Chapter 3

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When Tristan Lyons was announced as her mentor, Sam had thought she was done for. Of all the Paladins, why did she have to be assigned to him? Tristan--that was how he’d introduced himself to her back then--was renowned throughout Thule for his prowess with a sword. She ought to have been flattered by the appointment; instead, she hovered on the verge of panic.

Maybe he didn’t remember her. Sam had been a girl of twelve, small and scrawny and not much to look at; he had been on the cusp of manhood and had already attained a fair amount of celebrity. He probably had saved thousands of lives--why should he remember hers?

She remembered Tristan well enough; he was the defining moment of her childhood. The demon attack in her bedroom was the last time Sam allowed herself to be helpless--she’d picked up her first sword the next day.

Tristan didn’t recognize her; that quickly became obvious. He didn’t like her either. But even his thinly veiled insults did not detract from her elation. She, Lady Samantha, daughter of the seventeenth duke of Haywood, was in The Center armory of the Paladins and they were going to give her a sword. As soon as she was in the training yard, she'd wipe the smirk off Tristan's face.

"Paladin Lyons!" called a high, nasal voice. A thin, bespectacled man in gray robes stood panting under the entrance to the third story. She recognized the frazzled man as Lord Astley, Secretary to the High Commander, who, among other things, was tasked with overseeing orientation for the new trainees.

"What is it, Astley?" asked Tristan.

"It's about your trainee, Paladin." Oh no, thought Sam, and squeezed her eyes shut, waiting for him to say the dreaded words. How had they found her out?

"You've got another one," said Lord Astley. Sam let out her breath in a whoosh.

 "D'you mean to say there's been a mistake?" Tristan asked, a touch too eagerly. Sam shot him a mutinous glare.

"You misinterpret me, Paladin Lyons. You have another trainee, as in, in addition to young Sam here."

Both Sam and Tristan gaped at the secretary. "But that's just not done," said Tristan. "It's always been one Paladin and one trainee."

"Well, congratulations, Paladin, you're starting a new tradition," said Lord Astley.

Tristan wore a forlorn pout, which made him seem closer to his real age, only eight or so years older than Sam. Apparently he did not adapt well to change; gods help her if he ever discovered one of his trainees was, in fact, a girl. She asked, "Are there more trainees than Paladins then?” Only Paladins in their sixth year of service took on trainees, so it was possible.

Lord Astley did not meet Sam's stare. "Not exactly.” He dabbed at his forehead with his sleeve. "One of the Paladins refused to accept his trainee.”

"We can do that?" Tristan asked. Sam suspected he would toss her over if given half the chance.

"No, you cannot," said Lord Astley, displeasure coloring his voice, "as was explained to Paladin Moreau in detail. His title has since been revoked."

"Gods," Tristan swore. "Moreau chose to step down rather than take on the boy? What a churl."

"Glad you see it that way.” Lord Astley called out towards the entryway, "Braeden, come here, lad.”

A tall, lithe figure stepped out of the shadows. The youth wore the all-black garb of the monks of Yemara, the bell-shaped sleeves and ballooning trousers billowing out around him. His head bowed down in a show of deference, shocks of straight silver hair escaping the confines of his topknot.

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