A Life Less Ordinary: Chapter 1

By Sulia Serafine

[This is a Protector of the Small fanfic, all credit goes to Tamora Pierce. I'm broke, so you can't sue me. I've only read The First Test, but as I read the others, the story will fit into place with them. Well, it won't really, but it'll be as accurate as I can make it. I usually don't write fanfics of this style, so forgive me if I relapse into my angst/action Gundam Wing things again. 11-11-00]

It wasn't until more than half the year was over that Keladry's life would change forever. It was her fourteenth birthday, and everyone was giving her good wishes and small gifts before they were forced back into studying in Merric's room.

"Fourteen. You're going to be a squire soon," Quinden said.

"Well, you're going to be one too," she answered, also eyeing Merric, Seaver, and Esmond.

Quinden nodded, but she had to look up to him. He was the tallest among them now. His height just sprang up one summer and that was that. He patted her on the shoulder and presented her with a small package. She thanked him and opened it, to reveal a new pair of gloves. It was just what she needed. Her old ones were wearing down.

"Enough of this birthday stuff," she said. "Back to mathematics."

"Three years, and this stuff still makes me get a headache," said Seth, a third year page whom Esmond had once sponsored.

"Well, can someone help me with my paper on the history of the Eastern Lands?" another boy asked.

"Sure, I'll help," Seaver said and plopped down beside him at the small table.

It was the things like these that made Keladry glad she was a page. She'd never really had friends like them before, and was glad to be there, despite Wyldon looking over her shoulder and making her prove herself every day.

The next day, Wyldon stopped her before her usual jousting practice with the other senior pages. She was actually the best page at jousting since she'd spent so much time with a weighted lance. It was the one good thing that had ever come from Joren and his cronies. If they hadn't switched a normal lance with the weighted one that first year, she would never have become so good.

"Mindelan! You're dismissed from everything today and tomorrow, since your training and studies are," he paused, "adequate." The word sounded bitter on his tongue. He never wanted to show approval to her. Of course, he never wanted her around as a page, either. "You must ride out to the camp just outside the city to fetch some belongings of the Shang warriors that have just arrived from the Yamani Islands. There are a few knights and squires out there. One squire should be free from his duties long enough to ride back with you. It's dangerous out there, and it will be even more dangerous tomorrow with a storm coming."

"Yes, my Lord," she answered with a slight nod of her head.

"Leave right now, and be careful out in the countryside! There's been talk of tauroses and strange magic sensed by the mages."

"Yes, Lord Wyldon," she nodded again more visibly and rode off to prepare.

It was barely afternoon when she reached the edge of the city. It had taken less time than she thought it would, and she was grateful. Now she could approach the camp outside the city with extra caution. She took Lord Wyldon's warning to heart. Tauroses preyed upon women and girls in particular, and if some form of magic "weirded out" the mages of Tortall (who had seen their fair share of strange oddities with Daine and Numair around), then she had to be concerned.

It was nearly sundown. After few minutes of trotting with her mare around trees and hills, she spotted the camp in the distance.

"I've made it this far without getting into trouble. Must be my lucky day," she thought.

He watched her sigh in relief as she spotted the camp. She didn't see him, nor would she until it was too late. The young man eyed the stubborn looking mare she was riding. What had happened to that old grouchy gelding she had? Hopefully, this one didn't kick so quickly either. He remembered the last time he tried to sneak up on the girl before while she was mounted. A horse's back hooves in his stomach hadn't been the greatest feeling in the world.

He crept toward her, not directly behind her so the horse could nail him, but not so she could see him either. He made sure to watch out for twigs under his feet that could make noise.

He was right beside her when he took a deep breath, cupped his hands around his mouth and yelled, "LUMP!"

She cried out in surprise, and immediately cursed herself afterwards. She nearly turned all the way around in her saddle to look at the young man. Her expression immediately became stone. This wasn't her lucky day after all.

Joren of Stone Mountain folded his arms and sneered at her. "Well, if it isn't the Lump. Fancy meeting you here. If I were an enemy from some hostile country, I could've killed you by now."

Keladry nearly blushed at the humiliation. Of all people, why did he have to be out here? "I came to fetch the belongings of the Shang Warriors at the Palace. Lord Wyldon told me they were here with the other knights."

He nodded. "Right. Why would the Stump send a loser like you? Gods know you'd only foul up the job." He turned on his heel and began walking toward the camp. "You'd better leave the job to me, girl. Go home. Shoo."

She inwardly fumed at his insults, then calmed down. She had to be like stone- no emotion and no feeling. She would not sink to Joren's level. Even though yelling a witty retort would probably make her feel a whole lot better.

" What are you doing out here?" she called to him as she goaded her horse to catch up to him.

"I was collecting firewood until I heard you coming around the grove of trees," he said, glancing at her with disfavor and keeping his head held high. "You're welcome to finish my tasks while I ride back into the city with the Shangs' things."

"No way," she replied. "That's my job." She remembered Lord Wyldon's words. A squire had to come back with her to help. She glared at Joren. He definitely wasn't going to be it. They would kill each other before they reached the Palace. And as much as it appealed to her (getting into a brawl with Joren was much better than getting glares from Lord Wyldon. It was like Neal once told her: she loved to fight), she decided it probably wouldn't happen.

They reached the camp in silence. Keladry dismounted and led her mare over to a servant to take care of. A knight, obvious by his clothing and armor, came up to her. His beard had gray streaks through it and there were laugh wrinkles by his eyes.

"Yes, page? What is it?"

