Authors: Tamora Pierce
Protector of the Small Quartet
The Immortals Quartet
The Realms of the Gods
The Song of the Lioness Quartet
Alanna: The First Adventure
In the Hand of the Goddess
The Woman Who Rides Like a Man
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Text copyright © 2011 by Tamora Pierce
All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.
Random House and the colophon are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.
Some stories in this collection were previously published in the following:
“Student of Ostriches” copyright © 2005 by Tamora Pierce, from
, published by Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, in 2005.
“Elder Brother” copyright © 2001 by Tamora Pierce, from
, published by Scholastic Press, a division of Scholastic, Inc., New York, in 2001.
“The Hidden Girl” copyright © 2006 by Tamora Pierce, from
Dreams and Visions:
Fourteen Flights of Fantasy
, published by Starscape Books,
Tom Doherty Associates LLC, New York, in 2006.
“The Dragon’s Tale” copyright © 2009 by Tamora Pierce, from
The Dragon Book:
Magical Tales from the Masters of Modern Fantasy
, published by Ace Books, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA), Inc., a division of the Penguin Group, New York, in 2009.
“Time of Proving” copyright © 2006 by Tamora Pierce, in
magazine, in September 2006.
“Plain Magic” copyright © 1986 by Tamora Pierce, from
, published by Oxford University Press, London, in 1986, and revised for
Flights of Fantasy
, published by Perfection Learning, Logan, Iowa, in 1999.
“Huntress” copyright © 2006 by Tamora Pierce, from
, published by Firebird, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA), Inc., a division of the Penguin Group, New York, in 2006.
“Testing” (and comments) copyright © 2000 by Tamora Pierce, from
Lost & Found
Award-Winning Authors Sharing Real-Life Experiences Through Fiction
, published by Forge Books, Tom Doherty Associates LLC, New York, in 2000.
Educators and librarians, for a variety of teaching tools, visit us at
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is available upon request.
Random House Children’s Books supports the First Amendment and celebrates the right to read.
To my editors for these stories–
Bruce Coville, Jack Dann, Gardner Dozois,
David Fickling, Douglas Hill, R. Schuyler Hooke,
Mallory Loehr, Ron McCutchan, Sharyn November,
Terry Ofner, M. Jerry Weiss, and Helen S. Weiss–
with my deepest thanks for these chances to expand
and my apologies for the many bad words I said
while trying to do so
My story began as my mother carried me in her belly to the great Nawolu trade fair. Because she was pregnant, our tribe let Mama ride high on the back of our finest camel, which meant she was also lookout for our caravan. It was she who spotted the lion and gave the warning. Our warriors closed in tight around our people to keep them safe, but they were in no danger from the lion.
He was a young male, with no lionesses to guard him as he stalked a young ostrich who strayed from its parents. He drew closer to his intended prey. Its mama and papa raced toward the lion, faster than horses, their large eyes fixed on the threat. The lion was young and ignorant. He snarled as one ostrich kicked him. Then the other did the same. On and on the ostriches kicked the lion until he was a fur sack of bones.
As the ostriches led their children away, my mama said, she felt me kick in her belly for the first time.
If the kicking ostriches were a good omen for our family, they were not for my papa. Two months later he was wounded in the leg in a battle with an enemy tribe. It never healed completely, forcing him to leave the ranks of the
warriors and join the ranks of the wood-carvers, though he never complained. Not long after my papa began to walk with a cane, I was born. Papa was sad for a little while, because I was a girl. He would have liked a son to take his place as a warrior, but he always said that when I first smiled at him, he could not be sad anymore.
When I was six years old, I asked my parents if I could learn to go outside the village wall with the animal herds. Who could be happy inside the walls when the world lay outside? My parents spoke to our chief, who agreed that I could learn to watch goats on the rocky edges of the great plains on which the world was born.
Of course, I did not begin alone. My ten-year-old cousin Ogin was appointed to teach me. On that first morning I followed him and his dogs to a grazing place. Once the goats were settled, I asked him, “What must I learn?”
