Chapter Twenty-Six: Reminiscing

Walking back through the maze of tents and male clutter, Keladry watched soldiers and knights bustle around in their own bed-time routines. Although it sounded childish, she knew every man and woman had a certain list of duties and rituals they had to perform in a certain order so as to feel ready and safe enough to return to their tent.

It was getting dark she noticed; the end of another day on this crazy mission. They seemed to be flying by at the moment – no sooner had one day begun, it was ending. She only had the roughest of ideas on how long they had been out in this strange land but she knew that Tobe would tell her exactly how long she had been away when she returned.

A pang ran through the deepest parts of her chest leaving an ache behind that resonated with the sound of her adopted son's name. She knew she had been deliberately avoiding thinking of him. When she did she realised just how much she missed him, how much she hated being away from him for long periods of time.

With a heavy sigh the Lady Knight filed the thoughts of her boy away in the back recesses of her head to be brought out at a more private time; in her own tent she would allow herself to think of him and perhaps write him a letter. She wasn't sure how she would get it out of the camp but she would feel better knowing that there was a piece of her on its way to him somehow.

She was returning to her own men – the men she had begun eating dinner with so long ago. She doubted there would be anything left but these men had refused to allow her to set up her tent with the Riders women. These men had insisted she sleep besides them and had set their tents up in a semi-circle around hers, encircling their Lady knight in familiarity and comfort almost as if they had known she might need it that night.

As she returned to them, she passed by men brushing down horses, sharpening weapons, washing clothing and simply sitting around campfires talking. Everyone was engaged in some kind of act of readying themselves for what was to come, even if it was only conversation; she would bet her horse that every discussion taking place at that moment was focussed on the information that had just been uncovered by the watch and the mage.

Despite the professionalism of everyone else, Kel found her mind turning to less relevant thoughts. Unbidden her head pulled memories of the recent past to the front for her to relive. More specifically, the sight of the two men sat beside a campfire talking was all it took for Keladry to start rethinking the time she slept outside with Francis beside a dying fire. She had felt so happy in that moment; after such a long and stressful day on the mission and leading the tired and sore men until they had to be ordered to bed, such a golden moment had lifted her spirits. It had also been the first time she had allowed herself to revel and believe in what she and Francis had been feeling. It had been the first instance when there was a hint of what their relationship could blossom into.

Even after taking her place at another campfire by Durg, Kel continued to reminisce over the time she had spent with Sir Francis. Surrounded by men of the Own as she was, the Lady knight could not engage in the present, only lose herself in the past. The man chatted happily around her, demanding nothing for the moment from their leader, allowing her to slip further into her thoughts.

That night when she and Francis had fallen asleep together had been the first moment when she had allowed herself to feel; she had let her emotions run riot on the surface rather than being carefully guarded and hidden. As night fell again weeks later Kel felt the warmth that this lack of control had allowed her heart, the tightness in her chest like the tug she had felt for Tobe moments before but this one was uplifting. It replaced the sadness with a heat and passion Kel had never felt before for any other. If her head was occupied by Sir Francis, her heart was filled with him. After the moment they had had together earlier this evening, Kel felt consumed by him. Every pore seemed to cry out for more; more time in his presence, more closeness, just simply more. Her body asked for so much more that she wasn't entirely sure what it was crying out for but she knew that all she wanted to do was obey.

In that moment she made a decision: to simply stop running.

She enjoyed the feelings and delicious sensations Francis caused within her. She enjoyed his company and his laughter. She respected his thoughts and mind and his skills as a knight. What more did she need?

Lady Kel had never felt more alive and happy even when in the middle of such a high-pressure environment. In a moment she vowed to let whatever was going to happen between them happen, and to hell with the consequences. It was so tiring trying to hide everything from him, to be strong and resilient against him. And frankly, she didn't want to do it anymore.

Buoyed by her decision Lady Kel promised herself that the next time she saw Sir Francis she would try and make time to tell him of her resolution. She knew it would please him as much as it had thrilled her. After all, he had put her at ease so much in the past few days it was about time she did the same thing for him.

Lost in her thoughts as she was, Lady Kel did not hear any of the conversation going on around amongst Durg and his men.

"Look at her," Durg said shaking his head in that fatherly way he gained whenever he spoke about anyone his junior. "She's absolutely miles away from here again."

"Well we'd all lay wages as to why," Jowal replied patting his friend's shoulder. He smiled, looking back between the older soldier and the young Lady Knight he trusted, liked and respected more than any other woman he knew.

