Characters and location belong to the brilliant Tamora Pierce. Some credit should go to Nathaniel Hawthorne for the title, but his influence stops there fortunately. I'll admit, even I think the plot is unlikely, but it's kind of fun to make life really tough for Kel. I think this is going to be a fairly short story and I've already got the next few chapters written. I'm having lots of fun with it and I'm glad you're brave enough to come along for the ride.
Anyway this begins, some time after Lady Knight. Kel and Dom have confessed their mutual affection for each other. I'll leave the pleasure of imagining that moment up to you. The first chapter takes place about seven weeks after midwinter.
"Um, Neal, do you have any more of those stomach-ease herbs?" Kel asked as she stepped into his infirmary ward. Neal was alone at his desk have woken up early to do paperwork undisturbed.
"Kel, are you sure you're alright? This is the third morning in a row. If I didn't know any better, I'd say you were pregnant. Yuki was just like this for the—"
"Great Goddess," Kel squeaked, putting a hand to her belly. A wave of panic crossed her usually serene face. She swallowed hard and glanced anxiously.
"Kel, what's wrong?" Neal asked as he pushed her backwards so that she sat down on the edge of a cot.
"I, uh, I think you might be right." Kel promptly vomited on the floor as soon as she had finished speaking.
"Look, Kel, I don't mean to, um, pry," Neal said anxiously. "But don't you wear a charm to prevent that sort of—"
"Yeah, but I wasn't wearing it when I slept with Dom, at Midwint—"
"Well, you see, I had jousting practice in the afternoon and I guess—"
"Dom, as in, my cousin, Dom?"
Kel nodded, and then looked away quickly.
"Do you want me to make sure?"
"I think I would know who I've been—"
"No, I mean sure about the baby." Neal glanced around the room awkwardly.
"Oh," Kel said. She nodded again.
Neal gently pulled up her shirt and laid a hand on her abdomen. Kel felt a strange tickling sensation and saw cool green flames licking at her skin.
"I'd offer you my congratulations, but I'm not sure that you all that thrilled about…" Neal trailed off as Kel began hissing curses. Neal walked over to his desk, pulled a handful of dried herbs from one drawer and made tea with them. Kel accepted the mug gratefully.
"How long do I have until it shows?" Kel asked, suddenly calm again.
"Well, you're young and athletic, so assuming the baby was conceived at Midwinter," he said, blushing, "you've probably got about two or three months before it becomes noticeable. As long as you marry Dom within the next week or so, no one will—"
"I can't," Kel snapped. "It would ruin his career in the Own if he got married. I've already ruined my own career; there's no need for his to be finished too. He's already proposed and I've already turned him down. Of course, he'll probably propose again when he finds out about the baby, but I'll just turn him down again. I can be stubborn."
"But, Kel, as soon as the court finds out that you're pregnant with Dom's baby there's going to be a tremendous amount of pressure for the two of you to get married. He might lose his job anyway."
"That's why you're going to help me keep this a secret for as long as possible, and you're not going to tell a soul who the father is." There was a very long silence after this.
"Look Kel, I'll respect your wishes here, but I think you should at least tell Dom. You wouldn't want him to think that someone else was the father."
"You're right," said Kel. "I'm going to tell Dom, and Roaul, and Alanna, and I suppose I'll have to tell the king and Wyldon, too, when I resign." Kel could feel tears streaming into her eyes. The thought of resigning, after all the years of work and effort, was almost unbearable. All the years and effort she had put into gaining respect, wasted.
"Kel, I don't see why you should have to resign." Neal said, as he awkwardly wrapped an arm around her shoulders. "No one made Alanna resign from being King's Champion when she had children." He laid a hand over Kel's lips to stop her emerging protest. "You've already proved that you can mother Tobe and manage New Hope. And besides, dozens of refugee women have already given birth here." He handed Kel a handkerchief so she could wipe her eyes. "I should know; by the time you have your baby, I'll be quite experienced at midwifery." He smiled at her. "Yes, it's going to be a challenge, and some tongues are going to buzz, but your friends aren't going to let you just give up."
Kel gave him a feeble smile. "I think that's one of the longest serious speeches you've given me in ages."
"Wait, I'm not done yet. I haven't told you that I think you're one of the bravest people I know and sworn on the lives of my children not to tell a soul without your permission. I also haven't given you my professional opinion that you should cut out your morning glaive practice for a little while. And finally—you're not going to like this part—I haven't told you that I received word from Roaul late last night and that he and Dom are going to be here in two days, as is the Lioness, actually."
"Now, that is possibly the longest serious speech I have ever heard from you in my life. Maybe you can help me write the speeches I'm going to have to give Roaul and Alanna."
"You know what?" Neal grinned. "I think being pregnant has improved your temperament."
"That's it: you're challenged to a duel this afternoon, when I'm feeling better."
"Maybe I shouldn't give you these then," he said as he passed her a few packets of herbs. "Put a pinch of these into your tea at bedtime, and a pinch of the other in your morning tea." He took the empty mug from her hand and set it on his desk. "And Kel, take care of yourself."
