Read An Excerpt
Alanna the Lioness, the Kino Champion, could hardly contain her glee. Baron Piers of Mindeldan had written to King Jonathan to say that his daughter wished to be a page. Alanna fought to sit still as she watched Wyldon of Cavall, the royal training master, read the baron’s letter. Seated across his desk from them, the king watched the training master as sharply as his Champion did. Lord Wyldon was known for his dislike of female warriors.
It had been ten long years since the proclamation that girls might attempt a page’s training Alanna had nearly given up hope that such a girl—or the kind of family that would allow her to do so—existed in Tortall, but at last she had come forward. Keladry of Mindelan would not have to hide her sex for eight years as Alanna had done. Keladry would prove to the world that girls could be knights. And she would not be friendless. Alanna had plans to help Keladry through the first few years. It never occurred to the Champion that anyone might object.
Alanna, half turned to see Wyldon better. Surely he’d read the letter at least twice! From this side the puffy scars from his battle to save the younger princes and princess were starkly visible; Wyldod’s right arm was in a sling yet from that fight. Alanna rubbed fingers that itched with the urge to apply healing magic. Wyldon had the idea that suffering pain made a warrior stronger. He would not thank her if she tried to heal him now.
Goddess bless, she thought tiredly. How will I ever get on with him if I’m to help this girl Keladry?
Wyldon was not flexible: he’d proved that to the entire court over and over. If he were any stiffer, Alanna thought wryly, I’d paint a design on him and use him for a shield. He’s got no sense of humor and he rejects change just because it’s change.
Still, she had to admit that his teaching worked. During the Immortals War of the spring and early summer, when legendary creatures had joined with the realm’s human enemies to take the kingdom, the squires and pages had been forced into battle. They had done well, thanks to their training by Wyldon and the teachers he had picked.
At last Lord Wyldon returned the letter to King Jonathan, who placed it on his desk. “The baron and the baroness of Mindelan are faithful servants of the crown,” the king remarked. “We would not have this treaty with the Yamani Islands were it not for them. You will have read that their daughter received some warrior training at the Yamani court, so it would appear that Keladry has an aptitude.”
Lord Wyldon resettled his arm in its sling. “I did not agree to this, Your Majesty.”
Alanna was about to say that he didn’t have to agree when she saw the king give the tiniest shake of the head. Clenching her jaws, she kept her remark to herself as King Jonathan raised his eyebrows.
“Your predecessor agreed,” he reminded Wyldon. “And you, my lord, implied agreement when you accepted the post of training master.”
“That is a lawyer’s reply, sire,” Wyldon replied stiffly, a slight flush rising in his clean-shaven cheeks.
“Then here is a king’s: we desire this girl to train as a page.”
And that is that, Alanna thought, satisfied. She might be the kind of knight who would argue with her king, at least in private, but Wyldon would never let himself do so.
The training master absently rubbed the arm in its linen sling. At last he bowed in his chair. “May we compromise, sire?”
Alanna stiffened. She hated that word! “Com—” she began to say.
The king silenced her with a look. “What do you want, my lord?”
“In all honesty,” said the training master, thinking aloud, “I had thought that our noble parents loved their daughters too much to place them in so hard a life.”
“Not everyone is afraid to do anything new,” Alanna replied sharply.
“Lioness,” said the king, his voice dangerously quiet. Alanna clenched her fists. What was going on? Was Jonathan inclined to give way to the man who’d saved his children?
Wyldon’s eyes met hers squarely. “Your bias is known, Lady Alanna.” To the king he said, “Surely the girl’s parents cannot be aware of the difficulties she will encounter.”
“Baron Piers and Lady Ilane are not fools,” replied King Jonathan. “They have given us three good, worthy knights already.”
Lord Wyldon gave a reluctant nod. Anders, Inness, and Conal of Mindelan were credits to their training. The realm would feel the loss of Anders—whose war wounds could never heal entirely—from the active duty rolls. It would take years to replace those who were killed or maimed in the Immortals War.
“Sire, please, think this through,” Wyldon said. “We need the realm’s sons. Girls are fragile, more emotional, easier to frighten. They are not as strong in their arms and shoulders as men. They tire easily. This girl would get any warriors who serve with her killed on some dark night.”
Alanna started to get up. This time King Jonathan walked out from behind his desk. Standing beside his Champion, he gripped one of her shoulders, keeping her in her chair.
“But I will be fair,” Wyldon continued. His brown eyes were hard. “Let her be on probation for a year. By the end of the summer field camp, if she has not convinced me of her ability to keep up, she must go home.”
“Who judges her fitness?” inquired the king.
Wyldon’s lips tightened. “Who but the training master, sire? I have the most experience in evaluating the young for their roles as future knights.”
Alanna turned to stare at the king. “No boy has ever undergone a probationary period!” she cried.
Wyldon raised his good shoulder in a shrug. “Perhaps they should. For now, I will not tender my resignation over this, provided I judge whether this girl stays or goes in one year’s time.”
The king weighed the request. Alanna fidgeted. She knew Lord Wyldon meant his threat, and the crown needed him. Too many great nobles, dismayed by the changes in Tortall since Jonathan’s coronation, felt that Wyldon was their voice at court. If he resigned, the king and queen would find it hard to get support for their future changes.
At last King Jonathan said, “Though we do not always agree, my lord, you know I respect you because you are fair and honorable. I would hate to see that fairness, that honor, tainted in any way. Keladry of Mindelan shall have a year’s probation.”