Let me straighten out how this works: in each chapter, I will pick a different character with whom Kel has had relations with, so to speak. And then all the interesting ways which her friends discover it. None of these chapters are related - Kel's not being a slut, I'm simply exploring different pairings. ;) My goal is to pair her with as many characters as possible. This first chapter is dedicated to abyssgirl.
"If you don't want children, then just don't bed her."
Nealan pivoted sharply, poked a long finger in his short, plump companion's chest, and said, "You, my friend, have never sounded so unmarried in your entire life. Which, might I add, Jesslaw, is all of it."
"Not for long," Owen countered cheerfully, unruffled by the older man's snippet. "Margarry and I are getting married in just two months' time."
"I still can't believe you're wedding a Cavall," Faleron muttered, shaking his head. "It's almost absurd."
"It's not absurd," Owen frowned. "She likes dogs and horses—"
"—as much as you do," Neal finished dryly. "Trust me, we know."
"I'm happy for you, Owen."
"Mindelan, don't encourage him."
Keladry eyed her very redheaded friend. "He's making a decision to spend the rest of his life with one person, Merric. Forever. That's a huge thing. I'm proud of him." She absentmindedly touched her pregnancy charm through her shirt.
"Gods, Kel," Neal groaned dramatically. "You make it sound so bad."
"I don't mean it to," she retorted, irriated. "Besides, you're happy with Yuki, aren't you?"
"Well, sure," he said. "That doesn't mean I want to be reminded of the fact I made a huge life-altering decision to spend the rest of my life with one person."
Funny, she thought in wry amusement. He went from being typical Neal to being moody whenever she wasn't around to being, well, back to Neal. It's a good thing she understands him, or at least as much as anyone can understand him.
"Exactly why are we here again?" Seaver suddenly asked.
Indeed, it was a fairly good question. The five of them were following Neal down the unmarked streets of Corus. Although none of them really knew where they were going, the older man seemed to have a grasp on his bearings, because he was strutting confidently around shops and stalls. They trailed after him like lost little ducklings.
"I told you," Neal said, "I want to buy a pregnancy charm for Yuki."
"That explains why you're here," Faleron pointed out, "but I fail to see why you dragged us here."
"I asked Kel to come with me," he grumped. "I didn't ask you guys. You just came with us."
"Yeah," Kel said slowly, "why did you ask me along, anyway?"
"Because you're a girl," he explained. "I knew you would give me moral support."
"For what?" Merric asked irritably, dodging an overturned melon cart. "You're buying a pregnancy charm for your wife. It's perfectly natural. I don't know why you had to bring Kel along. What is she going to do, test it out for you? Why didn't you just ask your father for one? Or make one yourself? You're a healer."
"Merric," Kel began, a little angrily.
But Neal, glaring, interrupted and said, "If I asked my father for one, he'd just tell Mother, and then I'd have to hear their long spiel about how long they've been waiting for grandchildren. I feel weird making one myself because I feel like I'm killing my own children. And I asked Kel here because—because I wanted her to buy it for me."
Faleron choked. "Are you saying that you're scared to buy a pregnancy charm?"
"I'm not scared," Neal snapped, flushing as Seaver and Owen snickered behind him. "I just didn't want to buy one."
"Yeah." Faleron rolled his eyes. "Okay."
"Here we are," Neal proclaimed loudly.
They all stopped in front of a small, neat shop, almost hidden between two large bead shops. The windows and doorway were dark. It didn't seem shady, but you never really knew what kind of shops people set up on the streets of Corus.
"This is it?" Owen said doubtfully. "We followed you all the way down here for this?"
"I told you, you didn't have to," Neal said, annoyed. He started through the door.
"It's not like any of us had anything better to do," Faleron pointed out dryly.
They all followed Neal doubtfully through the door. Inside, it was dim but not as dark as it outwardly seemed. A couple lanterns were lit around the small room. It smelled of incense, but not strongly—a pleasant, strange scent of something like honeysuckle. There were charms hanging from rafters, with jewelry and sticks of incense neatly arranged on shelves. It was actually pretty, it an unassuming way.
"How did you find this?" Merric asked, a little awed.
