The air hung hot and humid over the city of Corus. Storm clouds were beginning to blow in from the far off sea. Still, it did not bother nor concern the citizens. There was peace in the land, finally, and without any threats from Scanra, no one was particularly concerned with thoughts of war. Overall, it was a peaceful day for the citizens of Corus. However, it was not a peaceful day for King Jonathon of Conte.
"It is in my humble opinion sir, that this will carry unforeseeable consequences, bringing with it droves of criticism to your decision, not to mention the poor child who will be unable to withstand the taunts that she will most likely to receive, if of course you wish to proceed with this." Lord Padraig haMinch, the newly appointed Training Master for pages and squires of the realm, taped the open letter with its broken seal that lay on the small table between him and the King. The discussion had been going on for a better part of the afternoon with both parties arguing the same lines over and over again. It hadn't come to the point where haMinch instigated an argument. You simply did not start arguing with the King. Lord haMinch was almost exasperated to the point where it was decided that if the King gave no clear answer soon enough, than Padraig would gladly have his spleen eaten from his living, breathing body by a hurrock.
A small smile tugged at the edges of Jonathon's mouth, although the motion was somewhat lost under his black beard. "You do know that your predecessor said almost the exact same in trying to deter me from accepting Baron Pier's daughter when she wanted to try for her knighthood?" Glimmers of mischievous amusement danced in his blue eyes. "And now look: Lady Knight Keladry has done more service to this realm than anyone had ever perceived possible. It would be a terrible loss to suffer if something were to ever happen to her and I cannot bring myself to regret the decision of admitting her into training as a knight. Many people were skeptical of her ability but she pulled through. So has Alanna the Lioness all while under the guise of a man. You cannot doubt a person's ability by their condition of gender. And what of my wife Thayet? " Lord haMinch opened his mouth to interrupt but Jonathon kept going. "Would you honestly doubt her perseverance or strength? She has the skill to lead as well as to fight. And the Queen's Riders are testament that it does not take a noble upbringing to show the determination and might that women are capable of."
"My lord, with all due respect, you speak of accomplished women and I cannot doubt in any way the ability of your wife or Champion. However this girl, Selene of Renvyle, doesn't come from a family of ambassadors, nor from a family who has sent off any daughters for a warrior's life. And besides there is the question of her special Gift: she's unstable at best, considering her upbringing. And you have told me that Numair specifically said that he himself does not know the extent of her powers."
With a wave of his hand, the King cut off his new Training Master in mid-sentence.
"Lord HaMinch, why not have some more wine. It's indeed delicious. My very own Champion Alanna brought it from one of the Bazhir tribes from her last visit." Lord haMinch couldn't very well resist a royal invitation and watched the King pour a generous amount into a waiting goblet. "And to your earlier comment, well it doesn't matter what her family has done in the past. Nor their reputation. Many notable knights have exceeded their family's expectations." He sighed heavily. "As to Selene's Gift: currently, her powers are kept in check. The letter said so. But I cannot know what will happen in the future and neither can you so this is hardly a matter worth discussing."
Lord haMinch sighed and sat back in his chair. The two men were sitting on the veranda just outside the King's study, overlooking the Royal Forest. Not a breeze stirred in the still air of the summer afternoon. It was a mild day, considering the hot and obtrusive weather they had experienced during the recent months. The clouds over head had darkened considerably and thunder rolled in the tumultuous rainclouds in the distance. Padraig glanced at the King who was re-reading the letter that had been sent by the girl's family. Sure, they had received a total of six letters from families who had wished to send their daughters into service as a knight. Two had declined immediately after sending off the letters, three of the girls had left after a week and the last one had not even lasted through the first day. There was nothing particularly interesting that set this girl apart from all the other girls. The path to knighthood and indeed many times the occupation and responsibility of a knight was not an easy way of life.
