Author Note: Wow, you people amaze me. One kiss and you're drooling! Um, I don't know much about the other series Tamora is writing about the kid mages, so I never read the fics about them - sorry crazy hobbit person :).
Chapter 8: Wedding Unions
I didn't see Keladry until the next evening. Well, I saw her once across the mess hall and once walking in a different direction from me, but I never spoke with her. I didn't pursue her, knowing instinctively that she needed time, but I did send Neal over with a hangover remedy like I had promised. Whatever happened now, it would be in her hands. To let out my impatience, I assigned myself to the afternoon patrol in hopes to force my mind along a different path. I might have stood all day on the fort wall and contemplated the sky for all the good it did me.
From rumors I had heard that she was once involved with a year-mate named Cleon. I vaguely remember him as a rather large boy, eager and enthusiastic for life. But time and distance apparently put too much of a strain on that relationship. I was no fool. Even with Lord Raoul's word that he would try to lift the ban of marriage on the King's Own, my first duty was that of a soldier and Keladry's as a knight.
But Keladry was not a person to forget so easily. No one would call her a beauty, but her personality more than made up for what she may lack in appearance. I knew there was no other like her in all of Tortall. I tried to put my actions from last night out of my mind but it was impossible. Neal would have to lose his sharp tongue first before the memory of that kiss would fade. Such a simple action to hold so much emotion.
When I returned from patrol ignoring odd looks from my fellow soldiers, I made directly for my room. Taking a quick bath to scrub the horse smells from me, I prepared for the wedding. I would be best man next to Neal's father. Digging deep into my rather sparse belongings, I found my white silk shirt and royal blue tunic. The gold braiding along the seams had come loose in a few places, but I quickly remedied it with my sewing kit. I had to dust off my back breeches, but overall, the outfit looked none too shabby.
I couldn't resist smirking to myself over the thought that if Keladry's dress from yesterday astonished me, I had better be prepared for an even greater surprise tonight. Standing in front of the mirror, I staged a bow before promptly kicking myself. Neal would be rolling on the floor if he didn't faint first. I walked over to the small window over my bed. The view gave me a good scope of the parade ground. To my pleasure and torment I could see Keladry and Buriram engaged in a rather heated sparing match, one with a sword, the other welding a glaive. By all appearances, they both were working off nervous energy.
Keladry moved with amazing fluid grace, spinning and twirling her heavy weapon with elegant ease. Having carried that weapon before, I knew it must take extreme training to use it with such efficiency. Buri held her own, despite the obvious disadvantage she had against a long-ranged opponent. Their dance was at its height when I discovered them. A few moments more and it was finished, sword and staff locked together. The two women smiled and bowed to one another before walking off. I closed my shutters with a groan.
If she did not accept me, I would accept her judgment. It would not, however, prevent me from following her to the ends of the earth as a comrade and loyal friend.
Lord Wyldon had balked at the idea of being the Master of Ceremony at the weddings. A monk of Mithros was found the day before the wedding and bundled in without much warning. A tall, thin man with a voice of strangely powerful conviction boomed his way through the blessings and vows. The building was packed to overflowing but we left the doors and windows open to allow the monk's words to reach the outsiders.
I couldn't help staring at Keladry though I swore I would not. She wore a white gown kimono with pale blue butterflies making their way up towards the right shoulder. A stiff dark blue obi encircled her waist held in place by a gold cord. Even when our eyes met across the room, her face remained poised. But in her eyes I could see a hint of a pleased smile as I gave her the slightest of bows.
Neal did not faint, but when the monk proclaimed him a married man he let loose a breath he must have been holding the entire service before lifting his new wife's veil and kissing her soundly. Lord Raoul followed suit with a bit more dignity but the same amount of affection. Poor Yuki kept her eyes on the ground from embarrassment; the Yamani being a people which prided themselves on controlling their emotions, but a tear of happiness traced through her traditional make-up.
The two couples made their way through the crowd outside. Great long tables of food had been prepared around a massive bonfire in the center of the courtyard. For entertainment, a small band of musicians struck up a tune and a line dance began, arcing around the newlyweds in a swirl of good wishing. When it had finished, Yuki, Keladry and the three other Yamani ladies who had accompanied the bride gathered in front of the music makers and snapped open their fans.
Their display was one of the most impressive dances I had ever seen since that morning. Four dark heads and one lighter one dipped and turned in graceful unison as the fans swirled and flitted about the air like paper birds. Tossed into the air and passed between one another in a whirl, every action came together in a magnificent harmony. All too soon it was over and Yuki returned her fan to her husband. Amidst the applause, Keladry closed hers and to my surprise walked directly over to me.
"What was that you just did? I've never seen anything like it."
