Disclaimer: Oh, the joys of disclaimers. Let me see if you can guess what I'm about to say here. Yay, you got it right! (Sorry, I get sarcastic late at night) Nothing belongs to me, it all belongs to Tamora Pierce…. I am an absolute nobody who has no rights to anything…. yada yada yada.

A/N Right, now that's over! I don't know whether anyone will like this, and its pretty typical of this kind of fic, but oh well. If you like it, review, if you don't, don't bother. Please don't flame, coz it's just a waste of both our time. If you have any "constructive criticism", please feel free. I'm open to adaptations. I don't know whether I should continue on with this, so unless someone gives me a good reason to, I won't bother. Well, R/R. thankyou!

Kel was sketching the ground many floors below her when she heard a crunch from behind. Whirling, she dropped her pencil and parchment, and brought up her fists. It was Joren. Was he going to fight her? When Joren made no move, she brought her fists down slowly.

"What was that for?" Joren asked casually. Kel didn't let her face betray her uncertainty and confusion.

"You startled me." When she didn't say anything else, Joren moved gracefully around her and picked up the fallen parchment.

"Is this yours?" He asked, as he handed it back to her.

"Thankyou." Kel replied. When he just stood there, unmoving, Kel sighed internally and moved around him. Politely, she said, "If you don't mind, I'll get back to this." She went back to her previous position, and continued to map the palace grounds. Joren leant against the balcony railing a few feet away from her.

For the last year, Joren had behaved courteously and friendly towards Kel and her friends. He hadn't taken part in the hazing of first years, either. He'd even been polite to the servants. Or at least, Kel corrected herself, he'd been polite whenever she was watching. In anyone else, it wouldn't have been unusual. But in the past, Joren had made life miserable for any first year at the palace, and her, regardless of how old she was.

Kel had fought him time and time again, trying to get him to stop bullying the first-year pages. He had eventually stopped when Kel's friends had joined in the fighting, but he had still made life a misery for her. The whole palace knew that Joren hated girl fighters, and would do almost anything to prevent Kel from being a knight.

He had vandalised her room when she had first arrived, and he did everything possible to make her get into trouble with Lord Wyldon. Lord Wyldon was called 'the Stump' by her friend Neal, because he was so stiff and strict, and he disapproved of any new changes. He had fought especially hard against letting her train as a knight. Joren interrupted Kel's thoughts.

"I still don't understand why you put yourself through this," he commented. "If you're so afraid of heights, then why do seek them out?" His voice was calm and reasonable, and Kel found herself wondering whether he really had changed. Had he really seen the error of his ways, like he claimed? Kel kept on her bland, Yamani face as she replied.

"My Lord Wyldon assigns me to work on heights whenever he gets a chance. I'm hoping that, with practice, I won't freeze up every time." She replied truthfully. She went back to her sketching of the grounds. The heights made her sweat, but she continued doggedly. Joren moved over closer to her, but she didn't look up.

"I do wish you'd believe me, Kel." He murmured, before leaving as silently as he had come. Kel shook her head. She wasn't sure what she believed anymore. And that was the first time he'd called her Kel. Normally he, and others who disliked her, called her by her full name, Keladry. Or, if Lord Wyldon wasn't around, 'the Lump.' Kel sighed, and shook her head. She turned and walked back to her rooms. With luck, she could finish her homework before the dinner bell rang, and have time to chat with her friends afterwards.

Kel slid into the place left for her between Neal and Merric. Nealan of Queenscove and Merric of Hollyrose were two of her friends, and part of the nightly study-group that used to meet in Neal's rooms. They now met in the library, where there was more room.

"I'm starving." Owen complained. He was also part of the study group, a short, chubby, third-year page. "Why can't the Stump hurry up? He always gives us punishment when we're late." Kel hid a smile. Owen liked Neal's nickname for Lord Wyldon.

