Crown Princess Anidori-Kiladra Talianna Isilee of Kildenree was born with her eyes closed for the first three days of her life. The infant princess knew she was born with a word on her tongue -either the key to the language of animals, nature, or people- and all her efforts were spent trying to learn it. Her aunt somehow sensed the baby's birth and came out from her home in the woods to the palace nursery, singing songs of patience to her young niece so that the girl would wake. Understanding that one day, she will eventually unlock the words to the language hidden deep inside her, Ani finally opened her eyes.
The two became very close. The aunt, as the young princess's nurse-mary, would take her niece on walks along the place where the palace gardens merged with the forest, teaching Ani the names of everything they saw. Ani learned quickly and began to speak whole sentences when she was only a year old, an accomplishment uncommon enough to make the palace staff uneasy. Nevertheless, the aunt continued to tell her niece stories and took her on walks along the swan pond. Now five years old, Ani loved the graceful birds and begged them to eat bread out of her hands, but when the bread was all gone they asked her for more. The aunt told the birds that there wasn't any bread left in their own language, and young Ani repeated the sounds perfectly. Delighted that her niece had a talent for mimicking sounds and learning language, the aunt told her a story about the beginning of their world: When the world was created, everything was able to speak with everything else: the rock to the snail, the tree to the wind, the horse to the girl, but as time went on the knowledge of the languages was forgotten. Yet, some people were still born with one of the three languages on their tongue, though it may take some time before they can taste it. Ani's mother was gifted with the talent of people-speaking and used her skills well as queen of Kildenree. The aunt herself was gifted with animal-speaking and knew the language of birds and horses. However, she knew of no one who knew nature-speaking, though she was certain that someone would one day discover how to learn it again.
An eager Ani learned from her aunt how to speak to the birds and asked to speak to a horse, but her aunt explained that the language of horses is much different from that of their feathered friends. When a horse is born, it speaks its own name, but only once. If a human hears that name and repeats it back to the horse, they will be able to speak to each other silently, without anyone else hearing a sound. Some day, she promised, Ani would be old enough to have her own horse, but for the time being she'd have to be content talking with the birds. One day as Ani happily trumpeted to the swans, the key-mistress's young daughter, Selia, strolled by, telling the princess to visit sometime. Ani noticed that Selia's words tended to swirl around in her head and made her eager to do whatever Selia wanted. The aunt warned her little niece that Selia had the gift of people-speaking. Obediently, Ani tried to commit the knowledge to memory.
As seasons passed, the aunt grew more and more uncomfortable behind palace walls and longed for her home in the mountain woods. She took her young niece on one last walk and pointed out the direction of her home, gently announcing that she's going back. Knowing that Kildenree was uneasy with wildness and anything uncommon, she tried to stress to the young princess that her knowledge of wild things must be kept secret, or else her mother would take it all away. A final kiss fresh on her forehead and a sensation of emptiness in her heart, Ani watched her aunt walk away from her until her image was lost in the trees.
The new nurse-mary, sour-faced and weak-hearted, refused to let Ani anywhere near the swan pond, afraid that the young princess may drown. Despite her aunt's cautions, Ani felt sure that if she explained she just wanted to speak to the swans, the woman would understand. Instead, the nurse-mary was horrified and reported what the princess said to the queen. Now looked at with distant disapproval by her mother, Ani began to long for the day when her aunt would come rescue her and take her to the mountains. In the meantime, the crown princess tried to continue speaking with the birds, but her mother ordered that she be kept away from them. Denied from her winged friends, seven-year-old Ani tried in vain to communicate with her puppy, Lindy. Unfortunately, the nurse-mary overheard her and told the queen, who consequently sent Lindy to the kennels, having decided that her daughter should no longer keep pets. Ani attempted to demand her pet back, but the queen very literally slapped her request down hard. Almost as an afterthought, the queen also mentioned that Ani's aunt died in the winter, unknowingly dashing her daughter's hopes of rescue.
