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Protector - Squire Part 24

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But if those like Kel, bearing spears, attacked, wouldn't the bandits shoot them?

An arrow sprouted in one of Faleron's eyes. He collapsed, trying to pull it out as he died. Kel looked at the man who had shot him, her mouth trembling. They would have to kill all of the pages, she realized. No word of a bandit camp must get back to Lord Wyldon, who would summon the army....

"Kel, help us!" Metric yelled. He loosed an arrow, grazing a bandit, and fumbled getting another to its string. Two arrows buried themselves in his chest.

Owen screamed defiance and ran at a horseman, his spear raised.

The man grinned, showing blackened teeth, and chopped Owen's spear in two. She had to do something, Kel thought, sweating, queasy. She had done it before, why not now? Did her group have mages with them? She thought they did, but she wasn't sure.



The horseman beheaded Owen.

The Chamber made her watch all of them die as she tried to think, as she tried to jerk free of her paralysis. She could have saved them, she knew. She did save them once. Was this how normal people felt when forced to battle? Frozen and witless?

As an axe-wielding bandit walked toward her, Kel thought at the Chamber furiously, I thought you would be grand and terrible! I thought you would make us grow up, make us accept knighthood's duties and sacrifices. This is just mean - you're a nightmare device, bringing bad dreams to people who want to help others!

She thumped to her knees on flagstones. Once again she was in a gray stone box with an iron door on one side. Her body steamed in the chilly room.

You'll do, a cold, whispering voice said somewhere between the inside of her ears and her mind. You'll do quite nicely.

On the inside of the door frame, in the keystone, a face was carved. Its eyes glinted yellow as they surveyed Kel. The face was as lined and lipless as the mummies curiosity-seekers had found in a very old Yamani tomb. Kel wondered if she were seeing ghosts.

Or was it an attempt to trick her into speaking?

It was no trick. The stone lips did not move. The voice still sounded within her head, not without, but she knew somehow that voice and stone face were both the Chamber's. This is no part of your test. This is something you must remember.

One end of the Chamber went to shadows. In their depths grew an image. First she saw a little nothing of a man. He was short, scrawny, with mouse-brown, unruly hair clumsily cut, bewildered eyes that blinked constantly, and a thin, selfish mouth. He wore a dark, musty robe covered with stains and scorch marks. He could not stay still: he dug absently at a pimple on his face, chewed a fingernail, and picked hairs from his robe.

Blackness moved out of the shadows. Kel stepped back, forgetting this was an image, not reality. Like so many alien beetles, the dreadful machine of the battle at Forgotten Well, multiplied by eleven, walked from the dark to form a half-circle at the back of the little man. They all turned their smoothly curved heads toward him with eerie attention.

Kel blinked. She had not seen that something lay on the ground between the little man and the machines. It was actually a pile of something, she thought, trying to get a better look. She took two steps forward. Several somethings. Her eyes saw the gleam of dark, fresh liquid on a doll's face. And there - who would make a doll with a black eye? All had bruised faces....

Later she would understand why she had refused to believe what she saw. It was too vile. A twelfth black killing device forced her to see things as they really were. It stepped out of the shadows. It tossed a dead child onto the pile. They were all battered, dead children.

There is your task, the whispering voice told her shocked brain. You will know when it has found you.

Tell me where, she demanded silently, fiercely. Tell me where this is!

The Chamber door swung open. She could see Raoul, her parents, Jump, and the sparrows. They waited for her.

It will find you, the Chamber told her. When it does, fix it.

A force urged Kel forward. She walked out of the Chamber of the Ordeal.

The king struck each of Kel's shoulders with the flat of his sword, hard enough to bruise, then gently tapped her crown. "You are dubbed Lady Knight, Keladry of Mindelan," he announced solemnly as his court watched. "Remember your vows and service to this Crown. Remember your promise of chivalry."

I'll remember, she thought as her family and friends applauded. Particularly will I remember it when I find that little man.

Ilane of Mindelan wept openly, smiling at her youngest daughter as she wiped her eyes.

"Mama, you'll lose face if you cry," Kel pointed out, returning Ilane's hug.

"I don't care," her mother said. "I am so proud of you, Lady Knight!"

Kel bent slightly to return her father's hug. The sight of tears on his cheeks left her speechless. She blotted them with her sleeve, making him laugh. Then there was Raoul to hug, and Neal, and her other friends.

She was beginning to think wistfully about food when Raoul tapped her shoulder. "Take a look," he told her, pointing to the dais.

