by Charles Matthias

Steward Thalberg, who as head of the Keep’s household, and one the Hassan family’s most loyal retainers, liked to have a variety of events at the Festivals year round. There were naturally a few events such as the jousting in the Summer that were always held, but most came as a surprise to the Keepers. And some even to the participants, as with the Knight’s Ball on the final day of the Equinox Festival.

In many ways, it was to be a moment of gratitude for the knights who fought to defend Metamor during the winter assault. And also at the same time, it was a celebration of the very knighthood itself, of its ideals and its responsibilities. It was an occasion in which the knights could step out of their armour, where they could display their colours, and put aside their swords although most still had some blade still buckled at their waist. It was both boisterous and solemn, joyous and bittersweet. For while Duke Thomas saw many familiar faces amongst the knights assembled that evening, there were many that were not there, and never would be again.

Within the Keep there were several known halls with high veilings and massive draperies that lined wither wall, framing false stained windows that were often used during the festival times for such gatherings. Thalberg and Malqure, the chief archivist, had worked together to decorate the chosen hall for the Ball. The drapes were the blue of a morning sky after a snowfall, but festooned with yellow and pink thread that caught the light and seemed to sparkle. In two rows along the ceiling, massive silvered bronze chandeliers swung, casting warm light throughout the hall. At one end of the hall, massive banners of the Ducal house were hung, as well as an impromptu high seat for Thomas should he choose to use it. In surrounding arcs on either side of the makeshift throne were banners for all of the other lands that the knights of Metamor could claim as homes, reflecting the strange origins that many there possessed. The banners of Pyralis stood next to that of Sathmore, complemented by the green of Yesulam.

Naturally though, Duke Thomas did not stay upon that chair amongst those banners. Oh, as was customary, he greeted all of the knights with his opening words from that seat. There were so many duties that he had to attend as the Duke during the festivals that it bore down upon his equine shoulders. His remarks were kept short at most of them, but for this he’d had to be a bit more expansive. He had much to thank all of the knights for, although he could not bring himself to mention his abduction by Bryonoth, that very first time he’d been placed under the halter, and his subsequent rescue by Egland and Saulius. Not only could he not bring himself to even think anything ill of Dame Bryonoth, not after what they had done together, how he’d been a horse for her, but it would not have been apropos to speak ill of a knight in attendance!

But he’d given his speech some time ago, and now the Ball was much like any other that Thomas had attended in his years. There was fine stately music, as well as a few more robust tunes, and most were dancing in pairs in the middle of the hall. Tables had been set up in sections along either side with food and drink arrayed in careful patterns, each emphasizing both a particular grain, fruit, or meat, as well as various blends of colours. Even though many of the platters were already empty, they were still a striking sight where they were limned golden by the chandeliers overhead.

It was the third day of the festival, and it had been some time since he’d had a chance to truly allow himself to relax. With the heightened activity of the festivals, he could not meet with Dame Bryonoth discreetly as he so wished, and with the visit from the Questioners still fresh on many people’s minds, he’d had only one chance to be with his caretaker as he’d come to think of her in the last two weeks. What made that night worse, and what made him incapable of sitting down, was that she was in that very Hall with him. His eyes had stolen to her several times already over the course of the night. She’d come in with Sir Egland and Sir Saulius naturally, her two closest friends amongst the knights, but since then she’d stayed quiet at the corner of one of the tables away from the dancing.

Surreptitiously, Duke Thomas watched her, saw her face, its rough but gentle curves, so like a Flatlander woman. When Bryonoth had first become a woman, she’d kept her hair short. But now, it was beginning to grow out. In only two months it was already down to her shoulders, straight and dark like a horse’s mane. Like most of the knights, she was dressed in her family colours, as well as that of her knighthood in her case, Yesulam. And like many of the female knights, she was dressed in mostly masculine clothes, though there was still an air of femininity about them. But she wore no dress, and her doublet seemed only to flatten her breasts.

In fact, as Thomas took a moment to survey the rest of the assembled crowd, the only females who bore the customary dresses were the wives of the knights. Even after all these years, it was still odd to see so many women walking about in men’s clothing. While at Metamor they had certainly been left with little choice but to rethink the place for each gender, and the roles they played. Even so, a complete acceptance and understanding of those new roles would be another generation in coming.