"I was sent by Lord Wyldon to retrieve the Shang-"

"Oh, yes. It just arrived from the coast, and I'm glad I don't have to ride all the way back to the palace. It's dark now. You'll stay the night and leave in the morning with my squire to help you. That's what Wyldon said, right?"

"…Yes, Sir," Keladry replied, wondering how he could guess Lord Wyldon's orders.

"Then my squire will accompany you and bring the rest of the stuff on his horse." He gestured to Joren, who immediately turned away to hide his malice.

Keladry tried not to wince at the knight's words. So, she and Joren were going to kill each other after all. "Yes, Sir."

"Hmm… You're that girl page, right?" the knight looked her over.

"Well, yes, my being a girl is obvious, isn't it?" she thought sarcastically. Aloud, she answered, "Yes, Sir." Her sarcasm had grown ever since she had started hanging around Neal.

She spent the night staring up at the stars. They had her bed roll spread out beside one of the more elderly knights, a fatherly one, because they didn't trust their squires around her.

"It could be worse," she thought. "I could be surrounded by a whole bunch of hateful squires who wanted to throw me in the river. Most of these squires are disciplined enough to tolerate me kindly. Too bad Joren is here." She turned onto her side, and swept her long brown hair from her face. She had no idea why she let it grow long. It only complicated things, but she guessed she liked it. It also reminded everyone that yes, she was a girl page, and there was no changing that.

Dwelling on these thoughts, she fell asleep to the sound of the wind rustling the trees.

"Hey, Lump, hurry up! Let's get this over with," Joren yelled over his shoulder as he set his horse to a trot. Keladry rolled her eyes and caught up to him, staying slightly behind.

They rode in silence. She was surprised he hadn't thrown insults at her yet. She watched the birds flying overhead, letting herself forget he was there. The sky was gray. It was going to rain very soon. The air was already cold and the ground damp. She wished for a thicker jerkin to wear. Hers was thin enough as it was.

"Hey, did you see that?" Joren suddenly exclaimed. "Off to the right."

"I didn't see anything," she replied.

He snorted. "I suppose you wouldn't." He dismounted from his horse and checked his sword. "I'm going to check it out. You stay here, lump."

"I don't think so," she said and also got down from her horse. She reached for her belt knife and was conscious of the dagger she kept in her boot when riding out to the countryside. Joren waited for her impatiently before continuing to move on through the bushes and around the trees.

"Better not be a tauros," he whispered, more to himself than her. "Stay down so you don't get your fragile little self hurt, Lump."

"Don't tell me what to do," she whispered back in annoyance. He was really pushing it today. Keladry usually didn't let it show in her voice.

"Hey! Who has seniority, here?" he glared at her before pulling his sword halfway out of his sheath. He moved forward and licked his lips in anticipation of combat.

A white rabbit ran from the bushes and ran between his legs. Joren looked down, surprised.

"What the…"

A large, hairy, and purple beast ran after the rabbit, also between his legs. Joren's foot caught on the animal and he got flipped face first into the dirt and mud. Keladry would have laughed and gloated silently at this, but she was looking after the strange creature running away.

"What is that?" she wondered.

"I don't know, but it's going to wish it was never born!" Joren exclaimed and scrambled to his feet. He drew his sword all the way out of its sheath. Keladry tried to grab his arm, but caught a handful of air as he ran after the purple beast. She cursed his stubborn and hot temper after him.

It looked like a cross between a dog and some sort of bear. But, it was fast. The purple blur was out of her sight range. The young page could only see the tall white-blonde boy running in front of her. Keladry shoved at the low tree branches that threatened to hit her in the face as she ran past. She called to Joren.

"Stop! We don't even know what it is! What if there are more?"

"Well, then we'll find out!" he yelled back, agitated as he lost track of the beast. He stopped abruptly and held his sword ready. His head whipped around to face her. "I would've caught it if you hadn't distracted me with your stupid talking."

"Distracted!" she repeated in disbelief. "I didn't distract you. Well, perhaps it was better I did rather than a squire of Tortall make a fool of himself over something so stupid."

Joren was caught off guard for a moment. Usually, Keladry didn't involve herself in verbal arguments without including the words "this is wrong". Most of the time, she settled for a fight rather than a verbal argument. He regained his senses and retorted.

"Well, I guess you would know what it feels like to be a fool over something stupid. After all, you just loved to climb that chestnut tree-"

Keladry held back the urge to punch him and took a deep breath.

"Stone," she whispered to herself. Then she said a little louder, "Let's get back to the path. There's no point in staying if we've lost-" Her words trailed off as she looked up at something moving in the branches of a tree. Joren followed her gaze and raised his sword again.

The purple bear/dog thrust it's head forward from the foliage and snorted at them. "You scared off the white rabbit and now I won't have any dinner. That is the most annoying thing anyone has done to me in a while. For that, I think I'll take you back home with me."

If it were possible for jaws to hit the ground in shock, then theirs would have. But, alas, they weren't cartoon characters and merely gaped at the strange creature as it started singing in an off-pitch voice. Then singing became so bad that the birds flew out of the tree and other forest animals sought cover. The two humans covered their ears in vein, for the sound was shaking the ground.

In fact, the ground ripped open beneath them as quickly as a cloth ripped by a sewing woman. Keladry lost her footing and fell backward, hitting her head on a rock. Joren tried to keep a grip on his sword, but it fell from his hands. As he reached for the falling weapon, he fell towards the unconscious girl page.

And they fell into the darkness below.

The purple thing chuckled as he finished his destructive song. "Heheh…" He jumped out of the tree and started calmly climbing down into the hole in the Earth he created. "Now I feel so much better…"