By Sulia Serafine
[A Protector of the Small fanfic set in Tortall with a different ending; all credit goes to Tamora Pierce. I'm broke, so you can't sue me. WARNING! SPOILER FOR SQUIRE!]
The iron door opened.
I remember stumbling out, my head feeling as if a giant had decided to use it for a kicking ball like that the children in the villages played with. My knees were weak. My vision was blurry. I was sweating, but I was horribly cold. I don't think I could have been colder even if I'd been thrown out into an ice pond with only my loincloth on.
The distance between my nose and the floor was soon bridged when I collapsed face first into the flagstones. It hurt as much as if I'd gotten sucker-punched, but I think the pain I was paying attention to didn't come from my fall.
The men who had failed to catch me rushed forward now. I can't recall their faces. It didn't seem to matter. I just wanted them to get me away from that... that thing... that... Chamber. The door was closed now, but by the Gods, I felt like it was going to open again and suck me back in.
Mithros' shield, what happened in there?
"Joren, are you awake?"
I was at the healers. There were two men with mild cases of some seasonal sickness right across from me. I minded them not. The crisp air from the window near my bed was much more comforting than the stifling confines of the bed and the itchy blankets. I'm sure they didn't mean for the blankets to be itchy, or maybe it was just me, but I wasn't going to put up with them.
"Joren, look at me."
I continued with my elbows propped up on the stone window ledge. I wished the man speaking would be done with his business and stop distracting me. Didn't he see I was trying to think?
The man was muttering to a healer, one of the important ones, I think. He wasn't dressed like a servant of the palace, but more along the lines of a noble. When I awoke, I believe I overheard a lady referring to him as Duke Baird of Queenscove. I should think I knew the name, but I decided thought I would not let it trouble me right then.
"You there," the man was now tapping my shoulder. I turned to face him, sitting up straight in my bed. "You, are you deaf?"
"No, sir," I replied, politely. Maybe he could talk Baird into changing my blankets, if I behaved enough.
The man, who now appeared to me as very anxious and exhausted, started rubbing his temples. "Why didn't you answer me then, Joren?"
I blinked. I blinked again. "Who's Joren?"
So, here's the story as far as I've been told. The man is Paxton of Nond. He is my Knightmaster. I am perfectly aware of who a Knightmaster is, and that I am his squire. Yes, I know what a squire is. After I fell out of the Chamber and got knocked out cold by my 'meeting' of the hard floor, they carried me up here and left me in the care of healers until I awoke, should something more serious have happened to me and they realize it by my appearance.
The Chamber is the final test to become a knight. It's practically the scariest and uncontrollable thing in all of Tortall. Some knights argue about the scary part. But the fact that no one could ever do anything to effect it or change it was scary enough-- to the mages, anyway. And to those who entered.
I'm leaving out the most important thing. My name is Joren of Stone Mountain. Wait, did I say that right? Joren? How do you spell that? No, now pronounce it again? Oh. Okay. Joren. What an odd name. I wonder how I got it.
There's a woman here. She's crying because I can't recognize her. I think. Paxton kindly whispers to me that she is my mother, and that I should smile for her. I do as I'm told. This does nothing to quiet her heart-wrenching sobs. Another man is standing beside her. I think he's my father, because he has the same pale blonde hair as me. He refuses to look at me. His blonde hair falls over his shoulders as he bows his head.
I don't like this blonde hair. Can I say that right now before I forget? And I'm wearing it long at the moment. It looks too feminine if you ask me, though my reflection in the mirror is all the epitome of manliness. Well, I think it is. I'm not sure. I'm doubt my perceptions of what is handsome or not, but I think that I'm decent enough.
Paxton ushers everyone out of the room-- I'm in my own room now, did I neglect to mention that? My father throws a fit, cursing and blaming people by name, though I don't know who these people are. There's so much anger in him. It's painful to listen to his shrewd and scornful voice.
I guess I'll have to learn to answer to that name. "Yes?"