The horse lord was smiling to all he passed of course, greeting as many as he could by name. Most of the knights were involved in the dance though, a stately affair in which the participants mostly touched each other’s hands or paws, and very little else. But even through the crowd of dancers, the many colours that assaulted his eyes, he could see her. And somehow, he knew that she was looking back at him.

Thomas could feel his tail trembling behind him, his ears standing upright, nostrils breathing heavily. How he longed to be over there near to her, to feel her hand upon his hide as he had so many blessed times before. Yet, there were many others here at the Ball, including his own Steward. Were Thomas to approach Dame Bryonoth, Thalberg would be sure to notice.

Besides, the horse lord consoled himself, there would be ample opportunity for them to meet later more discreetly as they had been doing. And he would once more be Toumoth, a simple horse pulling carts. He could not help but smile as he thought of the weight the harnesses would be upon his shoulders and neck, and of the load he would pull, of four hooves planted upon cobblestone and dirt paths. He breathed deeply, imagining the delicate and fragrant odours of well-prepared food and light perfume was the simple odour of other horses, dry hay and oats.

“Milord?” a questioning voice caught his attention. The voice was gruff and low, and he knew it could only come from the Steward.

Turning about, the smile vanished from his face, he found his Steward only a few short feet behind him, dressed as he was in his usual red, though this was more tightly fitting about his body than usual. Green eyes studied the Duke, concern within them masking a hidden strength. “Is there anything wrong, milord?” Thalberg only ever used the noble appellations when they were in a place that others might overhear him.

“Anything wrong? No, why do you ask?” Thomas said, his tail swishing back and forth in agitated distraction. Had the alligator seen him staring at Alberta?

Thalberg pointed with a single thick black claw larger than a human’s thumb. “You very nearly walked into that table.” Thomas turned to see, and saw the waist high table stacked with slices of freshly slain venison upon a silver platter.

“I suppose I was watching the dancers too closely then,” Thomas said after a moment’s pause. His voice was far too shaky, and he wished to kick himself for it, as well as run from the steward on all four hooves. This was no stress that a night of being brushed and curried could not wash away. But for now, he had to face Thalberg on equal terms, a task he did not relish anymore.

Thalberg nodded then, his yellow eyes turning to survey the gathered knights, most of whom were studiously avoiding the watchfulness of the pair. “Will you be dancing this evening?”

The horse lord was naturally expected to dance, being the Duke. The honour of dancing with him was one that he did not give out too freely. Most of the time he simply shared a dance with his daughter, a simple affair that was made quite awkward by Malisa’s unwillingness many times to accept the role her new gender placed her in. The rest of the time Thalberg insisted he dance with some of the other nobility from about the valley. They were few in number, and while he was on good terms with most, the dances were mere formalities, lacking in any true passion.

Just the thought of dancing himself brought to mind a most pleasing image. Standing in the middle of the floor, surrounded by a sea of faces, there was the Duke of Metamor, with his arms around the back of a Steppe born knight made into a woman. She with her arms about him, dancing together, to gentle stately music. The image brought a smile to his equine lips, one that he could not hide. Just to feel her touch again would be a kiss from all of the heavens.

“I suppose I should,” Thomas said at last, not daring to meet Thalberg’s gaze. Further, he kept his eyes away from Alberta, lest he betray his desire.

“A dance of feet, or hooves, is more enjoyable than a dance of words, wouldn’t you say?” Thalberg asked, his voice strangely distant then. Somehow, the Duke knew that his Steward was speaking about something else entirely. Just what affairs the alligator was referring to remained a mystery to Thomas.

“Will you be dancing, Thalberg?” Thomas asked suddenly, though he still did not look the alligator in the eye.

“I may yet.” Thalberg was once more gazing out across the dancers, his massive jaws turned ever so slightly in a reptilian grin. “But I am a clumsy dancer.”

Thomas, being of noble birth, had been taught how to dance from the earliest of ages. Even when the curses had made him into a half horse, he found that he was still a decent dancer. It would be pleasant indeed to spend a moment dancing with the one who had given him the simple pleasure of being nothing but a horse. Thalberg however, had never been required to learn the art, and couple with his altered form, dancing proved very difficult for him to perform.

“Well, I think I shall walk around a bit more,” Thomas said, even as the musicians began a new song, one slightly more upbeat. The pounding of feet, paws, and hooves upon stone floor an applause that flowed with the music. “Perhaps later in the evening I will dance. And what shall you do?”

