So, this one was sort of a request, and sort of a command decision. As I pointed out to a friend, Secrets of Deltora claims that the best way to offend the people of Broome is to decline an invitation to dance; and apparently, the people of Broome are always dancing.

Dancing or not, the things that might have happened during that 10-day stay in Broome make me giggle fiendishly to myself. Those possibilities are hilarious and… A bit juicy, if I do say so myself. XD

This was supposed to be a one-shot. But 10 days is a lot of time for fluff—um, I mean, stuff—to happen, and there was too much I wanted to write. I try to keep pieces under 8,000 words, because when I go over, people tend to snap at me. So, because I was already 10K and nowhere near where I wanted to be, I decided to make this a two-parter, instead. You'll have the juicy second half in a few days. ;)

And, to stir things up just a little more, a lot of our heroes' mannerisms are based more on the anime than the books, because this is so silly and lighthearted. Just, you know, Lief and Jasmine being the 18-19-year-olds they are. Whoa, wait, 18-19? They grow up so fast….. (sheds a tear) Frankly, as far as the two of them are concerned, I think they are more believable in the anime. They just seem, I dunno, like actual teenagers to me. And for this thing, which gets very personal, I think it fits better. Which is why some of the dialogue might seem out of sync with the books—cuz it is. And I did it on purpose. :/

A brief note on the dances I describe later: I imagine, from the vague descriptions in the books, that the people of Broome mostly have line dances, which any number of people could catch onto quickly and join in. Like the Macarena or the Cupid Shuffle, only 5 million times cooler and funner. Perhaps they also partake of square dances, various country jigs, and maybe even river dance. But mostly those awesome, middle ages festival line dances.

That rating is not a mistake I need to go back and fix—the rating is M, because I suddenly decided that I can so write adultish material. There isn't much in this half. Until the end. The second half will be… Something, alright…. So if you won't be in the mood to blush like a schoolgirl today, you should probably go ahead and walk away. Like, right now. Otherwise, please enjoy the awkward adorableness that is Barda falling in love. :D


What Happens in Broome…


It had been two days already. And if Lief was to be understood, they wouldn't be leaving any time soon. Their staying in Broome was like staying nearly anywhere else in the land of the ruby. It was happy and peaceful, and the thought of having to move on was almost painful. Besides, the land around Dragon's Nest was suddenly becoming plentiful again. The sea was alive with glittering fish, and crops were springing up everywhere, as if by a miracle. It was perhaps best to take a long respite here, in the east. It was likely to be their only chance to do so.

Considering everything they had just accomplished, and all that lay before them, Barda had decided that he didn't mind it. He had been annoyed at first to be stuck in the city, while urgent action was needed elsewhere. And then he had realized that for the first time in his life, he had several days to himself, in which to do nothing in particular. He also had a companion his own age, which hadn't happened since he had been a boy.

Lindal was not the friend he would have designed for himself—it never would have occurred to him to wish for a giant woman with a shaved, painted skull as a friend. But she had appeared out of the blue, saved his life, and the two of them had bonded within minutes. After all, they had much in common. They were nearly the same height, for one. They were both incredible warriors, for another thing. They were both adventurous, and had shared a blatant disregard for rules as children, only to have a better appreciation for them as adults.

Upon a bit of discussion, they also found that they had been very young when their fathers had passed away; as such, they had also been very close to their mothers, who were now with their husbands. Finding that they shared that pain had been surreal, and perhaps a bit awkward.

That was one thing they didn't have in common: Barda had always been easily embarrassed by a show of emotions, but Lindal seemed not to mind them. In fact, though the people of Broome were descended from barbarian warriors, many of them seemed to speak of feelings and emotions freely. Lindal had started out simply expecting him to do so, purely out of habit; after learning more about him, and finding that such talk made him uncomfortable, she had begun taking care to avoid it.

That hadn't stopped her from asking him suddenly to dance on that second afternoon. And it hadn't stopped her from laughing at him when he shook his head and politely insisted that he was a terrible dancer.

"You're kidding me, surely," she said, all at once becoming quite serious.

Barda shrugged. "It's not a skill we teach our guards," he answered matter-of-factly.

Lindal looked aghast, planting her fists on her hips and regarding him in disbelief. "Well then, be glad it was only me who asked. Why, everyone in Broome dances! If you had turned down the offer from anyone else, you might have stared a brawl."

Barda raised an eyebrow at her. "Over a dance?"

"We take our dancing very seriously here. Unless you intend to spend the next few days hiding in my house, you had better learn—and quickly. Someone is bound to ask you eventually, and I refuse to be the one whose friend started a riot because he can't dance. Come along, back to the house."

And she snatched him by the wrist and hauled him away. "I shall teach you myself, old bear. You'll be dancing with the best of them, when I'm through with you."

Barda was startled by the declaration, and wondered if it was her way of flirting with him. No one had ever asked him to dance before, let alone forced him to learn. In Del, such an invitation was a form of courtship, or perhaps politics. He was glad that Lindal was pulling him along behind her, and wasn't able to see how red his face had grown.

He quickly learned that in Broome, it was very different. An invitation to dance was as casual as an invitation for a leisurely stroll to a pastry shop for a snack. It was simply how people here spent time with friends of all sorts because, as Lindal had said, everyone danced. And they seemed to be dancing all the time. In fact, he had noticed that men often danced with men, and women often danced with women, and it meant nothing more than simple friendship. Such a thing never would have done in Del.

