Chapter 5 is here! There is a quote from Lady Knight that I just remembered, one that makes sense when applied to my fanfiction – kind of like a motto:

"You are the Protector of the Small. You see real people in the humans and animals overlooked by your peers. There will always be work for you." –Chamber of the Ordeal to Kel.

I really like that, and it inspires me to keep writing my fic, though not as much as your reviews do! Please keep 'em coming.

The quote and characters (except Kioko) are ©Tamora Pierce

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The atmosphere of the palace in Corus had been dramatically transformed. As Kel looked back to the day of the meeting in which the mysterious attack had first been reported, the Midwinter party afterwards seemed like it never happened. The hallways and the corridors, the kitchens and the stables –in every room, during any hour of the day, there was continuous whispering. Some veteran servants to the crown were convinced an attack was not out of the norm, and tried to convince others so in hushed tones. Some were simply too frightened by the idea of immortal involvement that they would stubbornly disagree, causing almost comical arguments in incomprehensible murmurs. Kel quickly grew tired of being greeted by a small buzz in every room she went, and soon found herself standing in the only empty section of the castle. The doors of the Chamber of the Ordeal were as ominous as ever, but ironically, she felt at ease in this corridor. Kel reasoned that she could just be used to confronting the chamber as she had done throughout her years as a page – of course, the reason now was entirely different.

The constant chatter over recent events was not the only contributing factor driving Keladry to seek solitude. As she paced in front of the chamber, she mulled over the most nagging thought in her head. It was not Raoul's worsening injury, nor her upcoming report on the refugee camp. It was Domitan of Masbolle. Thinking about him was like opening a door in her mind, a door that had been present for the longest time but had remained untouched. Had he always glanced at her each time they ever dined in the same hall? Did he always smile at her every time he saw her? It was hard to recall. Kel remembered the painful longing she used to have years ago, but she had worked towards stopping any intimate relationship from interfering with her duties to the realm. She was hardly aware of her silent surrender, and each day she weighed the pros and cons of confronting Dom on a mental scale.

Neal says Dom is interested, and the Goddess knows how long I have been interested in Dom. Kel leaned against a stone wall, eyes pinned on the chamber's door. Just then, a gray-blue cat strutted by and meowed at her. Not soon after the cat's statement, pounding footsteps and shrill voices echoed down the nearest corridor. The noise grew louder, and Kel realized whoever it was causing such a ruckus would round the corner soon.

"–don't need your little magic to find her!"

"Shut it! I already explained that it–"

"My da said–"

Kio and Rikash skidded to a halt once they saw her. Both faces were flushed and each of them took short breaths. Their black heads of hair had plenty of frizz and were matted with sweat – whether from running or arguing, Kel couldn't tell.

"My Lady! We found you!" Kio gathered her skirts, and would have curtsied had Kel not interrupted her.

"Kio, you are of higher nobility than I am. You don't have to be so respectful, and I wouldn't want you to anyway."

"Oh no, Keladry. I am only superior by blood. You are by deeds and experience." The girl looked at Rikash and shoved his head forward in a rather sloppy bow.

"May I ask why you were looking for me?" Kel inquired, hiding a smile as Rikash stood up and glowered at Kio.

"Ma and Lady Yukimi told us to remind you about the meeting that's t'be held in one hour's time," Rikash answered as he straightened his tousled hair. "I located you with the help of Sassylashes here." He pointed at the gray cat. Kio tried to suppress a laugh but was unsuccessful.

"It's a funny name," she said and shrugged. Kel intervened by assuring them that she had not forgotten. She joined them on a stroll to the courtyard.

Kio started talking first. "Father said you'd probably be thinking some place quiet, and he recommended outside the Chamber of the Ordeal. I sometimes try to sneak a look at it, but can never overcome the chills. How can you spend so much time there, and how can you think straight while standing so close to it? I do hope I pass my Ordeal. I know you're not supposed to speak of it, so you don't need to tell me anything. Why were you there, anyway? Are you nervous about the meeting?"

