Disclaimer: Protector of the Small is the property of Tamora Pierce. Please don't sue me. I just got laid off and I have zero money. There may be two short quoted passages down the line but they will be pretty obvious from the book. Thank ya.
So here I am, two years after I got my BA and waiting to hear back from grad schools and freshly laid off (fekkin' economy) and still with the same guy for over two years now and a bunch of promising writing projects started and and and and. AND with all this hurtling down the lane towards adulthood I felt a heavy burden squatting on my shoulders cackling in my ear. I couldn't work on any of my unfinished/underdeveloped stories. I barely I deemed any of them non-mortifying enough to send off as a portfolio to grad schools with masters programs for writing.I am in a bit of a rut.
So here I am. This was purely an exorcism of the demon who refuses to leave me alone. This plot circulated in my head as a sober answer to all my indulgences as a teenager. The only way my past fanfiction worked was due to the alternate universe. So let's create another alternate universe. More based on canon, more inspired by the actual characters that we met in those lovely books. Don't misunderstand: the characters you are about to read are not perfectly in character and are influenced by different events and people. The series on the whole is floating in the same atmosphere in which I watched movies like Atonement and Closer. So we'll see if the characters I write act differently breathing this alien air.
A warning: this is my first mature rated piece. There will be sex. I don't consider it too graphic. It serves a purpose to the plot (when doesn't sex completely change a plot, fictional or non-fictional?) and there is no other story that I could think of where I would ever write sex scenes again. Like I said, it's a demon squatting on my back, not an angel. I even wrote the first version of this story without sex and it sucked- for lack of a better word. I'll choose to believe that doesn't say anything about me as a writer and that it has everything to do with the story I've chosen to explore.
A quick thank you: to those of you have who continued to read and re-read (that was a pleasant surprise) my early work. I've never found an equal to the support and encouragement I've found here and I'm grateful to the community for being the springboard from which I rose up in writing maturity. As always, an eternal thank you to Jae (dahling) to whom my indulgences were never equated with faults. I don't feel like a weirdo posting this.
The premise of this story: what if the flood that caused Cleon and Keladry to withdraw their affections happened to Fief Mindelan instead? Ignoring the likelihood that geography would even allow for Mindelan to flood, let's suppose it floods so badly that Baron Piers and his wife Ilane find it necessary to consider their options through the marriages of their daughters. And what happens when the noble family of Stone Mountain suddenly finds itself in dire need of good will from the Progressives in the kingdom and are willing to pay for it in bags of gold?
The story has already been completed. Expect weekly updates. Sooner, if responses merit it
On with the story.
Prologue: After the Flood
When the flood came to Mindelan, Keladry was not there. She only heard about it afterward. Letters told her the devastation the massive spring storms had brought to the lands: the lost fields, the dead or missing livestock, the impassable roads. It had rained for days, her father said. They had almost forgotten what the sun looked like nestled among the usually thinner, paler clouds. At some point, families had to be rescued from the roofs of their homes if the roofs had been sturdy enough. Relief had been sent, but the damage was so much that Mindelan would need more aid than was given. The flood had ravaged the land and the lives of its people, but it was Keladry all the way in Corus who would be feeling the consequences for the rest of her life.
She sat with her study group, thumbing the corner of a letter from her mother instead of reading the book in her lap. Around her, the group of boys traded furtive glances though none had the heart to summon Keladry from her brooding thoughts. They had already offered their token words of sympathy and support, words that they felt but still fell short. They were, after all, just words. Words were not medicine for the people in the north who had been made ill by disease that stewed in the stagnant waters. Words did not pour life back into the bloated bodies of men, women, and children who had drowned trying to rescue their livestock from rising river waters. The flood was worth more grief than Keladry was showing, but throwing a tantrum to convince someone to let her go home, to help, would be useless. She had been commanded to stay, dry and well and sickeningly safe far away from home.
A nudge to the ribs disrupted her thoughts. She glanced to the side to see Neal's sympathetic smile. She returned the smile and went back to her reading. With all eyes watching her, she did not dare let her gaze stray from the book. Still, she could only read the same paragraph over and over. The words kept slipping away from her, like a swift moving stream, until she gave up. She murmured an apology and an excuse to her friends, then left.
