The Time I've lost in wooing,
In watching and pursuing
The light that lies
In women's eyes
Has been my heart's undoing.
– Sir Thomas Moore
Dom's Odd Behaviour
Raoul eyed Dom doubtfully, an eyebrow raised. "What is it that you're asking?"
Dom shuffled his feet and didn't look up from his hand, there must have been something extremely intriguing about the creases in his palm. "Sir, I was only wondering if—if you needed my squad anywhere in particular. Sir."
"Well…" Raoul stroked his chin thoughtfully. It wasn't in Dom's nature to be so anxious, especially in such casual matters as this. There had to be a reason for his agitation. It was nonetheless amusing—but unusual. Raoul paused, and the only sound in the room was the scraping of his calloused hands against his stubble. Finally, he wet his lips with his tongue and placed his hands in front of him on the desk. Something about the way that Dom squirmed while he looked at him seemed to entertain him, "Is there somewhere you think you're needed?"
"Um…I, I thought that perhaps—since, well, the Scanran War is almost over and all, that, ahem, there might be reason for, er—"
Raoul sighed, "Out with it, boy."
"Do you need me at New Hope?" Dom stammered.
Raoul barely concealed his grin. So this was the reason. He had suspected a connection between Dom's strange demeanor and the lady knight-commander of New Hope. Young love, Raoul thought with a smile. Always so foolish. Dom wished to go to New Hope for a chance of seeing Kel. Raoul grinned, fondly remembering the days when he had been so eager and hopeful in matters of love. The very least he could do was find a reason for Dom to go to New Hope to further encourage a relationship between his former squire and his sergeant.
"Hmm. Well, I suppose we'll need you there to…" Raoul chuckled. "Keep the refugees safe. They could always use extra protection, after all. I don't think it will be much trouble if we only send your squad. Kel's perfectly capable, but I'm sure she'll be—" Raoul grinned "—happy for the…help."
Dom nodded, a boyish grin on his face, "Thank you."
Raoul's face turned stern, "But the very moment I need you somewhere else, you are to report immediately. I don't want personal matters to hinder your service to the Crown."
Dom nodded, "Of course, sir."
"Go on," Raoul said, motioning for Dom to leave. "Get your squad ready. You'll leave for New Hope tomorrow at sunrise."
"Yes, sir," Dom said before hurrying out the door.
Raoul sighed before sitting down once more. He'd hoped for such a relationship between Kel and Dom ever since she was his squire and he'd seen Dom holding her hand as he inspected blood blisters on her fingers, but it had been simply wishful thinking at that point. As the knight-commander of the King's Own, Raoul had had much more important matters to concern himself with than growing affection between his sergeant and his squire.
He remembered Kel's relationship with a certain Cleon of Kennan. Certainly Kennan was a fine lad, but it had always irritated Raoul that they had to keep it secret in order to avoid rumours. Now that Kel had become a knight, she was mostly free to court anyone she wished.
He had no idea if Kel harbored a romantic interest in Dom, but it was certainly possible. Dom was a worthy man, and Kel had proved her own value time after time. Raoul didn't know how perceptive Kel was in matters of romance, for the only such time he had seen her involved was with Kennan, but with Dom as her suitor—he would more than compensate for her sensibility and pragmatism.
Raoul was certainly no matchmaker, but he considered Kel and Dom a fine pair. They suited each other nicely. And as much as Raoul would have liked for a courtship between Kel and Dom, it wasn't as if he would purposefully arrange it. The least he could do, however, was to send Dom and his squad to New Hope. Perhaps if all went well, Kel would find time to realise Dom's affection for her. He knew that her employment as the commander of New Hope was taking its toll on her spare time.
"I saw Masbolle come in," said a dry voice. Raoul looked up to see the Lioness leaning against the doorframe.
Raoul scowled. "Can you live more than a moment without concerning yourself in Kel's affairs?"
Alanna grinned as she sat in a chair across from Raoul and stretched her legs. "She's my successor, Raoul. Don't I have a right to it?" He was about to object when she added, "Besides, other people's affairs are so much more interesting than mine."
"You've picked that up from George, no doubt," Raoul commented wryly.
"As I was saying," Alanna continued, ignoring Raoul's quip. "What did Dom want?"
"Does it matter?" Raoul asked with a groan. When Alanna opened her mouth to answer, he said quickly, "Of course, I forgot. You've made it your business to make Kel's business your business. Excuse my negligence." He smirked. "Sergeant Dom wished to know if I could find a reason to send him to New Hope."
Alanna raised her eyebrows. "He said that, now did he?"
"Well, close enough. He stammered and fidgeted and twitched and asked if he was needed at New Hope."
"So? Did you send him?"
"Of course." Raoul grinned wickedly. "Of course, it is without a doubt that he and Kel will have a joyous, tearful reunion with lots of kisses and tender smiles, and then they'll confess their undying love for each other, and then—"
Alanna laughed and raised her hands in submission. "Alright, I suppose you've earned the right to tease me."
"Again, dear girl, of course. Why do you think I've worked so hard all these years?"
Alanna rolled her eyes and rose. "I'd best be going, then."
"Where to? Corus?"