At the tender age of seven, Ani decided to run away while the palace was distracted by the ball held that evening. As the dark world loomed around her, Ani suddenly and keenly realized that she was simply too small to run away, so instead, she collapsed on the shores of the swan pond and cried. A swan, attracted by Ani's noise, greeted her. Ani told her that she was tired and lost from her heard, and obeyed the swan's suggestion to sleep on the shore. However, it was a cool night on the damp ground, and Ani contracted a fever. She was found unconscious by Talone, Watcher of the East Gate, who was so frightened of the shivers that racked her small body he wrapped her in his own cloak before he carried her back to the palace. Ani spent three weeks in the fever's grasp before she was out of danger. Ever since then, Ani was referred to as delicate and regarded with suspicion, believed by the people to have not only been almost lost to death, but to wildness.
Four years later, when Ani was eleven, the prime minister of the neighboring country Bayern visited Kildenree. In all the hustle and bustle, the princess was able to sneak away to the royal stables and help an overdue mare give birth to her colt. She heard the newborn speak his name, Falada, and repeated it back to him, unlocking his language cementing their special, unique bond. From then on, they could communicate with each other mentally without anyone else hearing anything.
Fifteen-year-old Ani is determined to be a good future queen. However, she is painfully aware that she just can't seem to act, speak, or think as queenly as her mother. Selia, now the crown princess's lady-in-waiting, invites Ani to tea with her and her mother in an effort to help Ani practice talking more easily with her future subjects. Unfortunately, Ani is so worried about saying the wrong thing and ruining her reputation even futher that she just can't relax. She notices that Selia is effortlessly at ease with strangers and friends alike, and dejectedly admits to herself that Selia would probably make a better princess than her. Unable to stand the gloom of another failure, she awkwardly excuses herself, mentioning that she is supposed to go horseback riding with her father.
Relieved to be with her beloved Falada, Ani works to brush off her gloom by brushing down his white hide. Soon enough they ride out to meet the king, who teases his eldest daughter for being late. She explains that she was busy being a crown princess. As she recounts her day, her voice breaks as she describes the disastrous social visit with Selia and the key-mistress and she can't quite hold back her sobs, remembering the stuttering and stupidity that seems to have plagued her since the day's start. Her father knows more than anyone how much Ani tries to be like her mother and how often she fails, and he pulls her into a comforting embrace. He praises her bravery and determination to keep on trying, despite how much she wants to run away. She soaks in his comfort until Falada nudges her, wondering when they're going to start riding. The king teasingly declares that he and his horse Tirean will finally beat Ani and Falada in a race and, in his confidence, rides Tirean towards a fence that is too tall. Her hoof scrapes the wooden post and sends both horse and rider sprawling to the ground. Tirean gets back to her feet, but the king does not.
Ani scrambles to her unmoving father, but Tirean straddles him protectively and refuses to let anyone get near him, so Ani silently asks Falada to speak to Tirean and get her to move out of the way. It is clear that the king is gravely injured. He sleeps for three days straight, only opening his eyes once, briefly, to smile at his youngest daughter Susena before dying.
During his funeral, Ani tries to be regal in her sorrow, like her elegant mother, but feels only half-formed in the woman's shadow. As her mother addresses the people and speaks of her husband's diplomatic and military successes, Ani fondly remembers his smile and love of horses. Her mother concludes her speech by announcing that Anidori's birthright as the eldest child, to be heir to the throne, is instead being transferred to her eldest son, Calib-Loncris. The former Crown Princess is shocked at the announcement, unable to believe that everything she's worked for for fifteen years can be taken away so suddenly. Selia is even more indignant and demands that Ani confront her mother, but Ani refuses to during the six-week mourning period, partially because she does not wish to taint her father's memory with selfish thoughts, partially because she is scared to face down her formidable mother. Although grateful for Selia's support, she can't help but wonder why her lady-in-waiting is so offended by her mother's decision.
After the six weeks, Ani enters the queen's presence, asking about her announcement. The queen reminds Ani about the visit from the prime minister of Bayern, explaining that he wasn't there just to have tea with the king and queen. Bayern has historically garnered its wealth by launching successful wars, but the current king lost his own father and brothers to war and so has decided to reign more peacefully. But to maintain that kind of income, his country has had to mine the Bavara Mountains, bringing it ever closer to Kildenree. She informs her daughter that if Bayern decided to invade Kildenree, there would be little they could do about it. She and the prime minister ensured peace between their nations by arranging a marriage between Ani and the prince of Bayern, after Ani's sixteenth birthday. Although she admits that her second daughter, Napralina, would have been the ideal candidate for such a match, she chose Anidori because she believes that the people of Kildenree would never fully accept her as queen. Hurt, the princess tries to protest, but she is no match against her mother's voice. Reluctantly, Ani has no choice but to obey.