In those first few hours of learning, they quickly found that Barda was better than his word. He was an awful dancer. Lindal kept shaking her head hopelessly, lamenting that she had never seen such a thing as a man who couldn't dance. But she was determined, and he was furiously indignant, and so they kept trying long into the evening.

Lief and Jasmine wandered back at one point, after an afternoon exploring the city, and laughed at the sight of the giant woman trying to teach their beloved guardian to dance. For a time, they simply sat on a couch, watching and occasionally teasing, because the sight was apparently amusing to them. But they quickly grew bored just sitting there; after a while, Lief stood up and offered Jasmine his hand.

"I already know how to dance," she said huffily, crossing her arms. "You and Sharn and everyone else made me learn months ago."

"I know," he answered with a smile. "And you are wonderful at it. Maybe Barda just needs to see how it's done by an expert."

Also, he wisely hadn't added, Jasmine only knew one dance well, and everyone in Broome kept dozens in their back pockets. If either of them might be asked to dance at any moment, it would be smart to let Lindal teach them, as well.

Because he hadn't said this out loud, Jasmine returned his smile and taken his hand.

In the end, that instead of going anywhere that evening, the four of them remained in Lindal's home and had a small party of their own. By the time the boy and the wild girl went off to bed, they had mastered the steps of five new dances, and Barda was finally showing some improvement. Suddenly, he couldn't think of going to bed now, just when he was catching on. But Lindal insisted on a short break, because she had been dancing tirelessly since that afternoon and wanted a drink.

"Come into the kitchen," she said, beckoning him to follow. "We'll break into something fancy, for this occasion."

He smirked as he followed her. "I wasn't aware you owned anything fancy," he teased.

She scoffed over her shoulder at him. "I may be a rough and tumble warrior, but I'm still a woman. Honestly. Men!"

Barda winced inwardly, wondering why this surprised him so much. But she was so strong and free, in a way that was almost manly. She was so much like him. It was easy to forget that, for all they had in common, they were still two very different people, who did things in very different ways.

In the kitchen, Lindal was pulling etched glasses out of a cabinet, while at the same time rummaging around for a bottle of wine. She kept mumbling to herself where the bottle might be, and how she could have misplaced it, because dammit, it was the last one and it shouldn't be so easy to lose track of. Glasses still in hand, she crossed the room to another cabinet, braced one knee on the counter beneath it, and hoisted herself up to look on a high shelf, still muttering to herself. In her frustration, she seemed to have partly forgotten that Barda was still there, watching her from the doorway.

There was suddenly something about her, this way. Something that had clearly been there all along, which he hadn't been able to see properly until just now. As if he were seeing her from just the right angle to finally notice. He couldn't name what it was, it was just…. There. And it stirred something inside him, which he perhaps had never noticed about himself. It was unlike anything he had ever felt before. He couldn't name that, either… But it made him smile without thinking.

She is very pretty, he thought suddenly, not sure where the thought had come from. He blinked, pushing the idea away, and thought instead, She is also a good teacher. It was kind of her to help me this way.

"What are you smiling about, you oaf?"

Lindal was pinning him with a look, hands back on her hips, now fully aware that he was there. He cleared his throat nervously and shook his head.

"Oh, it's nothing," he said quickly, glancing at the floor. "I was just thinking."

"About my ass?" she demanded.

"What—no! No!" he insisted, waving his hands, wondering if she enjoyed making him blush.

"Then what were you staring at?"

"The sink."

"….The sink?"

"Yes, the sink," he answered solidly, striding to stand by the kitchen sink and bracing his hands against its edge. "I was just thinking of all the small things that must have gone on around it, in the past. Meals prepared and cleaned up after, over the years. It really makes a person wonder, you know?"

Lindal obviously knew that he was bluffing. But her face softened into a nostalgic smile, and she set the glasses down on the table, coming to lean against the sink beside him.

"I've lived in this old house my whole life," she commented. "I learned to cook in this kitchen. I can't even count all the dishes I've broken in this sink. This sink could tell many amazing tales, if it could speak. It would tell you the tale of my life."

She looked up at him with an impish grin. "It's an interesting thought. I'm glad it came to you."

Now she was teasing him again. He humored her with a grin, and they shared a laugh over it. It was just another small moment, but it was a friendly, pleasant one. Barda had never particularly had friends to share moments like this with. As much as he appreciated his young companions, it wasn't the same as having real friends.

"Hey," Lindal said, glancing back at the cabinet she had been searching, "I think I finally found the bottle I was looking for. Be a good bear, and reach up and get it for me."

"Too high up for you?" he asked, taking it from its shelf with ease.

"You're taller than I am."

"By less than an inch."

"But it seems to have made all the difference."

She took the bottle and yanked the cork out with her teeth, then spit it into the empty sink. She did so with the ease of practice. It was kind of impressive.

"I'm more used to drinking this by myself," she said casually, filling the glasses generously. "It isn't every night that I have company. Most nights, I'm in a pub, dancing and drinking with my friends. Otherwise, I'm tried from a day's hunt, and just want to be alone. This will be a nice change, I think."

"You lead a busy life," Barda said, taking the glass she handed to him.

"You're hardly lazy, yourself. How many times is this, that you've saved us all?"

"Easily the hundredth. Honestly, though, little of it is my doing. I'm just… There, watching."

"Oh well, someone has to keep an eye on the children."

"Indeed. There's no telling what they might do next. There never has been."

Lindal sighed in pretended tiredness, and held up her glass. "To keeping busy."


They clinked their glasses together and drank their toast deeply. Barda looked at the etched glass, and realized that the pattern was familiar.

"These are beautiful, by the way," he said.

