Disclaimer: I don't own anything… sometimes I wonder if I own my own head…
Summery: Something horrible has happened…
Lady Knight Keladry of Mindelan sat at her desk at New Hope waiting for the report on the condition of the camp healer, Nealan of Queenscove. He had been attacked on the way back from Fort Mastiff and of course with Neal being the camp's healer they hadn't been sure they would be able to find someone to heal him. Thankfully a new group of refugees had come in and with them an experienced healer, Ferrell.
Kel paced back and fourth, she was having difficulty thinking straight. It had been hours since Ferrell had started to treat her friend and she was very worried. Taking a deep breath she looked toward Jump who watched her with sad eyes. "I can't take it anymore Jump," she told her dog before walking out of her office.
Once outside she hardly recognized it as her camp. Usually the people of New Hope were happy with bright faces, but now they looked sad and unsure. Spotting Merric sitting on the top step of the wall she walked briskly toward him, risking a glance at the healer's wing as she went, mercifully finding nothing to cause her more worry.
Arriving next to Merric they both sat in silence for a few moments before jumping up as a woman came rushing out of the healer's wing covered in blood. Instead of coming over to them however she ran to the well to get a bucket of water before disappearing back inside where the fate of Kel's best friend was even now being decided.
"We should send a report to Sir Wyldon," Merric said softly, sitting back down. "He'll want to know what's happened."
"Kel sighed, "I already have," she told him quietly. "About an hour ago." For a while after that they didn't say anything, neither quite knowing what they could say.
"Yuki had just written to Neal telling him she was six months pregnant two weeks ago… she didn't want him to worry," Kel told a shocked looking Merric after a bit. "He was so happy. He…" Kel stopped, struggling for control of herself. She felt like crying. Forcing herself to say the next part she said, "He wanted to go to her but I told him no… I couldn't spare him… not just then… he was upset but he said he understood. When he got back from Fort Mastiff I was going to let him go but then he was… attacked… and I didn't get the chance to tell him…" Kel trailed off and Merric put his hand over hers.
"Kel don't," Merric said, "You were right… we couldn't have spared him two weeks ago and he knew it… and I know he knew you would let him go when you could," he murmured. He had never seen his friend this close to tears before and it worried him.
Taking a deep breath Kel looked inwardly placed her Yamani mask back over her face, effectively concealing her emotions before looking back at Merric and saying, "You're right. I just wish this was over." Glancing back toward the healer's wing again she said, "Let's walk."
"Good idea," Merric answered, standing and helping her up. As they walked along the top of the wall the soldiers standing guard kept giving them sympathetic looks which they returned with faint smiles.
"Third Company is due to come tomorrow," Merric said after a few moments of quiet between them. "Maybe things will be better when Neal sees his cousin," Merric said, looking at Kel. "It might do you some good as well," he added with a small smile.
Kel stopped and looked at Merric, "What's that supposed to mean?" she asked him.
"Just that it would be good for you to see old friends," Merric said, to which Kel nodded reluctantly. "I think Cleon is supposed to come with them too," Merric added after a bit.
They made their way back to the healer's wing right as Ferrell walked out, looking toward them. Kel heard Merric gasp when he saw the blood that covered the healer. The man didn't say anything and after a moment he looked down, his gaze unsure of what to say.
"Report," Kel said in a commanding voice, knowing that everyone was now looking toward them, waiting to find out what had become of one of their leaders. When the man looked up at Kel and still didn't say anything Kel could feel the tears threatening to fall but she pushed them back. "Report," she barely whispered, already knowing what the answer must be by the way he acted but still needing to hear it. She walked closer to him, ignoring her friend's blood that was all over the man. "Just tell me," she whispered, only loud enough for him to hear.
"I'm sorry," the man murmured sadly before looking away.
Lord Wyldon sat in his office when he received the report from New Hope. He had to reread the letter before looking up at the messenger whom he recognized as Kel's boy, Tobe.
"He was just here," Wyldon said in disbelief. "Is he badly injured… the note only said that he was wounded and he lost a lot of blood."
"Lady Kel thought it was bad but we were lucky in that one of the new refugees happens to be a good healer, Sir," Tobe replied, hoping Neal would be okay.
"The road was clear… my best squad made sure," Wyldon said, standing up, still in shock. "Owen," he called and Tobe saw his friend run into the room. "Gather Squad Two and Duke Baird… tell him his son has been hurt… we're going to New Hope."
"Yes Sir," Owen said, running from the room without bowing.
The Third Company of the Kings Own rode into New Hope and almost immediately knew something wasn't right. Looking around at all the people who normally greeted them with such happy, friendly faces they were disconcerted to find some were actually crying now. Seeing Dom and Cleon walking toward them Lord Raoul gave the signal to dismount, suddenly not sure he wanted to know what had caused this sudden change to New Hope's inhabitants.