TWO DAYS LATER
Kel was out patrolling when she sighted Roaul's troops. She spurred Peachblossom into a canter and rode up to greet her friends. Roaul reached over from his horse to wrap an arm around Kel's shoulders, a maneuver which Peachblossom bore with remarkable patience.
"You look a little tired Kel," he told her after surveying her face. "Is everything going well?"
"I'm just a little bored, I guess." Kel gave a quick laugh. "The refugees have gotten so well organized that there isn't much for me to do. I'll fill you in on the details, later, after you eat."
Peachblossom's patience gave out at this point and he bit Lord Roaul's horse. Kel backed away from him and saw Dom waving at her. Roaul shooed her away to greet her old friends. Kel was careful to shake Dom's hand just as she did the others'; it was especially important now to keep their relationship a secret.
Kel fell into easy conversation with her old companions. Gods, she thought, now I think I understand how the Lioness felt keeping such a secret for so long; it's difficult and unbelievably easy at the same time. Dom casually asked if he could ride out with her to supervise the archery training of a group of refugees and she agreed, trying not to swallow visibly. She would have to tell him then; it was too perfect an opportunity to miss, she might not get another chance.
Once they had ridden around clump of trees and out of sight, they both dismounted. They stood staring at each other in silence for a moment, and then, with a hesitant glance at Peachblossom, Dom stepped forwards and kissed Kel's cheek.
"I've missed you," she said, laying her forehead against his shoulder. He draped one arm around her and lifted his other hand to stroke her hair.
"I know," he murmured. "Maybe I could come see you more often if we stopped keeping this a secret, I know my lord wouldn't mind and—"
Kel, stepped backwards abruptly. "No, it has to stay secret. A few weeks ago I might have agreed with you, but now everything has changed." She felt tears springing into her eyes again. Great, she thought, I'm a pregnant waterfall. Dom stepped forward and took her in his arms again.
"Kel," he whispered, "how have things changed?"
"I'm pregnant," she told the badge on his shoulder. It seemed that half of her mind had decided on crying and half on laughing; the noise that emerged from her mouth was somewhere between a grunt and a yawn.
"Oh, Kel. I'm so sorry I—no, wait, that's wonderful news, I should be telling you that's wonderful news, but it's not because you're unhappy and…" He pushed her shoulders back and tilted her chin up so that he could see her face. Then he bent forwards and kissed her forehead. He took her hands in his and began lowering himself onto one knee.
"No," Kel said loudly. "You can't just end your career like that; the Own doesn't have married men. And, much as I love you, I'm not sure I'm ready to get married. We have separate careers, separate positions. Not to mention my family's history only goes back a few generations and yours goes back ages and ages…"
"What are you going to do then? You can't keep a baby secret forever. You can't just disappear into the wilderness and…"
"Don't worry," she said, feeling suddenly calmer and more certain. "I'm going to deliver the baby here, at New Hope. I trust Neal, and he knows already; and he's agreed to help me keep you a secret. He's been helping me and he'll keep helping me. I know there's going to be a lot of gossip and talk about me, but I can handle that. And then I'm going to try to raise our baby and manage New Hope, assuming I'm not forced into resigning. My mother can take the child for a time if I have to go fight somewhere. Alanna manages, and I've been following in her footsteps for a long time, I might as well keep at it."
"Do you have any idea what you are taking on Kel?"
"No, it's probably better this way. I had absolutely no idea what I was taking on when I decided to become a knight and that turned out pretty well."
"If you're sure then, Lady Knight," he said, pulling her hands to his face so he could kiss her knuckles. "If you change your mind at any time, my offer will still stand. You have only to write to me and I will—"
"Please, don't tempt me. This isn't easy."
"I won't then," he said sadly. He let her step forward to lay her head on his shoulder, and they stood for a long time rocking back and forth slightly. "You know," he whispered, finally, "I don't think I've ever seen you terrified before. You're almost as beautiful as when you're calm."
She was just about to kiss his cheek when Peachblossom snorted. They jumped apart just as Tobe came riding into view on his pony.
"Lady, Lord Roaul says he would like to talk to you now," he said excitedly. "And he says Dom could take me hunting, now, if he doesn't mind that is." Tobe glanced hopefully at Dom.
Dom nodded at Tobe and shook Kel's hand before mounting. "I love you," he mouthed before he turned and rode of with Tobe.
Kel realized that she was already blushing at the mere thought of telling her former knight master. Peachblossom walked up and shoved his nose into her chest and sneezed. Kel looked gravely at her horse.
"I have no idea what you meant by that, but I'm sure your absolutely right," Kel said as she mounted. Peachblossom snorted again in reply.
Reasons to go to a women's college (I'm ending every chapter with this just for fun):
Girls' night in, every week night
The girls you hated in seventh grade are probably going to co-ed route
Thanks for reading and please review. Reviews will really make my day, and will speed up chapter updates. Let me know if there are particular characters you would like to see; I may or may not accommodate yours requests.