"They were my grandmother's," she answered, looking lovingly at the glass in her hand. "It was her wedding present to my parents. It meant much to them, so they never used these if I was anywhere nearby. When I was a small child, I thought that it meant these glasses were magical, somehow. I used to fantasize that each glass might have a different power. One sip from the right one could make a person invisible, or small as a mouse, or perhaps grant the ability to fly."

Barda laughed softly. "You had quite an imagination. Is that why you have the same pattern in place of hair?"

Lindal grinned proudly, and ran a hand over her head. "I'm not ashamed to confess, I dreamed of that day for many years. As a child, I thought that having the pattern tattooed in place would give me supernatural powers. As a young woman, it was simply the realization of a childhood dream. As an adult, it's a way of honoring my family, and keeping their memory alive."

"I like that." His scalp prickled unpleasantly, and he ran his fingers through his hair. "Did it… Hurt?"

Lindal grimaced. "Like hell," she answered bluntly. "But it's a rite of passage. All our girls go through it at the age of 13, and they have for centuries. It would be a shame to be snatched by a dragon, for the sake of vanity."

"Ah, like the girl with the golden hair."

"You know the tale?"

"That, too, is an unusual tale. As it is, we've met two dragons already, and I didn't like how they kept looking at Jasmine."

"More specifically, at her hair. It's all they want, and it's always the same. If you people intend to go looking for more dragons, she should think of cutting her hair short."

"I doubt she would do such a thing."

Lindal shrugged and sipped her wine. "I suppose it's her choice, then. Oh, feh. I'm tired of all this talk of dragons and adventures. I thought we were done with all that for a few days. Back to the matter of your dancing, though."

"I still couldn't show my face anywhere in the city without making a fool of myself."

"Don't be so hard on yourself. You're getting there. Perhaps in another day or two, you could leave the house for a while."

"Unlike my young friends. They take to it like birds to the sky."

"Stop your grumbling, you bear," Lindal said heartily, clapping him on the shoulder. "Not being awful at something is the first step to being halfway decent at something."

Barda had to stop and think about that for a second. "I've never heard it put quite like that."

"Well, now you have. So let's finish this round, pour ourselves another, and get back to business."


Lindal was an amazingly patient teacher, far more so than Barda had thought before. When she had suggested another day or two of practice, she had been completely serious. The two had gone on to spend every spare second practicing for the following two days. It became less on obligation to prove anything, and more of an excuse to just be together. Between dancing in the common room and talking in the kitchen, it was suddenly rare to see them apart.

It had become so rare, that Lief and Jasmine began to complain that they were missing their guardian. They had been in Broome for four days, and had hardly seen him at all. Barda shrugged at their annoyance; he finally had a friend his own age, who was also a warrior, who he might not see again for a very long time. Of course he was taking advantage of adult company; it was a luxury he had never been able to afford. Lindal insisted that she was just being a generous hostess, and a good friend. She also pointed out that they would take Barda with them when they left; and with all the danger they were waltzing into, she may very well never see him again.

All the same, Lief and Jasmine complained that the two were monopolizing each other.

"It's not like you miss us," Lindal pointed out on that fourth afternoon. "The two of you run out the front door every morning to do heaven only knows what, while we aren't there to stop you. And you don't return until sunset, exhausted and hungry, and expecting us to feed you."

"We've seen about as little of you as you've seen of us," Barda said, curious now that it had been mentioned. "What have you been up to, anyway?"

"Just wandering around, mostly," Lief answered. "Exploring the city, street by street. It's been nice."

Barda hummed in understanding. "Just like old times. You used to run wild in the streets all the time, before…"

"Before all of this," Lief finished somberly, glancing down at the glittering Belt. "Everything just changed so suddenly. It's hard to imagine I was ever that person once. But since we've been out every day, I've begun to remember. It's all come back, and it suddenly becomes quite natural."

"Like going back to the Forests of Silence for me," Jasmine added helpfully. "I've never seen him like this before. Barda, you should come with us next time. It's not the same without you."

Barda shook his head with a gentle smile. "No, no, the two of you just go and have your fun. You don't need me spoiling your good time, telling you not to do this, and don't do that, as if you still needed a nursemaid. Besides, I'm busy."

Jasmine rolled her green eyes. "Still dancing? Have you even gotten any better?"

"He's gotten much better, thank you kindly," Lindal interrupted, narrowing her eyes. "I said I was going to teach him, and I'm not going to fail. Just go and do whatever it is you do, and don't you doubt me again or I'll switch you within an inch of your life."

As soon as those words had left her lips, she made a stunned face and then smacked her forehead. "Ah, wonderful, I'm turning into my mother," she sighed. She turned to storm off, but smacked Barda's shoulder before leaving.

"I'm going to get a glass of water. Can I get you anything?"

"Just water," he said, earning a satisfied grin as she left. In truth, he was perfectly fine; but he knew better than to say so. Since arriving in Broome, he had quickly learned that refusing any kind of hospitality was a horrible offense. Lindal only tolerated it from him because she knew he was unfamiliar with the city's customs, and was trying to inform him before he started a street fight. The least he could do was show her that her hard work was not in vain.

Seeing him observing all those rules and customs, especially when they were so foreign to him, made her feel triumphant. It seemed like she glowed faintly every time he responded correctly. Not because she had trained him so well, but because he made a clear effort to care. And, for some strange reason, it all made him very happy.

"Why are you smiling like that?" Jasmine asked, sounding surprised and perhaps slightly alarmed.

Barda hadn't realized that he was smiling again; and he, too, was surprised and perhaps slightly alarmed. Now that he thought of it, it seemed that he had been smiling a lot lately, and that everyone else knew it before he did.