Kel blinked and tried to think of what to say next. She seems to have inherited his high-speed mouth as well.

"Your father would know I wish to think, wouldn't he?" Kio beamed at this response, possibly out of pride.

Kel continued. "…I was just thinking. There is a lot to think about these days."

"Is it the war?" Yuki asked with worried eyes.

"It isn't a war yet. It may be."

Rikash decided to join in. "My ma has experience with Stormwings. Other immortals, too. An' my da is one of the best mages around." He held his head high, but the anxiety in his voice betrayed his fear for both of his parents. Kio disagreed. "My da is the equal of yours in healing magic." Rikash simply glared at the flagstones beneath his feet. Kio also hung her head, slowing the pace of the entire group.

Their arguing was so half-hearted that Kel knew something was tugging at their thoughts.

Kel wished she knew of some way to alleviate their fears, but found herself at a loss. Her parents had been in a number of tight spots, but it was only spur-of-the-moment danger. She could hardly imagine waiting for the end, nor could she picture herself as a child, living out each day expecting to hear dreadful news.

"Say, Kio…" Kio looked up, eyes suddenly shining at the sound of her name on Kel's lips.

"Would you like to train later? Not with the naginata, but with my sword?"

"Your sword, Keladry? Griffin?"

"The very same. I can also show you my griffin-feather headband. Yuki's told me you have been asking to see that for a long time."

Rikash met Kel's eye with a hungry expression. "May I see the headband, too? I've only seen griffins far away whenever I visit Uncle George! But to actually touch one…in a sense."

Kel chuckled. "Oh, trust me, it's not too enjoyable. I can tell you from my experiences. You can both come, so long as you keep the fighting to a minimum."

By the time Keladry arrived outside the meeting chamber, only two others were pacing the outer room. Dom and Alanna appeared to be deep in thought. They didn't even notice her presence until she decided to rummage through her scrolls one last time, just to make sure each report was in order. The sudden ruffling drew rather funny responses from both of the concentrating knights. Alanna spun around quickly, hand groping for a sword that wasn't there. Dom gave a small gasp and looked at Kel with a wild expression. When he recognized her, he moved towards her, arms oddly spread further apart than usual. Then he froze, as though thinking the better of it, and gave her a smile that deflated Kel's brain. She dropped all of her scrolls.

The Lioness stared in confusion as Dom rushed to aid Kel in picking up the scrolls. Kel was very close to blushing as she fumbled around retrieving scrolls. She was, once again, grateful for her Yamani-style upbringing. Her heart may have skipped a beat or three when Dom's rough hands brushed against hers, but no spectator would have discerned that by studying her face.

Alanna smoothed over the awkward moment with her charming charisma. "Kel. What a surprise. Has anyone ever mentioned that you make too little noise for being so tall?"

Dom chuckled. "And has anyone ever mentioned to you that whenever surprised, you automatically assume an assassin is behind you, and reach for a nonexistent blade, Lady Alanna?"

Alanna nodded. "I wouldn't be alive if I didn't have such reflexes. …Kel, have you visited Raoul recently?"

Kel looked down at the gruff lady knight. "No, I haven't. Is he recovering all right?"

"Oh, don't be too worried. I expect it's an infection from improper treatment. Or he's not being cautious enough." She rolled her famous purple eyes. "He may be more…submissive to my magic if his favorite pupil comes along to visit."

"Of course I will, as soon as I finish my other errands." She remembered her promise to the children.

Dom nodded. "I'll come, too. He and I need to talk about matters of the Own, anyway."

As the minutes passed, more people came to attend the meeting, bringing with them the hum of discussion. Later, as the meeting droned on, various leaders of installations presented their information and areas of concern. It was as tedious as ever, and Kel once again appreciated that the meetings were paired with the most lively festivities of the year to balance it all out.

