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She waits a year. She doesn't intend to, but Father insists. It's one of his conditions.

It helps that Carthak has indicated they wouldn't mind a knight-empress, even if Galla has dropped negotiations about her and have started inquiring about Lianne and Vania, much to Mother's disgust. Even though both of her parents have been proved right, they still spend most of their time being icy in private.

Still, Kalasin doesn't mind waiting a year. The training master, the man who saved her brother and sister, he will still be there to teach her all that she knows. Roald will be there as well. She will have her brother to lean on for support.

And, as it turns out, there will be another girl.

Her name is Keladry of Mindelan and she has lived in the Yamani Islands since she was four. She's been trained in combat already, and Father favors her family mightily for helping with the negotiations for Roald's marriage contract.

Lord Wyldon decides to put her on probation.

It only takes three hours for Kalasin to corner her father.

"Why is she on probation?" she demands of Jonathan. She notices the lines etched more deeply in his face. He looks very tired, older than he usually does.

"Because Lord Wyldon requested it," he responds, in a voice he only uses when he is very clearly the king and not her father.

"And what of me?"

"You are not on probation," he says.

"Why not?" Her hands are balled up and resting on her hips, her lip protrudes in an angry pout.

"Because you are the princess, as well as second-in-line to the throne. You won't be hazed and there was never any chance of Wyldon threatening to reject you. He knows that you will work for it, he has my word. Keladry of Mindelan he cannot be sure about."

"That isn't fair," Kalasin blinks. "Aunt Alanna won't like it."

"And neither will your mother. It's called politics, Kalasin. You'll learn to play the game sooner or later."

"I don't think I want to," she sniffs, and runs off to find Roald.

It probably isn't a good thing to lose respect for the training master even before she begins.

Kalasin is able to train for a knight and still have a finalized marriage contract with Kaddar- even though he ends up becoming emperor much sooner than planned thanks to Daine the Wildmage and the Graveyard Hag. She suspects it was him who didn't mind the knight-princess aspect and that it was more his mother and uncle, though it now means waiting years for her, three more than he had planned. However he has written to her already, a kind letter in neat cursive saying that Carthak needs a strong woman like her at its helm.

He's nice enough, but Kalasin is more concerned on who will be her knightmaster, now that she's passed all her exit exams. If Father hadn't taken Zahir he would have taken Roald, not waited around for her- Jonathan wouldn't have wanted claims of favoritism and besides, she wouldn't have accepted and he knew it. Lord Raoul takes on Keladry, which Kalasin approves of because Kel deserves someone as good and idealistic and kind as Raoul. Aunt Alanna takes Nealan of Queenscove, and she sincerely hopes that the wry boy won't end up dead at the hands of his knight-mistress.

Uncle Gary is the one to finally ask her.

Lord Wyldon is the one to advise her not to take it.

She knows why Gary had asked. Father might have had a quiet word with him, said he didn't want his oldest daughter in combat. Ha! Fine predicament that, when Mother goes into it all the time. Yet of course Mother isn't the one who might be empress of Carthak one day. Mother had already done her duty, had already spat out half a squadron of heirs.

Mother wants her to go with Uncle Gary too. It might have even been Mother who'd convinced him.

She'd talked about it with Kel, right after the debacle with Lalasa Isran and that horrid Joren of Stone Mountain. Kalasin had stopped by to see if she was alright and Kel had been surprisingly open, had wondered if this would just make it harder for her to get a knight-master.

"Father won't call in favors for you," Kalasin had said, the picture of bluntness, but Kel had known it for truth it was. Her probation had always been a sticking point between the two of them, a class division between the nobility and the crown, though Kalasin knew that Kel was angrier at Lord Wyldon and the king than she was at her fellow page. She'd slowly forgiven Lord Wyldon but had much less so forgiven the king, and at the very least Kalasin approved of that.

"I wouldn't expect him to," Kel had responded, her Yamani stillness disrupted with exhaustion.

"If he does for me, it'll be with a desk knight," Kalasin said bitterly. Kel had nodded.

"I couldn't do it," she said, "but what if it was my only offer?"

"You would still be a knight at the end, desk warrior or no. You wouldn't be shipped off to Carthak."

"I want to be in the field to help people," Kel had muttered softly. "I'm sure it can be done from a desk, but I want to see everything for myself."

"Good for you," Kalasin had replied, and meant it.

And now Kel was with Lord Raoul, her reasonable dreams fulfilled, and Kalasin was the one cast adrift.

"If I could, I would take you," Lord Wyldon had told her in all seriousness. "You'd do anyone proud, Squire Kalasin."

So they are his words that she holds close to her heart when she tells Gary she will accept his offer.

Kalasin is there when the Chamber opens on Joren's body. She is there when they carry him out. He is almost more beautiful in death; the darkness and hurt in his eyes gone and blankness the only thing remaining.

And then her father tells her Lord Wyldon is resigning.

Fire in her eyes, she draws herself up. "And you didn't stophim?" Kalasin asks.

"It doesn't work that way," Jonathan sighs, but she is so, so sick of him telling her that, of him telling her everything is goddamned politics, and she goes to find the training master.

"You can't resign," Kalasin says, marching into the office he's packing up. "It shouldn't happen."

"Mindelan was just in here saying the same thing." Wyldon's mouth has a tired twist to it. "It'll be Padraig haMinch. He'll do the boys- and any girls who wish it- he'll do them good."

"I don't care about Padraig haMinch, sir." Kalasin crosses her arms. "You were good. You did good."

"Did I?" Wyldon asks. "Look at Joren. Look at you and Keladry, look at the unfairness that happened there. You both have earned your place, more than earned it, but there is an imbalance. My methods do not work anymore."

"They worked for me. They worked for Kel. You did well by us, milord."