"I'm not sure," he admitted, rubbing his neck. "It's just this place, I think. We are in the land of the ruby, the land of happiness, after all. Not to mention the Sister of the East is destroyed. I suppose it just comes more easily, here and now."

Lief and Jasmine were silent for a moment, and exchanged a glance as they considered this.

"…No, that's not it," Lief said, shaking his head. "There's something different about you the last few days, but I can't figure out what it is."

All at once, Jasmine gasped and her whole face lit up, her eyes gleaming mischievously. "It's Lindal, isn't it?"

Barda looked at her in puzzlement. "I don't follow."

Jasmine gave him a devilish grin. "You like her, don't you."

"Of course I like her. Otherwise, we wouldn't be friends."

"No, no, I mean you like-like her."

"What are you talking about? That's ridiculous."

But it was too late. They were already dissolving into uncontrollable laughter. And it was all at his expense.

"Ooh, Barda's got a girlfriend," Lief sang in his face.

"He's in love," Jasmine added, batting her eyes at him.

Barda just scowled down at them, unimpressed. "Cut that out," he grumbled.

Neither of them could hear him over how loudly they were teasing him. Somewhere in the background, Filli was chattering loudly and Kree was squawking to himself—probably their own ways of laughing at him. It was horrifically undignified, and maintaining his stoic silence was difficult. But he staunchly refused to react in any way.

"What the hell is going on in here?" Lindal's voice demanded from behind them. She had reappeared with a glass halfway to her lips, and another in her other hand, watching the noisy scene in her living room with a mix of curiosity and disapproval.

Unable to control their laughter, and perhaps afraid to repeat themselves to her face, Lief and Jasmine began moving quickly toward the front door.

"Oh, we were just leaving," Lief said casually, as if nothing was going on.

Lindal clearly didn't believe him, and rolled her eyes. "Of course, you were. Just don't do anything we wouldn't do, alright?"

Still snickering to themselves, the youngsters darted out the door, hand in hand. Finally, that was over.

Barda glanced over his shoulder at Filli and Kree, still perched on the back of the couch, still seeming to laugh at him.

"What?" he demanded of them, pointing at the door. "You're not going with her?"

Filli gazed at him innocently, and Kree stared at him as if the question had been stupid. Apparently, they had no intention of following Jasmine today, and that was exceptionally strange. Barda wondered if she had asked them to stay behind so that she and Lief could be alone, or if they had decided on it themselves. Perhaps they were as tired of romance as he was.

Lindal was looking at him, too, but in concern. "You do know, of course, that they won't answer."

"These aren't normal creatures, Lindal. They know more than you might guess."

The blackbird and the little ball of fur hardly moved; but it seemed to Barda that they were pleased to hear him acknowledge them. Once upon a time, he had believed that they were ordinary, unintelligent, and would mostly be a bother. Now, they were like family. Now, he couldn't imagine getting by without them, and their unexpectedly useful skills.

After pondering this briefly, Lindal shrugged and handed Barda one of the glasses she was carrying. "What was all that noise about you being in love?" she asked, disbelieving.

"Only them teasing me," he answered firmly. "The two of them are just young and stupidly in love, and so they think they know everything. Pay them no mind."

"Understandable," Lindal agreed, nodding. "I suppose we all go through that phase. Happily, phases pass. All the romantic nonsense must peeve you, though."

"No, usually they humor me by going about as if nothing's changed. It's difficult sometimes, though… I watched Lief grow up, certainly; but I never thought that letting him go would be so hard. I never thought I would be attached enough to even have to. And now look at him—saving the world, ruling a kingdom, falling in love, as if he thinks he's an adult or something."

"Barda, he is an adult. The boy will be 20 next year. But I think it's sweet that you care so much."

Barda made an odd face at her. "Sweet?" he said. "That's no one's usual choice of words."

Lindal snorted and clasped his shoulder. "Then let me reword that, so it sounds more manly," she drawled. Then she became sober and completely honest. "You are a good man. That is a hard thing to hide, and it certainly isn't a crime. Large, loud folk like us need sweetness, too, after all."

"Once again, I don't think I've ever heard it put that way."

"Well, how would you have put it?"

"It never would have occurred to me to put it any way."

Lindal crossed her arms. "And how to you intend to raise curious children of your own, if you can't put the pains and joys of life into words?"

His eyebrows shot up, as he was caught completely off guard. "What children? I don't even have a wife!"

"…You don't plan on having children?" she asked, surprised.

"I suppose I've never thought of it."

"Oh. I just assumed…"

"Why is that?"

"I don't know, you just seem to really like children. In any case, you're certainly quite good with them. You kept Lief alive for 16 years, after all."

"19, actually."

"Exactly. You've taken such great care of them, and you clearly love them with all your strength. And so I assumed that you would want children of your own. I meant no offense. Forgive me."

"There's nothing to forgive," he said evenly, though the notion had given him a great deal to think about later. "What about you?" he asked. "Do you plan to have children?"

"When I find the right man to be their father, yes," she said, shrugging faintly. "I've always planned to have several children, and there's never been a reason to change my mind. My family was always so small; my father had died, and I had no brothers or sisters, and so I was often quite lonely. Having a nice, big, loud family would suit me much better, I believe."

"That does sound nice," Barda agreed, smiling at the idea. "I've never really thought about having a family of my own. I've always been so busy, there was never time to even consider it. Perhaps I've been afraid to settle down—marry a nice girl, have children, make a happy life—only to have duty call me away again. It would be unfair to everyone. A child deserves his father's undivided attention. Having been deprived of mine, I can't bring children into this world only to abandon them."

