By the popular demand of reviewers and the violent insistence of certain characters who high-jacked my imagination, I'm back with a brief follow-up of sorts to Training Master Mindelan. Thanks again to everyone who reviewed Training Master Mindelan and I hope you'll enjoy getting a taste of what happens next.
Disclaimer: as always, location and (most) characters belong to Tamora Pierce. Due to a nasty summer cold, the following writing was proofread under the influence of nighttime decongestants. Speaking of disorientation, if you haven't read Training Master Mindelan (and its prequel, The Scarlet Shield) this will probably be very confusing. This little episode takes place a few months after the close of Training Master Mindelan, during the spring of Penelope and Dalton's first year as knights.
"Has Kel gotten big and slow yet?" Tobe asked when he met Dalton emerging from the stables after an early morning ride.
"You haven't seen her yet?"
"No, my Rider group only just got in late last night," Tobe told him as they began walking together towards the palace.
"So what you're really asking is 'how moody is she?'" Dalton muttered.
Tobe grinned and shrugged.
"Until last week, not very. If possible, she's been more patient than ever— almost patient enough to make everyone else impatient. But lately, she's been a bit more temperamental. Penelope and I took it upon ourselves to give the pages a healthy dose of yelling yesterday and we earned our own healthy dose of glaring for it." Dalton glanced at the practice courts as they passed and saw that his wife had already come and gone. "And she's gotten big without slowing down. She's still meeting Penelope for morning glaive practice most days."
"And probably winning bouts too," Tobe guessed. "Last time Neal complained she was taking advantage of the extra weight to beat him at duels."
"Typical," Dalton muttered. And they walked silently for a short while, entering the palace through a side door and making their way towards Kel's and Dalton's quarters, before Dalton asked, "how are things with Tessa?"
"Good," Tobe said brightly. "She's visiting her family this week but—"
Neal passed by just then, saying brightly, "I hear you and Penelope are going to have twins."
"Wait! What?" Dalton called, glancing down to be sure that the floor was, indeed, still beneath his feet. "Impossible! She can't—we—"
But Neal only nodded cheerfully and vanished into the infirmary, leaving Dalton to cope with a terrifying shift in his understanding of reality. Tobe blinked once or twice and waved at Dalton's bewildered face before patting his back and stepping away, as though he feared Dalton's confusion or apparent virility might be contagious.
"I'm going to see Kel," Tobe called over his shoulder.
Dalton gave a dazed nod and then sprinted off toward the room he shared with Penelope, trying to recall every detail of her behavior and appearance over the past few weeks. He couldn't think of anything out of the ordinary and he thought he remembered catching a glimpse of her charm the previous evening as she undressed. But she had seemed rather tired the past few days and—
He collided with someone running in the opposite direction, cracking his skull so sharply that he didn't recognize Penelope until he'd landed on top of her.
She blinked up at him through watering eyes as he propped himself up onto his elbows. "Are you all right?"
"Lightly bruised," he muttered as they helped each other to their feet. "And you?"
"Fine." She tucked a stray bit of hair back into her braid. "I'm late though—I was looking for you."
"Late?" Dalton repeated, trying desperately to ignore the idea his mind was forming based upon a conversation he'd overheard between Alanna and one of the female Riders.
"Yes, late." She grabbed his hand and began pulling him down the corridor. "We're supposed to be meeting Mindelan in her quarters for breakfast. She said she had a few important things to discuss with us." She dropped his hand and they continued trotting side-by-side towards the training master's rooms.
"Penelope—can I uh—you're not expecting—"
"I expect she's going to tell us which pages she wants us to take as squires," Penelope said anxiously.
"So then you're not actually—you said you were late—but you're not actually—"
"Not what?" Penelope furrowed her brow and eyed him worriedly.
"Neal, er, congratulated me earlier on your being—" he blushed and glanced up and down the hall to be sure it was clear—"pregnant with twins."
"He what?" Penelope stopped very suddenly; Dalton wasn't sure if this were from shock or because they had nearly reached Kel's door. "He's been threatening to go mad for years but now he's actually done it. He can't even blame me for it this time."
"You're not then—I wouldn't mind if you were—that would be wonderful, only—"Dalton's voice faltered and he decided that George had been right—he really was an abysmal liar.
"It wouldn't, and I'm definitely not," Penelope assured him fervently, as she knocked on the door. "And I certainly won't ever have anything to do with twins if I can help it."
"I'm afraid you might be mistaken there," Dom murmured as he opened the door for them.
They just had time to shoot one another alarmed glances before Kel called for them to join her at her small—and rather crowded—breakfast table. She did not launch into her speech right away but waited for them to serve themselves porridge and bread and jam while she listened to Tobe describe his Rider group's unpleasant encounter with a herd of centaurs.
