Keladry of Mindelan turned her head sharply, at the sound of the gates of New Hope heaving open.
A small smile graced her face as two squads of soldiers rode in, headed by Lord Raoul. Her smile turned to a grin as she saw Dom riding a large brown horse a little way behind him. She walked briskly over to them, weaving through the group of young people who had made their way over to take care of the horses.
" My lord" Kel called out, reaching him as he dismounted from his horse and handed his reins to Loey. "What's this I hear about you disgracing us in front of the ambassador from Yaman?" She asked, putting on a stern face. Kel couldn't help but notice the way that all of the men simultaneously broke into very evil grins. "I have no idea what you're talking about," Raoul said, doing his best to put on a bewildered, puzzled, and innocent face, "really, I'm wounded that you can even have such a thought about me."
His expression became pained as he started to get into it. "I mean, really", he continued, raising a hand to his chest, "how could I, I, do something like that. Me, who is more conscious of the way we look to other countries ambassadors that any other-", he was cut off by Dom's loud snort.
"Sure" Dom said, pushing his way past Raoul to clasp forearms with Kel, "That's why you fell off your horse in front of them.again.right into a fresh pile of horse dung. Even my meathead of a cousin wouldn't do something like that". Kel had to hide her laughter as Raoul turned to glare at the men who had started to snicker.
"Hey!" a very indignant Neal walked up to them. "I heard you calling me meathead! What were you saying about me?" He looked suspiciously from Kel to Dom, "I have feelings too you know" "How could we forget, the way you decide to pour them out to us at least 5 times a day" Dom replied dryly. The two cousins continued to bicker. Kel smiled, it was good to have someone here besides her who was partially sane. She called for Tobe to show the soldiers where they would sleep.
She had thought to leave whatever news Raoul had till that evening, when she Neal and Merric could hear it together, but Raoul stopped her. "Kel, I'd like you to hear the news first, in private", he said gravely, "it's important". Kel obliged, feeling curious, although she had an idea of what it might be. She led Raoul up to headquarters, and waited until he had made himself comfortable before allowing him to speak.
He sighed heavily and leaned back in his chair. "Kel, you've been here for a while, and ever since you defeated Blace, word's gotten around. People want you elsewhere for other things, and you've been ordered to report to Lord Wyldon at Fort Mastiff. We're to leave tomorrow"
Kel sank back in her chair. She had known that this was coming for a while, but she had not expected to feel it so greatly. 'It was funny' she mused to herself, 'that the thing she had wanted so much at first had finally come, and now she didn't want it at all.' She had grown attached to these people, and this place, and had pushed the thought of leaving out of her mind. Raoul saw the transformation in her face as she put her Yamani mask on, and knew what she was feeling. He leaned forward, "I'm sorry", he whispered. Kel nodded, and with that they rose together and left the room.
"We have to go!" Neal asked, dismayed. "Just when I was starting to like it here." Merric remained silent. Kel sighed "Yes Neal, we have to go. I told you, they want us in other places" "But then we'll be split up!" Neal exclaimed, "Who am I going to talk to!" "There are other people who possess the amazing powers of speech other than myself and Kel", Merric reminded him.
Neal was uncharacteristically silent for a while, before looking straight at Kel, "Do we have to tell them?" he asked, referring to the people of New Hope. Kel shook her head. "We've been told to ride out tomorrow morning, Raoul will stay here to look after the camp for a week or two. It's supposed to be his 'holiday' from the Own." Neal grinned "And how anyone could have a decent holiday here, with my cousin around beats me." He rose and clasped Kel's shoulder, "I'd better start packing."
Merric followed him out of the door, giving Kel a small smile before he left. After a few moments, Kel got up and left too, taking the candle with her.
She found Tobe where she knew she would, curled up in bed, practising his reading. He looked up as Kel entered, and walked over to her bed. "Tobe, we need to talk". Tobe's face immediately grew solem, and he put his book down. "What is it m'lady", he asked, "Did Sir Neal manage to set fire to th' infirmary this time?" Kel shook her head. "No, you know that I've hardly left him near a candle unsupervised since the last time."
She sat down heavily on the edge of her bed. "No, this is different." Tobe came to help her with her boots. Kel sighed, "Tobe, I've been ordered to leave Haven tomorrow, they want me in other places now."
Tobe stopped in mid action, and rocked gently backwards, boot still in hand. He glanced up at Kel, his eyes large. "Can't I come with you, is that it? Don't you want a servant any more." Kel grimaced, this had been one of his worst fears, that he would be left alone again. "No Tobe, you could come with me, but I'm not sure that the battlefield is such a good place for a boy to grow up."
"It would be better than Avlik's place." Tobe said, his eyes pleading with her. "Anything would be better than that place", Kel replied firmly. "No Tobe, you have two options. You can either stay here and become a refugee, your friends are here, and Fanche would be glad to take you in, or, you can come with me." His face clearly showed what he wanted. Kel sighed inwardly, she still had not told him the last part yet. "But I must warn you, if you come with me, and I find somewhere where things would be better for you, and where you would be properly looked after, I will leave you there." Kel hoped that he wouldn't notice the way her voice cracked when she said that.
Tobe was still silent. Kel reached down to tilt his head up so that he was looking at her. "You don't have to give me your answer now, I'm not leaving until tomorrow morning." Tobe nodded, and scrambled back into bed, leaving Kel to blow the candle out.
The next morning when they rode out, Tobe was right behind her.
