Brienne watched silently as her lord slumped into his seat like a man told there would be no training tomorrow. All around the tent, lords and knights shifted and jockeyed into place, the table already filled and men lining the tent walls two deep. The only reason she had a view of the room was due to her place at Lord Robert's right shoulder.

"Right," Lord Robert said, slapping one hand down on the table. There was a frantic but silent rush for the room to settle itself. "We all know what happened this morning, and I've been hearing about it one way or another all day. We're going to have it out now, and that'll be the end of it."

She could feel the sigh that Lord Samuel held in, sitting next to her lord, and made a mental promise to have his preferred wine ready for the next discussion he had with her lord.

"Come on then," Lord Robert said, impatient.

No one seemed to want to be the one to speak first, and she saw the Stark brothers share a look across the table. The elder was amused, the younger resigned.

"Putting aside the who and the how," Lord Buckler began, before coughing to clear his throat. "That aside, a lady going to war as a man does is…inappropriate, is it not?"

A broad sound of agreement went around the tent, many nodding, but it was no more than Brienne had expected.

"If it were my sister, she would be marched straight for home, aye," Lord Horpe said, rubbing at his dark stubble. "But then, my sister's weapon of choice is a book, and not that monster of a polearm."

"I've known your sister's bookish fury, and I wouldn't be so quick to belittle it," Lord Swann quipped.

"You were the one to bring wine into our library," Lord Horpe said, smirking, and for a moment it seemed that the banter might break the lingering mood.

"Books aside," Ser Connington said, speaking from the crowd, "the point remains. Ladies ought to be with their fathers or husbands, not on the battlefield."

"Steve has told stories of his homeland, and more than a few included women who he claimed could best him," Lord Robert said. "His homeland doesn't seem to have a problem with ladies under arms, so neither does he."

"But we are not in his homeland," a knight, one that Brienne did not know, said.

"She still put Tarly to flight," Ser Thomas pointed out. "She still held the bridge at Mastford. I do not think the land matters."

Brienne resolved to do something nice for her lord's cousin.

"It is unbecoming," Ser Silveraxe said, cheeks quivering with indignation. "She may know how to fight, but she is still a woman."

"Unbecoming was her betrothed's actions," Lord Dustin said, tapping his knuckles on the table. "If her father has allowed her to learn to fight, who is anyone here to protest?"

There was a brief rumble of growls and groans at the reminder of Lady Keladry's betrothed.

"Do we know that he allowed it?" Ser Silveraxe asked. He looked around. "Does anyone know the man?"

"The Delnaimns are sworn to the Belmores, but I've never met their lord," Lord Royce said. "Have you, Ned?"


"Then we cannot even say she has his blessing," Ser Silveraxe said, hands going up as he leant back in his chair.

"You think Lord America would-"

"He has a woman as his sworn sword, he clearly cares litt-"

"-sure you wish to speak-"

"A woman cannot-"

Words spilled out like the rising tide into rockpools, every man who had hesitated suddenly confident enough to have their say as the tent fell into a ruckus of talk.

"Fuck sakes," Lord Robert said under his breath, before letting out a sigh. He slapped a strong hand down on the table. "Enough, my lords-" he scowled as his command went unheard, "I said ENOUGH!"

Silence returned to the tent as the lords remembered themselves.

"I would remind my fellow lords that we are not here to pass judgement on Lady Delnaimn's presence, but only to learn about the truth of it," Lord Samuel said to the room. "Robert, perhaps you could speak to Lord Am-"

"No Samuel, I won't," Lord Robert said, crossing his arms. "I don't know why you're all bringing this up with me when Steve gave you the chance to speak after the duel," he complained.

It was a struggle, but Brienne managed to keep herself in the moment in case she was called upon, rather than drift off into a daydream of the duel. Perhaps one day she would be the one to- she shook herself, refocusing on the awkward silence that was beginning to stretch out. None wished to speak, but many pointed looks were exchanged. At length, someone broke the silence.

"We know you hold Lord America in high esteem," Lord Cafferen said, slowly, as if reluctant, "and we would not wish to publicly put you in a position-"

"Oh a pox on that, Lester," Lord Robert snapped. "Just say what you mean." Beside him, Samuel looked skywards, as if beseeching the gods.

