Chapter 11:

Moving Out

Neal reached over Kel's arm and grabbed a pitcher of water, poured some in Kel's glass before filling his. The tent was quiet as all contemplated what Sir Myles had told them, and if this fact was true, it would be a long time before any of them saw the safety of his or her beds again.

With a sigh, Kel rubbed her temples, feeling the oncoming sensation of a headache. She took a small sip of water to moisten her throat and then began. "My Lords, unless this knowledge perceives me, I am to understand that King Shima wants to invade southern Tortall? Whatever for?"

Lord Raoul gave her a wry smile. "He wants to just so he can say that he can - if that makes sense. He is in the process of choosing a Queen, and by doing so wants something to entice her interest."

Neal laughed. "Are you saying he's that unattractive that he has to bribe someone with land to marry him? He's King of a land, however questionable it may be, but still holds the highest place with the most power! Who does he want? Queen Thayet? Is he trying to prove his manhood by outdoing Jonathon? Seriously he is not that ugly and that dumb." Neal paused. "If so, I pity his mother."

Sir Myles laughed. "Sir Queenscove, however insolent you can be, you do know how to make light of a situation."

Kel sighed, thinking that Sir Myles was true. Neal at least was able to make things memorable. According to Sir Myles, King Shima wanted to enter and invade the southern parts of Tortall, and make it his own. In retrospect, it was as if he was planning to triple the land mass of Tyra, and lessen the land mass of Tortall by half.

"Um, Sir Myles, just how much does King Shima plan to invade?"

Sir Myles looked at Kel. "Just south of Pirates Swoop."

"That's half of BLOODY TORTALL!" Exploded Neal. "Just who does he think he is? Definitely not the King of bloody stealth - especially if the country he plans to invade knows he's coming." Neal went quiet for a moment.

"Now we know three things for sure. He's ugly, stupid and ignorant. What a bloody catch."

Dom looked across the table at Neal and Kel. "Well, now we know why he can't find a bride… So what are we to do about this? Are we going to counter attack?"

"Exactly." Lord Raoul said. "We've drawn out the areas we plan to cross. This is why were are all here. I want everyone of you to listen to my next instructions carefully - you are not being forced to go, it's on a volunteer basis only." Lord Raoul paused and looked around the room, meeting everyone's eyes. "If you decide to not go, you will not be looked down upon. In fact, I will feel no bias, disregard or disgust. Everybody has their limitations."

Kel looked at her mug of water, swirling it around as she pondered the seriousness of what Lord Raoul was saying. This was to be a dangerous mission - one not to be taken lightly. When Lord Raoul met her eyes for the second time, she nodded her acceptance.

Kel then looked across the table at Dom, wanting to see what his reaction was to this mission being set upon them. For her own sake, she hoped that he would consider coming - to have his companionship, as well as his expertise in the subject of reconnaissance.

"Whoever does not accept this mission may leave now, for to hear the next information be of danger to your life." Lord Raoul continued.

No one moved. Lord Raoul sighed, nodded and continued. "Alright. Sir Benison," he talked to the man on his left. "Please hand out the maps and information received by Sir Myles."

Kel began to pack her things, only taking the necessary items. There was no room for luxuries on this endeavour. If what Lord Raoul had planned with Sir Myles was to be successful, she would in fact, need nothing of her old belongings for a while. A twinge went up in her stomach. Part of her, however small the part, just wanted to run away and not even attempt this mission. The other part, the more reliable, sensible, and even more adventurous wanted to tackle this new challenge.

Tobe was to come with her, but not just as a helper. He had his own place in this that if he was successful, could find himself rising up in the ranks of Tortall aristocracy.

Kel sat down on her bed, looking around her. Was it possible that all the things that she didn't want out of life, she had to live to secure Tortall's place in the world? To act, and not just a small part - but the centre of this scheme depended on her ability to be exactly who she wasn't.

Sir Myles seemed enthusiastic about this, even Lord Raoul seemed to think that this would work. Leaning back, Kel looked up at the roof of her tent, looking at the shadows of the trees dancing because of the wind.

A tap on the door of her tent brought her to attention. "Yes?" She called out, sitting up. "Come on in."

The flap opened and Dom's head poked through. "Kel?"

"Mhmm..?" She said, in a small daze. She knew the part that Dom was to play as well, and even though his part was not as severe as hers, it was just as, if not more, dangerous.

"How are you doing?" He asked, his sincere eyes soft.

"As best as I can be, I guess." Kel rubbed her cheek, looking up at him. "It's kind of a big blow to someone you know. A lot is expected."

