. "Wasn't worth it, was it?"
"Doesn't seem so. It rather failed you. Pity you cannot ask your work back." Fria couldn't help feeling a bit flattered that he'd gone through all that trouble for her. Even if the plan had gone disastrously wrong.

"Oh, it worked just as it should. I just wasn't careful enough with the warning and got upset. Strong emotions break the effect." Iago didn't know about hormones and neither did the person acquiring the substance, but adrenaline certainly was one of the hormones the podweed could not fight.

"I was warned about not getting too..uh...exited. So I was trying to be very careful not to get too close." A warm rosy tint appeared on his face, barely visible on his tan skin. "But I never had thought I would get in a fight."

Fria immediately latched onto the first part of the statement, the fight didn't mean as much to her as it seemed it did to others. She was almost sure he was admitting feeling excitement close to her. The thought sent a quiver into her tummy.

"It wasn't really much of a fight." Fria said to fill the gap. "It was over in really a blink."

Iago ran his talons through his hair. "That's because Drake is a very smart guy. He knew what to do. He said he was sorry later, by the way. He'd just been turned down by some girl that day."

Fria stood up stretching herself.
"You're not leaving yet, are you?" Iago stood up as well. Next to her he felt very big and strong. He held out his hands to her.

"No, I just need to stretch. My leg has fallen asleep."

She lift her hands to his, touching him the first time after the revelation. They didn't look that frightful up close in a non-threatening position. Yet it was evident they could cut flesh.

"I don't really need to leave until near sunset. I have to go to another wedding. Represent Mari because she is unable to go herself."

"Really? The Uwan wedding? With the Lyonessa marrying her potter?" Iago perked up. "I wasn't going to go, it is a bit inconvenient time for me. But I will certainly escort you, if you don't mind. Jami-ma has been there since the morning, she is helping Viv get dressed."

"Uh. Probably." The description sounded like the wedding she was to attend. "Guildmaster Marius?" Fria kept watching Iago's hands as if worried they'd turn into something worse.

"Yes. That is the one. Will you do me the honour of going to a wedding with me, fair maiden?"

He smoothly raised his hand as soon as her eyes left them and caressed her cheek most gently with the back of his hand, keeping the nails far from her skin. She grabbed his arm, but let the hand remain where it was or perhaps she was slightly holding it against her cheek.

There was, Fria thought, a huge difference between seeing and touching.  Earlier she had seen all there was to see to this young man while she'd never forget the sheer masculine beauty of his dripping wet body, neither would she ever forget the soft, gentle touch of his hand nor her inflammatory reaction to it. The part of her brain that remained logical made note that his hair was also different from the coarse, curly body hair some men had on their arms. It was sleek and silky, very much like the hair that grew on the head. She wondered if it would would be the same all over.

A deep blush burned on Fria's freckled cheeks and she took a step backwards. Iago lowered his hand slowly, looking sad, "I would not hurt you. Ever."

"Of course not!" Fria was appalled at how easily actions could be misunderstood. "That is not why..." She shook her head vigorously. "Not at all. And yes, I would love it if you could go with me to the wedding. But if you have other things you need to do, I can certainly go alone."

Fria's mind was filled with the image of panting girls waiting for Iago somewhere that looked like a large sheep pen. She frowned involuntarily at the stabbing pain the idea caused.

"That's not what I meant. I meant that it is is full moon tonight." When she didn't seem to comprehend, he clarified, "I'll be looking different by the time the moon rises." He didn't want to elaborate that it made him feel uncomfortable being around nosy strangers when he wasn't his normal self. He took her hand gently and nudged her back towards the log.

In a strange way, Fria found herself disappointed. She was just getting used to him as he was and soon he'd be different. Something of that had to have shown on her face, for Iago assured her, "I am always me inside. No matter what I look like. You know me, Fria. Better than anyone, I think. After all those long talks we had."

It had been so easy to be open in the dark. It had been intimate, yet distant. It had been safe to talk to someone not actively part of everyday life.

