A First Test and a Wicked Sending
No Girls! Go Home! You Won't Last!
As Kel surveyed the damage done to her room-- mattresses, sheets, and blankets strewn everywhere, desk drawers dumped out onto the floor, wall hangings sliced with a glaive, and that message scrawled so plainly on the plaster walls, she knew the battle to be accepted as page was just beginning.
Kel was the first girl to go openly through a knight's training, and, as far as her classmates and her training master was concerned, she would also be the last. There could be no mistaking the tone of Lord Wyldon's letter to Kel's parents. The girl could come, but on probation only. After a ear's work, the training master himself would judge her fitness to continue in the program.
During the ten years since the King had decreed that girls might become pages, no girl until Keladry of Mindelane had wanted to try. But Kel was no ordinary 10-year-old. She had accompanied her noble parents on a diplomatic journey to the far-off Yamani Islands where she had learned their unique martial arts and how to control her feelings starting as a very young child.
Once she was back in her family's home, her air of stony silence in the face of pain and hardship as well as a clear lack of girlish beauty had earned her the nickname of "the Lump." However, even her tormenters had to admit that the Lump had no difficulty giving them all a proper thrashing. Spidrens were another matter altogether. These giant spiders with human heads were only one of the more monstrous types of Immortals freed in the kingdom's recent battles and in her one encounter with them, Kel had been lucky to escape with her life.
Keladry knew that without a knight's training she would never be able to do what she wanted most: to fight the evils let loose on the land and defend the weak and helpless. No unfair probation--newly invented for her alone and not applied to any of the boy pages-- was going to prevent her from achieving her goal.
As she took off her travel-stained clothes to dress for her first face-to-face encounter with her fellow pages, she made a decision. Before coming to court she had thought she would try to blend in, wear boys' clothes and cut her hair short. After finding the mess in her room, she felt differently. Kel knew she had nothing to be ashamed of as a girl. She pulled on her second best dress and shift, stockings, and brown leather slippers. Nothing to be done about the hair. She had already cut it before leaving. Perhaps some nice, bright hair ribbons! she thought briefly before remembering that they'd be the first thing to go in a fight in a dark hallway. She expected there would be a lot of that sort of thing.
Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury
The first sign of trouble was the lightning rod salesman. He came ahead of the foretold storm with a pack full of metal wands, inscribed with long dead and faraway languages. Tom Fury explained to Jim and Will that there's no knowing what language a storm will best understand, as they come from everywhere.
Will Halloway and Jim Nightshade were best friends. Born but two minutes apart on Halloween eve, they were as different as darkness and morning and yet as close. They listened to the timbers of their houses as Tom Fury spoke, and they had to agree that the air smelled fresh and raw on top of Jim Nightshade's roof.
That October night, the wind blew warm and an eerie music seemed to fill the skies. A midnight carnival train rolled into town.
"The train itself appeared, link by link, engine, coal-car, and numerous and numbered all-asleep-and-slumbering-dreamfilled cars that followed the firefly-sparked churn, chant, drowsy autumn hearthfire roar. Hellfires flushed the stunned hills. Even at this remote view, one imagined men with buffalo-haunched arms shoveling black meteor falls of coal into the open boilers of the engine." It was a "funeral train with black-plumed cars, licorice-colored cages, and a sooty calliope clamoring, banging three different hymns mixed and lost, maybe not there at all."
"Here goes nothing!" Jim slid down the drainpipe on his house, toward the sleeping lawns.
Will thrashed into his clothes.
"Jim, don't go alone!"
And followed after.
Far off in the moonlit meadow, dark forms pounded the skeleton poles on black show tents whose silky billows were ripped, drawn, and sewn from roiling skies above.
"Jim could not tear his eyes away.
'Yeah,' he whispered. 'Yeah'."