“Your majesty!” Anya called breathlessly as she ran to the throne room in a buzz of excitement. She opened the doors with such force that they slammed into the wall. The king sat up with a jolt, eyes wide with hope and fear.
“Your majesty!” Anya said again. “I got it! I got the emerald.”
The king stood up from his throne and walked over to her as she pulled out the glowing, green stone. The king took it from her and held it up to the light as if he was trying to make sure it wasn’t a fake. He pressed his ear against it, listening for the magical hum that Anya had heard in the woods.
“So you did,” he said quietly. A wide grin broke out onto his face. “Well done, Anya. Well done!” He patted her back and handed her a heavy sack of coins.
“This should provide enough food for a month. An elderly woman has generously offered me a small house if I should ever need it. I would like it if you took the house. It would be your very own home, and you could do whatever you would like with it.”
“Thank you,” Anya said gratefully.
“The house is in town next to the grocer.” The king gave a sad smile. “But you should hurry. I don’t think the goblins are very happy with you or me. I wouldn’t be surprised if the goblins started attacking the kingdom. They’ll want the emerald back.” He gave a sigh.
Anya nodded and started to walk out of the room when the king stopped her.
“Would you be willing to do me a favor?” He asked. Anya nodded. He had already given her so much, it was the least she could do to thank him.
The king sighed again.
“I know for a fact that the goblins are going to attack again. We need to keep the emerald safe. We can’t let it fall into their hands again. Would you be willing to act as a guard? I already know about your fighting skills,” Anya blushed at this. “And you don’t have to guard all the time, only some of the time. Is that okay?”
“Of course,” Anya answered. “It’s the least I can do for all you’ve done for me.”
The king smiled.
“Thank you. You’ll start tomorrow from noon to two. Everyday from that point on, except on weekends, you will guard from noon to two. I can promise you three gold coins for payment. I’ll have some of my guards guard the emerald in the meantime. We are hiding it in the castle because the goblins will think that we'll hide it somewhere else since the castle is so obvious a place to put it. You may pack your things.”
Anya walked out of the room with a feeling of nervous excitement. The king had chosen her, a sixteen-year-old girl, to help guard the emerald. He had hundreds and hundreds of soldiers and servants that could’ve helped, but he chose her. Girls were often discriminated against. Their only purpose was to cook, clean, sew, and do more cleaning and sewing. Anya didn’t mind the cooking, but she hated cleaning and she was horrible at sewing even a button onto a shirt. She preferred the rougher life where she could climb trees and get dirty and wear pants. She loved archery but most of all, she loved sword fighting. She wanted to be the first woman soldier in the king’s army, but she knew it was going to be very difficult. She had been training by herself in the woods. She could now shoot almost any moving target in the exact place she wanted to hit it in and her ability to fight with a sword was even better than her archery. Guarding the emerald would be good practice as well.
She reached her room in the castle.
It was a small, but cozy room. It was comfortable enough. There was wooden bed in the corner with a mattress and a fluffy white blanket for when it got chilly and there was a poufy pillow that your head sank into as soon as you touched it. There was a window that had a nice view of the royal gardens and a small bookshelf that held a dictionary, a history book, and a couple other fantasy books that Anya enjoyed very much. They were all gifts from the king. There was a pink throw rug that was no longer soft and clean. It had a nastier, brownish-pink color that reminded Anya of vomit. The brown factor of the color was because of the mud and dirt that Anya tracked in when she walked through her room with her boots on. There was a gas lamp sitting on a nightstand next to a short, mahogany wardrobe that held Anya’s clothes from the king. Above the wardrobe was a mirror.
Anya looked into the mirror. She was surprised to see how much she had grown since she had taken the time to look at her reflection. Her wavy, light brown hair was longer and windblown. It covered some of her oval shaped face. Her black eyes sparkled and she was taller. She had filled out some since she was no longer starving, but she was still thin.
