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is to avoid being a victim.'

It was only a matter of time. Vance and his big mouth had offended her again. He raised his hand in a gesture of placation, but a smile was already spreading across her face. 'I have taken offence again, haven't I?' she said. 'Again, you meant nothing by it. I assume a horse that is dark is not a human insult?'

'Well, at least you're learning,' said Vance. 'I'm sorry too. But you know eventually we'll have a conversation without having to apologise. I should be thanking you anyway. It must have been difficult to face your brother because of my feud.'

'It is not a "feud". "Vendetta" would be a better way of describing it. And it was my father who was killed also, not just Merreck's. I am a Star Rider as well. If I can find the desire and the means to forgive, then there is no reason why he should not.'

It suddenly dawned on Vance. His father had killed hers, had changed her life forever and split up her family. She had not seen her brother for years because of the Colonel. Again the anger flared within him, a momentary resentment at what his father caused that consumed itself when he looked at Jerklenn's placid face. If Jerklenn could for give the Colonel, then he could too. After all, it was a time of war. Vance's father had been defending his own family. He had little choice.

'So why the secrecy?' Vance asked, too curious to change the subject.

'My brother has always respected and yearned for martial prowess. It is how Neroon brought him up - to be the strongest and fastest. Out of respect for my father's memory, I could not embarrass my brother by appearing more skilled in the martial arts than he.'

'But how did you know you could beat him?'

'I didn't,' said Jerklenn, a sly smile suddenly creeping across her face. Before
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