Thalberg appeared surprised by the question. Thomas was once more looking at the alligator, but the Steward still had his gaze fixed upon the knights dancing in the vast hall. Their doublet and hose shone in the light of the chandeliers. “I think I shall have something to eat for now. Do enjoy yourself, milord,” Thalberg nodded once to him, and then stepped back a space before turning to one side and scanning the array of meats for something his reptilian pallette would find delectable.

Thomas continued on his way about the dance hall then. His ears turned to listen to the music, following the strain. His steps became almost dance-like themselves one two three, one two three. While the dance floor itself was merely the smoothed stone of the Keep, around the rim where the tables and the musicians played, carpeting had been laid down, so Thomas’s hooves were muffled. The carpeting itself was filled with floral patterns and forest scenes, but no images of war. Tonight was a night of peace for the knights of Metamor after all.

But there was one who did not seem completely at ease, and his eyes continued to stray ever towards the Flatlander knight. Dame Bryonoth sat watching her fellow knights dance, joined now and again by Sir Saulius or Sir Egland. The rat and elk did their part to make the evening enjoyable for the man-turned-woman, but her eyes were filled with discomfort. Several times as he watched, moving his way around the crowd, turning his eyes from her only to see where he was going, he thought either Saulius or Egland was about to ask her to dance, but the words could never get passed their throats.

Thomas could not help but wonder why they were incapable of asking her to dance. Were they afraid of what the knight might think? Would she be humiliated by the question? Would it hurt her, or would it make her feel there was an attraction there that did not exist? But most strangely of all was the way Thomas felt his nostrils flare, his ears perk, and his stride become more forceful. There was a heat within him, as if his flesh were baking under a summer sun. He wanted to stomp his hooves, drop to all fours and charge across the hall to get between them and her.

And then, when those two left her alone, the sensation left him. Thomas, the duke of Metamor, took several deep breaths, noting that he’d managed to move down towards the other end of the hall. The music was quieter at this end, but still clearly audible. His view of Dame Alberta Bryonoth was also clearer, though she was still some distance away from him. She was sitting at a table where many glasses of wine were spread about. Her hands were resting upon her legs, which were crossed before her. Dark hair, now down to her shoulders, had been combed, though it lacked any other embellishment. Even so, it flowed like the mane of an untamable horse galloping into the wind.

What had he been feeling, Thomas wondered. His heart raced as he tried to search back through those moments that had left him only seconds before, to understand what they had meant, but he was left with only more questions. He wanted Bryonoth to enjoy herself, wanted to see her happy, as she was when she treated him as a horse. Her posture always seemed so commanding, so powerful, so indomitable at those times. But now, sitting alone in a room full of dancing knights, she appeared weak, frail, a pale shadow of her former self.

Thomas felt his hand reaching out, as if he were going to touch her. But he was still too far away to do so. And what would Thalberg think if he saw the duke reaching out longingly as he was? His hoof-like hand fell at his side in a more stately pose, and he lifted himself a bit taller. That was a dignified pose, a pose of strength that Thalberg would approve of. It was also one that had become increasingly undesirable as the weeks wore on. How much longer would he be forced to act this way? It was becoming increasingly painful to do so. Simply standing that way made him yearn more and more for Alberta’s touch.

What harm would it truly cause? That question nagged at him, leaving him to tense his hands, thick nails digging into his palms. Thalberg would see thw two of them together and would be inquisitive. He did not want to have to answer any questions about her though. After all, what if their clandestine meetings were discovered? Thalberg surely would put a stop to them and force Thomas to be nothing but a Duke. And what would they do to Alberta? Surely they would want to bring some terrible end to her, and that was the last thing in the world that he wanted. Just the thought of her being brought up for trial made him cringe in horror.

And then, Thomas felt a strange thought float up through his mind. He was still the Duke, and he could protect her by that. A smile crept over his muzzle, one that could not be repressed. Although the weight of his responsibilities was many times more than he could bear, at least that one part of it brought a lightness to his heavy tread.

Before he quite knew what he was doing, the horse lord of Metamor was treading purposefully along the other side of the room, eyes fixed upon the object of his thoughts, Dame Alberta Bryonoth. Her eyes met his, and then she quickly looked away, as if she did not want him to be close to her just then. His pace slowed, but did not stop. Perhaps he shouldn’t go near. After all, it would only be another couple of days before they could meet once again in secret, he standing upon four hooves, a horse named Toumoth once again, and she placing bit, halter, and yoke upon him.

