It was nearly twilight when they rode through the tall gates of Varenne proper, carved limestone trees on either side reaching high above the surrounding buildings. The oncoming dusk cast a strange glow on them, blurring the edges and yet making them seem more stalwart and formidable. Aliana did not linger long to look at them, and did her best to ride tall and strong atop her horse even exhausted as she was.

"You have received word from my brother, the king," Aliana stated, knowing her word as fact. "He has implored you to shelter us, until we can reach the Eastern Palace in spring."

Ligart laughed. Not a chuckle, but a true belly laugh. "Your brother," he began, pointing a finger at his niece, "is a little boy playing at war."

"That little boy," Aliana quickly countered, "is the King of Selles, and a Prince of Varenna by right, as I am its princess."

Ligart tilted his head, as if to look at her from even higher up, down his proud nose. He looked over Aliana as he had when she had first walked through the doors to his audience chamber, from the humble tiara on her head to her proud shoulders, down her wrinkled gown to the floor, then back to her face.

His gaze shifted to her left, where William stood several paces behind and to her side.

"And what of him?"

Aliana narrowed her eyes slightly, betraying her confusion as she said, "Sir Ingraham is charged by the king to serve as my protector."

"Just as he was charged by the king to occupy our coasts and have our women?"