Anya dropped her drawstring bag and began to pull out her clothes. She added it to her already bulging bag. Inside the bag she had some bread, a couple of apples, and a chunk of cheese. There were also a few rags inside from an old coat Anya had owned. The rags now helped to conceal valuable objects that Anya occasionally found from pick-pocketers or goblins.
Anya moved her rug to the side and pried a loose floorboard from the ground. She wasn’t wary of anybody in the castle, but you could never be too careful here in the kingdom. Inside the floor was her quiver of arrows and a bow. There was also a large sack of coins she had earned from the king over the years. She added the gold she had just earned to the larger sack. She wrapped the sack of gold in the rags and put it in her drawstring bag before slinging the quiver on her shoulder and picking up her bow. She scribbled a note to the king and nailed it to her door, letting him know that she had left.
She set off down the road in the chilly night air. The sun had set completely and she had to find her way by following the lights of lanterns that were bobbing up and down from the people holding them.
Anya saw the house the king had talked about. It was a small cottage about the size of a log cabin. In fact, it was made of logs. And it was right next to the grocer, a great convenience to Anya.
Anya stepped inside the cottage and bolted the door behind her. She did not want to be interrupted by un-invited visitors.
The house was dusty, but was otherwise very clean. Nothing had been left behind and Anya took no time in unpacking. She dug a floorboard out of the ground and placed her bow and arrows, her sword, and her gold inside. Anya set her bag in the corner and was about to settle down for bed when she realized she hadn’t brought any blankets or a pillow with her. She kicked the ground and tried to figure something out. All of the shops were closed so she couldn’t purchase a quilt or a pillow. Maybe she could go back to the castle and get a blanket and a pillow from her bed.
She pulled the floorboard back up and grabbed her sword. Attaching it to her belt, she ran off back towards the castle. It was a good thing it was just down the road.
Anya didn’t stop running until she reached the guard at the entrance of the castle.
“Anya . . . Perriwinkle,” she gasped. In order to get into the castle, she needed to give her name. She thought it was a rather stupid security rule since any goblin or thief could give a false name, but the guards only paid attention to their appearance. The only reason she knew her last name was because when she was taken in after her parents died, there was a photo of her with her name on it.
Anya made towards the door, but she was surprised when the guard blocked her path.
“Excuse me,” she said hotly. “But I am trying to get in.”
“None shall pass,” he said in a gruff voice.
“But you know me!” she yelled shrilly. “And I know you, Bert."
“Rules are rules, Anya,” he said. “You know that. My orders are to let no one in after dusk.”
“But that’s absurd!” Anya argued. “You know who I am, I’m not a thief or a gobl-!” She broke off. Of course. The king didn’t want to take any chances with a thief or goblin getting into the castle at night now that they had the emerald. Thieves and goblins usually attacked at night when it was darker and harder to see. Of course, goblins could see pretty well in the dark.
“Fine,” she said with a harrumph! “I’ll just go then.” And she set off back down the path towards the tiny house that was now hers.
Anya slammed the door behind her as she walked into the house, sending a cloud of dust all around the room. She heard a faint achoo! Anya drew her sword faster than lightning and looked around.
“Show yourself!” she demanded.
“It’s just me!” a quiet voice said. A shadowy figure stepped out from the darkness.
Anya lowered her sword.
“Hello, Ronald,” she said. “What’re you doing here?”
Ronald stepped into the faint light from a window. Anya noticed his sandy hair was shaggier and covered parts of his eyes. He was even taller since the last time they met. Anya always joked that he shot up straighter and faster than a bean sprout.
Ronald gave Anya one of his goofy smiles.
“I heard you were living here now,” he explained.
“Word travels fast,” she said with a snort. Ronald laughed. Gossip spread wider and faster than wildfire in Stormcastle. The kingdom was given that name back five hundred years ago when the castle was struck by lightning.
“Mrs. Melly saw you going into this house after she closed up the shop,” Ronald said, jerking his thumb at the quilt shop across from Anya’s house.
Anya sheathed her sword and kicked the floorboard. The floorboard flipped up and slid across the room. She set the sword down and replaced it.
“So what’ve you been up to?” Ronald asked.
