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Title: Trickster's Pawn (part 2 of 2)
Rating: R
Length: about 2400 in this part; 5800 overall.
Fandom: Tamora Pierce, Tortall-verse (AU)
Characters: Keladry of Mindelan, Owen of Jesslaw. Also Iden, Warric and Buri
Summary: Kel's friend, Wen of Jesslaw, deals with life as a boy who's been tapped by the Trickster.

.

Chapter 5

“I think it agrees with you,” Kel teased, “being a free woman.”

Wen shoved at her shoulder, pushing her onto her back. “I'm not...

“All right.” Kel spread out her hands in surrender. “If you want me not to do the things I wouldn't do to a man.”

“Well.” Wen's curls flopped onto his forehead, and Kel resisted the urge to reach up and push the hair back.“I'm not saying you have to go that far.”

“Ok, then.” Kel grinned, reaching up to lock her hands around Wen's waist. But it's true, this is good for him, she thought. Time was, he'd have sulked all night if I made a comment like that.

.

“The Riders' barracks are that way,” explained the message runner. “But you might be more likely to find Wen in the palace itself, in the squires' wing.”

“Would we?” asked Lady Andrea, with a tiny, understanding smile. She was an extroverted woman, who still remembered her own days as a young court lady, twenty-odd years before.

“Perhaps I could find her, and ask her to meet you in your quarters,” the young man suggested.

“What makes you say that?” demanded Lord Henrick of Jesslaw.

The message runner averted his eyes.

“Nevermind. My son and my nephew are housed there, anyway. We'll go ourselves.”

“Are you sure...?” asked the messenger, looking uncomfortable.

“Quite sure. The walk will do us good.”

Lady Andrea passed a coin to the message runner, by way of thanks, and winked at him before following her husband down the hall.

.

Kel sat up straight, back resting against the headboard. Wen sat, half-slouching, in front of her. It put his head at the perfect level for her to comb his hair – which had to be done sooner, rather than later, or the snarls would take forever to get out.

“I think I'll cut my hair,” Wen said. “It doesn't seem likely that I'm going to get stuffed back into a dress anytime soon, so I won't have to worry about a matching hairstyle.”

“I like your hair,” Kel countered. “And I like doing this.”

“But we're not always together. Especially once my training is done, I'll be out with my Rider group...”

His voice trailed off, and Kel's hands went still.

“Let's not talk about that,” Kel whispered.

.

“You two can stay here, and catch up with Warric,” Iden suggested, looking at his cousin, then at his uncle and aunt, then back. “I'll see if I can find Wen. I mean, Wendy.”

“Does she go by Wen?” asked Lady Andrea. She looked at her husband. “You never said.”

“She never did,” he answered. “Look, what is this?” he asked his son and his nephew. “First that message runner didn't want us to find her ourselves, and now it seems you don't, either. But you obviously know where she is! So take us to her, please. I want to see my daughter.”

Warric and Iden looked at each other, helplessly. Henrick of Jesslaw was a force of nature – a jolly, personable, pleasant force of nature, yes, but no more resistable for that.

“Kel's room is this way,” Warric said, stepping into the hall.

.

Chapter 6

“Almost done,” Kel said, working the comb through a particularly stubborn curl.

Wen sighed, obviously getting bored.

“Maybe you're right,” Kel admitted. She leaned forward, nipping playfully at the edge of his ear. “If I wasn't combing your hair, there are some other things...”

“We were done with the other things,” Wen answered, but Kel could tell by his voice that he was grinning. “But if you want to start again...”

They were interrupted by a knock at the door. “Kel? Wendy?” Warric called.

"I thought he stopped calling you Wendy?” Kel asked, puzzled, as Wen scrambled out of bed and made a lunge for his shirt.

“Just give us a minute, please!” Wen answered. He turned to Kel, cheeks pink and eyes wide. “I've been so distracted... Kel, when does Midwinter start?”

“Day after tomorrow,” Kel replied, pulling the sheet up past her waist. Without Wen in the bed, she was already getting cold. “Why?”

Before he could answer, the door opened, and four faces looked in – two apologetic, and two that quickly registered expressions of total shock.

For the first time – possibly ever – Lord Henrick of Jesslaw was rendered speechless.