The king had stepped aside, leaving three women to stand there: the queen, Buri, and in the center, holding a cloth-covered shield, Princess Shinkokami. As Kel watched, they removed the shield's cover.

There was the Mindelan device: a gray owl, wings outstretched, on a blue field rimmed with cream. There were two differences between this shield and those of her brothers. On Kel's, the owl hovered over a pair of crossed glaives, cream embroidered in gold, matches for a Yamani glaive. The other difference was the shield's border: it was formed by two thin rings, the outer blue, the inner cream. A distaff border, the heralds had named it, the coat of arms of a lady knight. They had studied them as pages, but distaffborders had not been used in over one hundred years. Not even Lady Alanna had ever claimed one.

Kel stepped forward in a daze. Buri and Shinko helped slide the shield on her arm. It fit perfectly - Kel looked around to see Lalasa, teary-eyed, beaming at her. Of course the shield fit, if Lalasa had anything to say about it.

"Wear it in health and victory," Queen Thayet said. "Now, show the nice people."

Kel turned, and showed them.

Her family and friends offered to wait in the courtyard while she put her new shield away: Raoul had arranged for a dinner at the city's best eating-house as a celebration. Since horses had to be saddled and brought, Kel decided to tidy up again once she had placed her new shield on the bed for the animals to admire. Nari had already left some droppings on the Mindelan owl.

"I hope that's a comment on owls and not my family," Kel told her as she combed her hair and cleaned her teeth. When she looked at the bed next, Jump stood on the shield, using his nose to rub a wet cloth over the besmirched owl.

Kel, laughing, almost missed the very quiet knock on the door that connected her rooms to Raoul's. Puzzled, since he was with the others, Kel opened the door.

Lady Alanna stood there, a sheathed longsword in one hand. "I asked Raoul if I could see you privately," she explained to the baffled Kel. "May I come in?"

"My - my lady, of course," Kel stammered. "Please. I would brew tea - "

"Please don't," Alanna said with a smile. "I know you have people waiting." Once inside, she knelt and gave Jump a moment's attention - from the way the dog carried on, Kel thought, they must have made friends on progress.

At last the King's Champion straightened with a groan, her free hand going to her lower back. "n.o.body ever says that, even with healers, your body still adds up your breaks and bruises, then gives you the bill in your mid-thirties," she said wryly. She sat in Kel's chair and offered the sword to her. "You've grown since the last sword I gave you, and I got a better idea of your fighting style on progress."

Kel took the blade in hands that shook. How casually this woman answered a question that had bothered her for eight years! "It was you?" she whispered. "The bruise balm, the exercise b.a.l.l.s, the dagger, the -?"

Alanna nodded. "It nearly killed me, that I couldn't help you. Not with magic, like those mammering conservatives claimed, but with things like what works best on heavy opponents, and how to build up shoulder muscle. So I did what I could."

Thinking of all those gifts over the years, truly expensive things chosen with so much thought about what she would need, Kel shook her head.

"Neal mentioned there were times when you thought I didn't care," the lady said, violet eyes serious. "I wanted to tell you, it was the opposite. And you went so far beyond what I hoped, for the next girl page, and squire, and knight. All those tournaments, and those girls in the stands, right down by the field, watching you hungrily - "

"Oh, my lady, no!" protested Kel, shocked.

"Yes," the King's Champion said firmly. "I had the magic, don't you see, and the hand of the G.o.ddess on me. Everyone could and did say I was a freak, one of those once-a-century people. No one else needs to strive for what I did, because they couldn't reach it." Alanna smiled crookedly. "But you, bless you, you are real. Those girls watched you, and talked about your style in the saddle, and the things you did. They swore they'd take up archery, or riding, or Shang combat, because you had shown them it was all right. I was so proud." She cleared her throat. Kel realized that the Champion was beet red. "You know, those things look better out of the sheath," she remarked, pointing to the sword Kel held.

"Oh!" She had forgotten it was in her hand. Looking at it, she admired the style of the plain black leather sheath and neat, wire-wrapped hilt: they matched the sword and the dagger Alanna had given her. She looked under the cross-guard. There it was: the stylized enamel raven that was the sign of Raven Armory.

The blade, when she worked up the nerve to draw it, did not match the sword and dagger. It showed the blue wave tempering of the finest Yamani steel. She held a fortune in metal in her hands.