"Lord America's value is known," Lord Cafferen said, smoothing his tunic. His fair brown hair was neatly arranged as always, and Brienne felt a spike of dislike that he was so handsome. "But I am concerned that in ensuring we keep such a mighty warrior on hand, we follow a path unseeing."

"Say it straight, Cafferen," Robert said.

Lord Cafferen pursed his lips. "First, he seeks to discipline men in place of their lords, but it was in service of knightly oaths, so it was allowed. Next, he takes a woman into his service-"

An enormous groan interrupted. "Who cares," Lord Umber said, head resting on one meaty fist. "If he oversteps, you deal with it. You southerners talk like he's a hedge knight angling for a royal marriage."

Cafferen scowled at the Northman. "A true northern answer, but short sighted. As I was saying-"

Lord Umber glowered at him, head coming up off his fist to show just how much he had been slouching.

"-next he takes a woman into his service under arms, but she has no father or husband on hand to gainsay him, so it is allowed. Now I hear rumours that he has taken it upon himself to exercise the right of the gallows. If each time it is allowed, where does the path end?"

"At this rate, in King's Landing," Ser Thomas cracked, and more than one man found amusement in it.

"Perhaps such things are less concerning for an unlanded knight such as yourself," Cafferen said stiffly. "But for lords, to have another presume to intervene in our affairs undermines our authority if it is permitted unchallenged."

Ser Thomas joined Lord Umber in glowering.

"Perhaps Lord Steve would be less inclined to intervene if he felt that it was unnecessary," Lord Rogers said sharply.

"His feelings on the matter are irrelevant," Cafferen said. "Our rights and responsibilities are our rights and responsibilities, not his."

Lord Robert was massaging his temple.

"Are we not knights?" Lord Rogers asked, looking about the tent, expression pointed. "I would not have thought any man in this room would find upset in the tenets of the oath being upheld, but given certain complaints I have heard whispered…"

"It is not about the oath," Cafferen said, testy now. "It is that a foreigner thinks to dictate to us on how to manage our responsibilities!"

"A foreigner knighted by Barristan Selmy," someone muttered from within the crowd.

The reminder sat ill with some of the lords. "Then he should cleave closer-"

"My lords!" Lord Samuel said, before the tent could erupt once more. "Need I remind you again of our purpose here today?"

"We cannot discuss one without the other," Lord Grandison said, greying beard twitching with his frown. "Lord America does do right by his oath of knighthood, but he also takes liberties that he ought not to." He looked to Lord Robert. "I do not presume to speak for others, but for myself I must wonder at the price of his aid, and if such things are part of it."

"They're not," Lord Robert said, waving it away. "He's not asked for anything."

Lord Samuel pinched his brow.

"Is he not playing on your good nature then?" Cafferen said, leaning in. "His contributions cannot be denied, but it could be that he seeks to hold it over you-"

The Starks were frowning at Cafferen now. Brienne didn't think he'd noticed.

"Steve isn't -" Robert started, before grimacing. "Lord Steve and I have an understanding. I know what he wants, and it's not…" he gestured at nothing in particular, "lordly favour or advantage or privilege or what have you."

"Then he has asked for something?" Lord Kellington asked, quick eyes missing little. "Might we know when this understanding was brought about?"

"He has uh, let's call them interests across the Narrow Sea," Lord Robert said.

"Essos? What could he want with them?" someone asked, perplexed.

"You've seen the stances he has taken here," Lord Rogers said mildly, "what do you think his opinion on those barbarians might be?"

This time, Brienne fell headfirst into the daydream. She pictured a mighty host, marching on the combined might of the Three Daughters, and she was right beside Ser Keladry. They would come upon the foe from behind, having hidden daringly in a hidden crevice while they passed, and carve a path through them to get at their leaders. She would take the head of a slaver king, and then- she blinked, dragging her attention back to the present.

"-still worthy of discussion," Cafferen was insisting.

"Cafferen, I've heard your words and I'll give them the consideration they're due," Lord Robert said, visibly losing his patience. "Did anyone actually want to talk about Delnaimn, or are we all just sour that the greatest warrior in the army isn't a proper Stormlander?"

Lord Umber grumbled something under his breath that had Lord Brandon hold back a laugh.

