Arielle shook her head as she looked up at the large house Mistress Taniel had led her to for this evening's entertainment. The estate
wasn't as large as those of the nobles, and it was in the lower part of the Noble Quarter, near the houses of the ranking city
administrators. The structure itself was well guarded and a bit austere in its appearance. It was nothing like the home of the Lord of
Nydith with its gilded eaves and carved gargoyle guardians. This was the house of a War Hero, and while not one of the nobility
was still a person of importance in Nydith. She studied the emblems on the door as she and Taniel waited to be admitted. Nowhere
in the symbols did she see the Scourge of Thynitic. Instead, a representation of almost every other weapon favored by the various
gods was there: Scythe, dagger, sword, hammer, and battleaxe. The weapons surrounded various symbols of the gods who
favored those who trained in the art of war. Most prominent among those emblems was the crossed swords and shield of Oliaric.
Why a person with no true ties to the nobles of Nydith or the Goddess would request their presence tonight was a question that
intrigued her.

After several minutes, a tall youth with copper-colored hair opened the door and Arielle had her answer. This was the home of
Brygan's family. His brown eyes went wide when he saw her standing behind the priestess. He cocked his head slightly, but didn't
say anything. Taniel glanced back at her and smiled innocently, a sign Arielle had learned meant the priestess was fully aware of
what had happened.

So, did Taniel find out about our meetings or did his father? She refused to meet Brygan's eyes as she walked obediently behind
Taniel into the main hall.

"Mistress Taniel, I welcome you to my home," Brygan's father, Joadon, said as they entered the hall. He only glanced at Arielle, his
dark eyes dismissing her immediately. Arielle noted a lightness to his step that seemed out of place with his large frame. If it
weren't for the hatred humans of this region had for elves, she would have suspected him of having elven ancestors.

Whether Taniel found out first or not, Joadon obviously knows, Arielle thought. She and Brygan had known the risks if either the
temple or his father discovered them. They might not be lovers, but even their friendship was dangerous. As the property of the
temple, she was not permitted any personal relationships. In addition to the requirements of the temple, as an elf, no one in Nydith
would associate with her or those that did. Joadon was a recognized War Hero, a position that could never be taken from him, but
if his family lost the respect that title brought, he would lose power and influence. The scandal that would ensue would also prevent
his son from ever being in a position to earn the title for himself.

"I thank you for your gracious invitation, Hero Joadon," Taniel said offering their host a slight bow. "We are here to honor
Thynitic, the Lady of Chaos, and to provide entertainment for you and your guests while doing so." She turned her gaze toward
Brygan. "Allow me to present my acolyte, Arielle." She held her hand out toward the silver-haired elf.

Acolyte? The bitch has named me as a follower of her Goddess. Arielle glanced at Brygan, and then closed her eyes at the anger she
saw on his face before he turned and left the room. She fought back the tears, clenched her fists tightly then turned her attention
back to Joadon and Taniel.

Arielle kept her gaze locked on the floor as Joadon led them from the entrance hall to the great hall of his home. She fought to hide
the hatred and anger she could feel threatening to break through the barriers she had built to contain it.

"Mistress Taniel, allow me to present my guests from Sajan; Masters Galedric, Thiawin, Rhych, and Mistress Jia." Joadon gestured
to the three gentlemen and one lady seated at the long table. They all nodded politely, but did not smile or speak as they watched
Taniel and Arielle.

Arielle's eyes darted from one impassive face to the next not even noticing the type of clothes or color of hair. After a moment, she
risked a brief glance around the room at the various weapons, armor, and battle flags that adorned the walls, before finally forcing
her eyes back down in their customary, submissive position.

Taniel returned the nods with a brief smile. Joadon pulled one of the chairs out from the table. "Mistress."

Taniel's long multi-colored robes swirled around her as she took the offered seat. She silently gestured to the chair next to hers and
Arielle sat down. They faced Joadon's guests and waited for the meal to begin as their host took his place at the head of the table.

Arielle's eyes strayed several times to the empty place at the foot of the table. The place Brygan would have been had he not left the
room. There was another empty seat at the table and she wondered if Joadon's youngest son had deliberately been excluded from
the gathering this night.

"Welcome to my home." Joadon raised his glass in a salute to his guests.

"We thank you for the welcome." Arielle repeated the words of the traditional greeting with the others then cautiously tasted the
wine in the glass. It had an unusual flavor to it, for a brief moment she thought she was back in the ancient forest of Kilenter.
Warmth filled her and the light taste reminded her of the scent of the trees and flowers that bloomed in the spring.

Joadon swirled the wine in his goblet, watching in silence as a drop of the red liquid splashed free to stain the tablecloth. It
reminded Arielle of blood. "Lorniwen," he said. "An elven wine taken as spoils last spring when we removed the evil folk from our
borders," Joadon said, as if reading her mind. "I have been assured the wine has not been contaminated by their magic." He looked
straight at Arielle and smiled. "Not very strong, these elves, unlike this drink. They died quickly and honors were few for my
warriors. I hope the upcoming campaigns of this spring will provide worthier opponents."

Arielle raised her glass and smiled as Taniel had done earlier. "Be careful what you wish for War Hero, the Goddess may hear and
grant your request in unexpected ways."

Joadon laughed loudly and returned the salute, but did not reply.

Taniel looked at Arielle and nodded her approval of the verbal jab. Arielle took another sip of the wine and let her memories of
Kilenter fill her.