Since the creation of the realm of Tortall, the Queenscove family has always provided a knight to the crown, regardless of the circumstances. Inara of Queenscove plans to continue this tradition. However, she is no ordinary Queenscove knight candidate. First of all, she is a girl. Secondly, she represents a new generation of Tortallans, one that accepts the idea of foreign marriages, as she is half-yamani. Thirdly, she is the only individual born to her family that does not possess even an ounce of the Gift. As Inara progresses through her first few years as a page, she learns that not everyone is accepting of her as she hoped they would be, and that most of all, she's more unique than she ever could have known. With her family's support and the love of her new friends, Inara struggles to find a balance between everything in her life even when one part of her threatens to destroy everything she works so hard to achieve.
Anything names or places, or anything else for that matter, that you may recognize, is property of Tamora Pierce. Anything you don't, is mine.
Gift is book 1 of 4 in The Healer's Daughter series I've been writing. It is still a work in progress, but I hope to be able to update regularly throughout the first story. As such, look for an update every Monday at some time during the day. I will also be posting an index at the end of each book.
I hope you enjoy.
The Healer's Daughter
A Queenscove Knight
A tall, brown haired man paced back and fourth in a small sitting room, much as he had done ten years earlier. The main difference, he thought as he swept a hand through his hair making his prominent widow's peak stand out even more, was that this time he didn't hear his wife screaming in pain behind closed doors.
"You're making us dizzy," a woman told him calmly from her seat on a sofa beside a small girl. The woman's hair was jet black and pinned up on her head in a series of tight curls. Her pale skin was accented by her deep brown almond shaped eyes. Despite the Tortallan style dress she wore, it was evident that she was a foreign Yamani.
Her husband stopped pacing to look at her for a moment through calculating bright green eyes. "I'm making you dizzy?"
That set him back off pacing again, this time with a series of unintelligible squawks escaping his lips every so often. His wife just raised an eyebrow at his over dramatics, waiting patiently for him to calm down. Beside her, the ten year old girl fiddled with the hem of her cotton gown. She was an almost perfect balance between her parents. She had her mother's dark hair with a slight widow's peak tied simply back into a horse tail. Her eyes which were a bit darker green than her father's were set into a slightly narrow shape framed by long, full lashes. Her skin was lighter than a Tortallan southerner's should have been, but darker than her mother's.
The man finally stopped in front of the girl, instead of his wife. Realizing he was looking at her, the child raised her chin until she met his gaze evenly, and resisted the urge to turn away.
"Please tell me why you feel this is necessary?" he told her. The little girl stood up and bowed slightly, Yamani style, to her father.
"The Queenscove family has always provided a knight to the crown. It is one of the four…"
"Stop," the man cut her off. He ran a hand over his face as he sighed and shook his head, wondering when the girl had become so much like him. "If this is not truly what you want," he began to tell the child who was shaking her head violently. He paused and studied her for a moment before continuing. "Your brothers could still…"
"Papa, you know as well as I that they won't change their minds," the girl spoke boldly. Her four older brothers had never been suited for knighthood, and her father knew that. Baird, the oldest, had managed to acquire a Gift more powerful than the typical healing that was part of the Queenscove line. At sixteen, he was working hard at the City of the Gods to obtain his mastery. Her next brother was Donalin; a boy who wouldn't have gone near the Chamber of the Ordeal for all the money in the world. He was much better in a verbal argument than a physical one. Thus, the fourteen year old wished to study law at The Royal University, and his father hadn't had the heart to stop him. The twins, who were twelve, had stated their wish when they were only six, determination written all over their small faces. At ten, their father had sent Emry and Kennith to the City of the Gods as well, to train as healers.
"Inara," the man started, somewhat reluctantly. Up until two years before, his only daughter would have happily gone to the convent to be a young lady. After Emry and Kennith had decided against knighthood, Inara had seemingly changed her mind. She had always been interested in the Yamani fighting arts, but now her eyes seemed to gleam with love of the feel of her father's sword in her hand. But still, Nealan of Queenscove wasn't sure. He knew his daughter was one to want to please everyone before herself. She would want to carry on the tradition of having a Queenscove knight just as her father had done, rather than go to the Convent only because of tradition, not because she wanted to. "You're sure about this? Its eight years of hard work. Eight years that you won't get back if knighthood isn't what you expected."
"I know, Papa. I'm not afraid of hard work. I know this is what I want to do." Inara of Queenscove spoke with more conviction in her voice than she ever had before. Her demeanor told her father that she was going to become a page with or without his blessing. "I'm not a little girl anymore."
"Your father never said you were," Yukimi told her daughter, cutting off the almost inevitable burst of sarcasm that would have been Neal's retort. She smiled slightly down at her child, pride in her eyes, although she would never admit it. "He just wants to make sure you're doing what your heart wants."
