Disclaimer: I don't own anything in this chapter apart from the plot.
A/N: This is the second version of this story, I've gone through it, corrected mistakes and added little details, nothing vital to the story plot though. I promise, Chapter Six will be coming soon! Don't eat me! Please!
Keladry of Mindelan walked steadily out of Lord Wyldon's office and into the hallway where she bumped into her best friend, Nealan of Queenscove. He wore the palace red and gold of a page. They were dusty and torn and Kel presumed that he'd forgotten to change into his training clothes before going out to the practise courts. He had a habit of doing that and it didn't make him a favourite at the palace tailors. Half way through the year, they had told him that they didn't want to see him again until the start of the new training year. He'd come back the next month with clothes badly stitched up and in desperate need of professional stitching. Duke Baird, Neal's father, had been told that he was to pay for new clothes for his son and to make sure that he looked after them. Kel grinned slightly at the memory.
Neal's emerald green eyes searched her face for any sign of emotion. There was a slight grin on her lips, but that soon faded and was replaced by what had become known as her 'Yamani mask'. "So you can stay?" he asked eagerly. He didn't think for a moment that she wouldn't be able to stay. She had done better than most of the boys that year and had played a leading role in the Spidren hunt with the King's Own.
Kel blinked slowly in an effort not to cry. Her Yamani mask faltered and then held. "No, I've got to leave." She walked off to her room where she started to pack methodically, leaving Neal standing in the hall fuming.
"Mithros curse the Stump!" Neal growled. Her ran to Kel's door and flung it open.
"Have you never heard of knocking Neal?" Kel asked, smiling. She walked over to the drawers and emptied the contents onto her bed. She sorted through them, throwing a few things into the bin and folding most of them into her saddlebags.
Neal stared in wonder at his friend wondering how she could smile when she had just been thrown out of page training after her first year. "Em…" For once he, Nealan of Queenscove, captain of the university debate team, was at a loss for words.
Kel heaved a worn bag off of her bed and pointed to another one. "Can you give me a hand with these please?"
Wordlessly Neal nodded and lifted the bag off of the bed.
Kel's eyes scanned the room for anything she had left behind and spotted a piece of paper lying on the desk. She darted forwards and picked it up. Her eyes skimmed the text and then she tore off part of it. She handed it to Neal. "My address at Mindelan. If you're ever over that way, you can visit."
Neal nodded and tears welled up in his eyes. Kel was taking it all so calmly. If he were her, he would have shouted and thrown things until he was escorted from his rooms. "I'll write," he promised. He knew he would. If she was lucky she would only end up with two or three pages a week, on the other hand, his cousin had always complained that his letters had a tendency to run on slightly. Personally, Neal didn't see anything wrong with a letter that was six or seven pages long.
Kel grinned. "I'd like that. Say bye to the rest of my friends for me, could you?"
Neal nodded. For a moment he could have sworn that he saw maliciousness in Kel's gaze, but it was gone as soon as it had come and he presumed he had just imagined it. She smiled slightly at him. "Do me a favour and tell Joren that he hasn't seen the last of female pages. I expect they'll be some more."
Neal threw an inquisitive glance at Kel, wondering what she meant.
Kel picked up the glance. "Just because I've failed, doesn't mean that no one else will ever train. Someone, somewhere will want to follow in Lady Kel's footsteps, and when they do, I'll be standing there cheering as they're knighted."
Neal nodded, that made sense, but he didn't think it was very likely. However, he wasn't going to destroy her hopes again, not after Wyldon had so effectively done that for her.
Slowly, Kel walked towards her door and opened it. She gestured for Neal to go through, which he did, and she took one last glance at the room then closed the door for the last time. She paused with her hand on the outside door handle; she really didn't want to leave. This place had been her home for the last year and she had made so many friends. There was Neal, with his quirky personality and good looks, the giant red-head Cleon and all his pet names, Roald, with his quiet confidence and the chubby Merric, her year mate and friend. I've made plenty of enemies as well, Kel thought ruefully as she saw Joren, Zahir and Garvey in her minds-eye. She forced herself to turn and walk down the corridor with Neal sticking close to her side.
She walked quickly down to the stable, biting back the tears that were threatening to ruin her calm façade. She couldn't believe that she was really seeing everything for the last time. When she reached the stables, she looked at the horses with dismay.
"What's the matter Kel?" Neal asked, wondering why she was studying Peachblossom with such obvious disconcertment.
"I think I'll have to walk home," she answered calmly, as if the three-day ride to Mindelan was nothing. It would take her a good fifteen days to walk from Corus to Mindelan and that was without her luggage. And she was hardly armed, she probably wouldn't make it home. A young girl travelling alone would seem easy prey to bandits. At the most, Neal reckoned she had a blunt belt knife and that long, sharp stick of hers, the glaive.
"Why?" Neal asked, wondering what mad idea Kel had got into her head.
"Don't have a horse." The way she said it made it sound like it was the most obvious answer in the world.
"What about Peachblossom?" Neal asked incredulously.
"Neal, he isn't mine. He belongs to the crown. I was just borrowing him," Kel explained quietly. "I'll miss him."
Neal fought hard not to grin. That was so typical of Kel, she wouldn't admit to missing him or any of their other friends, but she would admit to missing that horrid horse. "You won't miss me?" he asked. "Or Cleon, or Roald, or Merric, or Seaver, or Faleron, or even Prosper?"
Kel grinned. "I might miss the others, but I'll be glad to get rid of you," she replied with a laugh.
"That's mean!" Neal protested.
Kel started to grin, but lost the enthusiasm to do so half way through. "No, I will miss you."
Neal fought to keep the astonishment out of his eyes. He had known Kel would miss him, he just hadn't expected her to say so.
"I'll miss you too, Kel," he said gruffly, hugging her tight.
Kel returned the hug. Then she pulled away saying sensibly, "now I think I'd better get moving. I'd like to have travelled a decent distance by night-fall." She ran a hand through her hair and settled one of her travel bags on her shoulders, readjusted her tunic and picked the other bag up in her right hand.
Neal nodded blankly and it suddenly all sunk in. His best friend was leaving. "Well — Well I'll see you about then."
Kel nodded, and Neal could see flickers of many different emotions on her face before it became calm and emotionless again.
Kel had walked through the palace gates before Neal had realised she was gone. Shaking himself out of his gaze he leapt on to his horse and galloped after her. "Kel, wait!" he yelled when he could see her slim figure.
She turned around, the surprise evident on her face. "Neal, I thought we'd said goodbye. You know, one of us stays at the palace, the other leaves? Both of us aren't meant to leave."
Neal rolled his eyes at the behaviour that was so typical of his best friend. "I know, I'm not leaving. But," he said, getting off his horse, "I thought you'd prefer to ride home than walk. Here." He handed the reins of his horse, Magewhisper, to Kel. "You can take her. She's mine, father bought her for me before I started at the University, and so I figure she must be mine to give away. You can take her; I can easily get myself another horse."
Kel stared in amazement at him, and Neal knew she was going to refuse. He hugged her tightly before she could complain then left.
Kel stood staring at Magewhisper in disbelief. No matter how good friends they were, he shouldn't have done that. Sighing, she mounted up and started the ride home.
A/N: Well? What did you think of that? I know it's short, but it's only the prologue.
Also, I apologise for any mis-naming of people. For some reason my computer turns the words 'Neal' and 'Mindelan' into 'Kel', so I had 'Keladry of Kel walked steadily…' etc. I've tried to change it, but I wouldn't put it past my computer to change them back again.