Later that month on her way to the library, she ran into Joren of Stone Mountain and Vinson of Genlith. After last year, she knew she should stay on her toes around either boy. She continued to wonder if she would be standing there as a page if Neal had not succeeded in becoming her sponsor instead of Joren. When Keladry thought of herself, she knew she was determined enough not to let someone like him discourage her, yet there were so many ways that he could have sabotaged her. He could have planted spirits in her room or other contraband. After finding her room in last year in such a demolished state, she did not doubt that it was possible.
When the two boys saw her, they exchanged mischievous looks and continued to walk down the opposite of the hall as if nothing was amiss. In fact, rosy cheeked Joren actually nodded to her. Keladry instinctively tensed as they came closer. They were sadly mistaken if they thought she was going to let her guard down.
When they were two arms lengths away, she stared at them openly, daring them to make a move. Instead, they passed each other by. The boys looked over their shoulders as she did the same. Keladry didn't trust them enough to turn her back on them. It wouldn't be the first time they had tried to jump her.
"Ah!" she cried as a sopping wet napkin made contact with the back of her head.
She turned around and brought her hand up. She actually caught the second napkin, droplets of something that smelled almost like pickle juice flying off. Her arm winged out and flung it back at the boys' third companion, Zahir ibn Alhaz. It caught him full in his grinning face.
While the cloth still covered his eyes, Keladry ran past. She turned her head to look for more accomplices and stayed on her guard the rest of the way to the library. Her nose wrinkled. Her hair smelled like something rancid but she would only waste more time if she went back to her room to wash it out.
They surprised her with their restraint. She expected far worse than what they had done. They had used rancid juice, not urine. It had been some time since her last big encounter with any of them. That winter, Joren's father Lord Burchard had died of illness. Something else had happened then, as well. She did not pay too much attention to the gossip, but she knew that Joren's family had fallen into some degree of disgrace, almost causing him to leave training. The only thing that was probably keeping him from causing her more trouble was the possibility of making anyone angry with his antics. If his family's honor was truly in danger, his behavior was probably under surveillance every moment of the day. Someone else had to assault her with the soaked napkins.
The librarian looked up from his desk and wrinkled his nose when she entered. Keladry moved behind a bookcase to avoid the stare. Even with less attention from him, it was still more attention than she wanted.
Life carried on: training, studying, brooding. Eventually, Keladry thought of her family's plight and was able to tell herself that when it was next possible she would return home to help as much as she could. No one could expect anything more of her, especially after her parents' demands that she stay where she was and let them worry about what they would do.
Then her mother appeared at the door of her room one night just before supper.
"Lalasa, you are not required to knock. You have a key—" Keladry took her hand off the door handle and gaped at her visitor.
"Hello, dear," Lady Ilane said. The tall regal woman gazed warmly at her daughter.
Keladry had luckily just finished washing up. No pickle juice that day, but smelling of horses and sweat was probably not the best aroma in the world. She went to her mother and hugged her while she tried to keep the anxiety out of her voice. "I wasn't expecting you. Is everything alright? How are you?"
"We are well. Your father and I are here for some negotiations while Anders runs the fief. We were hoping to take you out to dine tonight. I have already let your training master know. He wanted to remind you that though he will dismiss your absence at supper, he still expects you to complete your classwork." The crinkle at her eyes told Keladry that her mother had found Wyldon's remark amusing, despite his gruff demeanor.
"And how are negotiations going?"
Ilane cupped her daughter's cheek. The woman's cool hands on her skin had an instantly calming effect. Keladry tried to focus on remaining as mature as she thought she was instead of slipping into childlike security.
"After the winter, many people's supplies are depleted," Ilane explained. "The king has supplied some relief, but he cannot supply more or every lord under him will be badgering the king for more. His majesty was very troubled he could not help more. We understand."
The lines on her mother's face looked deeper. The shadows around her eyes were more pronounced. She could only imagine what her father looked like. They had been counting on the continued aid of the king's men rebuilding the lost houses and on the arrival of royal surplus. But it was the Baron's duty to take care of his people. It was to her family that the responsibility would ultimately fall.
"You'll be able to get supplies easily enough from other sources, won't you?"
Her mother smiled, but it was a thin tired smile. "Of course."
"Something's not right. You're not telling me something important."
"Darling, it is not your place to worry about these things."
Keladry forced herself to keep a straight face showing no anxiety when she responded, "You'll be in debt. While Anders is at home managing the fief, you're here to trade away promises that will be hard to keep to aid the villagers surrounding Mindelan."
Ilane shook her head. "I'm so proud to have such an intelligent daughter."
"Mama, what are you really doing here?"