"I am so sorry now that I left something so vital untold. I think now you would have been fine knowing, but I didn't know you then. And it got more and more difficult every time we met to come out with it." Iago cautiously wrapped his arm around Fria's shoulder holding his breath. He exhaled his relief and confession. "I still don't know what words I should have used."

He looked so repentant that the last of the ice in Fria's heart evaporated. "It is alright, Iago. Truly." She took his hand wondering how it was possible to be both comfortable and yet like a kettle about to boil over. "Can I ask you a question?"

Iago nodded. He owed her that much. He did not know what she was going to ask, but nothing could have surprised him more.
"What is the Pen?"

"What? The Pen? You don't know? It is what most people call the place where young  people go to meet others, hoping to find a mate for life or for just one night. Surely you have been taken there?" As she shook her head, it dawned on him that he'd known that. "Oh, right. You've spent all Friday nights with me. It is the only night they let school students attend. Why?"

While Iago understood the goals* behind having such a place and had, in the past, quite enthusiasticly taken part in the orgastic pleasures, his innards roiled now. He fervently hoped she wasn't going to ask him to take her there or worse to not want him to be the one to take her there. He realized he didn't want her within a block from that place nor did he care if he ever saw it himself.

"Gareth mentioned it." Fria shrugged. "He said you'd been away for months." She averted her eyes. "And other things about what goes on there. He said he'd watched..."

"That rascal! It's probably that hole in the wall." He shook his head.

It had never before occurred to him that the hole had probably been placed there on purpose. He'd been there himself with Drake, giggling and blushing at the things they saw and later replaying the scenes in privacy. They'd known exactly what was expected of them when they first entered the place. The hole was a clever trap. He couldn't bear the thought of snot nosed boys watching his Fria and laughing or worse.

"No-one under fifteen is allowed in. Not even on Fridays. They recommend waiting until sixteen, but fifteen is allowed." He peered at the girl next to him, his heart pounding. "But that's not what you wanted to know, was it?"

Fria swallowed hard, it appeared part of what she'd heard was correct, but she needed to know the rest. "Gar said that they..uh..copulate there. And that you..." She looked up at him, her eyes grave. "That all the girls want you!"

This then was the real question. Iago sighed, but his heart was soaring. She cared, she was jealous! She didn't want him with those girls anymore than he wanted her pawed by any other guy. He was ready to take the next step, he would ask her not to see anyone else.

"What a word you choose. Yes, it is all true. And all those girls, they don't really want me. They want things I can provide them."

He unwrapped his arm from her shoulder and held both her hands. "There is only one girl I want, however. Think she could look upon me with favour, Milady Friedelinde?"

Fria's heart seemed to have dislocated from her chest and blocked her throat. She was unsure exactly what he was suggesting, but she knew without a doubt this 'she' meant her. To play a little time to think, she blurted out the first thing that came to her mind.

"I am no Lady. Just Mari is."

"Would you like to be?" Iago asked lifting again his hand to caress he cheek. "If you could choose what to be?"

"I think I am a bit too shy for all that." She grinned. "Mari is much better suited for it. I want to go to University."

Iago's eyes softened as he looked at the treasure he'd found on this very same log that one auspicious day.
"No reason you shouldn't. I am going too, you know. We could go together."

Together. That word rung every bell inside him. He had not expected this, certainly not so young. He was bonding with her, had been for quite some time. It could still be stopped, if he was quick. It would be possible to root her from his heart, if necessary. It would hurt, but it was possible. Suddenly he knew he had to know now.

His smile was replaced by a solemn expression. "May I ask you a question in turn?"

"Of course." Fria tilted her head wondering what was coming. After all, he'd asked many questions without asking for permission.

"Will you consider becoming my Heart, my Sole Solace, the One Who Lights the Stars and Keeps the Secret Flame?" The very ceremonial words might have sounded a bit silly to her already, but she lost it when he whispered, "It means do you think you might want to marry me? Only me, forever?"