But the touch of her hand upon his flesh was too great a yearning for that to stop him then. Thomas continued walking his hooves leading him as if they had a will of their own. His heart only began to pound harder, his nervous desire increasing with each hoof fall. A strange effervescence filled his being, like the giddy bubbling of champagne against his wide nostrils. What little sensation he had left in his hooves seemed to vanish, until he felt as if he were treading upon the very air. Though he had not had any libations yet that evening, he nevertheless felt intoxicated.

“Dame Bryonoth,” he said as he came to her side. Though most of the knights dancing pretended not to watch this new development in the evening’s excitement, their eyes were rivetted, minds uncomprehending. Alberta slowly turned and looked up at him, her eyes hard, screaming at him to leave her be. Yet there was something else in there that he could not describe, some secret pain that he wished to unlock.

Thomas felt his enthusiasm diminish at first, but after a moment’s heavy pause, in which Alberta acknowledged him with a “milord”, he felt it renewed. Already by this time, Thalberg had seen him approach the Steppe born knight, but strangely enough, Thomas no longer cared. He wished only to be with this woman who had given him the peace of simple equinity.

“Would you care to dance with me?” Thomas asked, his voice firm, though he barely heard his own voice. The musicians seemed to have stopped their playing, though that too could merely have been his imagination. Though he knew the eyes of the world were upon him in that instant, he no longer felt them. In that moment, the horse lord saw nothing else in the world but the woman before him.

His arm was extended towards her, palm open to accept her slender fingers should she accept. It would have considered extremely rude for her to refuse. She would have given a grave insult to the Duke in the eyes of all assembled should she refuse. Thomas would not feel that way though, for he knew this was far more difficult for her than a simple matter of etiquette.

But she smiled to him then, the anger in her eyes melting away. She lifted her hand and placed it within his own. A sudden thrill jolted through his body, as her hand touched his flesh. The smell of hay and sweet oats came to him, the thick musk of the stables mixing with the knight’s own scent to bring back so many pleasant memories, moments of simple being and pleasure that he could never forget. “I wouldst be honoured, milord,” Alberta said as she rose to her feet. Thomas smiled and gripped her hand more firmly, his thick fingers tracing along her slender ones.

They touched only in the hands though, moving on graceful feet and hooves into the centre of the hall, passing through the other dancers as if they were but garden statues fashioned from finest porcelain. Alberta appeared quite uncomfortable as they walked, but Thomas simply smiled to her, his own happiness at being with her there unable to be contained. When they reached the centre, they briefly let go. Thomas bowed to her respectfully, and Alberta did her best to curtsy, although it was quite awkward for two reasons she bore no gown, but only the breeches of a man, and she had never curtsied before in her entire life.

Nevertheless, Albert Bryonoth curtsied to him, something that pleased Thomas greatly, but not for a reason he could discern just then. She smiled politely back ta him when their faces were lifted once more. Being a horse morph, Thomas stood a good foot taller than she, and perhaps even more. But with the natural downward slope of his head, Thomas did not feel as if he towered above her. That seemed quite important to him just then as well, but his mind was so lost in the very thought of dancing with her that he did not consider why.

They reached their hands out to each other, and clasped. And in that moment, Thomas heard the music play once more. The statues around him grew fluid and began to move again, spinning about like madcap tops in the hands of children. And Bryonoth and he began to move in a steady circling motion, their legs taking practised steps with deliberate ease.

The horse breathed in deeply with each new down beat of the music. His tail swished back and forth in time to his steps, his hooves landing hard upon the stone floor. He was careful never to step upon her own feet, although at no point did there ever seem to be a need for his worry. Alberta, for all her life upon the Steppe, was a very good dancer. In fact, the only difficulty that came to them was that more often than not, she was trying to lead in the dance. But that was Thomas’s job this time, one that he would gently remind her of with a slight tug upon her hands.

And then, in a nearly inaudible whisper, Alberta said, “Thou shouldst not hath done this.” Her voice was strained even so, as if she were holding back a raging horde of Lutins with only her back.

