I absentmindedly stroke Dawn, my pure-white wolf, as I stare at myself in the mirror. I have curly blond hair and dark, sea blue eyes. Everyone tells me I am beautiful, but it is because of my beauty that I am underestimated. I don't want to be like those other girls I see that walk through the kingdom, trying to impress men and hopefully finding someone who will take them as their wife. No, I don't want to be a delicate flower who stands in the shadow of a rich man who only cares for my beauty, and not my personality. I want to be an honorable warrior who will be known throughout the land. But there is one fatal flaw to my plan: I haven't had any training.
In our kingdom, if you are sixteen years of age, you are considered an adult, and you are allowed to become a soldier. I'm sixteen, but no one will ever take me seriously because I am a woman. Everyone thinks I am weak and precious, too delicate to be a warrior. A woman's job is just to look pretty and give a man honor by providing him with a son. I disagree. A woman can be just as strong and fierce as a man, so why can't I fight? I have been rejected by every single trainer because of my gender, and so I must learn to fight on my own. One day, I will be sent on a mission and I will no longer be treated unequally.
I sigh and turn away from the mirror. It feels impossible that women will ever be treated as equals. I walk leisurely across the oak wood floor and step into the brisk, winter air outside, with Dawn close at my heels.
I bet you are wondering why there is a wolf following me. When you reach the age of fourteen, everyone is assigned a Guardian, an animal that represents your true spirit, who will protect you at all costs. Dawn appeared to me, but everyone gets their own, unique Guardian. Most people befriend their Guardian, like me, but some won't even acknowledge theirs and treat them like a personal bodyguard. Dawn is more than just my protecter, and I don't know what I'd do without her.
Outside, snow falls slowly all around me, coating the ground and the trees in a thick, white blanket. I trek through the fresh snow, towards the training arena. They may be able to stop me from having a proper trainer, but no one can stop me from training on my own. I receive several disapproving looks as I make my way towards the arena. I get looks like that a lot because of my clothes. I just wear a white jacket made from sheep's wool and dark, flexible pants so I can get around more easily. My shoes are just a plain black pair of black knee-high boots, fraying at tips. Since it's winter, I also have to wear a pair of white gloves.
I don't care. I'm not trying to impress anyone. I arrive at the arena, and immediately notice that there are a couple others there already. All men, of course. I turn towards the weapon rack and choose a plain, light sword with a simple hilt. Then, I move over to a dummy that no one is using and start practicing. I fight as if the dummy were real and was fighting back, dodging fake attacks and lunging when the dummy would be trying to maintain it's balance. I practice feints and where to aim. I am about twenty minutes in, when I hear snickering behind me.
I sigh and turn around, already knowing who it is.
"What do you want, Thomas?" I sigh irritably, giving him a cold glare. "Can't you see I am busy practicing, or are you blind?"
He gives me a smirk. "Oh, were you practicing? I thought it looked more like you were dancing around, flinging a weapon around. I just wanted to make sure you didn't get hurt." he says in fake sympathy. I roll my eyes and Dawn lets out a low growl. Thomas's Guardian, an eagle, lets out a sharp cry as it circles overhead.
"Wow, you really are blind." I snap, and return to training, striking the target a bit harder. Thomas just shrugs and strolls away. I watch his receding back with an unsettling feeling in the pit of my stomach.
Once I am finished training for the day, I start the walk back to my house. Before I reach it, my best friend, Angel, bounds up to me. She's panting, and her green eyes are open wide.
"There you are!" she exclaims, bending down to pet her Guardian panther, "I've been looking for you everywhere! I checked your house, but you weren't there, obviously, and then I figured you'd be in the arena, but when I got there, you weren't." She pauses to take a breath. "And then I decided to just wait a while before checking your house again, and I was right!"
I'm about to answer her, when I stop short. "Wait," I say slowly, "where did you go while you were waiting for me? The tavern?" She nods and I break into a grin. "With, I don't know...Warren?" She freezes and her cheeks turn scarlet.
"Maybe..." she mumbles. I laugh and steer her towards my house.
"C'mon, we'll talk more at my house," I say. We enter my house and the first thing I see is my father standing still, with his arms crossed and a stern look on his face. Angel's smile falters and she backs out the door.
"Uh, I'll talk to you later," she says nervously and jogs away. Smart move. Dawn trudges over to her bed that I made for her and laid down in it. I gave my father a small smile.
"Hi," I say weakly, knowing what's coming. He grinds his teeth and narrows his eyes at me.
"How many times do I have to tell you: Women are not soldiers. They do not train, so you shouldn't either!" he growls.
"Why not? We can be just as skilled as any man!" I practically yell.
"Because they just aren't, and you can ask anyone in the village, or even the entire kingdom! I don't want to see you at the arena again, understand?"
I scream in frustration and bolt out the door, Dawn racing after me. I storm around angrily until I settle down. I lean down to scratch behind Dawn's ear.
"Why won't anyone understand?" I whisper softly. Dawn regards me with her wise, yellow eyes and gives me a comforting nudge. I give her a tiny smile. "Thanks."
The sound of pounding hooves on stone gets my attention. A messenger is cantering towards us quickly. I move out of his way. We are in the center of the village, where all the shops are, so there are a lot of people and Guardians outside. The messenger slows his horse to a stop and addresses all of us.
"Queen Lilian's Stone of Serenity has been stolen!"