"Lady Delnaimn is Lord America's sworn sword," Ser Thomas said, before looking at Cafferen. "Perhaps we shouldn't dictate to someone what they can and can't do with their own responsibilities," he said.

Cafferen fumed.

"Ser Storm has the right of it," Lord Swann said swiftly. "Permission or not, if aught befalls Lady Delnaimn, the responsibility lies with Lord America."

"Some might accuse Lord Baratheon for allowing it," Ser Connington pointed out. "A lady's place is not on the march."

"Ladies, or this lady?" Lord Buckler asked, smoothing his dark beard to hide his awkwardness. "It cannot be said that she has shamed herself in battle, inappropriate as her presence is."

Heads turned towards Lord Robert, all seeking judgement. He shifted, as if wanting to look towards someone before answering, but held his head high. "I am not inclined to send her away out of hand."

"But as Lord Cafferen said, if this is allowed, what comes next? A knighthood?" Ser Silveraxe asked.

"He hasn't knighted her yet, I suppose," Lord Grandison said. "I know there was some wonderment why; perhaps we can take this to be a sign that he has at least some understanding of a woman's place?"

"But he did help her hide what she was," a lord to one side said. "Lied about it at Harrenhal, even."

"Lord America never said Lady Keladry wasn't a woman," Lord Brandon said, amusement worn plainly.

The lord blinked at him. "What? No, we all heard - most of us were at Harrenhal!"

"Do you remember him ever denying the claim that Lady Keladry was a woman?" Brandon asked.

"Yes, I - no, I'm sure I did…" the man said, though the way he trailed off made his doubt plain.

"I pressed him about 'Keladry' being a woman's name, after Lord Whent's judgement," Brandon said, "and he said it was unisex."

Robert snorted. "Then he's never actually lied about it? That pissant at Harrenhal, what was that about? Blackmail over his winnings?"

"He was of the Vale," Lord Ned said. "Likely he knew Lady Keladry's identity, and sought to pressure Lord Steve over it."

"And he put paid to that," Lord Robert said. He huffed a laugh. "Well then. That's that, then."

By the looks going around the tent, it was not as settled as Lord Robert might have wanted, though none seemed to want to speak up. Brienne marked as many in her mind as she could.

Cafferen found his voice. "My lord Baratheon, are we to truly ignore Lo-"

"This had better be about Delnaimn," Robert warned him.

With a swallow and a redirect, Cafferen ploughed onwards. "Even if you do not send her on her way, there will be upset if men are expected to serve alongside her."

Before Lord Robert could do more than pull a face, another spoke up.

"I certainly have no issue," Lord Rogers said, and his smile reminded her of the one Galladon wore when he dobbed her in for something, "and my retinue would be eager to fight alongside Lord America once again."

Cafferen glanced at Ser Silveraxe, then to Lord Grandison, but neither seemed inclined to speak. Grudgingly, he bowed his head to her lord. "Then let us hope that no more ill comes to Lord America as a result of his decisions," he said.

The words seemed to perk Lord Robert up, and he looked around the tent. "That reminds me. When you go back to your retinues, tell them I heard some of what was going around from that shitheel Burchard, and I'm not happy," he said, thunking a fist onto the table. "I don't care if it all started from one cur, I don't want to hear about men sworn to them carrying tales like gossipy whores!" He waited for the chorus of acknowledgements, then waved his hand. "Away with you all! I know there's still work to do."

Some were eager to be gone, some lingered to talk to their fellows, but as Brienne waited at her knight-master's shoulder, she could hear the undercurrent of departing conversations, and there were only two topics: the foreign lord, and the woman.

Lord Ned was the last to leave, and then it was only Brienne and Lord Robert left in the tent.

"I don't think they're happy, ser," Brienne said.

Lord Robert tensed and almost jerked as she spoke. "Bryn," he said. "Didn't realise you were still there."

Brienne only blinked. Where else would she be?

"What do you think of it all?" Ser Robert asked. He pulled out his chair, shifting it around so he could face her better.

"Lord America is very skilled," Brienne reported, though of course that was nothing new. "The other day he was showing Robin and me how best to break someone's knee when you're locked up against them, in a duel or a press."

"Is his - Lady Keladry around for these lessons?" Ser Robert asked.