"I want this Mama."
Neal sighed. It wasn't as if female knights were banned anymore. However, despite the general acceptance, they still weren't common, or greatly respected. Only two more young girls had started page training since Keladry of Masbolle, formerly Mindelan, had won her shield. And of those two, only one had made it all the way. He wanted to protect Inara from the insults she would undoubtedly encounter. He wanted to protect her from the physical pounding her body would receive day after day. Only he could know what was in store for her.
"There are always the Riders? Or the Queen's Ladies?" he asked the child hopefully, running his hand through his hair once again. Kel would kill him if she found out he was really trying to talk Inara out of something she wanted. "If you want to fight, there are other options."
"I want to be a Queenscove knight, Papa," Inara replied stubbornly. Neal sighed once again, looking at Yuki for support. He wasn't surprised that she didn't have any for him. He knew that Yuki was fearful of what might happen to the child, but he also knew that she, just as he, would always support their children, no matter what they wished to do. Defeated, Neal tried to give his daughter the best smile he could.
"Well, I suppose we'd best write your Aunt Kel. She'll want to hear the good news," Neal told the girl who thrust herself at his waist, wrapping her arms around him, and burying her face in his tunic. Yuki gave him a small nod of approval before turning to leave father and daughter alone in the sitting room. As soon as they were alone, he pried her arms off him and knelt so they were able to look one another squarely in the eye. "Listen to me, Narie," he began, using her childish nickname. Inara wrinkled her nose at it in distaste, but put on her listening face all the same. "This is going to be hard. You're going to have to work harder than all the boys. You won't be well liked; you may even be hated. You'll be called many ugly things, you will probably be beaten so much you'll want to cry. If you succeed to become a squire, things will only get harder. And if you make it all the way to your shield, not everyone will accept you. There will still be people to say that you cheated. They will say you did things, or that you used magic somehow to succeed." He took a deep breath, searching his child's eyes for understanding. "But no matter what, if you hold your head high, I will support you through everything, even if you quit."
"I won't quit, Papa," Inara whispered. She'd known everything her father had just told her, but knowing it and hearing it from her own father's mouth were two different things. Still, she was determined to see this through.
"I have no doubt about that," he laughed. "I only wish you to know that I believe in you, just as I do your brothers."
"Even Donalin?" Inara asked.
Neal grinned slightly at the mention of his second son. "Well, Donalin may be the exception, but we won't tell him that," he said, winking at her. "Come. I'm sure dinner's just about ready, and your mother's probably already sent a messenger to your Aunt Kel. Besides, you'll need to pack, if we're to leave the day after tomorrow. We'll need to in order to make it Corus on time."
Inara smiled at him, and rested her arm on his outstretched one, letting him lead her down the hall to the family's dinning room.
Two days later, Yuki stood with her daughter in the courtyard while her husband placed several saddle bags onto a pack horse and double checked that the two other mounts had been saddled properly by the stable hands.
"You'll write?" the woman asked her daughter, as she adjusted Inara's hair.
"Everyday," Inara replied, despite the snort of disbelief that came from Neal. Inara ignored him.
"And you have your kimonos?"
"Three of them, Mama," Inara assured her. "As well as some of my dresses. Aunt Kel says it's important not to let them forget I'm a lady."
"Now that you mention it, she never once wore breeches to dinner," Neal remarked from beside the horses.
"You're right, I didn't," came a new voice from the entrance to the court yard. Inara and Yuki turned to greet the first known lady knight in over a century, and her middle son, a tall boy of eleven as they dismounted from their horses. The boy, Corin of Masbolle, gave a nod of greeting to his aunt and cousin, but otherwise didn't make a sound. "You aren't ready to go yet, Queenscove?" Keladry asked the knight who was whipping his hands off on his breeches.
"And miss the joy of you complaining? How could you even suggest such a thing," Neal joked as he and Kel hugged one another. He turned to his daughter, and grinned. "Mount up, Queenscove," he stated with a wink. Inara laughed and shook her head before she went over to the dune colored mare she'd named Hikari, and pulled herself into the saddle. Corin smirked slightly at his cousin, and followed suit onto his own gelding, a large black horse named Titan.
"Uncle Meathead just wishes he could be as prepared as you, Ma," the boy told his mother, bowing mockingly in the saddle towards his uncle. Neal, who was only a half arm's distance away from the boy, cuffed him lightly.
"Your father has been polluting your mind, boy," he stated, while Kel and Yuki laughed. "I'll be home in a week, Yuki," he told his wife, pulling her into a hug and kissing her. Corin made gagging noises behind them, making Inara giggle, until Kel shot the two of them a look which said as amused as she was, they were being rude, as she climbed into her own saddle.
