Disclaimer: Not Tamora Pierce, etc, etc.

Prologue

Kel stepped onto the landing of Barlor's Needle, her legs trembling. She barely took a moment to gasp for breath, her hands on her knees as she bent over, before sprinting to where Lalasa and Jump were lying on the exposed platform. Jump was whining softly, but Lalasa lay still, so very still…

With shaking fingers, Kel touched Lalasa's face. It was cold. Panic rose in her throat but Kel forced it down sharply, moving her fingers to feel Lalasa's neck.

There was no pulse.

A pause, as the realization sank in, and then Kel's heart shattered. "Lalasa!" she screamed, her façade breaking as grief overtook her in a wave.

Another girl would have shaken Lalasa furiously, trying to shake her out of death.

Kel froze. She's not dead, she can't be dead, it's just some trick of the wind, she's not dead, she isn't, she isn't -

A gust blew sharply against the Needle, making it sway and Kel stumble, shaking her out of her stupor. Tears stung painfully against her eyes, looking like rain droplets as they fell onto the Needle as she regarded her former Not former, she's not dead, she's not! maid.

A whine reminded her that Jump was alive and injured. Kel looked between Lalasa and Jump, knowing with a painful certainty that she could not descend Barlor's Needle carrying both of them. The obvious choice was Jump, because Lalasa was -

She's not dead, she's not dead, she's NOT DEAD!

Kel pushed away her insisting subconscious and tried the door. It was locked. Numbly she realized that she would have to descend the outer staircase. She made a makeshift sling for Jump, and then, in a stupor, descended the staircase.

Much like when the King had put a spell on Kel, she only realized she was at the bottom when she got there. Shadows loomed over her.

Kel whispered, "Lalasa's still up there. She's d -" She choked on her words. The world spun and then faded into blackness.


The trial was a year later.

Raoul hadn't known Kel well before he took her on as a squire, but he knew enough to see the changes in her. Jump was nursed to health, though he would always have a limp, but Kel was still wracked with grief over Lalasa. But what worried Raoul more was how she hid it behind an implacable mask, only the lack of a sparkle in her eyes revealing her sorrow. She spent more time with animals than humans, always surrounded by birds that she somehow seemed to communicate to. Even Dom, who had always been good with new recruits, couldn't get her to smile, or Lerant, who didn't bother to conceal his jealousy, get her to react. She did her duty stoically, let insults flow over her, and seemed to have had some fire in her put out. Whatever had driven her to become a page had dimmed, showing only when Kel witnessed an injustice. Sometimes Raoul feared that Kel was only living for the trial, and had nightmares about her reaction to what the verdict would likely be.

Nealen of Queenscove was more vocal. "You have to help her!" he had told Raoul the first time he'd seen him. "My lord," he'd amended. "She's not normally like this; she can't go on like this! It isn't right." In frustration, he'd thrown up his arms.

Normally, Raoul would have been warmed by such a friend, but all he'd felt was weary. Kel responded to nothing but work and injustice, and rarely smiled. He'd started jousting early, but while Kel went to work with fierceness, seeming to be imagining Lalasa's attackers' faces on the shield, she did not change otherwise.

Only when they were summoned back to Corus for the trial did Kel react. A fierce, vindictive light appeared in her eyes and though she didn't speak any more than she used to, she trained with a new fervor that worried Raoul more than reassured him.

He took her over one day, the day before they would arrive in Corus. Ahead of them, clouds were beginning to gather on the windswept day, promising rain ahead. The thought that he was a coward occurred to him, whispered to him in hissed tones, but he ignored it even while he felt his heart break every time he looked at her.

"Kel," he said carefully, not knowing how to explain.

"My lord?" Kel looked at him with those hazel eyes that looked like old, brittle wood that had been doused with water and then set alight, smoking and blazing and hard. Her voice was even, measured, showing no evidence of the turmoil obviously taking place within her.