"The Lioness is a healer," Neal told him. "She showed me some things when I served her every whim. And this is out of the way. There's no way it can get back to Father, so I don't have to listen to his and Mother's woeful grandchild speech."
"I recognize that voice," someone said quietly. "Unfortunately."
That startled a snort out of Kel, earning her a nasty look from Neal.
"And he's brought friends." A woman appeared around a tall bookshelf. She was unassuming, dressed in plain attire with dark hair streaked with silver. "I hope they're quieter than this one."
"You'll be hard-pressed to find someone who isn't," Owen quipped.
She smiled. "So, Neal, what brings you to my shop?"
He glanced hopefully at Kel. She stared resolutely back. He sighed, then said, "I need a—charm."
The healer arched an eyebrow and said, "For the newly married knight? I understand. Here." She plucked one seemingly at random and offered it to him, adding, "I imported the ribbon from the Yamani Islands. Your bride will appreciate it, I think."
Neal smiled gratefully at her. "Thank you. How much?"
As he dug around his purse for some coins, the boys looked around at all the merchandise. Kel watched them and said, "Just don't touch anything. Remember what happened last time you guys were around breakables…?
"I still put that on Owen," Merric scowled. "If he had just kept his hands off that glass bowl—"
"It doesn't matter who did it," Kel interjected as Owen opened his mouth to retort, "just that it happened."
And then the healer said, "Milady, when did you get that pregnancy charm?"
Kel fought a blush as her friends stared at her. She touched it again through her shirt. She was sexless to them; the fact she had a charm seemed to douse that theory. "I think sixteen," she admitted, avoiding Neal's intense gaze.
"You need a new one," the woman said matter-of-factly. "The magic's gone."
"G-Gone?" Merric sputtered. "How does a pregnancy charm just go bad?"
"Usually after ten years or so, it kind of wears off," she explained. She was staring at Kel with an eerily knowing look. "But you can't be more than—what, eighteen? Nineteen?"
"Then how would it have gone bad?" Kel asked in a strained voice.
The healer was fiddling with some hanging charms. She didn't look at her when she said carefully, "Well, sometimes charms will lose its protection against pregnancy if the wearer has been having a lot of sex at one time. Like all day."
Something crashed behind her, but Kel didn't even blink. She stared at the back of the woman's head, wishing she could crawl under the floor. She was distinctly aware of several pairs of eyes focusing disbelievingly on her. Even her Yamani training deserted her, not that she blamed it; this was a situation quite out of her control. Her face felt like it was on fire, but her fingers felt cold. She watched helplessly on as the healer politely excused herself to a back room, leaving Kel at the mercy of her prying friends.
"I'm married," Neal began blankly, "to a beautiful woman, mind you, and I have yet to experience the joy of all-day sex. Tell me, what does it take? "
"I don't know what she's talking about," Kel blustered. But her mask was broken. They didn't believe a word of it.
"Goddess, Kel," Owen said, awed, "that's some stamina—"
"Aargh," Faleron choked. "I don't want to hear about that—"
"The fact you're having sex at all surprises me, frankly, I don't know how you find the time—"
"What Kel does in her private time is her own business," Seaver said carefully. She shot a grateful look at him, but he didn't see it; he was staring bemusedly at the wall.
"Who is it?" Owen asked curiously.
"No one," she muttered. "Really, I don't know what she's talking about."'
"Do we know him?"
"Ha!" Neal pointed a finger at her almost accusingly. "We do, don't we? Is he a knight? Oh, gods, if it's Garvey, we'll need to have a talk—"
"It most certainly isn't Garvey," Kel replied, annoyed. "At least, it wouldn't be."
"We know, Kel," Faleron informed her kindly. "Please, stop pretending. You're not fooling anyone."
"If it's my cousin, I swear, I'll kill him."
"You mean Dom?"
"Oh, it is," Neal groaned, clutching at his chest. "I can see it in your face. It's not enough to bed half the palace, he had to make a go at my best friend. Stay away from him, Kel, he's a bad egg."
"It's not Dom." She rolled her eyes, trying to get a grasp on the situation. "Really, you guys, it's not a big deal. Can we just change the subject? Please?"
