Edit: 1-05-08: Yes, edited again. For that, blame Tammy--yes, blame her. Now, I discover that the name of the Mindelan's not only have another daughter (which was Demadry, along with Adalia, Anders, Conal, Inness, Oranie, and Patricine), but they have a son younger then Kel whose name is Avinar. It's somewhere on Sheroes. Also, I found out that Patricine is married to a Yamani noble, and Demadry is already married. It changes my whole story line--but that's actually good, because now I actually got past my writers block. It also, however, means major editing. Oh, yes, now I discover Jon and Thayet have ANOTHER daughter--Varine. Why, oh why, did Thayet and Ilane have so many children? Why?
Summary: Keladry of Mindelan was dismissed at the end of her first year of a page. Others would have broken or given up. She didn't though...because of the people who believed in her-the people who helped her become who she was.
Disclaimer: I do not own anything belonging to Tamora Pierce.
Keladry of Mindelan was not a weak girl. Anyone could see that. She defied all rules and odds, and became the first female page in over a decade. Spidrens couldn't scare her, anymore than a brutal horse. But during the last supper before the pages would go home for the summer, Kel was afraid – deathly afraid.
The king had arrived earlier. He had entered, with his smiles and jokes, winning the loyalties of the pages and various squires who were in the mess hall. One girl, however, refused to laugh. She couldn't deny the fact that, the king was obviously quite handsome. Oh, yes, he was handsome. But it was because of him she had been subject to a year of probation. Because of him she might have to give up her dream.
A clear, cold voice intruded this one girl's thoughts. "I know you all wish to pack," the training master said from the lectern. "Get to it. Keladry of Mindelan, report to my office at the next bell."
"I'm sorry," whispered Merric. He got up awkwardly and fled the room.
"You saved my life," Seaver added, his voice cracking. He hugged her one-armed around the head as if she were one of the boys, and followed Merric out.
When none of her other friends moved, Kel forced herself to rise and pick up her tray. Suppressing tears, she whispered, "Have a good summer," before leaving to take her things to the servants one last time.
The sparrows were nowhere in sight when she entered the room. Returning from the carnage of spidrens, they had rejoined the flock-mates who stayed behind, cheerfully peeping and whirling about the courtyard to celebrate their return.
They flew to Kel, checking for food. "I'll miss you," she whispered. "All of you. You go to Daine. She'll take care of you." The small birds looked at her, and Kel fought a smile. So like little men they were, their heads peeping up inquisitively. But Peachblossom – who would take Peachblossom? Daine, perhaps. Or, maybe, a new page would choose the warhorse as a mount. But Kel doubted it. Peachblossom was too stubborn to accept another owner.
A knot started in her throat as she thought of the birds and Peachblossom. She fought the urge to cry. He may take everything from me, Kel thought, but one thing Lord Wyldon will never make me do is cry. Picking up her glaive, Kel swung it around half-heartedly. She had received a letter from her mother. The baron and baroness of Mindelan would not be traveling to the Islands this summer because of their daughter's social Adie and Orie's introduction to Court. Kel could either stay in town with her parents and sisters or return to Mindelan. Neither prospects looked pleasing. Grimacing, she realized there wasn't much of a future for the last of eight children, even if she was a noble...especially if she was a noble.
As the bell tolled—more like a funeral march, then anything—Kel walked through the hall. It could be her last time to stroll through it. But if it was to be her last walk, it would be with pride. Her back straightened as Lord Wyldon's office neared. The serving man bowed to Kel and opened the door, announcing her. She entered, finding the training master standing with his back to her, staring through a window.
Was he watching the people who strolled through the fragrant gardens at night? Or was he mulling over her – The Girl?
"My lord?" she asked respectively. "You sent for me."
Sighing, as if Kel had disturbed the little peace he had, Wyldon turned. "Sit down, girl.
Kel took her seat with no hesitation.
Absently massaging his right arm, the fierce training master looked at Kel. She stared back with no fear or reservation. Let him know she thought him unfair. Let him know how she wanted to hate him.
"Keladry," Kel looked up. Lord Wyldon had never truly called her by her name. "Listen to me. I speak to you as I would to my own daughters."
Kel almost blinked at him. She knew Wyldon had a family and children, but it was hard to imaging him with any other life then that of training future knights.
"You have made your point now, haven't you?" It was a question, but he obviously expected no answer. "Consider the future now. One day your body will change. Things you want in life as a maiden, a lady perhaps, will change. What if you are crippled by accident, in pursuing the course you have?" Kel thought he had looked at his arm as he said this. "What if you fall in love? Will you risk an army, a battle because your thoughts are on your heart and not combat? This year was the easiest."