On the day of her departure, Ani meets her escort at the palace gates. She embraces her sisters and gives her blessing to Calib before turning her attention to her mother, noting that it's time for "the show of affection". The queen speaks to those in attendance of her love for her honored daughter, and gifts said daughter with a gold cup, a golden circlet inlaid with three rubies, and a handkerchief that had been made by her own grandmother. The queen pricks her finger and squeezes three drops of blood onto the handkerchief, symbolizing that she will protect her daughter because they are of the same blood. Ani, slightly stunned by this sudden force of affection, mounts Falada and leads her escort out of the palace gates.
On the months-long journey to Bayern, Selia's good mood and enthusiasm is a great comfort to the princess. Outside of the palace grounds for the first time in her life, Ani enjoys seeing the countryside and talking with Falada, whose amicable indifference to human affairs helps calm her. But only a week into the woods, Falada wakes Ani, warning her of rabid wolves coming towards their camp. She warns her guards in time to protect them all, but since Ani can't explain that her horse told her about the danger, some of her guards grow wary of her. Stung by their old suspicions of a princess who can speak to wild things, Ani becomes more isolated and retreats into her friendship with Falada. Even so, she notices that Selia is often the center of attention from the guards who are wary of her, especially one named Ungolad, a man who wears his long blonde hair in two pale braids. Throughout the journey, Selia speaks with Ungolad privately and grows more distant and cool towards Ani.
After some weeks of travel, the party comes across a river and takes the opportunity to bathe. A metal basin is filled with heated water for Ani to privately soak in and Talone, the captain of her guard, assigns Ishta to guard Ani as the rest of her company washes in the river. As Ani dries her hair by the fire, Ishta asks her if she likes being a princess. She responds uneasily, saying that it is who she is and asks if he likes being a man. Ishta walks to her and leans his face in much too close for her comfort, frightening her. She weakly orders him to step back, but he merely sneers. Before he can do anything else, however, the rest of Ani's escort returns and he casually walks away. Ani never before thought that someone would hurt her and enjoy it, and worries that she can't trust anyone. This worry is painfully emphasized when she catches Selia holding up one of her dresses against herself. Ani confronts Selia about her chilly behavior and causes her lady-and-waiting's composure to finally crack, revealing that Selia has always been furiously jealous that Ani was born a Crown Princess, someone with status and power, and yet did nothing but hide in her room. Freed from the biting words she has longed to say for years, Selia rejects Ani's friendship and quits her job as lady-in-waiting.
After their fight, the princess narrowly escapes numerous near-death experiences. For example, the company comes across a waterfall, but Ani hangs back as they go to look at it. Eventually she admits that it would be a pity to pass up a waterfall and goes to search for it. As she gazes at the torrent of falling water, clutching on a tree branch to keep from slipping on the damp ground, a rock strikes her ankles. She manages to keep her balance, but if it weren't for the tree branch she surely would have slipped down the cliff and broken her neck on the rocks below. Later, as she rides Falada a little apart from the others, something whips him and he rears back in alarm. If Ani wasn't such a good rider, she may have been thrown down a steep gorge. Suspecting Ungolad, Ani feels the reckless urge to impress or even intimidate him somehow, and asks Falada to talk to Ungolad's horse about his rider and relate to her all he finds out. She shocks the burly man with the depth of her knowledge and feels giddy with her own daring.
When they are only a week from Bayern's capital, her company splits itself into two parts. Ungolad builds one campfire and draws in Selia and the majority of her guards into its circumference. Dano, the cook, builds the second where Talone and the rest of her guards sit. Ani remembers Selia's betrayal, Ishta, and her near-death experiences and worries that she can't trust anyone, not even Talone. However, he has been so kind and friendly to her throughout the journey that she asks him outright if she can trust him. Hurt that she even needed to ask -for that means he has failed in making her feel safe- he solemnly swears fealty to her and even offers to remain her personal guard until his death, if she so wishes. Touched by the sincerity of his pledge, Ani gifts him one of her gold rings. Talone accepts her gift and tucks it away carefully in his pocket before leading her to his group's campfire. Talone has noticed Ungolad and his friends' behavior as well and warns the princess to run to safety at the first sign of trouble.