"My lady, you can't - I can't - " she stammered, trembling. Her hands ached from the tree she had climbed for so long during her Ordeal, and the blade teetered in her grip. Forgetting herself, Kel grabbed the metal and sliced the thick muscle at the base of her thumb. She flinched and dug for a handkerchief to wipe the blade.

"Now you have to keep it," Alanna said, presenting her own handkerchief. "You've bled on it; it's yours. You know sword lore as well as I do."

Kel had to smile: she did know. She ducked her head and finished wiping that lovely blade. It was heavier and longer than her present sword, better suited to her hand and height.

"I do wish you'd been a runt like me." Alanna was straight-faced, her eyes mischievous. "That would have made it perfect."

Kel sighed and told the lady solemnly, "I would have been smaller if I could, Lioness." Alanna laughed. She laid a small, hard hand over Kel's as Kel gripped the hilt of her wonderful new sword. "G.o.ds all bless, Lady Knight," she said quietly.

Jump chose that moment to flop on the woman's feet in a play for attention. Kel was grateful to him - her feelings, and she suspected Alanna's, were just too intense to bear. With Jump to act the clown, they were able to catch their wind.

Alanna scratched his belly and told him he was a rogue, then turned to go.

"Lady Alanna," Kel said, "would you like to come to supper with us? Someone has to keep Neal from making speeches."

Alanna cackled. "Well, I'm definitely the woman to do that," she admitted. "I thank you, and I accept."

After she left to get a coat, Kel remained for a moment, looking at her sword. The blue tempering shone in the light from her candles, pulling her eye to that elegant blade.

"I dub thee Griffin," she whispered, running her fingertips along its length. "We have work to do."

CAST OF CHARACTERS.

Aiden sergeant/squad leader, Third Company of the King's Own Alanna of Pirate's Swoop the King's Champion, and Olau also called "the Lioness," born Alanna of Trebond Ansil of Groten conservative knight Arrow one of Kel's sparrow flock Baird of Queenscove duke, chief of Tortall's healers, Neal's father Balduin of Disart acquaintance of Kel's Balim sergeant/squad leader, Third Company of the King's Own Burchard of Stone Mountain Joren's father, conservative Buriram Tourakom called Buri, commander of the Queen's Riders Clean of Kennan squire to Inness of Mindelan, Kel's friend Crown female sparrow who leads Kel's flock Cythera of Naxen wife of Sir Gareth the Younger Derom corporal in Dom's squad, Third Company of the King's Own Domitan of Masbolle called Dom; sergeant/squad leader, Third Company of the King's Own; Neal's cousin Ebroin of Genlith steward for Stone Mountain holdings in Corus Eitaro n.o.b Nakuji prince, head of Yamani delegation to Tortall Emmet of Fenrigh in Aiden's squad, Third Company of the King's Own Pianola twelve-year-old n.o.ble girl, wants to be a page Flyndan Whiteford called Flyn; captain, Third Company of the King's Own; second-in-command to Lord Raoul Freckle male sparrow with white-spotted head in Kel's flock f.u.kher in Dom's squad, Third Company of the King's Own Gareth of Naxen called "the Younger," one of King Jonathan's most trusted counselors, married to Cythera Garvey of Runnerspring squire to Jerel of Nenan, Joren's crony Gavan Haresfield youth George of Pirate's Swoop baron, born George Cooper, a commoner, married to Alanna Glides of Veldine in Dom's squad, Third Company of the King's Own Glaisdan of Haryse captain, First Company of the King's Own Graystreak centaur herd leader Haname noh Ajikuro Yamani lady-in-waiting Harailt of Aili mage, head of the royal university in Corus Hildrec of Meron heir to fief Meron Hoshi brown mare with white socks, star on forehead, placid, Kel's riding horse Ilane of Mindelan baroness, Kel's mother Imrah of Legann lord, knight-master to Prince Roald Inness of Mindelan Kel's second-oldest brother, knight-master to Cleon of Kennan Iriseyes female centaur Ivath Brand convicted criminal Ja.s.son of Conte called "the Old King", King Jonathan's deceased grandfather Jealousani rebel centaur Jerel of Nenan knight-master to Garvey of Runnerspring Jonathan of Conte King of Tortall, co-ruler with his queen, Thayet Joren of Stone Mountain squire, old foe of Kel's Jump bull terrier, Kel's friend Kaddar Iliniat emperor of Carthak Kalasin of Conte oldest princess of Tortall Keladry of Mindelan known as Kel, youngest daughter of Piers and Ilane of Mindelan, first girl to openly serve as page and squire in over a century Lachran of Mindelan Kel's brother Anders's oldest son Lalasa Isran Kel's former maid, now a dressmaker Lerant of Eldorne standard-bearer, Third Company of the King's Own Macorm Haresfield renegade Maggur Rathhausak newest Scanran warlord Maresgift rebel centaur Merric of Hollyrose squire, Kel's friend Muirgen of Sigis Hold master advocate (attorney) Myles of Olau baron, head of royal intelligence service Nealan of Queenscove called Neal, squire, Kel's friend and page sponsor, son of Baird of Queenscove, Dom's cousin Noack servingman, Third Company of the King's Own Nualt of Rosemark knight-master to Vinson of Genlith Numair Salmalin mage, born Arram Draper, Daine's lover Onua Chamtong horsemistress to the Queen's Riders...o...b..rn sergeant/squad leader, Third Company of the King's Own Owen of Jesslaia Page, then squire, Kel's friend Padraig haMinch senior member of powerful haMinch clan Paxton of Nond knight-master to Joren of Stone Mountain Peachblossom cross-grained strawberry-roan gelding destrier Peg one-footed female sparrow in Kel's flock Piers of Mindelan baron, Kel's father Prosper of Tameran squire, Kel's friend Qasim ibn Zirhud Bazhir corporal, Third Company of the King's Own Raoul of Goldenlake and lord, Knight Commander Malorie's Peak of the King's Own, Tortallan hero, known as "the Giant Killer"

