Growing Up

"Mother Mayra, tell us, what do you see?"

The village Healer sits close to the fire in front of the baby's crib, one hand on the girl's forehead and the other clutching rosary beads. The Baron and his wife sit in attendance across the room on a settee, awaiting her prognostication. Her eyes suddenly snap open, and a haunted look occupies her face as she gazes at them, as if seeing them anew.

"She will be happy one day, but first... first, she is doomed to greatness..." Her sad quiet voice shakes the room, and the parents immediately looked worried.

"Doomed, Mother?" the Baron asks. "Isn't greatness supposed to be good thing?"

The woman shakes her head. "Nay - not for this one... the Gods have turned their backs on her. Take good care of her while you can, for tragedy lies in her path."

The Baroness now speaks up, glancing at her husband, a slight crease on her forehead. "Thank you, Mother. We are aware that you cannot tell us more than that. We thank you for your time."

The old Healer merely looks at her in pity. "Do not presume that by dismissing me, you will be rid of my prophecy. It will come to pass, mark my words. I dread the day that it comes to pass."

And with these final words, she stands up, gathering her shawl around her despite the summer heat, and sweeps out of the room. The Baron and his wife seem troubled, but they smooth any signs away from their faces as they move to kneel in front of their week old daughter.

"And what do you make of this, Piers?" his wife asks, carefully picking up the tiny bundle from her crib. He does not reply. He does not need to. For they know that the Healer is right, and they too fear for their daughter's future. "She said the Gods have turned their backs on her... what did we do for Keladry to deserve such a life?"

This is the question. And there is no answer.

Being the probationary page is difficult, but Kel knows she has no other choice. Not if she if she is ever to achieve the goal which she has long being dreaming of. She is thankful for her few friends, but she secretly sometimes regrets ever meeting them, if only because it meant that they are also now the targets of the bullies. She was surprised when she first learnt that the ringleader of the bullies was Joren of Stone Mountain, but she knows better now. His angelic features only instigate the smallest of fights; her boyish figure, however, is the main topic of ridicule.

She does not care, and is instead thankful that her parents did not insist on sending her to the convent, where she knows she would have killed herself. Her parents laugh uneasily, telling her not to speak in such a morbid manner, but she chooses to ignore them, for she knows herself far better than anyone else ever could. Besides, just because she is not in training to become a lady, it doesn't necessarily mean that she is completely unattractive. She is aware of Cleon's growing infatuation with her, even if she does nothing in the way of encouraging him. Still, she does not discourage him, and he takes it as a positive sign.

All the while, her parents watch her with anxiety masked superbly with skill normally found only in the Yaman. They speak not a word to her of what may be in store for her, instead following the advice of the village Healer, paying attention to her. All the while, they wonder to themselves why it is that the Gods have turned their backs on this innocent girl.

It is late in the evening in Spring a few years later when the summons to Court arrives, and Raoul's face visibly pales in the dancing firelight as he reads the missive from the King. He looks over at the tent which hides from view his sleeping squire, and sends a prayer to the Black God for the souls of the lost. Deciding that it would be cruel to wake her to the news at this particular moment, he waits until the morning.

Morning comes, and the men of the Own stare in shock as Keladry is lead to her horse by their knight-commander, her face baring evidence that she has been crying. Raoul rides ahead with her, and they arrive in Corus a day earlier than the Third Company. She is greeted by Neal, who has heard the news and is there to fold her into a gentle hug, possibly the meekest but most utterly heartfelt one he has ever bestowed upon her.

She is treated to an audience with the King, who is able to inform her of the culprit behind the massacre of the inhabitants of Fief Mindelan. He reveals that Lord Burchard, driven half insane by the death of his only child and heir the previous Midwinter, had ordered the deaths of her entire family. The only people now remaining of their clan other than herself are her sisters, her brother, and one cousin. Her sisters have are protected by old, Conservative fiefdoms which they have married into; her brother is safely tucked away at Carthaki University; and her cousin is in the service of the Royal Navy, practically unreachable and untouchable due to the significance of his position.

The execution of the fallen lord is carried out within a few weeks, and his fief is placed in disgrace for allowing such a heinous crime to be carried out. Kel dimly wonders if they would have gone to such trouble were it not for the fact that her family bore the favour of the Yamani Emperor.

Neal sympathises with her, as do the rest of her friends, and she discovers that she is not wholly alone in her suffering. She learns that he has also known what it means to miss family, having already lost two brothers during the Immortals War; and at the same time is reminded that Owen, Seaver and Cleon are forced to live without either parent. Surprisingly enough, this actually makes her feel better, and the four young men relax. They keep her grounded, and their duty in showing her that life still has to go on, despite all the hardships, is complete. Slowly but surely, she understands that she has to be strong, if only for show at the moment, and with the help of her friends and her knight-master, Kel is able to piece her life back together, determined to live her life in a way that would have made her parents proud.

