For once, I finished a story before posting it. This story will have four chapters, and I'll probably post one every few days. I don't own these characters or the setting, or even the events that prompted this story.
This story begins just a few hours after Lady Knight ended.
The Courtship of Domitan of Masbolle: Chapter One
The day started out with an immense amount of promise, which should have been Sergeant Domitan of Masbolle's first clue.
Sir Meathead was marrying the woman insane enough to find his insipid poetry wonderful, and who also thought it was adorable that Nealan buried his vast soft streak beneath a vaster amount of sarcasm and cynicism. Yuki would make a very acceptable cousin, and when he had made the pronouncement at dinner the night before his cousin's very pretty bride had kissed him on the cheek for his troubles. Buri hadn't been so affectionate when he'd proclaimed her a suitable boss-lady for the Own, but she had laughed at his spirited toast. Dom was technically Neal's best man, but he had given a toast for Raoul just to be polite. It wasn't just any day that Lord Sir Raoul of Goldenlake and Malorie's Peak, infamous bachelor and the breaker of matchmaker hearts, decided to marry Queen Thayet's best friend.
The queen had taken the boat up with Yuki and Buri for the wedding, and she was (rather naturally) serving as the matron of honor for Buri's bridal party. In a brilliant display of tweaking conservative noses entirely out of joint, Sir Alanna of Pirate's Swoop would be Raoul's best man. Dom's favorite detail, however, was that Kel was the undisputed maid of honor for Neal and Yuki, meaning that Dom would get to escort her down the aisle, dance with her at the reception, and make endless flirtations about Kel cleaning up well. Kel was the rare woman that looked remarkable coated in mud, but he didn't mind the see the chance at seeing her in a dress that emphasized certain parts of her that armor never would.
The dress would be something, not that he'd pay all that much attention to it. He didn't have to. Lalasa had also been on the boat for the occasion, as the best dressmaker in Corus would be dressing the queen, the Champion, two brides, and Lady Knight Keladry of Mindelan- a resume that most seamstresses would never fill in a lifetime, let alone all in one day. Lalasa could make Meathead look good in a dress if she so chose, so there was no question that Kel was going to be stunning.
Wolset could shove it. The corporal's categorization of Dom's "painfully obvious" crush was obviously an exaggeration, if Kel hadn't remarked on it. There was the off chance that Kel had noticed, and had decided to hold her tongue to spare Dom's delicate male ego, but he knew her. She would have sat him down at some point and been so nice about letting him down that it would be like falling into a pit of feathers. It would still be embarrassing and awkward, and he'd probably draw funny looks from the metaphorical feathers stuck about his person for days to come, but she would have been so diplomatic and practical and Kel in ending his long-standing crush that he might have even gotten over her without too many long-lasting emotional scars.
It was rather late for that, now, because he had gotten to the point where she could completely unhinge his time-honored strategy of "when in doubt, flirt." He used it a mite too often, perhaps, but once he had developed the reputation for flirting everybody started expecting it, and he couldn't just use it only on Kel. He might as well carry about a placard stating that he was absolutely mad for Mindelan, and would the world please take pity on his ability to concentrate. He still flirted, but by now if he did try to be aloof and mysterious ladies might think they simply weren't attractive enough to flirt with, and some of the girls he'd been roped into dancing with had been teenagers at their debut, and self-confidence was a very hard thing to develop if the rather infamously flirtatious sergeant remained entirely polite without providing at least one approving and mildly scandalous quip for her to repeat to her friends later.
It was his own fault, just as it was his own fault that he'd been standing quite casually near the entrance of the fort for the last half an hour. He was a hopeless case, but he was the hopeless case that was going to grab Kel as soon as she wrangled Nealan into an appearance. Raoul (a pox on his name) had actually found work for Dom to do that didn't involve spending weeks of his time at New Hope. He had seen the fort only twice, and for one of those visits he had been a courier. He had been carrying a message directly to Keladry, but he still had been under strict orders to receive her reply and ride away promptly.
