Chapter 1: The cruel prince
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  A luxurious white with gold trim ten person carriage drawn by twelve white horses only used by the royalty of Pays Des Abrutis trotted in to the estate of Duke Aumont. Inside the mansion servants moved quickly to ready the various rooms that might be used by a visit from any of the royalty. Duke Aumont quickly called his children and his wife to come for a royal greeting which meant everyone dressed in their finest. It was an unexpected visit so everyone was in a frantic hurry. As the carriage finally arrived on the mansion's grounds a servant called out, causing all but a few last minute stragglers to form up in neat lines by the door. The Duke himself had his wife and children stand on a step below himself as he stood at the bottom of the grand stairway just in view of the mansion's door.

Through the tall glass windows facing the carriage path outside everyone could see the grand carriage pull up and servants jump off, unrolling a long red carpet that reached to the steps leading to the mansion. With a nod from the Duke, the door opened and the Duke began to walk out to greet his visitor. Once the Duke met the first servant from the palace he was greeted, "Your grace, Prince Andre de la Marche." He bowed and pressed his left hand over his heart while his right arm extended out toward the carriage.

The Duke nodded his head and took ten strides forward and then dropped down to one knee with his head bowed. Prince Andre calmly climbed down from his carriage with a beautiful woman just behind. He walked up to the Duke and handed him a rolled up notice and stated flatly, "I have decided to marry Lady Foix..." When introduced the lady at his side made a gentle curtsy  with a charming smile on her face, her eyes watching the prince. The prince continued, "I had that silly engagement to your daughter, so I asked father to break it off." He nodded to the scrolled up notice in the Duke's hand.

The Duke's face turned red and veins could be seen raised on his forehead as he said in a quiet voice through clenched teeth, "I see, thank you, your highness for visiting to deliver your message in person."

Prince Andre smiled and said in an aloof tone, "Of course, you may tell the little girl that it's nothing personal, she just can't compare to Lady Foix." The prince openly stared at the woman's slightly exposed cleavage as he spoke. 

The Duke's hand crushed the scroll in his hand as his fist tightened involuntarily. He could only nod as the Prince lead Lady Foix back to his carriage. Just as the prince was about to climb up into his carriage he turned to the Duke and said, "Oh, and father said to tell you, he'll grant you another small fief as compensation, for the girl's dowry to give to whichever baron's son chooses to make her his wife." He waved his hand as if to say I am done with you and boarded his carriage which sped off as soon as the door closed.

Madeline who had been standing with the other children had heard the entire exchange. She stood there frozen like a statue. Without being told, she understood what this would mean for her socially. A woman who had her engagement cancelled was considered damaged goods by the other noble houses. Only a poor barony or rural fiefdom would look for a higher noble's disgraced daughter to wed to their son. Madeline rather than crying suddenly felt a fire burning within her chest. She wanted to make that disgusting prince wish he had never chosen the other woman. She would study, practice and hone herself into not just a beauty, but a superior woman. She would let no one get in her way. 

The Duke ascended the steps into the house with rage in his heart. His eyes looked for her precious daughter and found not tears, but an ice cold stare meeting his eyes. The Duke knew that look in her eyes, he had seen it many times from his own knights. It was desire, a desire to reach for the stars and not to stop. The Duke nodded at her with a serious expression and said, "Good. Good, I will support you. Just use it to accomplish that goal you have set. Whatever you need, our house will provide." His strong hand gently pressed on to his daughter's shoulder as he passed by back into his office, he called out, "Everyone, back to your normal duties, it seems an annoying messenger has simply dropped off a proclamation from his Majesty. Bertrand, send for Sir Vergy."

One of the servants bowed to the Duke and replied hastily, "Yes, your grace." He sped off without running, but moved quickly enough that most would need to run to keep up.

