|DISCLAIMER: Tortall and its inhabitants belong to Tamora Pierce, and are used with her direct permission.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: All right--here goes. This was my very first Tamora Pierce fanfic, and it was my take on what could've happened after Page. It was started before Squire or Lady Knight came out. I don't know exactly what pairings are going to occur--I'm a fan of virtually anyone with Kel. So if you're oriented one way or the other, please bear with me. I have no clue where this is heading, romantically.
The Squire Years
Chapter One: Encounters
The chapel of the Chamber of the Ordeal was empty. All of the squires who were to be knighted at Midwinter were with their knight-masters, at the congress. Every knight of the realm was rumored to be in Corus. Kel wonderd if the King's Champion was staying at the palace.
Neal had told her the story of Alanna's absence--and Kel gathered from what other people said that this was one woman who didn't go back on her word. She's probably on border patrol up near Scanra or something, Kel thought with a sigh. Will I ever get to meet her?
Kneeling down before the altar, she tried to clear her mind. Muddling her thoughts while praying to the Gods was the last thing she wanted to do. She slowed her breathing, remembering the time she'd been taught to meditate. She clapped her hands together twice before bowing her head in prayer.
Mercifull Goddess, please grant me the strength to continue through my training. Help me face the challenges of life with dignity and honor. It was a Yamani prayer, modified for her situation. Kel much preferred the simple Yamani ways to the pomp of the Eastern Lands. She didn't like the flowery prayers she'd heard her sisters say.
When she finished, she heard a rustle behind her. A woman was sitting on the single pew that ran along the back wall of the chapel. In her lap sat a black cat that was purring loudly and clawing at her forest green skirts, trying to get more comfortable.
"I think most Tortallan priests would consider that blasphemy," the woman said, her voice low and almost husky. She nodded toward Kel's hands. "Why did you clap?"
Kel hid her embarrassment. "Yamani custom," she answered. "You always clap or ring a bell before you pray at a shrine--to wake up the gods. They're all the same gods, though. Just different approaches to communing with them. I often forget that Easterners might not understand my actions." The woman smiled crookedly, and Kel got the feeling that she could be herself. "And wouldn't the priests object to having a pet in the chapel?"
Her question was me with a grin. "The Mother Goddess has a fondness for cats; I have it on the best authority." She looked down at the kitten in her lap, petting it gently. "And this little fellow reminds me of someone who always had the Goddess's favor."
Kel crossed the chapel to sit beside this unusual person. "You speak as though you know Her personally."
The woman's eyes flicked up to Kel's face; their violet shade was one Kel had never seen before. "A wise person once told me that the gods occasionally meddle in human affairs, and all humans can do is follow their advice and move on. I guess I was one of the lucky ones."
"Are you one of the royal ladies?" Kel asked, noticing the scars on the woman's hands. The royal ladies were the group of noblewomen who traveled with and tended to the queen, and were trained in combat. The Queen's Riders was the other principal group of fighters women could belong to, but that was not for women of noble blook--and this particular woman carried herself with more dignity than most nobles Kel had ever met.
She tilted her head to one side and smiled oddly. "I serve Their Majesties in numerous ways. Are you Squire Keladry of Mindelan?"
Kel nodded. "Yes, I am."
"Has a knight chosen you yet?"
Kel shook her head. "Many of us have not been chosen yet. Lord Wyldon says the knights shall bide their time because of the congress; I know that it will take even longer to place me, though."
"Because you're a girl," the woman finished, narrowing her eyes. "I have friends in the court who have told me of your abilities, lady squire. You are no less a fighter than any boy who has gone through your training. Sir Myles of Olau speaks of your intelliegence, Duke Baird of your stamina. Veralidaine Sarrasri has told me about your kindness toward animals, and Sir Raoul has told me of your leadership abilities on many occasions. Any knight who does not choose you as his squire is a fool."
Kel looked down at her hands. "Or a conservative."