Her mother stepped away and gazed out of the window. She spoke as if from a distant place. "Your sisters are old enough to marry soon. They have met well at court."
Terror seized Keladry, making her stiffen up like wood. She thought of Adalia and Oranie. They would be in their rooms, packing up their things and preparing themselves to be married off for as large bride prices as her parents could manage. All of this, in order to fund relief to their home and the people in the surrounding areas. It would be selfish if they refused, which her sisters could not do anyway.
"No, I thought matches had already been arranged. Oranie had just began to become acquainted with Derick. They like each other," she emphasized. "So many girls are only so lucky."
"The matches can be better," her mother insisted, turning her face away further perhaps to hide the beginning signs of despair. "Your father and I were too careless in our arrangements for them before."
They remained silent for a few moments before Keladry spoke again.
"Who will they marry?"
Ilane turned and dipped her head to the side. "Oranie? Or Adalia? Adalia is a bit too old to match to the boy we have in mind right now. I've had the fortune of meeting Lady Einsrell of Stone Mountain. You may have met her son, Joren, in training with you. A few years older, I believe."
The beautiful bully. Keladry could not believe it. Poor Oranie. She lowered her eyes. "We are acquainted."
"You may have also heard that his father passed this winter."
"I have," Keladry responded. She should have been able to make the connection, but she waited for her mother to continue.
"When the lord died, his steward made the foolish move of trying to carry on certain secret plans in his lord's place. It was revealed, I am assuming, through the king's spy network that the late lord of Stone Mountain had contingency plans for a conservative uprising against King Jonathan if laws continued to be reformed too progressively for their taste. Their family immediately fell out of grace under posthumous accusations of treason and conspiracy. Lady Einsrell is a shrewd woman. She would like to curry favor with families whom the king smiles upon."
"That we spent so much time in the Yamani Islands when the prince's betrothed is a Yamani princess does not hurt our standing, especially since we are familiar with the the princess' royal family," her mother explained. "I also think King Jonathan is aware how much of our own personal coffers we gave up to help the people surrounding us this spring."
So that was it then. The money of one of the oldest and richest families in Tortall for the genteel association of one of the King's most favored. Keladry could not bear the thought of her sweet, kind sister being opressed by Joren. She touched her mother's arm and, without so much as a second thought, blurted out, "Let me."
He mother turned back to her. "Let you what?"
"Let me take Oranie's place," Keladry elaborated. Perhaps there was bad blood in her family and she had finally revealed it. What she was doing now was clearly insane.
"My dear, that does not make any sense. You're training to be a knight."
"I have nothing to lose by the match," Keladry protested. "Oranie and Adalia have matches of their own and you risk the dishonor of those men's families to break off negotiations with them now. Joren trains to become a knight. He'll be gone to battle much more in his youth than he'll be home to spend with his bride. I would be doing the same. We'd be much more sympathetic to each other's work that way." Here she wondered if that counted as a lie. It was a speculation, as unlikely as it was. "...and I would be able to travel to see him." Not voluntarily, though.
Her mother gazed thoughtfully at her daughter. "You're not trained to be a wife."
"If I can learn to be a knight, I can learn to manage a household, too. The Lioness has many children and a well-run barony, does she not?"
"Your sister is prepared to do what she must and bears no ill will towards your father and myself for asking her to do so," her mother pointed out.
"She needlessly prepares for sacrifice. It won't have to be a sacrifice for me. I might not have married at all, so you are not replacing one future son-in-law with another as with Oranie, but gaining another through me. We need as much support as we can get."
An understated mirth twinkled in Ilane's eyes. "Hold your tongue, dear, you're sounding a bit too much like the parent. I feel usurped."
"I only await your approval."
Her mother took her hand and tugged her into another hug. Ilane stroked her daughter's short hair and sighed. "You are too brave. If it is your wish, I'll visit Lady Einsrell and speak with her about it. Something tells me she is a more desperate woman than she wants to let on."
The girl stared at the wall over her mother's shoulder. Stone. A mountain. A mountain of regret, perhaps, in the morning when she woke up and realized that what she had just agreed to was not just a dream.
Keladry turned away from her mother and cleared her throat. "I'll need to change into different clothes before we go."
"Take your time, dear. I think I'll go by the queen's gardens before we leave," Lady Ilane added, aware of her daughter's mental state. "I hear the blooms are lovely this spring."
When the door to her room was closed once more, Keladry leaned against the wall and stared at the ground. Even birds with no webbed feet had more sense than her when they chose to stay in the air than to see if they could swim.