"After you've had something to eat, you're going to be examined by some healers, and then some mages. After that, they are bringing you before some important people to decide what's happened and what they're going to do... to help you." He adds the last part as an afterthought. I'm pretty sure he's lying, but I know he means well. There's a sincerity in his face, coupled with his obvious grievance for my condition. I think as my Knightmaster, he blames himself. I'm not sure what kind of person he is, but if he's the sort to make himself responsible for everything, then I'm bound to be learning the ways of guilt, too.
The day is nearly over. I've been poked and prodded at, stared and examined-- all as if I were some specimen of abnormal science. A rare oddity, meant to be studied for the sake of shredding my dignity to pieces. It's when they let me dress and sit down to food that I'm finally sated and relieved that they're done. Or at least, I think they're done.
Mages can tell if there is magic affecting me, can't they? Magic can have color, right? And they can tell if I'm faking this amnesia thing, right? Well, if they're reading my thoughts right now, then they'll know to get out of my head. I don't appreciate being violated like this. And maybe the mage across from me at the eating table has noticed that he's absently poured tea on his sleeve.
The mage abruptly ended his staring at me and started dabbing at his soaked sleeve with an available napkin. I smirk to myself and continue eating.
Their tests for me are not done. A few scholarly types come in, seating themselves across from me as the mages before them rose and settled on stools nearer to me. The scholarly types carry heavy books with them. I think they are teachers.
The next hour is filled with asking me questions about history, mathematics, etiquette, and all the sorts of things that teachers are trained to instruct you in. They are both baffled and relieved that I remember everything perfectly. Ha. Take that. I don't know why I'm gloating, but if they're confused and offended, then I'm happy. After this whole experience, I'm ready to take on any bloody test they throw at me. I'm that fed up with this.
Paxton explains to me that they're taking in consideration my physical health, my recollected intelligence, and the skills I showed earlier with him when he handed me a practice sword and we dueled. Now all that is done. They're taking me to stand before the King and his most trusted Advisors.
I have a terrible feeling that Paxton lied and it's going to be another grueling test.
"... All in all, Your Majesty, my colleagues and I have concluded that it is a case of selective amnesia. He retains all memory to common knowledge-- such as mathematics, history, geography... as well as his skills learned as page and squire. It is only the memories that set him apart from others that he lacks. He does not remember names of people he sees everyday, nor anything about these people." The man explaining this has a long pointy nose that I find very distracting, but I'm trying to look straight ahead and think of something else. "It's as if..." He paused, as if afraid to say the next part. "It's as if the Gods wanted to erase his less than honorable past and give him a second chance."
Less than honorable? What is he talking about? Second chance? Someone wants to give me another chance? Wait, go back to the part where I'm less than honorable! What in the name of the Gods is that supposed to mean?!
King Jonathan has a stern, thoughtful expression. He is troubled, but he's trying not to appear it. I suppose he has to practice that look frequently. I mean, he's a king. Kings have lots of problems to deal with. And they have to force themselves to be calm and resolved, right? Suddenly, I'm glad I'm not royalty.
"Is that the conclusion of all of your colleagues?"
"All of them, Your Majesty."
He nodds. There is a short recess in which the King, the Queen, and his Advisors were discussing my predicament. I could care less at the moment at what they decided to do to me. What I want to know is how my past is less than honorable.
"We have made a decision."
I look up at the gathering of advisors. It's an honest blend of conservatives and the opposite. The conservatives are relating very well to my father who stands behind me. I don't like them very much, but my father's presence seems to be affecting them somehow. Maybe my father is just as stuck up and conservative as them. He certainly looks like it with his chin thrust up and a scowl on his face. The non-conservatives are relating well to the situation rather than to me or my family. The contreversy probably gives them some stupid adrenaline rush.
"Squire Joren of Stone Mountain, step forward," the King commands.
I do. There is complete silence, except for my pounding heart.
"With what you remember now, do you still wish to become a Knight of Tortall?"
I gulp, though it's hard with a completely parched throat. I don't know what to say. Do I want to be a Knight? "Yes," I reply, before I know what I'm doing. Okay, I guess I do. He nods and continues.
"You are to be put under probation for a minimum of one year," he emphasized the word 'minimum'. "In which you are to continue your duties as squire to Sir Paxton of Nond, and meditate upon the ethics and morals that define chivalry, the code of Knights. Upon the end of your probation, we shall gather once again to evaluate the results and configure another final test for your Knighthood."
