Er...newer A/N: Healer's Touch is undergoing some renovations, guys! Nothing big, just format changes, etc. etc. Yes, I know I'm just stalling on writing the twelfth chapter, but...leave me alone.
(A/N: Before we get things going here, I have to say: yes, Dom and Yuki exist. Fortunately for us, they are not Kel and Neal's lovers and/or crushes. This opens up a lot of new possibilities, don't you think? - Okay, enjoy!)
Lady Knight Keladry of Mindelan sat at her desk, head bent over paperwork scattered over its surface. She growled in frustration and muttered, "Drat it. When are we going to get some true clerks?" (Lord Wyldon had yet to send over another shipment of her beloved paper-shufflers.) Finally, after much grumbling and sighing, she filled out the last form. Signing it with a flourish, she leaned back in her chair, shaking her short-cropped light brown hair out of her face. She decided to fully relish these rare minutes of peace by closing her eyes for a short nap.
Her momentarily blissful thoughts were interrupted by someone barging through her door. The sudden noise startled Kel, and she squeaked and toppled backward. From her awkward position on the floor, she glared at the grinning Neal. "Didn't your mother ever teach you to knock before you enter?" she grumbled, accepting his hand up.
"Didn't your mother teach you not to lean your chair back so far?" he retorted.
Kel winced, his point taken, and hurriedly changed the subject. "So, what is the great Sir Nealan doing out of bed before the noon bell?"
Neal frowned at her, the very picture of prim and proper. "What's this? The spectacular and ever-chivalrous Keladry of Mindelan, even suggesting shirking one's duties for the simple luxury of sleep?" Then he grinned, stern mask gone. "Besides, young Evelyn Grier took sick during the night, and she needed a big, strong Healer to help her recover. Luckily, we just happen to have one in residence here at New Hope." Here he puffed out his chest proudly.
Kel looked around. "I don't see any big, strong Healers around anywhere. Perhaps she was thinking of someone else," she mused. This earned her a cuff on the ear from Neal, who was out the door before she could return the bodily harm.
"Breakfast is in ten minutes!" he yelled from the hallway before slamming the door.
Merric glanced over at the pair and grinned. "Looks like Neal's got an admirer," he commented, indicating the now crimson-faced Healer.
Kel scowled, suddenly in a cloudy mood. "Oh, he wouldn't even like her if she hadn't the physical assets."
"Of course not," retorted Merric. "He wouldn't be a true Queenscove if he didn't admire a woman's form."
"Yes, well, it doesn't seem right," Kel said crossly. "I mean, this lass here probably can't differ a horse from a terrier, but all the men want her because of her looks. There are plenty of women out there who are truly intelligent, but do men want them? No! Why? Because they don't have breasts!" Seeing that Merric continued to look at her, amused, she snapped, "What?!" He shook his head and returned to his porridge.
Kel glared at him for a second more, then turned back to her own bowl. Her gloomy thoughts lifted a bit as the blonde flounced away, but quickly returned when she spied Neal's vermilion-hued cheeks. ::It's not that I'm jealous,:: she told herself. ::I'm not! Neal's my best friend; he can be attracted to anyone he pleases.:: She paused. ::It's just—so frustrating! That Evelyn lass is so shallow, and yet every man wants to be with her!:: She sighed, now melancholy, and shoveled in the porridge, which was now cold and tasted like chain mail.
Suddenly, a man burst through the doors into the mess. Kel immediately recognized him as Joel, one of the sentries who manned the north wall. His face was dead white, and he gripped his sword hilt with one trembling hand. "Lady Kel!" he yelled, his voice hoarse and creaking with fear. "We're under attack!"
Kel stood up. "How many, Joel?" she demanded of him.
Joel stammered. Kel grabbed his shoulders. "How many?"
"About a hun'ert; a hun'ert and fifty, at least."
Kel paled. "Soldiers!" she yelled. "To your posts!" She dashed out of the mess hall.
Tobe, who had been eating with Loesia nearby, hopped up and ran out of the room after Kel. "Lady, wait!" he yelled after her, panting. "Wait up!"
Kel ran into her rooms and began to suit up her mail. She cursed herself for not being ready for an attack such as this and yanked off her boots. Tobe ran in a minute after she did. As he kneeled and strapped on her shin plates, he growled, "Gods-curst Scanrans. Can' even stop raidin' long enough for a man to eat 'is breakfast!"
Kel grinned down at him despite her urgency. "I'd hardly call you a man, lad," she replied.
Tobe stopped what he was doing at glared up at her. "Well isn't milady saucy this morning," he said grumpily. "Seem's she's forgotten we've Scanrans to crush."
Her smile faded. "You certainly know how to spoil a good humor," she commented as they stood up and jogged down the passageway toward the outer doors.
Kel joined Neal at the wall. He looked grim. "How is it?" she asked softly.
"Bad," he said, eyes still on the field below. "Merric's squad went out and nearly got slaughtered. They only just made it back in one piece."
She winced and turned to go. "I'm heading out there," she said tersely.
Neal looked at her, his vivid green eyes wide in disbelief. "What?!" he yelped. "Kel—you can't. Who'll command the fort?"
"They need me more out there," she replied. Seeing him open his mouth to protest, she continued, "Neal, they're my people. I can't let them die at the hands of some paltry raiders." She began to walk down the wall to Sergeant Emerson of Golden Hill, but Neal's voice made her halt.
"Kel!" he yelled. She stopped her purposeful stride and glanced back; Neal jogged to catch up with her. "I'm coming with you."
"No," she said flatly.
"If you're going, I'm going."
"Neal, no! I need you here to take command, in case I fall." He began to argue again. "Neal!" He quieted. She looked him in the eye, making sure he understood. "Do not leave this fort. My people—our people—need you to stay here. Do it for their sake, if not for mine."
He sighed, and nodded slowly. "Fine."
She turned to leave once more. "Kel!" She stopped again.
"If you get yourself killed out there, I'll never forgive you."
She managed half of a crooked smile. "I'll do the best I can." Turning for the third time, she approached Emerson. "Sergeant."
"I need you to take your squad out there, along with Sergeant Bane's. We're going to go drive those northern flea-breeders back to where they belong."
Emerson grinned; like his counterpart, Bane, he relished a good scuffle. "Shall I bring th' civilian squads out as well, Lady Kel?"
"Brilliant, Emerson. Return to the north gate in no more than five minutes."
The sergeant nodded and bowed. Kel returned the gesture. As she straightened, she shook herself. "All right, Mindelan," she said softly as the troops rallied below her. "Time to fight some Scanrans."
Oh, a cliffhanger! Joy! Okay, people, read and review, you know you want to!