"Shh." Kel replied. "He's coming now." Owen shut up as Wyldon walked to the front of the room and said the grace. The pages and squires responded in unison with the usual 'So mote it be,' and eagerly began tucking into their food. After the meal, Kel went back to her rooms. She greeted her maid, Lalasa, and finished off her homework. It didn't take long, and then she did her usual pattern-dance with her glaive before going to bed.

The next evening, Kel was surprised to see Cleon sitting amongst her other friends in the library. Cleon was a squire, and he had been away with his knight-master (Kel's older brother) all summer. Kel grinned at him when he looked up, and he grinned back.

"I was beginning to doubt that you'd ever come back!" Kel said. "Is Roald back yet?"

"Of course I'd come back to you, my rose, my dove, moon of mathematical wisdom!" Everyone else in the room groaned, and Kel rolled her eyes, smiling slightly. Cleon continued, ignoring the groans.

"And Roald should be coming back tomorrow. Lord Imrah wanted to stay an extra day. So, are you lot ready for your big exams?" His last comment was directed at all of the fourth-year pages, Kel included.

"About as ready as we'll get." Neal replied. He shuddered.

"We've still got a week to go," Kel pointed out. "Don't worry!"

"You don't worry about anything!" Merric said.

"Well, you worry too much!" she retorted. Kel knew she had more reason to worry than the others did though. The examiners all hated girl knights, and they would probably fail her given half a chance. "Does anyone need anything before I begin reading this?" Kel asked, and prodded the big book by her side.

Kel was completely ready for the big exams, and everything the examiners could throw her. The exams, when they came, were a bit of a letdown. She thought the questions the examiners asked her were a little harder than those answered by the other soon-to-be-squires, but she answered every question perfectly. She knew she did really well in the physical part of the exams too. Kel smiled as all of her friends who weren't taking the exams cheered in the audience. There was Lalasa, and her mother and father. Inness was there cheering for her, and even Sir Myles, Duke Baird, Gareth the Younger and Lord Raoul too! Then her smile froze on her face. Joren was cheering. She didn't get it. Had he really changed?

Still, Kel didn't let him worry her. She had just passed her exams. She joined with Merric, Esmond, Seaver, Neal and Quinden and they walked together to the tables for dinner. As Lord Wyldon said,

"New squires, you are seated in the wrong places," Kel felt like she was floating on air. Without getting afraid of the height.

Kel had only been a squire for two days when Lord Raoul came to see her. He wanted Kel to be his squire. Kel wanted desperately to be the Lioness's squire, but she knew that was impossible. Lord Raoul was the next best thing.

"Thank you, sir." Kel replied. "I would be honoured." Lord Raoul grinned.

"Excellent! Oh, I hope you don't mind the short notice, but the Own is riding up to stay with the Bazhir for a few months, tomorrow. We'll be going with them, to the only city of the Bazhir, Persopolis. We should be there for about four months, helping out with my tribe, and doing whatever we'll be needed for." Kel grinned back at him.

"I'll be ready by the morning." Kel promised. Raoul nodded and walked away. Kel had to keep from shouting with glee. She had a knight-master already, and they were going on an adventure. Well, maybe not an adventure, but it was definitely better than staying in the palace. Kel ran off to tell Neal of her good luck.

Kel ran to Neal's room and knocked. Impatient, she didn't wait for him to answer, but opened the door and went on in. Neal wasn't alone. Kel's sister was also in there. Oranie. And Neal was kissing her. Kel just stood there open-mouthed for a minute, watching her best friend and secret crush making out with her sister. Then she fled to her room.

Joren was walking down the hall. He saw Kel flee from Neal's. Her face was white as a sheet, and she looked shocked and devastated. Joren knocked softly on Neal's door. There was no answer. Kel hadn't closed the door after her. Joren silently walked in, and saw what it was that had made Kel so upset. Joren walked out silently, and closed the door after him. Neal and Oranie never even knew that they had had two visitors.