However, this progress is almost completely dashed apart after the mass funeral service, when the decision of who is now to be in charge of the ruined Barony is made. She knows that it will have to be her, for her brother refuses to look at women, and will therefore be unable to provide them with heirs, but she wishes the role could be filled by someone else. It is not to be, for everyone else who could possibly hold a claim to the title is dead. Their lands in the Isles are signed over to her sister and Yamani brother-in-law, and they accept with sombre looks on their faces, unable to maintain the Masks required of them by protocol.

Keladry wishes her relationship with Cleon didn't have to suffer and fall apart as a result of this whole event, but she is so thankful when he tells her that he completely understands if she would rather have him in her life as a brother figure that she doesn't say a word. She is ashamed to admit to herself that she has already moved on. She gives him her blessing when he tells her of his plans to pursue the betrothal with Ermelian of Aminar, and in return, he hugs and teases her, asking who she will now have set in her sights.

She does not answer. As the new Baroness of Mindelan, she is obliged to marry one day and carry on the bloodline for the good of her fief. For her, however, the trouble lies in knowing that her husband will have to be a younger son, so that when she eventually marries, she is not forced to give up her lands for good. But under Tortallan law, it also means that the man would have to adopt her fief and title, instead of vice versa. It is a rare event, particularly because many males did not want to have to bear the humiliation of seeming inferior to their spouses, and the man she wishes she could have doesn't seem to be too interested at the moment.

But life is harsh, and she is forced out of these illusions of love and happiness. She watches with jaded eyes as the man of her dreams flirts with not only her, whisking the ladies of the Court onto the dance floor right in front of her eyes. Kel nurses a sore heart, and then watches as Neal and Yuki move on without her help, officially announcing their engagements on the Midwinter of their Ordeals, jealous, but only because she wishes she could have experienced a mere ounce of what they were feeling.

She enters the Chamber, and is nearly torn to pieces as it examines her mind, picking it apart and playing on her fears. It does not sympathise with her plight, but reveals what her parents had concealed from her all those years ago. She is reasonably upset, but refuses to let it show. 'Fine,' Keladry thinks to herself, willing herself not to cry after she has exited the Chamber with the knowledge of both her task and the prophecy in her head. She walks calmly to her rooms where she locks the door. 'If the Gods can turn against me, fine. So mote it be.' And struck by the irony in that particular speech of thought, she finally did burst into tears, sliding down onto the floor, heaving out loud sobs. Her friends hear her from outside and pause momentarily, but they have done all they can to support her. Now it is time for her to help herself.

Returning vicarious from the defeat of the Nothing Man, Keladry is suddenly struck by the magnitude of her actions. She realises that there is nought to stop the King from hanging her on Traitor's Hill, but bizarrely enough, she only wishes she could have spent some more time with Dom. Yes, Dom. She is at last prepared to admit to herself that she is irrevocably in love with him. Whether or not he will reciprocate her feelings is unimportant, she decides, for she will never tell him, but it is now an irrefutable fact which she will just have to face up to. She is pleasantly surprised to discover that instead of punishment, the King has decided to reward her with lots of purses, and celebrates quietly with the rest of her year-mates while still at Fort Mastiff, respectfully mourning the dead while silently asking her parents if they are proud of her yet. Somewhere deep inside, she knows that they are.

It is later that year at Fort Steadfast, during Neal and Yuki's wedding, that she stumbles to her rooms, slightly tipsy, supported by Dom's arm. She thanks him quietly, and he smiles, warm and welcoming. "I love you," she says under her breath, watching him walk down the corridor back to the mess-turned-ballroom, before she shuts the door. He stops and turns his head abruptly, hearing a faint whisper, but other than frowning thoughtfully, he does nothing, and merely walks on. His new cousin has brought several ladies with her for the wedding, and he has promised many of them a dance each.

The next day, she cannot bear to watch as he parades around with Lady Aimi, the daughter of her Yamani brother-in-law's uncle. She leaves the fort, riding out with Peachblossom, and sits on a hill for six hours until they are forced to send someone to find her. It is him that they send, and when he asks what she was doing all on her lonesome, she does not speak, ignoring him all through their ride back to Steadfast. He is frustrated by her actions, but does not know what to say. However, when this treatment continues for another week, he confronts her.

"What do you want?" he asks, managing to corner her in a private and secluded area. "Why won't you even talk to me?"

When she just looks at him with those dreamer's eyes, dulled by the pain of loss and heartbreak, he finally understands. Everything clicks into place, and he shakes his head ruefully, stepping closer until she can feel his breath on her forehead as she now stares at the ground. He raises his hands, one resting on her arm, the other stroking her cheek lightly as she trembles.