He stood up and looked around the room. I dared to take my eyes off him and look around as well. A sizable amount of the Court has shown up for my sentencing-- yes, sentencing. It's as if I've done a crime I cannot remember, and they're still punishing me for it. There's a group of young men and women near the door, eyeing me distrustfully. Some of them are knights, but most are squires. Among them is one tomboyish young lady, wearing the garb of a squire and not the dresses of her female companions-- may I mention the women are beautiful, exotic looking foreigners.
In a lower voice, the King spoke to me again. I think he meant it only to be heard by me and those right next to him, not the gossiping Court behind me.
"I know it will take some time before you understand the reason I say this to you, but," he paused. "It would be best if you did not force yourself to remember the things you cannot remember. For one, it would be stressful and straining. Also, there are some things better left in the dark." He took a deep breath. "Just start over with your life, Squire Joren."
Oh. Would this have something to do with that less than honorable past that long nosed man blabbed out? Because if it is, then I'm bound to be suffering anyway. Why worry about how stressed I can get forcing myself to glue together my memory again? If I'm that bad, people around here will alienate me and gossip about me. That's the punishment, isn't it? Yes! Who needs physical retribution when they can slowly and emotionally break me using other people's behavior toward me?
I bow. I remembeed to bow! That was good etiquette. Let's see if I can remember some etiquette reserved for greeting people who are looking at you with either sympathy or scorn.
It's been a couple of weeks since then. They want Paxton and I to stay at the Palace for a while, until I get comfortable with my parents. I guess then, I'd be stuck here forever. Because I'll never grow accustomed to that strict man and his forever forlorn wife. My mother acts as if I'm dead, crying all the time. Maybe I am dead and I'm just some sort of zombie, and only she knows it.
This is how grumpy I am. I'm fantasizing crule fates for myself, like becoming an undead creature. Maybe I can put my father out of his misery and mine by jumping from the roof. No, that might not kill me. I've heard stories of men dropping off heights and only breaking bones. And I've heard stories where the men did die, but it just took an incredibly long time. Ouch.
They allow me to eat in my room rather than go the mess hall where pages and squires usually dine. When I say they, I refer to the people who sentenced me to probation. They, who could actually care less about what happened to me. They, who I wish would leave me alone. I mean, everyone else at the Palace is doing it. Why can't they leave me alone as well?
So, I sit here, munching on a fresh bread roll that a servant brought up. I ask him where's the rest of the food.
"We've been so busy lately, I'm afraid you'll have to go down to the dining hall, milord."
I groan inwardly. I had to either go hungry or subject myself to the stares and gossips of my former peers. Notice how I said peers, not friends. I don't think I had any friends, or else they would have come up to me by now with their deepest sympathies. Or maybe they're all away right now, out with their Knightmasters.
I try not to dwell on it so much, because I know for a fact that I am alone. Hoping for friends isn't going to get me any. And me taking the initiative won't help either. The second day since my probation was announced, I went up to a couple of squires, trying to make friendly conversation. They shot down all my attempts and walked away.
So here I am, walking to the last place I want to be. Squires and pages are still in line getting their food. I do the same, and silently sit down at a small table in the corner, hoping no one notices me. Fate does not like me though. She has sent word to all the young minds around me to turn and stare, whispering among themselves.
If I could live without any two senses, I would choose eyes and ears, so I wouldn't be able to see and hear what they are doing. Frustration and annoyance are my only companions, and even as I think about it, I want to hang myself. There has to be something worthwhile to hold on to in this wretched place.
The only notion that is keeping me from running away and never having to face these disdainful people again is that I can become one of those lone knights. The kind that travel with no one but their horse and maybe a trained hawk. Yes. That would be worthwhile. Roaming around Tortall with nothing but the evildoers to bother you.
Gods, I must be desperate.
Lord Wyldon of Cavall and a few other important looking men enter. Everyone rises from their seats. So do I. A short prayer is said, and we sit. I heard from Paxton that Wyldon is retiring from his position as training master. Something to do with me and the other boy who came out of the Chamber not too long ago. Vinson, I believe his name was. A relative of his is my father's steward. I don't like him. He reeks of the past that King Jonathan advised I never hope to remember.