"Yamani fan dance celebrating marriage. Yuki and I were discussing it yesterday when you came in." She looked away. "Dom, when you have time, I'd like to talk."
My heart jumped to my throat but I couldn't decide if it was in a good way or a premonition.
"Any time is fine with me, Kel."
She nodded, still not looking at me, and turned away. The throb in my throat fell, then promptly rose again when she glanced over her shoulder. Without a word I followed her through the crowd. We paused to join the group of people congratulating Lord Raoul and Buri. Lord Raoul gave Keladry a huge hug and a kiss on the forehead. When she turned to Buri, he raised an eyebrow as I shook his hand.
"So, Sergeant, have any plans while you wait for me?"
I glanced over and the two women taking animatedly. "Perhaps, sir."
He smiled and slapped me on the shoulder. "Mithros bless, Dom."
"And you, Lord Raoul."
After that, Keladry discreetly made her way towards the stables. I lingered a moment longer before taking an alternative route. When I opened the door, I found her next to Peachblossom's stall quietly speaking to him. When he heard my footsteps, his ears shot up aggressively. I held my hand out, palm first in peace under his nose. Warily he snuffed it.
"Dom, I don't know -"
The gelding sank his teeth into the heel of my thumb, never breaking eye contact. I clenched my jaw and waited for him to release me. The pressure slowly eased until I was able to slip loose. Peachblossom tossed his head and ignored me. Keladry scolded him before looking at my hand.
"Peachblossom is rather protective of me. He's always picking on folks."
I laughed, rubbing the bruised spot. "I've heard stories about him from Neal. I suppose I should be honored that he decided to let go."
To my surprise she reached out and took my injured hand in her own. Gently probing the pinched area, she said without raising her head,
"I have some balm that can heal that."
I covered her hands with my other, stopping her.
"Kel, you said you wanted to talk."
She withdrew and looked up at me. "Yes Dom. About last night. I was drunk."
That didn't sound like Keladry, making excuses. "Not very drunk. I sent Neal with the remedy like I promised."
She blushed and sent that feeling through my chest once again. "I know, but that's not what I mean to say. I was drunk and I think you were too. That's why -"
"That isn't the reason why I kissed you, Keladry. I had no more than a sip last night."
Her entire defense crumbled, leaving her grasping for words. I gave them to her.
"Kel, the first time I met you, I remember your dream to become a knight helped you fight all odds. When I was wounded, you took my command and saved my men. You reentered the Chamber, you took command of Haven without complaint, and you have kept every promise made."
She wouldn't look at me. Carefully I placed my hand under her chin and turned her face. I met her eyes with mine and continued.
"You kept your promise to your friends, country, and king, yet chose your own path. I've admired you for years, and over the last few months, I've found myself in love with you." I couldn't help grinning. "And I mean literally -found. I had no idea what was wrong with me, why I was thinking about you so much. I was afraid the Meathead had rubbed off more than I wanted to admit."
She gave me a wiry smile. She was still fighting within herself, I could see the battle going on. I knew she was a brilliant leader but this was a time when she did not need to think with her head. Curving the hand under her chin to her neck, I brought my other hand to tilt her face up to mine. She didn't move when I kissed her. The intoxication that could only come from her swept over me again and unconsciously I pressed closer, pursuing that feeling. Her hands came up in surprise to close around my arms, but she didn't pull away. I came to my senses abruptly when her head became heavy in my hands. Sliding an arm around her waist, I ended it.
Breathless and dazed, Keladry blinked at me. My own breathing was above normal. She was so close. I gently smoothed back a wayward strand of hair and this time let my fingers linger.
"Keladry, I'm not drunk now, and neither are you. All I know is that you are so deep in my heart that if you ever left, it might kill me."
The fight died. She closed her eyes and took a single deep breath and let it out. The hand resting on my shoulder inched across my chest to where my shirt made a V above my heart.
"I could never put you in that kind of pain, Dom."
Her eyes opened and she smiled, warm, open, and loving.
I bent to kiss her again. A moment later she drew back, worried.
"Dom, I'm a knight. You're a leader in the King's Own. Things - things won't be easy."
"Mithros will decide in the end, but for now, I'm just happy you're here." I had to ask. "Do you love me?"
Keladry swallowed. "I'm not sure. I've not had a lot of experience with love, just what I've thought was love. I think I do, but -"
I smiled at her innocence. "We'll learn as we go."
She smiled in return just before pulling me closer. "Is that something my Lord Raoul taught you?"
THANK YOU REVIEWERS!
Sequel is up: Protecting Kel: Sword and Glaive. This one will continue in the 1st person tradition, but every other chapter will be in the style of Tamora Pierce (3rd person).