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She did not come to her life with intention. Few do, but less so for Osiana. She had been born a bondswoman in a time and place where freedwomen were rarer than talking hens. That she had good hands and clear eyes was apparent even in her extreme youth, so when the Proctors came to winnow the girl-children in her third summer, Osiana was taken aside to be raised on red meat and rough exercise, to see if she could grow into the Kingsguard.
It was made clear to her that if she failed to reach the height of a certain iron post in the courtyard of her prison-school by midsummer of her fourteenth year, Osiana would be turned over to common soldiery as a drab, to live however many days or weeks her muscles and spirit could buy her before being broken like most of the women of her time and place.
So like the girls in the training cadre, Osiana regularly hung by her feet, climbed and stretched, ate long foods like celery and carrots--anything to encourage her height. For there was no better life than to be a member of the regiment of women who guarded the person, life, and dignity of the king.
Though strength and grace and beauty came to her, skin pale as an apricot, hair a honey yellow to match, Osiana was never destined to top the iron post. By her thirteenth year this deficiency of height was obvious to Osiana, her peers, and her trainers. There was some muttering among the girls, but the old women and narrow-eyed men who ran the prison-school just shook their heads and mouthed platitudes about tradition.
Osiana thought long and hard about whether and how she should live in that last winter of her privileged days. There was no going over the wall here--the prison-school was built on crags surrounded by cat-infested jungles beyond the horizons of civilization. There was no negotiating here--that had been obvious from the start. Her choices were to be taller than the post, or be turned out to some guard company to be shagged to death.
Then she would just be taller than the post.
As midsummer approached, the other girls hatched dozens of plots for Osiana. She would be the only failure that year--the other eight girls of her cohort were all tall enough. She brushed off their offers of assistance, preferring instead to train all the harder in axe and sword and bare-muscled fighting. When asked to what point, she just smiled.
They told her she was buying a mere few more days of life, until her new owner-captors had starved her sufficiently.
When the Brood-Matrons brought the girls out at dawn on Midsummer's Day, Osiana was last in the line. One by one, the girls preceding her stood by the post. Their names were called out, they were blessed by an officer-priest of the Kingsguard, and then they were led away to a new and distant life with the upper cadre.
Finally it was Osiana's turn. Her Brood-Matron had Osiana's arm in an iron grip as they approached the post. Half a hundred pairs of eyes watched, dreading what would come. As many more were averted or closed.
As she reached the post, Osiana twisted in the Brood-Matron's grip, drove the heel of her hand into the older woman's nose in the blow called Striking the Apple, then tripped the dying woman to lie beside the post. She stepped up on the Brood-Matron's belly, which raised the top of her head above the height of the post.
It was many years before Osiana found her place as the Apricot Knight. She has never slain again, letting that first death stand for her in the judgment of the afterlife. But she has always carried her pride with her, sharper than any sword, and is feared across all the lands for her vicious cleverness.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, January 6th, 2016
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