Aislinn of Bairbhe dreams of becoming a lady knight to honor the death of her fallen brother. To her mother's horror, King Patrick grants Aislinn's wish.
Despite the mockery of the other pages and the disdain of Prince Caelen, who also trains to be a knight, Aislinn commits herself to her training and embarks on a journey of self-discovery and bravery.
Through the years, Aislinn and Caelen grow from sparring classmates to good friends. Honor, bravery, and yes, love are worth fighting for even when they both know that someday Caelen will have to marry for the sake of the kingdom.
Each day following her initial watery escapade, Aislinn returned to the watering hole. If someone else were there already, she would quietly leave. Most days, she was alone. Soon, she was able to kick her legs and move them around enough so that she floated in areas deeper than her height. Although she made progress, she still couldn't swim and she became anxious to figure out the key that so many others seemed to find so easy.
Time passed and her improvements were minimal, even though she felt she had come further than she ever dared. One day, shortly before summer, Aislinn approached the watering hole for her daily exercise in self-torture, but stopped short when she stepped into the clearing. Several pages were already swimming. Hardly anyone ever came to the swimming hole that time of day, and even when they did come, Geoffrey had told her they usually only came in small groups. Taking a step backward, Aislinn turned to leave, but not before someone shouted that the ¿puny wench¿ was running away. Before she could make it to the foliage line, several hands grabbed her, laughter swirling around her.
"Let me go!" she screamed, tugging against their grips.
There was more laughter, and she was lifted into the air. Aislinn screamed as they pitched her, and seconds later the water enveloped her.
Aislinn's first instinct was to panic but she forced the emotion away and tried to stand up. Her face broke through the surface of the water, and she sucked in a deep breath. She was in the middle of the water, the deepest part, and her feet couldn't touch the bottom of the lake. She bobbed in the water, trying to move her legs to keep her afloat, but her emotions ran high and it took her several tries before she succeeded. As she wiped her hair from her face, the roaring laughter of the boys greeted her.
"Hahaha, you were right, she can't swim!"
"I can't believe she got her head above the water."
"I think she needed to cool down, didn't you?"
Aislinn ignored them. She took a deep breath, raised her right arm up over her head, brought it down in front of her, and then moved her left arm in the same manner, while kicking her legs. She soon moved, finally swimming, and she quickly reached the other side. This silence the crowd but Aislinn's heart pounded so loudly that she wouldn't have been able to hear them. When she stood up, she turned to her pranksters.
"You're lucky I'm in such a forgiving mood. The next time any of you lay a hand on me, you shall live to regret it. I swear it." Her voice was low and deadly and two of the boys immediately dropped their jaws. They believed her, she saw, but the short one in the middle didn't. He must be the ringleader, she realized.
The boy in question spoke, "Sure. Run along now, little lady knight. Why don't you practice your dancing? After all, that class is the only time anyone would dance with you."
"Oh really?" Aislinn remarked coolly. "From what I hear, not all squires become knights. Not if they don't have the prestige or money to afford knighthood."
The page turned pink. "Why you little!"
Aislinn smirked, turned away, flinging her wet hair behind her, causing drops of water to wet him, and stomped away. She was pleased that no one spoke as she left.
That night, just before curfew rang, Caelan again knocked on her door. They stood just as they had at his first visit, Aislinn just inside her door and Caelan leaning close so only she heard what he said.
"I'm glad you listened to me," he said, relief evident in his smile.
"How did you know?"
"I had heard rumors that some of the other pages wanted to knock you down a peg or two and someone commented that they never saw you swimming. They just assumed--"
"Thank you for the warning."
He shrugged and smiled, leaning his shoulder against the doorjamb. "I didn't thought that you would listen."
"Why is that?" Aislinn asked, tilting her head slightly.
He grinned. "We both know why, Aislinn."
She didn't admit he was right, but Aislinn smiled. The only admission he would get that it was 'who' the advice came from, not the advice itself, she didn't want to listen to. But, he had yet to do anything to hurt her, so perhaps Prince Caelan wasn't as bad as she originally thought. Didn't mean he didn't get on her nerves from time to time. Aislinn looked down before she admitted "I wasn't ready for them to do that though."
"You were fine," he said quickly, his voice rising only slightly higher than a whisper, and she looked up. "I may not have seen the -- ah, event -- but I most certainly heard about it."
"That was the first time that I actually swam, fully and completely," she admitted.
"Well, you reacted quickly, not at all as if you were deathly afraid of water."
She shook her head, the vision of dark murky water returning. She had been having more nightmares about it and they affected both her sleep and work. "I couldn't let them win. I had to do something."
Caelan nodded, his eyes unreadable. "You won this round."
The prince left. Aislinn slowly closed the door behind him as her thoughts swirled around her. His last words haunted her and she refused to dwell on the possibility of another round.