Roald of Conte prince, squire to Imrah of Legann, heir to the Tortallan throne Salma Aynnar head of servants in the pages' and squires' wings Seaver of Tasride squire, Kel's friend Sebila of Disart Raoul's great-aunt Shinkokami Yamani princess, betrothed to Roald, called Shinko by her friends Stigand of Fenrigh conservative knight Symric corporal in Dom's squad, Third Company of the King's Own Thayet of Conte Queen of Tortall, co-ruler with her husband, King Jonathan Tianine Plowman called Tian, maid, Lalasa's friend Turomot of Wettam duke, Lord Magistrate, chief examiner of pages Ulliver of Linden captain, Second Company of the King's Own Upton Oakbridge palace master of ceremonies Urfan Noll convicted criminal Vanget haMinch general in command of northern army Veralidaine Sarrasri called Daine or "the Wildmage"

Voelden of Tirrsmont conservative knight Volorin sergeant/squad leader, Third Company of the King's Own Wayland of Darroch conservative knight Wolset in Dom's squad, Third Company of the King's Own Wyldon of Cavall lord, full-time training master to pages, part-time training master to squires Yancen of Renroha squire, acquaintance of Kel's Yukimi noh Daiomoru called Yuki, Yamani lady-in-waiting to Princess Shinkokami Yvenne ten-year-old n.o.ble girl

GLOSSARY.

Balor's Needle: a tower, the highest part of the royal palace in Corus, used mostly by astronomers and mages.

basilisk: an immortal that resembles a seven-to-eight-foot-tall lizard, with slit-pupiled eyes that face forward and silver talons. It walks upright on its hind feet. Its hobby is travel; it loves gossip and learns languages easily. It possesses some magical skills, including a kind of screech that turns people to stone. Its colors are various shades of gray and white.

Bazhir: the collective name for the nomadic tribes of Tortall's Great Southern Desert.

Bonnett River: runs through the Royal Forest near Owlshollow.

Carthak: the slaveholding empire that includes all of the Southern Lands, ancient and powerful, a storehouse of learning, sophistication, and culture. Its university was at one time without a rival for teaching. Its people reflect the many lands that have been consumed by the empire, their colors ranging from white to brown to black. Its former emperor Ozorne Tasikhe was forced to abdicate when he was turned into a Stormwing. (He was later killed.) He was succeeded by his nephew Kaddar Iliniat, who is still getting his farflung lands under control.

centaur: an immortal shaped like a human from the waist up, with the body of a horse from the waist down. Like humans, centaurs can be good, bad, or a mixture of both. For a male to keep females in his herd, he must constantly provide them with presents: if he does not, they will turn on him. Among the G.o.ds worshiped by centaurs are the Mares with b.l.o.o.d.y Teeth, G.o.ddesses of vengeance. Centaurs consider horses to be slaves.

charcoal burners: people who make charcoal by cutting logs and building them into large, layered stacks that are set on fire and made to burn slowly, without consuming the wood.

