peroxidepirate: (kel/easy way)
[personal profile] peroxidepirate
Title: Trickster's Pawn (part 1 of 2)
Rating: R
Length: about 3400 in this part; 5800 overall.
Fandom: Tamora Pierce, Tortall-verse (AU)
Characters: Keladry of Mindelan, Owen of Jesslaw. Also Iden, Warric and Buri
Summary: Kel's new friend, Wendy of Jesslaw, isn't exactly what she first seems.

Note: Like Fencing Lessons, this started as a crack!fic idea and became oddly serious. "What if Owen was actually a girl?" turned into a coming of age story about a transgendered character. I hope I handled it well.

I haven't posted a lot of fic directly to this journal lately. I'm posting this one because I want to write a commentary on it, which is more an LJ thing than an AO3 or King's Own thing.

Also note that I'm futzing with ages and Jesslaw family relations a little to fit the story.

Finally, this began life as a series of (closely connected) Smackdown ficlets, which results in some slightly odd chapter breaks.



Chapter 1

The year Kel was 15, all her friends seemed to be smitten with court ladies. Between their duties, the squires held parties whenever they could, inviting their favorites among the young noblewomen.

More than once that fall, Kel found herself sharing a bench or an alcove with Lady Wendy of Jesslaw, while the other squires and ladies danced. Wendy was not the type Kel would have guessed would be any young man's favorite, though Cleon and Esmond both danced with her occasionally. She was tall, for a girl, and solidly built. Her curly hair was in a constant state of disarray. She was quick to laugh, even at jokes that made other girls blush. She was apt to speak without thinking, and obviously uneasy in the gowns she wore. But she was the cousin of Kel's friend Iden, a first-year squire, and Kel supposed he felt obligated to invite her.

“I think I'll take a walk,” Wendy said, at a party one evening.

Kel looked around. The guests numbered twenty or so, half of whom were dancing. The other half were paired up, on couches or benches around the small banquet room. As was considered proper, there had been an equal number of men and women at the party's start, but two of the young men now seemed to be missing.

Kel stood when Wendy did. “Care for some company?”


.

Wendy led the way to the curtain wall. Kel swallowed hard, reminded herself she was not afraid, and followed the other girl up the stairs.

“Are you warm enough?” Kel asked. In her tunic and shirt, she was comfortable in the autumn breeze, but Wendy was wearing a sleeveless brocade robe over a dress that was probably silk.

“I'm fine,” Wendy answered, with customary cheerfulness.

Kel nodded, and they walked in silence for a while.

“Can I ask you something?” Kel said, after a while. “Did you come to court to make a, a match with a young man?”

“I didn't,” Wendy laughed. Then something changed in her expression, gray eyes going serious. “I'm already matched – like it or not.”

“I see.” Kel pondered that. “Do you know him? Your betrothed?”

“Not really. I met him once, at the convent. He came north after his Ordeal, last winter.” Wendy shrugged, looking away. “He seems nice enough.”

“But you don't love him.”

“Love?” She laughed again. “I could take it or leave it. But I don't want to be his wife. I don't want to be any man's wife. Ever.”

“You don't?” Kel asked, curious.

Wendy's expression was unreadable. Exasperated, somehow. And then she gripped Kel's arm, leaned in, and kissed her.

.

The kiss left Kel breathless and weak-kneed, clutching at Wendy's shoulders. A tiny, rational part of her mind pointed out that this idea was all kinds of bad. She'd been careful to stay out of romantic entanglements, and away form the gossip they would inevitably bring, so far – she had plans, goals, a shield to win. And Wendy was promised to someone else. Maybe she didn't desire the match, but that was for the lady and her betrothed to sort out. Until they did, this was just wrong. But oh, it was pleasant.

“There,” Wendy said, after dragging her mouth away from Kel's. “Now do you understand?”

Kel blinked, trying to steady herself. Wendy was watching her, curls falling over her forehead, apprehensive but not a whit apologetic. “You... like kissing girls,” Kel fumbled.

Wendy's cheeks went pink, but she grinned. “Yes, I do. Do you?”

“I never even considered it before...” Kel said slowly. “But kissing you, just now...” She felt herself blushing, too. “It was nice. Very nice.”

Wendy met her eyes. “Kel, can you keep a secret?”

.

“I'm not really a girl,” Wendy said.

“What?” Kel's eyes went automatically to her friend's chest, then the curve of her hips under her skirt.

Wendy drew in a huge, deep breath, let it out, and began to talk. “I mean, I am female. But inside – in my heart – I'm a boy.”

