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Inevitability

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September, 460 HE, Fort Steadfast

“Were you surprised that Buri and I decided to marry?”

Dom, one of Raoul’s sergeants in the King’s Own, shook his head.

“Really?”

“After Kel brought you two together in one night, I doubt anything could surprise me anymore about you two.”

Raoul laughed. “Kel was very calm about that.”

“Though when I asked her what she did exactly, she just looked at me in that Kel-way of hers and told me that when she had time to process the numerous events that happened that night-“ Raoul grimaced as he remembered Joren of Stone Mountain’s death and his relatives’ barging into his chambers, “that was the only thing that didn’t upset her that night.”

Raoul grinned.

“Kel never really talked about your relationship, especially when Stone Mountain spread about the rumors and I’ll tell you again that the King’s Own and the Queen’s Riders were both too surprised to even prank each other for the rest of that winter, mind you, but all she said one time at Haven,” and Dom bowed his head for a moment before straightening up again, “was that she was just surprised that no one in the Own or the Riders even thought of helping you two along all these years; it seemed obvious to her that both of you were suited to each other.”

“Huh.” Raoul had always thought Kel had keen eyes. 

 

***

 

439 H.E., Corus

The wedding of King Jonathan and Queen Thayet was somber, with the King still coming to terms with his parents’ death and the Queen her Sarain. Still, everyone made the best of celebrating it as the royal couple were quite suited to each other even if love hadn’t quite claimed them yet.

Raoul grinned as he contemplated the possibility of Alanna being Jon’s queen. Alanna had uncontestable noble blood, bluer than even the Conte line as Coram liked to say, but even so the conservatives would all keel over and die had such happened (which wasn’t particularly a bad thing). His pleasant thoughts were interrupted by his espying some highborn ladies with their daughters in tow going in his direction; he quickly made his escape as best he could through the crowd of dancing people, exhaling only when he found an unoccupied corner to hide from. Buri joined him a few moments after, the tell tale signs of someone wanting to escape a ball on her face. Raoul knew it well; he'd had it on his own too many times to count.

“You don’t like these events too?” 

“No, I don’t” she said. “I had enough of them in Sarain while guarding Thayet. But you, I’m surprised you don’t like them.”

“Alanna will tell you how much I hate these events,” Raoul said with a grouse. “If only Jon hadn’t ordered me to stay until the end…”

“Alanna doesn’t like these events too, she said” Buri said.

“Ah, yes, though now that she has George I suppose she deals with it better now. But when she was a squire, ah, one could see how pained she was when she had to attend them. But then, she was still Squire Alan then, dancing with the girls and being the only one not getting caught up in our petty fights over girls.”

“You got into petty fights over girls?”

He laughed. “All of us, even Jon and Gary – Gareth of Naxen, our Prime Minister – we all got into fights over Delia of Eldorne when she first came to court.”

Buri raised an eyebrow. “That Delia of Eldorne?”

Raoul grinned sheepishly. “We were all boys, rather hot-headed and excited to have romances with court ladies. She was good at making us want her attention. Seeing her pay special attention to Alanna – as Alan, of course – never failed to make us envious. Alanna never played into her games.”

Buri grinned. “Somehow I can’t really understand why you all never figured out Alanna was a girl, you know.”

“It’s not exactly something I’m proud of,” Raoul said, “but when Alanna doesn’t want something found out about her, it stays hidden – especially when she had Faithful with her. And she was very good with a sword; any jokes about that could have been silenced by her at the training grounds. Jon knew, though, and George. I don’t really know how she pulled it off, though at least now I know why she never really wanted to swim with us.”

Buri laughed.

“I guess I should have suspected, I mean, there were times when I thought Alan looked… different, I should say. Not delicate, though his build was much more slight than all of us, but there was just something… But I don’t know. Maybe I wouldn’t have really suspected at all since… you know, we used to have Lady Knights in Tortall?”

“Really?”