Lindal sighed, looking saddened. "I suppose that's wise. Wise, and bitterly true. Perhaps I've been afraid of the very same thing… Also, since I joined the Resistance way back when, I'm honestly never around; and it's hard for a man to call on a woman who isn't home. If I end up dying a childless old maid, I'll have no one to blame but myself."

Barda felt like he should say something encouraging to that, but he couldn't think of anything in particular to say. The look on her face pained him, and he tried hard to find words to cheer her. But strong words had never been his way, and this sudden strong feeling was making it difficult to think clearly.

He had never felt quite so confused before. It was strange, and it frightened him just a bit that something might be wrong with his head.

At last, Lindal shook herself as if waking from a dream, and resumed her usual grin. "Ah, well, whatever will happen will happen," she said decidedly. "Still, it's a pleasant dream. Anyway, now that your children are out of the way, let's get back to work. If we are diligent, I may be able to let you out of the house by tomorrow night."

"Oh, excellent," Barda said brightly, following her to the middle of the floor and offering his hand as he had been taught. "Then I can pay you back the dance I declined before. For all your help, you more than deserve it."

She gave him a proud smile as she took his hand. "Thank you for noticing," she answered. And they began to dance.

And they enjoyed themselves so much, they completely forgot that Filli and Kree were still there, watching their every movement with curious interest, looking forward to telling Jasmine that her guess had been right, after all.


And so, on the evening of the fifth day, Barda finally found himself in the city's impressive meeting hall, trying to gather the courage to join the dancing throng. All of Broome had been in an uproar over the last few days, because of the miraculous bounty being brought into the city every day. This evening, the people were dancing with renewed energy, enough to rattle the timbers of their meeting hall, for they had discovered another reason to celebrate.

Apparently, Lief had blown his cover today. For the first four days, he had been happy to pass as an anonymous visitor—perhaps some had thought that he and his companions were old friends of Lindal's, from her days with the Resistance. And he had kept the Belt safely hidden under his jacket, out of sight and out of mind.

Today, however, something had happened—Barda hadn't worked out the exact details—and someone around town had noticed the unmistakable Belt of Deltora. Word had spread like wildfire that the king had been among them all along, and now the people were rejoicing over the very pleasant surprise.

Lief hadn't been sure if he would go out that night, because he was terrified of being mobbed. But Lindal had playfully punched his arm a little too hard and laughed at him.

"No one's going to mob you, you silly boy," she had said, grinning at his concern. "They just want to get a good look at you, that's all. They just want to see you, and be with you, and enjoy you. Remember, as far as they know, that's the whole reason you've come here. So go out and enjoy them, too!"

Mostly satisfied, Lief had smiled cautiously back at her. "You and Barda are coming with this this time, right?"

"Absolutely," she said in a loud, proud voice. "Now that I've trained our beloved bear to dance, I'd say it's time for him to perform for us!"

Lief and Jasmine had been looking forward to that, and so they had left long before their adult friends did. At any rate, they had been enjoying all the dancing, and didn't want to miss a second of tonight's celebration. Barda had followed them to the meeting hall an hour later; but he had followed them alone.

Lindal had left on an errand, intending to meet him before he left, but hadn't returned. Hoping he would find her at the meeting hall, he had gone on his own. He had arrived to find the building quaking with song and dance, blazing with light, long tables piled with food and drink lining the walls. A lively dance he was glad to say he could name was already in full swing, and he easily spotted his young friends amid the dancers. But Lindal was nowhere to be seen, and the disappointment was almost crushing.

Without an immediate dance partner, Barda had retreated to stand stoically against a wall, content to simply watch. He had learned this dance, and could have stepped right into it easily; but without Lindal, it wasn't the same. Without her, he was suddenly unsure of himself.

He had never been unsure of himself. Bored as well as alarmed, he had snatched a flagon of ale from a nearby table to steady his nerves. He thought back to his adventure at Dragon's Nest, and tried to think of when his head had been hit hard enough for this to happen.

He was also nervous, for some reason. Why should he be nervous? All he meant to do was share a few dances with his friend, as was the custom in this city. Perhaps he was simply worried to stumble and fall, to make a fool of himself in front of everyone, to disappoint Lindal after she had worked so hard.

If he let her down, he wasn't sure what he would do. The thought suddenly terrified him.

He drank deeply from his flagon, hoping this onslaught of awful emotion would go away and trouble him no longer.

"You've saved enough for me, haven't you?"

Overwhelmingly relieved to finally hear Lindal's voice behind him, Barda spun around to greet her, and toss a smart remark of his own back in her face for being late. Instead, his jaw dropped, and his flagon nearly fell out of his hand.

It was Lindal, certainly. But if he hadn't known her by her voice, he never would have recognized her. She was wearing a dress which seemed to be made entirely of deer hides, tied close around her waist by a jeweled leather belt. It draped over her shoulders, swooped low beneath her neck, and reached all the way to the floor. Hoops of gold dangled from her ears, and a necklace of jade and turquoise hung around her throat. She had even ringed her eyes with black kohl.

She was radiant. She was positively beautiful. Barda was certain in that split second that he had never seen a woman as beautiful as Lindal of Broome.

…But she was wearing a dress!

Pleased to have shocked him so thoroughly, Lindal put her hands on her hips and barked a laugh. "So, you still don't think I own anything fancy?" she demanded with a triumphant grin.