Kel was ready to go the next morning. Bitterly, she wrote a note to Neal. It read:

Dear Neal,

Lord Raoul has chosen me to be his squire, and we're going to Persopolis today. We'll be gone for quite a while, probably months. Please tell the others where I am. And tell Oranie, too. I saw you two yesterday. Why? I'll miss you and the others. Love,

Kel

Kel slipped the note under his door, and ran to find Raoul so she wouldn't lose courage and take the note back. Lord Raoul was waiting for her out the front of the palace. Kel saddled Peachblossom quickly and led him up to Raoul. It was then that she realised that Raoul was talking to Sir Paxton of Nond. And Joren was with them.

"Hi Kel." Raoul said brightly when he saw her. "You look tired. We're ready to go now. I think you know Sir Paxton of Nond, and his squire, Joren of Stone Mountain." Kel bowed to both Sir Paxton and Joren, keeping her emotions behind her Yamani face. It seemed like Joren was following her! Yesterday afternoon, she had felt that her luck couldn't get any better. Now, she felt that it couldn't get any worse. She had lost Neal to her sister, she wouldn't see any of her friends for months, and she was stuck with Joren for the next four months.

"Well, Kel, let's get going. Mount up, and we'll be off." Kel obeyed Lord Raoul. She mounted Peachblossom, and positioned herself behind Lord Raoul, next to Joren. She wasn't happy about it, but she didn't have a choice.

"Let's go." Raoul accompanied his command with a hand gesture that everyone could see, and the whole train of people and horses moved out. Lord Raoul and Sir Paxton were chatting like old friends, but Kel and Joren didn't say anything to each other. Finally, Raoul turned to Kel.

"You two are quiet. You haven't said anything for the last hour. Are you all right?"

Kel nodded. "I'm just tired." she replied.

"Okay," Raoul looked sceptical. "Well, why don't the two of you ride ahead and make sure that the way is clear. If you see anything blocking the road, come back so we can stop the procession." Kel and Joren nodded in unison. Raoul smiled. "We should reach a village in about two hours. We'll stop there for lunch. When you see it up ahead come back and tell us, okay?"

"Of course, Lord Raoul." Joren replied. Kel nodded in agreement. She guided Peachblossom out from behind Raoul, and sped off ahead. Joren followed her, and drew up alongside. The Own was going in a trot not much faster than walking pace, so Kel and Joren were ahead of the rest pretty quickly. Kel saw Peachblossom leaning towards Joren's horse, with malicious intent in his eyes. Kel pulled Peachblossom away.

"You'd better not ride so close to Peachblossom." Kel advised Joren. "He'll bite for no reason at all." Joren looked at her to see if she was being nasty, but Kel had spoken the truth. Peachblossom was moving in for another snap at Joren's horse. Joren hastily moved over and Kel pulled Peachblossom back, hiding a smile.

"Has he always been so unsociable?" Joren asked Kel mildly. Again, Kel was surprised. Before he became a squire, Joren had never spoken to her unless it was to insult or threaten her.

"He's not unsociable." Kel replied defensively. "He's just a bit grumpy today." Joren snorted.

"Every day." Kel glared at him, but Joren just smiled disarmingly. "I've seen him. He's always trying to bite somebody." Kel shrugged.

"He was treated badly by a knight. He won't obey anyone except Stefan, Daine, and me. He's only nice to me because Daine asked him to be."

Joren pursed his lips but didn't reply. A few minutes later he said, "I didn't know that you're Lord Raoul's squire."

"He only made me his squire last night." Kel said shortly. Just before I discovered Neal and Oranie, she added to herself. She put on her Yamani face again, and rode on, paying no attention to her surroundings. She didn't notice Joren looking at her thoughtfully. Kel was snapped out of her thoughts by his shout.

"Hey, watch Peachblossom!" Kel sat up, and saw Peachblossom make another lunge for Joren's horse, Firestorm. She pulled him back just in time, and scolded Peachblossom thoroughly.

"You'd better stop doing that. If you don't Lord Raoul might just make me get rid of you. Behave!" Peachblossom just flicked his head, but Kel thought that he understood her. The animals were so much more intelligent now, with Daine in the palace! Joren laughed, but it wasn't his usual mocking laugh.

"You talk to him as if he could understand!"