"We'd all win a great deal of money too..."

The muttered comment came from the other side of the campfire, where Yansor and Qeyran sat. Younger than Jowal, they were young enough to have been classmates of Lady Kel had they been fortunate enough. Both felt a kinship towards her and protectiveness that would rival any of those who would call her their true school friend.

The light-hearted talk about the presently-absent Knight took all of the mens' minds off what they had heard earlier. Each and every one of them knew that dark times were ahead, but for now it was nearly time for sleep and dwelling on what was hiding in the growing darkness would not help anyone rest.

Durg sighed and stretched his arms over his head as the younger men continued to chatter about the growing attraction they had witnessed between their two commanding Knights. As he opened his eyes from a deep yawn he caught sight of Captain Domitan leaning against a tree, staring intently at Lady Kel. At this the protective father in him stirred uneasily making him scowl. Leaning forward with his forearms on his knees he spoke in a low tone, catching the eyes of the men around him and discreetly nodding in the Captain's direction.

"And I'd lay odds that when this entire mess is over with, that man is just ready to cause some heart trouble for her too... he just doesn't know when to let pain rest."

After all the watch had reported, Domitan of Masbolle had stormed around the camp like a man on a mission. In truth, he was thinking. If he had sat down he would have fidgeted and pacing back and forth through the camp was much better – made him seem purposeful. After over an hour of internal argument and marching, Domitan found himself near where Durg and his men had set up their tents.

Not quite ready for conversation yet, or anywhere near finished in his silent contemplations, he leaned for a moment against a large tree. Positioned as he was he could see the campfire where the men were sitting but was far enough away to be inconspicuous which was desirable at such a moment when he was feeling unsociable.

For a while he watched as the men laughed and teased the tension out of each other borne from the watch's words. He envied them the ease with which they were able to push what they had learned to the backs of their minds for the moment. He had tried this with his own men but had always found it hard not to take the conversation straight back to what they had just discovered. The only person, who had ever been able to take his mind off evil, was currently striding towards the campfire in front of him.

It was if she had been transported to before his eyes because his thoughts had brought her to the forefront of his mind.

He studied the Lady Knight he had used to know well as she spoke a few words with the men and joined them in sitting besides the warm fire. She looked tired to him but, surprisingly, very well. She seemed to have a glow that resonated from within her rather than from the flames by which she sat. Her eyes shone and although she seemed to fade into silence, deep in thought, her body showed no signs of stress or fear. She was relaxed by the fire and every so often she smiled lightly to herself; the smiles that graced her face lighting it up to the very corners in a way the lights of the fire could not achieve.

In the past few days Dom had resigned himself to the fact that he was not allowed to be a part of Kel's joy and happiness anymore or ever again; after everything that had happened, even though she had forgiven him and they were on civil even friendly terms, it was all water under the bridge. Too much had occurred between them for him to ever be as friendly with her as he had once been; as much as he would like to be.

He knew that he would give anything to be able to turn back the time that had elapsed since they were so happy, so close. He wanted more than anything in the world to be the reason for Kel's happiness again but deep down within his heart, he knew this would never happen. But still he was happy that she was happy, kind of.

Despite his resignations, Dom didn't think he would ever give up trying with Kel, as much as it might at times make things awkward with them. He didn't know what it was about her, but she held a power over him that no other possessed.

All of a sudden as he watched, the Lady Knight looked up and caught sight of him watching her. Even coming out of deep thought as she had done, all at once, Dom admired the alertness in her eyes and posture. She truly was an amazing knight and woman in every way important and every other.

Dom's heart leapt into the back of his throat making it hard for him to breathe or swallow as he watched her smile in greeting, eyes warm at the sight of him but alight with friendship rather than any other emotion he used to think lay there.

The fact that she smiled made him certain that Kel had managed to finally walk away from what had happened between them all that time ago. Over the course of this strange and deadly mission she had made more progress than she had in all of the months before it. If he thought back to the way she had been towards him in New Hope – cold, distant and even slightly fearful he hated to admit – to how she was now, it made his heart warm at the change. He was happy to see her happy and returned more or less to the Kel he had used to know and love, than he had seen her in a long time.

Of course he was happy for her that would always go without saying, for anything that made her happy made him happy. But at the sight of her happiness and the distance he was from it, made Domitan wonder if he would ever be as truly happy ever again.

Having said goodnight to all of the men around the campfire Kel got up and stretched, ready to turn in for bed.

