Valiant, p.1

Valiant, page 1

 

Valiant
 



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Valiant


  First published by Egmont Publishing, 2015

  443 Park Avenue South, Suite 806

  New York, NY 10016

  Copyright © Sarah McGuire, 2015

  All rights reserved

  www.egmontusa.com

  www.sarahcmcguire.com

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

  McGuire, Sarah

  Valiant / by Sarah McGuire.

  pages cm

  Summary: A reimagined “Brave Little Tailor” about a clever young girl who saves her kingdom

  ISBN 978-1-60684-553-0 (ebook)—ISBN 978-1-60684-552-3 (hardback)

  [1. Fairy tales. 2. Tailors—Fiction.] I. Title.

  PZ8.M17625

  [Fic]—dc23

  2014037915

  All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publisher and copyright owner.

  v3.1

  For Mom and Dad,

  two of the bravest people I know

  Contents

  Cover

  Title Page

  Copyright

  Dedication

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Chapter 23

  Chapter 24

  Chapter 25

  Chapter 26

  Chapter 27

  Chapter 28

  Chapter 29

  Chapter 30

  Chapter 31

  Chapter 32

  Chapter 33

  Chapter 34

  Chapter 35

  Chapter 36

  Chapter 37

  Chapter 38

  Chapter 39

  Chapter 40

  Chapter 41

  Chapter 42

  Chapter 43

  Acknowledgments

  Chapter 1

  The city lay against the far horizon, dark as a lump of coal in the morning light.

  I wanted nothing more than to turn around, right there in the middle of the road, with frost-twisted fields stretching away in every direction. If I had my way, I would have left Father and the merchant caravan taking us to Reggen.

  I would have walked the full month back to Danavir. I’d go back to Mama’s grave and sit beside it. I’d tell her that Father had found a city without a tailors’ guild and that he could sew any way he wished—and that I’d never sew for him again. And then I’d sing to her: silly ditties or the lullabies she’d taught me.

  It was only right. She’d sung me to sleep as a child.

  But I kept walking toward Reggen, while the wagons, all seventeen of them, groaned and creaked as if they were men too old to be out in the morning frost.

  When Father joined me, he didn’t say anything; just nodded toward the city. I was glad for his silence. I’d heard his complaints, like a chorus, every day of this trip. Even the sight of Reggen hadn’t cheered him. I’d only walked the stiffness out of my legs when he began:

  “It’s a new beginning, Saville. You’ll see. They will see,” he said, the bitterness in his voice sharp as shears. “How dare they tell me that I have to sew their way, or not at all? I’ll make a name for myself in Reggen. I’ll sew for the king himself!” Father laid his hand against the wagon, the one that held his bolts of cloth. He would have stroked the wood but for the splinters.

  “I’d have liked to sew for his brother, Torren. He wouldn’t have needed me to sew him clothes that gave him a figure worthy of the throne!” Father rubbed his hands together. “But I like a challenge. And Reggen’s new runt of a king … He will be a challenge. They say even his sister, the princess, would make a better king.”

  I looked down, concentrating on the sounds of the wagon—one wheel groaning with every revolution—a creaking, wooden pulse. Even so, Father’s voice rose above it.

  I had sewn for Father after his apprentices left him, sewn late into the night so that he would fulfill his orders. I had watched my betrothed walk away because he wouldn’t ally himself with a tailor who defied the guild. I had been dragged to Reggen, a city free of guilds.

  But I would not listen to Father this entire trip.

  When he paused to draw breath, I began to sing. It was an old traveling song, the kind that has more verses than a rich widow has suitors. Before Father could complain, the merchants near me picked up the song. Our voices rolled out into the silent fields around us. I pulled the sharp morning air deep inside me and sang till my blood danced to the rhythm; till my throat grew hoarse; till Father walked away.

  After two hours, Reggen grew larger, its walls distinct. The sight wore against me, like a stone in my boot. We were traveling through tilled fields, dark and stubbly, with black, frostbitten stalks. A half mile ahead, a road joined ours, and another merchant caravan with it. Gregor, our caravan’s leader, called out, and one of their dark, cloaked figures called back. They were friends, then.

  I jumped when Father appeared and fiercely gripped my elbow. “Don’t tell them, Saville,” he hissed. “Don’t breathe a word of it, you hear me?”

  I yanked my arm away from him. “Tell them what?”

  “Tell them about …” His eyes flicked to the wagon.

  The fabric. The silks and brocades in colors so rich and rare that Father could name any price for them. I couldn’t look at the bolts without remembering how Father had set himself against the guild and lost everything in his fight. Even when the fabric was all we had left, when we were preparing to join the caravan, he refused to sell even a few yards to buy extra food. He’d guarded it during the journey, convinced our fellow travelers would steal it if they could. Never mind that they were wealthy merchants in their own right.

  I’d heard of farmers who burned old fields to prepare for the new planting. These bolts of fabric were Father’s seeds for the future—and he had burned our life in Danavir to make way for them.

  “I won’t tell them, Father.” It was an easy promise to make. I didn’t think his cloth was worth homespun compared to what I had packed beside it.