“Nothing much,” she said with a shrug. She smiled and poked him playfully. “I got the emerald, though.”
Ronald raised his eyebrows.
“Really. This isn’t a joke, right?”
Anya shook her head.
“No joke. I got it just an hour ago. The king gave me a sack of gold and offered me this house as reward. Oh yeah, and I’m on guard duty to protect the emerald.”
“Good for you.”
“It’s more than good. It’s great! This is a wonderful start to my soldier career.”
Ronald gave an exasperated sigh that told her he was tired of this subject.
“Anya, we’ve talked about this-.”
“I know we’ve talked about this,” she said impatiently. “You’ve said many times that girls can’t be soldiers, but who knows? I may be the first. I see no point in why a girl can’t be a soldier. What’s the difference between a girl and a boy, anyways?”
“Well,” he started. “Boys are naturally stronger.”
“See, that’s all you can think of. I’ve trained, I’m strong, and I can fight! Who cares if a boy is stronger than me, I’m still strong and I can handle a sword and a bow and arrow just as well as any boy can. If I challenged you right now to a sword fight-!”
“You would chop me to pieces,” Ronald interrupted calmly, trying to cool down her hot temper. “But I’m not good at fighting. You know I need training. It’s just not right for a lady to be a soldier.”
Anya bared her teeth angrily.
“I’m not a lady,” she said. “I’m nothing like a lady! If I were to chop my hair off right now, I would look and act like a boy. No one would know the difference except for you, the king, your mom, Jane, and Bert.”
Ronald pursed his lips.
“I know that. But the king would never allow-.”
“How do you know what the king would and wouldn’t allow? I’ve worked for him for almost a year now. He knows what I’m capable of. If I have the proper training, I could become a great soldier. I could fight off goblins, armies, and so many other things! It’s just not fair.”
She broke off and bit her lip, trying to think of another argument. Ronald placed his hand on her shoulder.
“I know, Anya. It’s not my fault that girls don’t get treated fairly.”
“It’s not that they don’t get treated fairly,” she replied. “It’s that they’re expected to do normal girl stuff like cooking and sewing and housekeeping. They don’t even get asked if they want to do something different. I never keep things neat and I prick my thumb every time I stick a needle through a piece of cloth. I’m different, Ronald. I’m not like Jane, I’m not like Mrs. Melly, I don’t want to get married. Why can’t I do what I want to do?”
“I don’t know, Anya. Maybe you’re right and the king will let you become a soldier once you’ve worked for him for a while, but I just don’t think people will like this idea. No lady has ever been a soldier before.”
“I’m not a lady,” Anya said through her gritted teeth.
“Fine, no girl has ever been a soldier before.”
“Because no girl has ever had any interest! At least I’ve never known any girl that has wanted to be a soldier. And no one has ever given a girl a chance. I might be the first girl soldier in history.”
Ronald shook his head slightly and looked out the window. He knew better than to argue.
“It’s getting late, you’d better get some sleep if you’re going to guard tomorrow.”
“What? That’s it?”
“What do you mean ‘that’s it’?”
“I mean, you’re not going to talk to me more about this?”
Ronald looked completely bewildered.
“What else is there to talk about?” he asked.
“I don’t know. I just thought we were going to talk more.”
“We’ve already talked about it. There’s nothing else to discuss.”
Anya clutched her hands behind her back.
“I have one more question.”
“If I’m going to be a soldier, I need some way to convince the king I’m worthy and able enough to be a soldier. Can you think of any way to show him that I’m ready?”
“I’m not sure. Just work for him and train in private like you’ve been doing and after a while when you ask him, maybe he’ll let you.”
Anya nodded, taking this into account. Work for the king, train in private, ask after a while. She was positive that she already had his trust and he knew of her abilities, but she just wasn’t sure if it was enough to let her be a soldier. There was never a girl soldier in an army in history. Would the king break this long and foolish tradition? Or would he keep it, seeing what Anya was capable of?
“Now I really need to go, otherwise my mother’s going to be worried sick. Bye, Anya.”