Chapter 1: Reading The Protector of the Small
Disclaimer: I am not Tamora Pierce, I do not own Tortall nor its characters, and I am not profiting from my writing. All text in bold belongs to Tamora Pierce, and I hope that I can do her justice
I started this fic back in 2010, posted it in 2011, and then got thoroughly distracted! I now want to slowly get back into it! I hope you enjoy.
Kel abruptly opened her eyes, surprised to find the harsh glow of the mid-morning sun dazzling through her open shutters. With a start, she jumped from bed, disturbing the figure still curled under the covers.
"Dom, get up! Get up, you fool! Do you want the entire Palace rife with rumours of the promiscuous Lady Knight Commander taking to bed with the Captain of Third Company? How do you think Neal and Raoul would react if they found out after half of Corus," Kel whispered urgently.
For now, it was critical that Kel maintained a semi-acceptable reputation to the conservatives of the court for she had to consolidate her leadership as Lady Knight Commander of the King's Own. It wouldn't do for her peers to lose respect for her at this time, as just a feminine and promiscuous lady, bedding their captain! Her mentor Raoul had stepped down from his role during the period of peace following the Scanran War, and he had convinced King Jonathon IV to appoint Kel as his replacement. Kel was experienced working with the companies of the Own, having served with them during her Squire years and also after her escapade in Scanra, in Frasrlund, where she accompanied Second Company on their rotation in the North.
Kel hastily yanked the covers off of Dom's body, eager to kick him out of her room, just in case Neal were to appear unexpectedly; as he had a habit of doing. In the year since Kel and her year mates had returned to Corus from the boarder, Neal had married her Yamani friend, Yuki. They now had an infant daughter, Kelly, who Kel was godsmother to. Unbeknownst to Neal, Irnai had predicted that Kelly would be a little monster, and would in fact try for her shield; this greatly pleased Kel who anticipated mentoring her young godsdaughter with great excitement.
Dom scrambled for his breeches, kissing Kel on the cheek before catapulting himself out the window, disturbing her sparrows which had just arrived to chirp good morning. Nari confirmed that Neal was en route to her chambers in the Own's barracks, so she quickly readied herself for the day.
Upon hearing the pounding on her door, Kel grabbed her glaive, and pulled on the handle, almost receiving a fist in the face for her efforts. "Oh Meathead, what a pleasant morning it is, only enhanced by your presence!" Kel exclaimed.
Neal curtly responded "Kel, it's 3 bells past dawn! You must have had a big night considering your absence from glaive practice. Yuki just sent me now to collect you so that you can spar, whilst I mind Kelly."
Kel blushed remembering the nature of her evening, but quickly glazed her eyes over with her Yamani mask. "Yes thank you Meathead, I was just on my way. Will you and my beloved godsdaughter be accompanying me to the practice courts?"
"No," replied Neal, "I'm off to find my cousin for he was also strangely absent from breakfast."
Kel silently prayed that Dom had made it back to his chambers and was similarly ready for the day, to avoid an awkward and potentially suspicious explanation to the ever-nosy Neal.
Kel and Neal parted at the entry into the barracks, Neal wandering the corridors in search for the missing Captain of the Own, whilst Kel jogged off to the practice courts.
Kel arrived to the sight of Thayet sparring with Buri, whilst Alanna and Raoul were duelling. Kel approached Yuki with apprehension, but was greeted by a bright smile, and her crinkled eyes. Yuki had become more accustomed to the liberal and emotional nature of Tortallans.
"Good morning Yuki, sorry for keeping you waiting! Shall we warm up now?" Kel was eager to warm up with the glaive so that she could have a sword fight with the Lioness later in the morning. Whilst jealous of Neal's tutelage under Alanna on the sword during his Squire years, Kel benefitted greatly from her instruction as a fellow Lady Knight, and was certainly appreciative for all that she learned and experienced with Raoul!
Yuki and Kel were just entering the beginning stages of their pattern dance when she sluggishly released the pole-arm from her grasp. She had felt an electric shock jolt through her body, and it seemed to her that time was slowing down. By the time that Kel had become re-accustomed to her surroundings, she noticed that almost all of the women and men on the practice court, riders, men of the Own, nobles and servants, had halted their work; their eyes glazed over and their faces as expressionless as a Yamani. Only Alanna, Thayet, Buri, Shinko, Raoul, Yuki and Kel seemed to have free will to wander together and congregate to discuss this development. Alanna drew her sword, gazing at the hilt to the small mirror which she'd attached there for the sole purpose of scrying.
"Everything's grey and hazy my friends, it seems to me that we have some divine interference here in Corus today," commented Alanna. "O great Mother Goddess, do reveal yourself to us, and perhaps enlighten us to the reasons for which you have halted daily activity here."
Kel heard a resounding chuckle in the courtyard; akin to the howling of hounds, the whispers of the wind, and all the might of the divine.
"Alanna, my dear, it's been too long." And with that brief introduction, an elegant figure swept onto the practice courts. She seemed to glow, empowered with her divinity, and Kel felt a sudden urge to kneel in awe for this mighty power. But she resisted. Kel didn't feel the same connection to the immortal as Alanna did. Her successes were not supported by the divine, rather her own strength and perseverance. Kel stared firmly into the eyes of the Mother Goddess, determination blazing in her eyes.
"To what do we owe the pleasure," Kel politely questioned.
"Keladry, my dear, I do not believe we've met. Whilst I was omnipresent in Alanna's page and squire years, I found myself refraining from appearing to you, for you were determined to complete this without divine intervention. But now, I find myself compelled to offer you a divine gift. Now, I would suggest you accept it, as I foresee that it may make the consolidation of your authority more official, although, you may be inclined to decline, due to the personal sentiments which will be proffered by my gift."
Kel's nerves were high strung as she waited in suspense for the goddesses offer.
"My dear, my brother, the God of War has of course been intrigued in following your tale, and I, also, have been absorbed by your struggles and ultimate successes, so, for the good of your peers, Mithros and I have composed a quartet, the appropriately named 'Protector of the Small Quartet'. It is in fact a lengthy scroll, divided into four parts which express your adventures from your own perspective, during you page and squire years, extending to your first year as a Lady Knight. If you would follow me to The Chamber of the Ordeal, we will be met by Mithros. Thayet and Raoul, would you mind please informing all who are 'awake' to proceed to The Chamber of the Ordeal."
The Great Mother Goddess, swept up the stair case leading into the Palace, walking with an eerie familiarity into the complex, leading to the great chambers of office, in search of her brother and these scrolls.
Kel, meanwhile, stood, mouth agape with shock, attempting to comprehend her predicament. All her private contemplations would be revealed to her peers and even her superiors... Her struggle with Joren and bullies... gods, even her crush on Neal would be revealed! Kel wasn't sure how she felt about this revelation, yet she knew that she could not argue with the gods, short of being banished to oblivion. So with a great reluctance, Kel composed herself and marched in the direction of the Chamber.