She shook her head. "No, to the Swoop. It's been a while since I've seen George, and he promised me that he'd find a way to get Thom there as well so I can see him, too. Perhaps even Alan will come for a visit."
"Very reliable, a thief's promise," Raoul murmured. He then ducked and only just avoided a swipe from Alanna.
"I'm going, then. I'll see you."
"Alright, Alanna. Take care."
"Why are we going to New Hope again?"
Dom sighed. It seemed like the fiftieth time he had answered that question, to various members of his squad. "We're going to help Kel."
Wolset blinked. "She needs help?"
"With protection," Dom elaborated, waving his arms wildly as if to illustrate the point. "We're going to aid the defence."
"But…don't they already have enough people to defend New Hope?" Wolset inquired.
"Well…we're going to help anyway," Dom said firmly.
Just as the words left his mouth, a steady drizzle of rain poured down on them from the dark clouds above. Dom ignored the glares from his men and trotted ahead. "It's alright, fellows! A bit of rain won't hurt us."
Lightning cracked loudly, and his horse Starfire whinnied and lurched forward in surprise. Dom, who had been concentrating on cheering up his men, lost his balance and toppled down into the mud below. Although this incident left Dom wet, muddy, and miserable, his men were chuckling and concealing amused smiles behind their hands. Cursing silently, Dom pushed himself back to his feet and reached for Starfire's reins. "It's going to be a long trip," he muttered to himself.
If one had walked into the infirmary at New Hope, they could see from his scowl that Sir Nealan of Queenscove was having a very bad day. His hair was askew and his clothes most surely were those he had worn yesterday. Most probably his constant sighs were because he had missed breakfast and had been forced to plead with the cooks so that they would give him some food.
In the infirmary, his job as a healer seemed to be causing Neal some problems. It was likely that the clench of his jaw was due to a slightly plump woman, who clutched to her side a small boy. "I promise you that the boy has nothing wrong with him," Neal said. He remembered his own days as a boy, when he had tried to pretend that he was sick. Unfortunately for him, he was the son of the most renowned healer in Tortall, and so had never been able to succeed.
"Just send him off to bed for a few hours," Neal told the woman. That would at least give the boy a bit of a sleep in, and might satisfy the mother's need to henpeck.
"Feel his forehead!" the woman insisted. "Feel it!" She was relentless.
Neal was steadily loosing patience. He took a few deep breaths to calm himself, then laid a hand on the child's forehead. As he had suspected, it was barely even warm. "Do you feel sick?" Neal asked sceptically.
The boy's only response was to shout streams of shocking language at Neal, and when the boy stopped for a breath, the mother would throw in a word or two of her own, for upsetting her "poor, sick child".
Neal didn't bother to calm them, they were wasting his time and time was such a valuble resource. He slipped out of the door, leaving one of the minor healers to rid the infirmary of the mother and child while he searched for Kel to inform her of the paucity of poppies in the infirmary, and request that she order some to come with the next lot of supplies.
Walking back to the infirmary, and hoping with all his heart that the mother and child had left, it was easy to marvel at the freedom of a pidgeon as it flew overhead. They weren't particularly majestic creatures but they could fly; they weren't bothered at all by duties. Neal even considered maybe adopting the pigeon just as Kel had her miniature featherdusters, but that was before the bird had unceremoniously dropped something wet and sticky on his head. He was none too happy to discover that the substance was bird droppings. He cleaned his hair, but some of the stench still remained, and he had no time to bathe until the evening.
It seemed that dozens of worried wives, idiotic teenaged boys, and frightened pregnant woman chose to besiege Neal on the very same day. He suspected that the refugees had planned this. It was all a conspiracy. Yes, a conspiracy. They were trying to make his life miserable.
Neal had been attempting to mix two very strong medicines into one, with the perfect ratio, when a knock at the door startled him. His hand jerked and one of the potions spilt over his desk. Neal sighed. "Come in," he said tersely, his attention on cleaning up the mess he had made with the sleeve of his shirt.
"I'm sorry, did I interrupt you?" Merric asked teasingly.
Neal scowled. "You might say that."
Merric leaned against the doorframe. "Kel sent me with a message."
"Did she really," Neal murmured, examining the blue stain on his sleeve that had been produced by his attempt to soak up the spilt potion.
"Yes. She said to tell you that Dom is coming here to New Hope."
Neal rolled his eyes. "Not again."
"Raoul sent him and his squad for extra protection," Merric continued. "They'll be staying here until they are called to duty elsewhere."
"The last thing I need," Neal muttered, rubbing at the blotted sleeve absently.
"Bad day?" his friend asked.
"Yes," Neal mumbled. "It's all a conspiracy. You, and Kel, and those heartless refugees, and the birds—"
"Birds?" Merric repeated, raising his eyebrows.
Neal glared. "Yes, the birds, too." Changing the subject, he asked, "When will Dom and his squad get here?"
"A few days," Merric replied.
"I hope it rains on him," Neal muttered.
A/N: And so begins Star's first multi-chaptered KelDom fic. Thanks to the eternity for your wonderful beta-ing work! You are the best. And extra-special thanks to Dom's Lover, for her continuous inspiring-osity and insanity. Unfortunately, you have rubbed off on me. And to you who are reading this, it's not too much trouble to drop me a review!