"But that's why you were chosen. You are able to do this." He smiled, and went to sit beside her, not touching.

Kel gave a weak smile. "But how am I to act like a lady? To entwine myself in his court? And even if I am able to do that, how will I capture and hold his attention - I am no Queen Thayet. I don't even have the experience of courting and playing lover's games - I have never lived that life."

"But Kel, don't you see what Sir Myles is trying to do? King Shima has all the ladies he may want to do any deed he asks of them. To portray courtly innocence, or even just to be able to act it better than another is the key in this plot. Remember, you will be protected." Dom reached out and took her hand in his. "Besides, if you can hold and keep my attention - the King shall be easy enough to compare."

Kel flushed. In no certain terms had he said how he cared for her - but now he could have easily said that he wanted to court her.

"Dom, I don't know how to -" She started, then stopped.

"Don't. I just want you to know before anything can come between us, and before we leave tomorrow. I like you Keladry of Mindelan. Whether or not you are ready to hear this, or respond to this - or even to show me you feel the same doesn't matter. I just want you to know." His intense blue eyes bore into hers.

"Dom?" Kel asked, her voice unusually small. She took a deep breath and looked down, not sure on whether or not she was ready to share her exact feelings with him yet.

"Yes..?" He replied, his voice husky, his hand slowly massaging hers.

"Can you just stay and talk with me tonight?" She looked up meeting his eyes. How silly she was just weeks ago when she thought that love was a headache she didn't have. Her silliness was perceived again when she had thought that to have a conversation with kidnapping, flight and war to distract her was possible.

The next time the sun dawned over southern Tortall, Lord Raoul, a squad of selected Own members, Dom, Neal, Tobe and Kel made their way towards the border of Tyra. The whole scheme was set up.

Kel was to be introduced as Lady Katherine from Restinople, a country in the far east. Dom, was to be her escort - her older brother and sole protector. Tobe, in addition to his present duties was to be Kel's manservant, for to arrive at court without one's own servants was to be considered low and poor.

The others were to infiltrate into the system - all except Lord Raoul and Neal. Lord Raoul had a safe house where he was to stay with some of Sir Myles correspondents. He was too great a figure, and was bound to be recognized if he was to walk into the palace. Neal was to be the connection between Kel, Dom, the men of the Own and Lord Raoul. All in all, it was a neat plan, everything was considered and cared for.

Kel had a huge chest of clothes brought from Corus with Neal and Sir Myles. It seemed that this plan had been in motion for a while - for everything was made for her, and was made of a high quality of cloth. On the very bottom of the bodices on all of the gowns, a small L was monogrammed.

As They made their way down a main road of Tyra, members of the Own would gradually disappear and go off on their own missions, and complete what they had to do. As they came upon the capital city, Tyra, only four member of their train was left. Lord Raoul had but previously disappeared, staying in a village as a travelling merchant on the edge of the capital. Kel did not like the thought that it might have been the last time she would see her older Knight master.

Neal, Dom, Tobe and Kel were all that were left as they made their way towards the palace. They had all changed into their roles as soon as the had crossed the Tyran border earlier that day. The sun was now sinking into the horizon - they had ridden for a day, a day of silent thoughts, trying to understand the seriousness of what they were to do, and the history that may come of it.

Neal finally turned to Kel and Dom. His eyes were not the usual bright green. "Good luck. I will check in with you within the week. May I hope that all is successful." He cracked a weak smile. "Now Kel, I know I am unbelievably attractive, but you must be ready to act as if you think King Shima is… it will be hard to do I admit. But hopefully the absence of my dazzling smile will allow you to do so."

Kel smiled, reached out and clasped his hand. "Good luck Neal. Eat your vegetables and I'll see you soon." Neal nodded, looked over to Dom.

"Take care of her. She's stubborn. She hates to ask for help." The two cousins clasped shoulders and parted without another word.

Kel and Dom faced the palace gates on the hilltop in front of them, with Tobe a respectable distance behind them. The palace was brightly lit, it seemed to be alive from the inside - inviting and dangerous all at the same time. Kel took a breath and sat up, pulling back her shoulders, and placing her gown in light waves around her legs.

"It seems as if it glows like the fires of Chaos. Enticing and evil all at the same time. I wonder which name rings true." Dom commented.

"Only one way to find out, Lord William of Restinople." Kel said, using Dom's assumed title. With a determined smile she tapped Hoshi with her heel and rode up to the palace, her future unclear.

To be continued….