The woman nodded, standing up. Kel was surprised to be a good four inches taller than her. "Yes. There are certainly many of those around. But I thnk you shall impress even the least flexible of the lot. Lord Wyldon has spoken well of you to His Majesty, from what I've heard."
Setting the cat on the floor at her feet, the woman sighed softly before taking Kel's hand. "If there is anything I can do for you, please feel free to ask. I'm more than willing to speak to the other knights on your behalf."
Kel shook her head willfully. "Thank you, but I have to decline. I think I'd feel better if I let things happen on their own." I don't want a mercy placement, she thought stubbornly. I want to earn my position on my own merit.
"So mote it be," the woman replied softly, walking toward the chapel door. She turned slightly around, gazing at Kel with a serious expression. "Goddess bless you."
At supper that night, Kel was still trying to figure out the whole thing. Though it was quite normal for one of the royal ladies to know about The Girl, how would a noblewoman know so much about the knights of the realm? The violet-eyed woman knew Sire Myles and Sir Raoul. They were both nobles, so that made some amount of sense. But to know Daine? Kel always got the impression that Daine was the sort of girl who stayed away from courtly games.
She was still mulling things over when Neal sat down beside her. "What's bothering you this evening?"
"Oh, nothing," she answered, biting into a slice of buttered bread.
"She's looked like that all night," Cleon said as he paused by their table, tray in hand. He always seemed to be around--and eavesdropping--lately.
"You've been watching her all night?" Faleron asked, raising an eyebrow. Cleon turned a bright shade of red and sputtered before continuing toward his own table.
Neal watched Cleon with an unusual expression. "I do believe the chap is smitten with you, Keladry."
Kel had heard the same thing from Lalasa and Tian just months before. Was no one in their right mind anymore? "Hogwash," she snapped. "You just like that sort of fanciful thing."
Neal shrugged. "Think what you will. I just don't want you to be surprisd when he's serenading you late into the evening, and sending you horribly penned poetry."
"Yeah," Merric chimed in, "like the poems Neal wrote for Uline of Hannalof!"
Kel tried to hide a smirk as she watched her older friend squirm uncomfortably.
"So," Seaver began, trying to change the subject in order to rescue Neal. "Who all have you seen here for the congress?"
They begain to talk about all the knights and nobles who had traveled from the far corners of the kingdom. It was fascinating to Kel, the idea that they might have a chance to meet all of their real-life heroes. It was only the second congress since the Immortals War, and the somber quality of the last one--when so many knights and nobles were visibly absent--would not be such a presence this time.
"I hear the Lioness is here," Faleron said, pulling Kel out of her thoughts.
"The Lioness?" she asked, hazel eyes wide.
Merric nodded. "I saw her on the practice courts this afternoon, after lessons. She was sparring with the Wildcat. I'm hoping that maybe she'll be able to give us all a few pointers sometime."
Kel made a small snorting sound. "She won't."
"What?" Seaver asked. "Of course she'd want to meet you I would think!"
Neal shook his head. "Kel's right. Lady Alanna won't be around us; the king forbade her to take any part in Kel's training. It would be unfair--and would make the conservative nobles wary."
Kel put on her best expressionless, Yamani face and turned to Merric. "Was it exciting, watching her?"
He nodded. "She's fast. And she's nothing at all like you, Kel. She's really short--and fiery."
"Fiery?" Kel was baffled by the description.
Neal rolled his eyes. "Her hair: it's quite red. And her temper matches it."
Kel stared at him with wide eyes. The woman she'd met in the chapel--she'd had red hair. And she was short. The scars on her hands were indicative of battle. Surely she hadn't run into the Lioness without knowing it! "What are her eyes like?" she asked Neal anxiously. "Are the purple?"
Neal nodded. "And Mithros, they're lovely. Her eyes put even trhe queen's to shame."
Kel laughed suddenly, surprising all of the boys. "It was her! I met her in the chapel this afternoon!"
Continued in Chapter Two