Thomas could only smile though, and grip her hands more tightly as they danced together, spinning about on the floor to a pleasant tune. “I know. But I could not help myself. And you looked so lonely.”

His voice had been equally quiet, his massive lips barely moving in fact. But the last few had a surprising effect on Alberta. Her eyes began to grow damp, her body shivering from some cold chill that passed through it. But the knight regained her composure after a few seconds, her feet never missing a step in the dance. Thomas was quite impressed with her skill. But this was a dance in which the male and female parts were very nearly the same. It practically had to be considering that most of the females in attendance had once been men. The horse lord could not help but wonder how Alberta would fare if they were to dance something with clearly different roles.

“But all shalt wonder why thou didst ask to dance with me,” Alberta pointed out after she managed to blink the dampness from her eyes.

Thomas nodded slightly, his gaze passing beyond her to the other dancers. Through the mass he caught sight of his Steward Thalberg briefly. The alligator was staring with wide yellow eyes, his jaw hanging down in complete shock, displaying the vast array of fangs the curse had given him. Never before had Thomas ever seen him so surprised. It was strangely satisfying in a way, but nevertheless, he wished that he could tell his friend all about this. It pained him to know that Thalberg would never understand any of it.

“It will be the talk of Metamor,” Thomas observed, his voice detached. He knew this all to be true, yet at the moment, none of it mattered to him. He simply wished to dance with her. “All will know that I favoured a steppe-born knight with a dance. One who only a few months ago had been a man.”

Alberta winced slightly at that last, and Thomas felt terrible guilt. “I did not mean to hurt you...” his voice trailed off at that.

“It art,” she began to say, but her voice caught in her throat. For several minutes they just danced, their bodies touching only in their hands. Even so, Thomas could feel her breath, her very heart beating against her chest, just as was his own. There was still quite a bit of roughness to her, a roughness that the curse could not eradicate by making her a woman. Yet he felt the guiding hands that he had come to know in his times with her as a horse named Toumoth. He could feel that next moment coming then, as if he would change right there, and she place that halter upon his face to lead him away to the stables to be groomed.

That image was broken by her voice speaking once more. “That art mine own concern. Nae, thou shouldst not concern thyself with it.” Her voice was sure this time, firm and unbreakable as the Flatlands themselves.

Thomas let his gaze sweep across her face then, noting the stolid features she bore. As they turned about, her hair flowed outwards, catching upon the air. As it undulated and moved, he almost could see riders moving through those strands, the pounding of hooves at her neck. He had often heard how closely the Flatlanders were attached to their horses. Some had even suggested that the blood of horses flowed in their veins. It was a pity that the curse had not made Bryonoth’s form match her blood, although Thomas could not bring himself to wish such had occurred. If it had, he would not be dancing with her now after all.

“I can help you,” Thomas offered. “You’ve helped me so much...”

Alberta’s eyes silence him before he could get any further. “I thank thee for thy kindness, milord. But thou canst help me in this.” His ears folded to the side then, and his tail fell between his legs. She appeared to sense his disappointment and so smiled up into his eyes. “But I hath delight to know that thee wishes to help.”

Thomas did smile then, gripping her hands more tightly as they continued to circle and to dance. Even if she would not let him help her now, perhaps she would change her mind later.

The pace of the music was getting faster, and so, the dancers moved more quickly about the floor. For some, this required the pairs to get closer together. Thomas did likewise, though at first Alberta held back. After several measures, she too let herself be drawn closer to the horse lor din the fast paced dance. Thomas tried his best to remain completely at ease as he danced with the knight, but his tail twitched excitedly. Many parts of her were brushing so close to his flesh that he yearned only to bring her even closer, closer than would be considered polite even.

But the Duke’s better sense prevailed then, and they while closer than before, kept their distance still. For several minutes they danced like that, unspeaking, moving as one body through the floor with all the rest. Thomas knew that there were so many eyes upon him, but he did not feel them even then. How could any in attendance at the Ball forget that night now? Duke Thomas had danced with one of their own, and one whose arrival at Metamor had not been a friendly one. His mind went back to that first time he’d felt the touch of the magical halter. He’d been frightened terribly then, scared of what was being done to him. But even then, when Bryonoth was under the enchantment of an evil wizard, he’d felt the love of man to horse. To be loved as a horse was such a comforting feeling that he savoured every bit of it that he could obtain. How he had managed to survive the last seven years without it he could not imagine anymore.