“Yes, but they were abolished almost a hundred years ago. The army nor the King’s Own take women, so noble women would go to the convent. With that, I wouldn’t have thought that Squire Alan, regardless of how much guts he had, was actually the first lady squire in a thousand years.” Raoul shook his head. “I wonder if there’ll be others.”

“We heard about her even in Sarain, before it fell” said Buri slowly. “Many thought well,” she paused, frowning, “that she should have been killed for pretending to be a boy. Thayet and I thought it was amazing that a noble-born woman had chosen to fight. That’s why we came to Tortall; any kingdom that allowed Alanna to continue being a knight had to be better than Sarain, for Thayet." 

“I saw you in the battle,” Raoul said suddenly. “You know how to fight. Using throwing stars isn’t something you see every day. Pretty nifty.”

“We use them in Sarain,” said Buri. “Commoners know that at least, though Thayet is very good with a bow.”

“That’s something good there,” said Raoul. “I wonder if Alanna will inspire more women to fight for their kingdom, commoners and noblewomen. I know Alanna would like more lady knights.”

Buri grinned. “Thayet plans to open schools for commoners; I’ll pass that on. Maybe there’ll be more room for females in Tortall’s defense.”

Raoul grinned back. “I wouldn’t mind that.”

“Buri,” cried Thayet. “So there you are, I’ve been looking all over the room for you!”

Buri gave him a wry smile. “I apologize, duty calls.”

Raoul grinned as he leaned back against the wall. That had been an interesting conversation. He grimaced when he saw another highborn lady approaching – maybe he could get Gary to drive them all away.

 

***

 

September, 460 HE, Fort Steadfast

Looking back at their first real conversation, Raoul smiled. It was probably inevitable that he would fall in love with Buri, who didn’t shy away from thoughts of combat even at a ball.

 

***

 

442 H.E., Corus

It had shaken up Tortall, the creation of a new fighting group under the Queen and Buri called the Queen’s Riders. Conservatives, still licking their wounds about Jonathan not marrying the Copper Isles Princess even when she had been proven insane and treasonous, grumbled about the changes – the immorality of a mixed group accepting both boys and girls, the Queen advocating that girls should learn how to fight, even. The progressives took their mutterings in stride, seeing the possibility of this new fighting group as a way to further strengthen the greatly weakened Tortall.

“So you’re Commander Buri now, I hear.”

She grinned back at him. “Co-Commander,” she corrected him, “Thayet is Commander, though she can’t always go out as Queen. I do all the routine stuff.”

“I’m looking forward to working with you, Co-Commander Buri” he said grandly.

She grinned. “Of course, Knight Commander Raoul.” She grimaced. “You could have warned me about all the paperwork of command before I accepted the job.”

Raoul laughed. “That doesn’t ever go away, mind you.”

Buri refrained from cursing.

“And I won’t even mention all the balls you’re going to have to attend now as Co-Commander.”

This time Buri did curse. Raoul laughed.

 

***

 

444 H.E., Northern Border

For all that some of the Ownsmen were apprehensive about assistance from the Queen's Riders, Raoul liked it when the two groups worked together. As Jon and Thayet had explained, the King's Own and the Queen's Riders had different purposes and were meant to complement each other. Buri and Thayet were also very good leaders so Raoul had no complaints. He knew well enough how hard it was to motivate his men to travel in heavy rains.

"You found them?"

Buri nodded as she dismounted her horse expertly, the rest of Group Askew quietly following her lead. "I had my group sniff around; they're the ones who've been preying on the nearby villages. They're been seeking shelter in a cave about a day's ride from here." She handed him a map.

Raoul nodded. "We hadn't been able to get hide or hair of them for weeks; Jon would laugh at me if he was here."

"Well, he's not" Buri said. "I can laugh, though. Thayet might, if she were here."

He grinned ruefully as he signaled to his sergeants and Flyndan to meet him at his tent. "We'll take it over from here." He paused. "Thanks, Buri."

