The major theme of this chapter… is friendship. And also magic. But not friendship as magic, which disappoints only slightly. But really, the four main parts of this chapter show the development of Alanna’s friendships, specifically with Raoul, with Gary, with George, and with Coram. I love all of these characters and I love their actions in this chapter and how they all positively influence Alanna. Respect and kindness between virtuous people is what I am Here For, my friends.
The first scene of this chapter deals with something that I so rarely see dealt with in SFF, even young adult SFF aimed at girls – Alanna has developed breasts. This poses a problem for her masquerade as a man, but Coram, thankfully, is able to calm her down after she freaks out, and she begins to bind her chest, a noble and proud tradition of breast-havers who would really rather not deal with them. Of course, it’s also summer and all of her friends are nagging her to go swimming with them – something that she’d have to do shirtless if she were a boy, and can’t because of her situation.
After Alanna kind of explodes at Raoul, who teases her about not swimming, because haha Alan is so funny you guys, she goes to apologize to him. And, you guys, I love Raoul of Goldenlake so goddamn much. He completely understands why “Alan” got upset, promises not to tease “him” about a sore subject anymore, and makes a very genuine, very sweet observation: “I hadn’t meant to say anything, but since I have the chance – Alan, you seem to think we won’t like you unless you do things just like everyone else. Have you ever thought that we might like you because you’re different?” Alanna dismisses it, but I just… damn, that is a very sweet and sincere moment for like, a 16 year old boy.
That day, Duke Roger arrives at the palace, as predicted in the last chapter. Jon and Gary are quite glad to see him, as – it seems – is everyone else. He’s handsome, he’s charming, he’s magic, everyone loves him. But Alanna pretty much hates him at first sight, which is also how I feel about any of my handsome and charming rivals, so that’s pretty relatable. Gary tries to talk to “Alan” about it, but Alanna is understandably evasive – she isn’t even sure what’s wrong herself. “Gary followed, more confused than ever by Alan’s response. Was he hiding something? It was a question for him to ponder on a rainy day,” the narration reads, and rereading this now is just ohhhh Gary, someday you will know the truth and it will be great, I promise.
Not long thereafter, George contacts Alanna to let her know that he’s found her a proper horse – given that she’s been riding palace horses, her pony Chubby not really being appropriate for a knight-in-training. She doesn’t know much about horses, so she decides to bring a friend with her to help her judge such a large purpose. And this is how Jon meets George, and it’s so beautiful. I mean, they don’t know yet that they’re going to be romantic rivals in 8-10 years or so, but they are! And they’re both so good! I mean, George is obviously superior, but Jon is also good!
Anyway, George gives Alanna a price for the horse (a gorgeous mare she calls Moonlight) which is barely a third of what he paid for her, because well, they’re pals. Jon offers him a gem-inlaid ring to help absorb the cost, and he ends up buying a horse from George himself. They become friends and they have a really respectful and canny conversation as they recognize their opposing positions but the ways they’ll be able to help each other. Like I said, respect and kindness between virtuous people is MY JAM. And also horses.
The chapter closes with Alanna – and several other new pages, Geoffrey, Douglass, and Sacherell – having their first lessons in the sword. Coram, actually, teaches them how to smith their own swords, which doesn’t seem to be a problem. But Duke Gareth brings in an outsider, one Aram Sklaw, to teach them rudimentary swordplay. He’s a rough teacher – constantly insulting the pages, demeaning them, refusing to acknowledge improvement or hard work.
Alanna has her first “duel” against Sacherell, who – unfortunately for Alanna – is a bit of a natural. She is… not. In fact, she’s pretty goddamn terrible at the sword. Everyone witnesses her humiliating defeat, and she is mortified. Coram reassures her: some people are naturals at the sword, while others make themselves naturals by working their asses off day and night to improve. Alanna asks for Coram’s sword – which is nearly as big as she is – and she begins the long, difficult work.
- Gary’s eavesdropping habit
- The very handsome prince and his very handsome friends and their awful, cracking, puberty voices – and Alanna trying to figure out how to fake an awful, cracking puberty voice
- George and Jon criticizing Gary for kissing Lady Roxanne – shoulda kissed someone hotter, bro