In the fifteenth chapter of Lady Knight, Kel learns the price of taking a risk. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Lady Knight.
Chapter Fifteen: Enemy Territory
Truthfully, Kel was always going to have to face the moment when she would have to order those under her to kill like this, and I think Tamora Pierce handles this predicament well. And it’s not like we haven’t seen Kel kill before, but it’s never been as morally ambiguous as it is here in chapter fifteen. Kel isn’t exactly the kind of knight eager to slay down her enemy, so when she’s presented with a complicated situation, she has to figure out where her morals lay and what her duty is to the Crown and the refugees.
I think that’s why Pierce opens this chapter with death. The very first thing we see is the bodies of five refugees strung from a tree, above a sign that says, “Rebellious Slaves.” It’s a reminder of what the enemy forces are doing to Kel’s people and what’s at stake here. Like Kel thought earlier, every day that Kel is away from her people, more people might die. And I think you can see that in the entire section where Kel reflects on her surroundings. She’s in enemy territory, and she can’t ever lose sight of it. I think this plays a large part in her reaction to the scouts and soldiers she comes across, you know? There’s that point where she finds another piece of red yarn from Meech’s doll, and Neal remarks how tough the kids are. But they were forced to be tough after they were kidnapped, and it’s only going to get worse now that they’re headed to Blayce.
Anyway, I’m jumping ahead of myself here, though it’s because the threat of Blayce and the killing devices informs Kel’s decisions in this chapter. When the scout returns with information about the Scanrans nearby, Kel has just a few seconds to decide whether to hide or engage. As she goes through her options, she ends up choosing the option that protects the most people, not the one that would give her a peace of mind. I really think Kel would have preferred an option where she could spare the life of the Scanrans and not put anyone else at risk. But there isn’t that option here. If the Scanrans survived, they could attack Mastiff. They could find Kel’s group, either on the way to the refugees or on the way back home. And if her duty was to protect the refugees, how could she do that if she let these possible risks survive?
I appreciate that Pierce gives this decision and experience so much weight because it comes across as a deliberate way to cope with the death that surrounds Kel. Kel does not take this decision lightly at all, but what else was she supposed to do? I can’t think of a solution that wouldn’t create a problem further down the line. As uncomfortable as this is, it’s the reality of war. It’s the reality of the risk she took crossing into enemy territory to get the refugees of Haven back. And I’m pleased that Kel accepts the responsibility of what she’s done instead of treating this flippantly. I think she’s a fantastic leader, not just because she’s able to make decisions like this so quickly, but because she’s able to view things a few steps ahead. I mean, she gets Tobe to tell the horses to hide off the road; she makes the others gather the extra supplies and weapons, which benefits them later when they finally do come upon the refugees. I think a real leader is able to read a situation far in advance, and Kel does that with care and finesse.
I honestly didn’t expect Kel and the group to find the refugee camp in this chapter, though. YEAH, I GOT NERVOUS IMMEDIATELY. BECAUSE WHY WOULDN’T YOU. How were these 25 (give or take) people going to rescue hundreds of refugees from slaveholders and soldiers who were mostly likely going to outnumber them?
BY EXPLOITING THEIR WEAKNESSES. Kel brilliantly decides to hit the soldiers and fighters where they are weakness. Using their exhaustion and inattentiveness to her advantage, she sends the animals into the camp to help with the escape. Jump brings lockpicks to Morun; animals deliver hidden weapons to many of the prisoners; the most “rangy” cats bring herbs that induce sleepiness to the women in charge of cooking for the guards. I admit that the refugees’ revenge on their guards filled me with delight because it’s purely a power fantasy. If you’d been subjected to the treatment many of these people have, wouldn’t you enjoy killing them? I think that’s best represented in Peliwin, who violently hacks a dead guard apart until Kel stops her. “He hurt me,” she tells Kel, and the signs of abuse are all over her body.
Actually, that scene is neat for another reason:
“You’ve fixed it so he’ll never hurt anyone else. You can forget about him.” She winced, knowing she’d just said a very foolish thing. “I mean, you can live your life. I guess you won’t be able to forget him.”
It’s an important scene for me because I’ve had people say the first part to me without ever correcting themselves. As someone who’s been a victim of multiple kinds of abuse over the years, there’s nothing more insulting than someone telling me to just forget it. Physical, emotional, and mental violence has a way of embedding itself within your skin that makes it hard to ever forget. It doesn’t work that way because triggers can be so ubiquitous for certain types of trauma, you know? So I appreciate that Kel immediately recognizes that she’s said something gross to Peliwin and then corrects herself. Bravo, Kel.
This chapter also clearly sets up where Kel’s story is headed next: to Blayce. Oh gods, remember when I wondered how Kel would ever cross paths with Blayce if she was stuck in one place? You may continue to sob at how unprepared I was for this. I wasn’t surprised by her decision to go after the children. Even for purely practical reasons unrelated to Kel’s emotional duty to these kids, letting the enemy make 200 killing devices at once is just foolish. They provide such a huge advantage to the Scanrans, so from a military perspective, there’s a need to go after them.
The hard part for Kel here is deciding who comes with her and who returns with the refugees. The group is too large to all come along with Kel, but I also think Kel’s learned her lesson by refusing to go by herself. Notice that she doesn’t tell Neal, Owen, Dom and his men, Saefas, Fanche, or Gil and his men to turn back. (Though I could be wrong about Saefas and Fanche. Kel may have made them return with the refugees but just never said it. I guess I’ll see in the next chapter.) I think Kel is more aware than ever of the gravity of what she needs to do, even from a personal standpoint:
“I put eight long, hard years into this. I’ll feel very foolish if I’m killed with the paint still wet on my shield.”
Oh, Kel, thanks for breaking my heart. But I have faith that if anyone can do it, it’s this lady knight from Mindelan, the protector of the small.
Please note that in the original text and the video below that the word “lame” is used in context of a horse, but it may trigger you regardless.
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