"Sometimes," Brienne said. "If she isn't, he has Lady Naerys or one of his serjeants help out, usually to show how to fight someone bigger and stronger than us, but he says I will be bigger and stronger one day so I should know what to watch for anyway."

"How good is his lady?" Ser Robert asked. One fist was cradled in the palm of his other hand now, and he frowned in thought.

"I think she is better than some of my father's knights," Brienne admitted. " it true she killed the brigand knights who tried to take advantage of her?"

"Her and some camp followers, so Steve says," Robert said. "Have you seen them training?"

"Sometimes," Brienne said. "Lord Steve focuses on Robin, Toby, and myself when he trains us, but I saw him lead them through some strange footwork once."

"Hrngh," Ser Robert said. His gaze grew distant.

"Are you really going to let her stay?" Brienne ventured to ask.

"I don't know, squire of mine," Ser Robert said, grinning at her as he refocused. "Do you think I should?"

Brienne nodded rapidly.

Ser Robert's grin faded as he looked away, considering once more. "I can get them to accept a woman fighting, but if Steve means to knight her…a woman…"

"Wouldn't that be a good thing for you?" Brienne asked, not quite hesitant. When her knight-master's gaze shifted to fix on her, she swallowed, but ploughed on. "If another knight has already knighted a woman, it would make it easier for you when you knight me, wouldn't it?" She had not come to be his squire in the normal way, she knew, and some would say that she had more crept into the position than accepted its offer, but she was his squire all the same and he had spoken of a far off future when she would have a squire of her own, so surely-

Robert made a noise of amusement, breaking her line of worrying. "You're right. I did decide that, didn't I."

It wasn't exactly an answer that fit her question, but it made her feel like it was the answer she had hoped for all the same.

"I should ask you for advice more often," Robert said. "How should we take Harrenhal? Go through the gates, or under the walls?"

"Ser," Brienne said, reproving.

He laughed, rising from his chair. "Come on. It's time to better your footwork." He clapped her on the shoulder as he began to lead the way out of the tent.

Brienne followed eagerly, a thought occurring to her. "Do you think I could start to learn a polearm?"

Another laugh was her answer. "I don't see why not. I'll have to see if I can find someone who knows a thing or two about it…" The tent flap fell closed behind them as they left, silence returning to the room. It had seen much talking, for all that little had been resolved, and many were those still stewing on the matter.

They would have stewed all the more if only they could have known what the future held.


Ren watched as her captain stepped up to face the company, clad in his typical tunic and trousers, no finer than any she had. Most of them were hunkered down, still recovering from the afternoon exercise, but some stood behind them. It was mostly the squad leaders, but Betty was there too, flanked by the Reach sisters Rowan and Florys. The noise of the army camp was lessened by distance, and in the field they had stopped in there was an expectant silence as they waited for the Captain to speak.

"Well," Steve said, "I figure you've all heard about the bit of fuss this morning." He rested one foot on the small boulder he had dropped when they had first come to a stop.

A flutter of laughter passed through the company. They had done little but discuss the revelation all day, coming to terms with the fact that the second in command of the whole company was a woman.

"I also figure you've got plenty of questions," Steve continued. "You'll have a chance to ask them, but first let's see how many I can head off at the pass: yes, Keladry is a woman. Has been for a while now. No, I don't think this changes anything about her position in the company. Yes, the man she fought a duel against this morning was her supposed betrothed. No, we didn't plan for it to end like it did, even if yes, he was the one spreading the rumours about me." He paused for a moment, looking up and to the side as he considered. "Did I miss anything, Kel?"

All eyes went to the woman who was standing off to the Captain's right. For once, she wasn't wearing her ever present gambeson, and she had changed the way she wore her hair, making it less masculine. Ren shifted, feeling her breast bindings starting to twist on itself, but there was no way to fix it, not in her armour.

"I don't believe so," Keladry said. She looked as calm and unbothered as always, as if having over one hundred men - who she was expected to command in battle, with them knowing she was a woman - staring at her was of no effect at all.

"Great," the Captain said. "Any questions?"

A forest of hands went up.

"Wow. Ok then," Steve said, taking them in. "Yorick, you first."

The Vale knight didn't address the Captain, however, instead turning to Keladry. "Are you Anders Delnaimn's sister? The youngest?"

Keladry blinked at him. "I am."

