I don't plan any further chapters for this story. I might reference events within it for some later story, but this is the end for this story.
The Courtship of Domitan of Masbolle: Chapter Four
Tobeis Boon didn't look angry, but from what Dom knew it could be rather hard to tell. Dom decided to work under the guess that Tobe wasn't upset, but that the kid did know exactly what was about to happen. It was much safer to guess that children knew exactly what was going on around them. That went double when it was his men telling dirty jokes thinking that kids wouldn't know the punchlines.
"Good evening, Tobe. I didn't get the chance to say hello earlier, but you're definitely three inches taller than you were in Scanra."
When in doubt, compliment, and if there was one thing truer than young boys (and some lucky girls) growing like weeds, it was that all young boys were extremely pleased about that new height. Precisely on schedule, Tobe blushed slightly, looking quite flattered. "Thank you, sir—um, Sergeant."
"It doesn't matter much to me, Tobe. My own men come up with a new name for me every week, and all of us agreed that you're honorary Own. If you'd rather stick with 'sergeant' for a while until 'Dom' is easier, don't worry about it." Tobe's burden hadn't looked so bulky while he was approaching, but a few of his men wouldn't be able to hold a full tray of drinks steady for a full minute. That was mostly due to impatience, rather than lack of strength, but it was still impressive to know a kid had no problem with the task. "Here, that tray looks pretty heavy. Do you want to set it down for a minute?"
"No thanks, sergeant."
Dom hadn't expected anything else, but it seemed polite to offer. "Here, I'll lighten it a bit." He drained one glass of cider, rather surprised at how thirsty he was himself, and reconsidered his earlier plan. He set the empty glass on the tray and took two full ones in exchange. "I'm going to get one out to Kel in a minute. Unless you'd rather," he said, remembering how little Tobe liked it when other people encroached on duties the boy had claimed.
Tobe smiled slyly. Sometimes, that boy was far older than ten. "I think she'd like it better if you took it out, sergeant."
That was more than enough sign of approval for Dom. "Thank you kindly, Tobe, I'd like the excuse to get her attention."
Tobe hesitated, shifting the tray to one arm. "Um, sergeant?"
Tobe's smile was very shy, but the expression was undeniably friendly. "Good luck."
More than anything, that little exchange made Dom sure that he had a chance. Tobe vanished before there was any chance to reply, but the encouragement carried him across the dance floor guarding the two glasses of cider, and sheer accident in timing let him come up to Kel just as Wolset was stepping away. (Wolset, being an accommodating fellow, even slipped away without another word to leave them even more space.)
"Spot of cider, lady knight?" he offered. "You've been very popular tonight."
"Thank you," she said with feeling, draining the entire glass rapidly. (There was something very wrong with a man when he fell in love with somebody's neck, but he could have watched the way that her muscles moved for an hour without getting bored.) Dom held out the second, and wasn't at all surprised when it vanished just as quickly. The servants had been paying attention, of course, because someone made the emptied cups vanish before Dom could even think of what they would do to get them off of the dance floor. Kel had the presence of mind to thank the quickly-disappearing servant before catching one of Dom's hands. "I believe we were interrupted earlier, and you still owe me a dance." She knew that he wasn't fool enough to refuse such an easy request.
Dancing was easy when the number was too fast for anyone to think of talking, and he had the advantage of several breaks throughout the night. Her previous partners had run her ragged, because even Kel's stamina was starting to flag after two full hours of dancing. Luckily, one of the many people with an all-too-obvious interest in watching them dance together had noticed. Dom could have sworn that he saw Alanna signaling to the band just before the first few bars of a quicker song turned into a stately dance meant to be done very slowly.
"I feel like I've hardly seen you today," Keladry said, easily finding the new tempo of the song. "Is Raoul making you work tomorrow?"
"He's taken pity on my squad's wearied souls. We've had politicians harassing us for the past four days," he explained. "We've had to give another full accounting of the Scanran expedition, this time with the proper bureaucrats already in place. You'll get a visit from them in the next month or so."
Keladry pulled a face. "They're just waiting for us to come up with a better way to say that we displaced Blayce. Doing it with a handful of knights, a squad of the Own, and a small bunch of peasants... they wanted something a little more impressive."
"I thought it was very impressive, and they're still allergic to admitting that a soldier with a pole arm can take down a slow mage," he countered. "We had two mages involved for my squad's inquisition, and neither liked the idea that you used a glaive without the slightest bit of magic attached to it. It'd make their days happy if you said that Master Salmalin witched it for you."
"I'll tell them Numair saved my bacon with explaining about focuses and call it even. We can get our stories straight tomorrow, if you like. I was planning on an early ride."
"I would like that," Dom said. It was true, but not necessarily descriptive. He would have liked anything that meant spending time with Kel. "You're disgustingly cheerful in the mornings, and I'd hate to see you stabbed for such a mild character flaw. No one suffering from a hangover should have to remember that happiness exists."
Keladry laughed, and thwapped him on the shoulder for the slight. "We'll avoid the drunks, anyway. More accurately, you can ignore all your men whining at you."
"As wise as you are beautiful," he dared, letting the teasing carry the true words, but something caught. She was looking at him, and nothing seemed odd about that, but her lips had pulled a touch up and to the right. While he was still puzzling out what that could mean, if Yuki were right and Kel revealed everything through obscure motions of her lips, Kel had leaned forward and kissed him.