Out of the corner of my eye, I spot a mixture of Knights sitting with squires. Newly made Knights. Out of all the people here at the Palace, they've been the most hostile and ignoring of me. I think I offended them the most in my past, but I'm not sure. Maybe they just never liked my family or something. I'll never know.
Forget about it, I tell myself. Just eat your food. Don't look at anyone; they're all idiots anyway. Yeah. Calling them gawking idiots will cheer you up, won't it? Because the real ironic truth of the matter is, you're the idiot. Because you can't remember anything about yourself that's unique. You're stuck in this nightmare. You did something terrible to anger the Chamber, and it made sure you'd endure hell on earth by being alive, here and now.
There was a fairy tale of a girl in a tower... with extremely long hair. I read it in the library when I was bored last week. Her hero would climb her hair and bring her down from there. Ladder? Or her hair, cut from her head and used as a rope? I don't remember what they used to get down the tower. But I tell... I tell you now as sane as I'll ever be, forget the rope and ladder. There's a faster way down.
On my way back to the room, I wander the halls a bit. I eventually come across an open room, with the nameplate reading Numair Salmalin and Daine Sarrasri. A young woman with stormy eyes and tangled dark brown hair comes out, holding a box of kittens. I tried to walk faster, but she noticed me.
"Oh, hello," she greeted. "You're Joren of Stone Mountain, right?"
Doesn't she realize that she's supposed to loathe me, like everyone else?
"Yes, that's me."
She nodded. Her expression became serious. "I heard from the animals that you stay by yourself most of the time. I can tell you're different from before you entered the Chamber. You have no idea what you've done," she whispered, "And the Court still frowns at you because of it. You're frustrated that you don't know what sort of person you were." She adjusted her hold on the box. "If I had known you at all, personally, before you lost your memory, I'd probably hate you, too. But the fact is, you don't remember. I'll just have to treat you as a brand new person. I'll judge you on what you do from this point on."
That was probably the kindest thing anyone has ever said to me since that fateful night when I stumbled out the Chamber. I wish there are more people like her.
The mewing kittens demand attention from within their box.
"What are you doing with them?" I ask curiously.
Daine-- I assume that's her name-- sighs. "I want to take care of them, but the servants and the nobles tell me that there are enough Palace animals, and that there's not enough food for all of them. There are plenty of cats and dogs that can survive in Corus, and in the villages, they tell me. And they are right."
I can't help but stare at the tiny creatures. They look so defenseless.
She notices my gaze. "If you want to keep one, you can. You'd have to take care of it yourself, though. They're still new to the world, just as you've recently become."
"Really?" I ask, a little unsure of her generosity.
"Go ahead. Pick one."
I look at the litter. They're mostly black, white, and grey. A particular kitten is huddled by itself in the corner of the large box. It is dark gray with stripes of black around its neck. I gently pick it up and hold it in my hands. I can't believe how tiny they can be. So fragile looking.
The kitten mews, and wriggles in my hands. The scrawny creature eludes my grasp and jumps forward, diving for my shirt pocket. I can feel its paws play with whatever items I had put in my pocket earlier.
"Hey," I chuckle and pull the animal out before it falls. "What's his name?"
"She," Daine corrected, "Doesn't have a name. You're welcome to name her whatever you wish. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go. Have fun with your new friend."
As I watch her walk off, I take it in. Friend. She said friend. This little feline is my friend. It must be pathetic how happy I am because of this. The only friend in the world that I've got is not even the same species as me.
I hold the kitten up to eye level. She stares at me intently, waiting for my decision.
"Your name is... Pockets."
A meow is her response, and some purring when I scratch her head. And that was that.
I sit at the edge of the practice courts. Paxton and I just finished some training, making sure I still remember certain skills. I wish he'd stop looking so ashamed and guilty. When will he realize he didn't do anything?
He announces that he's going to wash up, and that I should do the same before too long. I nod and do not bother watching him leave. A meow sounds from beside me.
