Alanna wakes up one morning and is horrified to find blood on the sheets of her bed. She's bleeding from between her legs and she has no idea what's wrong with her. (May we recommend this book?)
She needs to see a healer she can trust. And that means … talking to George. Who else but a King of Thieves to keep your secrets?
Alanna sneaks out of the palace. She tells George that she needs to see a healer and it has to be a woman … because she's a girl. Shock!!
George brings Alanna to his mother, Mistress Cooper, who's conveniently also a healer. Mistress Cooper pretty quickly figures out what's going on and informs Alanna that it's her monthly cycle, and she's stuck with it.
Um, how's she supposed to become a knight when she's going to be bleeding from between her legs once a month?! Mistress Cooper gets on Alanna's case about accepting who she is; the gods made her that way, so they must have some purpose in mind for her.
Before sending Alanna off, Mistress Cooper gives her some advice on how to make her period a bit more manageable, and she also gives Alanna a charm to ward off pregnancy, if and when she decides to engage in sexy times.
Oh, and she also informs Alanna that the Goddess has Her hand on her, meaning that Alanna has a tough path to walk.
George gives Alanna a reassuring hug, and then heads back to the palace to accept her punishment for leaving the palace without permission.
Her thirteenth birthday passes, and she spends a lot of time hanging out with Sir Myles, playing chess and talking.
One evening, Myles asks Alanna if she's ever seen his estate, Barony Olau. Nope, she hasn't. He invites her to ride there with him and check out the ruins, which were supposedly left behind by the Old Ones.
It takes a day on horseback to get there. The next morning, Myles invites Alanna to explore the ruins with him; he's researching the ruins, but his servants refuse to go there because they believe the place is haunted.
Myles shows her around the ruins, and Alanna intuitively finds the armory. She pulls open a door that Myles had never been able to open—even with help.
Alanna descends into the darkness, using a bit of magic to light her way, ignoring Myles's shouted command to come back.
She finds a beautiful crystal, which turns out to be embedded in the hilt of a sword. Myles keeps shouting at her to come back, saying something about an unnatural storm gathering.
Suddenly, a darkness surrounds Alanna and begins to choke the life out of her. She pretty quickly realizes that she can't breathe and she can't fight, she accepts her death.
(Don't worry—there's still a lot of the book left. We're pretty sure she survives.)
And she does. As she makes her peace with death, the crystal fires up and pushes back the darkness. Whew!
She climbs out of the tunnel, finds Myles, and they make a run for it as lightning flashes overhead.
Once they get back to the manor, the servants rush to get them into warm baths and dry clothing. Myles and Alanna talk over a hot toddy, and Alanna recounts what happened with the sword and the darkness.
According to Myles, he was compelled to bring Alanna there (he kept having dreams about it until he acted on it). He tells Alanna to keep the blade, which she names Lightning.
However, Alanna asks Myles not to tell anyone the truth about where the sword came from, instead saying that it was lying around the armory. Myles wonders why Alanna seems afraid of someone finding out the truth.
When they get back to court, everyone admires the blade and accepts its origin story (though Alanna tells the truth to Jonathan and George privately; George teases her about her accepting death, since when has she ever accepted anything?).
Duke Roger handles the blade at one point, and grills Alanna about where she got it. Something magical seems to happen when he picks it up, just adding to our general no-good feeling about this guy.
Alanna hopes that he accepts her lie about Myles just giving it to her. She also stores away the knowledge that Duke Roger seems afraid of the sword's magic. And, for some reason she doesn't understand, she begins to hate Duke Roger.
One night, Stefan delivers something from George: it's a letter from Thom. Alanna had told him that they could correspond safely (i.e. without anyone opening their mail) through George.
Thom has a few interesting things to say: he's noticed a certain noble sorcerer asking questions about him, as though Duke Roger was intrigued enough by Alanna to see whether her twin has any noteworthy abilities.
According to Thom, he's been playing dumb, so his masters at sorcery school aren't very impressed with him (like Alanna, he stays up at night to practice by himself). Also, Duke Roger has a reputation for being dangerous; people who don't like him tend to disappear.
The Sweating Fever was, according to Thom, one of the most powerful pieces of magic worked in recent history. Duke Roger is one of a few sorcerers powerful enough to pull it off, even though he was absent at the time. But would distance really be a deterrent to someone so powerful? And isn't it a tad odd that Duke Roger is so close to inheriting the throne, assuming something happens to Jonathan?
The last thing Thom writes is that he's tried to magically check in on Alanna, but apparently she's shielded by powerful forces. Alanna decides that this is nonsense. She burns the letter, wondering if there's anyone she can safely talk to about her suspicions regarding Duke Roger.
Winter passes, and Alanna is super bored in Duke Roger's magic classes, which proceed very slowly. Alanna suspects that Jonathan is practicing magic on his own, but she doesn't rat him out.
One day, Alanna's practicing magic in front of George, and gets grumpy because as a knight-to-be, what does she need magic for? But George confirms her suspicions that Duke Roger may be a dangerous enemy, who's biding his time to strike, so she may need that magic someday after all.
Jonathan starts coming to hang out with George and his buds (along with Raoul and Gary; Alex is too busy being Duke Roger's squire). While "Johnny" the rich merchant's son is chilling with thieves and murderers, no one suspects that he's the crown prince, learning how the underbelly of his capital city actually works.
Soon, all the young pages and squires are gossiping about who the next four boys to be knighted—Jonathan, Gary, Raoul, and Alex—will pick as squires. Alanna publicly says she's not good enough because she's too small and bad at sword work, but we all know that secretly she feels unworthy because she's a girl.
Captain Sklaw calls on Alanna to do her first freestyle sword match since that first time when she failed badly. Thanks to her solo training, she defeats the boy she faces. Captain Sklaw acknowledges that she's gotten better—all due to her own hard work. Yeah hard work!
Jonathan asks Duke Gareth if Alan can come with the squires who are visiting Persopolis; pages aren't supposed to go, but Jonathan wants Alan there as a friend. Duke Gareth agrees.
Before the trip, Duke Roger tells the assembled squires about the Black City just outside Persopolis, saying it's too dangerous for even him to face.
As he says this, Duke Roger is staring intently at Jonathan, as though daring him to go check it out. Weird, huh?