"Kel, you idiot," he chides with a soft murmur. She swallows, but still refuses to look up at him. "Why didn't you just tell me? It could have saved us both some heartbreak." At this, her brow furrows, and she looks up at him, her eyes now filling with hope. He smiles at her, before leaning down. "It's you that I love. Why do you think I've been walking about with all these women in front of you?" She blinks, rather resembling the owl on her emblem, and he gives her one last searing glance before pulling her into a kiss.

She seems happier now, and people remark upon the change in her attitude as they watch her walk with a slight spring in her step. Only a slight one, of course, for she is a baroness and the commander of a fort, and therefore has to retain some dignity. Her brother, when he returns from Carthak, teases her on finding 'the One' at long last, and her sisters seem envious when they hear of Dom. But they are happy for her, and wish her well, choosing not to dwell on the past, but to move on and forge better bonds with each other, for the sake of family.

Life is easier now, but she now ponders upon the one question which still remains unanswered. Why had the Gods turned their backs on her? She does not know, and eventually decides that she prefers not having to think about it, for she knows whatever the reason is, it definitely isn't worth the headache.

When Dom proposes, a rash impulse causes her to say no, and she runs, leaving a broken figure sitting alone in one of the finest eating houses in Corus. She does not know where she is heading, but somehow ends up outside Cleon's quarters in the Palace, where he and his heavily pregnant wife are currently residing.

"Kel!" he exclaims, opening the door to reveal her agitated face. She asks him for his time, and he invites her in. She weakly forces a polite smile at Ermelian, and all but collapses on the sofa. Ermelian, to her credit, does not flinch when she witnesses Cleon curling an arm around this other woman; she is already aware of the nature of their relationship, and is safe in the knowledge that her husband will always be faithful to her. "What's wrong?" he asks her, nudging her softly when she seems to be calmer.

"Dom asked me to marry him," Kel says, desolately staring at the floor. When he made a noise, indicating that she ought to continue, she almost burst into tears. "A-and... and I said no..."

Cleon shakes his head, wryly gazing at his wife over Kel's head. She speaks up. "Why? We thought you loved him."

For a long while, Kel doesn't answer. But then, "I don't know..." she whispers with a confused frown. She realises what she has just done, and buries her face in her hands, letting out a small moan. "Oh, what have I done?" She scrambles off the sofa, panicking, and thanks them both for their time. "I have to go. I- thank you. Really." She nods at them awkwardly, and then exits.

"Cleon," his wife says, rolling her eyes. He looks at her, then leaps up, asking if she needs anything. She shakes her head no. "Go with her; she might end up in trouble, especially in that state of mind."

He looks baffled, but obeys without a word, leaving the room. He finds Kel just sitting, crumpled, on the stairwell, and sighs, pulling her to her feet. "Come on," he says, escorting her to the Own's barracks. "Let's get you back to lover boy." At this she snorts, for Dom is seven years older than her, and he most definitely is no boy. But she says nothing, for Cleon is grinning at her, and she knows he's just trying to make her smile.

He leaves her standing outside their destination, and she almost sends a prayer up to the Gods before she remembers what she was told. With a steely determination, she enters, but her resolve is almost broken when she arrives at Dom's door. Sucking in a breath, she opens it and walks inside. The room is spartan and empty, but shows evidence of someone living there. She takes a seat on his bed and waits. Not long after, Dom arrives. He slips through the door, head in hands, clearly upset over her rejection, and does not notice her. Kel speaks his name softly, and he jerks upright. He glares at her, bitter, and orders her to get out. She refuses, and stays, walking up to him. He rails at her, asking if she is just here to rub it in that he can never have her the way he wants, and she briefly looks chastened; however, she does not reply, and instead reaches up to hug him, not letting go as he tries to push her off. She whispers words of apology into his ear, and his frame sags in her arms.

"Dom," she begins softly, pulling back slightly, "I'll give you a better answer. Just... ask me again."

She smiles shakily as this promise is made, and a small grin takes over his face before he kneels on the floor, pulling a ring out from somewhere under his clothes. This question is asked, and when she answers with a yes, tears threatening to fall as they cloud her vision, he is overwhelmed and cannot do much more than hold her in shock after slipping the ring onto her finger.

The news of their engagement reaches Neal, who rides down from Queenscove, leaving his new-born daughter in the care of her mother and grandmother. He congratulates them both, and demands that he shall be the best man. Dom laughs, and jokingly asks who else he thinks could ever fulfil such a role. The matron of honour is Oranie, who is honoured to be given the part, and the wedding is almost planned to fruition when Kel is hit by a pang of nostalgia. She wishes her parents could still be alive, if only so that her father could walk her down the aisle and so that her mother could advise her on how life will be different as a married woman.

