In this post I want to focus on one more thing that happens in this chapter: Alanna's trip to Myles' estate, where she receives her magic sword, Lightning.
(Taking a step back for a second--yeah, "Womanhood" refers to Alanna getting her period, but she also gets her sword and wins her first duel in this chapter, so maybe it's not quite so bad?)
Anyway, Myles and Alanna go on a trip together, where Myles shows her some ruins that he's been studying. Alanna manages to open a magic door and discovers a sword that she feels compelled to pick up. When she does, this happens:
Suddenly the light of Alanna's magic went completely out. Darkness swirled around her in long tentacles that tightened on her body... She fought to breathe and fought to throw her magic into the stifling blackness, but nothing happened... Nothing affected the darkness. Her struggles got weaker and weaker. She tried to fight even harder, but it was hopeless. She was dying, and she knew it.
For the first time in her life, Alanna stopped fighting. She had used up all her air, all her strength, all her magic. She was weaponless. The darkness was entering her brain and she was dying. With an inner sigh, almost one of relief, she accepted that fact. As her knees buckled, Alanna took the knowledge of her own death and made it part of her.
The crystal on the sword blazed, its light penetrating the darkness in her brain... Myles seized her arm and pulled her from the tunnel entrance just as the slab ground over it once more. Alanna stared at it, wondering just what was going on. She had accepted death. Why wasn't she dead?
I wanted to focus in on this moment for two reasons. First, it parallels the climactic moment in Lioness Rampant, when Alanna faces Duke Roger for the last time and defeats him by accepting her own death again. But we'll just keep that in mind for when we get to that point--I'm sure it'll be a good way to look back at how much Alanna changes over the course of the books.
The second reason I wanted to focus on this is because it's a really strange moment. Alanna is stubborn as the day as long; that's the main reason she's gotten this far and why she manages to win the day in the end and become the greatest knight Tortall has ever seen. Her tenacity allows her to master the sword, the Shang style of hand to hand combat, and Bazhir magic, among other things. In any other book, this tenacity would allow Alanna to prevail here: she would reach her moment of deepest uncertainty and find new strengths she didn't realize she had or something like that.
Instead, Alanna has to give up. She has to surrender and accept that death is as much a part of her journey as triumph. That someday, no matter how hard she fights or how much she trains, her story will end. And that's what saves her.
It reminds me of the warning Maude gives Alanna at the beginning: that being a knight involves more death than glory, and that Alanna must never forget it. I'll have to keep rereading to see if the series has more to say about this fact. I've never focused on it before, so we'll have to see where else it comes up again.
One final note about this scene: it's not Alanna's turning point, where she finally starts seeing herself as someone worthy. That comes in the final chapter, after they face the Ysandir. Here, Alanna does her best to deny that this incident means anything at all. When Myles tells her that the gods sent him a premonition about this moment, she laughs it off. And once they get back to Myles's castle, she tries to give Lightning to him, instead of accepting that she was meant to have it. She doesn't tell anyone but Jonathan the truth about how she got the sword. Basically, Alanna tries to forget that it happened.
Alanna's opinion of herself also doesn't change when she finally masters the sword later in this chapter, but I want to talk about that next time, when I get into the scene where Alanna finally does gain some confidence.