A short time later a tall gruff knight appeared with two men at arms in tow. The two men at arms each took station at either side of the Duke's door while the tall knight lightly rapped on the door with the back of his hand. The Duke's heavy voice replied from inside, "Come." The knight took a breath and then entered the room. Sitting at his desk, the Duke looked like a man about to go to war. He lightly tapped the crumpled scroll from the palace. The Duke said, "Read."

The tall knight unrolled the scroll and his brow twitched as he read it. "If he wasn't a prince I'd..."

The Duke nodded and then said, "Starting tomorrow, she'll be in your care for training with the sword. She needs to be at the level for Academy de L'échec in two years, can you do it?"

The knight rubbed his chin, "I can teach anyone willing, but the young lady..."

The Duke looked into his eyes and said, "She had the look in her eye after that dandy left with his whore."

The knight smiled and made a fist, "Then it is possible. With that kind of resolve, I could turn the cook into a knight."

"She'll have to spend time on her studies as well, Clem, so keep that in mind." The Duke mentioned as he went back to reading over the documents on his desk.

"Of course, your grace." The tall knight quietly closed the door to the Duke's study as he left, the two men at arms followed behind sir Vergy as he left.

Over the next few months Madeline could be found on the practice ground each day before sun up swinging a heavy wooden practice sword in simple patterns. Then she would run around the mansion's grounds until she threw up. A servant would come and help her walk back to the mansion after her run. After a simple hearty meal, she would return to the practice ground as the knights, squires and men at arms began their training. Madeline couldn't keep up with these men who had been training for years, but she never gave up so the men didn't look down on their young lady as she trained, sweat and bled by their side. After the morning training, Sir Vergy would take her to a secluded spot for more intense one on one training with the sword and unarmed hand to hand combat.

In the late afternoon and evening Madeline would study with a tutor who taught her history, economics, literature, and geography. Madeline burned through enough candles that the servants began to worry about her health.

Two years later the Duke called Sir Vergy to his office once again, "Old Clem, is that girl ready for Academy de L'échec?"

Sir Vergy nodded to the Duke and said, "To be honest, I expected to come here and tell your grace that she wasn't cut out for it, but that girl.." He sighed and then said, "Rather than ready, I want to ask your grace to allow her to take on formal knight's training. If she learns the lance and heavy armor, she'd be my best prospect."

"Oh?" The Duke looked surprised, "Then she meets the Academy's criteria for the sword?"

"If she isn't the top sword at that Academy I'd be afraid to face the monster that is because right now, I have to cheat to win in a duel against that girl." Sir Vergy shook his head with a smile.

The Duke ran his hand through his hair and let out a breath, "The tutor said much the same. He said that she has already reached the level most teachers at the Academy have attained." He tapped a finger on his desk and then looked at Sir Vergy, "Do you think she would be happier becoming a knight?"

Sir Vergy flinched and then said, "No, I think she has her eyes on a different prize, your grace."

The Duke frowned and then said, "I am afraid that she might have lost something important to reach for that prize, she is less like a Lady these days and more like a fierce mountain cat ready to kill."

Sir Vergy rubbed his chin and said, "What has the Duchess said about her, your grace?"

"She told me, aside from those muscles she builds, she has become even more graceful and beautiful. Her manners and etiquette are exquisite." The Duke shrugged, "I just worry that she's too sharp now. An exposed sword unable to return to the scabbard."

Sir Vergy nodded his head and then said in a softer voice, "Your grace, if she can't find a white carriage to take her away, she'll at least find a good man that needs a mountain cat to reach for a higher position." He looked at the window towards the practice ground and saw her swinging a heavy wooden sword, "I feel like that girl could make any man that tames her into the next Duke of the..."

The Duke slammed a fist on to his desk and said, "Don't say that name in this house, do you want to kill us all?"  He sighed and said, "I know what you mean though, old Clem, she's just like the old man's wife. If that's the path she's going to take, I'll just have to be prepared to support her, make sure you make our preparations subtle."

Sir Vergy looked surprised and then nodded, "Of course, your grace."