"See, this isn't so bad", Neal said, as their horses ambled along the sunny road. "Plenty of food, sunshine, and we'll be at Mastiff any minute now." He paused to take another massive bite out of the pastry in his hand. "I mean, where's the worst place they could post us?" He continued, spraying crumbs all over Peachblossom, who took a swipe at Neal's leg and missed. Neal pulled his horse a bit further away from Peachblossom . "Well, they could decide to put you in a cold place, with only stale bread and dirty water to eat and drink, and far, faar away from Yuki", Meric said slyly, enjoying the way that Neals face suddenly grew pale at the last thing he mentioned, and ducking the bread roll that Neal threw at him. "Cruel, heartless fiend, teasing me about my one true love. How can you not see the wonder in her, the way the sunlight glints off her lovely pink fingernails, the way the candlelight accents her raven black hair, the way the-hey!" Kel didn't try to hide a laugh as Neal wiped a hand across the back of his head, and brought it back covered in horse spittle.
Neal glared pointedly at Peachblossom, "You're just jealous because you know you'll never find true love", he said, before pulling his horse even further away from Peachblossom. Then he paused for a second, his head cocked, his expression thoughtful. Kel and Merric groaned simultaneously, recognising the signs of another one of Neal's 'philosophical' rantings. "I wonder", Neal began, "Whether horses can actually fall in love. I mean, have you ever seen a mare just catch a stallions eye, and then just watched them stand there, lovestruck. Or maybe horses can't catch each others eyes, I mean, maybe they do it another way, like by sniffing each other or something, or stamping their front right hoof five times, or maybe- hey!
He was cut off by another splatter of horse spittle on the back of his head. He turned back to give them his loftiest, most withering look. "Fine then" he said, "I know when my thoughts are not appreciated, I'll just ride up ahead..with the food basket.on my own" He trotted off, his nose in the air. "Finally" Merric muttered, raising his arms to the sky in thanks.
Kel waited nervously in the mess with Neal, waiting for Merric to return from being assigned by Lord Wyldon in his office. She took a nervous sip of apple juice from her mug. The swirling flavours of various familier spices helped to calm her. Neal watched her set the mug back down, refilling his own. "How much longer do you think this will go on for?" The words spilled out of her mouth.
Neal set down his mug and regarded her thoughtfully. He opened his mouth to say something, closed it again, then finally said, "For as long as it has to."
Kel nodded, and leaned back. "It's just that, sometimes, it seems like this will never stop" Neal nodded thoughtfully, "I know what you mean. Whatever we do, they always seem to bounce back. If only we knew how they were doing it." His expression tightened, then he looked back at her and smiled, "We'll get them eventually, no war can last forever, and no one can avoid Daine's spies for long"
Kel smiled. It was good to have the meathead as her best friend. Suddenly Merric appeared at the doorway. He walked over to them and sat down heavily, accepting the drink that Neal passed him. He took a long draught before setting the mug down, and confronting their questioning stares. "Well, they're sending me to the border", his face blank, he had learned some things from Kel. Kel struggled to overcome the shock. It was well known that anyone sent to the border had little chance of coming back. She had known that there was a high chance that one of them would be sent there, it just hadn't seemed as real at the time. Eventually Neal looked up, "I'm sorry", he said, looking Merric in the eye. "What've you got to be sorry for" Merric grinned weakly, "Lord Wyldon said that he wanted to see you next."
Neal became even paler, and stood up shakily. "Good luck", Kel muttered. Neal nodded in acknowledgement before striding out of the mess. Kel and Merric sat there in silence, words were not needed. Minuites that seemed like hours passed before Neal appeared in the doorway. Silently, Kel reached out and gripped Merric's arm. He looked up at her and smiled reassuringly, then watched as she too walked out of the mess.
Kel walked up the corridor to Lord Wyldon's office, her head swirling. Neal had been posted in a town near the border, working as head healer. She reached up to knock on the door, then paused. What if she was postedsomewhere out of the way again? Eeryone would think that she was just a girl a couldn't cope. Swiftly, she pushed these thoughts out of her mind, and imagined herself as a smooth, calm lake. She knocked briskly on the door, waiting to hear the 'come in', before opening it.
Her old training master appeared to have aged before her eyes. Most of his hair was now, silver. His wrinkles ad deepened, although his stern expression hadn't changed. He gestured at the chair in front of his desk, indicating her to sit down.
She slipped into it and waited for him to speak, accepting and taking a sip from the mug that he placed in front of her.
"Well, you're certainly in an interesting situation", he finally said, chucking a file of paper onto his desk, and leaning back. "My Lord?" Kel asked, keeping her face blank. He gestured to the files. "If you had any idea of the amount of letters I have had over the past few days from people requesting your help.." He trailed off helplessly, before leaning forward and shuffeling through the file. "I have been forced to take these requests into account, and choose a place which would be most suited to you, and where you could help the most. I have therefore chosen this, he found a certain paper and placed it in front of her. She leaned forward to read it.
"You will be working as an agent in Corus for Sir Myles. Sir Myles will give you your specific assignements, and you will report back to him. You are to leave tomorrow morning, any other details are on that paper."
Kel read through the papers contents, trying to process it all. Lord Wyldon's expression softened. He leaned forward. "I know that you are disappointed not to be sent into battle, but I promise you, you will get just as much honour, recognition, and even more action than if you were at the front, once the war ends." Kel already knew that once a spies job was over, they were treated as the greatest of heroes, being showered with medals and gold. She was unable to keep the bitterness out of her voice when she said, "If this war ever ends". Wyldon gripped her shoulder in silent understanding, before leaning back to indicate that she was dismissed.
Once outside, she reviewed her emotional state, as she leaned against the cold stone wall and took deep breaths. Her initial reaction was disappointment, at not being with the majority of her friends, and at not being sent to the heat of the battle. Then again, with what she was going to do, she would probably end up in the middle of several battles, and although she tried to deny it, she could feel a small spark of excitement dancing in her stomach.