Dom's body seemed to react independently of his mind. While he was still processing that this was really happening, and not some lovely hallucination, his arms had curled around her back and his neck and discovered the optimal tilt for his head, and by the time he realized that he was actually kissing Lady Knight Keladry of Mindelan, he was in good company. His eyes had closed at some point, but even without opening them he knew they were the focus of nearly everybody in the room.
After what could only have been a second, somebody (probably Raoul, Alanna, Nealan, Wolset, or Buri) wolf-whistled, the room at large chuckled, and the musicians resumed playing.
They did separate after a minute or an hour, one of those, and it would be the optimal time for a teasing one-liner. There was no one else to hear, the setup had been fantastic, the cue was right there...
"Very nice," Keladry said. The words were deadpan, but he could see the tiny twitches of her mouth that meant she was one joke away from smiling. "I don't expect the room to come to a complete standstill every time, but..."
"But we can always experiment?" Dom proposed hopefully.
Kel did smile, the tiniest turn of the lips that left him a very happy man. "My instructors were always very firm in saying that you cannot believe a phenomenon is true after only one example. Think how much we would disappoint Sir Myles,"she said gravely.
"As much as I hate to disappoint Sir Myles, perhaps we can do our country proud without half of it looking on? The fort offers the lovely romantic vantage points of the kitchen vegetable garden, the composting grounds, and the wall." Dom consoled himself with thinking that it would be even worse at New Hope, when all of those sites would be filled with people that still weren't entirely sure that their Lady Kel should settle for a sergeant.
"The wall, I think. We can be safe from Queen Thayet whistling at us like disobedient Rider trainees."
"That was the queen? I thought it was milord." Really, Dom shouldn't have been surprised. Sure enough, when he saw her again, Queen Thayet did look rather pleased with herself. "I am glad that your friends seem to approve of me. You have quite a few of them."
"There's only ten people in your squad, and even Captain Whiteford doesn't mind me too much lately. I think he's happy that I gave the Own enough credit for Blayce that the nobles are about to start a permanent training facility for new recruits." Kel was understating her own appeal again, of course. Flyndan had come around on Kel so much that he was starting to ask the queen and Lady Ilane for lessons on glaives to show his young men not to make silly assumptions.
"My squad and I would have been there anyway, but it was nice of milord to give orders in line with what we wanted to do. Much like today, actually. Lord Raoul spent the last three weeks creating reasons that my squad couldn't be pulled away." Dom might have bucked orders to make it back for the wedding anyway, of course, but he would have a ridiculous number of witnesses saying he'd abandoned his post to flirt with Kel, something she wouldn't have approved.
"We seem to have quite a few fans already. I saw most of the room giving you the third-degree, and Daine was about to fly straight to Corus to yell at a door. The Chamber of the Ordeal and I are- um- friends, I suppose," Kel admitted, looking just as puzzled about the phrasing as he felt. "It overshadowed Irnai, once, and I guess that it could do the same with Daine. She has the right kind of magic for it to use as a channel."
"Is that what... I thought I was going a bit mad, for a second, but Daine seemed to think I had the right reaction." Perhaps Dom wouldn't need some sort of elaborate apology flower-arrangement after all. He could stick with the spoken version and have no chance of drawing the irritation of Numair Salmalin (who also had a soft spot for Kel, from what he'd seen). "So far, I think I've had the approval of all and sundry. My mother's already quite charmed from the letters that Nealan would write, my father's rather agreeable, and Meathead has already made several threats regarding his rights as your original best friend."
"My dad's just as nice," Kel said solemnly, with that little twitch of her lips that meant trouble. "A couple of my brothers are going to wait to see what you're like, and most of my sisters and I actually get along now."
"The catch is the inimitable Lady Ilane, I'd guess?"
Kel smiled, shaking her head. "Not for long, I think, especially if you approach her like that. She'll like you. I already said that you've been on my side all along. I think you've already appeased the horde of people that seem to think they have a say. Peachblossom, Tobe, Lalasa, and Raoul like you, and the rest of them could have gone to jump in a lake if they didn't agree."
Somehow, he had impressed a gelding, a horse-whisperer, a dressmaker, his commanding officer, and the most fascinating woman in the country. Clearly he was doing something right. "So, when we were talking about experimentation to verify a phenomenon..."
That time, he caught separate wolf-whistles from the queen, the King's Champion, the commander of the King's Own, the commander emeritus of the Queen's Riders, and his newly wed cousins. Clearly Meathead was a terrible influence, but Yuki looked quite happy, so perhaps it was for the best. He hadn't caught the source of the loudest whistle, but Kel was shaking her head as she looked behind him. "Who was that? Wolset?" Dom asked, wondering if his corporal had finally learned how to whistle without that hiss at the end of it.
Dom chuckled, somehow unsurprised that the stiff training master emeritus had joined the rest of the civilized folk in taking Keladry's side. They managed to escape the ball without further difficulty, and even snuck around the first wall guard during a change in shift. There was an empty munitions storage alcove with an excellent view, and Kel had already muttered promises about what would happen to the next person to interrupt. He'd always loved it when the lady took initiative.
Life certainly wouldn't be boring, with all of her friends around for color commentary and unexpected wolf-whistling, but he never had been one for boredom. Maybe that was why he'd been smart enough to take the fool's bet, when the tall page had been struggling with a bad-tempered gelding all those years ago. It always paid to bet on Kel.