"We come to love not by
finding a perfect person, but
by learning to see an
imperfect person perfectly"
Disclaimer: I own none of the original characters in this story. They all belong to Tamora Pierce.
Joren was racing for his life. He and his patrol were trying to fight their way to the safety of a refugee camp that Joren knew was located just west of their line of patrol. The Scanrans had ambushed them. Pouring out of the nearby trees and surrounding woods, Joren's mounted patrol had been surprised in what they had thought was a safe area. He was angry with himself. Even though the war was over there were still pockets of enemy raiders. He knew you always had to stay alert, never let your guard down and keep in mind the danger that may be lurking, but somehow he had let himself get distracted. Guilt, an unfamiliar and new emotion, engulfed him as he thought about the eleven men he had already lost in their desperate attempt to escape the raiding Scanrans. Joren knew their only hope was safety behind the walls of a fort, but the closest thing was a refugee camp. He hoped it could defend itself against these merciless Scanrans because if not, all he was doing was bringing death and imminent destruction to a helpless group of untrained farmers. He knew this was possible, but he and his patrol's only chance lay in the nearby camp.
The bloodcurdling cries of the raiders followed Joren and his remaining men as they finally broke through the trees and into a large cleared area. At its center stood the refugee camp, only it didn't look like a refugee camp. It was large and fortified with thick walls and boulders pushed against the base of each wall face. Nets, reinforced with metal wire, were draped across the top, ready to be dropped on an unsuspecting enemy at a moment's notice. A large number of battered, Scanran shields covered the walls, giving it a fiercer look. A Tortallan flag was raised along with another unfamiliar flag, which represented the commander of the camp.
Just then a horn call trumpeted from the opposite side of the clearing and a Tortallan patrol of what Joren estimated to be about fifteen men charged toward the Scanrans that had broken through edge of the forest. With this addition to Joren's four men, the Tortallan force was just barely outnumbered by the enemy. Turning his powerful mount, Joren joined the fray, determined to wipe out the murdering Scanrans with the help of their new allies. The remainder of the 29th patrol loyally followed his example and they too turned and charged. With a clash of steel the two sides merged.
Joren was bent on revenge. The 29th patrol had been his responsibility. He was their leader and he had failed them. Regret and guilt warred inside him. A year ago, guilt had not existed for him. He had been a cruel, cold man who hadn't cared about who lived or died. His motivation had been to be the best, no matter what the cost. It hadn't mattered who he'd stepped on to get there just as long as his goal had been reached. A year ago, he had been a different man. That man had been an empty shell, meaningless and worthless. The thought of what he had been disgusted Joren. He knew he'd done things that were unforgivable and he knew he could never go back. He couldn't dwell on the past anymore, but he could control the future. His thoughts returned to the present. Instead of making up for past transgressions, he had now added to them. His dead comrades became another sin in his long list of faults. Joren blocked the guilt. He couldn't let it distract him from retribution. For now, all that mattered was justice.
Soon the tide of battle began to turn. The Scanrans were falling back. They were still fighting, but beginning to lose heart. At the sound of another horn call the gates of the refugee camp opened and another group of warriors raced toward the battle. At the sight of these new, fresh allies, the raiders retreated. They knew the fight was lost. Joren couldn't let them go. They had killed his men and it fell to him to honor the lives he had carelessly lost. The murderers couldn't go unpunished. With a cry of rage, Joren directed his steed toward the closest Scanran. Sometime during the battle the man's horse had been shot from underneath him. He was on foot and far behind his retreating friends. He was dressed in rags and furs and his disheveled appearance added to the desperate fear on his face. As he glanced behind him, he saw Joren closing on him and a cry of panic escaped the filthy raider. With cold accuracy Joren ran him through, cutting off the man's terrorized cry. Spurring his mount on he began to follow the retreating figures. Before he could intercept one, a mounted knight in full armor blocked him. The sudden obstacle forced him to pull the reins back hard to keep from running in to the other warrior's horse. Snarling with fury, Joren growled at the knight.
"What do think you're doing? You're letting those murdering Scanrans escape! Are you mad?"
The knight didn't move, but calmly replied. "Let them go. We've won the battle. Nothing can be gained—"
Joren was furious. Who did this knight think he was to order him about? Let them go? They were the enemy! He interrupted the knight's unhurried reply, "If you let them go, you're letting their savage ways go unpunished. They ambushed my patrol and slaughtered half of us before we had a chance to fight."
The knight seemed unruffled, his voiced stayed neutral and emotionless, "There's a difference between justice and revenge. They're retreating. We don't need to add to the bloodshed."
Incredulous, Joren stared at the knight. He couldn't believe the man was letting the remaining Scanrans to leave unimpeded. Realizing it was futile to argue with the unmovable knight, Joren shifted his mount around him. Before he could move forward, the knight blocked him again, forcing him to turn his mount aside.
Angrily, Joren confronted the knight again. "What's wrong with you? If you let them go, they'll just return later with reinforcements. Do you know nothing about the rules war? Mercy doesn't work with them, they just keep —"
The knight had removed his helmet. Only the 'he' was a 'she'. Calm hazel eyes studied him behind thick lashes. A light smattering of freckles were sprinkled on the small nose and her mouth was pressed in a determined line. Joren stared in horror as memories assailed him…
Taunting a first year in the library, making him clean up an imaginary inkspill. The doors of the room opening to reveal a stubborn female page, ready to defend the hapless boy.
Making a page retrieve a book from the library repeatedly, telling him he had grabbed the wrong one and each time telling him a different title. A determined girl following the page and confronting Joren on his dishonorable games.
Pushing an unfortunate page around between himself and his two friends, never letting him leave. A solemn girl intruding, protecting the boy and getting bruises in return.
Coming back to himself, Joren realized he had finally come face to face with his nemesis. Something had changed though; Joren no longer felt disgust and anger towards the knight. Instead the disgust was turned inward. Remembering what he done and how he had treated her throughout their page years made him feel sick. He knew he had made her life miserable back then, tormenting her and her friends, always thinking he had the right, only all along it had been just the opposite. That girl was now a knight, the same as before, only more defined in strength and honor.
Before Joren could say something…anything to express regret for his unforgivable actions of the past, he was rudely pushed aside by a score of warriors, ready to defend her…Keladry of Mindelan.