Author's Note: The Knights belong to Blue Byte and Ubisoft. If the character designers read this, they'd probably have a heart attack. Thanks to Rockerduck for her help with the concept and being a general sounding-board.
This is set at some unspecified point after Friendly Fire. If you have not read Loyalty and Legend, not only will this story make no sense but it will spoil one of that fic's most important plot points. So go and read that first.
Kestral lent back in her armchair and yawned elaborately. "How long is Hakim going to take?"
Marcus shrugged, sending a pile of paperwork at his elbow flying. "How long does it take to make tea?"
Crimson Sabatt, seated at the round table, looked up from her book. "Patience, gypsy. It is not a process that can be taken lightly."
Kestral looked at Marcus and rolled her eyes. He smirked.
Footsteps at the door. Kestral sat up hopefully, then slumped again as Alandra entered.
"I thought you were Wise Boy with the tea."
"You're forcing him to make it again?" The hooded woman strode over to stand behind Marcus' chair. She glanced over his shoulder for a brief moment, then chuckled and kissed him on the head. "It's spelled c-l-a-s-s-i-f-y, dear."
Marcus coloured. "I knew that."
Footsteps again, and a clatter of crockery. Hakim appeared, laden down with a tea tray.
Kestral lent forward again with a grin. "Took you long enough."
Hakim's eyebrow shot up. He placed the tray on the table, and began to set out the cups. "If you believe you are capable of doing it faster, by all means, attempt it. In fact, I fail to see why I am the one who was selected for this task."
Kestral smiled sweetly. "Because you are the general dogsbody who does everything for us, Wise Boy."
"Including paperwork." Alandra cleared her throat and leveled a severe look at the archer. "I could not help but notice, Lady Kestral, that your latest monthly report was not in your handwriting. The vocabulary was also significantly more sophisticated than you are wont to use."
Kestral risked a glance at Hakim. His face remained impassive. Her grin widened. "I wonder how that could have happened, Lady Alandra."
"Mmm-hmm." Alandra raised an eyebrow in a creditable imitation of the Janubian.
Hakim checked inside the teapot and nodded, apparently satisfied. "Am I pouring?"
"I don't know," Sabatt mused. "Can we trust you?"
Kestral groaned. "It's only tea. How can he possibly mess it up?"
"Only tea?" Both Sabatt's eyebrows shot up. She glanced over at Hakim and said something in Janubian, with a significant nod at Kestral. Hakim looked up for a moment, expression a mixture of amusement and reprimand.
"Now that's just not fair," Kestral murmured, accepting a cup of the steaming brew from Hakim and shooting a glare at Sabatt. "If you're going to belittle my intelligence, do it in a language I can understand, thanks."
"Sabatt, where did you learn Janubian?" Alandra asked.
The Guerannan woman chuckled. "My father was an ambassador to Sahir al-Awan when I was very young. I made several trips there as a child."
Kestral took a sip of tea, resisting the temptation to look at Hakim.
Alandra stepped around the table and took two cups, then returned to the corner desk and put one down for Marcus. "And you still remember the language?"
Sabatt smiled wryly. "I had a lot of practice. We stayed very near the palace there, and I used to play with the Prince's sons."
The ear-splitting crash echoed throughout the room. Kestral choked on her tea and whipped her head around. The teapot was shattered in a hundred pieces on the flagstone floor; the hot liquid was splashed on the ground and table edge. Hakim dropped to his knees and dived for the scattered shards, but not before he shot Kestral a look of pure undiluted panic.
"I told you we couldn't trust him," Sabatt observed.
Kestral, not sure whether to crack up laughing or freak out herself, put down her cup and went to Hakim's aid. "Crimmy, why don't you make yourself useful and get something to mop this mess up with?"
"Very well." The Guerannan woman rolled her eyes, stood, and swept from the room.
Alandra bent down next to Kestral, reaching for a large piece of china. "At least it wasn't the best set."
"I take it it's irreparable?" said Marcus dryly, joining the impromptu clean-up crew.
"No kidding, genius." Kestral swatted him on the arm.
"I apologise," Hakim said awkwardly, scraping some of the smaller pieces into a pile. "I don't know how I could have been so careless."
Kestral gave him a searching look, but he'd apparently mastered his shock and his face had returned to its usual stony inscrutability. She hid a grin, fishing for a tiny shard in a particularly deep puddle of rapidly cooling tea.
"It's fine," Alandra reassured him. "Marcus, could you get a broom, please?"
Marcus bounced to his feet. "Righto. Don't break anything else while I'm gone."
"Unlikely." Alandra stood, brushing uselessly at her tea-stained knees. "I'll go and report the loss to the kitchen."
Kestral nodded, watched the pair exit, then turned to Hakim. "I am actually at a loss for words right now."
Hakim took a deep breath. "I must admit that I am in a similar position."
She lowered her voice to a whisper. "Do you think she knows?"
He hesitated. "I doubt it. It was twenty-five years ago. If I did not recognise her, it is improbable that she could identify me. It's likely just a coincidence."
"The more I get to know Crimmy, the more I'm beginning to suspect there's no such thing as coincidences." She gave a lopsided smile. "So, childhood friends, huh?"
"Not. One. Word."
"Aww, but –"
"Fine." She huffed and scrambled to her feet. "But I think I'm going to die of curiosity."
He looked up at her with a smile. "If that occurs, I shall speak at your funeral."
"Will you give me a nice eulogy?" She reached out a hand and helped him up.
"Of course. Lady Kestral of Gallos was an absolutely infuriating woman with an irritating habit of prying into other people's business –"
"– and I owe her my eternal thanks for distracting Sabatt and saving me from inevitable exposure just now." He grinned down at her. "Is that sufficient?"
"Passable, Princey. But you're never pouring the tea again."