Tired but happy through and through, Lady Keladry thought as she walked slowly through the dimness towards her tent that this mission had snapped her back into herself again. She truly felt better than she had in months; active duty and a certain man had made her feel more emotion than she had in a long time and that more than anything had made her truly happy to be alive again.

"Off to bed Kel?" a low voice from the dark made her stop and look to the side.

Captain Domitan was walking towards her slowly, his voice having alerted her to his presence so as not to make her jump. Seeing him up close reminded Kel of the moment earlier when she had looked up, suddenly pulled from her thoughts by the sensation that someone was watching, to see him stood a way back from the campfire amongst the tents, watching her.

She had smiled at him, happy still from her thoughts and happy enough to extend a smile of friendship towards a man who had caused her so much heartbreak in the past but was difficult to avoid. She wanted to be friends, to leave the past in the past and get on with life. Now it was time to put that friendly attitude into practise.

"Yes, although I think I'm going to try and write to Tobe before turning in completely."

"Remember me to him, won't you? It seems like an age since I last saw him," Domitan smiled as her replied. Kel studied his eyes carefully; if there was any awkwardness between them on his part he was hiding it well.

"Perhaps we should change that after this mission," Kel began slowly, her mind clicking into action. "I know he misses you too, plus I have a favour to ask..."

"Anything, you know that."

Dom smiled a little at her and looked genuinely curious at what she would ask of him.

"He's thinking of enlisting into the Own once his schooling is finished, I wondered if you could talk to him about the realities of the choice he's making. He doesn't have much male influence in his life; my father tries but at his age..."

"I understand." Dom interrupted her as she struggled to finish her sentence. He smiled again and stepped closer to pat her shoulder gently. "Once this is all over we'll figure out a day to meet and I'll talk to him for you."

Kel smiled her thanks and Domitan walked on allowing her to continue to her tent. She was surprised at how easily they could be so civil to each other but a dark part of her mind sarcastically asked how long it would last. Ignoring this thought and chalking the exchange up as a success Kel entered her tent and set about collecting the necessary paraphernalia to write a letter to her son.

The letter did indeed assuage the ache in her chest from missing her boy.

In it she included the usual hopes and enquiries that he was ok and after his schooling. She also wrote to him about the people she was on mission with; telling him his uncles were with her as were several other men with whom he had become friends. She wrote about the three knights he had left her with, telling him more about them – the things she had learned about them on their travels from the palace and over the time they had spent in No Man's Land. She finished the letter by allowing the emotional, almost maternal side she had developed towards Tobe, to show. She told him that she was fine – no injuries that were particularly bad or serious. She told him of how much she missed him and how much she wished they had gotten to finish their holiday away together. Within her words lay a promise to take some proper time away together when she returned: time that no-one would interrupt.

She was just going about signing the letter in a way that Tobe would know was from her, but would not be harmful if read by anyone else, and encoding an address upon the front when she was pulled from the reverie that had surrounded the activity by noises outside her tent.

It had been a while since she had heard most of her men return to their tents and things had since grown quiet and still. The only light around her was the one coming from the candle which she was to write by. The wind had dropped allowing the air to become cool and still in a way which allow the soldiers easy rest, as if nature and the Gods wanted the men to be physically ready for the new day.

The sound of shuffling and breaking twigs broke this silence but was over almost as suddenly as it begun. At first Kel put it down to a man stumbling to the latrines in the dark, but when she heard it a second time, as she was almost in her bedroll, it was much closer and much more muffled. Someone was attempted to conceal their approach.

Instantly she was up.

Cautiously, she pushed her head between the door flaps of her tent to see if the thing making the noise was close enough to see. As she glanced around however all the Lady Knight could see was a dark unending blackness which had become characteristic to here of Tyran land.

Even now with her head out of her tent, Keladry could still here the noises. They were more insistent now; with the regularity of someone walking quickly and stealthily with an assurance that they would not be discovered. Kel pulled with head back inside her tent slightly, stretching one arm to her side to reach for her sword and jacket.

She had every intention of going out there and investigating what was making such noise in the dead of night. Even as tired as she had been before, she was alert and awake now. Her mind became still and focused in a way that came with training and years of experience.

Even the Lady Knight however was blind to the night. She failed to see the invisible hands that pulled her out of her tent until it was too late. A gag was placed over her mouth followed by a bag being placed over her head.

Left senseless and weaponless, Lady Kel could do little but fight and struggle as she was carried out of the camp which lay under the flag of Tortall.

Shorter than usual but setting up the next few I have planned. Reviews please :-)

X x x