Being brought up in a monogamous culture, it was strange to Fria that he should add such a thing. She had studied enough to know that multiple marriages were popular by some of the people on these Islands. The conditional pharising of the question puzzled her, but she went along with it.

Surprised laughter bubbled out from Fria's lips. "I would consider it. I might say 'yes' if you asked."

Iago licked his dry lips. "I am asking. But I don't want to repeat past mistakes. There is something I think you should know, before you agree."

 It was uncertain how he knew she did not know what he was about to say, for it was no secret. Perhaps, in afterthought, was why she did not know. It'd never occurred to anyone to tell her something everyone knew.

He held her hands again, this time his hands were shaking even more than his voice.
"First of all, I love you. You have truly made my life so much better just by visiting once a week. I want you to be part of my every day, every night and every morning. Second, I promise to be there for you just as surely as you be there for me. But, third, before you agree, if you agree, there is one more thing you have to know about me..."

* The Islands don't have enough people. This is one scheme implemented by the governing body to increase both the population and the diversity of it. Any child is welcomed into the sociaety and should the parents be unable or unwilling to raise the offspring, another place is found for them. Those who keep the child are recompensed for it.
Other schemes include embracing those cast away by their own narrowminded countries and even actively seeking out the unusual.

Nothing Is Ever the Same Going Back

Fria felt guilty. She had left her sister alone for the whole day. Not that Lady Maristella  was truly alone, the house was full of people, but she only had one sister. A sister who had lied about where she was going. Fria sighed. Her words had not been a lie, but she knew Mari would interprete them in a way that made them a lie.

She headed for the place her sister thought she was spending the day first. It didn't really ease her conscience very much, but it did give her an excuse to put off the the meeting that was wrecking her nerves. She knocked at the door she would have simply opened two days earlier. Just two days earlier it had been her home.

Gareth opened the door cautiously, he had not expected anyone come knocking so early. His dark eyes lit up as he saw the pretty girl outside.
"Fria! We've missed you. Come in. Mam has gone to the market, but she'll be back soon. She'll be so happy to see you again and looking so fine, too!"

As they sat at the window seat, the very favourite place in the whole house for Fria, she could not help feeling a slightly sad not belonging there anymore. She could also remember what a charming little boy the youth next to her had been when she arrived. In just half a year, he'd passed her in height and his features had lost the childish softness. His face looked rather unfinished, like someone had axed off the excess bits of wood for a carving, but had not yet gotten to the chiseling part. It was a strong face, a manly face, for a boy of thirteen and a bit. Combined with his expressive eyes and his contagious smile, he'd apparently become quite a legend among the young  female population of the island. They were already eagerly waiting for his maturity, at least according to the maid who'd come make Fria's bed in the morning. She could see what in him attracted the tittering girls, but for her it did not work. He was just Gar.

"What is troubling you, Fria?", Gareth asked quietly. "Is it the fight? All the guys are now panting after you, you know." He grinned at the startled expression on the girl's face.


"Well, they think you must be a hidden treasure, since they fought for you. They are hoping to figure it out with you."

The females might still be waiting for Gareth to mature, but the guys had immediately taken him in the inner circle. He did not mention it had made him uncomfortable when they had gone over Fria's bodily attributes bit by bit.

"Now, I know you are quite a special young lady, but now everyone else wonders. Especially since you were defended by someone like Iago."

"Like Iago?"

The conversation had taken a turn that had Fria's head spinning. Now it is coming, she thought, now he will name Iago a monster, an aberration, a freak. It made her feel sick.

"Yes, well, he is The Fish, you know. The guy all the girls pant after, you know."  Gareth was clearly uncomfortable with this part. "Or so I was told, he's been away from the Pen for months. Studying for the exams."

He thought better not to mention the guys now thought he'd been studying her instead. He couldn't help wondering that himself and couldn't help the feeling of jealousy, even though he'd always known Fria would never return the crush he'd have on her.

