Kel tensed —an automatic reflex— when the horn calls sounded from outside New Hope. She quickly corrected the action and tried to flow back into the motions of staff practice. They were expecting a routine patrol from Mastiff and the horn calls confirmed their arrival. Even a year after returning to the destroyed walls of Haven, Kel expected every horn to herald attacking Scanrans.
Knowing that Merric was at the gate and Tobe at headquarters, both of them prepared to take care of the new arrivals, Kel tried to push the thoughts from her mind. She was proud of the progress of her staff trainees, and it wouldn't do to teach them bad form by letting her mind wander.
After completing the demonstrative staff routine, Kel and her assistants began circulating through the crowd of students. These pupils were mainly the younger teenagers —from her original staff class at Haven as well as several newcomers from her Scanran rescue. Kel made gentle corrections here and there and demonstrated the movements again several times, occasionally glancing around to check on her fellow teachers.
It was while making one such pass that Kel noticed a visitor leaning against the nearby wall. It took every ounce of composure she had not to start at the sight of her former teacher: Lord Wyldon had very much not been on the list of visitors she had been expecting today!
Kel managed to keep her jaw closed and continue her teaching, but she was tense for the rest of the hour.
When the bells rang out to signal the lunch hour, Kel returned to the head of the group. "Good job, class!" She called, her voice carefully pitched to carry to even the farthest row. "Now, who feels like a run?"
There was a smattering of groans, but most of them were half-hearted, and Kel's smile only widened. As was their custom, she raised her hand, palm out, and then quickly dropped it. Her students sprang into motion, sprinting every which way and quickly vanishing into the maze of the town.
That done, Kel finally turned back to the fence and faced her visitor. Though her first instinct upon seeing Lord Wyldon was still that of a miscreant page being pulled into the Training Master's office after a brawl, Kel had learned to stifle it, and instead focus on the strange friendship they seemed to be developing. His appearance today, though completely unexpected, didn't fill Kel with the dread it once would have. Once she was close enough, she bowed properly to him. "Hello, Sir."
"Hello, Keladry," he replied. The words were formal, but his tone held none of the reserve or disapproval that had been ever present in her younger years. Despite her fears, her trip to Scanra had actually thawed Wyldon's attitude towards her in all the ways she had hoped as a young girl. During her last two trips to Mastiff to report in, Kel had found herself conducting conversations with him that could almost be described as pleasant. In fact, she had even made him smile more than once!
"What brings you to New Hope today, Sir?" Kel asked, mirroring his relaxed posture.
"I'm touring all of the forts and villages in the area," Lord Wyldon replied. "The King wants a report on our forces."
Kel nodded, thinking that over. Obviously each of the forts submitted their own reports, but she couldn't fault the King for wanting someone with high standards - especially someone with standards as high as Lord Wyldon - to inspect them all personally as well. "So this is a surprise inspection?" she asked.
"Something like that," he hedged. "That was an interesting training session." Lord Wyldon nodded towards the now empty training yard.
"They're eager to learn," Kel admitted. "After feeding them up a bit and building up their strength with winter chores, all of our students are really starting to improve."
"You're gentle with them," he commented.
Kel looked for an indication of his feelings in his tone, but it was studiedly neutral. "There's a difference between people who want to become soldiers or knights and people who want to live in peace," she finally said. "They don't want to fight; they want to defend themselves."
"And as such, they desire a teacher, not a training master." Wyldon replied.
Kel wanted to frown, but years of Yamani upbringing and training kept her face smooth. "Training Masters can be excellent teachers," she replied carefully.
To her surprise, Wyldon cracked a smile and eased himself away from the wall. "That they can. As can second-year pages, maids, and convicts."
Once again, only years of training kept Kel's face blank as she fell into step with him. Had he been aware of the nights she spent training Owen and the other young pages? Could he be aware of the work Lalasa was doing in the city? Had he known, despite the disappearance of their marks, that most of her fellow teachers today had been from Gill's squad? Was this somehow a slight?
No, Kel decided, almost as soon as the thought occurred to her. From Neal, it could have been sarcastic, but Lord Wyldon didn't taunt that way. She thought she saw a hint of a twinkle in his eye and revised her statement. He might not taunt, but perhaps tease?
"That was an interesting ending ritual." Wyldon commented suddenly as they rounded the corner towards the mess hall.
Kel fought to keep the embarrassment out of her voice. "Sir?"
"Running to lunch," he clarified.
"During the winter, they needed the extra exercise," she explained. "I don't require it, but the chefs always have a little something extra for the first one there." Suddenly Kel was struck by a memory from her first week at the palace, of Lord Wyldon standing beside her, looking up the hill from the training yards. "You would do better to run that; you need the exercise. But I do not require it of the lads, and I will not ask it of you."
"That is a good idea," Lord Wyldon said, and from his tone Kel could tell that he was remembering the same moment. "And an interesting technique for teaching the young."
He was giving her a perfect opportunity, but Kel was wary of taking it. Had she been speaking with Neal or Fanche, Kel would have let the sarcastic retort fly immediately, but she still wasn't quite sure where she stood with her former Training Master.
Risking a glance at him out of the corner of her eye, Kel could see the twinkle hidden in his own, and the hint of a quirk in his mouth. Not taunting, but quite possibly teasing.
Well, they were already at the mess hall, so if she was wrong she could see him inside and then duck away. Taking the risk to uncensor herself, Kel replied with the first thought that had popped into her head. "Yes, I learned many good techniques for training the young. From Eda, and Hakuin, and Ezeko, and Numair, and Master Oakbridge-"
To her - only slightly relieved - delight, Kel startled a laugh out of her stoic Training Master.
And out of the corner of her eye, Kel saw Neal start at the sound and promptly fall off of his bench. "And of course, my page sponsor," she had to add.
"Yes," Lord Wyldon agreed, also having seen Neal's reaction. "I'm sure he was a fount of knowledge on immature youth." Unfortunately for Neal's dignity, this prompted a laugh from both of them, causing him to once more topple to the floor.