Chapter 1: The Party
Twenty-six year old Keladry of Mindelan smiled happily. The day could not be any more perfect. She was at home in Mindelan, at a party her mother has organised. Kel rubbed her swollen belly contentedly. What more could she want? She had been for two and a half years now, and this party was a sort of baby shower in honour of her first child. She looked around at the people who were attending. Neal, the Lioness, Baron George Cooper and Duke Baird were having a slightly heated discussion in the corner of the courtyard with Lord Wyldon, her old training master. King Jonathan, Sir Myles and Lord Raoul were talking by the pond. Ever since her father had become the official ambassador for Tortall in the Yamani Islands, Mindelan had been placed in the Book of Silver, and the King and Queen had been especially sure to keep the fief of Mindelan happy. Kel had recently returned from New Hope, where she had been commanding since she was eighteen. She was now almost nine months pregnant, and had left new Hope in capable hands. Many people had objected to her staying there as long as she had, with stress and combat practice both being high on Neal's list of what could cause a miscarriage. Only close friends and those who really needed to know had known about Kel's pregnancy. Kel had faced enough taunts about her love life when she was a page, and later, a squire. She had no desire what-so-ever to give gossips anything else to talk about.
Kel was beginning to feel slightly sick. The baby kicked out at her. Although Neal and Alanna had often offered to work the spell that would tell her the baby's gender, Kel had declined. She wanted a surprise. She was happy to just sit here, listening to the happy chatter of many people around her. Her mother had invited not only most of the court, but many people Kel knew and loved from her many years. There were some of the ex-convicts that had defended Haven so faithfully. As a result, they had been pardoned of their crimes.
"…she should be told! Not only does she not know, there's the matter of--" Neal's voice carried across the courtyard. No doubt he was talking about some poor maiden suffering in some distant country. Kel dimly wondered where Yuki was. Yuki and Neal had been married almost eight years, and Yuki had three beautiful children, Gregory, who was seven, Elena, aged six, who was named after Sir Myles's wife Eleni, and, she had confided in Kel, "I want to be just like you, Aun'y Kel! I'm gonna be a knight too!" Yuki now had a bubbly two year old, Alyss.
"—four years and seven months since it happened. Surely she's not still feeling guilty? There—" This snatch of Lord Wyldon's conversation grabbed her attention. They could still be talking about the maiden. But something more significant had happened four and a half years ago. It suddenly seemed very likely to Kel that they were talking about her. Why would they—
Suddenly a massive spasm wracked Kel's body. She gasped involuntarily. "Neal! Hel—"
Neal was by her side in an instant. "Kel, what is it?"
Kel didn't answer. A soft, fuzzy blackness was enveloping her, comforting her. The last thing she heard was Neal's voice. "Alanna! Get here quick!" he roared.
And then, Kel knew no more.