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In retrospect, Alanna realized it wasn't just that she had been a girl pretending to be a boy. Yes, this had forced her focus on her goal, knighthood, to be far more intense than for the boys, because she had to factor in risks of getting caught, and because no matter how competent she was, she always felt the need to prove herself.


After she had her shield, and after she brought the Dominion Jewel home, and after she killed Duke Roger (again!) and after she established her reputation as a King's Champion who often fought but never lost, reminding the nation that the position did exist and making herself a living legend to the point that her competence was more than proven to everyone who could be swayed by rational things like evidence, she still focused on things far more intensely than her peers did. Most of them, at least.


Some of it was the concentration Maude had taught her and Thom as they learned to use their respective Gifts. Any reasonably skilled mage could and did concentrate on their work, sometimes to the point of blocking outside events. But they generally knew well before they drained themselves to the point of collapse, unless something external was blocking that sense (she remembered Duke Roger's sword with a shudder the first time she remembered the exception to that particular pattern.) She didn't. She had established the exact opposite pattern – she never knew, not until she was losing consciousness on her way to the ground, again.


And no one who had seen her fence would ever believe it, not would most who'd seen her ride or shoot, but she wasn't graceful. She had learned certain ways of moving, and she'd learned them well (her arms still ached whenever they remembered Coram's guard sword, which had been bigger than her at the time. She still learned new moves with a sword of that weight, but she now outmassed those practice swords.) That didn't extend to skill with ways of moving she hadn't learned yet, and after she finally convinced got someone to show her exercises appropriate for a very pregnant woman, it showed.



“I thought you were King's Champion! This should be easy for you!” the midwife said.


“Does these … floating thing look like a sword to you?” Alanna demanded. They looked nothing like a sword. they vaguely resembled her arm guards in how she was supposed to hold herself to them, or be held to it, but there was one on each arm, and there the resemblance ended to anything she'd used before. It was completely new, and just as she had found when the sword was completely new, her body wasn't doing anything she told it to do.


Supposedly, this was easy to learn for anyone who could stand upright in a lake at shoulder depth. The floats on her arms made it easier to float, and she was supposed to lift herself out of the water with her weight on the floats. And other people could do this without falling forwards, backwards, or to the sides, on the first try, while their bodies were a different shape than usual from pregnancy.


“What is the point of this, anyways?” Alanna growled. As a healer, she knew full well that impacts were bad in pregnancy, but this was just silly.



And then there was another girl going for her shield. Openly. Alanna was not allowed to speak with her, to help her with the difficulties a lone girl was likely (going) to encounter while trying to earn a knight's shield, but she did keep track of her progress. Some of this keeping track came from annoying Wyldon into providing information, some of this keeping track came from annoying Jon into providing information, and some came from George happily providing all the information he could find on Keladry's progress.


She expected to see differences between how Keladry behaved and how she, Alanna, had behaved, while in training.


She did see differences.


Keladry was far more open about her differences, gender-related and cultural, than Alanna had ever felt allowed to be.


Alanna fought off her bully, and he left the palace. Keladry declared war on hazing as an institution, and brought her friends in on the fight.


Alanna had needed to hide her gender, because while technically never forbidden (not that she had known it at the time, and not that it would have remained tradition only had she openly tried,) it was a very strong tradition that only the boys trained as pages and squires. Keladry was openly a girl, and she had the opportunity to throw it in their faces. Alanna failed to contain her snort the first time she heard about Keladry wearing dresses to dinner every night, despite not being required to change.


Alanna had hated social events. That wasn't even really a past tense – while she didn't hate them quite as much as she used when she was pretending to be a boy, small talk continued to be a dreadful time. Parties were to be avoided whenever possible, in favor of the practice yards. Keladry seemed not to have the same difficulty with parties that Alanna did.


She also saw similarities.

They had both run into trouble with bullies, for who they were.

They both got into trouble as women, and wound up serving as icons for their status. Alanna was the living legend, Keladry the one who went through openly and was undeniably real.

Neither really understood other people. Alanna went to Myles for help, Keladry often to her friend Neal and also to Raoul once she became his squire.

They both had a strong sense of fairness.

They both went after their goals with a level of intensity that mystified outsiders.


Alanna recognized Keladry's quiet intensity as the quieter (more Yamani?) sister of her own louder determination, and suspected that whatever the source of her hard-headedness was, whatever the source of Keladry's was, it was pretty much required for the task of being first.


She wanted the next generations of girls to be able to be only as competent as the boys had to be, not faster, stronger, and stubborner.