"My Lord," he heard and he turned to see Yukimi of Queenscove standing behind him. Third Company had agreed to bring her for Neal's birthday next week. They had all agreed it was a good surprise. "What's going on?" she asked, looking around at the camp in confusion.
"I don't know," Raoul admitted, turning back around and seeing someone he didn't expect to see walking with his former Squire. "Kel… Lord Wyldon," Raoul called in surprise and when they looked toward him he knew something was wrong, very, very wrong. Kel's eyes were filled with unshed tears and even Wyldon looked shaken.
"Raoul," Wyldon started walking over to him, but Kel stayed where she was, frozen with whatever grief was making her so miserable. "You couldn't have come at a worse time," the man said, looking over the commander's shoulder to the very pregnant Yuki.
Raoul looked at him before looking back toward Kel, noticing Owen and Merric had now joined her and the three of them were whispering among themselves, stopping only when they saw Duke Baird walk by. After a moment Raoul looked back at Wyldon, "What's going on?" he asked.
Wyldon took a deep breath and looked back toward Kel, who was now walking slowly toward them, Owen and Merric trailing behind. Stopping in front of her former Knight Master she nodded before slowly turning her head toward Dom. "I…" she started, stopping when Wyldon put a hand on her shoulder and whispered in her ear.
Kel's head shot up, looking behind Raoul and spotting Yuki she started whispering furiously in Yamani; Raoul didn't understand her but knew enough to realize she wasn't speaking very nicely. "Kel," Yuki said, slowly coming over to her friend. "I know we didn't tell you I was coming but I didn't think you would mind… I'm here for Neal's birthday next week," Yuki said.
Kel looked at her… her mask completely gone before turning away and looking at Owen and Merric. "I can't," she whispered faintly and Merric came closer, putting a hand on her shoulder and whispering something in her ear. After a moment Kel nodded and started to turn, slowly facing Yuki again. A sick feeling was rising in her gut but she forced it back down, "There is something I have to tell you," she said gently. "Yesterday… on his way back here, Neal was attacked…" Kel stopped haltingly and her emotions getting the better of her she looked over to Wyldon beseechingly.
Understanding she needed him to take over for her Wyldon said, "When he was brought here he had already lost a lot of blood… there was nothing the healer could do. We had checked the roads an hour before… they were clear… I'm so sorry." Silence met the end of this little speech and for a moment no one said anything. What was there to say?
"Yuki," Baird called brokenly, walking over to the small group, they could see tears running down his face. Yuki ran the rest of the way to her father-in-law, enclosing him in a hug and burying her head in his chest.
Kel looked toward Dom who stood with tears in his eyes, "I'm sorry," she whispered before turning and walking away.
"She blames herself, doesn't she?" Raoul asked, watching her leave.
"She's the one who found him… when he was late she just thought he had gotten held up at Fort Mastiff… but she had a bad feeling so she went to look for him… when she got back she had him and he looked horrible. Kel was covered in his blood by the time we got him to the healer… it took her nearly twenty minutes to scrub it all off," Merric told him. "She told me that if she had went for him sooner she could have saved him… I tried to tell her it wasn't her fault… but you know her."
Raoul nodded and started walking in the direction she had gone but was stopped by a hand on his arm, "I'll go Sir," Dom said quietly. After a moment Raoul nodded again and watched as Dom walked away.
Kel was sitting next to a tree that faced a small stream when she heard someone come up next to her. She looked up as Dom sat down next to her. Turning away from him, unable to look at him she very softly said, "You have Neal's eyes… has anyone ever told you that?"
"All the time," Dom admitted, smiling faintly. "Merric said you thought it was your fault," he said after a moment. "Kel it wasn't. What happened was horrible but it could have happened to any Commander… Neal would be the first one to tell you that… Yuki will be fine… she has my uncle, you, me, and all of our friends."
"That doesn't help her or her child… no one will ever be able to replace Neal… she'll hate me," Kel said miserably.
"No, she won't," Dom said softly but fiercely, giving her a tight hug. "No one blames you, you understand?" Kel didn't respond and the two of them sat there for hours, just keeping each other company.
Kel sat in her office with Yuki and Neal's father, not wanting to look at either one of them. "Thank you Kel," Baird said to her and Kel looked up at him, unsure of what to say, "For being a good friend to my son." Kel forced down the lump in her throat, unable to say anything.
"Kel," Yuki said after a slight pause. "Merric told me you blamed yourself for Neal's death…" Yuki trailed off, trying to get her emotions under control and Kel looked away. "Dom told me how you felt…" Yuki said after a moment, going to sit next to Kel. "He loved you," she said, looking Kel in the eyes.
Kel looked up at her, confusing written across her features, "What?"
"As a sister. He told me. I could never blame you… he told me if anything ever happened to him that I couldn't let you blame yourself. When he wrote me back after I told him about the baby he said he wanted you to be the godmother," Yuki said. "And so do I." Kel couldn't say anything and so she just hugged her friend, smiling for the first time since Neal had died at the thought that he had wanted her to be the godmother of his first and only child.