A Dance, My Lady?
It wasn't a particularly bad thing, he reasoned, that she had come. His mother had ignored his slight miscalculation at the university that had led to several rooms being evacuated after she'd arrived.
Raoul, her former knight master, along with the men of the Own had stopped in Pirate's Swoop for the free rooms and salvation from the palace balls, though the ominous feeling of gagging to death on Alanna's food hung over all their heads. Thom had felt indifferent to it at first. If anything, he was happy they had come; his mother tried not to yell in front of company after all.
Then, she popped up, seemingly out of nowhere.
He could see the way that some of the sexually deprived men—which meant nearly all of them—stared at her. Being oblivious to their longing, she had simply laughed along with Raoul and his mother, enjoying the sereneness of Pirate's Swoop. His mother had jokingly said that she should enjoy it; Alan was off at the palace wooing Lianne (or trying to), and Aly had found her home in the Copper Isles.
Of the six days they would be staying, Thom had only had the pleasure of speaking to Lady Knight Keladry of Mindelan once, right when they had arrived. He knew of her, of course; his mother had hinted several times how she was such an interesting girl, though she was still his elder. Then again, at twenty years of age himself, and she only being a year older, his mother thought nothing of it. Women married men several years their senior, she'd said; her own marriage was an example of that.
And she simply had to imply that I'm a woman, he thought wryly, leaning against the high railing of the Swoop's old, slightly tilting (though no one would admit it) tower. The breeze swept through his flame-like hair, creating something similar to a bird's nest. Thom made no move to fix it; he wasn't one for vanity.
From his vantage point, he could vaguely make out the familiar head of his mother, Raoul, and what appeared to be that young sergeant from the Own and the Lady Knight herself. Thom's lips twitched upwards; his own feelings toward the girl, or woman, as his mother would often remind him, were unknown to even him, and at the very least she wouldn't bother him by making the climb to the tower. Not even his father bothered anymore; only Alan brought Lianne there in an attempt to scare her.
Thom laughed at the thought. More often than not, it was Lianne comforting Alan.
"I still don't understand why you like bein' up here alone," a voice commented from the doorway behind Thom.
"It's comforting," he replied, glancing over his shoulder. "What're you doing up here? Isn't it a bit too much for your old bones?"
George Cooper snorted and swatted his eldest, a faint crooked grin on his features. "I'll have you know these old bones are still faster than yours."
"That's because you're insane," Thom muttered, grinning himself when his father laughed loudly. "Did you want something?"
Thinking back on it, Thom mused, he should have known that that familiar twinkle in his father's eyes was something to look out for.
"That's the healer's shop, and then the tailor's shop over there . . ." Even to himself—or especially to himself—Thom sounded like an utterly boring lout. Next to him, Keladry—Kel, she'd told him—had her infamous Yamani mask on though he could see the slightest of twitches on her lips.
"Alright, I give up," Thom declared, plopping down on a set of stairs leading to an abandoned building.
Smiling faintly, Kel took the seat next to him. She didn't know exactly what to say to Thom of Pirate's Swoop. His mother had mentioned him a few times in passing, but all Kel had really gathered from those conversations was that her son had her hair and he was probably one of the few men who towered over Kel. Indeed, when she had first spotted him, Raoul had burst out laughing when she'd muttered it had been a long time since she had had to crane her neck up.
"So . . ." Drumming his fingers thoughtfully on his knee, Thom searched for something—anything—to say to the girl he'd been coerced into showing around. His mind drew a blank.
"What's it like at the university?" Kel asked suddenly.
"Hasn't Neal told you everything already?" Grinning at the thought of his mother's old squire babbling on about the place he'd spent nearly five years at was fairly funny in Thom's mind, since quite a few of the masters there had never quite forgotten Nealan of Queenscove.
Kel shook her head. "Neal goes on about Yuki, nowadays."
"Makes sense," Thom said with a laugh. "I'd be doing the same if there was a girl waiting for me."
Thom grinned at her again. He gave Kel the impression of someone who was constantly happy, like Owen. "No, not really. My mother's tried setting me up a few times, but none have worked out. They want commitment," he said with a wrinkle of his nose. "Marriage," he added hastily at Kel's surprised look.
Sensing that the conversation was about to become stilted, Thom shot back, "And you? Is there a man for the Lady Knight? I only hope that for your sake it's not Raoul; I've seen Buri angry, and it's not a pretty sight."
Kel laughed. Thom found that he enjoyed the sound. "He's like an uncle, or older brother. And no, there isn't a man for me."
"Not even that sergeant?"
The faintest dusting of pink brushed her cheeks as Kel looked away. "Dom? No . . . not really," she answered, repeating Thom's own words.
"Hmm." A glint entered Thom's hazel eyes as he abruptly stood, pulling Kel to her feet as well. Taking her right hand in both of his, Thom stepped off the stairs until they were nearly at the same height and brushed his lips to her hand, his grin becoming wider when her blush increased. "Well then, Lady Knight Keladry, woud you do the honor of dancing with me?"
Common sense overrode her confusion. "There isn't any music, Thom," she said with a bemused smile.
"There is," he insisted, leading her down the steps. "It just hasn't started yet."
Kel started to laugh again when she heard the faint sounds of a violin playing a soft, slow melody. Thom smiled victoriously and placed a gentle hand on her hip. Still hiding her mirth, Kel went along and placed her other hand on his shoulder, looking up to his dancing hazel eyes.
He shook his head, a small smirk playing on his face. "Is this the first time you've had to look up at someone?"
She rolled her eyes as they began circling slowly. Around them, a few others joined in, ranging from young sweethearts to old married couples.
Thom whispered in her ear, "You're lucky. That violinist only plays sometimes; I wasn't sure she'd play at all today."
"So you based this on a whim?" she asked with an arched brow.
"Basically," Thom replied with another heart-breaking grin. "Is that a problem?"
"No . . . I don't think so," Kel said softly.
"Did you enjoy yourself?" George asked shrewdly the moment Thom had returned from escorting Kel back to her rooms. Alanna and Raoul stood in the room as well, identical confused expressions on their faces.
"I did, actually," Thom responded. "Thank you dearest father," he said with a sarcastic bow and smile. George laughed and shooed off his eldest son.
Alanna watched him leave, her confounded look never fading. ". . . George?"
Her husband only laughed. "I didn't do a thing, lass," he swore. "Nope, I let go of my matchmakin' days a long time ago."
In the corner of the room, Raoul burst into laughter as he connected the dots.
AN: I forgot what it was like, to post a story... Anyway, first Tamora Pierce fiction; be brutal and review please. For those of you who read Desolation, the chapter's about 5 percent done, so I'm getting there...eventually.