"My elder brother fought with him against the clans," Yorick said. "He spoke well of him."

"Is your brother Ser Hamish of Rockpike?" Keladry asked. She received a nod. "I used to badger Anders for the tale of that fight."

"I met him once, at a tourney," Yorick continued, "and he told a tale about his sister saving a village from bandits, as a child."

For all Keladry's expression didn't change, she still flushed. "I was exploring where I shouldn't have been, and I blew a horn. That is all."

A cheeky grin began to form on Yorick's face, but before it could do more than that he was cut off.

"Any other questions?" Steve said, before pulling a face as he saw one hand in particular. "Why- yes, Toby?"

"Joren's dead an' all, but what about the rest of his clan? When we gonna go sort 'em out?" the child asked. He looked eager.

There were some who thought Toby to be the Captain's bastard son, but Ren couldn't see it. He would have been politer about bringing ruin to his enemies.

"We won't be 'sorting them out'," Steve said, dashing the boy's hopes. "If they want to pull anything, we'll answer, but until that happens we let it lie."

Toby slumped, sullen.

"That said, I'm not speaking for the Delnaimns," Steve added, glancing at Keladry.

Toby perked up, almost smiling.

"What did the lords say about it, Captain?" someone called out. It was Qwartyn, one of Yorick's squad. Ren couldn't help but glance at the remainder of his right ear, the roughly cut skin long since scarred over.

"Well, I put it to them, and they didn't seem to have any strong opinions on the matter," Steve said.

From amongst the sitting and crouching crowd, someone sniggered. Ren glanced over and saw Robin, ducking his head at the sudden attention. "Sorry," the squire said, "it's just that no one was going to say anything with the challenge you laid out."

Challenging a crowd of nobles was what she expected of the Captain, and answered the question of why no one had approached any of the company leaders that day, at least.

Steve shook his head. "Robert is speaking with his lords right now, and even if they didn't want to speak up this morning for some reason, I'm sure they'll feel comfortable raising any concerns they have with him."

"What do you want us to do if one comes around asking questions?" Qwartyn asked.

"Same as always," Steve said. "Bonus for whoever can get the biggest bribe."

"And if they make trouble?" Qwartyn pressed. "You know what they're like."

Ren sympathised. He had once had a promising position as a journeyman tailor, but that had been left behind with half an ear and everything else when he was forced to flee Gulltown. She at least had managed to gather a few keepsakes.

"Get yourself out of the situation, however you need to. I'll back you," Steve told him. His gaze swept over the company. "You've all done well so far, ignoring the gossip, but I won't deny that some folk in this army might get fussy over Keladry's gender. If they come looking for trouble, they'll find it."

Approval rumbled through the company. It had been difficult, keeping their heads down as rumours were spread about their captain over the past weeks, even if seeing what Walt had done to that hedge knight had helped. But that was over now, and if it wasn't there was no more need to hold back.

Qwartyn nodded, satisfied. "Thank you, Captain."

"How did you get so strong?" Tim asked, his mouth running ahead of his mind as it always did. "Even back in the mountains, when you threw that clanner into the other one. Never seen no woman do anything like that."

"I've been training with Ser Steve since before my nine and tenth name day," Keladry said. "That was a year past now." She sounded surprised.

A sound of realisation rose from them.

"I don't go easy on her like I do with you all, either," Steve said.

Laughter came then, but not from Ren. She took in Keladry's muscled shoulders, her thick arms and strong legs, standing easily by the rock - smaller than the Captain's at least - that she had carried through their exercises. She was no longer the slight girl she had been seven months past when she and cousin Osric and the others had been recruited, but she was nowhere near Keladry either. Envy coloured her features.

"Do you still mean to knight her?" Harwin asked. The tall knight was intent on the answer, but didn't seem to be for or against it. "Now that the truth is out."

"Once she feels she has earned it, yes," Steve said. "She's already knocked me back three times."

"They won't like that," Symon said.

"If they didn't want me knighting people who deserve it, they shouldn't have given me the ability to knight people," the Captain said, and a round of smirks answered him.

"Ser, what about…"

The questions continued, but Ren had no mind for them. She and Osric and all their friends had had to flee their homes because her bastard of an uncle had thought to marry her off to a brute, but that was something that happened to a shepherdess, not a flag bearer, not as easily…and certainly not to a knight.

