Thanks so much to everyone who reviewed The Scarlet Shield; and thank you for all of your encouragement to continue the story a little farther. I'm planning to make this a series of one-shots about Kel's life as a training master, so they probably won't be strung together by a central plot (the upside to this is that there won't be any real clif-hangers.) This is a sequel to The Scarlet Shield so if you haven't read that you may be confused as to how Kel and Dom came to be asleep in the training master's quarters with a one-year-old in the next room. This story takes place before the final scene of the epilogue of The Scarlet Shield. (so Kefira and Tobe are one and twelve.)
Disclaimer: These are Tamora Pierce's characters; I would be a starving college student if it weren't for peanut butter and instant oatmeal.
Kel blinked and glanced drowsily out the window. It was dawn; she ought to be getting up if she wanted to meet the queen and her ladies for morning glaive practice. She was just about to kick back the covers when a warm muscular arm wrapped itself around her waist. Dom was still fast asleep, having ridden past nightfall to reach Corus on their daughter's first birthday. Never mind about glaive practice, Kel thought as she snuggled closer to Dom and pulled the covers up over both of them. He visits so rarely, Kel thought as she drifted back to sleep, might as well make the most of it when he does.
Two minutes later, Kefira's crying woke her. She moaned and sat up. Dom wrapped an arm around her shoulders and walked with her into the next room, which served as a bedroom for Kefira. Tobe was already there, scooping her out of her crib.
"She doesn't approve of sleeping late," he muttered as he passed her into Kel's arms.
"I wonder where she gets that from," Dom said as her sobs ceased.
"Not her mother," said Kel. "Even I wanted to sleep in this morning."
"Ah, well, her father is a terrible influence," said Dom as he leaned over to kiss Kel and then pulled Kefira into his arms and kissed her forehead. Kel sighed and left Dom to change Kefira's diaper under Tobe's careful supervision while she dressed herself.
There's something to be said for breakfast as a family, Kel thought as she and Tobe watched Dom blow on a spoonful of porridge to cool it for Kefira. Feeding her was still a complete novelty to him, and she and Tobe were enjoying the opportunity to eat their own breakfast without interruptions. She was also looking forward to leaving Kefira with him when she left for the training grounds instead of carrying her while she supervised the pages and squires' morning exercise and weapons training.
The bell came too quickly. Kel got reluctantly to her feet and kissed Dom and Kefira.
"You'd best get a move on now too, Tobe," she said, "as you're supposed to meet the Wildmage in the stables."
Tobe shook his head furiously and Kel thought she saw tears welling in his eyes. "No," he said loudly, "I'm not going. Why can't I just stay with Dom today?"
"But—" Kel began.
"Please, don't make me," Tobe muttered. "She's a goin' to make me try shifting again today, and last time I got stuck as a horse for a whole day."
"But that was months ago," Kel said, reasonably. "She wouldn't be asking again unless she thought you were ready. How are you going to learn if you won't even try?"
"Who says I want to learn anyways?" Tobe said. "I hate having to do things just because you think that they're good for me. I won't do it," he shouted and then stormed from the room, leaving Kel staring after him in astonishment. She'd assumed he'd gotten over his difficulty shifting back to human form. He'd seemed excited about his magic and his work with the Wildmage, but then she hadn't had much time to talk with him lately; she'd been so busy looking after Kefira and planning a fall camping trip for the pages.
Kel started to hurry after Tobe but Dom stopped her, laying warm fingers over her shoulder.
"You're running late already," he said quietly. "I'll talk to him." And, still holding Kefira, he walked after Tobe.
Kel was soon forced to push all thoughts of Tobe to the back of her mind. She had her hands full correcting stances and her eyes busy spotting emerging fights as the pages trained in hand-to-hand combat. A few of the older male pages had conservative fathers and seemed to believe it was their duty to the realm to undermine Kel's authority by starting fights and bullying the handful of female pages. Meanwhile, two of the newest female pages, Kirsa and Selina, would only work with each other unless Kel walked over and reminded them that they would have to defeat men on the battlefield and that they ought to prepare by defeating boys in the practice courts.