The princess and her thirsty horse take a drink from a stream a little away from the company. Their drinking, however, is interrupted by shouting. Falada stays by the river as Ani moves closer to investigate. She overhears Selia, Ungolad, and roughly half the guard mutiny, declaring that they have chosen Selia to be their rightful princess. Ani grows frightened when she learns that they intend to kill her so that Selia can steal both her title and her name, but Falada is too far away to hear her silent calls. She tries to move towards him as quietly as she can, but is spotted by Ungolad. One of her loyal guards, Adon, tries to stop him from getting near her, but before he can take more than a few steps he is swiftly killed by Ishta. As the sounds of battle clash behind her, Ani is unable to reach Falada and is forced to make her escape on another horse.
Ani has no thought but to get away and in her panic, is knocked off her horse by a tree branch. Utterly lost, the princess wanders the deep Forest for days, surviving only on the river and the vague memories of her aunt's lessons on recognizing edible food. Eventually, she comes across a hut in the woods. The Bayern woman who lives there, Gilsa, asks her where she's headed so that she may point her in the right direction, but Ani can no longer hold off her exhaustion and passes out. She later awakens in Gilsa's bed and attempts to explain her situation, but Gilsa knows that blonde Ani is foreign to Bayern -a country of dark hair- and can see from Ani's dainty, uncallused hands that she is a noble girl. Not unkindly, she refuses to listen to Ani's story, figuring that she has enough problems without getting tangled up in Ani's trouble. Ani needs to discover what happened to Talone, Falada, and the rest of her guards and decides to go to the capital, knowing that if they survived the mutiny they would have gone there. Gilsa's son, Finn, agrees to escort her to the city on marketday. In the meantime, Ani makes herself useful by finding the roots that Gilsa uses to dye her woolen pullovers the bright, vivid colors Bayern loves and practices the Bayern accent until she can speak it perfectly.
When the time comes to leave, Gilsa gives the young girl Bayern-style clothes including a head scarf to hide her blonde hair. Ani decides to go by the name Isi, a shortened version of her grandmother Isilee's name and darkens her eyebrows with a piece of charcoal, just in case Selia and her allies won the fight and are out there looking for her.
She originally plans to talk to the king of Bayern and tell him her true identity, showing her blonde locks as proof of her heritage, but those plans easily crumble when she sees Selia in the palace wearing one of her dresses. Knowing that the sight of Selia effortlessly playing princess means that Talone and her other loyal guards were all killed, Ani's words stick in her throat when she's brought before the king. Even so, she manages to perform her deepest curtsy intended for royalty, catching the tired king's interest. He softens at her fright and gently asks her what her business is, but she replies that she's not sure. Believing that she's just another lost soul in the city looking for a job, the king offers to find her employment. Although she mentions she's good with horses, there are no available positions at the stables, so she is instead given the job of goose girl under Mistress Ideca.
She hunts down Finn and tells him that she's secured a job before requesting that he and his mother keep her existence a secret. Remembering that Selia and her murderous allies are out and about, Ani tells him that he and Gilsa are the only friends she has in this kingdom. She buys some thornroot before returning to her little house in the animal workers' settlements and carefully dyes her eyebrows a dark brown with the herb's help. Although it would take more thornroot than could be found in the whole marketplace to color all of her blonde hair, she hopes that wrapping it up in a headscarf along with her newly-dark brows will throw Ungolad and the rest of Selia's allies off her trail.
The next morning, she braves Ideca's dining house. She doesn't have long to wait before she is recognized as the new goose girl and is introduced to Conrad, the goose boy. After they eat breakfast, Conrad has her help him herd the geese to the goose pasture. He warns her carelessly that the geese practically bit the knees off the last goose boy, so she'd better watch it. Only a few minutes later, a goose tries to attack her before Conrad snatches it with his crook. Rolling his eyes at her incompetence, they continue to the goose pasture. Geese are vastly different from the swans she used to speak with, but Ani tries to talk to them with the swan dialect and fails miserably, seemingly causing the birds only to nip her legs harder. Nevertheless, she preservers in trying to pick out meanings from their noise and movements. Ani notices that three geese seem to be missing, though she's certain none got away from them, but Conrad does not seem concerned. In fact he answers defensively, reminding her that he's been trying to wrangle fifty birds all alone for a week and that he'd like to see her do better.