.

“It's not what you – “ Wen began. “Ok, it is what you think.” He fumbled for words. “Father, I...”

“Lord Henrick, Lady Andrea, I presume?” Kel interrupted, Yamani training taking hold. She stood up, carefully, holding a blanket around herself. Even more carefully, she bowed. “Squire Keladry of Mindelan, at your service. I'll be able to receive you appropriately, if I might have five minutes?” When Lord Henrick continued to regard her with confusion, she gave him a polite smile. “This is my room.”

Lady Andrea recovered her composure first, curtsying to Kel as though nothing out of the ordinary had transpired. “Of course. We'll be in the hall.”

.

“Are you sure you want me there for this?” Kel asked gently.

“Yes,” Wen answered, adamantly. “Especially if Lady Andrea is going to be there, too.” He looked up at her, nervous and lost like a little boy, and all she could do was wrap her arms around him.

“You can do this, Owen,” Kel said, seriously. “We can do this.”

“Thanks,” he said. “For everything.” He kissed her quickly, and let her go. She reached out to him, twitching his tunic into place and smoothing his curls one more time. He strode toward the door. Kel followed.

.

Kel poured tea, which no one drank.

Lady Andrea looked like she was about to giggle. Kel was sure, thanks to her, that inside two days, the whole palace would know she and Wendy of Jesslaw were lovers – something they had managed to keep fairly quiet until now.

“Well, Wendy, I guess I see why you were never keen on marrying Edgar,” Henrick said, with a boisterousness Kel could see was his usual mode of expression. “I can't see as I blame you for fancying ladies.”

Kel looked at Wen, wondering if he was going to leave it at that. She would understand entirely if he did.

But he looked right at his father, gray eyes steady, and spoke without hesitation. “That's not all of it. Father, I'm not a honeylove. I'm a man who's been tapped by the Trickster. My name is Owen.”

Kel had never been so proud.

.

Chapter 7

Eventually, Lady Andrea excused herself, citing a need to lie down and rest after the exertion of traveling from Jesslaw to Corus during the past few days. Owen and Henrick continued to talk – loudly, and with gusto – and after a few minutes, Kel decided a visit to palace stores was in order. “Please, feel free to use my room,” she insisted: as a Rider trainee, she knew Wen didn't have a private space of his own, and Lady Andrea was probably ensconced in the suite where she and Lord Henrick were staying.

An hour later, Wen found her in a courtyard, behind the kitchens, where they sometimes sat when they wanted to be alone.

“Owen of Jesslaw,” Kel said, standing up as he approached. He gave her a grin that surpassed any she'd ever seen.

.


“After the initial shock,” Owen said, “it turns out he wasn't that surprised.”

“It's not the same, at all,” Kel said, “but my parents were like that about me wanting to be a knight.” She shrugged. “I think sometimes they understand us better than we expect, you know?”

“I guess.” They looked at each other, strangely awkward for a moment, until Kel opened her arms. Owen was in them in a second, resting his head on her shoulder as they held each other.

“I'm proud of you,” she said, smoothing his hair. “You're so brave, Owen. You'll be so much happier this way.”

“What about you?” he asked, stepping back far enough to look at her. “We had three years... your time as a squire, my time until the wedding. Now the wedding's off, but you'll still be a knight.”

Kel wanted to look away, but she couldn't. Not from Owen. She would look him in eye until the day she died – he deserved that, if anyone did. “And you'll be a rider.” Kel sighed. “We have to talk about it.”

.

It started snowing as they talked. Kel and Owen walked to keep warm, rather than going back to Kel's rooms or looking for another indoor location.

“We'll both have to go where we're needed,” Kel said. “And knights and riders...” Her voice caught in her throat.

“Are different weapons, for different jobs,” Owen finished. It was a saying he'd heard often enough, in training. “Needed in different situations.”

“Different places,” Kel whispered. “It would be bad enough if only one of us was in service to the crown – if one of us could come or go as we pleased, or at least stay in one spot.”

“Or if we were in service together – if you were a rider. Or if I was a squire, too.”

Kel sighed. “I thought, the first time we talked, that you should have been a squire.”