"Your Highness," Lord haMinch responded in a more patient, rational voice. "This girl Selene has spent a year in the convent in training as a court lady. She has little to no practical training in any fighting arts and we don't even know if her character would withstand the grueling discipline needed."
"In my understanding, being a lady requires more cunning and discipline than many people give them credit for, as my dear Thayet so tells me." King Jonathon joked, although the Training Master was not able to tell. "What if we come to a compromise?"
"I'm listening," replied Lord HaMinch.
"You will allow the girl to come for training, under the previous conditions set by Lord Wyldon: she will be on probation for a year, only to be released if you deem it plausible that she can keep pace with the other boys. Also," the King's voice turned stern and his mood suddenly became serious. "Although much is expected of her, I will not allow you to treat her with disrespect or contempt, or continually single her out because you feel as if you can. You will not over-step your boundaries."
Lord haMinch's mouth was set in a tight line. "I completely understand your Highness. I will carry out my duties with the upmost reverence for my station."
"Excellent!" The King stood suddenly and Lord haMinch practically jumped out of his chair to follow. "Please do remember Padraig, that you are still essentially being judged on your performance, since you've only been with us a short while. Think of it as a temporary probation." Jonathon clapped the Training Master good-naturedly on his shoulder and strode off the veranda into his study. Lord haMinch remained on the veranda, slightly irritated by the turn of events.
The sudden jerking of the carriage slammed Selene's head into the side, waking her up from her boredom induced slumber. She looked around, orange eyes still sleepy, and they landed on her uncle. He gave a loud snort and continued his sleep. Selene sighed and turned her tired gaze out the tiny opening in the carriage that barely classified as a window. The sight did nothing to improve her already dark mood. It was raining; even more so since they had left the convent on their way to the palace. This journey was important to her, the start of a new life, and yet it already yielded nothing but a wet cold beginning. Boredom, too, was dragging her down as well, as it was too dark to read or write in the carriage and her uncle seemed intent as catching as much sleep as possible.
Still, she should be thankful that someone from her family was generous enough to accompany her on this trip, or rather her family only sent someone so they could keep on eye and make sure she didn't get into any trouble. Especially after the incident at the convent; her family would be through with her if she were to repeat the disaster that she had caused there.
Sighing, she fingered the warm silver bracelets on her wrists, tiny engraved symbols running the circumference. She had no idea what they meant but she had been wearing them since she was five years old. They were there to keep her Gift in check, to make sure her powers never got out of control.
"This is for your safety and for other's safety as well," Numair had said to her when he fashioned them especially from the purest silver. "You must wear them at all times. Until we know how your Gift really works, this is the best way to ensure you do not over use your powers and they don't consume you"
Even with her bracelets, things had gotten out of hand at the convent. Of course, she thought, the added burden of her strange Gift and her power limiters were two more things that totally set her apart from every normal noble in Tortall.
Her mother thought it would have been for the best when she sent Selene to the convent. The convent was an easy enough place, learn to be a perfect lady and you could be married off to a wealthy, well-off noble husband and live out your life as a perfect little housewife. Selene thought that her mother's imagined life for her reduced her to nothing more than a doll, someone who had to be dressed by no less then four maids, someone who had to be accompanied everywhere she went and someone who was empty-headed and only lived for the material objects around her. This was not the life Selene had imagined for herself.
Another pothole jerked the carriage to the side and for the up tenth time that day. Selene hit her head on the side of the carriage. Her uncle was thrown from his seat and landed on the floorboards of the carriage.
"What in the name of Mithros was that?" he exclaimed. His usually neat brown hair was disarrayed and his immediate concern, like always, was to check that his clothes were in perfect order, which they were. It would take more than a simple fall to rumple the clothes of Llyon of Renvyle, her mother's brother-in-law.
"Another pothole, Uncle, you've slept through the last hundred we've trekked through." His niece answered in her normal sarcastic voice.
"No need for smart remarks." Of course everything she said was considered a smart remark or something equally stupid. "Now a lady must remember to be docile and…"
Selene closed her eyes as another one of her uncle's lectures went through her ear and out the other.