"No problem."

 

***

 

447 H.E., Corus

“Jon, can’t you just repeal that damned law? It’s not fair to the men anyway, that I can get married and they can’t.”

“It’s been like that for ages, Raoul” Jon said patiently. “I’m not going to repeal a law that just causes a problem for you. Besides, it’s not like they can just abduct you and forcibly bring you to the Temple.”

He grumbled. “I don’t even know why they bother; I don’t even want to get married.”

Jon grinned. “The fearless Raoul, afraid of matchmaking mothers. Enemies of Tortall would pay a lot of gold nobles for that information.”

“Don’t give the spies ideas,” Raoul said seriously.

“He does have a point, though” said Buri from her place beside Thayet. “The Queen’s Riders have the rules that the Commander, er, the Co-Commander that isn’t the Queen can’t get married.”

Jon shook his head. “I know, but the Queen’s Riders rules were more recently made and you had a good reason for that, right?”

Buri nodded. “To not distract the Commander from his or her duties. It’s the same as why the Queen’s Riders can’t be married either.”

Jon nodded gravely. “Raoul, I know it’s not fair, but look at it from our side. The conservatives tear all our proposed laws apart as it is; changing that rule would make me and Thayet laughingstocks. Maybe when Tortall is more settled we can talk about it, but not now.”

Raoul groaned. “Fine. But can I at least not attend all those balls?”

“No.”

Raoul cursed. Buri and Thayet laughed.

“Besides, you might meet your true love at a ball anyway,” Jon said teasingly. “I don’t know your type though.”

Raoul groaned again. Someone who doesn’t expect me to change, maybe. Or expect me to enjoy balls. Someone who I can escape balls with.

Somehow that seemed like wishful thinking. Though, since he had met Alanna and Buri who both didn’t like social events, maybe there was hope for him someday.

 

***

 

450 H.E., Corus

“Raoul of Goldenlake!” Buri bellowed one morning, knocking loudly at his door.

He opened the door immediately and ushered her in. “Yes?”

“The Queen’s Riders’ dorms have been…” She paused, out of breath.

“Have been…”

She pulled him to the nearest window. “Just look!”

Raoul blinked as he noted the now multi-colored dorms with… was those King’s Own Pennants?

“Do you deny it?”

“I have no knowledge of this,” he said quickly.

“And don’t tell me you can’t control them,” Buri added. "Giantkiller and all."

Raoul just grinned at her.

After a few moments, Buri gave up all pretenses and laughed loudly.

“We’ll get you back,” she said before running off.

 

***

 

456 H.E., near the Border 

"You're finally taking a squire," Buri said after a skirmish with ogres that had crossed the border from Tusaine. Group Askew had been nearby, so they had lent a hand to Third Company.

"If she'll have me," Raoul said, wiping his brow as they watched their troops pack up their things in preparation to go back to Corus. "She might have already agreed to be someone else's squire."

"She might, if any of the knights at the palace now were smart enough" Buri allowed, "but you'd be good for her. From what her teachers say, even Wyldon and you know it would have pained him to admit it, she works harder than any boy page and maybe even some squires. You'd see her for what she's worth; after all, we work well enough together and she seems the practical sort like I am."

"Thanks for the pep talk," Raoul joked, though his voice was calmer. "I really have to get back and ask her though."

Buri grinned. "I'll look forward to seeing a girl ride with the Own next time I see you, Raoul."

 

***

 

Later in the Summer of 456 H. E., after Irontown

After Kel had left the room, her serving duties to the commanders done, Buri grinned at Raoul.

"So, have you still your respectability with your new squire? Alanna says that hers could talk legs off horses while growling in the morning about how early he has to rise."

Raoul laughed. "Well, I had it until we rode out of Corus. The boys told her about my falling out of the saddle multiple times in my tender years; no doubt young Dom is now regaling her with other follies of my youth."