"Sir Meathead, we're going to be late," she sighed, "And you're setting a bad example for the children."
"But I'm learning, Ma," Corin remarked, making Kel want to cuff him. He was too far away.
"Coming, Mother," Neal laughed, and easily climbed onto his own mount.
"Ride safely," Yuki told the four of them. Kel and Neal nodded. Corin just smiled, and Inara blew her mother a final kiss farewell, as their small group rode out of the courtyard.
The four rode in silence for a while before Kel and Neal started talking. It was adult stuff that Inara wasn't all that interested in; something about Prince Roald taking the throne in a few years instead of waiting for the passing of King Jonathan. Although it concerned her slightly, Inara was much too busy going over what she knew of page training to be too worried about which monarch she would be pledging her service to.
"Queenscove? You're awfully quiet," Corin told her, after they'd been riding for a few hours. He'd slowed Titan until they rode beside one another. "Copper for your thoughts?" he asked. Inara smiled up at her older cousin. Corin would be returning to the palace for his second year. His older brother Tobeis was already a third year squire to Sir Owen of Jesslaw, and his younger brother Dominic was only seven, but already planning on entering the palace as a page behind the older boys. She sometimes wondered if she didn't fit into her cousin's family more than her own. All three boys were like brothers to her anyway.
"Just thinking about the palace," Inara told him respectfully. "Wondering what it will be like."
"It won't be easy," Corin told her smugly. Inara glared at him. She knew that. "But it'll be even harder because you're a girl. They know you're coming, and there are a few there who are going to make you miserable; most of them will probably ignore you though," her added, seeing her glare.
"I know that. Papa warned me," she cast a look at her father. "Aunt Kel did too," she added as an afterthought.
"Outside of that, just remember the rules. Take your work without questioning; do what you can, and accept your punishment for not being able to complete it all when it comes. And if you get into a fight, don't tattle," Corin advised.
"Just say I fell down," Inara replied simply. Her cousin nodded.
"Beside that, just work as hard as you can, and ignore the jerks or make sure to knock heads with them. They don't know you like I do," Corin told her, grinning, his bright blue eyes dancing under his mouse brown brows.
"And just what is that supposed to mean, Masbolle?"
"It means you've got a hard head," Corin laughed. "Oh, look, we're stopping for lunch," he added quickly and urged Titan into a trot so he could catch up with his mother, leaving Inara behind to think about everything he'd told her and wonder why did the boys in her life always leave her with something to think about.
Inara ate her lunch in her saddle, every once and a while leaning forward and whispering something to Hikari. The mare would flick her ears back as if listening and then put them forward again as her mistress finished whatever it was she said. Inara wasn't sure how much Hikari understood, but her father and aunt had always taught her not to doubt the animals, especially if they were to be her companions. Inara was sure that went double for a knight's mount. The girl stroked the mare's mane as she finished off the last bit of her cheese, and sat up to see where her three riding companions were. Neal was eyeing her strangely.
"Did Hikari have anything interesting to say?" he asked her daughter. Inara just laughed, as she urged her mount up near his. They were off again, Kel quizzing Corin about everything he'd packed. Apparently, she and Inara's uncle Domitan of Masbolle had allowed the eleven year old to pack for himself this year, but that didn't mean he hadn't forgotten something. Every once and a while his face would glow bright red, meaning Kel had asked about something that was back at their fief. Once Inara heard the lady knight exclaim that Corin had the worst memory of anyone she had every met. Neal and Inara laughed in amusement.
The rest of the ride that day was uneventful, and together, the four stopped at a way house as the last rays of sun drifted out of the sky.
"Stable the horses," Neal instructed the two children. "We'll get rooms," he added, following Kel inside the way house. Inara and Corin did as they were instructed, grooming both their own mounts, those of their parents and the two pack horses, Inara whispering compliments to all three of her charges as she went about it. Corin just watched her silently, not for the first time thinking his cousin was odd.
"Can you understand them?" he asked her as the two left the stable to find their knight parents. Inara shook her head. "Then why bother?"
"I want Hikari to know I trust her, that way she'll want to help me in battle."
"You expecting to battle as a page?"
"Hopefully not, but it's probably better to expect the unexpected, don't you think?"
"I suppose so. I still don't see how Hikari could possibly understand you though. She's never met Daine right?" Corin meant Veralidaine Sarrasri, also known as the Wildmage. She could speak to animals with her mind, and usually left those she had contact with a bit smarter than those she didn't.
"Not that I know of," Inara answered, as they located their parents seated at a table with one other adult. Neal locked eyes with Inara and waved both of the children over.
"Narie, you remember Lord Raoul, right?"
"Of course; how are you, my lord?" Inara asked, bowing Tortallan style, just low enough. She wobbled a bit, but managed to steady herself.
