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      Alethea led the girl to the cave, mentally debating whether this was a good idea. On one hand, she did owe her, and there was something the girl wasn't telling her. On the other, it was risky to the point of stupidity. Elias would know what to do, though. He always did. If he deemed it too risky, they could always give her some Olvidas leaf and leave her at the gates of Correr. She would pass out, then forget the past 24 hours. Easy, painless, and her disappearance would be blamed on the ladrons, or thieves of the desert. They were always bothering travelers and those who strayed beyond the city gates. It wouldn't be hard to blame them.

    They finally reached the cave and she turned to the girl. "Wait here," she tried to sound stern, adopting her native Correren accent. "I need to check something. I'll let you know when you can come in, okay?" The girl nodded, and Alethea stepped into the cave, encountering Elias near the entrance.

   "Alethea. Oh good, we need to get going. Here," he gave her one of their cargo bags. "Load the provisions into that one."

  She took the bag, but didn't move towards their store of provisions. "Elias."

  "...And I'll take the tent poles. Now, where did I put my sword?"


  "Oh right, it's in the corner...what is it, Alethea?"

  " have brought someone back with me."

  "You what?"

  "Listen, I owe her, she got me out of a tight spot with some bluecoats, granted, it was kind of her fault we were in that tight spot in the first place but..." she trailed off, waving her hands aimlessly in an attempt to make him understand.

   Elias let out a sigh, blowing his mop of black hair off his forehead, revealing his sapphire blue eye and his eyepatch where his other eye should be. "Bring her in." Alethea let out a breath in relief and hurried towards the entrance. "Alethea?"

  She turned. "Yes, Elias?"

   "Just...please remember that being my apprentice is an honor, and that you are so close to becoming a knight. There's a reason we're going back to the Palace of the Sands, and it's not just for the annual council meeting."

   Alethea nodded. "I know. I won't...I understand completely what an honor it is. I won't disappoint you."

  He smiled. "Good. Now bring her in."

   Alethea ran out to the girl, noting that she had moved exactly four inches from the spot she had left her. Her head still swimming with Elias's words, didn't he understand that she knew, had always known, what an honor she had been granted? Did he think she wasn't grateful? She shook her head. She needed to focus. She touched the girl's shoulder. "Follow me."

   Alethea led her into the cave, where Elias stood, waiting. He had put on his sternest expression as well as his full gear, including weapons, since she had left him. The girl looked positively terrified, and even Alethea felt slightly intimidated. Relax, she told herself, you're just bringing a civilian in for inspection. Soon, you'll get to ask the questions and intimidate people. At the top of her class of apprentices, given the honor of apprenticing to Elias, one of the highest-ranking knights, who only took the best, she was also being given the privilege of taking the exam at the Palace of the Sands. Normally, apprentices took their exams wherever the knight they were apprenticed to chose, whenever they were deemed ready. Then, they would become Journeymen, allowed to go on missions in pairs, and required to spend their first year with their new rank being supervised by the knight they had been apprenticed to. Finally, after five years, you went back to the Palace of the Sands, took your exam, and were officially knighted by the Commandant. Alethea was skipping the Journeyman stage, taking both exams as one, and being knighted immediately. It was an honor rarely granted, only one person every twenty years or so, but it was almost always given to an apprentice of Elias's.

  She turned her attention back to the girl and Elias, mentally chiding herself for getting lost in thought at such an important time. He was looking at the girl suspiciously.

  "Name?" He barked, after a period of silence.

  "M...Grace," the girl responded. "Grace Blackthorn."

   "Alright, Grace Blackthorn. Parental occupation?"


   "What were you doing following my associate?" Alethea tried to control a proud smile. His associate. Not his apprentice. His a-s-s-o-c-i-a-t-e!

  "I wasn't following her!" Grace's middle class accent, which wasn't fooling anyone, disappeared. "She was following me!"

  Elias's gaze flicked towards Alethea. "Does she speak the truth, Dawson?"

  Behind her, Grace stifled a gasp. Alethea shot Elias a look. He didn't have to play the last name card, even if he was annoyed with her. She tried to appear cold and emotionless, like any good knight. "I only followed her after I caught her tailing me, sir. I was making sure she wasn't spying on me and my doings in the city."

 Elias gave her a curt nod. "So, Miss Blackthorn, why should we keep you with us, and not leave you for the ladrons?" Grace's face went white at the mention of the ladrons. "Well?"

  "I can..." she swallowed. "I can tend to wounds, kind of, anyway. I can cook a little, and I can sew."

  Elias gave her a scathing look. "Anything else?"

 "I...I'm okay with a bow."

   Alethea stepped in between the two and faced Elias. "I also owe her. I like my debts settled, personally. And besides, she might prove useful," she dropped her voice. "She's not telling us everything."

  Elias nodded, and gestured for her to stand down. He mouthed a word at her, and although it was in Sara, the language of the desert people, she recognized it perfectly. Knights gave battle commands in Sara, and this particular command was one she knew well, since Elias was often shouting it at her. Auguarda. Wait.

  "Alright, Miss Blackthorn. We won't kill you. Yet. Now, make yourself useful. Pack this bag with those clothes." He handed Grace another cargo bag and pointed her toward their pile of uniforms and casual clothes. Alethea picked up the bag he had given her earlier, and started to load food into it. Suddenly, she looked at Grace.

  "I'm Alethea, by the way."

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