This is my little escape from finals and my attempt at explaining a certain chorus that Kel notices at the beginning of Lady Knight. It can stand alone, but it certainly fits nicely with my longer fics and helps to explain a few of Neal's responses to Penelope. Of course, the characters and location belong to Tamora Pierce, I just sent in a few rain clouds.
"Pardon my asking, Lady Knight," Neal began.
Alanna ground her teeth together; she'd spent enough time on the road with her squire to know that formalities were always accompanied by sarcasm or unanswerable questions. Her children had never been so impossible, surely. Then again, George had always negotiated their more taxing phases. She unclenched her jaw and glanced back at Neal.
"But do you know how far we are from an inn? It would appear that inclement weather is descending upon us." Neal glanced nervously at the sky, which was, indeed, filling with dark clouds.
That wasn't such a bad question. It could easily be turned into a teaching moment. "You packed the map," she called back. "Get it out and find out which road leads to Shepherd's Hill; the barman there is one of George's old acquaintances." She nudged Darkmoon into a brisker walk.
"Did your ladyship pack a spare map perchance?"
Alanna swallowed before halting Darkmoon and turning once more. "Is there a reason for that particularly unfortunate question, Queenscove?"
If the gods were merciful—which they clearly were not—violet eyes wouldn't blaze, thought Neal as he struggled to pull his face into a suitably sheepish expression, only people with friendly brown eyes or kind blue ones would be allowed to glare. He lowered his gaze and resisted the impulse to pray—it would do him no good—and the impulse to flee which was harder to ignore.
Alanna winced as the first raindrop, large and icy, hit her scalp. She brushed it away quickly and continued scowling at her squire. So, this was going to be more of a learning moment, perhaps for both of them. And apparently the Goddess was making the lesson cold and wet to ensure that it stuck.
"No, Queenscove, I made it quite clear that navigational equipment was your responsibility. Do you have any better questions?"
Loads, thought Neal, the first being 'can you just behead me now and get it over with?'
"Do you realize how impossibly quickly you went over the packing list?"
"Who would have guessed that a squire trained by Lord Wyldon would forget to pack a map?"
"I imagine that—"Neal began.
"Queenscove," she snapped, "if you wish to survive this four-year experiment of ours with all of your limbs intact, you would do well to refrain from answering my rhetorical questions."
"You have so much more in common with Lord Wyldon than either of you is willing to admit; you two really ought to sit down for a heart to—"
"Is it too much to presume that you understand the dangers of trying my patience overmuch?" She nudged Darkmoon back into a walk and called over her shoulder, "try again Queenscove."
"Do you know where we are?"
Alanna was glad that her hair covered the blush on her neck. The rain was falling heavily now and her clothing was beginning to be soak. "That's a better question, Neal, but a dangerous one. I'm afraid I must confess my ignorance. Next question."
"What am I doing here?'
"You tell me, Queenscove." She saw a signpost in the distance and urged Darkmoon into a trot.
"Sorry, that was more of a philosophical musing. How about 'left or right'?"
"There may be hope for you yet, squire, if you can answer yourself." She halted Darkmoon before the crossroads and surveyed both of them. Neither appeared to offer an immediate solution.
"How do I do that?"
She didn't bother to dignify this with a response. She was too busy flexing her fingers to keep them from freezing.
"East or West?"
"Fair question. Next question."
"Does it matter which road we take so long as we stop standing here in the rain and go riding through the rain—hopefully towards shelter—instead?"
"Excellent question, I'll try to answer it when we are dry. For now we go west."
Alanna blinked at him and scrunched her face into a scowl as they settled into a westward canter.
"Good question. Unfortunately I can't remember the answer, try asking again later. Next question," she called finally.
"Does 'later' mean after I've bought you a few drinks?"
"Who taught you that trick?"
"Good question. Too bad I can't answer it without incriminating your husband." Neal winked at her, reasoning even if she were able to shoot flames from her eyes the downpour ought to extinguish them before he was incinerated. "Next question."
"What did I do to deserve you?"
Neal wisely recognized this as a largely philosophical question and responded with a simple shrug. There'd been a note of something in her voice but he wasn't sure if it had been pride or despair or amusement; it was hard to hear much over the pounding rain and his chattering teeth.
The road melted to a thick churning mud beneath their horses hooves and the sky grew even darker as night fell. Eventually, they slowed their horses to a crawling walk. Knight and squire went from cold and wet to stiff and soaked as an icy wind blew in and splattered them with mud. Alanna began muttering a rhythmic string of curses under her breath and Neal took it up in a kind of chorus.
Alanna was just beginning to consider throwing something at him when she caught sight of a light in the distance.
"Am I imagining things?" Neal wondered, squinting as he tried to determine if it was a lantern light.
"Bad question, Queenscove, and just when I'd begun to expect better from you. Knights aren't allowed to ask that question aloud unless they're attacking windmills and then the answer should be fairly obvious. Try again."
"Is that an inn?"
"Better. There's hope for you yet." Alanna used her gift to conjure a light on her palm and urged Darkmoon into a canter. They raced all the way to the inn's courtyard and she beat Neal, just barely. "Next question," she called, dismounting and tossing her rains to a stable girl.
"What can I get your ladyship to drink?"
"Good question." Alanna grinned wolfishly. "Next question," they chorused together. Perhaps Queenscove could be trained after all. She nodded her approval before prompting him, "If you ask 'how soon would your ladyship like supper and a hot bath?', I will answer 'immediately' and consider you a very well trained squire who deserves to hear a few drunken tirades on Lord Wyldon and to have a few of his philosophical questions answered."
Thanks for reading; I hope it's given you a little stress break. If you want to procrastinate a little longer, please drop a review.