Kel's report was a change of pace from the usual forts and fiefs. Her request to withdraw soldiers was changed to a request for an additional company of soldiers – these were to be experienced soldiers, mostly prestigious knights, who were to be directed by Raoul. This new group would scout any other uprisings in the mountainous north, lodging at New Hope until a newer fort in a more suitable location would be erected. I suppose my refugees will have to bear with the influx of more noisy soldiers.

Kio and Rikash were already waiting by the time Keladry arrived at the usual courtyard. The two were remarkably quiet as they sat on a stone bench.

"You two stuck to your word, then. Good."

Kel drew Griffin, and held it out horizontally to show Kio. Each inch of it, from the tip of the blade to the hilt, caught and reflected the sunbeams. It must have dazzled the young lady knight hopeful, for she could do naught but stare at it slack-jawed. Even Rikash was silent, his normally critical eyes betraying slight interest. He watched as Kel guided Kio through different dances, demonstrating different cuts and thrusts. Some were of the familiar Yamani style, while others were of the rough, powerful, and unpredictable Scanran style.

"I've had direct experience with those," Kel mentioned. "Though my tutors were intent on slaying me."

After an hour had passed, Rikash begged Kel to show him her griffin-feather headband.

"As promised," she sighed as she reached into her waist pouch to retrieve it. Rikash and Kio gazed at it for two seconds, and then they simultaneously grabbed for it. Kio was quick to take advantage of Rikash. She jerked the headband quickly to the right, then snapped it to the left and sent him sprawling.

"Careful, now. You two promised not to fight over it. Must I take it back so quickly?"

Kio reluctantly handed the object to Rikash. He snatched it, looking quite upset and ready to cry. After tying it around his head (being extra careful not to lose it in his wildly thick hair), he spun around.

Kio giggled and mumbled something under her breath. Rikash, in return, scowled. "Who cares if it looks silly? It can save your life on the battlefield."

"True," said Kel. "Do you see anything, Rikash?"

"No," he answered. Rikash turned to Kio and pointed at her. "Use your gift."

Kio's black eyebrows drew together. She sat down and closed her eyes. A patch of grass five feet from her started to shake and gradually wilt. Rikash looked impressed.

"I can see it! Like a fire of Yamani jade." Kio grinned.

"It's not exactly the emerald like my father's, but I like it. I think it's unique."

After Rikash, it was Kio's turn. She watched and exclaimed at Rikash, who she said was emanating copper flames. After half an hour, Kel decided it was time to visit her former knight master. She gathered her sword and headband before she bade the children farewell.

When she reached Raoul's secluded quarters, she found Alanna at the small dining table mixing herbs.

"He's got a fever, and I've come to attend to it personally. It's not looking good right now, Kel, but I'm hoping this medicine will cool him down. He may want to talk with you." She motioned towards the archway that opened into Raoul's and Buri's room.

From the look on his face, Kel could tell he was in another sour mood. His face was dripping with beads of sweat. His stone-cold eyes stood in sharp contrast with his burning cheeks.

"How was the meeting?" he asked in a broken voice.

"Fine. Important, too, my Lord. Supposedly you're going to be leading a scouting party up near New Hope."

Raoul shook his head. "Nope. 'M sending Dom to lead the men there–"

Her heart jumped.

"…He's more, ah, capable right now. Wouldn't you say?"

She nodded slowly. Alanna entered the room with a syrupy potion of some sort. Puffs of silver floated lazily from the rim of the container. Kel was surprised to see Kio following Alanna. She walked over to Kel as Alanna administered the medicine, and held out a single griffin feather.

"Here. It's my fault it was detached anyway." She blushed.

"Oh, thank you." Kel politely bowed her head and fingered the feather. She nearly dropped it when Raoul yelled out in agony.

At first, Kel thought it was a natural effect of the potion. Healer concoctions were not known for having pleasant tastes. Then Kel glanced at his leg wound, and immediately she knew the problem.

His knee was glowing a curious shade of scarlet edged with gold. Stormwing magic.