"Selene! Listen to me! Don't you dare-" the rest of his words were cut off as the carriage drew to a sudden halt. From outside came the sounds of numerous horses riding up and the sound of harshly, laughing men. Steel swords could be heard being drawn from scabbards and a second louder they collided with something thick and squelchy, the flesh of the carriage guards.
"The Gypsy Bandits," whispered her uncle, who instantly paled, and hurriedly began praying. The Gypsy Bandits were plaguing the major highways leading to the capital city, mocking the king saying that he couldn't even protect his people on the outskirts of his own city. Selene rolled her eyes. Gypsy Bandits, she thought, these were going to be easy to get rid of. She couldn't bear wasting any more time in the presence of her uncle than was necessary.
The door of the carriage was ripped open, almost off its hinges and the darkened light of the rainy skies entered the carriage. Rough hands reached inside and grabbed Selene and her uncle, dragging them out into the torrential downpour. The driver and the guard who both had been escorting them to the capital laid dead alongside the carriage, hideous slashes on their bodies that marked a brutal death.
Damn it all, she thought. I hope the rain won't affect my powers. Not only that, but Selene hated being out in the rain.
"Well, well, well, look what we've got ourselves here," A large, scarred man stood in front of Selene and looked her over with lustful eyes. "A cute little girlie, all prettie and pure. Heahea not for long, gents." The rest of the bandit group gave boorish, cruel laughs. The Gypsy Bandits were dressed in tanned leather breeches and coarsely woven tunics. Many of them had added bandanas, scarves or sashes of varying material to embellish their otherwise plain clothing. A few of them carried swords, stolen most likely as only nobles or the Tortallan guard were allowed to carry swords. There were a scattering of axes, maces and clubs among the bandits, although Selene and her uncle didn't doubt for a second that any of the weapons were less deadly than a sword.
This is ridiculous, Selene thought. What do I look like to them? A harem slave up for auction? She closed her orange eyes and called to her Gift, her silver bracelets giving off a soft glow.
"Hey, what the bloody hell you think you doin'?" The large bandit grabbed her by the front of her cloak and dragged her up. "Wha'ever you doin' you better be stopping' tha'."
Selene's eyes snapped open and she thrust her hands forward into the man's face as bright orange fire erupted from her hands. The bandit dropped her onto the muddy ground as the fire spread over his body. He screamed and wailed like a crazed animal and within seconds was reduced to nothing but a charred carcass. The other bandits stared at her.
"Well then, who's next, you dirty bastards?" Selene challenged the men.
"Why you little bitch!" Two other men rushed forward, stolen swords in hands. Selene step sided them and spread a line of fire at one the men, entering him through the back and erupting from chest. He stopped suddenly as the magic fire burned his insides. Selene knew this was a particularly painful way to die. The man fell into the mud as he too screamed like a wounded animal as the fire slowly burned away at all his organs. Selene threw a small bolt of fire at the second bandit. It caught on his cloak and then exploded, sending bloody bits of human debris everywhere.
The remaining bandits looked on with horror and ran back to their horses.
"This won't be the last time we meet," shouted one of the bandits. "We'll make you pay you evil wretch! Mithros curse you!" With that they rode back from where they came, the rain hiding them from sight and masking the sound of their retreat.
Selene looked down at her mud-soaked and blood spotted dress. Such a pity that her dress was dirtied beyond repair as it had been her favorite one. Her uncle shook his head.
"I don't know if your Gift is a blessing or a curse, but it scares me that a twelve year can do that. You're dangerous!"
Selene flashed her uncle a small dangerous smirk. "Don't worry, uncle, I'm only a danger if you cross me."
Yay! Chapter 1 is revised! I wanted to introduce and characterize the Training Master sooner than I did in my original (and I got his name right!). I included the conversation between Jonathon and haMinch that I wanted to put in before but didn't know how to write.