"All of the animals are a lot more intelligent with Daine in the palace. I wouldn't be surprised if he could understand me."

"Like your sparrows?"

"My sparrows are very intelligent. They did lead us to the spidrens a few years ago. And they helped fight against the bandits two years ago."

"Bandits?" Joren asked curiously. Kel forgot that he didn't know about the fight she'd had with them. And why was he being so nice? Had he changed? Kel decided to be nice to him, too. After all, they would have to spend the next four months together. But she would always be alert in case he decided to start being nasty again and punch her.

"In summer camp a few years ago, we split up into groups. Our group's job was to hunt for food. We stumbled straight into the middle of a bandit camp, and had to fight for our lives. We escaped, but the sparrows and Jump helped."

"Who is Jump?"

"Jump's our dog. My maid took him with her when she moved to her dress shop, because I wouldn't be able to look after him if I'm going everywhere with a field knight."

"Oh, that Jump. I'd heard something about a stray that killed three men." Kel smiled.

"Yes. That Jump. Actually, it was three men and two dogs." Kel strained her eyes ahead. According to Lord Raoul, the village should be coming up about now. Sure enough, Kel saw it about ten minutes later.

"We should go back to tell Lord Raoul." Kel told Joren. He nodded.

They both turned back and rode to the procession. Kel raced Peachblossom ahead of Joren. Pretty soon, Joren caught up, and then overtook her. Kel hid a smile, and raced Peachblossom for all he was worth. She caught up with Joren, and they raced neck-in-neck, neither gaining the advantage. Kel slowed down when Peachblossom was tiring. They had been racing for twenty minutes, but they still hadn't reached the main group. Joren also slowed down when she did. He actually grinned at her when they slowed to a walking pace. She smiled back. Joren was being nice! Whilst they were racing, Kel had actually forgotten that he was Joren, and not one of her friends.

They reached the procession five minutes later. Raoul smiled when they rode up, looking at them questioningly.

"The village is up ahead. We came back as soon as we saw it." Kel told him.

"How far ahead is it?" Raoul asked.

"It took us half an hour to get back to you." Joren answered this time.

"But we were going pretty fast." Kel added.

"So how long do you think it will take to get there, given the rate we're going?" Paxton asked. Kel looked down, hiding a smile. Joren actually laughed out loud.

"Maybe… four hours, sir." Joren replied. Kel didn't bother to hide her smile at that.

She said, "Well, probably closer to two. Do you want us to go ahead and inform the village of your arrival?" Raoul nodded gravely, hiding his own smile behind a hand.

"You could tell them that about fifty people on horseback are hoping to stop somewhere in the village if they have room. Would you tell them that we aren't expecting them to provide food, but if they have any spare we may want to buy some off them?" Kel nodded.

"Good. Don't bother riding back to us after you reach the village. Give your horses a rest."

"We will, sir." Joren replied. They both turned, and galloped off ahead of the procession. As soon as they were out of sight, Kel turned to Joren.

"Four hours? Doesn't Sir Paxton mind your exaggeration?" Joren smiled.

"He finds it annoying that the Own takes a long time to travel if the need isn't urgent. He was complaining about their speed yesterday. He doesn't mind." Kel nodded. She was already starting to feel more comfortable about Joren. She was inclined to believe his story that he'd changed. Of course, Joren was a very good actor and an accomplished liar, but he did seem different.

They didn't race on the way back to the village, although they did go a lot faster than the Own went. They arrived about half an hour later. Neither Kel nor Joren wanted to leave their horses tied up outside the village where they might be stolen, so they both dismounted and led the horses in.

As they walked in, Kel saw a girl carrying water into a nearby house. She called out.

"Excuse me. Is there someone in charge of the village that we could speak to?" The girl set the water down by the doorway and walked over to them.

"That would be Ranondol. He'd be in that house over there about now." Kel smiled at the girl and thanked her. She curtsied shyly and fled back to her house, carrying in the water. Kel approached Ranondol's house.