"They are? But he is so..grrr." Fria couldn't think of proper words, so she curled her fingers in an attempt to imitate claws. "And hairy and not a man." She looked exasperated and blushed.

Had Iago been studying Fria, it obviously had not been hands on and she seemed to know nothing about him. Gareth could not hep a chuckle, "Well, I won't say he's not hairy, but he is a man alright. They are a bit different in the limbs and the fur, but just the same in everything else. Only maybe a little bigger." He winked and grinned, when her face turned deep pink.

"You did not just say that!" Without the wink and grin, she would have thought Gareth was referring to the fact that most, if not all of those people were tall and muscular. "You're horrible!"

Gareth was howling with laughter by now. "You are so fun to tease! I wish I'd known before." Calming down a bit he continued, "It is up to you whether you find the hair unattractive or not, but it certainly feels nice and soft."

Something in his expression made her suspicious. "Gar! How do you know this? You haven't? You're only thirteen!"

"Not everyone thinks I'm just a little boy, Fria."

Her words had confirmed she'd never see him as nothing else, but strangely, it hurt less than he'd have thought.

"But no, I have not. However, I have been to the beach with them, I have talked with them, I have hugged my friends." Heaving a deep sigh, he lowered his voice to a whisper, "And I have watched them at the Pen. And you will not tell this to my mother or anyone else, clear?"

The door opening downstairs saved Fria from having to come up with a more elaborate reply than a nod. Her mind was, however,in full gallop trying to process all the surprising information. Apparently the boy knew more about sex than she did. Apparently she was very naïve and stupid. She'd not even had guessed her sister was doing anything more than holding hands and maybe kissing with Juan. But Anita's existance proved otherwise, Mari had to have been far along in her pregnancy when she left.

"Halloo! Gar? Is Fria up there? There's a messenger for her here." Amie called from downstairs.

Both young people jumped to their feet and called out a warning, "Coming!" Then they slid down the bannister one after another, just as they had hundreds of times before. The maid looked shocked, whether more by the behaviour or the sudden appearance of her crush was hard to say. "Lady Maristella asks if you could do her the favour and attend a wedding for her this evening. She is not feeling up to visiting today. The gift will be delivered straight to the place and your dress is fine enough." The girl clearly recited what she had been told.

"Of course, I will do it. Tell her not to worry." Fria smiled even though she really hated doing something like that. It was quite another thing to be part of a retinue, but if she went alone, she'd be the center of attention. "What wedding is this and when and where?"

"It is Guildmaster Marius, miss. Their house is just down the road here. It won't be until after dark though. Lady Maristella thought you might want to visit until then?"

"Yes, there is no point going back and forth in that case. Thank you, Enny." The girl curtsied at the dismissal, glanced wistfully at Gareth, who didn't seem to notice, and left.

Fria hugged Amie tight. "Oh, Amie. I have missed you. I would love to stay, but I really must talk to Iago. Of course, he may not want to talk to me at all. Is it alright if I come back here? Should it not take all my extra time, I mean."

Amie had teardrops at the end of her lashes as she looked at Fria. "Of course you can come. Anytime. You know where the key is, if we're not in. If you don't come today, come another. I wish to hear everthing." She squeezed Fria's hand gently.

Gareth waved his hand in good bye and grinned. "Have fun! Oh, and if you don't come back before the wedding, the bride is grrr." He imitated her talon pose from earlier.

Fria blinked, but decided not to comment further. "Thank you both. You are very dear to me." She stepped out in the warm sunshine, feeling happy and sad, resolved and nervous at the same time. She headed down the familiar road leading to the waterfall.

Exiles: Fria Gets Stuck

Fria's resolution to seek out Iago the first thing in the morning was thwarted by the appearance of a seamstress. It wasn't truly first thing in the morning either,to her dismay the exhausted girl had slept to nearly noon. The plumb woman was barely taller than Fria, which made her about the shortest person the girl had ever seen. Fria herself  still expected to grow some, particularly in the bosom part.

