First Test
her obedience.
    In Yaman, picking on a younger warrior would be considered a waste of the time owed to your overlord, she thought numbly.
    If I interfere, I might give Lord Wyldon an excuse to get rid of me, she realized.
    Joren's face went even harder. He came down the hall, fists raised.
    For the first time in her life, Keladry of Mindelan ran from a fight with a bully. Reaching the safety of her room, she locked the door behind her. Even there, she thought she could still hear the laughter that had followed her escape.
    Somehow she managed a little classwork before the bell rang for bed. She got into her nightdress and crawled under the covers, shivering. Over and over she saw the scene in her mind, with poor Merric outnumbered and unable to fight back. He'd been right to be afraid, she told herself repeatedly. She'd been right to be afraid. Giving way to superior force was how their world worked. Someday she and Merric both would show Joren and his crew how it felt to be humiliated and afraid.
    So, if she thought they would fear her, why didn't she feel better? She'd done the wise thing. Hadn't she?
    You could tell on them, a voice whispered in her heart. You know they tripped Merric deliberately. No one is supposed to take the earning-your-way custom that far.
    She flinched at the thought. Pages were not tattletales. They dealt with problems or suffered in silence. Everyone would despise her for breaking that unwritten law. Wyldon would despise her. Her brothers would shake their heads in shame. She would be sent home.
    You saw a bad thing done and you didn't raise a hand or speak out, argued her better self. Could you swear a knight's oath, knowing that you once let bullies get away with it?
    If I get in fights, won't Lord Wyldon use that as an excuse to be rid of me?
    Perhaps not. She'd heard Anders's stories. Pages were expected to fight, win or lose, and take the punishments doled out. Alanna the Lioness was in fights as a page. She got punished for them all. She took her punishment and never gave up the names of those she'd fought with. That was how things were done.
    Of course none of them had been on probation. Only Keladry of Mindelan was served that bowl of sour soup.
    Stop feeling sorry for yourself! she scolded, trying to find a spot in her bed that wasn't hot from her thrashing around. We don't argue with custom; we obey it. Wiser people than us started such things, it's as simple as that.
    But what if custom is wrong? demanded the part of her that believed in the code of chivalry. A knight must set things right.
    I'm not a knight yet, she told herself, punching a pillow that seemed determined to smother her. I'm not even a real page. I'll worry about things like that when I am.
    Shouldn't I worry about them all along? If I don't worry about them as a page or a squire, why should I care when I am a knight?
    At last she slept.
    The first thing she noticed that was not part of her unhappy night was the prickle of tiny claws on her hand. She opened her eyes and looked down. A sparrow—the female with the spot on her head that Kel had named Crown—stood on her hand, looking at her. Crown turned her head this way and that, as if trying to decide what to do with this great lazy girl who lay abed when the sun was about to rise.
    Kel looked at her windows, certain she had not opened the lower set of shutters the night before. She was right. Only the small upper shutters were open. Crown had flown in through those, seeing well enough in the pre-dawn glow to land safely on Kel.
    It seemed the bird had exhausted her supply of patience. She jumped onto Kel's chin and pecked her gently on the nose.
    "All right," Kel croaked. At the first movement of her chin, the bird hopped back to her chest. "Tell your friends I'm coming."
    Crown flew up and out of the open shutters, for all the world as if she had understood.
    Neal said the animals around here are strange, Kel thought, tossing her blankets aside. I guess he's

Similar Books

Moving Pictures

Terry Pratchett

Marrying Up

Wendy Holden

Blindfolded

Breanna Hayse

Wicked Becomes You

Meredith Duran

Finally a Bride

LISA CHILDS

Almost Dead

T.R. Ragan

Beware of God

Shalom Auslander