"Would you to hold Firestorm while I go talk to Ranondol?" Joren asked her. He grinned. "I'm sorry, but I'm not holding Peachblossom."

Kel smiled and held out her hand for Firestorm's reins. Unlike Peachblossom, the horse was docile. Joren walked up to the door and knocked. After a while, a man opened the door. He was tall, and he looked about forty. The man had brown hair that was going grey, and a severe expression on his face.

"Hello."

"Hello, would you be Ranondol?"

"Aye."

"I'm Squire Joren of Stone Mountain. I'm travelling with the King's Own up to the Scanran border. Lord Raoul sent his own squire and me ahead to tell you that the Own will be passing through. We number about fifty men. He asked me to tell you that he doesn't expect you to provide food for them, but he would be grateful if the villagers have any excess food that they would be willing to sell the Own."

"I believe we have some food spare. There's no space inside the village for ye to tether yer horses, but there is space out that way." The man pointed to the other side of the village.

"Thank you. Lord Raoul will be here with the Own in about an hour and a half." Ranondol nodded. Joren turned away, and Ranondol closed the door behind him. Joren walked up to Kel and took Firestorm back.

"Did you hear what he said?" Joren asked Kel. She shook her head. "They've got food spare, and he told me there was room to tether our horses out that side of the village. We can tether the horses out that side where there's grass and water, and then we can come back here to wait for the Own."

"Let's go, then." Kel replied.

They led the horses to a nearby stream, where both Firestorm and Peachblossom drank thirstily. Then they tethered the horses near grass, where both could graze. Kel made sure Peachblossom was tied far enough away from Firestorm that he wouldn't bite the other horse. Kel smiled. 'Peachblossom' was a peaceful name, but the horse was anything but peaceful. Joren's horse had a name that was much better suited to Peachblossom, suggesting a fiery disposition.

They went back and sat near the road at the other end of the village, waiting for the Own to come.

"When do you think they'll get here?" Joren asked Kel.

"At least an hour. They're travelling so slowly." Joren grinned at that.

"It's supposed to take a week of travelling to get to Persopolis. How long d'you reckon we'll be on the road? A month?" Kel groaned but she smiled. After a minute she added,

"Well, anything's better than the palace right now." Kel's mood darkened again. It seemed she couldn't do or say anything without remembering Neal. Staying on the road suited her just fine. Joren had said something.

"Pardon?" Kel asked.

"I said, you really like Neal, don't you?" Kel swallowed.

" Of course! He's my best friend." She replied, trying to keep her sadness and anger out of her voice. Best friends tell each other everything, Kel reminded herself. Neal hadn't told her about Orie. She hadn't told him about her feelings either, Kel reminded herself. She realised Joren had spoken again.

"I'm sorry. What was that?" Joren was looking at her strangely. Kel could almost have sworn that she saw sympathy in his eyes for a second.

"I said, are you okay?"

"Why wouldn't I be?" Kel asked with false brightness.

"I saw you running out of Neal's rooms yesterday." Joren replied quietly.

"Oh." The colour drained out of Kel's face. What could she say?

"If you need someone to talk to while we're away, I'm always here." Joren said softly. Kel still didn't know what to say. And Joren was being nice.

"Thanks." Kel replied. And then she burst out crying.

Last night, she had been too shocked to cry. She had just sat numbly on her bed, staring at the wall for what seemed like ages. And now, all of her emotion was coming out in tears. After a moment, she felt gentle hands pulling her towards them. One held her against a body whilst the other stroked her head soothingly.

Kel sat there crying; feeling like she had when she was two, before she went to the Yamanis and was taught that emotions were a weakness. And then Kel realised that it wasn't her mother holding her, but…Kel looked up into the most beautiful boy's face she had ever seen.

It was Joren holding her, calming her. Kel looked up into his eyes and he gazed back unblinkingly. It was then that her doubts about his sincerity faded. She sat up again, and he let her without a word.

"I…" Kel began.

"I understand." Kel looked at him searchingly, but he didn't elaborate. He moved his hand and wiped away the tears on her face. Kel let him, uncertain again. Joren smiled softly. "It'll be okay. You'll get over it. You managed to survive the hazing, and all the practical jokes. You can survive this new… development."