Kel wasn't sure what to say.

“It's more than just that I like kissing girls. More than hating dresses and facepaint and – " Wendy's gesture took in hair, clothes, and body. “ – all this. It's always been there. I can't change it. It happens, sometimes. They call it being tapped by the Trickster.”

Kel winced in sympathy. “Oh, Wen – “

“Stop,” Wendy said. “That's what I call myself. Owen.”


.

Chapter 2

“Owen,” Kel said softly, trying out the name. Her friend looked back at her, gray eyes steady in her – no, his – ruddy face. Kel felt her perspective shift, just a little, and suddenly she understood everything that had been eluding her about Owen of Jesslaw. “That explains way more than it doesn't.”

She got a rueful smile in return. “Yeah, well.” He was so awkward in that silk dress, but now Kel pictured him in breeches and shirt – hands shoved into his pockets, looking at her with a boyish grin.

“If you can't change being female,” she said carefully, “might it be a little better if you weren't a lady? If you could be, I don't know, a Rider?” If you could have been a squire, she thought, but didn't say. Knighthood was expensive, and fifteen was (usually) too late to begin training.

“Of course. But Jesslaw needed this alliance with a neighboring fief. And it was all arranged when I was the only...” Owen gulped. “Only girl,” he finished.

.

Kel's next question was, “What should I call you?”

Owen, or Wendy, shrugged. “Everyone calls me Wendy. I'm used to it.”

“But that's not what you call yourself,” Kel said. “It's not who you are.”

“I think I'd like it if you called me Owen... but wouldn't it be awkward? Having to remember two names, and when to use each? You might forget, sometime.”

“You're serious about keeping this secret?”

“At least for now. If it went around the Court...”

Kel sighed. She saw the point in that. “How about Wen? It could be short for Wendy, but we'd know it's short for Owen, too.”

This got a laugh. “It sounds like 'when' – the time.”

“Take your pick, then. Wendy, Owen, or Wen. It's up to you.”

“I guess Wen would be all right.”

.

“Does anyone else know?” Kel asked.

Wen nodded. “A priest of the Trickster, in the City of the Gods – he's the one who helped me figure it out. And my brother.” Warric, a fourth-year page, was two years younger than Kel and Wen. If he knew, then... “Probably Iden. They tell each other everything. I imagine that's why Iden looks out for me like he does.”

Kel's heart broke for her friend, but he looked at her with frank self-assessment, not feeling sorry for himself at all.

“And there's nothing you can do?” Kel asked. “Except keep it hidden, and marry this man...”

“I don't know,” Wen replied. “I'm trying not to think about it. It was in Mother's will, that I shouldn't enter an arranged marriage before I'm 18 – so I have a few years.”

“We'll figure something out,” Kel said, seriously. “You'd be miserable.”

“I know.” Wen ducked his head, curls falling half over his face. Kel reached up, unthinking, and tucked the hair behind his ear.

His hand closed over hers, and sudden heat shot through her. He must have felt it, too, from the look he gave her. Boyish grin.

“For now, I plan on kissing girls every chance I get,” he said, still holding her hand.

“Girls?” Kel asked. “Or just a girl?”

“I guess that's up to you.”

Kel wrapped her free arm around Wen's neck and stepped closer, leaning her forehead against his. “Kiss me,” she said, “And I'll think about it.”

.

Kel's back was against the wall, tunic catching on stone. Wen's arms around her waist held her steady, the silk of his sleeves warming against the twill of her tunic. She threaded the fingers of one hand into his hair, cradling the back of his head. Her other hand gripped his arm, just below the shoulder, as they kissed. His lips were warm and firm, tongue teasing against hers. Then he drew back, but when she would have complained at the loss of contact, he tilted his head down to kiss her neck. His tongue and then – very gently – his teeth brushed her skin. She shivered, pleasantly, at the sensation. Taken as a whole, the experience was, and wasn't, exactly what she'd expected when she daydreamed about such things.

.

Chapter 3


“I've spent some time with your cousin a few times, lately,” Kel said casually.

Snow had begun to fall, so for the most part, weapons work had been moved indoors. In one of the practice courts, Kel and Iden had been sparring with staves. They were taking a breather, between bouts.

“Who, Warric?” Iden asked, eyes on the practice staff he was smoothing.

“Your other cousin.” Kel kept the irritation out of her voice – she was sure Iden knew exactly what was going on.

“You mean Wendy. I thought you two would get along.” He glanced up at Kel with a teasing grin that reminded her, a little, of Wen. “You have a lot in common.”

