The Princess Knight by G.A. Aiken



PART 1





PROLOGUE

As soon as Brother Gemma led her platoon of monk-knights into the monastery courtyard of the Order of Righteous Valor, she knew she was in for some horseshit.

Not hard to figure out. When one was part of a brotherhood of vicious, violent, and war god–loving warriors, one learned to sense when the winds of change had shifted.

She stopped her horse in the middle of the courtyard and examined the area. Her squire, Samuel, stopped next to her.

“Everything all right?” he asked.

“No.”

“Is there something I should be panicking about? I’m very good at panicking.”

She already realized that, but at least the boy knew himself well.

“I don’t think there’s a reason to panic.” At least not yet.

She dismounted from her horse and handed the reins to Samuel.

“Dagger did well, didn’t he?” the boy asked, petting her horse’s muzzle.

Gemma had been forced to replace her beloved mare just two months back. She still missed Kriegszorn, but Dagger had proven his worth in battle.

“Dagger has done very well. Your suggestion was a good one.”

“Thank you, Brother.”

The small, tentative smile on Samuel’s face suddenly faded and Gemma knew that, yes, those winds of change had definitely shifted.

She turned and saw Master Sergeant Alesandro walking up to her.

“Brother Gemma.”

“Brother Alesandro.”

“Your presence has been requested in the Chamber of Valor.”

“Why?”

It amused her to see Alesandro’s left eye twitch simply because she insisted on asking “why.” That’s why she asked “why.” Just to watch that left eye twitch.

“Because it’s an order,” he told her.

“But you said request. A request is not an order. An order is an order. A request is more of an option, so I ask why to find out if it’s something I really want to do. And quite honestly it’s—”

“Brother Gemma!”

Gemma blinked. Twice. “Yes, sir?”

He pointed at the monastery.

“So it is an order? Fair enough.”

She faced Samuel. “Bed down Dagger for the night, would you, Samuel?”

“Of course, Brother.”

She gave him a wink so he wouldn’t worry—even though she knew he would anyway—and headed toward the monastery.

Alesandro followed right behind, which didn’t concern her. He always acted as if she was about to make a wild run for it. He seemed to continually expect the worst from her. She wasn’t quite sure why, other than he simply didn’t like her. But that was his choice. She knew that not everyone was going to like her. She was fine with that. She was a war monk. She rode into battle and cut down her enemies without a thought. She and the platoon she led had just cut down an entire band of thieves that had been attacking undefended villages. She still had blood on her face and hands. With that going on in the world, why would she care if the master sergeant of her monastery liked her or not? She was more concerned about whether she’d managed to keep her knights alive.

She had. What else mattered?

They arrived at the Chamber of Valor, one of their most important rooms in the monastery, and Gemma walked in. She immediately assessed what she saw before her.

Grand elders were in attendance. Monks who worked directly with the grand master of their order on important decisions. Also waiting were her three battle-cohorts, Katla, Kir, and Shona. Bound together from day one, the four of them had trained together since they were novitiates, had experienced their first battles together, had risen through the ranks together, and to this day were as close as four people could be after washing pieces of their enemy’s brains out of one another’s hair.

Last of those awaiting Gemma’s arrival were several generals, including the dreaded Lady Ragna. The monk-knights called her “Lady” Ragna because she was not a lady and they all hated her. Not exactly a joke that played well but few cared. Whenever the woman walked by, the area cleared like rats running from a burning forest. The only ones who didn’t run were the monk-knights chosen for Ragna’s army. She had her own legion, used only when called upon by the grand master and elders.

And then there was Brother Sprenger and a few of his minions. Sprenger hated Gemma, so she was surprised to see him here. Unless he had another complaint to lodge against her. Over the years, he’d had quite a few of those. So many she barely noticed them anymore. They came in scrolls and she had to listen while a general informed her of what she’d done wrong. When it was over, she’d put the scroll in a box. One day she planned to piss on that box, but not yet. She wanted something substantial to piss on. A real tower of piss-scrolls.

Gemma took her place beside her battle-cohorts, bracing her legs apart, clasping her hands behind her back. She waited while one of the generals began to drone on about . . . something. She honestly wasn’t paying attention. Life was too short to be this bored.

Finally, after a good thirty minutes—she hadn’t even had a bath yet! Did they not see she’d just come back from another hard-won battle? Couldn’t all this have waited until she had gotten the blood of her enemies out of her hair? It was so damn sticky! She wanted nothing more than to scratch her scalp with both hands!—the general got to the point.