She grinned. "Didn't you fall out of the saddle from hunger again just last year?"

"Don't remind me!"

 

***

 

Overheard at numerous balls over the years:

“Are you bored to death?”

Raoul looked at Buri. “Are you?”

“Trust me, if Thayet didn’t order me back, I wouldn’t be here.”

“Same here.”

Either of them would then attempt to disappear before Jon or Thayet coerced them into holding conversations with other people.

They had never thought to really stay and talk with each other before at the balls. Maybe if they had, their relationship would have started much earlier. They respected each other, trusted each other in combat and intelligence gathering situations, and were equally positioned as commanders of their respective groups. It was a surprise when Kel had asked them for help in getting the Prince and his betrothed to be more comfortable with each other, how Raoul and Buri started looking forward to those small gatherings of war strategies as they got to escape the actual balls and engage in spirited conversations with each other (and certain other people). Still, nothing happened between them.

But maybe all they needed was someone to give them that little push, unintentional though it may have been. Timing was also the key to ending the prolongation of inevitability.

 

***

 

457 H.E., Midwinter, Corus

When Kel had suggested that he bring Buri to his Great Aunt’s Midwinter party, Raoul had clung to it as a lifeline. Buri understood him the best, being a fellow commander. She wouldn’t have any romantic notions. He’d known her for years.

“My Great Aunt is sort of…”

“Nosy? Talks loudly? Kel told me some of the details.” Buri slapped his shoulder.

“Don’t worry, Raoul, I have no desire to gain a partially deaf great aunt by marriage. And anything she says will be just words I’ve heard before.”

Raoul looked dismal. “I hope your good mood lasts at least a half bell’s worth after you meet her.”

“She can’t be that bad,” Buri said, clearly trying to cheer him up.

 

---

 

“So you’ve finally brought someone,” dryly said his aunt in a voice that rang through the house. “A bit older than I’d expected, but we can’t be choosy with all those rumors about you and your men and how you’ve let all the good ones go, it's a miracle that one actually decided to go with you willingly.”

At his side, Buri admirably kept a straight face. Raoul wondered what her secret was. Was it all that exposure to Evin Larse?

“Great Aunt,” Raoul said, trying to keep his voice calm “may I introduce Buriram Tourakom of Sarain, Commander of the Queen’s Riders?”

“I know who she is, young man” his aunt shouted. “A foreigner! But I cannot deny her connections, regardless of her commoner status.”

Raoul was thankful that Buri seemed to have somehow sealed her mouth.

“You’ve surprised me, Raoul! Perhaps you aren’t too hopeless! To think I had readied scores of ladies for you to choose from!”

Buri was starting to shake – from suppressed laughter, Raoul guessed. He looked at the hallway full of guests and winced at their unsuppressed grins.

“Great Aunt, perhaps you would let me show Buri around the house. It would be a pity if she was not able to see your outstanding portrait collection.”

“Good, you’re actually starting to act like a Lord! Here I thought you had forgotten your pedigree with your chasing after bandits and all those rumors about you!”

Raoul got Buri out into the gardens before she burst out into laughter.

“I thought Kel was exaggerating about her calling you an overgrown boy.”

“The exact quote was 'feckless gawp of an overgrown boy', actually. Sadly, she was not. She didn’t feel sorry enough to accompany me to this, she said.”

“And well she didn’t,” Buri said. “Imagine what your Great Aunt would say if you brought your own squire to her party!”

“It would be the scandal that would ruin Midwinter,” Raoul said mock-solemnly. “I can’t believe I didn’t force her to come with me.” He grinned before stopping at a bench overlooking a pond. “Ah, here we are. If you want, we can just stay here and wait until we can honorably excuse ourselves because of our duties to the Crown.”

Buri’s eyes widened. “Oh no you don’t, Raoul; not without us eating dinner first! And I want to hear more stories about your childhood!”

 

---

 

There was no drink, Raoul remembered. He had enough experiences with the fairer sex, court ladies in his youth to know the pull of passion.