Apparently the seamstress had no clue what her client hoped, for she kept prattling how wonderful Fria's lean, willowy figure was and how easy it was to fit her clothing. Quite contrary to these new clients she was having.
"It wasn't even possible to fit them clothes until recently. There simply wasn't a pattern. Their bodies are, well, rather different. " She lowered her voice, "They don't quite look human, you may know?" Her nose winkled. "Limbs like predators. Have you seen such?"

Fria mumbled something to the effect that she had, while she was steaming inside. Either the prattling woman was insensitive to the moods of others or simply too busy to pay attention. What made prejudice ridiculous to Fria was that the seamstress herself did not look much like the humans back home. Her ears were very pointed, her skin was a strange, orange-red-bronze thing that Fria couldn't really describe and her eyes were black all over.

Fria stood silently unless asked something while the seamstress fitted, prodded and poked to get the dress to fit. It had been almost finished until it had been ordered to be fitted to a thinner girl. The woman carried on talking about 'the different folk'.
"There's some who say there are also people who have hooves like goats or cows." Her voice lowered to a whisper, "Even horns." She made another stitch to mark where to sew and managed for the hundredth time to poke Fria with the needle. "Not that I have ever seen one. Could be just rumor. There, all done. What do you think, My Lady?"

Fria was enormously relieved when her sister nodded approvingly. "That will do. You can have it done by tomorrow, right?" Had Fria seen the woman's expression, she would have felt vindicated, but she was occupied with getting the gown off without tearing the marks.

The seamstress took her leave muttering under her breath and Fria collapsed on the chest she'd been standing on for an hour. Finally she asked, "Where is my dress?"

"Oh. I sent it to be washed," Maristella replied thinking she'd rather have given it to the needy. "It will be dry by supper, I am sure. In the meanwhile, you can borrow something of Sharla's. Even if they are a bit big on you."

Fria held back a sigh. She certainly didn't want to borrow any more clothes, but she knew Mari would never understand. They were different that way. Fria didn't feel comfortable either with others wearing her clothes or wearing other people's clothes. Mari, however, had never thought twice if any of her friends complimented her clothing or if they had something she liked.

"But for now, let us go find a meal and we can talk in peace." Mari waddled towards the open door and Fria could do nothing but follow her in her borrowed nightshirt.

Lady Maristella sat at the long table grunting softly as the weight of her swollen body came off of her feet. This was so different from her first pregnancy. She hadn't even felt ill on the rocking boat over the weeks it took to reach her new home. She had felt otherwise ill, however, when she had learned the truth about her husband and her destination. She overcame her feeling of betrayal over whom and, more importantly what, she had married slowly over those weeks. She forgave her husband for having deceived her with a disguise and even forgave him for taking her half across the world from her family forever. But she's never overcome feeling the loss of all of her family and all of her friends.

"Why did you ask Nelda to comb my hair this way?"

Mari's sister's question brought her back from her thoughts. She wasn't alone among strangers anymore. Lindy was here with her. No, she reminded herself, Fria. She wants to be called Fria now. That would be hard.

"Because there is nothing wrong with your pretty ears, Sis. You don't have to hide them here. It is not like you are evil, strange or dangerous just because of the shape of your eartips."

Unlike some the others around here, she continued in he rmind, with or without pointy ears. While most of the really odd creatures did have pointy ears, not all who had them was odd in any other way. There were also plenty of very disturbing people with perfect ears. Her bodyguard Rurik, for example.

"Who is evil, strange or dangerous, Mari?" Fria had ever been astute when it came to interpreting tones and words left unsaid. It was the reason she had very few friends, but those few were the best kind.

Mari's lip trembled. "Not evil, never that. It is just that, I mean you must have realized." She lowered her voice to a whisper, "He is a warlock."

"Who is?" Fria whispered back, her heart jumping to her throat.

"My husband, Juan. He..." Mari's sentence was cut short by the door creaking open. A little person with very thick reddish-brown hair toddled inside.