Owen gave her a wry smile, tucking his hands into his pockets. “Yeah, well.”

She linked an arm through his, and they walked in silence for a while.

Eventually, Owen spoke. “This – you and me – is doomed, isn't it?”

“Yes,” Kel said, truthfully. She didn't say how much it hurt: she knew Owen could see it on her face.

“Better to end it now, and be done with it,” he continued, “instead of dragging things out all winter.”

Kel gave him a lopsided smile. “Thank you for being man enough to say it.” So she didn't have to.

“Thank you for being the first one to see the man in me,” Owen said. He swept her into her arms, and into such a wonderful, mind-bending kiss that, for a moment, she wanted to stay with him even more than she wanted her shield. But it was only a moment, and it passed by.

.

Warric was getting ready for bed when he heard the knock on his door. It was his older sister – or was that brother? “Wen,” he said, “Come in. How did it go?”

“Father came around,” Wen said, closing the door behind him. “I'm lucky. I'm not sure about Lady Andrea – but I don't care. I'll be with the riders, anyway.” He grinned at his brother. “And your position's safe, little brother. In the eyes of the crown, I'll always be a daughter of Jesslaw.”

“Is that why you're so glum?”

“No, that's all right.” Wen sighed, hair falling into his face. “Do you know a good barber? I'm getting my hair cut tomorrow.”

“Wen. Owen.”

He rubbed his cheeks with his hands. “Kel and I are through.”

“What?” Warric said. “But you're crazy about each other.”

Owen shrugged. “She's a squire, I'm a rider... we just can't see it working.” He looked down, boot tracing a line on the floor. “Can I stay here tonight? I can't see going back to the barracks...”

Warric agreed without hesitation. “Of course. You're my brother.”

.

Chapter 8: Epilogue

Eight Years Later, somewhere in central Tortall

.

“Lady Kel! Sir Merric!”

Kel shaded her eyes, trying to see who was calling her. It was a young woman in the uniform of the Queen's Riders.

“Who do you suppose that is?” Merric asked, reining in his horse.

Kel dismounted, handing her reins to the boy who came forward to take them.

“My lady,” the young woman called again, and this time Kel recognized the voice – in combination with the black hair and moon-shaped face.

“Gydane! I'd heard you'd joined up.”

Gydane saluted, and when she lifted her arm, Kel saw the insignia of a Rider second-in-command of a squad.

“Well met,” Merric said, coming to stand halfway behind Kel. “If you're second, who's commanding the squad?”

Kel glanced at her husband, appreciating his solid presence at her back. It had been a long ride, and she wanted nothing so much as to drop into bed – or onto a bedroll, as the case may be.

“Owen of Jesslaw,” Gydane answered.

Kel found herself grinning. She hadn't thought of Owen in months, perhaps years. “They put him in charge?” she asked, with a laugh.

.

A head of disarrayed, curly hair appeared in the doorway of the nearest tent. “Who's there – oh, hello!” called Owen, crossing the space to greet Kel and Merric. He held out his arms, giving Kel a brisk, almost brotherly hug.

“How have you been?” Kel asked, stepping back.

“Jolly, especially lately.”

“And have you met my husband? Merric, this is Owen of Jesslaw. Owen, this is Sir Merric of Hollyrose.”

The two men exchanged greetings; Merric was relaxed, and Owen as cheerful as ever. Kel felt the lifting of a bit of tension she didn't know she'd been carrying. She and Merric were happy together, but in some corner of her mind, she had been wondering if her first lover had faired as well.

“Have you met Gydo?” Owen asked, with exactly the same emphasis as Kel had used when mentioning Merric.

Kel looked at him, one eyebrow raised, and he gave her the slightest of nods.

She grinned. “Your second in command?”

“Riders,” Merric said, shaking his head – but it was obviously teasing meant in good fun. To Owen, he said, “We knew Gydo up north, when she just was a skinny refugee kid. Kel taught her to use a spear.”

“That's right,” Kel confirmed. “She's a good kid, Owen.”

“A good woman,” he corrected. “But then,” he added, “I've always been lucky like that.”

Kel smiled at him, as she
squeezed Merric's hand. "We've both been very lucky."

.

Part 1 is here.
Commentary on part 2 is here.

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