Finally, just as Dalton was reaching for another slice of bread, Kel cleared her throat and fixed her gaze upon her two assistants. She stared at them just long enough—and with eyes just moist enough—to make Penelope twitch uncomfortably.
"I'm afraid you're going to have to take the twins," Kel told them. Dom—gathering his things on the other side of the room—twisted his face into something halfway between a flinch and a smile.
Dalton swallowed. "Twins?" he repeated, glancing anxiously at his wife.
"Twins," Kel said matter-of-factly, laying a hand on her abdomen.
"And when you say twins—"
"I mean Levina and Larissa. There aren't any other twins in training?"
"Oh, you want us to take the twins as squires," Penelope gushed in a relieved sort of way.
Kel nodded slowly, as though concerned that they were having a particularly dimwitted morning, and served herself yet another bowl of porridge before explaining. "Actually their parents want you to take them and they're willing to pay you a generous stipend."
"Maybe you should try starting from the beginning," Tobe muttered. "I think they're rather confused by the prospects of wealth and responsibility."
"Very well. Lord and Lady Lanton wish to see their daughters kept together and placed in a "respectable situation". By respectable, I believe they meant "not with unmarried knights, unhappily married knights, or young knights who live far from their wives" and I assumed "together" meant—well—anyway, after I informed them that their criteria eliminated virtually every knight in the king's service, they were so delighted with the possibility of two married knights taking both their daughters that I had no trouble convincing them they should pay for equipment for all four of you for the next four years. " Kel shrugged and took a large spoonful of porridge.
"How?" Dalton asked.
Kel swallowed. "Old people and pregnant women are traditionally allowed to say whatever they please." She sprinkled a bit more cinnamon into her bowl. "Lord and Lady Lanton want to meet you this spring, but I'm sure they'll be favorably impressed. They live near Gregory and Marcel—they don't want that sort of knight escorting their daughters and they're willing to pay handsomely to keep it from happening."
"But you wouldn't—not after Marcel attacked me." Penelope nearly slammed her knife down on the plate as she spoke.
"Of course I wouldn't," Kel muttered between bites. "But you can't afford to take squires without some sort of income."
Dalton opened his mouth to make what Kel suspected would be some sort of noble protest, but Penelope shoved the last of her bread and jam into it and said, "we do need new saddles."
"Good," said Kel, before Dalton could swallow, "I think the twins are going to do well with you." She ladled another helping of porridge into her bowl. "Any questions?"
"Is that your fifth bowl of porridge?" Dalton asked with an awestruck expression, while Penelope muttered, "How do you tell them apart?"
Kel shook her head and glared benevolently back at them. "Fourth. Larissa has a scar over her left eyebrow—or was it Levina?"
Penelope nodded rather dazedly and then stared down at her own bowl for a few moments as though lost in thought. "Did Neal now anything about this plan?" she asked, finally.
Kel blinked. "I might have mentioned it to him last night. Why?"
Penelope glanced at Dalton and muttered something about teaching grown men to find better things to do with their time. As one, they rose from the table and made their way to the door without answering Kel's inquiries about their plans.
"I imagine they're headed for a long and possibly violent discussion with Queenscove," Tobe informed her as he lifted Kefira onto his back and they left to find Daine and Sarra.
Dom set down the papers he was sorting. "I'm going to watch."
"Wait," Kel called. "I have to tell you—"
Dom shook his head and crossed the room quickly, stilling her lips gently with his fingers. "I already know." He kissed the top of her head. "We're having twins." He pulled her out of her chair and into his arms.
"I told Neal not to tell you," Kel muttered.
"He didn't." Dom grinned. "Well, he did say something along the line of "what-comes-around-goes-around" when you mentioned assigning Larissa and Levina to Penelope and Dalton last night.."
"That it does," Kel muttered.
"Mostly, I guessed because you seemed so desperate to prove that Penelope and Dalton—who are excellent assistant trainers, but spectacularly inept with children under twelve—"
"They've just had bad luck," Kel protested, though Dom ignored her.
"—could manage twin squires and you were so determined to help them along with a little money." Dom pulled her closer and continued in a whisper. "And then, there was that exceptionally thick letter you wrote to Lady Alanna last week. And the fact that you appear to be eating for three."
Kel cast the breakfast remains a morose glance. "I wasn't sure how to tell you."
"Sometimes subtle is best," Dom muttered, brushing a bit of hair from her face.
"Neal says he thinks they're fraternal—a boy and a girl."
Dom gave such a deep chuckle that Kel pulled her head away from his chest. "What?"
"Our children are already wreaking havoc on George's betting pool."
Oops! I seem to have set things up for another sequel of sorts—Penelope and Dalton lured me in with the promise of a quick comedy—so hopefully, I'll be able to continue this plotline later in the summer. Anyway, thanks for reading and reviewing!