This is very much an original character outtake. It follows Penelope and Dalton through chapter 2 of Training Master Mindelan, in which she punishes her two favorite students for 'falling down' beside two of her least favorite young conservatives. Location belongs to Tamora Pierce.
Penelope was on her way to the library when Gregory and Marcel appeared, stepping soundlessly from behind a pair of pillars. She kept her head up and her strides big; ignoring them was usually the best strategy.
Not that night.
"You ought to bow to your betters, girl," Gregory said stepping in front of her, twirling a wooden practice sword, "since you're too clumsy to curtsy." Penelope could tell he'd snuck out to drink; he stank of beer.
"I always bow to my betters," she answered, "and never to drunken idiots." It was stupid, but she was sick of their insinuations. And once she'd said it there was no taking it back.
Gregory lunged at her with a snarl. She ducked easily and found herself trapped in Marcel's massive arms. Gregory slammed the practice sword against her shoulder. Marcel yanked her off the ground. She kicked his shin and twisted, trying to get free.
It only partly worked. She freed one arm as they both toppled to the ground and Marcel's knee landed on her hand, breaking fingers. He yanked her upright and Gregory punched her in the face (apparently he'd decided this was more satisfying than the practice weapon). She flinched and Gregory stepped closer to hit her again. She lifted her knee and rammed it into Gregory's groin. He yelled and staggered back. Penelope drove her elbow into Marcel's gut; he grunted but held her tightly.
"I see someone skipped his homework on the Code of Knighthood." It was Dalton, her friend and fellow fourth year page, appearing alone in the library entrance. All three of them froze.
Penelope caught Dalton's eye and he winked at her. She blinked, glad he'd been the one to find them and also wishing he hadn't. They fought well together but she wanted to see this through on her own terms. She lifted both legs and kicked Gregory straight in the chest.
"He probably thinks he's so noble he can just absorb it through his blood," Dalton added as Gregory staggered backwards.
"You wouldn't know what true nobles know," Gregory shot back. "Not with your commoner mother—and probably commoner father too."
Dalton shed his customary nonchalance and dove at Gregory.
Marcel hurled her against the wall. She lurched upright through a haze of pain and sprang into the fight. It was chaos, but it didn't last long before a servant's shouts stopped them. By then, Penelope had her knee over Marcel's neck. She started to get up but Marcel twisted suddenly, knocking her over and jarring all her bruises.
"And I thought Mindelan had actually reduced the fighting," the servant grumbled. "But things aren't really any different with a woman in charge." He glared at all of them, taking in Dalton's bloody noise, Penelope's bruised face, Marcel's broken tooth, and Gregory's black eye. "Let's go," he muttered as Gregory and Dalton disentangled themselves and stood.
Dalton took her hand and pulled her up. Marcel watched, his features creeping into a knowing leer that left ice churning through Penelope's gut. She glared back at him and until the servant repeated his orders for them to follow him to Mindelan's study.
Gregory and Marcel started after him, shrugging arrogantly. Dalton went next, stepping quickly between Penelope and Gregory, and leaving her to follow last and wonder how she'd fallen into such a wreck.
Penelope waited alone outside Mindelan's study, gazing at the carpet as though it held the answers to all her confusion.
Dalton emerged and touched her shoulder, startling her.
"Sorry," he murmured, pulling his hand away quickly. "I didn't realize they'd caught your collarbone."
"They didn't," she lied, suddenly angry. She ought to have admitted the injury. At least it would have given her an excuse for jumping at his touch. Then again, he was Dalton—who'd been her friend, sparring partner, and companion in crime since their first week as pages—and he probably knew she was lying.
"I'll wait here and walk to the infirmary with you when you're finished," he offered.
"No need," she said, mostly to cover her sudden awkwardness, "I can go alone. They won't ambush me twice in one night."
"But I'd rather not go alone," he said lightly, "since it would mean waiting in the infirmary with Gregory and Marcel. Plus, I don't particularly want to watch Queenscove undo our handiwork."
"I see." A chuckle bubbled up from somewhere inside her as she stepped toward Mindelan's door. "This shouldn't take long."
It didn't. She accepted her punishment duty and found Dalton waiting outside for her. He grinned at her, cracking the dried blood on his upper lip.
"The usual," Penelope confirmed as they started down the hall together. They walked an arm's length or so apart—farther than usual, she realized uneasily, though she wasn't sure why. But she was suddenly aware that their arms brushed sometimes when they walked and, in the cold corridor, she missed the warmth of his shoulder. She frowned; distraction was dangerous.
Gregory and Marcel had left by the time they reached the infirmary and Queenscove was expecting them.
"History always repeats itself," he muttered, starting on Dalton's nose.