"I'm well. And yourself? Are you ready to start your training?" The large knight asked as she stood back up.
"Yes, my lord," she replied, meeting his eyes. She was not afraid.
"Very good," he laughed, before turning and nodding toward Corin. "Masbolle. You survived your first year?"
"Unfortunately," Corin replied with a grin as he bowed in respect. "Although if I hadn't, Mother would have found a fate far worse for me," he added, eyeing his mother and keeping a safe distance between his head and her hand. Kel just shook her head at her son's comment.
"Children. They have no respect for their parents."
"If we did life would be boring," Corin told her, as one of the maids set plates of food down in front of the adults and added two more chairs to the table for Inara and Corin.
"What brings you to the area, sir?" Kel asked her former knight master as the children ordered their own dinner.
"I just left Seth at the palace. I'm on my way back to Port Legann, just have one stop before hand," the knight commander remarked. Seth was his thirteen year old son. Inara had met the older page only one other time, but she'd only been about three or four then, and Seth had seemed like a giant compared to her. Of course, her cousins did as well, but they were family. "Third Company is stationed there."
"More of them?" Kel asked, not stating what "them" was. Corin and Neal were paying close attention, but Inara didn't understand why, even as Raoul of Goldenlake and Malories Peak nodded.
"We're bringing Daine in to see if she can talk to them. Their only resemblance to humans is that they walk on two legs. Hopefully they're still animal enough for Daine to maybe speak to them," he told the table. Now Inara knew what they were talking about. A new breed of immortal had begun to appear in Tortall. They were flesh eating creatures who resembled deer walking on their hind legs. Each of their forelimbs was capped with three silver claws, marking them as immortal. Although they could live off game, they seemed to prefer human meat when they could get it. Inara knew of two families in Queenscove who had lost someone to the immortals before her father had led the men at arms to drive them away. Unfortunately, Sir Nealan had returned without even finding them. The immortals seemed to have disappeared. The same story was repeated in nearly every corner of the realm, especially along the coast.
"I'm sure you'll be able to handle them," Neal told him. Raoul nodded.
"Kel, would you mind divorcing Dom so I can get my Sergeant back?" he asked. They knew he was joking, mostly. Everyone knew if Domitan of Masbolle had resigned from the Own to marry anyone but the Kings Own Squire, Lord Raoul would have clubbed him and tied him to a horse until he came to his senses.
"Forgive me, sir, but I don't think divorcing Dom would bring him back to the Own," Kel laughed. "He's very attached to me."
"I've noticed," Raoul laughed. "Well, I must be off. I've got to head out an hour before dawn if I'm to reach Port Legann before Daine."
"Good night, sir," Neal and Kel replied at the same time.
"Good luck, Inara, Corin."
"Thank you, sir," the children added and watched as he wandered away.
"Finish eating. I want you to bathe before bed," Neal told his daughter. "You're to share a room with your Aunt Kel. Corin, you'll be bunking with me."
"Yes, sir, Uncle Meathead."
"Call me that again and you'll be sleeping in the hallway," Neal threatened the boy, who only grinned in response, looking like the picture of innocence. "I swear, you're getting more like Dom every day," Neal muttered under his breath.
"Is that a bad thing?" Corin asked. Neal just blinked, causing Inara and Kel to laugh.
The next day brought rain, which didn't help Inara or Neal's moods. Like her father, the half-yamani girl was not a morning person, something that served as great entertainment for her cousin and aunt. They'd only been on the rode for an hour when Kel started to needle Neal, teasing him, until he threatened to never heal her again. Even then, it was more out of boredom than fear that the lady knight stopped pestering her best friend.
Unfortunately, Inara didn't have that power over her unnaturally cheerful cousin. She did do her best to ignore him though, as he kept Titan at a slow walk beside her.
"Good morning, Queenscove."
"What's so good about it?" she mumbled in answer.
"Everything," Corin replied. "The air, the sky, the ground; it's a great day to be alive."
"It's raining," she pointed out, gloomily.
"We need rain," he retorted, grinning.
"Go away," she told him, urging Hikari forward until she was riding beside her father, safe away from the cheerful people.
By mid afternoon the rain had finally slowed down to a mere drizzle, although it left behind four very wet and slightly less than cheerful travelers. However, Corin suddenly rode up to Inara and nudged her slightly, pointing to the crest of the hill in front of them. She frowned at him, but followed him anyway, as he trotted Titan up the hill. As soon as she caught up, she paused, amazed at what she saw before her. While her parents had often been to court, and her grandfather lived there permanently, turning Queenscove over to her father, Inara had never been to the capital. Corus was spread out below them on both banks of the River Olorun. The palace itself with its turrets and domes gleamed like a beacon even without the sun to shine down on it. On the opposite side of the city, a large building stood, clearly newer than any of the others. The royal flag waved from its tallest point, marking it as the Royal University. Everywhere she looked, Inara saw color. It was the most crowded and noisy place she had ever seen in her life and she absolutely loved it.