He had also been letting his thoughts wander with entirely too little supervision, because somehow Wolset had shown up just a few minutes before and had yet to think of leaving. Wolset was making an art of insolently leaning his weight to one side, then the other. Rude man, Dom couldn't imagine why he had ever let that battlefield promotion hold- except that Kel had straightened up Dom's most irritating soldier inside half an hour, and the changes that she had made had stuck rather firmly.
Wolset finally made a different kind of shift, after quite a bit of waiting, and that was the one that meant that Dom was (again) going to deal with taunts and sly innuendo about 1. his inability to form particular sentences with Kel in sight, 2. whether or not he would ever make an attempt to kiss the fair lady, or 3. why it was rather pathetic to see the dashing Sergeant Dom utterly unable to charm a girl after a great deal of previous attempts, which were still acted out by his devoted, loyal squad whenever they had the slightest sip of spirits or when they simply felt he could use the reminder. If it wasn't any of those, Wolset would be complaining about the money that he could be making from the squad's betting pool if Dom would only make his move.
Dom might have tuned the words out entirely, but Wolset's expression was oddly sympathetic.
"You should tell her," Wolset said. There was no hint of teasing in those words, and the man's dark eyes were rather intense. Usually he was only interested in battles, alcohol, and embarrassing Domitan, but the words were quiet enough for not even the guard up on the wall to hear.
Dom said nothing, preferring to let silence goad Wolset into elaborating.
"You've already covered the nice gestures, Dom, and nobody can doubt that you're good for her. You've been taking up for her side just as long as my lord, and he's the only one to rival Kel for taking up strays." Wolset turned toward the road when Dom only glared. "It's a good omen, people getting married all over the place, and it can't go all that terribly. You know her. She'd never embarrass you over something like this if we're all wrong."
"I..." Dom didn't know how to explain, but he was in that unenviable position that he had always been so quick to ridicule. How could you be so happy with what you had that you were unwilling to push for what you really wanted? It was rather easy to start sympathizing with that indecision when you were close friends with someone like Kel. She cared about everybody and everything, from one-legged sparrows to entire camps of refugees to a single unjust law, and it was rather overwhelming to hope that some portion of that great compassion could settle on you with a rather more personal kind of attention.
Wolset was about to prompt him into actually speaking words, but that was when the wall-guard trumpeted a welcoming.
Normally it wasn't done to have trumpets announcing every single little detail of fort life, especially as some of the wall-guards couldn't carry a tune in a bucket glued to their hand, but today there was a double-wedding. The trumpet notes were followed by a shout- announcing the imminent arrival of the New Hope delegation, which would include his cousin and the lady knight herself.
She had a wonderful habit of saving people, and sometimes it even included Dom. Wolset was good, but Dom didn't outrank him solely for reasons of ego. "Grab Kel's horse, would you?" He had warned his men to knock it off about Keladry of Mindelan. "I need to talk to Kel for a minute, Lord Raoul's orders, and I'm sure Peachblossom knows you better than the ostlers here."
That was just mean, really, but there was no call for Wolset putting him even more on edge when he could see the horses in the distance. Peachblossom wasn't there, more's the pity, but Wolset could still be kind and take Hoshi's reins. Dom actually did have orders from Raoul, though he strongly expected they had been given only because recently engaged men had the most obnoxious tendency to start marrying off everyone they knew. It had driven Raoul up the wall just a few years before, and then Kel had talked Raoul into taking Buri along to some Midwinter party or other, and suddenly his boss went to the occasional party voluntarily to 'keep Buri company,' as 'he owes her a favor.' Raoul had even pointed a sweet young lady right toward Lerant in a blatant (and rather effective) display of matchmaking.
The chaos of people arriving and hostlers running to whisk the horses out of site and men sprinting to spirit the guests to their appropriate places all faded into watching Kel ride in. He realized that it was probably a terrible sign that the entire world could narrow to just her, especially given the prospect that he might need to back away someday soon and smile when she introduced some lucky man as her fiance, but it did make the greetings the slightest bit easier. Kel and Hoshi picked through the milling crowd with ease, and Kel dismounted with effortless grace and a smile.
He was sunk, completely sunk, but he couldn't bring himself to care.
She had already opened her arms, so he very happily followed his greeting declaration with a strong hug. Gods he had missed being around a woman he didn't need to worry about breaking.