Her mood had improved slightly by the time the pages began their sword work. Undoubtedly, this had much to do with watching Penelope, a slight fourteen-year-old page, defeat three opponents who were nearly twice her size.
She shrugged happily when Kel came over to congratulate her. "The morning glaive practice has strengthened my arms, lady knight. I wish you'd been there this morning, though, I very nearly bested the queen."
"I'll be there tomorrow to watch when you actually best her," Kel said, glad that she had successfully convinced all of the girl pages to give up an hour's sleep in order to train with glaives.
Tobe ran up to her while she stood waiting for the pages to tack and mount their horses. He stopped a few feet in front of her and looked down, hesitant and red-faced, as he shuffled his feet.
"I've come to apologize for my outburst this morning," he said in an oddly formal tone. "I didn't mean what I said about hating it when you tell me what to do. I just got scared that if I got stuck as a pony you'd want me to stay that way so you and Dom could raise your family without my being in the way."
"Oh," Kel said. She reached out to ruffle his hair and then realized that he'd grown to tall for her to reach to top of his head easily. She settled for shaking his hand. "Apology accepted. I wouldn't be able to manage Kefira without you, so even if you were a pony I'd have to keep you around. Though I'd prefer it if you stayed human, I might have trouble convincing the queen to let me enlarge the door of the training master's suite." Tobe grinned at her and she reached over and hugged him before he could protest. "Now, get back to Daine," she told him, shooing him away. He grinned back at her one last time as he trotted off.
Kel had just finished handing out lances in order to start the pages with jousting practice when Dom appeared, dressed in uniform.
"I don't know what you said to Tobe after I left," she said, "but you seem to have worked a small miracle…"
She trailed off when she saw that he wasn't smiling.
"There's been a giant attack," he said grimly. "I've been called away." Kel carefully leaned the spare lance against the fence and walked over to him. "Look, with any luck I'll be back in few days and we'll talk more about Tobe, and everything, then." He reached out and grabbed her elbow. "I left Kefira with Neal," he muttered. He leaned over to kiss her.
They both intended it to be a brief kiss, but a small traitorous whisper in the back of Kel's mind reminded her that she might not see Dom again for days, if ever, and before she found herself wrapping her arms around him and refusing to let go. They broke apart when someone whistled.
"I love you," Dom whispered as he turned to leave. "And I'm afraid completely ruined any possibility of improving these rascals this morning." He blew one last kiss and departed, leaving Kel to turn and face her charges. The younger ones were staring at her as though she had grown antlers and the older ones all wore amused smirks.
"Form lines!" Kel bellowed. She did the best to ignore the burning sensation across her cheeks and maintain a semblance of dignity as she instructed them to ride at the dummies.
"I knew you'd have a good reason for missing glaive practice this morning," Penelope remarked as returned to the line for her second turn.
Kel scowled and swatted at the girl's leg. "Need I remind you that, prodigy or no, you will qualify for punishment duty if you are insubordinate."
"But, I wasn't being insubordinate, lady knight," Penelope said sweetly. "I was merely agreeing with your priorities."
I'm going to have to be very careful when I select a knight master for her, Kel thought, smiling as she watched Gregory, the son of the conservative Lord Gerard, miss his target and get whacked across the shoulders.
Neal was reading aloud to Kefira and his daughter, Nessaren, when Kel walked in to the infirmary. Both babies were staring at him wide-eyed as he enthusiastically enacted scenes from the battle he was describing with his hands. Kel smiled, the story was about Kefira's namesake, one of Tortall's ancient warrior maidens.
"So when did you become a teacher?" Kel asked.
"When Dom and Yuki became very busy and couldn't find anyone else to take care of our delightful offspring," Neal said, gesturing at the crib. He closed his book and tossed it onto the desk. "I didn't even know Dom was here until he came and told me he had to leave."
"He'd only been here a few hours," Kel said sadly. "He got in late last night and the training master's rooms are on the opposite side of the palace from yours." She walked over to the crib and scooped Kefira out. "What?" she asked, upon seeing Neal's smirk.
