The district commanders had been in a meeting. Had, past tense. It was over now, but they hadn't yet left the office. Conversation had moved on from official matters to small talk when there was a knock on the door.
"Enter," Lord Wyldon of Cavall, commander of Fort Mastiff, bid shortly.
The door opened to reveal Domitan of Masbolle, a sergeant in the Third Company of the King's Own. He was carrying several small stacks of envelopes, each pile bound with chord to keep them separate from each other, in one hand. In the other, an opened letter was held in a tight, white-knuckled fist.
"The mail bag has arrived from Corus," Dom announced, as he set the bound letters on the desk for the commanders present in the room to collect for themselves. Each bundle was clearly labelled as to who it was for. "And I have a favour that I need to ask."
"You don't normally ask for favours," Lord Raoul of Goldenlake and Malorie's Peak, occasionally and to his embarrassment known as the Giantkiller, and the Knight Commander of the King's Own, observed as he picked up his correspondence. "What do you need, Dom?"
"I need to learn to tilt," Dom answered, and the hand holding his own scrunched up letter tightened again. "So that I may give a drubbing to the only persons involved in this farce that I can."
"Involved?" Raoul said, amused and curious. "Whatever is the matter? And who are you planning to meet on the field of honour?"
"It's a bit convoluted to explain, Sir," Dom demurred.
"Then sit down to explain it in full," Wyldon ordered. "You've got us all curious now, Masbolle, and if I'm to supervise a novice tilting at the quintain in my fort, I want the full story."
Dom obediently pulled up a chair, and then wrestled a moment within himself as he tired to figure out where to begin.
"New Hope is going to be made a fief," Dom said at last.
In the chair beside him, Lady Knight Keladry of Mindelan, Commander of New Hope, stiffened. It was not, to Dom's surprise, the stiffening of surprised outrage. Kel may not let much slip, but Dom had been a student of her character, moods, and expressions even before he met her. He'd also ridden with her for the four years she was a squire, as well as continued to work with her now that she was a Lady Knight. He credited himself with being instrumental in helping her let some of her Yamani stiffness go in favour of a Tortallan soldier's crudity. Just a little. So he knew that she wasn't surprised. She was angry in a frustrated, settled way.
The idea that her command might be turned into a fief and handed over to someone else was not new to her then. Well, that was something. From the lack of surprise from the other commanders, they had been aware of the possibility as well.
"I don't know how, or even why, but my eldest brother and my father have petitioned His Majesty that I be awarded the fief," Dom continued, "and for reasons that are completely beyond my comprehension, His Majesty has done so."
Kel, Dom was surprised to note, actually seemed to relax a little at that. Well, he supposed, they were her people. If some younger son was going to be put in charge of her people, at least he was known to them, and she could know he'd treat her people well. If Kel had known this was coming, then she'd probably been worrying that New Hope would be given to some horrid Conservative like Stone Mountain, Genlith, or more likely Tirrsmont where so many of her refugees had originally come from.
"Obviously I cannot challenge His Majesty," Dom said, and gestured to Sir Alanna of Pirate's Swoop and Olau, the Lioness, and the King's Champion. "I'd only get my arse kicked by the lovely Lioness for my audacity."
Alanna snorted in amusement, and nodded in acknowledgement that, even if Dom challenged the King, it would be her he'd end up actually fighting.
"But I can hope to see my own relations with mud on their faces for their presumption," Dom explained, "and I know my father and brother are weakest with the lance. If I challenged them to a sword fight, it would be too even a chance, but I've seen my lords -" he nodded respectfully to Raoul and Wyldon, "- and my lady," he managed an almost courtly bow to Kel despite being seated, "send people flying from their saddles. I thought, if anybody would be able to teach me to unhorse my relations, the best teachers I could appeal to are all here."
"I'm curious," Alanna said, leaning forward in her seat, "to know what presumption, exactly, you wish to unhorse them for."
"That I need my family to order my life for me. That they have that right when I am a grown man and a sergeant. That I should leave the Own and settle down. That they have any business trying to claim New Hope, even by proxy," Dom listed, his anger at all of these presumptions clear in his voice, his face, in the way he held himself to his chair rather than leaping up and being dramatic about it all as his cousin Sir Nealan of Queenscove would. "That anybody but Kel should be given New Hope, if it must be given at all."
Kel's cheeks pinked, just a little. She always did have a problem with being too modest.
"That last point being the one that has you wishing you could face His Majesty on the field, I'm guessing," Alanna posited as she smiled like a satisfied cat at his reasoning.
"That, and that he actually did what my father appealed for him to do," Dom agreed. "I just don't see why New Hope wasn't given to the woman who built it."
"Politics, most likely," Wyldon suggested with a frustrated sigh.
Alanna nodded her agreement with the older knight's assessment, though rather than an expression of frustration, hers was one of sneering disdain. The Lioness had no patience for politics that didn't involve a sharp edge.
"Jon needs conservatives on his side if he wants to make kingdom-improving changes," Raoul explained. "If he gives our Kel too many nice things, no matter how well deserved they may be, too obviously or too close together, then the conservatives get in a snit and don't let him do other things."
"Like change bad laws," Kel said softly, and sighed. "It's like my probation, and my swearing to the king I wouldn't challenge Joren after his trial."
"An excellent assessment," Wyldon said with an approving nod. "Sergeant Masbolle might not be part of the conservative faction, but I believe the rest of the Masbolles are."
"Book of Gold, up to our eyeballs in tradition, occasionally not stuffy about it," Dom agreed with a huff, and rolled his eyes as he said 'occasionally'. Clearly, they were more often than not, and he was often frustrated with the actions of certain family members. Especially at the moment. "You're saying I'm some kind of compromise between a conservative taking New Hope, and a progressive."
"In a word, yes," Wyldon confirmed.
"You're also on record as a good commander, you know the people and the area, and it's probably known to the crown that you're on personally friendly terms with Kel," Raoul threw in. "So while Masbolle as a whole may be a conservative fief, Jon's probably laying odds that New Hope will be progressive if he puts you in charge."
"But the conservatives won't kick up a fuss about a progressive being given the fief because you're from a Book of Gold family who aren't progressive," Wyldon rounded off. "No one assumes a progressive son from a conservative family."
"Including the family. Well, I can't face every conservative in the kingdom, but I can and will want to unhorse my father and brother for putting me in this position," Dom insisted. "If I could have that training, please."
A time was agreed upon, and Dom left with a grateful bow.