"Is that why you were absent from supper yesterday?" Seaver gasped.
"Hey," Faleron said slowly, "you weren't at midday meal, either."
"Or breakfast," Owen chimed in.
"Come to think of it, you weren't even at supper the day before yesterday," Neal said. He shuddered.
Owen said, "If he's a knight or palace official, we can figure out who wasn't in the mess hall the same time as Kel…"
"…thus figuring out who she's been wearing out that cursed charm of hers with," Neal finished triumphantly. "The process of elimination."
"Why does it matter?" Kel all but begged. "Owen, please—Neal—"
"As repulsive as I find prying into your business," Neal said, "as your best friends, it's our duty to make sure you don't get involved with the wrong sort."
"I can look out for myself," she snapped. Once they start with the elimination, she thought with a sick feeling, they'll figure it out, and there goes our low-profile relationship…
"Did you and Cleon—?" Faleron began with narrowed eyes.
"No," she said loudly.
Seaver looked very pale. "This is not how I thought this day would go," he said to no one. "Really, I don't want to know about anybody's love life."
"Who wasn't at meals the same time she wasn't?" Neal mused.
"Wyldon wasn't there for supper," Faleron supplied, looking like he was about to faint.
"Oh, but he was there for breakfast," Owen reassured him.
Neal asked quickly, "Did anyone see Garvey?"
"What's with your creepy obsession with Kel and Garvey?"
"It's not an 'obsession.'"
"Really, Seaver, she's sexually active, not insane."
"This has gone on quite eno—"
Suddenly, everything went very quiet. Kel covered her face with her hands, determined never to look at anything ever again. In spite of herself, she peeked through her fingers. Just in time, apparently, to watch as Neal's head slowly, oh so slowly, turned in Merric's direction. Soon, Owen, Faleron, and Seaver followed suit. She couldn't help it; she glanced helplessly at him as well.
Merric had blushed so red his face outshone his hair, which was saying something. He was doggedly staring at the ceiling, effectively cutting off any eye contact. She watched as the flush traveled down his neck and disappeared under his tunic. She knew for a fact that when he got nervous or otherwise…excited…he got red all over…
Not now, Kel ordered herself. When all this is over, you can skip supper again.
The thought of what would happen if she said that out loud surprised a small giggle out of her. Instantly, their heads whipped around to glare fiercely at her. She wiped the smile off her face.
"Merric," Owen said, stunned. "I didn't even think it would be a year-mate."
"Apparently, she has a thing for redheads," Seaver observed.
"It's not a redhead thing," Kel protested.
"Way to go, cousin," Faleron said slyly, nudging Merric in his side. "I didn't think you had it in you."
"I had to play the elimination game," Neal muttered glumly.
They all shared a moment of incredibly uncomfortable silence before Kel could finally say, "Now, will you please, please drop it? And don't tell anyone. We didn't—don't want this to get out."
"Anything you say," Seaver said hastily, tripping over himself in his hurry to exit.
"Not a problem," Owen agreed on his way out, pausing only to pick up some jewelry scattered on the floor.
Faleron only shook his head, chortling as he followed Owen out. Neal sighed as the healer suddenly reappeared. She said airily, "This is an extra-strong charm, made for those more amorous than others."
Kel fumbled for her purse. Neal sighed again, a little more heavily, and flipped the healer a coin. "This one's on me. And don't argue. This is my apology for interrupting your shenanigans."'
"So mote it be," Merric finally said sarcastically.
Neal scowled as he passed him.
The healer once again disappeared into the back room without a word. Kel wondered suspiciously how much she heard before.
"So," Merric drawled, more comfortable now that it was just them, "care to try out that new charm of yours?"
"I might have seen an inn on the way here," she offered innocently.
He said, with a crooked smile, "Lead the way, lady knight."
"Where's Kel?" Esmond asked as he set his tray down beside Faleron.
Seaver took an extra big swallow of his water and gagged.
"For future reference," Neal said, stabbing some asparagus with his fork, "if she's not at this table, don't mention her name. Ever."
Esmond eyed them suspiciously and said, "Well then, where's Merric?"
"Esmond," Faleron sighed, setting down his tankard, "just don't speak. Ever."