Kel looked at him, startled. Did Joren know? Well, time to change the subject.

"Did you put the lead weights in my lance?" Kel asked him. Joren looked down.

"Yes," he admitted.

"Why?"

"I didn't think girls belonged in fighting. I thought that Lady Alanna was a cheater because she's a sorceress. I thought that you would get special treatment and you wouldn't be able to keep up. But then I saw Sir Alanna fighting."

"When?"

"I was with Sir Paxton at a tournament. She was sword fighting against a knight from Tusaine. It wasn't a proper duel, but a test to see who was better. Alanna won in about half a minute. The same knight had fought against Sir Paxton and other well-known knights, and won most of his competitions. And Alanna beat him easily. I watched the Lioness after that, and I never saw her lose a competition, not with sword, knife, or lance. She always won. Then I realised, not even magic could help her win all of those. And if she could do it, you can too."

Kel was too surprised to say anything. Joren looked at her and gave a half- smile. Kel smiled back shyly. Joren seemed completely different to how he had been only a few years ago. He acted like a totally different person!

"I haven't seen Sir Alanna." Kel commented blandly.

"That's right. Lord Wyldon said he would resign if Alanna had any contact with you." Kel gasped. She had known that the King had refused to allow Alanna to see her, but she hadn't known it was because Wyldon had threatened to resign. That made her see things in a whole new light. She had yet another reason to hate Lord Wyldon!

As Kel was mulling over these thoughts, the men of the Own came up, with Raoul and Paxton in the lead. Kel relayed Ranondol's message and instructions, and the Own moved to tether their horses and settle down for lunch. It was there that the messenger found them.

A sweat-soaked man on a very tired horse came galloping into view before most of the men had finished tying their horses. He rode straight to Lord Raoul and began talking without even dismounting.

"Sir, sir, you're needed up by Narnon. The Scanrans have broken through the defences, and you're needed to drive them back. King's orders." At that, the man handed Raoul an envelope with the King's seal. Raoul took it wordlessly and opened it. He removed a piece of parchment and scanned it quickly. He nodded affirmatively and put the parchment back.

"We'll go now. You can tell the king not to worry."

"I will, sir. Good luck!" With that, the man galloped off the way he had come. Raoul bellowed to the men just beginning to rummage in their packs for food.

"Pack up! We're needed up by Narnon to fight Scanrans. I'm afraid we'll have to eat in the saddle. If we hurry, we can get there in three hours. We need to go now."

Kel and Joren hurriedly readied their horses for riding, and joined the line of the Own, right behind their knight masters. Raoul brought his hand down, and the men were off. They went a lot faster. Kel looked back to see Ranondol standing confusedly in the doorway to his house. Other than him, nobody was to be seen.

They arrived at the closest village to Narnon within two hours. They stopped, and the scared villagers told the men (and Kel) that the Scanrans were camped across the river and over the hill. Raoul then asked the head of the village whether they could camp near it that night. The man agreed immediately, and Kel could almost see the line of thought that led to that decision. With over fifty strong, well-trained fighters, the village would be well protected for the night. Kel thought that maybe that was Lord Raoul's idea.

They set up camp outside the village walls. Traditionally, a squire lived in a room or tent attached to his knight-master's but Raoul had decided that wasn't necessary. Firstly, he said he wouldn't need anything from her anyway, and secondly, he had said that he didn't want any more rumours spreading about her if they could be at all prevented. Kel agreed secretly with him on that point, although she protested that she had been ignoring rumours like that for the last four years.

Kel ended up setting up a tent for herself, a little distance away from Raoul's. The men ate together around small cooking fires, and then they went to bed. Raoul had, of course, posted sentries, so Kel felt relatively safe as she left the fire to go to her own tent. It was a surprise when strong hands grabbed her shoulder. Before Kel had time to react, she was turned around, and came face to face with Joren. What was he doing? Why? She was actually beginning to like the squire!



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