And then, before he had even realised it, the music came to an end. He felt a pang of disappointment then as Alberta stepped back from him and curtsied once more, a bit more competently this time. Thomas nodded and bowed back to her, before he escorted her back to her seat. He could hear the whispering about them, but paid it no mind. Sir Saulius and Sir Egland were waiting at the table, their eyes wide, but nevertheless delighted.

“You danced beautifully,” Sir Egland managed to say, his voice tight, eyes wide in cervine fashion.

“Thou hast masterful pose, milord,” Sir Saulius intoned, his own voice strangely awed.

Thomas felt heat fill his chest again, but it was more subtle this time. He nodded to them both, but then turned and smiled to Alberta. “Thank you for accepting my invitation, Dame Bryonoth. I enjoyed our dance.”

She smiled and nodded her head respectfully in return. Her smile was contained though, merely respectful. “And I thank thee, milord, for honouring me so.”

Thomas nodded once more to each knight in turn, and then stepped back, making his way briskly back to the front of the room where his makeshift throne stood empty. He did not sit down though, but continued to watch the dancers, knowing that their eyes were either upon him or upon Bryonoth just then. He glanced back at her once, and saw that both Egland and Saulius had engaged her in conversation. He trembled at the sight, but relaxed. They were merely curious and congratulatory for her. Yet all of it was awkward. How could those two knights speak well of her in being female after all without hurting her as Thomas had?

His thoughts were cut off by the arrival of Steward Thalberg at his side. “I see you found somebody to dance with, milord,” Thalberg said, his composure perfect. There was no trace left of the gaping jaw or wide eyes upon his reptilian friend.

Thomas nodded and smiled. “Yes, I did. You appeared quite surprised.”

Thalberg’s yellow eyes narrowed upon his massive head. “Yes, I was. Of all the people to choose, I would not have expected her. Especially not after what she did to you while still a man.” This last was said in a very quiet voice. There was also a hint of concern in it. The horse lord could tell that his Steward did not wholly approve.

“Yes, I know,” Thomas said, feeling a bit of the tension slip back into his frame. He’d felt totally free when dancing with Bryonoth. Now, the rest of the world was slowly bearing down upon him again. “But,” he said, searching for the words he needed, words that he hoped would allay the alligator’s fears. “She is not the same. I suppose I wanted her to know that I did not hold that against her. Maybe I wanted her to know that I thought her worthy of service to Metamor. I am not sure now.”

He turned then and fixed his brown orbs upon the reptilian yellow of Thalberg’s eyes. “I do know that I enjoyed the dance though. If everyone talks of it, then that is good too. People will treat her better now because of it. It was not her fault after all.”

Thalberg did not appear completely comfortable with that explanation, but he still nodded his head in assent. “I do see what you mean, milord. I just feel that there might have been a better way to convey that message. People may wonder other things than simply forgiveness now.”

“Gossips will anyway,” Thomas said, taking a deep breath. He let curiosity fill his eyes. “And just what do you think they will think, Thalberg?”

The Steward’s long tail began to sway behind him, the end held just inches from the floor. “You have very rarely gone amongst the crowd to select someone to dance with. In the past years your dances have all been arranged. People may think that your selection demonstrated a romantic interest.”

Thomas’s ears went completely erect then, and his tail swished unpleasantly. “That too may give people hope in these days of rebuilding. But at the end of the day, I will know that I had a pleasant dance, and Dame Bryonoth will know that she’s been forgiven and can serve with honour and distinction once more.” There was more of course, but Thomas did not wish to share the rest of it just then. Thalberg would not understand of course. He hated having to deceive his friend as he was, but what choice did he have?

Reluctantly, the alligator at last nodded. “I suppose you are right, milord. Is there anything I can bring for you?”

“A bit of wine,” Thomas said, smiling to Thalberg as firmly a he could. “Thank you, my friend.”

Thalberg appeared caught off guard by this, his jaws creaking in the slightest of reptilian grins, which was about all he could manage now. But he said nothing, merely turning about to retrieve the requested wine. Thomas watched him go for a moment, a giant man clad in green scales and scarlet brocade. His eyes then slipped back over to where Alberta still sat. Both Saulius and Egland had given her some space. For a brief moment, her eyes met his. She smiled.

The Duke of Metamor smiled too.