"You still sure you want to do this?" Neal asked his daughter. Inara bit her lip, slightly nervous, but nodded. Neal gave her a small nod back in agreement and nudged his own mount forward, following Corin and Kel down towards the city, leaving Inara alone at the crest.
The girl took one more look at the city below her. "Goddess, please let me be doing the right thing," she whispered, sending the quiet prayer to the Mother Goddess. She wasn't sure that she should attempt a prayer to Mithros, God of Warriors, as well as the head God in Tortall. It seemed too much like tempting fate. She sighed, not getting any answer; not that she expected one. "Come on girl; we can do this," she said, nudging Hikari and following her father down the hill, whispering the same words over and over to herself as she did.
As much as Inara would have liked to go and see her grandfather, Duke Baird, she had to resign herself to keep the tight schedule her father had set for them. Corin had disappeared to the pages wing as soon as he'd turned Titan over to the palace holsters. His mother's old servant boy, Tobe, grinned at him and Inara, and had led both pages horses to the practice court stables. That made one less thing for the young girl to worry about.
Lady Keladry had also disappeared. With no royal orders at the moment and Dom home watching the fief, something he'd never thought he'd have to do until only a few years before when his brother turned down becoming Lord of Masbolle, Kel decided she could do some good aiding Third Company, and had gone to request permission from the King. That left Neal to escort his daughter to the pages wing and Lord Padraig haMinch's office. Once again, Neal was pacing. He hadn't liked his own page years, and he didn't like being back in the familiar wing of the palace.
"Papa, please sit down. You're making me dizzy," Inara begged. In reality, she already felt dizzy. The palace was huge; there were so many people; and she was about to embark on the craziest idea of her entire ten years of life. I wonder if insanity runs in our family, she thought to herself, as she watched her father stop pacing, only because the office door had opened and a servant man beckoned them forward. Inara assembled her emotions; hiding them behind the Yamani mask her mother had helped her master. While she had never lived in the Islands, she often spent summers there with her mother and sometimes her father. She could speak the language and she knew the traditions. However, her father wasn't as lucky. He couldn't tuck his emotions away as he followed his daughter into the training master's office.
"Sir Nealan of Queenscove and his daughter, Lady Inara of Queenscove," the servant announced them. Lord Padraig stood and bowed to Neal, the heir to a ducal house hold. While he ran the fief in his father's stead, it was Baird who still held the title Duke of Queenscove. He nodded towards Inara, who wanted to hide behind her father, but managed to stand her ground.
"Welcome Sir Nealan. I trust your travel was pleasant," Lord Padraig addressed the other man, as he motioned for the two to take seats as he returned to his own behind the large oak desk.
"As pleasant as it could be when traveling in the rain," Neal retorted dryly. One thing about Inara's father was that he never knew when not to speak his mind. Lord Padraig only nodded his head and turned to Inara.
"Young lady," he began. "I trust you know what takes place behind these walls. Here is where mostly young men train to become knights for the realm of Tortall. As you very well know, it is no longer forbidden for a young lady to be a knight; however, it is not encouraged."
"I understand, my lord."
"You understand, but you still insist upon joining us?"
"Yes, my lord," Inara replied again, addressing the training master as best as she could. While he was not her father's training master, the one who had made Keladry of Mindelan start her first year as a page on probation, it was very well known that Lord Padraig was a conservative and not at all thrilled about taking on female pages.
"You realize if you wish to be a warrior, there is always the Queen's Riders or the Queen's Ladies."
"I do, my lord."
"And you still want to be a knight?"
"Yes, my lord," she added. Lord Padraig sighed, and cast a look between Inara and her father. The knight looked as if he were desperately trying to keep his comments to himself and was barely winning that battle. The girl was impossible to read. She had the same Yamani mask as the Princess, Lady Yukimi, and Lady Keladry. He was beginning to hate that mask.
"Well then, I can see that there is nothing I can do to change your mind. As that is the case, you are here to learn Chivalry and how to be a proper knight of the realm of Tortall. You will work hard and you will not complain. I will not hear negative things about you from your instructors, nor will you engage in fighting with any of the other boys. I will not see you in my office for any reason other than positive ones. Understood, Page Inara?"
"Yes, my lord," Inara replied steadily.
"You will not get any special treatment because you are a girl. You will be treated just as any other page. However, if there is a boy in your room, your door will remain open; the same goes if you are in a boy's room. A maid or any other servant does not classify as a chaperone. Before lunch, when the boys use the palace baths, you will return to your room to bathe. Is that understood?"
"Yes, my lord." She was beginning to feel like an idiot repeating the same phrase over and over again.