He couldn’t explain how after escaping from his Great Aunt’s house, he was just walking Buri back to the Queen’s Riders Dorms when he had suddenly leaned down and kissed her. Maybe it was the giddiness of escaping his family’s party without much embarrassment. Maybe it was spending an painless amount of time with Buri reminiscing about his days as a young boy and his misadventures and how she had smiled at him and laughed at all the right moments. Maybe it was just impulse. Maybe it was just inevitable. Or madness. (Did it run in the family? He would have to ask his Great Aunt one day.)

He was also surprised that Buri, who certainly hadn’t drunk any liquor, had grinned at him after that unexpected impulsive kiss he had given her and leaned up and kissed him on the chin.

“You’re too tall,” she murmured. “You’ll have to help me.”

“Gladly,” he said. This wasn’t what he had expected, Raoul thought.

But it made sense, Raoul thought before taking her in his arms, and then there were no more coherent thoughts in his head when she smiled up at him again before leading him to his chambers instead.

 

---

 

This was not going to be a roll in the hay, he thought dazedly before he fell asleep with Buri in his arms. It had just felt right, like they’d waited and this was the right time.

 

---

 

“Kel.”

Keladry of Mindelan looked up from her bookkeeping to see her knight-master with an embarrassed look on his face.

“Lord Raoul?”

“About two nights ago…”

Kel shook her head. “Thank you for that; I wouldn’t have known what to do with Joren’s relatives.”

“That’s my job as your knight-master,” he said. “But actually I was talking about something else…” he trailed off, blushing. To think he had lectured Kel about Cleon when he had then brought Buri back into his chambers, not that he regretted that part.

Kel supposed this was an awkward situation for her knight-master. She decided to put him out of his misery. “I didn’t see anything untoward, Lord Raoul” she offered.

“You’re my favorite squire” he said, his blush dissipating. At least he could count on Kel not to make a fuss though he knew the rest of the court would have their tongues wagging.

 

***

 

Midwinter, 459 HE, Fort Steadfast

Contrary to popular belief, it was Buri who asked Raoul to marry her a few nights after Kel had become a knight.

“Raoul, do you want to get married?”

Raoul almost dropped the plate he was holding.

Buri grinned. “What, is this the first time someone has proposed to you?”

Raoul’s eyes widened. “Well, yes, actually.”

Buri laughed. “I’m honored.”

“But Buri, what about the Queen’s Riders? You know you can’t stay in command if…” It had been why he hadn’t asked her before.

She shrugged. “Evin is about ready to take command; he’s come a long way from that Player Daine had to teach how to ride.”

“When?”

“Whenever you want, I think it’s about time” Buri said lazily, lying down on his bed again. “Unless you don’t want-“

“Buriram Tourakom, of course I do.”

“Good. And it’s Buri.”

“It’ll be Lady Buriram of Goldenlake and Malorie’s Peak, you know.”

Buri rolled her eyes at him.

 

***

 

September, 460 HE, Fort Steadfast

 

Raoul was instructing his men on new drills when suddenly the chatter in Fort Steadfast quietened noticeably. He paused, noting the grins on his men’s faces. Dom caught his eyes, then pointed. He turned around then smiled.

“Are you ready to get married?”

Buri grinned back at him, radiant even under dirt and grime. “I’m here, aren’t I?”

He caught her up in a hug, both ignoring the cheers of their subordinates.

 

***

 

“So what were you thinking about?” Buri said into his shoulder the morning after their wedding.

Raoul smiled, drawing her close. “How inevitable our relationship was.”

“Inevitable?”

Raoul laughed. “Imagine the odds of our getting together fifteen years after we’d known each other, especially with me who was actively running away from marriage. The King’s Own were complaining that they could have made thousands of gold nobles off bets had they suspected.”

Buri smiled back. “Ah. When you put it that way…”

It was inevitable.