Part 4

See Prologue for disclaimers.

The main compound of the Alorian southern forces, which Kaia commanded, was impressive. When Alean first spotted the neat rows of houses, she had thought they were entering a large village. It was only when she noticed the large number of soldiers, that she took a closer look. The houses, obviously officers quarters, were clustered at one end, while a large building, that Alean now recognized as barracks for the regular soldiers, dominated the other. Buildings housing blacksmiths, leather workers and the other trades necessary to maintaining the large force, ranged between the two. The large fields beyond were the training grounds.

Skirting the base brought them to the stables, where most of the men turned in to hand off their horses to the waiting grooms. Only the officers and wagons remained as they made their way to into the base proper. As they moved through the main road the wagons turned one by one, as each neared the location where their particular loads would be delivered. The wagon Alean was traveling in came to rest outside the camps hospice. The two ill men and the one who had broken his arm, falling from his horse a few days earlier, were taken inside. Alean was about to move to follow, when she was stopped by Taloc, who had dismounted beside the wagon.

"No, child, this isn't your stop. I'm to take one last look at your leg and then send you to General Kaia's quarters," Taloc said with a smile.

"Her quarters?" Alean asked nervously.

"Of course, would you rather I put you in a cell?" Asked a deep voice behind her.

Alean turned to see Kaia watching her intently from the saddle of the huge black stallion. Feeling awkward under the dark eyed scrutiny of the tall warrior, Alean found herself unable to speak, so she shook her head.

"I didn't think so," she chuckled as she urged the horse into motion.

In a moment, she was gone from sight and Alean returned her attention to Taloc. He had taken out the last of the stitches a few days before. The bruises were also gone. Now, he was tending to her injured leg for the last time. Though she still limped, it was more from the enforced inactivity, than the dull ache that remained.

After a quick examination Taloc proclaimed, "Use the walking stick for a few more days, until you get your strength back. As much as I like your company, I'd rather it not be as a patient if you should re-injure yourself."

Alean grinned as she leaned forward to give the old man a quick hug. "Same here," she said sincerely. She had taken a liking to the old man and had been glad of his company on the trip to Aloria. Once she told Taloc that she had been trained in the healing arts, they had spent may hours discussing the techniques of their respective lands. During that time, she had come to think of the thin, white haired man as a friend.

With a quick grin, and a promise to see his former patient in a few days time, Taloc signaled to the driver and the wagon moved farther down the road. The wagon soon stopped again in front of a large stone building. It was set at the farthest end of the compound just past the rest of the officers quarters. The design was similar to its neighbors, but it was much larger. It was also the only one which boasted a contingent of guards. Four were visible, two on each side of the massive door. Alean stepped down from the back of the wagon as one soldier opened the door of the large home. Once inside, the door was quietly closed leaving Alean, alone, in a large receiving area. A moment later, she was greeted by a young servant and was led further inside.

Raneck and Kaia rode at a leisurely pace down the hard packed dirt of the main road. Their duties involved with settling the returning men had been complete. Now, they were enjoying a few minutes of quiet before dealing with the work that had built up in their absence. The companionable silence was shattered when Darash and two Tharin officers rode up to them. "General. May I have a moment," Darash asked with a high pitched whine.

Rolling her eyes, Kaia stifled a less than pleasant response and turned slightly to face the wizard. "What is it, Darash?" she asked.

" see.." was the uncharacteristic stammer from the normally well spoken wizard. At Kaia's upraised brow, he forced himself to calm a little and continued. "When you invited us for dinner, our friends," he waved a hand, to indicate the Tharin officers, "didn't realize that the Calani girl would be there also. They do not feel this is appropriate."

"Are you trying to tell me they're afraid of her?" Kaia asked with a derisive grin. Turning to the Tharins, who were fidgeting uncomfortably, she said, "This invitation is not open for discussion. The girl will be there, and so will you. You are dismissed. I'll see you tonight."

"Fools," Kaia muttered as she watched Darash and the Tharins slowly move off.

After Darash led the upset officers away Raneck asked, "This isn't just a simple dinner then?" He had been with Kaia long enough to know she rarely did anything without a reason. He also knew that she rarely bothered to explain herself to anyone, so he was a more than a little surprised when Kaia chose to respond to the question.

"No, it isn't. Malek's men are here to convince me to support the alliance. Alean thinks she can talk me out of it. I figure if I put them all together, I can learn some interesting things," Kaia stated.

"That makes sense, I guess," Raneck said thoughtfully, "It seems a little much to me, though. After all, that girl is going to be outnumbered ten to one. She's just a healer. They'll eat her alive."

"Oh, there's more to her than that," Kaia said. Reaching into the small pouch on her belt, she removed an object and handed it to Raneck. "What do you make of this?" she asked.

Raneck examined the small blade thoughtfully. "She was carrying this?" at Kaia's nod he continued, " Where would she get an assassins throwing knife? "

"She had twelve of them hidden in her belt," Kaia replied. She kept her expression neutral as she observed Ranecks stunned reaction to this unexpected news.

"What? Taloc said she was a healer. This doesn't make sense. What has she had to say about them?" Raneck asked

"I haven't asked her about them yet. I haven't really had time to talk to her at all, just a few minutes at dinner each evening," Kaia answered with a shrug.

"Are you sure it's a good idea to keep her in your quarters? I mean, if she had these," he trailed off as he gestured to the small knife still in his hand.

Holding out her hand Kaia commented, as the blade was returned to her, "If she had these, then it would be a good idea to keep her where I can keep a close eye on her. Besides, the same thing pretty much holds here as in the field. Unless I lock her up, there's really nowhere else I can keep her."

"Maybe you should consider locking her up," Raneck suggested.

"I did consider it. She's obviously more than she seems, but she's co-operated so far. She thinks she can talk me out of the alliance. As long as she believes that, I don't think she'll risk causing any trouble. Besides, she has no weapons, she should be pretty harmless," Kaia returned.

"Even so, you'll need to watch her carefully," Raneck commented.

"Oh, I plan on it," Kaia said with a grin.

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