Lord Padraig turned to Neal for a moment. "Has she a servant?"
"No, my lord," he replied, tight lipped. The training master nodded.
"And a mount?"
"That she does, my lord," he replied.
"Very well," he stood up, indicating that Inara and her father should stand as well, and bowed once more to Neal. "You may use the chamber across the hall for your goodbyes. Page Inara, when the supper bell rings, you will leave your room and wait outside. There we will choose sponsors for you and the other first years before we head to supper."
"Yes, my lord," both Inara and Neal replied.
"I shall send someone to escort you to your room once you've finished." Neal nodded towards him and led the way out of the office and into the chamber across the hall.
"The nerve of that man," he began as soon as Inara had closed the door. She knew this was coming, so she leaned against the wood to prevent anyone from interrupting them. "I can't believe him."
"Papa," Inara tried to cut him off. "He only said the same things you did."
"But he said them for the wrong reasons, Narie."
"I wish you wouldn't call me that," she muttered slightly trying to change the subject. It worked.
"I'm sorry. I'll try not to," he told her. "It's a sad day when a father can't call his daughter by his name for her."
"Papa," Inara laughed, wrapping her arms around the agitated man's waist. "I'll be fine. I promise."
"I know you will. Be good. Maybe we'll see you at midwinter," he told her.
Inara nodded, snuggling up to him, inhaling his scent to make sure it lasted. He knelt beside her, and reached into his belt, pulling out at small package. "Your mother gave me this when I passed my Ordeal. I think it will bring you luck," he told her. "Open it in your room." That said, he kissed her head and sent her out of the room, slightly dazed at how quickly everything was happening.
"All set Page Inara?" the servant asked as she stepped out.
"Yes, ma'am," the girl replied. The servant nodded and led the way down the hall.
"I'm Salma Aynnar; head of the servants in the Pages' wing. My lord says you have no servant of your own?"
"No ma'am," Inara replied. Salma nodded again.
"I'll assign you one to bring your bath water and light your fire in the morning," she told the page as they reached the room assigned to her. "Your belongings should already be inside," she told the girl. "If you need anything, my room is at the end of the hall, even if it's just to talk."
"Thank you," Inara told her, accepting the keys to the room from Salma. The woman nodded once more and disappeared down the hall as Inara let herself in.
The girl gazed around her new home. Her saddlebags rested on her bed. The other furnishings in the room were a clothes press, a desk and chair, and a window seat. A second door led to a small dressing room with its attached privy. "Home sweet home," she mumbled sitting down on her bed. Up until that moment, her father's gift had been forgotten. Now she gazed at the small package in her hand. Frowning she pulled the plain paper from its ties, unwrapping the package in moments. A small tear fell from her eye onto the shukusen or lady fan, an item that was both decorative and deadly. Her mother carried one at all times to protect herself. Inara had never seen this specific one before, but from what her father had told her about it, she figured it was special. She placed it on her bed and went to her clothes press were one of the servants had hung her clothing and selected her favorite kimono. The inner kimono was a pale green; the outer was cream with green dragonflies imprinted on it, and an emerald green obi. She traced one of the dragonflies with her finger as someone knocked on her door.
"Coming," Inara called, dashing across her room to answer the door. She opened it to find a young woman outside. The woman wore a white blouse and black skirt, just as Salma had worn; the uniform of a palace servant. Inara let her in.
"Page Inara; I'm Lidia Trill. I'm to take care of you while you're at the palace," the woman told her, sinking into a small curtsy, no deeper than prescribed for a page. While a royal page warranted some respect, they didn't warrant much. Inara nodded politely in response and smiled.
"I'm pleased to meet you Lidia," she replied truthfully.
The woman nodded in agreement. "Is there anything you need at the moment, Page Inara?"
"No thank you Lidia. I'm fine," she added.
"Of course; have a good evening," the servant replied and curtsied once more before leaving Inara alone again. The girl stood alone for a few moments before sighing. Things were certainly different and moving very, very quickly, she thought as she disappeared with her kimono into her dressing room.
When the bell to go to supper rang, Inara was placing her Yamani waving cats on the mantle. Her new lady fan hung from her obi, swaying as she placed the last cat in position, grabbed her room key, and slipped out into the hall way.
She wasn't the only new comer. Three young boys also stood quietly outside their rooms. Inara looked them over slightly, but didn't say anything. There would be plenty of time for talk later. As butterflies flew around in her stomach, Inara struggled to get her Yamani mask in place. Finally she composed herself as Lord Padraig and his train of pages proceeded down the hall.
The training master stopped just before the first new comer, and the crowd of boys behind him fell silent. He looked the small boy over, noting his blond hair and shower of freckles on his nose. "Name?" Lord Padraig asked.