Raoul sighed. "I know you're anticipating the trial and the consequent justice being doled out to the kidnappers. I'm just saying, don't…don't get your hopes up."

"What do you mean, sir?" She didn't vocalize it, but it was clear that she couldn't imagine anyone getting away with murder.

Raoul tried to put it delicately. "Kel, the kidnappers wouldn't be tried for murder," he said gently. "Because a good attorney could argue that it was merely an unfortunate consequence of bad planning."

"However she died, they kidnapped her and left her on a small platform that she could have rolled off," Kel said frostily.

"Of course," Raoul agreed, eyeing his squire warily. When she got that look in her eyes, an emotionlessly cold and calculating gleam, she was significantly more efficient and sent significantly more people to the healer - except for the ones that died immediately. All of Third Company had learned to avoid Kel when she looked that way.

He didn't bring up the topic again.

The rain started as they rode into Corus, black clouds rolling overhead and releasing their burden onto them. Within moments it was pouring and they were soaked despite their oiled coats. Third Company shivered and complained, but Kel just stared fixedly ahead, sitting straight in the saddle of Peachblossom, who was glaring at the other horses in a fair imitation of his rider's mood, birds huddled under her cloak. Jump trotted beside Peachblossom, his eyes just as focused as Kel's. Somebody made the Sign at the sight- Raoul didn't bother reprimanding him. At least she'd already gotten rid of the baby griffin.

They arrived a day later, soaked through. Kel was bouncing in her seat - at least, what passed for her as bouncing in her seat, which was sitting a bit looser than usual, her foot shaking nearly imperceptibly, impatiently. Inside, Lalasa's friend Tian was waiting for Kel and Raoul. Raoul numbly felt grateful for her assistance as she sent orders for hot water, tubs, and food. Kel said nothing as Tian lit fires and began to take off their layers of wet clothes, though Tian wasn't her maid; he guessed she was just as dazed as he from the long ride. At least it hadn't been in the snow - that would have been worse.

After both of them felt better, Tian caught them up on the trial's progress.

"The men who took L-Lalasa have given their evidence. I do not know who the accused is, but Sir Paxton has attended every trial." Tian's hands shook slightly from worry and anger as she spoke in her quiet voice, the loss of Lalasa made fresh by these events.

"Joren." Kel stated in a hard voice, her eyes blazing. She looked down, but Raoul could see her jaw clenching and couldn't suppress a shiver. He pitied Joren when Kel got her hands on him - or at least, would have, if he hadn't kidnapped a maid.

"Are you alright, Kel?" Raoul asked her gently.

"No, I'm not." The anger in her voice had been replaced by a terrifying coolness, brittle like a frozen flower, smoking slightly where it met the air, and Tian shifted away from her slightly. "He pretended to be my friend. All that time, when he smiled and told me how to catch a husband, he was planning t-this, this!" She stood abruptly. "Tian, thank you. My Lord? Excuse me, but I need to think."

Raoul and Tian let her leave the room, both of them departing as well, exchanging nervous glances.


Raoul sat next to Kel on the bench reserved for the wronged party, Jump at Kel's feet as usual. Kel's parents, Inness, Lalasa's friend Tian, and her uncle Gower sat behind them. Kel's friends, Neal, Merric, Cleon, and Prince Roald were there. So was Wyldon, not unexpectedly. He had taken the kidnapping as a slight on him.

On the other side was Paxton, looking tired and anxious. Next to him was Ebroin of Genlith, the Stone Mountain steward, elegant and sleek and unctuous and Master Advocate Muirgen of Sigis Hold, one of the best advocates there were.

He explained this to Kel when she asked, but her reply showed her faith in the law.

Raoul was torn between preparing her for the inevitable outcome and his own fear of her reaction, but his decision was made by Duke Turomot calling for order. Everyone rose for the prayer of Mithros, and then sat down. His customary lecture was cut off when Jon and Thayet entered. He didn't blame them for coming; he had an uneasy feeling that this trial was important in ways he could not fathom.

