The much repeated story line of: Alanna is found out... with a twist. Stopped before it could become too cliched.
She sighed. Get a hold on yourself, Trebond, she scolded. You're never going anywhere else with Myles. You're leaving. You were found out. You're going home.
She swallowed hard. Home was no longer Trebond. Home was the palace, Olau, the Dancing Dove, Port Cayn, Corus-- home was where she was with her friends and her enemies.
But all of that had changed. Her father had come out of his studious trance long enough to check up on his children. He had written to the convent, then to the Mithran Cloisters, and finally to the palace. Their game was up. Thom would stay with the priests, but she had to go home.
There was a knock on the locked door. She ignored it.
I can't do anything, now. Well, maybe I could be a Guard for the Temple of the Goddess, but I'm to old for the Shangs, and no convent will take me.
She looked down at herself. She was wearing the page's uniform, gold tunic over bound chest. Suddenly Alanna wanted to rid herself of the clothing. It was a sign of her deception, a sign of her failure.
She went to the clothespress and brought out breeches, shirt and jerkin. They were light clothes, but hardy; made for travel in the summer. I almost made it. Only one more year, then I'd have been a squire. She sighed again. Even though it probably would have been harder to hide as a squire. But I don't have to hide anymore. There's no reason to. With that in her mind, she took the breast band Mistress Cooper had given her and rolled it into her shirt.
The door clicked open. She froze. Must have gotten Jonathan to use his Gift, she thought vaguely.
"Care to explain?" It was Gary. More people thudded into the room, the heavy steps of Raoul, the lighter ones of Prince Jonathan.
"I have to change." She didn't bother to deepen her voice as she had for months.
"You have a screen," Gary pointed out.
He was right. She couldn't throw them out; these were her friends--or they had been. She went over to her changing screen. Just to be safe, she sealed the place where it met the wall with a line of purple fire.
None of the boys made any sound as she pulled off her tunic and began to undo her points. As she dragged off her hose, she bit her lip and wished that one of them might speak--even an angry Jonathan was better that this silence.
Again it was Gary who spoke. "So. You're a girl." There was nothing she could say to that. "What's your real name?"
She removed her shirt and unbound herself, giving an almost inaudible sigh of relief.
"Coram. George and his mother."
"You trusted George?" Raoul said, his voice incredulous. "A thief? The thief? And not us?"
How could she explain that she couldn't have told any of the pages, not even them?
Not even Jonathan.
"Not Uncle?" That was Jonathan, with surprise in his voice.
She fastened the breast band, wriggled her shoulder, and enjoyed the freedom of movement her lack of bindings gave her.
"When I had the sweating sickness, and you came after me--I heard a woman speak. Was the you, grown?"
"So the man was me."
Alanna didn't answer.
She pulled on her shirt and jerkin, folded her uniform, combed her fingers through her hair. Then she emerged, keeping her back to her friends as long as she could.
When she could stall no longer, she faced the boys.
One of Raoul's brows shot up. Alanna, thinking of her unbound chest, flushed a deep red.
Gary looked between his friends, mouth twitching. He got himself under control long enough to say, "Well, she is female," before succumbing to laughter.
Alanna glared at him, all embarrassment forgotten. "Just because I'm a girl doesn't mean I can't fight. No one would have known if father hadn't--"
"Al-Alanna, relax," Jonathan said. "We know you can fight. Haven't you proved that already, ten time over?" He chuckled suddenly. "You should have seen the look on Roger's face when Uncle Gareth told us."
"They told everyone at dinner. Roger was there--I think he suspected something was up. He didn't know either, did he?"
"No." Alanna said.
Raoul's other brow went up. "How did you manage that?"
"I--I think--I think my Gift protected me. Or something else." She fumbled for another topic, any other topic. Her eyes fell on Gary. "What are you laughing about?" she demanded.
"Ralon," he managed to get out among peals of laughter. "Y--you--" he swallowed. "When he hears…" he gave in and sat with a thump on the bed.
"Bright Mithros," Raoul breathed. "I hadn't thought of that." He was grinning.
Alanna was… not quite incensed, but rather close to it. "Do you honestly think this is funny?"
"Well…" Alex began. Alanna glared at him. "…not the part where you have to leave. We'll all fail history, for one."
"Sorry," Alanna said, with not a single ounce of regret in her tone. She shook her bags hard and shooed Alex, who had come in after she was dressed, away from where he leaned against the clothespress, digging out all of her non-uniform clothing.
"What are you doing?" asked Gary.
"Packing." Alanna's voice was short. Wasn't it obvious?
Alanna stopped completely. "I'm found out." She spoke slowly, as if he was slow-minded. "I can't exactly waltz down to classes tomorrow, as if nobody knows."
"That doesn't mean you have to leave," Jon said. "Well, you might have to move out of the pages' wing. But you don't have to leave the palace."
"I don't? I can't do anything here. I can't be a ladies maid or some kind of governess, I can't exactly work in the Palace Stores, and I'm not old enough to be a guest in the palace--not that I would, or could anyway." She was fuming now. They were doing this on purpose, just to get back at her for lying to them for years. "Face it! The only think I'm good for is fighting, and the only place women can do that is in the temples of the Goddess, and isn't everyone already saying that I've dishonored the gods for pretending to be a boy?" They didn't deny it.
"Well, you could work with Duke Baird. He's been trying to train more assistants with Roger's help, but it's slow going. Healing you can do, and lots of women do it." Alex raised his brows.
"There's something else. There have been more assassin attempts on Mother in the last few months than there have been for decades. Guards can't be everywhere, and sooner or later something will get through." Jon's face and voice were serious. "Father's been talking about training one of her ladies in waiting to defend her, but that's hard to do discreetly. Neither the K'mir or the Shangs hire out-- or stay in one place for more than a month."
"My father would be more than willing to keep teaching you swordplay secretly," Gary pointed out. "And you've already been able to get more training--on the sly." His eyes flicked to Alex, who was the sole person in the group who didn't know about Alanna's Friendship with the King of the Thieves.
"I would also be more than willing to teach you to detect poisons, spies, assassins and other things of that subject." Sir Myles of Olau, the king's Spymaster, strode into the room, with as much presence as the day he had cast everyone from Jonathan's sickbed. "You are also practiced at disguising yourself-- no one need know that you are not a Sarain noblewoman. You are not without options, Lady Alanna."
Alanna bit her lip, afraid for a moment that she was going to cry. "I accept."