Blinking rapidly, Barda forced himself to speak. "Uh—um—no, not like this," he managed to stammer. He couldn't stop looking at her, even for a second. But she couldn't get his head around her, either.

Lindal brushed at her sleeve, looking well satisfied. "Any woman, no matter how free and bold, has to have at least one good dress stored away somewhere. One never knows when there might be cause to dress up. My countrymen are celebrating their being clever enough to discover their own king in their midst; and you are finally dancing. This night is more than cause to be a little fancy."

"A little fancy?" Barda demanded, incredulous. "I never dreamed that you would own such finery!"

Lindal made that nostalgic smile again, and gently touched her necklace. "All this finery was my mother's, when she was my age," she commented. "It's all a bit old fashioned, perhaps, but I like to think it suits me quite well. Why? Do you dislike it?"

Barda knew that he was beginning to grow red again. He agreed wholeheartedly with her—old fashioned or not, she looked like a queen. He wanted badly to say so out loud; but he knew he couldn't be truthful without looking like a fool. And she was still looking searchingly into his gray eyes, waiting for him to answer her.

A silence stretched between them, which felt like it would have no ending. Seeing that it would only end once he had spoken, Barda cleared his throat awkwardly and finally found something worth saying.

"Can I offer you something to drink?" he asked, nodding toward the table.

Lindal was visibly annoyed that he had avoided answering her question, and so cleverly, too. She hesitated for a second, gazing at him in surprise. Then, abiding by Broome custom that was practically unwritten law, she nodded agreement, and silently accepted the flagon he brought her.

"So," he said, trying to resume his usual casualness, "you can dance in that?"

Lindal tossed her head proudly. "I could dance in any clothing, in any weather, in any place," she proclaimed. "We learn to dance as soon as we can walk. It is in our natures."

"Why is that?"

"Because of our place in this world, I suppose. Our ancestors were said to dance upon the shore when they first came to this place, filled with joy to be safe and free. They built their city on the ruins of dragon fire, yet managed to evade the dragons' wrath, themselves. And they built their city in the land of happiness, after all. They had every reason to dance for joy, and so do we. And so we do. We dance as if every day were our last. Perhaps there's no helping it."

They had already spoken of many things, in their long hours of practice; but it seemed to Barda that they never ran out of things to discuss. He always found new questions to ask her, and she always found new questions for him. Between the two of them, they had learned quite a lot about each other, and the very different peoples they came from. It was startling just how little they knew, considering the tribes of the topaz and ruby were neighbors who shared a boarder, and how unexpected they were to each other.

Because they were both warriors, they had both started off believing they would be exactly the same. Barda was of Del, and so he was sturdy, reliable, and serious. Therefore, Lindal's general kindness and easy-going manner had taken him by great surprise, especially when she made no attempt to hide the fact that her ancestors had been bloodthirsty barbarians. On the other hand, Lindal had spent her whole life rejoicing deeply and loudly in her freedom to be who and whatever she wished, unafraid of showing great feeling. It boggled her mind that Barda could be so stoic, when he had so many reasons to be filled with joy.

But it made no difference to them. In the five days that had passed, they had become good friends. In spite of their many differences, they still had much in common. They had learned so much of each other—laughed over each other's blunders, cheered for each other's triumphs, grieved for each other's losses and hurts, as if they had been together for every step of the journey.

Lindal probably knew more about him by now than anyone else alive. Lief probably didn't know him as well, and they had shared all manner of adventures in the last three or four year. Queen Sharn probably didn't know him as well—Sharn, his friend, who he had known as Anna for the longest time, who had come to know so many of his secrets.

Yes, indeed, the queen was his beloved friend from of old. But Lindal was…. Different, somehow. It was sort of funny. Barda had appeared in Sharn's life out of the blue, and so they had become friends. Now Lindal had appeared in his life out of the blue, and in five days they had become as close as friends could be.

Perhaps it was loneliness, his longing for adult company, which drove him to speak as freely and openly to Lindal as he did. Perhaps he hadn't realized how lonely he had been all along, with only a pair of impulsive teenagers and their great adventures to occupy his time. His life had been so full. But obviously, it had been missing something vital.

Perhaps she had realized the same of herself, and found herself in exactly the same place as he did.

This was more than likely the reason they spent such a long time hovering around the refreshment table, simply talking and drinking and laughing. Of course, they hadn't meant to waste so much time, when they had been so excited to finally dance with everyone else. Lindal had missed it sorely, and Barda had been eager to try his luck at it. Instead, they continued talking, and drinking toasts.

It wasn't normally Barda's way to drink so many toast in one night; but, as Lindal had pointed out, tonight was a special night. A night for breaking the normal rules, and being a little fancy. And so he drank every toast she offered, and made sure to come up with several of his own. Two flagons later, it seemed to him that the lights of the hall, already blazing, had grown a little brighter. But the song and dance had somehow grown fainter.

The only thing he was truly aware of was Lindal, laughing beside him. And it seemed like she had begun to glow, and that's he grew a little brighter with every toast they drank. She was all he could really be sure of in the blinding, blurry mess that the hall had become.

Really, she was all he needed in that moment, and all he would have asked for.

Somewhere in the background noise the hall had become, another dance ended in a roar of applause. Another song began in its place, calling all the dancers to a new formation, which Barda couldn't have named if he had tried. But as soon as it started, Linda's eyes widened, and her smile was one of pure delight.

"Oh, I love this song!" she exclaimed, grabbing him by the hand and hauling him into the crowd. "The dance is easy, and you know it well by now."

Gasping in surprise, unable to stop her, Barda felt his face growing hot yet again. "What if this goes wrong?" he asked suddenly, his usual barriers long gone.