“We get along well enough,” Kel said forcing her voice to remain steady, “but we don't have that much in common.”

“No? You're both big, solid girls who aren't much for flirting and pretty things...”

“I like pretty things! I just happen to like using weapons, too.” She hesitated, wondering how much Iden actually knew and how much he only suspected. “And I'm happy being a girl, as long as I get to be a knight, too. Wen is just the opposite.”

This time Iden really looked at her. “I know. But none of can think of a thing to do about it.”

.

“What would happen,” Kel asked, “if you just refused to marry him?”

Wen blinked sleepily, rubbing a hand over his face. “Why are you thinking about that now?”

Kel rolled onto her stomach, propping her chin in her hands so she could look at Wen. “Because I hate knowing there's a limit on the time we have together.”

“Would you stay with me? If it was possible...?”

“Yes,” Kel said, fiercely.

Wen's face lit with joy, and he leaned up to kiss her, sheet falling away to expose smooth pink skin to the room's cool air.

She broke away after just a moment, and when Wen reached for her, Kel caught her – no, she reminded herself, his – wrists and pinned them at his sides. “Stop,” she said, though for a minute, she was half-laughing. “I'm entirely serious. What if you just told your father you won't do it?”

“I'd have to tell him why.”

So they were back to that. Kel let go of Wen's wrists, lacing her fingers through his, instead. “I think you'll have to, sooner or later, anyway. You're not made for keeping secrets.”

.

Third Company was called out early, that spring. Kel bid a reluctant goodbye to Wen, hoping against hope that summer would be good to her friend.

A few days later, Wen donned boys' clothes, pulled his hair into a horsetail, and made for the Riders' training yard. A Rider directed him to Commander Buri's office, and he knocked, hesitantly, on the open door.

“Commander?”

“Yes?” Buri looked up from her paperwork. “Come in. What can I do for you?”

“I'd like to join up with the Riders, ma'am. I'm... Wen of Jesslaw.”

“Wen?” Buri scrutinized him for a moment. “Do your people approve of your plans?”

“Yes, ma'am,” Wen lied, with no hesitation. “My marriage is arranged, but it's not for a few years, yet. Until then, I'm free to do as I please. And it would please me to serve the crown.”

“I see.” She was still peering at him. “Don't take this the wrong way,” she said at last, "but Wen is a very unusual name."

“It's short for Wendy,” he said, cheeks flushing.

The commander grinned, unexpectedly. “All right. Meet me here at sunup tomorrow, ready to work, and we'll see what you can do.”


.

The knock on Wen's door came the day before he was to move his things to the Riders' barracks. It was his brother, Warric, and his cousin, Iden. He let them in, with the minimum of pleasantries, already guessing what they were about.

“Wendy, what's this about you joining the Riders?” Warric asked.

Wen shrugged. “It sounded like fun. Hunting bandits and the like.”

“But you're betrothed to Edgar of Pike's Hill,” Warric countered.

“And? The wedding's not for another three years. Am I supposed to just sit around until then?”

“You should be... planning it... and things,” Iden fumbled.

Wen laughed, looking at him with an expression of amused incomprehension. After a few seconds, Warric chuckled, too.

“I know,” Iden admitted. “Stupid idea. But Wendy, you could get killed out there.”

“He's right,” Warric agreed. “You're my sister. I can't – “

“You're my brother,” Wen argued. “And you're going to be a knight. It's the same.”

“It's not... ok, maybe it is. But what about Sir Edgar?”

“Lord Edgar,” Iden put in. “His father died at Samhien, remember?”

Warric glared at his cousin, before talking to Wen again. “Even more reason Jesslaw needs this alliance. If you die – “

“Then Jesslaw will have to find some other way,” Wen said, flatly.

“What, talk Margot into abandoning her commitment to the Goddess, so she can marry him?” Iden asked, laughing.

Wen sighed. Their younger sister had been devoted to the Mother Goddess, practically since she was born; at ten, she was already training to be a priestess.

“Maybe Father will remarry and have another daughter,” Wen said.

Iden opened his mouth, but Warric cuffed him before he could start to talk. “You never know,” he said, clapping Wen on the back.

Wen sighed. It was hopeless, and they both knew it. “I'm sorry,” he said, miserably. “I'll try my best not to get killed out there. For Jesslaw.”

.

Chapter 4

Autumn brought Third Company back to Corus. Kel was still getting settled in her quarters, tripping over dog and sparrows every other moment, when a young man appeared in the half-open doorway.