"Benton of Naxen, my lord," the boy replied. If she hadn't heard it, she wouldn't have believed that the small boy was of fief Naxen. She knew he wasn't the heir, but none the less, it was still hard to believe.
"Who will sponsor him?" Lord Padraig asked. A boy in the back who looked to be about thirteen raised his hand and stepped forward. The crowd of boys around him moved apart to let him pass. Prince Jasson was very handsome. He had the jet black hair and sapphire eyes that typically ran in the Conte line. However, anyone could see that the very young heir to the throne was not pure Tortallan, but part Yamani, just as she was. Next to Corin, Jasson was the only page that Inara knew. He caught her eye for a moment and inclined his head slightly in welcome before turning back to Benton. It was common knowledge that the Naxens were related to the Conte family through the King's mother. It didn't surprise Inara that Jasson volunteered to sponsor him. "Very well, Jasson of Conte, you will sponsor Benton of Naxen." That said, he moved onto the next boy.
This one was a young Bazhir youth named Hakim ibn Ahbar. Lord Padraig looked him over carefully, just as he had Benton, before asking the older boys for a volunteer. It took a bit longer to find a sponsor for Hakim than it did for Benton, but only a few seconds passed before Lorrence of Runnerspring, a third year page, took the younger boy. Lord Padraig didn't hesitate to move on.
This time he reached the boy at the door just to the left her. The boy was a hand taller than Inara was. He looked like he was the type who wouldn't take no for an answer, and he appeared to have had some training before; most likely from the men at arms in his fief. He was sleek and graceful looking with dark hair and blue-green eyes, reminding Inara of a cat. "Name?"
"Samuel, my lord. Samuel of Tirragen." The announcement of his fief caused a stir among the pages. There hadn't been a Tirragen knight candidate since Sir Alexander of Tirragen died at the hand of Lady Alanna when she exposed his involvement with Duke Roger of Conte to steal the throne from King Jonathan. The training master struggled to silence the pages as Samuel gazed down at his feet, shame evident on his delicate features. Inara felt bad for him. She had a feeling she too would know what it was like to be an outcast.
"If you do not quiet down this instant, you will all be having bread and water suppers for the rest of the week," Lord Padraig instructed. The pages almost instantly fell silent, but all of their eyes were on the tall ten year old. "Now; a sponsor, if you please," the training master commanded.
No one spoke up. Lord Padraig looked out among them, and still no one volunteered. Inara searched the crowd of boys and found Corin standing at the back; he was looking directly at her, a clear question on his face. Inara knew her cousin well enough to know what he wanted. She didn't hesitate to nod her head slightly. Corin immediately smiled, relief written all over his face.
On the trip to the palace, Corin had promised to take Inara under his wing and be her sponsor. Inara had accepted him with pleasure. However, Samuel needed her cousin even more than she did. It was evident that a member of a family with traitor blood was even more despised than a female page. Corin had wanted to do what his mother had raised him to do, and Inara had given her blessing. Now the tall youth stepped forward. Even though he was a year older than Samuel, he was only an inch taller.
"My Lord, may I sponsor Samuel?" Corin asked, startling even the friends who stood around him as well as the Tirragen page. The only boy who didn't look at Corin strangely was Prince Jasson who fought to keep his pleased smile hidden. Had he not already taken a page, he would have more than willingly supported his grandfather's decision to allow the great nephew of Alexander of Tirragen to try for his shield. It was about time the fief started to show its loyalty once again.
"Yes; that will do nicely. Page Samuel, your sponsor shall be Corin of Masbolle." The training master stepped around the stunned page and moved to stand beside Inara, eyebrow raised. She knew what he wanted without him even having to ask.
"Inara of Queenscove," she stated simply. Without Corin to protect her, she calmly accepted the silence that followed the giving of her name. Whispers went up in the crowd – not as many as had followed Samuel's name, but enough that Inara had to fight the pink from her cheeks. She didn't notice her cousin elbow a third year in the back with curly brown hair and light grey eyes who was actually reading a book. The boy shut the book on his finger to hold his page before glancing at Corin, who jerked his head quickly toward the girl. The older page sighed but nodded and stepped up to Lord Padraig. "My lord?"
"You wish to sponsor a page?"
"Yes, my lord," the boy replied.
"I'm going to regret this, but very well, Evan of Jesslaw, you may sponsor Page Inara." He looked the group over once more and nodded. "Let's go to supper," he told them and led the way down the hall, the pages murmuring agreement as the new boys joined their sponsors. By the time Inara realized it, she was alone, staring into the grey eyes of her twelve year old sponsor. He was looking over every inch of her. Inara knew fief Jesslaw, as the lord had been a close friend of her father and aunt, but what she hadn't know was that Sir Owen had actually had a son. As far as she knew, the Jesslaw family only had daughters.