"Don't worry," she insisted as they took their places. "You'll be fine. Just let it all go, and have fun!"

He barely had time for a last, beseeching glance at her. All at once, the dance began, and he was swept up into the tide. To his dismay, that tide swept him one way, and swept Lindal in the other. Suddenly, he was alone in this strange new world of noise and movement.

But she had taught him well, until the steps of the dance and the rhythm of the song were second nature to him. It was almost a surprise to him that his feet instinctively took the right steps, made all the right turns, and that his hands linked hands with all the right people as the dance swung him round and round the hall. In no time at all, he had lost himself in the joyous fever of the dance, laughing and singing with this host of new comrades.

Every now and again, the steps of the dance would lead him and Lindal together once again—only to have the very same steps veer off course suddenly, to spin them into the waiting arms of other partners. Whenever this happened, Lindal would laugh merrily at the unfortunate accident, and shrug apologetically at him, as if to say, oh well, maybe next time.

It was just the way of the dance, to her. She had done this all her life, and was used to the disappointment of these particular steps. For Barda, who had never done this in public before, it was nearly devastating. No matter how hard he tried to reach her, the dance always snatched her away from him. It was frustrating. All he wanted was to finally catch her hand in his, spin her around the hall with him and not let go of her, no matter what the steps of the dance dictated.

She deserved someone who would never let go of her. She more than deserved that.

The steps guided him in a new direction, and he spun away from his current partner to meet the next one. He turned on his heel, spun around—

And finally, finally, Barda and Lindal spun right into each other's arms.

The feeling of relief was overwhelming. They were together once again. He hadn't felt quite so at ease all evening. Lindal was laughing, as she had been since the dance had begun; but he could tell from that laughter that she was just as relieved to be reunited. They had spent the whole dance trying to reach each other. And now, here they were, spinning together across the room, at last.

Maybe it was just the ale making him think this way—but Barda suddenly couldn't bear the thought of the dance tearing her from his side again. It felt as though he had lost her, and he had just been on a small adventure to find her again.

It had all the makings of a charming fairy story.

For now, though, they were together again, and a small part of the world was as it should be.

As suddenly as it had begun, the dance clashed to an end. And by some miracle, they were still together. In fact, the dance had led them almost to the center of the great hall. The dancers all applauded, thrilled and full of happiness. The two dancers who had found themselves in the very center cheered loudest of all, for it was custom that they would be given a prize for their good fortune. All those around them also cheered for their excellent luck, and looked around for the city officials, wondering excitedly what the prize would be.

But Barda and Lindal were quite silent. For a long moment, all he could do was gaze less than an inch down, in awe and wonder that he hadn't lost his dear friend again. And she gazed back, searching his eyes for something. It was a tense, silent moment of waiting; but it was a beautiful waiting. It knew that something incredible was about to happen.

And something incredible did happen. As the noise of cheers and shouts and the stamping of feet went on around them, they clasped hands at the same time and hurried toward the great hall's oaken doors. They ran together out into the chill night, so overcome by great emotions and so enthralled by the dance that they never noticed the cold.

There, hidden in the shadow of the building's stone wall, they pulled each other close. At last, they shared what was to be the first of a great many long, passionate kisses. And that first kiss was like an explosion of freedom and joy between them. It was the long awaited release of something kept secret, something denied and explained away because of fear. It was the act of putting lies behind them, and the acceptance of the glorious truth.

They were more perfectly suited for one another than for anyone else. In spite of the ale, and the fever of the dance, and the previous gale of confusion, Barda understood that now. There was nothing wrong with his head at all. He had simply fallen head over heels in love for this incredible woman, who had fallen for him in return. He understood that purely and simply. And now that they had been separate, only to be reunited, he refused to rationalize it away. He refused to let her go again.

And so he wrapped his arms around her jeweled waist and draped shoulders, as tight as he could, and kissed her lovely face with all his strength. Her fingers crept though his dark hair, savoring the feel of it, and he didn't push her away. If anything, he held her closer. Even when her sharp, quicksilver tongue felt its way across his, he couldn't dream of denying her.

There was nothing he could have denied her in that moment.

"Come home with me," she whispered in his ear. "Let me show you something."

And, unable to deny her anything, he nodded vaguely and let her drag him, stumbling, back toward her home.

They joked and laughed all the way back, in a wonderful and dangerous daze of alcohol and romance. Neither had felt so exceptionally good in a long time. And now that they were sharing the moment with each other, they felt even better. They reached Lindal's house and went inside, still laughing loudly and enjoying themselves. And then she hushed him harshly.

"The babies are sleeping," she slurred, pointing at the couch.

Lief and Jasmine had already returned from the dance. It appeared that they had curled up together on the couch, perhaps for a quick cuddle while the adults weren't around to stop them, only to fall asleep there in each other's arms. They must have been as content and comfortable and happy as their older friends were now, for they both slept with faint smiles on their faces.

Filli and Kree were also asleep, similarly curled up on the back of the couch. Perhaps they had meant to stand watch, and sound a warning when the real adults returned. If that had been the plan, it had failed abysmally.

The sight made Barda wonder several things at once. He knew all too well that the two were very much in love, but was unused to seeing it plainly. A small part of his heart was pained by it now. Having to deal with them holding hands, whispering affectionate words, or sharing a kiss where he could see would have made his furiously uncomfortable, and he was glad that they mostly hid their romance from him. But in some ways, they fact that they went out of their way to hide it from him was just was painful.