  And then the other caravan was upon us. I listened to the snatches of news, the stories they told of thieves and favorite inns, and when they thought the mountain passes would be free of snow.

  I walked behind two men from the new group. They were young, a few years older than me. Amid the shouting, they almost whispered.

  “Soren says two villages were wiped away,” said one. His coat was of finespun wool—dark gray—and cut to fit him. His tailor was a good one. I noticed the grim set of the man’s mouth when he turned to speak to his companion.

  “It was just a raiding party,” replied the other, whose clothes were more weather-beaten. He smiled indulgently, as if used to humoring his friend.

  “Not the usual type,” said Fine Coat. “Soren said trees were torn out of the ground, the homesteads trampled, all livestock gone.”

  “As I said—a raiding party.”

  “With houses crushed as though they’d been stepped on? With human bones scattered among the wreckage?”

  Smiling One laughed at his friend. “You’re exaggerating again. Houses can’t be stepped on! And wild animals scavenging after the raiding party would explain the bones.


  “Soren says the bones were cooked.”

  “Charred?”

  “I mean cooked. They were boiled.”

  A prickle of fear rose up my back and I put a hand on the jolting wagon beside me. I’d heard my share of tales over the past month—stories meant to coax a shudder from an eager audience. But Fine Coat didn’t look as if he enjoyed his tale. His distaste made the story seem as real as the road we traveled.

  I didn’t want to hear any more. But before I could walk away, something seized my hand, tugging me to the wagon.

  Too frightened to shriek, I looked down.

  Sky above. A man lay inside the wagon on a bed of straw. Cuts covered his face, and he wore terror like a mask. His grip on my hand grew tighter.

  “I knew it was you,” he whispered.

  Who did he think I was?

  I glanced at Fine Coat and his smiling friend a few paces ahead. They hadn’t heard anything over the creaking of the wagon.

  “They didn’t hurt you?” he asked. He was such a young man—and his fear made him look even younger. “I saw it pick you up, just like you were a doll and … and … how would I tell Ma? I promised to keep you safe. I’m sorry. So sorry.”

  I longed to pull away but he reminded me so much of Mama in those last days.

  “I’m—” I licked my lips, not sure what to say. Then I did what I’d done with Mama—I told him what he needed to hear. “I’m safe, I promise. You don’t have to tell Ma anything.”

  He stared away over my shoulder, watching things I couldn’t see. “Didn’t think there were monsters like that, didn’t believe.… I’d have taken us away—”

  “Shhhhh.” I put my free hand over his. “There aren’t any monsters. We’re safe.”

  But he didn’t hear me. “We weren’t cowards! We tried to stop the man, the one man. But … swords didn’t do anything. That’s why I rode for help. I didn’t want to leave you!”

  “What are you doing?” demanded Fine Coat. When had he come so close?

  I’d have stepped back if the young man in the wagon hadn’t clutched my hand so tightly. “He took my hand,” I whispered. “He thinks I’m his sister.”

  Fine Coat peered down at the man, who’d closed his eyes. His grip on my hand loosened and his arm fell limp by his side.

  “He spoke to you?” asked Fine Coat. Oh, he was angry.

  I didn’t care. “Yes. If you can call it that.”

  “What did he say?”

  I raised my eyebrows. How did this man manage to make a simple request sound so rude?

  Smiling One put a hand on his friend’s shoulder. “You’ll pardon Galen, miss. This man has barely spoken the entire journey. We don’t even know his name. It’s important you tell us what he said.”

  I reached into the wagon and pulled a bit of blanket up to cover the man’s arm. The morning was still cold. “He said he was sorry. That he was glad to see me again after the”—I hesitated, not wanting to use the word—“monsters had found me.”

  Fine Coat glanced at his friend. “What else? Was there more?”

  “He said they’d tried to stop someone but failed, so he’d ridden to find help. That’s all.” I shook my head. “It must have been a brutal raiding party.”

  Smiling One couldn’t hide his surprise. “You heard us?”

  I nodded.

  Fine Coat studied me, eyes dark with concern. It wasn’t concern for me. “You shouldn’t have bothered him,” he said. “And you shouldn’t have been eavesdropping.”

  I crossed my arms. “You shouldn’t have been talking so loud I could hear you.”

  Smiling One laughed. His friend glared at him, opened his mouth as if to speak, then clamped it shut.

  “Don’t worry,” I said. “I won’t repeat your story.”

  Why would I? The thought of boiled bones itched inside me. I wished the wind gusting over the fields could reach into me and sweep it away.

  Fine Coat glanced at the man in the wagon, who was now sleeping.

  “Tell me if he speaks again,” he told Smiling One. Then he walked ahead, toward Father and our wagon, with only a backward glance.

  Good. I wanted him and his stories as far away from me as possible.

  Smiling One fell into step beside me. “I am Lynden. And you are …?”

  “I am Saville Gramton,” I said, glad for his company after the sick man’s fears and Fine Coat’s rudeness. “My father and I are traveling to Reggen.”

  He nodded to Father who walked farther ahead. “Is he a merchant?”

  “No,” I said. “A tailor.”