Pockets sits at my feet, patient for any treats I have for her. I try not to spoil her, but her being my only friend does cause me to cuddle her a bit. Yes, me, practically a grown man, spoiling a little kitten as if she were the most precious thing in the world.
She follows me places. She listens as I mutter to myself about how I hate this life. The little feline is as close as any precious friend I can hope for... And that is so pathetic that I think I'm going to my room to sulk.
Someone enters. I look up, ignoring the whines of Pockets wanting me to pick her up. It's that tomboy looking girl. The female squire. Her friends showed me hostility when I tried to be friendly to them, but she just refused to acknowledge my presence. Better than being hostile.
My kitten prances up to the girl, meowing and tottering on her back legs with her paws raised-- a sign that she wants to be picked up. The girl does as she's bade and approaches me cautiously. I try not to appear nervous, but that's what I am.
"Is this one yours?"
"Yes," I reply quietly.
She nods and pets Pockets fondly. "Name?"
I cough a little to clear my throat. "Pockets."
She frowns slightly. "Why would you name her that?"
Before the girl could speak anymore, my little kitten darted forward and stuck her head in this small pocket sewn into the girl's tunic. Then she began pawing at the belt pouches. The girl smiled wryly and held Pockets out of reach. "I see."
"I can't break her of the habit. She's still a baby, though. What can I do?"
The girl agrees. She hands Pockets to me and I rest the little creature on my lap.
The squire girl seems reluctant to say something to me, but she finally decides to do it. "Do you know who I am?"
I shake my head. "Not in the least."
"Oh." She seems relieved, but agitated as well. "Well, my name is Keladry of Mindelan. It was nice meeting you... and Pockets."
She bows her head a bit then starts for the exit.
"Wait! Didn't you come here to practice?" I call to her. That was the reason a person comes to the practice courts, isn't it?
Keladry turns and shrugs. "It's alright. I remembered I had to do something."
What a lie. But I'm not offended. She actually talked to me. A person-- a human, and not a cat-- actually decided to keep me company for more than thirty seconds.
"You cut your hair," she observes skeptically, pausing from her departure.
My hand reaches up to feel my head. I did crop my hair short and close. Thankfully, it didn't stick out like some people's, and just flattened against my head. I honestly like it better than that horse tail I'd been wearing. "I was hoping maybe people would see a different person."
"It suits you," she compliments stiffly. Before she is past the doorway, I call out again.
"What is it?" she asks, now as nervous as I was.
I put Pockets down and stand. "Can I ask you something?"
She looks confused. "Sure."
"Before this amnesia thing happened to me... did I offend you?"
Her gaze is directed downward for the next few silent moments. She looks back up at me and forces a smile. The smile doesn't reach her eyes. "Yes. But don't let it bother you. I wish you all the luck for your probation. I know how it feels."
"Wait, something else."
She sighs. "Yes?"
"Were we enemies?"
She shifts her weight to her other foot. Though she's trying to hide it, it's clear she doesn't want to be here with me. "Actually, yes. For a long time, you made my life a series of horrible problems and I really didn't like you for it. Especially when you threatened the well being of my friend."
I think it would have been easier on me if she'd just stabbed me.
"Oh." What else can I say? Oh, wait. "I'm... I'm sorry. I don't remember, but I assure you, I... I feel very responsible for it and I hope you could accept my apology."
She's surprised, but once again trying to hide it. "Oh. Well then, I accept." She glances at the door nervously. "Good day to you."
A few minutes after she leaves, I get up and walk out. Pockets is at my heels, so I slow down. She's content with just prancing around my feet, trying to jump on my boot. I contemplate what just happened. If that girl... who I antagonized so much in the past... brought herself to forgive me, does that mean others will, too? Or does it just mean that she's one of a kind?
I like to think that both are the truth. And I also like to think that my life won't be so bad after all.
Author: I've had something like this brewing in my head for a long time now. I'm currently having writer's block with ICBW, so I decided to make this to keep you satisfied until I'm ready to post the next ICBW episode. Please, tell me what you think of it. I'd be so thankful. I'm not sure whether or not I want to do a sequel. It might affect my time with ICBW.
2: A chance
3: Genuine fake
4 (final): Thanks to You.