'Maybe you think so,' she said silently. 'But it wasn't your year. You aren't the last child of a new barony. Do you think I'll have more luck in a convent? Do you think any man will offer for me, when my dowry is less than a common merchant's daughter?' She opened her mouth to say something.
A hand was raised. "Not now. Do not answer now. Think about it yourself at home." He sighed. "You are dismissed."
She had to hear him say it. "I am not allowed back, then." Kel winced as she heard her voice—it was like she was pleading, begging to remain.
"No, you may not. You must think of your future. There may be one day you regret becoming a knight. There is no doubt you have proved yourself to be as good as the lads. It would simply be better for you to be trained elsewhere."
"Very well, my lord." She bowed, trying not to cry. 'Not now, not here.' "Thank you for your time." Before he could say anything else, she spun, and walked out, shutting the door behind her.
Kel bit her lip. Why did she have to show weakness as her last emotion? Why couldn't she have been calm, or even angry? Angry at herself, Kel didn't notice her feet had led her straight to her room. Putting her key into the lock, the girl whispered her name. Salma was waiting with Kel's trunks, everything packed. The head of the servants' gestured toward the bed. "It's too late to leave today. You should go to sleep—I'll send a message to your family."
Thanking Salma quietly, she pressed a small gift into the woman's hand before handing over the key. Sighing, Kel fell on to the bed, mind swirling with thoughts. It was hours before she fell asleep.
Kel was woken the next day by a servant at false dawn. She walked to the castle gates, and found a Mindelan manservant waiting with a carriage. When they arrived, she saw Ilane waiting. Looking up the stairs, she let out seven years of pent up emotions.
Keladry of Mindelan fell into her mother's arms and cried.
One month later
The Yamani Emperor had accepted the Mindelan's request of allowing Kel to return to the Islands, and she would be leaving the next day.
It was after supper, and the four females staying at the townhouse were gathered together. "It will be better in the Yamani Islands," the baroness said. "And, if you want, you can return when you are fifteen to join the Riders." Kel's mother hesitated, before continuing. "You could always be introduced to court when you're sixteen or return to Mindelan."
Kel shook her head. She knew her mother was trying to give her choices—as a girl with hardly any talents as a lady, and not many connections, Kel would have a hard time without some kind of work. Now that her option of being a knight was gone, she would have to either remain in the palace as a lady or find a way to make a living. "I won't go to court, Mama, and I can't return to Mindelan. Anders and Inness already have their family there. Even with Patricine and Demadry married, Adie and Orie staying in court, and Avinar studying at the City of the Gods, the fief is still going to be full."
The older woman sighed. With three sons as knights, two daughters as court ladies, and a still-young Avinar, the youngest girl had been left alone when they returned to Tortall. When the baron had first accepted the ambassadorship and left for the Yamani Islands, with their four youngest along, Kel had barely even known Anders. "All I wish for is for you to be happy, Kel."
Adie and Orie were sitting nearby. Sighing, the older of the two spoke up. "You should to court and save what is left of your reputation. Use your four years to relearn old skills."
Kel looked over, startled. She had assumed her sisters would know better. She had not become a page because there was nothing else to do. Kel did it because she wanted to protect.
"I have always been tall," she pointed out. "That won't change. Because of all the training I went through this year, I have muscles now, too."
"Stop training. Nobody needs to be a knight. Queen Thayet started the Queen's Riders, after all, where ladies can go our and 'rough it,' as they say. Do it for Papa and Mama—even a dowry is less then a knight's tuition."
For a moment, Kel considered Orie's statement, before shaking her head. "I will never be a Tortallan lady, Orie. I can't just gossip and embroider, looking for a husband. At the best, I'll end up as an embarrassment. I would rather stay in the Yamani Islands. After all, Patricine is still there, married to Toshuro."
Ilane gently spoke up. "However, the House Akenaru is very large. Though I have no doubt Patricine would gladly welcome you, I fear they do not have the space. What will you do?"
"Mama, you accompanied Papa as the ambassador's lady, and helped the Imperials with Tortallan customs and treaties. If I don't end up being a lady advisor, I could always try to be the court linguist, or even a lady to a princess."
Adalia looked pained for a moment. "You are going to stay in the Yamani Islands? It's bad enough that Mama insisted on training you how to use the glaive again, but now you are going to stay there and become one of those ladies? And while we're at Court, no less!"