  Lynden raised his brows in surprise. “A tailor! He doesn’t look like any tailor I know. Still, it’s a pleasure to meet his lovely daughter.”

  It was my turn to be surprised. I had Father’s square jaw, and though I sometimes thought my eyes were pretty, my lashes and brows were as wheat colored as my hair. They made my face look pale all over. And I was covered in grime after four weeks of walking.

  “Tell me,” I said, “how long have you been traveling?”

  “Over a month. Galen left Reggen to visit villages near the Steeps, and I have been his guide. Why do you ask?”

  “You’d have to be on the road at least two months to give a compliment like that and mean it.”

  He smiled, dimples showing. “I still say you’re lovely.”

  “Then you’re too easily pleased.” I glanced at the man sleeping in the wagon beside us. “Or trying to distract me.”

  “Perhaps I want you to distract me. It hasn’t been a cheerful trip.” Lynden smiled again. “But I will not try to compliment you again. What should we talk of?”

  “Tell me about Reggen,” I said, looking ahead. “Tell me about the Guardians.”

  “You know about the Guardians?”

  I gestured at the caravan. “I’ve traveled with these men for a month. How could I not know about the Guardians? They’re the only part of Reggen I want to see.”

  Reggen, I’d been told, was built between towering cliffs and a curve in the Kriva River. The Guardians were two great reliefs carved into the cliffs, one on either side of the city.

  Lynden peered ahead. “You’ll see them soon, when the sun shines on the cliffs. Believe me, a hundred merchants could tell you of the great Guardians, but the first time you see them …” He shook his head. “They’re old, old as the city’s foundation stones. Some say giants cut and laid the foundation as a gift to Reggen’s first king, then carved themselves into the cliff behind the city as a reminder of their service—and of their existence.” He grinned, as if daring me to be scared.

  I raised an eyebrow. There were things that could scare me, but storybook monsters were not among them. “I heard that the architect who raised the city walls carved the Guardians. He was a humble man, I’m sure, to carve himself twice, each image as tall as fifty men.”

  “The Guardians only stand as tall as forty men,” corrected Lynden. “So perhaps the architect was not so arrogant.”

  He laughed and I laughed, and the tightness in my shoulders eased.

  Father turned to glare at us.

  “I’ve angered your father,” said Lynden.

  “It doesn’t take much. Talking with me would be enough.”

  “I’ve been watching him. All the tailors I know are skinny, hollow-chested men—nothing like your father. He reminds me of a badger I met when I was a child.” Lynden laughed. “I think he’d hit someone; I really do.”

  Lynden was right. Once, when Father returned from a meeting with the guild, I’d told him I didn’t care about coats that made a man look like more than a man. Or whether he found an indigo velvet for a customer. He’d struck me with a half-closed fist. He’d wanted it to hurt. I’d flinched—I couldn’t help it—but I didn’t duck away and I didn’t cry out. To my delight, Father bruised one of his fingers and couldn’t hold a needle properly for a week.

  He never touched me again, and I never mentioned tailoring or the guild.

/>   A year had passed and I still remembered the way my vision had danced. But I laughed as hard as Lynden at his description of my badger father. I made sure of it.

  I was laughing still when the wagon wheel broke.

  It sounded like a crack of lightning. The wagon lurched forward and then rocked back as the wheel near Father collapsed. He stumbled and I knew he’d be pinned beneath it. Before I could shout a warning, I saw a flash of movement: Fine Coat yanked Father away just as the corner of the wagon dropped to the ground. Trunks tumbled out, end over end.

  It didn’t seem real: everything too fast and too slow at the same time. But I felt the impact of the trunks falling. They beat the ground like a drum.

  The horse reared up, straining in its harness, scattering more trunks behind it—Father’s trunks. Several broke open, spilling their contents along the trail.

  There was a sound like broken bells and a shower of silver notes.

  I barely heard Father’s cries over my own. I gathered my skirts and ran past Father, who lay where Fine Coat had pulled him, stopping only when I saw some of the fabric buried under a trunk.

  I rolled the trunk away, barely feeling its weight. Canvas-covered bolts lay beneath; one was partially open, revealing a glimpse of crimson in the debris. I threw it over my shoulder, ignoring Father’s shout of protest. Two more bolts followed, along with several books and a wooden box of Father’s supplies.

  And then I found what I searched for—the pieces of it—under the last bolt.

  Mama’s music box lay shattered, its tin heart spilled out beside it. The thin bands of metal that had sung the simple notes were crimped and bent at odd angles.

  “No …” I breathed out and in, out and in, my chest tight with the pain of it.

  “Let me get the cloth, Saville!” The fury in Father’s voice didn’t scare me. He grabbed my shoulder, trying to pull me away from the wreckage.

  I shook him off and tried to pick up the pieces of the music box, but my fingers trembled too much.

  Father’s grip on my shoulder tightened painfully. “Out of my way, girl!”

  I wrenched free and stood so quickly it startled him. I was nearly as tall as he was, and he hated that I could look into his eyes. It was only Father and me for a moment, as the merchants surrounding us faded away.

 
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