Chapter 1: Trouble

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HILDEGUND RACED DOWN the wide cobblestone street, dodging and weaving around merchants and their overburdened carts. She silently cursed the slow-moving mules jamming up the road. "Come back here, Adso! If you don't give it back to me, I'll tell my father," she shouted through heavy breaths.

The boy made it around a bend, deftly sidestepping a pile of horse manure. Without turning his head, he replied, "You'll never be able to catch me, Hildy, you're too slow!" His ill-fitting wool trousers were falling below his waist and he tugged at his tattered rope-belt. After a few more steps he laughed, "And besides, your father doesn't know you have this, so what would you tell him?"

In his right hand he held a wooden sword. Her wooden sword.

She had received it as payment from one of her father's customers. A real training sword. It was more than half of Hildegund's height, the crossbar nearly matching her waist. The grip was wrapped with soft leather and the pommel was carved with an intricate design of interlocking circles. When the young squire had offered it in exchange for the finely woven wool, he was there to fetch, Hildegund had held the wooden blade, intrigued beyond words. She took it without hesitation. Now she could learn how to fight and go on real adventures, instead of just pretending.

She had shared this new prize with her cousin. And he had run off with it. The sneaky little squirrel! Even though they spent so much time together, sometimes she just didn't understand his sense of humor.

It was heavy, and Hildegund noticed that Adso's shoulder was faltering from the burden. Adso always swung his arms when he ran, as if he were swimming through the air. But the sword made his weight uneven, and his arms were flopping about like a bird with an injured wing. Unfortunately, that didn't stop him from darting down the bustling street and snaking through a small crowd of men mingling outside of an ale house. He stayed frustratingly just beyond her reach.

"Hey, watch it boy," an old man wheezed as Adso passed by, sword swinging. The man was almost battered again a moment later when Hildegund rushed past.

"That is my sword, and I swear Adso," Hildegund's voice screeched. Her face was turning ripe-apple red with the effort of chasing after her thieving cousin, but she was determined not to let him get away.

"Swear what? Huh? What are you going to do?" he taunted. Adso's belt was coming undone again. He reached down to hold his trousers up, but now he couldn't swing his arms in time with his stride, which caused him to lose speed.

"I will whack you so hard that you'll be sorry. And," she paused to catch her breath, "I'll tell everyone that you got beat by a girl."

With his trousers still slipping and his arm clumsy from exertion, Adso stopped and pivoted, holding the sword up in front of him with both hands. "Wait!" he cried. Hildegund could barely stop in time to avoid a collision.

Their chase had led to one of the main plazas of Loconge. Half-timbered buildings, their dark exposed beams crisscrossing around dull plaster, lined three sides of the square. On the fourth side stood a stone church. Its tall bell tower cast a stark shadow across the open space. Women gathered around the center fountain, merchants set up stalls around the periphery, and the plaza was full of people going about their day.

Adso had chosen an inconvenient spot to make his stand. People glared and shook their heads as they walked around the children who were blocking their path. Paying the adults no mind, Adso gave his belt a good tug, took a few deep breaths, and shook his dark amber bangs out of his eyes. "Let's have a duel! I've seen Maricus fight plenty of times, and that's how we should settle this."

"Oh, shove off and give that back to me. Besides, we don't have two swords." She stared at him flatly, her expression as smooth as the expensive silk tapestries her father sometimes sold to rich noblemen.

At that moment Adso threw the sword to the ground, letting it slide off towards the fountain, and lunged at Hildegund, knocking her backwards. "Then let's wrestle for it." He laughed triumphantly as he landed on top of her.

Feeling a surge of determination rushing through her veins, Hildegund twisted her wrist out of Adso's grasp to avoid being pinned down. She kicked her knees up and threw off his balance, flipping him onto his back. Before he could react, she plopped down on his chest and secured his arms. But before she could finish the job, a hand grabbed her roughly from behind, and from Adso's blanched expression she knew it was trouble.

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