But her maternal uncle, the patriarch of Seabeth and Seajen, has offered to stand with her to give her away at the altar, and she has sisters and female friends who can offer her the same knowledge. She shakes her head, and prays that her family are at peace in the Black God's realms. It is best not to dwell on the past, and she focuses on the present. The wedding comes soon, and she looks resplendent in the silky white gown tailored especially for her by Lalasa. It flatters her figure, and brings out the healthy flush in her cheeks, and no-one can say that she looks unwomanly. Their wedding night is, to say the least, interesting, for she has entered the marriage state as a virgin. She wakes up the next day, sore but content. Dom's arm is draped across her chest, and his knee rests between her thighs, his leg curled around hers. She softly kisses his cheek. He stirs, slowly grinning at her as he wakes up, and she is suddenly very aware of their nakedness.

They spend a fortnight of their honeymoon in Port Caynn, where they are received by Dom's relatives and another fortnight in Blue Harbour, where he meets her sailor cousin, a Commodore in his own right, before travelling up north to Mindelan. The man alarmingly resembles Neal, and Dom is half tempted to ask if the two are related, but refrains, in case he sounds stupid.

Returning to Mindelan provides a big wake-up call to them both, and they are snapped out of the honeymoon daze. There is so much to do in order to improve the barony, so she and Dom get straight to work. The villagers have been left alone by the Stone Mountain assassins – a minor blessing – and this speeds up the process of the rehabilitation program set in place. Her forefathers had been merchants who had earned lots of money, so she decides to take a leaf out of their books, and brings trading back to the fief, using the profits to fill up their coffers. The money is spent on the development and fortification of the entire land, and the residents are grateful for the much needed changes.

A year later finds Kel heaving her guts out in the privy. She waves off her worried husband. This has become a regular occurrence over the past week and half, and she is aware that her courses have stopped coming for the past month. She rinses her mouth out, and then finally tells him the good news. His delighted face is her reward, and he promptly locks them both in their rooms for the rest of the day to 'celebrate'. They decide not to choose a name for the unborn babe until after it is born, but soon regret it, for she miscarries after only two months. The grieving parents bury their child, naming her Ilane, after her grandmother.

They try again for another child after a few weeks, and this time the pregnancy is successful. Early on in her term, Neal restricts her from picking up any heavy objects, and Dom refuses to allow her to go riding unaccompanied. She obeys, only because she is terrified that her body will abort her child again as a punishment if she does not follow the rules. It is a boy, and is brought into the world, squalling, by Neal. They name him Piers, after his grandfather, for at the moment he is the very spitting image. With his mother's eyes, delicate nose, and mousy brown hair, he causes her to weep in remembrance. He grows up to make her proud, and is a role model for his younger siblings, of which there are five: Georgiana, born two years later; Meredith, the year after, named for her favourite 'uncle'; Tilaine, three years after Meredith, named for Kel's beautiful late sister-in-law; Adrian, two years on; and finally baby Conal, named as such because Kel feels the urge to reconcile with her dead brother in some way.

Only one of their brood goes ahead for knighthood – Tilaine makes the family proud as one of the realm's finest warriors – while the others go their own way. Piers rises to the position of Baron upon his twenty-first birthday when his parents decide it is time for them to step down, but frequently has to ask them for their advice; Georgiana becomes one of the Queen's Ladies, years of training in archery and horse-riding by her parents paying off; Meredith marries the son of the Dean of the Royal University, and helps bring about many changes, allowing non-Gifted folk to attend; Adrian follows in his father's footsteps and joins the Own at age seventeen; while baby Conal inherits his paternal grandmother's Gift, and studies under his cousin Neal's guidance, taking over as Chief Healer of the Realm upon Neal's death.

But the question still remains: why do the Gods turn against someone like Kel? It will remain unanswered, one of history's greatest speculations, and people will instead focus on how she lived on despite the hardships, being forced to grow up so early. There is not much that can be done, so Kel ignores all her shortcomings, choosing to be content with how the rest of her life has played out. Because you can lose a family, but still make a new and better one, only if you believe in yourself and in your friends.

The End

Yes, it's a repost of something that I put up about a year or two ago. I received a review from Ramos, urging me to edit it, expand on it and fill out any plot holes.

Well... I took it down after some consideration and then proceeded to forget about it. I found it again this morning and realised - I know I'm never going to actually get round to working on this for real. After all, I'm really not that bothered about writing fanfic anymore.

So I just ran a quick spelling and grammar check and decided I'd post it up and let my readers, however few of them there are, decide if they'd like to take a stab at it. Feel free to take it and make it your own, however you want; just don't forget to reference me, please!

And happy holidays everyone!

- Khadeejah: 18/12/2011