It's Prince Bartas, Queen Isobel's only child and the heir to the throne! His dark, wavy hair blows in the light breeze, and the warmth of his brown eyes hits you from here. Laconically, he stretches. "Putting on a show for us, are we?"
"A triumph," you answer.
A slow, wide grin. "Excellent."
Prince Bartas has a reputation. Like a honey pastry, he is all flake, no substance, but goodness, he is sweet….
You stride into the center of the training yard and take a few deep breaths. The sand is perfectly smooth now, but you know that earlier this morning, deep claw marks tore furrows from end to end.
"There you are, my favorite pupil!" a loud voice barks from the nearby stables. "I thought you'd run away home!"
You tense at Duma's words. You're never running home to Bourg-les-Bains. Not until your deeds have restored the village to its former glory. Once the pride of eastern Pascalia, a long-running feud with another village has brought it so low, even scavenging Velociraptors wouldn't pick at its bones.
"I'm ready," you say.
"Of course you are." Duma strides across the training yard, wearing light leather armor and carrying a quarterstaff. "I would've been terribly disappointed otherwise. I've trained you from your very first day, after all." She pauses, with a wicked wink. "Thought I'd trained you in punctuality, too."
You flush but know better than to make excuses.
"That squire was helping me!" a voice calls out. The kid you rescued waves from the side of the yard. "It's my fault."
"Is that so?" Duma smiles. "Well, well. Very honorable behavior. A good sign." Still smiling, she takes her place across from you and points the quarterstaff. "Let's begin."
A few more people have drifted into the stands. You try not to look at them as Duma addresses you. "Ah, my young student, you've come so far on your journey. Our scouts ride through all Pascalia, looking for new talent. You stood out among so many other hopeful youngsters. You came to Castle Mirabal, you lasted through your first two years of probation, you shone in your apprenticeship…."
You wriggle with pride. It's true. A lot of youngsters want to become Rangers, but the scouts don't accept everyone on their yearly calls through the villages.
"You have learned, you have made friends, and perhaps most important, you have taught us, too. It is my pleasure to examine you, to verify your potential to become a full Ranger!"
Funny, there must be a little dust in your eye. You blink rapidly. Duma's right, though. You have come a long way already.
She clears her throat, ready to ask a series of ritual questions. Ceremony spares no one at these events! You square your shoulders. Though you know the answers by heart, you don't want to get tongue-tied with nerves. You've been practicing for this.
"Would-be Ranger, please state your name."
(For the sake of time, I'm combining the next two choices.)
What is your name?
"Are you male, female, or do you prefer another term?"
The sun beats down as Duma circles around you. You stand perfectly still. Rangers have to ride and fight in all sorts of conditions, from blistering summer heat to torrential rainstorms to the seeping, damp chill of winter. This is part of the testing. You've no doubt about that. Sometimes, she leans in so close, her breath whispers over the nape of your neck.
Stand strong, Rosalee. Don't lose nerve. If only it weren't so hot!
What did you wear to your final test, anyway?
1.A shirt and long hosen, with a button-up fly.
2.Homespun skirt, stockings, one petticoat.
3.Breeches, long socks, ankle boots, smart shirt.
4.Full dress with embroidered bodice.