"You seem surprised?" the boy asked her, his book still closed on his finger. "Did you not think you'd get a sponsor?"
"Well, my cousin was supposed to sponsor me, but Samuel needed him more than I did, so no. But that's not it," she told him bluntly.
"Oh," he said, thoughtful. He wasn't anything like his father; that Inara was certain of. But then again, she wasn't very like her own father. "I get it; you've only heard of my sisters?"
"Yes sir," Inara replied, looking down at her feet, slightly ashamed.
"Don't call me 'sir'. It's Evan," he told her. "And don't worry about it. My father and I don't get along much. I think the only thing I ever did that pleased him was becoming a page." The older youth began to walk towards the mess hall. If they didn't hurry, they'd be late, and Lord Padraig would give them punishment work. However, Inara wanted to keep him talking.
"Why? Sorry if I'm prying, but how could you not get along with Sir Owen?"
Evan smiled kindly at her. He seemed like a nice guy, but maybe she was wrong. Maybe the reason his father didn't like him was because he was like the boy Joren of Stone Mountain that her father had told her about. Maybe he was the type of boy she was supposed to avoid. "My father is displeased that I am a boy," Evan told her as he directed her into the line and began to grab a tray and everything he would need to dine. Inara followed suit, staring at him as if he had grown a second head. Evan laughed and nodded, seeing her confusion. "It's true. My father is very biased, and only wanted girls. He wanted to raise a whole troupe of female knights. He'd always been very fond of Lady Keladry."
"But to be upset that his own son, is well, a son," Inara asked, still not convinced, as the cooks ladled her meal onto her plate. She followed Evan to a table in the corner.
"I swear by Mithros, I'm not lying. But don't begrudge my father. I don't hate him, nor do I wish to. He'll come around to me in time," Evan said brightly. Inara couldn't tell if he really believed that or that he thought it might be true if he said it enough. Still the idea that anyone could be upset because their child wasn't the sex they wanted, especially that he had an heir, confused her. "The funny part is that none of my sisters has any interest what so ever of becoming a knight; and mother won't let father force them, so he'll probably have to settle with me."
"Going on about your father again, Jesslaw?" the voice came from a tall boy with dark eyes and curly black hair. He looked to be about thirteen years old, the same as Prince Jasson.
"Just telling Queenscove my sob story," her sponsor replied as the boy sat down beside him. "Inara, have you met Seth of Goldenlake?"
"A long time ago," Inara answered, nodding her head. "It's a pleasure to meet you again Seth," she told the older boy. The youngest son of Raoul and Buri of Goldenlake and Malorie's Peak nodded to her.
"It's never a pleasure to see Goldenlake," Corin's voice drifted over to them. Behind him trailed Samuel of Tirragen, still looking down. Seth and Evan both eyed the boy for a moment, but didn't say anything when Corin motioned for the younger page to take a seat. "Samuel of Tirragen, this is my cousin Inara of Queenscove, and my friends Evan of Jesslaw and Seth of Goldenlake." The boy nodded to each of them slightly, keeping his eyes locked on his feet.
"It's nice to meet you, Samuel," Inara spoke up, seeing how the other two boys were a bit weary. He seemed to take heart in her voice and smiled, slipping into the seat beside her, with Corin across from him.
"Is this a private party, or can anyone join?" The speaker was a slightly chubby red head who appeared to be Corin's age. Inara's cousin jumped out of his seat and threw one arm over the shorter boy's shoulder. Inara guessed from her cousin's reaction that this was Corin's best friend Asten of Hollyrose. Behind him were three other boys. One was Prince Jasson, who was followed by his quiet shadow like cousin, Benton. However, Inara didn't know the identity of the medium height boy who looked to be a third year like Evan. He had a head of golden blond hair swept back into a horse tail out of his pale blue eyes.
"I don't believe we've met," he stated, as the group reached their table. He was speaking to both Inara and Samuel. "I'm Yancy of Nond," he added, slipping into a seat beside Seth. Asten had already taken the seat beside Corin, leaving Prince Jasson to sit on Inara's other side, with Benton beside him. Corin once again gave the rest of the introductions as Lord Padraig began the evening's prayer, reminding everyone that they would have one more day to prepare before training started, and that sponsors were to use that day to get the new pages acquainted with the way things were done at the palace. As they sat down to eat, Inara had one quick thought that brought a smile to her lips. She wasn't destined to have to suffer. She already had friends.
So, chapters 2-4 are completed and typed and will be posted over the next four Mondays. Chapter 5 is about a third of the way completed. This will be a typical length for a chapter, although at times they may be longer. With hope, none will be shorter than this. I hope you enjoyed, and reviews are not only welcome but greatly appreciated and anticipated, and I typically respond to each individually.