"I didn't," he sighs. "I have but one request of you, Kalasin, and I would be honored if you accepted."


"I would like to take you on as my squire," Wyldon says. "I know you are already in service with Gareth of Naxen, but I have spoken with him and he has consented to release you to me."

She wants to hug him but she resists the urge, strong as it may be. "Of course I accept!"

"Very good," Wyldon says. "I'll discuss this further with you in the morning, squire."

Kalasin wasn't planning on leaving the confrontation with a spreading grin. It can't be helped.

Once Kalasin becomes Wyldon's squire she spends too much time with him, comparatively. When squiring to Uncle Gary it was papers and parchments and scrolls, ink on her hands despite her station and learning more about the minds of dead Tortallans than the ones living right in front of her.

When she changes knight-masters and becomes a squire of Cavall it turns to being her, Wyldon, and the horses and dear Mithros she respects this man more than she respects her own father and his knotted, tangled cords of negotiations and political ties.

He rarely talks, unless to point out something he feels instrumental to her training, but from his silences she learns almost as much as she does from his words.

Kalasin can't even explain how she just- wants to be around him. His pensive quietness is soothing, when the lulls in her family are characterized by sharp ice and royal discord, decisions made that cause storming and stomping and the slamming of doors.

She doesn't want this quiet pine-tree peace to end. The north, with its rocky soil and ever reaching forest, with air that always smells as fresh as if it just rained, with cold clear water and crystal sky, has become more home to her than cacophonous Corus. She dreads Carthak, with its sovereign sun and dry, dusty heat; she would much rather fight for her woodsmen and charcoal burners than be the empress of a desert realm.

They are in the mud of the realm, up past her ankles and elbows and she loves the people so much: the refugees from Scanran border raids, the soldiers, the good-humored squads of Own and Riders. They are candid around Wyldon and often ignore her. Kalasin doesn't mind. It allows her the chance to observe.

"We need to discuss your Ordeal," Wyldon states one day in late fall while they are waiting for a ferry to come around. "You should know that his majesty has offered to be the second knight to instruct you."

"Did you turn him down?" Kalasin twists the reins in her hand anxiously.

"I told him I had already asked Gareth the Younger and he had accepted. To my knowledge your father will be instructing Queenscove with Lady Alanna, that poor boy- and you know I don't say that often about Squire Nealan." Wyldon shakes his head a touch ruefully.

"What about Kel? Has Lord Raoul found anyone to instruct her yet?"

"I believe it will be Turomot of Wellam. Raoul had indicated that when we saw them a week past when you and Squire Keladry were off talking by the woods."

"Why him?" Kalasin asks. Uncle Gary instructing her, that feels deserved, that feels appropriate and right. He took her on at her parents' bequest, even though he, like Raoul, hadn't taken on a squire since the Douglass-and-Sacherell fiasco of years past, preferring not to take his chances.

"To ensure there will be no trickery," Wyldon responds soberly. "Since I am with you, no one has any doubt that you have ever been witched to succeed- it would be a crime. With Keladry, there are still opportunities to be up in arms, starting from the scandal with Stone Mountain as you well know."

"I can't believe people are still on about that, the fools. Begging pardon, milord."

"Different people go through different trials," he says. "I will say that for myself, I believe you will pass. The Chamber will see what I have seen, and judge as I have judged."

"Thank you," Kalasin whispers, and scans the breadth in front of them. "I think I see the ferry coming now."

"Indeed," Wyldon says, and gestures for her to follow him on.

Kalasin stumbles out of the Chamber dazed and bruised.

She doesn't know where all of the bruises have come from, but they pepper her arms and stomach, footprints on her otherwise healthy skin.

Her father's face is white and clenched, and he is gripping her mother's hand for a lifeline. He looks like there is barely anything keeping him grounded.

"I'm fine," she whispers to him, then makes her way to Wyldon. He hands her a skin full of water, cold and bright-tasting in her mouth, and wraps her in a blanket. She hadn't realized she was shivering.

As she lets Wyldon half-lead her, half-tow her to her rooms, Kalasin considers how glad she is that she is forbidden to speak of what occurred in the Chamber of the Ordeal.

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Kalasin is a knight of the realm of Tortall, just as her father and brother before her. Her shoulders were struck and now she has her shield.

She is leaving for Carthak in less than a month. Once the Midwinter celebrations are over, and they will be as soon as Keladry passes her Ordeal (and she will, Kalasin knows that she will because Kel was born to be a knight), she will have to start preparing.

She's saved all of Kaddar's letters, throughout the years. She knows he is nice, unassuming, Gifted, and likes to ride almost as much as she does. As fine as he may be though, there is no way he will ever compare.

Wyldon knocks at her door.

"Come in," she calls out.

He stands in the doorway a touch awkwardly, feet firmly planted on the floor.

"I thought I should let you know how so very proud of you I am," Wyldon says. "I have been honored to be both your training master and your knight-master." He walks closer. "Carthak will be proud to have you as empress."

"Thank you," she says, eyes downcast. His eyes flick over her face, picking up everything he needs to know in mere moments.

"You have to go, Kalasin." He walks over and sits down next to her. "You can't stay here."

"I'm too attached to Tortall," she whispers. "It will be so painful to leave."

"I know." He takes her hand. "I'm sorry that I couldn't- I'm sorry."

"Thank you for teaching me," Kalasin says. "I have truly enjoyed everything. So much. I couldn't have done better than you."

"No," Wyldon says, tilting her chin up, "it is I who could not have done better, Kalasin."

He kisses her on the lips, his touch gentle and feather-light. She blinks, astonished, and then squeezes his hand.

"I know you will be great," Wyldon says, his parting words, his gift to her, and he leaves the room as quietly as he came in.