Code of Ten: the set of laws that form the basis of government for most of the Eastern Lands.

Copper Isles: a slaveholding island nation to the south and west of Tortall. The Isles' lowlands are hot, wet jungles, their highlands cold and rocky. Traditionally their ties are to Carthak rather than Tortall, and their pirates often raid along the Tortallan coast. There is a strain of insanity in their ruling line. The Isles hold an old grudge against Tortall, since one of their princesses was killed there the day that Jonathan was crowned.

coromanel: a flat, crown-shaped piece fitted over the tip of a lance. It spreads the power of a lance's impact in several directions, to make the force less severe.

Corus: the capital city of Tortall, located on the northern and southern banks of the River Olorun. Corus is the home of the new royal university as well as the royal palace.

Domin River: runs through fief Mindelan.

dragon: a large, winged, lizard-like immortal capable of crossing from the Divine Realms to the mortal ones and back. Dragons are intelligent, possess their own magic, and are rarely seen by humans. The infant dragon Skysong, known as Kitten, lives in the mortal world with her foster mother, Daine Sarrasri.

Eastern Lands: name used to refer to those lands north of the Inland Sea and east of the Emerald Ocean: Scanra, Tortall, Tyra, Tusaine, Galla, Maren, Sarain.

Galla: the country to the north and east of Tortall, famous for its mountains and forests, with an ancient royal line. Daine was born there.

Gift, the: human, academic magic, the use of which must be taught.

glaive: a pole arm including a four- or five-foot staff capped with a long metal blade.

Great Mother G.o.ddess: the chief G.o.ddess in the Tortallan pantheon, protector of women; her symbol is the moon.

griffin: a feathered immortal with a cat-like body, wings, and a beak. The males grow to a height of six and a half to seven feet at the shoulder; females are slightly bigger. No one can tell lies in a griffin's vicinity (a range of about a hundred feet). Their young have bright orange feathers to make them more visible. If adult griffin parents sense that a human has handled their infant griffin, they will try to kill that human.

halberd: a pole arm, a six-foot staff capped by an ax head or a pike (long spear) head.

headman: leader of a tribe, mayor of a small town.

Human Era (H.E.): the calendar in use in the Eastern and Southern Lands and in the Copper Isles is dated the Human Era to commemorate the years since the one in which the immortals were originally sealed into the Divine Realms, over four hundred and fifty years previous to the years covered by Protector of the Small.

hurrok: an immortal shaped like a horse with leathery bat wings, claws, and fangs.

Immortals War: a short, vicious war fought in 452 H.E. the thirteenth year of Jonathan and Thayet's reign, named for the number of immortal creatures that fought, but also waged by Carthakis (rebels against the new Emperor Kaddar), Copper Islanders, and Scanran raiders. These forces were defeated by the residents of the Eastern Lands, particularly Tortall, but recovery is slow.

kimono: Yamani robe dress that wraps around the body and is secured in front by a stiff sash called an obi. The sleeves are long and rectangular and can serve as pockets. Usually Yamanis wear at least two or three kimonos, the bottom one of very light cloth.

King's Council: the monarch's private council, made up of those advisers he trusts the most.

King's Own: a cavalry/police group answering to the king, whose members serve as royal bodyguards and as protective troops throughout the realm. Their Knight Commander is Lord Sir Raoul of Goldenlake and Malorie's Peak. The ranks are filled by younger sons of n.o.ble houses, Bazhir, and the sons of wealthy merchants. The Own is made of three companies of one hundred fighters each, in addition to the servingmen, who care for supplies and remounts. First Company, a show company, traditionally provides palace bodyguards and security for the monarchs. Under Lord Raoul, Second and Third Company were added and dedicated to active service away from the palace, helping to guard the realm.

K'mir, K'miri: the K'mir are the matriarchal, nomadic tribes of the mountains in Sarain. They herd ponies and are ferocious warriors and riders. The Saren lowlanders despise the K'mir and are continuously at war with them. There is a small, growing K'miri population in Tortall, where Queen Thayet is half K'mir and a number of the Queen s Riders are also of K'miri descent.

logistics: military study that involves the purchase, maintenance, and transport of supplies, equipment, and people.

mage: wizard.

Maren: a large, powerful country east of Tusaine and Tyra, the grain basket of the Eastern Lands, with plenty of farms and trade.

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Protector - Squire Part 24 summary

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