Kel was about to bite out a sharp retort, thinking about how just a year ago, Adie had been one of "those ladies", when a melodious voice interrupted. "The decision has been made, and you will leave tomorrow like we planned. Should you want return to Tortall at any time within the next three years, you may. However, if you stay, you shall, on your fifteenth birthday, tell your father and me how you wish to continue, and we will respect your choice." The last few words were directed toward the two others in the room.
Instead of protesting, like Kel thought they would, her sisters complied. "Of course we'll support Kel," Orie said. "She's our sister, after all."
"Plus," Adie added, looking wicked, "everyone knows Yamani silk surpasses even Tortall's finest. We'll be the envy of the court when we wear dresses made of such material." Kel shook her head slightly, leaving the room to check her chests. As the conversation slowly faded behind her, she smiled; her sisters would never change.
When Kel arrived in her room, she found the youngest of her brothers sitting on the bed, grinning mischievously.
"Avinar? Why are you in my room and what have you done?" In spite of her exasperated tone, Kel hugged her youngest brother fondly.
"I got back, but I saw Adie and Oranie in the sitting room, and decided to wait upstairs for my favorite older sister instead."
"You always say that when you see Patricine, Demadry, or me." Kel said in reply to his flattery. "You still haven't answered my earlier question, my dear little brother."
The young man flapped his hands. "To the point, as usual, Kel." He blinked innocently. "Is it that horrible for me to want to talk to the sister I haven't seen for almost a year as I wither away among Mithran priests?"
Kel rolled her eyes. Avinar was her favorite brother and brilliant. The youngest child of Ilane and Piers of Mindelan, he was as mischievous as a Player—and his Gift had not helped matters. He had certainly caused enough ruckuses when they stayed with the Yaman. 'I still have no idea how he survived there,' Kel thought. "And just what have you been doing?"
"I heard you were going to the Yamani Islands, and I wanted to give you a gift," he said, as if it was an everyday occurrence.
"Gift, Avinar?" The gifts the young boy gave were rarely welcomed.
"It's perfectly nice this time," Kel's brother said. He held out a dagger, sheathed sensibly in sturdy leather.
Kel took the dagger out, looking at the sharp weapon carefully. "This is Raven Armory," Kel gasped. "How could you afford this? I can't take this from you, Avinar. I already have one, anyways."
Avinar grinned. "I knew you cared, Kel. I really did!" he said, placing a hand on his heart. "When Papa brought me to the Armory, I...assisted...some of the mages. It was so interesting, what they were trying to do! This dagger was used in the experiment, and couldn't be sold, so they allowed me to keep it. Adie and Orie won't want it, and it'll lie to waste otherwise." When Kel still seemed to be uncertain, he added, "You can do something to pay me back, then." He held up the bruise balm Kel had received. "May I have some of this?"
"You mean you accidentally lost control of your Gift in your curiosity, and this time it actually helped," Kel said, knowing she was right. "Why would you want that?"
"I noticed that it helped with bruises, and I thought it would be interesting to study."
"You tried a magical balm without—" Kel rubbed the bridge of her nose, giving up. Avinar had always been rash, after all. "You've gotten into some fights, recently, haven't you? How did you keep it from Mama? Yes, you may take some. Just return it to me before I leave," Kel replied as her brother walked out her room. It wasn't until he was at the staircase that Kel realized what he had done. "Wait—you went through my trunks?" she asked, exasperation showing when he replied only with a wave and laugh.
Sighing, the young girl returned to her room, intent on getting a good night's sleep for her last evening in Tortall.
It was dawn when Kel left the Mindelan townhouse and her family. Adie and Orie waited at the front door, yawning and trying to say ladylike farewells; finally giving up after their fifth yawn, the two hugged Kel and stumbled back to their rooms. Avinar had given her a quick kiss on the cheek at the doorstep, before winking and strolling towards the direction of the Lower City, trying to escape before Ilane realized her youngest child was entering the most dangerous part of Corus. Kel smiled and shook her head, before stepping towards the carriage.
Piers smiled and kissed Kel gently on the forehead, before opening the carriage door. Leaning down, Ilane hugged Kel, and bid her daughter farewell. The footman nudged the horses, and they lurched forwards.
Ilane watched Kel's figure in the window until the coach dwindled away to a speck in the distance. She whispered one final phrase before turning back to the doorway. Overhead, a hawk circled once and made its way to the royal palace.
"I believe in you, my daughter."