"Good morning, my sunshine!" Mari smiled at the little girl. "Come here and meet your Aunt Friedelinde."  She picked up her daughter and carried her over to her sister. "This is Anita, finally awake!"

Fria held out a finger allowing Anita to ecide whether to touch it or not. "Hello, Anita." She didn't really know what else to say, but it didn't matter. The girl reached out to touch her ear. She squealed delightedly, "Ear ear."

"Yes. That is an ear. You're a bright girl." Fria smiled inspite not liking her ears touched. "Do you have ears too?"

"Nini ear!" Anita proclaimed and hunted her own ears under the mob of hair that seemed too much for a girl of just about one year. "Flilinli?" She proudly presented her own, point tipped little ear.

It took Fria a bit to interprete the speech, but she made the right guess. "That's a fine ear, Anita. I am Aunt Lin." Fria supposed her name would be overwhelming to the little one and it didn't hurt to be called the old name by her family.

"Aunt Flinlin! Nini!" Anita proclaimed holding out her arms. Mari smiled and handed her little one to her sister. "Well, Aunt Lin, you have a new friend it seems. Could you play with her for a while. I rather think I need to rest."

"Of course. It is a pleasure." Fria told her sister glancing at her worriedly. Mari really didn't look well at all. "You go rest. We'll think of something fun."

All too soon the day went by and evening fell over the manor. Fria did get her dress back for the evening meal, but she could not leave the house that day. Iago had to wait until tomorrow.

The Exiles: Fria Reflects

Fria sat on her new, wide and fancy bed. She was exhausted both physically and emotionally, yet she could not relax enough to sleep. Other than having found her whole family, she could not think of a thing that'd made her happier than being reunited with her sister. But that did not mean she was delighted having her life turned upside down again, just as she had been coming to terms with it.

She hugged her knees. The finely woven linen nightshirt had an unfamiliar scent. Whatever was used to wash it wasn't something she had smelled before. It wasn't unpleasant in itself, but it served to remind her it was borrowed and in turn, how things had again spun out of her control. Her eyes were burning and she sought brief respite by closing them. Unbidden images replayed on her eyelids always ending with the expression on Iago's face just before he turned and walked away. She had wanted to run after him right then, but truthfully, she had not been able to think of one thing to say that'd make things better.

What do you say when your best friend, or even possible romantic interest, suddenly turns into something half man, half beast? Her brain told her he wasn't any different just because she had seen him. He had not changed, only her perception of him. At the same time something visceral was screaming silently: "Danger! Run! Ugly! Monster!"

Perhaps, she reflected, it wasn't so much that she was upset with him for being whatever he was, but for having destroyed her fantasies about him. She had dreamed he could have been interested in her as more than a friend. She had imagined his soft, low voice whispering sweet words to her in the dark as he held her in his strong arms. Strong arms was apparently the only part she had imagined correctly, but they ended in hairy hands equipped with talons. She had, embarrasingly, even dreamt of other things, things she didn't even want to admit to herself now.

Her cheeks burned even at the thought of anyone ever finding out, especially her perfect sister and her perfect husband. Lady and Lord Reamos, by all that was holy! How could she have ever imagined that? She hadn't even known they were in this part of the world. Yes, they had made it clear she was close family and that titles were not at home, but she could not dismiss it quite that easily. It was apparent Mari didn't give a second thought to the claim that she was family, yet Fria felt like an impostor. She was just a foundling after all.

A knock on the door interrupted Fria's depressing thoughts. It was Juan, who asked her to join him in Mari's sitting room for a few moments. Fria didn't feel at all comfortable in just her borrowed nightgown, but she could not think of any excuse not to go. She sat herself on the opposite bench to him in the window alcove and suddenly she felt rather ashamed of her bare feet. Perhaps that was absurd, but the nightgown did cover her other parts like a thin dress. In contrast, he was still in his ornate office robes.

The Lord of the House  looked serious. "Now, we must talk quickly. Mari is taking a bath and I'd rather not worry her, you understand?"