"Dom, hello." She jerked her head behind her, unerringly pinpointing Sir Meathead. Granted, it probably wasn't all that hard, as Dom could practically hear the poor sucker's heartbeat from fifteen paces, but he was impressed nonetheless. She had known his cousin for ages, to be able to do that, and yet Nealan was still alive. Truly Kel had the patience of a martyr. "I've been trying to talk him down for the entire ride up here. I'll be glad to hand him off to you when it's time to get him all dressed up and ready to go."
Dom winced playfully. "Don't remind me, they say that brides are supposed to be the neurotic ones- I've always had more issues with the grooms. Speaking of, His Lordship wants me to steal you for a report, and by report, he really means that I'm the middleman. He has a present he wants to pass to Buri, and wanted to be sure I went over the accompanying note with you."
Kel seemed a little reluctant as she stepped away from him, but his overeager imagination could easily have added in a motive. It was hard for any of them to move anywhere, let alone to create more space. "You'll have Alanna to help you, at least- I can't believe he made her best man!"
Somehow, for all his nervousness at the thought of talking to her, it was as easy as breathing to fall into their usual banter. "It was her or Sir Gary, and once Gary knew the options he found reasons to be in Corus. His wife came up to feed him the details later, but he's sitting in Corus watching the conservative reaction to all of this."
Keladry chuckled. "I can imagine- I'll be up there with the queen, so we're in good company for the madness. Nealan had something for Yuki, too. He gave it to me days ago to be sure he wouldn't misplace it, and asked about it at least a dozen times on the way here."
Dom was going to suggest getting away from the crowd so they could hear themselves think, and was going to prolong the conversation for as long as he possibly could, but that was when Lalasa came running into the crowd. Normally he liked the girl quite a bit, but he found the interruption less than pleasing.
"Lady Kel, we have problems," Lalasa said calmly, for all that she must have run from the central building of the fort. The dressmaker was as fit as any of Dom's men, and rumor had it that she taught fighting more frequently than his entire squad put together. "Yuki and Buri both desire your immediate presence for reasons that I am not allowed to repeat, lest their reputations suffer."
Kel looked at him, but she needn't have asked. He rarely had an overinflated opinion of himself, and he would never step between Lady Knight Keladry and her duty. "Here. I trust completely in your ability to read the attached note and present this to Buri with all due ceremony." He pressed the oblong white box into her hand.
He was sunk. The banter flowed like alcohol at the first annual Queen's Riders-King's Own Midwinter Party, but just touching her hand and feeling the calluses made his mind stutter to a brief halt.
"Duty calls." The words had a humorous lilt that only seemed to come out with her closest friends, and he was the sole focus of warm hazel eyes and the recipient of a crooked smile. Perhaps he would regain mental function in time to walk Kel down the aisle, or maybe that would break his head permanently for all of the possibilities of such a thing.
Wolset had vanished, Lalasa was politely waiting to take Kel off for some mission that no one else could accomplish, and he had already lost the excuse that Lord Raoul had given him so handily. It was lucky that there was only one possible response in his full repertoire.
"It always does, Protector of the Small," he said grandly, ducking the half-hearted swat she aimed at his shoulder. No matter how many times someone said it, that title would always goad her into a reaction.
This time, her reaction past the swat was an even more pronounced crookedness to her smile. "You are incorrigible, and I will break you of that habit someday if I have to train you in tilting. Good luck with Raoul and Nealan."
She and Lalasa vanished into the lessening crowd, and it would forever amaze him how a woman so tall could move with such grace.
If he even thought about writing sonnets, he was going to throw himself on Raoul's mercy and ask for more work to do. Until then, he would amuse himself by keeping Sir Meathead in check until the wedding. His cousin wouldn't appreciate any banter appropriate for the occasion, but he did take direction readily enough.
He hadn't had much time with Kel at all, but he was still soppy enough that the half a minute made him want to start smiling goofily enough that he would resemble Raoul in a moment of not-panicking.
Domitan of Masbolle was in trouble, but he somehow couldn't bring himself to care. It was going to be a wonderful day.