The next question was akin to ice water going down her spine, and pulled her roughly from ambitious daydreams.

"Is Keladry the only one? Er, doing what she did?"

Steve smiled. It was a rueful thing. "Come on, fellas. You think I'd pull the same trick twice?"

The company accepted the answer easily, though Ren couldn't help but glance at Willem, sitting nearby. The redhead met her gaze for a long moment, then pulled his own away before he could react in a way that drew suspicion.

"I think that's covered the important bits, and we've still got the second half of our run to get through," Steve said. He crouched down to take up his boulder once more, keeping his back straight, and rose easily with a burden that Ren knew would leave her staggering and heaving just to lift. "If anyone has any questions they don't feel comfortable asking in front of everyone, you know that my door is always open to you."

For a split second, the Captain's eyes met her own, and she swallowed, giving the barest nod she could, and then they were sweeping elsewhere.

"Come on now! If I beat more than half of you back, I'm letting Walt have free reign on training tomorrow!"

A suddenly motivated company rose quickly, falling in to begin their run back to camp. With an extra dollop of effort and judicious use of elbows, Ren found her way to the front of the pack, and that was where she stayed until she collapsed back at camp. She staggered the last steps until the mess tables, another tired soul amongst a hundred trudging towards the hot dinner awaiting them.

She had a goal now, and she wasn't about to let it slip through her fingers.


Her effort to lead the pack had left her capable of little but bathing and falling into her bedroll, but the next morning Ren ignored her aching muscles and dragged herself towards the Captain's tent before Walt sounded the call to break camp. Most of the company were busy with duties or breaking their fast, and she worked to convince herself that her plan would go smoothly.

She stopped outside the tent that was always at the middle of their camp. It was nowhere near as fancy as some of the noble tents she had seen, but she was not alone in appreciating that, not when it seemed the Captain put the difference in cost into the rations.

The tent flap was pulled open, jolting her, and she took a step back. "Lady Naerys," she said, ducking her head. "Good morning to you."

Naerys smiled, a distracted thing, but responded all the same. "Good morning to you, Ren. Was there a problem?"

"No, milady," Ren said. The Lady Naerys was a figure of great respect to the company, and that respect had only grown after Mastford. All agreed that she likely had more Targaryen blood than most noble houses, even if she had been born on the wrong side of the sheets.

"Here to see Steve, then?" Naerys asked, tilting her head.

"Aye," Ren said. She eyed the lady's blonde hair, braided to hang over one shoulder, and fought the urge to rub at her scalp. She missed her hair at times, but her friends had all agreed it was a good idea to help her blend in.

"He's available now," Naerys said, "but I believe he means to go speak with Lord Baratheon soon."

Ren bobbed her head again. "I'll be quick, milady. Good day to you." She realised that she was still standing before the tent opening, and quickly stepped aside.

An odd expression passed over Naerys' face, but only for a moment. "And you."

Naerys went on her way, and Ren stepped through the tent flap before she could second guess herself again. There was a table within, and Steve was sitting at it, slowly eating an apple while he read a piece of parchment, but he looked up at her entry. He was not alone.

"Ren. Do you need something?" Steve asked, a welcoming smile on his face.

"I wanted to take you up on your offer," Ren said. She pressed her hands to her legs to hide her nerves. "To talk."

The other occupant began to rise from her seat, taking a hunk of bread and bacon with her. "I will oversee the men," Keladry said, already turning away.

"No, I - if you could stay, Ser Keladry?" Ren asked.

Keladry stopped, turning back to face them. "I am not a ser," she reminded her.

"Not yet," Ren said. The company always slipped up, by accident or on purpose, and every time she reminded them.

The Captain tried to hide his smile behind one hand, scratching at his cheek. "What can we do for you, Ren?"

Ren found her throat was suddenly dried, and swallowed as Keladry took her seat once more. "Captain, did you…?" she asked, glancing towards Keladry.

"I did not."

A quick breath to steady herself, and then Ren forced the words out in a rush. "My name is Rennifer. Please. Pleasure. I mean. To meet you."

Keladry blinked at her. Then, slowly, her head rotated so she could stare at Steve. "My lord," she said, accusing.

"Ah, shucks," the Captain said. He put his parchment down and scratched the back of his head.