"Yes, M... I understand." Fria repiled, barely cathing herself calling him Milord even though she didn't quite understand. However, she presumed she would once he had said his piece.

A slight twinkle in Juan's eye was the only indication he had caught her mumble, but he grew grave again immediately. "I am so grateful you agreed to come stay here, Lin. Mari isn't well. She needs you, since I have to go away. " He ran his fingers through his hair. "I need to talk to your parents, there is something..." He shook his hair and sighed. "Unless you know of any inherited family problems?"

Fria had been pleased to hear the first part, worried to hear the second part and the third part hurt her by, again, reminding her she was not of the same blood. It had never bothered her at home, but now it was gnawing her like a maggot. She simply shook her head.

"Is there anything special you'd like me to tell them? Or anything you especially miss from home that I could possibly bring back for you?" Juan tilted his head slightly, a familiar gesture, which made him look like the young man she'd known back home. Or whom she had thought to have known.

"Just tell them that I love them and miss them, but that I am doing fine and making plans for bookshelves." She smilied faintly at the family joke that if she could choose the only furniture in the house would be bookshelves and a bed. "But if you can, I would hear what happened to Ivor." Fria swallowed, she was worried her friend had come to more harm than herself.

Juan shook his head slowly. "More man troubles? Well, I'll do what I can. But that was another thing I wanted to talk to you about tonight."

Fria froze. He's going to forbid me to see Iago, she thought. It was not fair! She should not have to lose him too, because of some high and mighty lord so decreed. It was quite another thing that she might have driven him away herself in her inablity to act when she had truly seen him for the first and maybe also last time. The realisation, how important he had become her, tore though her. She said nothing, simply nodded faintly.

"Lin, now...." Juan started actually looking a bit nervous. "I have given my permission to young Iago to pay attention to you. What you decide is entirely your affair, I am not going to push you in any way."

Fria blushed as the words sunk in slowly. 'Pay attention' was another way of saying 'court', wasn't it? She looked at him, somewhat stunned. Surely he couldn't have meant that?

An impish grin made Juan look years younger as he continued, "Even if it would be politically advantageous to make such a match." He patted Fria's hand gently. "You must do what is best for you, little sister."

The last word brought tears in her eyes. He didn't think of her as some burden, but truly a member of his family. Juan rose and helped Fria to her feet also. "Now fair lady, I must bid you good night and farewell. We shall meet again once I return."

Even if Fria had wished to get up before dawn to see Juan away, it'd have been impossible. She lay awake for hours with her confused thoughts. Finally sleep came after she made the resolution to seek Iago out in the morning.

Trials and Tribulations

Lord Councilor Juannis Reamos had a headache. The day had been mostly tedious and discouraging. There had been times his patience had come close to snapping at the sheer stupidity of people and a few moments where the same had been close to making him laugh. Sometimes he wasn't sure which way to feel.

He had personal worries as well. His wife was pregnant with their second child. The first time they had both been exhilarated, but this time things were not going as well. His Lady was suffering from nausea worse than typical and it was continuing even through the second trimester to the third. In fact, it seemed to be almost getting worse. The physicians had no solution, though one asked how her mother's pregnancies had been. There was sense in that, so it seemed his only recourse was to take a trip to her home and ask her parents. He hated to leave her though, he'd barely make it back in time for the birth.

This was no time to indulge in personal matters, however. He turned his attention to the last case of the evening. He had already heard the other party, now he needed to decide how to deal with this young man. For all he knew, Drake was not usually a lout, but he had stepped over the line now.

"What have you to say for yourself, boy?" Lord Juannis queried the nervous youth. Behind him, his cousin Sharla failed to stifle a giggle. The girl had been acting a bit odd lately.

Drake paled. "M'lord, I don't know what to say. I've been told I acted stupidly." He sighed, shaking his head, "But I don't remember doing it." This was even worse than the hours he'd spent mostly with his head in the bucket in the morning. His deed was far more serious than it would look on the surface. It was not just name calling, it violated the constitution. Punishment could be very severe.