Penelope dropped onto a cot, glad for the chance to sit and not speak. Usually, she would have enjoyed trying to torment Queenscove into offering sarcastic commentary on his and Mindelan's own page years. But her entire body ached and she was ashamed of the way she'd wavered under Marcel's eyes. She couldn't afford to let that kind of rumor start.
"And you?" Queenscove asked, lifting her chin.
"Nothing much," Penelope muttered. "I'm mostly tired." She held out her broken fingers and gestured to the bruise on her face.
"Is there a reason you didn't tell Ke—Mindelan they'd been drinking?"
"They ought to have told her themselves," she muttered. "It would be a very good explanation for falling down."
He raised an eyebrow but nodded and tended her injuries while Dalton waited.
She nearly showed him the bruise on her collarbone, but a sudden uncharacteristic modesty held her back. Not that she cared about tugging her shirt collar open in front of a married healer. It was mostly that she didn't want Dalton to see the bruise or her breastband. He'd been too protective lately—she couldn't look like a vulnerable girl before him.
Instead, she left the infirmary still bruised and decidedly cranky.
"You can whine, you know," Dalton muttered when she sighed quietly. "I won't tell anyone." And he wouldn't, she knew that.
"Nothing worth complaining about." She forced a casual shrug. "I knew what I was getting into."
Dalton snorted softly.
"I knew exactly—"
"Then you were an idiot," he muttered. An affectionate mutter.
"So were you for joining in," she snapped.
"I was trying to help even out the fight. It looked like you could use a friend."
"I was managing fine on my own." Another lie and they both knew it.
"Yes, managing to get yourself ground into a pulp by a couple of brutes twice your size."
"I never asked you to wade in and rescue me—"
"So, I'm not allowed to join a fight without your ladyship's permission am I? What was I supposed to do? Ignore their insults to me and my family and then just stand and watch while Marcel pinned your arms and Gregory pummeled your face—"
"I would have kicked free if—" Penelope started, turning away.
"Look"—he grabbed her wrist and his fingers were so warm and gentle that she found herself turning off her own accord to face him again—"all I did was make an unfair fight into a fair one. I know you're trying to prove yourself and all, but that doesn't give you a right to be so gods-cursed stubborn all the time…"
A throat cleared loudly beside them. It was Mindelan. He dropped her wrist so suddenly she felt a twinge in her shoulder.
"I wouldn't want either of you to take another fall so soon after you've gotten yourselves patched up," she said quietly. "Or have another philosophical dispute with a stubborn animal as the case may be. If I recall correctly, you both have an essay about the Code of Knighthood due tomorrow. I suggest that you two walk back to the library and work on it."
They dropped reflexively into short bows and hurried away, silent once more. Penelope just heard a laugh as Mindelan greeted her daughter in the infirmary and she almost smiled in response. It was a very hopeful sound.
"Scene of the crime," Dalton muttered darkly as they reached the corridor outside the library.
It was, but Penelope couldn't think of anything to say about it. They walked silently to their customary table and opened their books. Penelope hastily scrawled out a mediocre essay. She tried to improve it but found herself reliving the fight—the details she hadn't noticed at the time: the way Gregory had nodded quickly to Marcel to signal that the corridor was clear before they'd grabbed her; the way Dalton had deliberately goaded them into insulting his own family so he could join the fight…
"Why?" she muttered.
He lifted his head. "What do you mean?"
"Why did—" But she suddenly didn't want to ask. "Doesn't matter now," she mumbled. "We're not really getting anything done."
He sighed. "Not really."
"I'm just going to go to bed then." Her essay was good enough and not likely to get any better.
He nodded and shut his book.
"You don't—"Penelope started, before she realized she had no right to dictate his comings and goings. "Never mind."
They walked—silently again, as though it were some sort of punishment—to the pages' corridor.
"Next time—" Penelope began.
"Let's hope there isn't a next time," Dalton muttered.
"There will be a next time." Penelope slowed down. They were nearing her door.
"Then I'll do the exact same thing next time," Dalton said steadily. He clapped her on the shoulder lightly—so lightly it was more of a brush; he knew she was still bruised. "Good night."
"Night." Penelope forced her scowl into a smile, but couldn't bring herself to thank him, not with so much unfinished silence stretching between them.
Remember folks, the angst doesn't last long and they wind up very happy together. In fact, they have a beautiful baby girl and…Anyway, this popped into my head while I was sitting in lecture today, probably in response to revising Training Master Mindelan. (Just tightening and smoothing, no real changes.) It may become a sporadic series since Penelope and Dalton tend to highjack my imagination and working with them has helped me write a few of the characters in my original novels…