"Is there anyone else?" Keladry asked, visibly coming to terms with it.

Steve raised his brows at her. "If there was, would I tell you?"

Both women paused at that, rethinking assumptions. Faces ran through Ren's mind, and Roland was awfully pretty - but no, she had seen him swimming once, and he had a cock the size of her- she broke the line of thought, fighting a flush.

"I did not even consider the possibility," Keladry said, shaking her head.

Ren felt her heart starting to slow, returning to a normal pace, and she took a slow breath. Steve noticed.

"It was a brave thing, doing this," he told her. "You and your friends have impressed me, doing what you have."

"You weren't the only one to know?" Keladry asked.

"Rennifer's friends - the slingers I recruited as a group - have helped her keep the secret," Steve explained.

"Osric's group," Keladry said. "Eustace, Harry, and the others."

Ren nodded. "We all came west together, when we heard about the muster. We had to leave, anyway, after our uncle - mine and Osric's - tried to marry me off to a brute."

Steve was frowning.

"All of you?" Keladry asked.

"We all worked for him," Ren said. Secrets that she had held close for so long were tumbling out now that she felt free to speak. "He keeps cattle, and turned me out after I refused to marry so the knight would let him use his land for grazing. He was a brute," she said again, compelled to explain.

"You don't need to explain yourself," Steve said, raising a hand. "If someone doesn't want to marry, forcing them to do so is wrong."

Keladry leant back in her chair, arms crossed and brow furrowed in thought.

"I, yes, Captain," Ren said. She wet her lips. "Osric put me up as I looked for work, but then uncle found out and turned him out, too."

"And then the others, when they helped?" Steve guessed.

Ren nodded. "We decided it was better to leave, and Osric...ended up breaking his jaw when he tried to stop us."

Steve snorted a laugh. "You've got some rare friends," he said.

"I know," Rennifer said. Her mouth twitched into a smile as she thought of them. "When we see home again, no one will recognise us." They would have such stories, after the war.

"Lord America's flag bearer would be better protected against an unwanted marriage," Keladry said. She was watching Ren closely. "But not immune."

Ren swallowed again. "No. I wouldn't be." She knew that if she returned home, her uncle would like as not try again, and that was besides the embarrassment they had caused him.

Steve was looking between them, and he opened his mouth to speak, but thought better of it, leaning back to watch.

"What do you want?" Keladry asked.

"I want the same training that made you so strong," Rennifer said, determined. "I'm not as strong as any of the men, but I want to be."

"You won't be," Keladry said, blunt as the Captain's hammer. "You don't have the build to gain the same strength that I have."

Ren's heart stilled in her chest, a strange kind of pain rising that had nothing to do with the physical.

"But if you want training," Keladry continued, "if you want more, I will show you what you need so that you need not fear your uncle ever again."

"Yes," Rennifer said, heart starting once more, suddenly ready to jump out of her chest. "I want that." She wanted that very badly.

"That's not all you want though, is it?" Keladry asked. She leant forward, hazel eyes pinning her, dissecting her. "You don't just want the training to be strong."

"No, I…I want to be a knight," Rennifer said, daring to speak the words aloud. Even half a year ago she never would have dared, and still wouldn't to anyone else, but she knew the Captain. Her gaze went to him. "Women aren't knights, I know, but you said you would knight Keladry when she accepted it, and if you would knight one woman then surely-" she was starting to babble.

"Rennifer," the Captain said, cutting her off. "If this is something you want, we can work towards it. I can make you dangerous." Gone was any amusement or concern. "But it won't be easy, and when you do achieve it, you'll be inviting a whole new world of trouble. You understand that?"

Rennifer nodded, clenching her jaw. She knew. But she would be strong. She would be dangerous.

The Captain nodded, satisfied. "Good. We'll start today. Do you know how to read and write?"

Ren blinked. "No?"

"You will," Steve said, and a feeling of foreboding came over her. "Kel, we'll sit down this afternoon and come up with an exercise plan for Rennifer. She's the best slinger we've got, and with the right training I think she could be very quick, and…"

Ren listened as her future was planned out, and she realised she was right to dread. It was a good dread though, if there was such a thing, and a small joy was kindled in her heart. She was not dreaming. It was happening.

One day, she would be a knight.