“First, you learn to use the herder’s weapon, the sling,” Ogin said. He was very tall and lean, like a stick with muscles. “You must be able to help the dogs drive off enemies.” He held up a strip of leather.
I practiced the twirl and the release of the stone in the sling until my shoulders were sore. For a change of pace, Ogin taught me the words to name the goats’ marks and parts until I knew them by heart. Once my muscles were relaxed again, I would take up the sling once more.
When it was time to eat our noon food, my cousin took the goats, the dogs, and me up onto a rock outcropping. From there we could see the plain stretch out before us under its veil of dusty air. This was my reward, this long view of the first step to the world. I almost forgot how to eat.
Lonely trees fanned their branches out in flat-topped sprays. Vultures roosted in their branches. Veils of tall grass separated the herds of zebra, wildebeest, and gazelle in the distance. Lions waited near a watering hole close to our rocks as giraffes nibbled the leaves of thorny trees on the other side.
Watching it all, I saw movement. I gasped. “Ogin—there! Are those—are they ostriches?”
“You think, because your mama saw them, they are cousins to you?” he teased me. “What is it, Kylaia? Will you grow tail feathers and race them?”
running. They had long, powerful legs. When they ran, they opened their legs up and stretched. They were not delicate like the gazelle, like my older sisters. They ran in long, loping strides. Watching them, I thought,
want to run like that.
For a year I was Ogin’s apprentice. He taught me to keep the goats moving in the lands around the stone lookout place, so there would be grass throughout the year. He was patient and he did not laugh at me as I struggled to learn to be a dead shot with a sling, a careful tracker, and one who understood the ways of the dogs, the goats, and the wild creatures of the plains.
Ogin taught me to run, too, as he and my sisters did, like gazelles, on the balls of their feet. After our noon meals, as Ogin napped, I would practice my ostrich running. I opened up my strides, dug in my feet, and thrust out my chest, imagining myself to be a great bird, eating the ground with my big feet. Each day I ran a little farther and a little faster as Ogin and the dogs slept, and the goats and the birds looked on.
When I had followed Ogin for a year, my uncle the herd
chief came out with us. Ogin made me show off my skills with the goats and the dogs.
“Tomorrow morning, come to me,” said my uncle. “You shall have a herd and dogs of your own.”
It was my seventh birthday. I was so proud! I was now a true member of the village with proper work to do. Papa gave me a wooden ball painted with colored stripes. Mama and my sisters had woven me new clothes and a cape for the cold. I ran through the village to show off my ball and to tell my friends that I was now a true worker.
Five older boys caught me on my way home. They knocked me down and they took my ball.
When I came home, my family noticed my bruises. Papa limped through the village until he found my ball and brought it back to me.
My pride lay in the dust. I pretended to ignore my family’s conversation, as my sisters demanded that the boys be punished and my father said he would appeal to our chief. Whatever punishment the boys got would have nothing to do with me, only the peace of the tribe. Their penalty would not make me taller or less ashamed.
In the morning, I alone took my new herd out to graze in the rocks of the seeing place. While the goats found grasses tucked into stone hollows, I stared at the plain. The village would deal with the boys. Later, they would take their vengeance on me. What would I do then?
I don’t know why a wild dog decided to be a fool that morning, or why he left the protection of his pack. I only know that he was alone when he found the old ostrich
nesting ground. It was not breeding season. There were no eggs or young to protect. The king ostrich, his queen, and his other wives were nibbling grass seed as a shift of wind brought them the scent of wild dog. My thigh muscles twitched as the pair ran to catch the intruder, their great legs eating up the yards between them. The dog fled too late. The ostriches were on him. The queen’s first kick sent the wild dog flying into the air. He lurched to his feet, but the ostriches had already caught up. A few more kicks finished the dog.
He must have taken their ball, I thought, impressed with ostrich vengeance. If I had been an ostrich, those boys would have returned my ball to