"It just seems very strange, you and Dom living there," Neal said. "It doesn't bother you to live in the same room that the Stump spent so many years in?"
"Lord Wyldon's mellowed into quite the radical in his old age," Kel remarked. "It wouldn't surprise me if I found myself instructing one of his granddaughters in the future."
Neal gave a spluttering cough. "What about the fact that you live in the same room once occupied by haMinch?"
"I try not to think about that too often," Kel admitted.
"Maybe your lack of imagination is a blessing."
"Speaking of blessings," Daine said as she entered carrying Sarralyn, "would you mind watching her for a few hours? The queen's mare is having a difficult birth and Numair's in the middle of an experiment."
"Why me?" Neal asked. "And what does this have to do with blessings?"
"Well," said Daine, "not much,"—she paused, wrinkling her forehead in thought—" other than that you are a blessing for busy mothers."
Neal gave an exasperated shrug and took Sarralyn from her arms.
"By the way," Daine said, addressing Kel. "Tobe's pretty tired. I'd let him sleep for a while and don't make him leave the room if he doesn't want to. Remind him that the tail should be gone tomorrow morning."
"Tail?" Kel repeated.
"It's to be expected," Daine reassured her. "I spent a great deal of time walking around on squirrel feet during my first shape-sheeting experiences; it made boots very uncomfortable." She waved at Sarralyn and left before Kel could voice another question.
A week later, a royal command regarding glaive training had been issued, and Kel found herself distributing glaives to all of the pages, while Gregory muttered remarks about "women's weapons" and "upstart commoners who bewitch the King's Own soldiers." Kel paired him off with Penelope and tried not to take too much satisfaction out of watching her defeat him easily.
Instead she turned to Petran and Deric, two first years who were struggling to master the necessary sweeping motion. She switched Kefira onto her left hip and walked over to help. Within minutes, she had fixed their stances and grips, but they were still unable to manage to long weapons.
"That's it," Kel said finally. "We're doing pattern dances."
"Dances?" said Deric apprehensively, taking a step backwards.
"Yes," said Kel firmly. "It's where I should have started." She reached out a hand and took his glaive. "Hold her," she said, thrusting Kefira into his arms before he could object.
Deric looked down at her in alarm. "But I don't know anything about—"
"Are you objecting to an order?" she asked.
"I'm not—No!" He stammered. Kefira reached up and punched his shoulder with a small fist. "I mean alright, I'll try."
"Watch carefully," Kel instructed before performing a simple pattern dance.
She turned back to Petran and Deric when she had finished. They were both staring at her in awe, and neither one was holding her child.
"Where's—" she began.
And then Dom stepped forward. He was limping badly and he had one arm looped over a chestnut pony—Tobe, Kel realized. He held Kefira with his free arm. Kel rushed over to him.
"I didn't drop her," she heard Deric say in a breathless tone.
Dom swayed and it took the combined efforts of Kel and Tobe to catch him. Kel was barely aware of the Shang Wildcat stepping over to take over practice for the morning. She was too busy being grateful to see Neal running towards them.
Dom insisted on talking to Tobe as soon as he had woken after his healing the next morning.
"I know this won't do you much good because as a younger son I don't have any land or money to pass on to you," he said, "but I'd like to adopt you."
"Really?" Tobe asked, flicking his ears forward.
"Yes," Dom said, trying not to chuckle, "strong and capable as Kel and Kefira are, I like knowing you're here with them even when I can't be. And I'd like to think of you as my son. Kel thinks of you that way too, you know. Is that alright with you?"
Tobe nodded looking from Kel to Dom in astonishment.
"We did the paperwork before his healing yesterday," Kel explained. "He insisted. Anyway, Neal agreed to be our witness."
"You do realize, dear cousin " Neal drawled quietly as he signed the papers with a flourish, "that your son has horse ears?"
"Oh, good," said Dom. "I was worried you'd damaged my vision while you were healing me."