"Yes, I am aware you had a few cups too many. That explains perhaps, why you don't remember. But what could cause you to even bother a couple sitting peacefully and comment on their relationship in a hostile manner? Never mind right now the Utter idiocy of your chosen words." Lord Juannis quirked an eyebrow and studied Drake's face carefully.

The youth stared his feet. Then he lifted his eyes, facing his judge. " I was jealous, M'Lord. I remember feeling I would never find anyone and everyone else had someone. Even...." He blushed and shut his mouth. He'd said one word too many, again.

Before Lord Juannis had time to reply, Rurik, the Guard, announced: "The witness, Milord. Miss Friedelinde.

Everyone turned to look at the door. Drake's pale face turned red. But the most surprising reaction came from Lord Juannis. Fast as lightning he was on his feet. Excitedly he shouted to Sharla, "Quick, get my wife here, Cousin.  Hurry!"
Sharla replied, "Yes, My Lord." She exited the room through the back door, not looking exactly pleased for having had to leave the first truly exiting scene of the whole long day.

Drake's jaw dropped as the lord strode across the floor to meet the waif, but right then nobody paid any attention to him. "Lindy, it is you!", Lord Juannis proclaimed smiling widely. This meant one worry less for him. The girl looked puzzled. "Who? How would you know that name?" She peered in his eyes. "Juan? But...You don't look like this..." Fria frowned for it seemed looks could not be trusted.

Lord Juan laughed and embraced the girl warmly. "No, I don't look like that. I was in disguise. But that is a long story." He held onto her hand. "What about you? I presume they caught you. Were you on the last boat? Where have you been staying?" The questions fired rapidly.

Fria filled him in with the details, surprising Juan with the fact that she'd been there longer than he'd been back. "But how could I not know?" Juan frowned. The island was small and he should be informed of its inhabitants. "I'm sure I never saw a file on you, Lindy."

Fria chuckled. "Perhaps you saw one of Fria? I've been using the first part of my name, the other..." Her voice suddenly broke. "It brings memories of home."

Drake had been twiddling his thumbs nervously and trying to make heads or tails of this all. What was going on between these two and how was that going to affect him. If she was his mistress and he'd called her bony, things were going downhill fast. His musings were cut short by a squeal and a flash of green velvet as a lovely, flame haired lady spurted past him to the pair.

The first words out of Lady Maristella's mouth cleared all doubt from Drake's mind, but didn't lessen his worry. The girl was her sister. He stood there, feeling out of place, yet had no choice but to stay. The women acted embarrassingly emotionally. Especially the cooing about Lady Maristella's belly was annoying. Still, when they excused themselves, he wished they had stayed. For now there was nothing between him and his fate.

The Lord Councilor walked up to Drake. "Now then, you young man.  Our society here is based on every person having the right to live in peace as long as they live by the rules. Regardless of looks, breed or talents. You should know that."

Drake looked abashed. This was not sounding very good to him. "Yes, M'Lord. I understand."

Lord Juannis rubbed his chin. "I am not quite sure you do. You clearly need a lesson in appreciating what you have. You can either go to the Prison Isle and serve there...." Drake's face lost all the rest of its colour. "Or you can choose another, more dangerous path."

"Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to travel south to replace an agent in Zamalkand. I must warn you, failure there will be fatal. They have no tolerance of differences."

Drake's heart flapped so fast he thought it might break through his chest. "I would rather travel, M'Lord." Nothing could be worse than Prison Island where troublemakers were sent. Indeed, the idea of seeing the world was rather exciting.

"Very good. Rurik will help you get prepared. He'll have the information, garb and skin dye you need." Lord Juannis smiled. "Good luck on your first mission, Drake. Should you succeed, bring me a new rug. They make spectacular ones there." A soft rustle of green silk announced his lordship's departure.

Drake draw a deep breath. His future had just changed completely.