In his mind, Lief was still only eight years old, sometimes. Other times, he was still only 16 years old, and bickering over stupid things with an equally 16-year-old Jasmine. Seeing them this way was jarring. With three flagons of ale in the way, he simply couldn't make sense of his kids being so grown up.

He also wondered just how late it could be, how long he had been out, that Lief and Jasmine would have tired and wandered home first. He had thought that he was the tired one who needed rest.

Beside him, Lindal struggled to contain a fit of giggling. "How cute, they danced themselves to death," she said quietly, in a sing-song voice. "We should get them to bed."

"We should leave them," Barda growled in response. "Lief kicks, and Jasmine bites."

He was absolutely serious, of course; he knew the perils of waking his young friends from a restful sleep. But Lindal began laughing again, struggling pathetically to be quiet. She doubled over from the effort, and he swooped to catch her, holding her around her waist and trying not to let her laughter infect him too much.

She held onto his shoulders and looked into his eyes again, still grinning and giggling; then her face became grave, as though she had just remembered something important. There was determination in her eyes, and what seemed like the faintest flicker of fear.

"I have something to show you, Barda," she said softly, breathlessly, as if she had run across the city to tell him.

"Show me," he said eagerly, oddly excited to see the surprise she had waiting for him. Without hesitation, she took his hand and led him past the couch and through her house, giggling devilishly all the way.

She pulled him into an unfamiliar room and shut the door behind them. Barda looked around in dazed curiosity, as Lindal lit a candle and illuminated the space. There was a bed of richly carved wood, with a beautifully patterned blanket; on its left stood a side table, holding the candle she had lit. An antique trunk bound in tarnished brass stood in one corner. A framed mirror hung from the wall beside it. The walls were hung with marvelous shells from the nearby shore, and one wall held a rack of impressive spears.

By the point, Barda didn't have the presence of mind to embarrassed to be here, alone with Lindal in her bedroom. Mostly, he was just impressed by its few but well-crafted contents. Lindal had left his side to stride across the room, and was now fumbling with something with her back to him.

She was very silent, all of a sudden. She seemed to be quite grave. Just looking at the back of her bare, painted head, Barda knew that her expression must but one of determination. But he also sensed that for some reason, she was timid and afraid.

That troubled him greatly. And the silence went on and one, as she continued fiddling with something in her hand.

"What did you want to show me?" he asked, when he could no longer bear her somber silence.

In answer, she took a deep breath and gripped the draping neckline of her deerskin dress.

"Just this," she said softly.

In a single deft movement, she shrugged the garment off her shoulders, and the whole thing tumbled down to the floor. So she had been fumbling with the jeweled belt all along, the one thing that held her dress around her. She had loosened it, and let it fall away.

To reveal nothing but bare skin.

Barda knew for a fact that his face had never been redder than it was right now. He'd had no idea what she might have wanted to show him, but… Never in his wildest dreams could he have prepared himself for this.

She glanced over her shoulder at him, to see his initial reaction. Slowly, cautiously, she turned to face him head on.

"Well?" she demanded quietly.

He had no idea what to say. Her beauty was breathtaking. Her very presence robbed him of words. All he could do was stare in awe, his mind struggling numbly to take in the sight of her. An embarrassing conversation from days earlier floated into his mind.

"What are you smiling about, you oaf?"

"Oh, it's nothing. I was just thinking."

"About my ass?"

"What—no! No!"

"Then what were you staring at?"

"The sink."

That had been the worst excuse. And he certainly couldn't use it in this instance. How could he, when her perfect, glorious shape was all that filled his mind? Beyond the straight, muscular shape of a warrior, there were bounteous, graceful curves. They were vaguely like the glowing shapes of ripe fruits, waiting for a skilled, worthy hand to caress them, to care for them, perhaps even to find them a use.

How could have forgotten yet again, that Lindal was, in fact, a woman? And what a glorious example of a woman she was.

Seeing that he was dumbfounded and not going to speak, Lindal stepped from the ruins of her fallen dress and strode purposefully back to his side. If he hadn't been so paralyzed, he would have taken her into his arms without hesitation. His fingers itched to touch her skin, hidden so long from the light by her rough clothes, as they had never itched to touch anything else in his life. If only his arms and hands would obey him…

She reached up and twined her fingers into his hair again, pulling his face against her.

"Dance with me, Barda," she whispered, her voice tight with longing. "Dance with me until the sun rises."

At last, a faint smile crept across his face, as he made his decision and finally found his voice.

"How could I refuse? It is unacceptable to decline a dance, here in Broome."

The faint traces of fear faded from her eyes, replaced at once by the joy that was so natural to them. She let him kiss her again, more urgently and passionately than the first time. As she leaned into him, he found the strength to move his arms around her, and finally touch her warm, amazingly soft skin. As he led her gently toward the bed, not caring who or what he was anymore, her hands wandered to tug at his shirt, feeling intently for his own warm skin.

She fell back onto the patterned blanket, pulling him down with her. What had begun as mere potential had suddenly become so real. There was so little room for turning back now. And he had no intention of do so, any more than she did. After all they had suffered, they deserved this. They deserved to be together, if only for this one brief moment.

He decided firmly on this, as she kissed and bit his neck, and his hands ran up and down her sides. There was no turning back, after all.

Having made his choice, he leaned over her and blew out the light.


Author's Notes…


I may have been drinking wine while writing that late part. So if you notice typos in there somewhere, feel free to point them out. I hope you had as much fun reading this first part as I had writing it.

Props to you, PJ Blindclown, who is fantastic in the face of adversity. I hope this tided you over. ;D