The proceedings went as expected. The Master Advocate claimed the convicted men had been lying, and then asked them to be taken out. Kel's face hardened and she stared at the Master Advocate as if trying to memorize his face. He then protested the use of law court mages. And then Joren confessed.

Though really, it wasn't a confession so much as him taking the opportunity to spout his own prejudiced beliefs.

Duke Turomot leaned forward, his face full of restrained fury at the implications, looking like he wanted to challenge Joren despite his years. He said as much, before jumping to the verdict. "With regard to your actions, the law is specific. According to The Laws of Tortall, section five, chapter twelve, paragraph three, in the matter of one noble's body servant's death as the result of another noble's interference: the offending noble must pay recompense for the permanent loss of that servant; all expenses incurred by the noble with regard to court prosecution; and those costs incurred to bring said noble to court. I therefore fine Stone Mountain five hundred gold crowns, four hundred fifty of which are to be paid to Squire Keladry of Mindelan, fifty of which will be paid to the court for its expenses and those of the Watch."

Kel inhaled sharply. Raoul turned to look at her. Her face was white as she bit her lips, her hands shaking in fury. But it was her eyes that were worse; they looked like she had lost Lalasa all over again, wild with grief.

"Five hundred gold crowns!" he heard Ebroin of Genlith protested dimly. "The wench was naught but a maid!"

His ears were filled with a buzzing sound. Duke Turomot retorted, Joren said something before leaving, Sir Paxton said something and left, Ebroin said something - probably a protest, he didn't care. He could only see Kel's face, the picture of vengeance lying in wait. She rose.

"My lord, I would like a question answered." Her voice shook in the stone room, denial tinting it. "Please."

He looked at her. "Speak, Squire Keladry of Mindelan."

"I must have heard incorrectly. Lalasa died as a result of Joren's action and he gets a fine? I thought Tortall outlawed slavery centuries ago."

All around the court, people bristled. Raoul thought it ironic - Kel was right; this really wasn't that far off from slavery. It didn't stop him from worrying about her safety. "Hush, Kel," he whispered softly, touching her arm. She ignored him.

"Your tone borders on the insubordinate, squire," said Duke Turomot, matching ice for ice. "These laws have been in our codes for centuries, worked out by men far wiser than you. My clerk will send you the law pertinent to -"

Kel's face was stricken, clearly wracked with pain even as she attempted to hide it. Duke Turomot ended the session, and Raoul caught Jon's eyes as he walked down the aisle. He tried to hide it, but Jon looked like the boy he had been before the coronation, when the nation had been unstable and on the brink of rebellion. Thayet's was similarly troubled as she glanced at Kel. And then they left, and the rest of them filed out of the courtroom.

Outside, Kel shook off her parents and friends, fleeing to her rooms. Neal made to run after her but Roald, Cleon, and Merric restrained him, murmuring to him. Raoul left them.

"She'll be okay, won't she?" Lady Ilane of Mindelan asked Raoul, clearly grasping for the last strand of reassurance. "My lord?"

Raoul couldn't lie, not to this mother with her pained eyes who looked so much like Kel. "I don't know," he said softly. And then quieter, to himself. "I don't know."


They left Kel to heal, only calling her at dinnertime. It was their folly. Raoul realized only later the fool he had been, not locking Kel in a room, chaining her to a room. When they went to look for her, she was gone, Jump was gone, the sparrows were gone, Peachblossom was gone. They had all disappeared somewhere in that world of rain slamming onto the ground, and Raoul realized then that he was a coward in ways other than unmarried young women.

The search for Kel was futile and half-hearted in the downpour. Nobody believed that she could be found; few wanted her to be found. Raoul was left, left to break the news to Ilane and Piers, to break the news to Neal and Merric and Roald and Cleon, to break the news to Tian and Grover, and later to break the news to Alanna, who had followed Kel so eagerly.

Outside, he swore the sky grew darker still, the rain falling harder in an echo of his own mood.

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