At the far end of the orchard she came upon a guard who was old, as old, perhaps, as the Lienid. He stood in a grove of yearling trees, leaning on his sword, his back round and bent. She snuck up behind him and paused. A tremor shook the hands that rested on the hilt of his blade.
She didnt think much of a king who didnt retire his guards in comfort when theyd gotten too old to hold a sword steady.
But if she left him, he would find the others shed felled and raise the alarm. She struck him once, hard, on the back of the head, and he slumped and let out a puff of air. She caught him and lowered him to the ground, as gently as she could, and then dropped a pill into his mouth. She took a moment to run her fingers along the lump forming on his skull. She hoped his head was strong.
She had killed once by accident, a memory she held close to her consciousness. It was how her Grace had announced its nature, a decade ago. Shed been a child, barely eight years old. A man who was some sort of distant cousin had visited the court. She hadnt liked him - his heavy perfume, the way he leered at the girls who served him, the way his leer followed them around the room, the way he touched them when he thought no one was watching. When hed started to pay Katsa some attention, she had grown wary. "Such a pretty little one," hed said. "Graceling eyes can be so very unattractive. But you, lucky girl, look better for it. What is your Grace, my sweetness? Storytelling? Mind reading? I know. Youre a dancer."
Katsa hadnt known what her Grace was. Some Graces took longer than others to surface. But even if she had known, she wouldnt have cared to discuss it with this cousin. Shed scowled at the man and turned away. But then his hand had slid toward her leg, and her hand had flown out and smashed him in the face. So hard and so fast that shed pushed the bones of his nose into his brain.
Ladies in the court had screamed; one had fainted. When theyd lifted him from the pool of blood on the floor and hed turned out to be dead, the court had grown silent, backed away. Frightened eyes - not just those of the ladies now, but those of the soldiers, the sworded underlords - all directed at her. It was fine to eat the meals of the kings chef, who was Graced with cooking, or send their horses to the kings Graced horse doctor. But a girl Graced with killing? This one was not safe.
Excerpt from Graceling by Kristin Cashore. Copyright © 2008 by Kristin Cashore. Used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
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