“Can I help you?” she asked, barely looking up from her unpacking. The visitor was probably her own age, his skin tan from outdoor work, hair pulled back from his face.

“Kel?” he asked, in a voice she knew extremely well.

The slate she was holding slid from her hands, cracking in two when it hit the floor. “Wen!”

Then she was in his arms, kissing hello with familiar enthusiasm. “Let me look at you,” Kel said, when they stopped to breathe. “I didn't recognize you. What have you been up to?”

“I joined the Riders,” Wen said, with a grin. “And I wrote to my father.”

He said the last with high seriousness. Kel cupped his cheek. “Wen, did you..?”

“I didn't tell him,” he said. “Not yet. But I asked him to come to Corus. Just a couple of weeks ago. I told him I joined the Riders. And I told him I had some other news.”

.

“Goddess, I missed this,” Kel gasped. Wen's tongue slid over her skin, hot and insistant, in all the ways she loved best. “This is even better than I remembered...” Her words trailed off, voice lost in another gasp.

Suddenly she gripped Wen's shoulders, harder. “Have you been practicing on other girls?”

“Never,” came the answer, in a serious whisper. “Kel, there's nobody like you.” When he spoke, his breath tickled her skin; between phrases, he kissed and sucked and nipped, and the combination nearly drove her mad. “You're the first girl who really looked at me. You've watched out for me. Protected me. You're terrific. I would never, never, do a thing to hurt you.”

For a moment guilt twisted Kel's heart, as she remembered the way another young man had made her feel, that summer.

Then a flick of his tongue brought her back to the moment. “Owen,” she cried, forgetting everything else.

.

They sat up, face to face, in Kel's bed. She leaned forward to kiss Wen, tasting herself on his lips. She deepened the kiss, leaning forward as she slid her hands down his chest. This time, he didn't try to push her away. She palmed Wen's breasts, small and firm in her hands, and from the response she got, plenty sensitive. “Feels good, doesn't it?” she asked, voice teasingly low.

“Of course it does,” came the answer, almost a groan. “I didn't think you'd want to....”

“Of course I want to.” Kel kissed her way lower, down Wen's chest and stomach, as she trailed fingers between Wen's thighs. He'd changed over the summer – become so much easier in his own skin, even if it would never be what he really wanted – and she was both flattered and excited that he trusted her enough for this. She moved lower yet, mouth never breaking contact, and Wen gasped out her name.


.

Kel found Wen sitting at a table in the Riders' mess hall, reading a letter. The expression on his face was intent, so she sat down without interrupting.

“I can't believe it!” he shrieked, suddenly, crumpling the letter in his haste to stand up.

“What..?” she asked, as he hauled her to her feet and enfolded her in a tight hug.

“Kel, look!”

The letter was thrust into Kel's hand, and she began to read.

.

Dear Wendy,

I hope you are well. I received your letter, with its surprising news. As your father, I wish you'd seen your way to discussing your decision with me before you went and joined up. But you're a sensible girl, and I suppose you must have a reason for doing it the way you did. I know you've always been good with animals, and a fair shot with a bow, both of which ought to help you now.

I happened to get your letter just when I have some news of my own. You know Lord Edward of Pike's Hill passed on late in the year. In the months since then, I've worked closely with Edward's widow, Lady Andrea, helping her to manage things. You know I've always said it would make more sense to manage Jesslaw and Pike's Hill jointly, instead of as two separate fiefs? Well, we've been doing just that.

And in the process of working together, we fell in love.

Lady Andrea and I were married at the harvest celebration. I know you'll join your brother and sister in wishing us well, and in welcoming your new stepmother when we come to Corus for Midwinter.

There's one other thing, which applies to you, particularly. Wendy, your betrothal to Lord Edgar must be called off: since he is the son of your father's lady wife, he is now, in the eyes of the law, your brother.

I know a betrothal is a serious thing, and Andrea and I considered this carefully. But we love each other very much, well neither you nor Edgar has ever shown a particular desire for the match, beyond a willingness to do your duty to your respective fiefs. Andrea and I agreed that this would be best for everyone. We've written Edgar to let him know, as well.

As I said, we'll be in Corus soon. You're my daughter, Wendy, and Andrea and I will do our best to help you make another match – if that's what you want. But first, perhaps you'd better tell us the piece of news that's even bigger than joining the Riders. Then we'll decide how to proceed.

All my love,
Father


.

Part 2 of 2 is here.
Commentary on Part 1 is here.

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