Ani speculates all day on how to sneak over to the horse stables and potentially rescue Falada, if he's still alive, but there is no opportunity to leave the goose pasture all day. Later that evening, she and Conrad lock up the geese in their pen and enter the dining house. Soon, a pretty girl near Ani's age bursts through the door, out of breath. She begs two sheep boys to rescue her chick coop from a ram who beat a hole through his pen. However, as soon as the boys are out the door, the girl grins mischievously and declares that she couldn't stop the ram because she was so busy rigging a bucket of oat mush above the door. She had made up the whole thing purely to get back at the boys, Razo and Beier, for making her think that one of her chickens was sick. The good-natured, confident girl introduces herself to Ani as Enna and tells her and the other workers nearby that she saw the yellow-haired Kildenrean princess with her very own eyes. She saw the "yellow girl" ride into the city on a grand white horse, though apparently she didn't ride him properly. Ani is relieved to hear that Falada is alive and in the city and has to restrain herself from begging Enna for every detail. The hall gossips about the Kildenreans and nobility in general, complaining about their snootiness and apparent disdain for Bayern until the door swings open, revealing two very angry boys dripping with gray slop. Enna merely laughs and salutes them along with the rest of the hall, with cheerful laughter that does not completely break until they all go to bed.
As the days slip from summer to autumn, Ani struggles to learn the language of the geese and make friends with her fellow animal-workers. Even if her trust hadn't been drained away, Ani's had very little practice making friends and she feels clumsy in her attempts to respond with friendly attentiveness at Enna's good-natured conversation. But a week after she first arrived to the city, she finds an opportunity in the form of a stray goose. The lone gander had been missing two weeks and is clearly tired and injured from whatever adventures he's been having, but the remaining flock won't allow Ani to come near him. Giving up, she sits by her beech tree and tries to think of a way to free Falada from the palace stables and somehow make it back home. Suddenly, a noble hunting party unconcernedly ride through her pasture, scattering the geese. Noticing that the stray goose is once again alone and too tired to attack her, she cautiously approaches the lone gander once more and carefully feeds him grass. Encouraged by his acceptance of the food, she names him Jok and decides to nurse him back to health. When he gently honks at her for more grass, she realizes with a start that she understood what the honk meant. She takes her new friend back to her little house and examines the poor bird, finding a deep gash in his thigh, and immediately brings him to Ideca for a salve. From then on, Jok sleeps in her room and they jabber back and forth to each other in the language of the geese, and some of it even makes sense to Ani.
Conrad mocks her for honking like a goose, but the geese themselves seem less inclined to bite her when she tries to speak their tongue. In fact, when two street cats lie ahead in the road and poise themselves to spring on the birds, Ani calls out a warning she thinks means "dog" and the geese respond instantly, huddling together in a defensive position, rushing the cats until they flee. Ani snaps at Conrad that he could have warned her instead of wanting to see her sacrifice a goose just to see her be incompetent, and Conrad angrily tells her that if she's so much better at goose-keeping she can jolly well carry on. For the rest of the day, the goose boy stays on the far side of the pasture, out of sight.
Later that day as she tries to listen to the geese and figure out the words they use, Ani sees a young man having trouble with a bay horse. After the horse throws him twice in a row, the goose girl steps in. She orders the man to stay put and approaches the horse, managing to calm it enough to mount it herself. She is painfully reminded of how much she misses Falada and impulsively springs the bay forward, riding down the length of the pasture and relishing the familiar sensations of horseback riding. The horse's owner runs after her, hardly believing that she just up and took his horse. She soon comes back and apologizes, but her wide smile belays any sincerity. He admits that she's far better with the horse than he can ever hope to be, and suggests that she keep the horse at her home so he can be ridden properly, even offering to pay her. Embarrassed, Ani is forced to admit that she is nothing but a poor goose girl who has nowhere to keep the horse, although she is flattered that she has been mistaken for a lady with land. The young man apologizes and tells her that his name is Geric. Despite knowing that he probably expects her name in return, her sudden boldness has left her feeling drained and she merely nods and walks away.
The next few days are thoroughly soaked with rainstorms, striking down any chance of going to the pastures. The animal workers mostly stay in the workers' hall, waiting for their turn to use the few rain cloaks to see to their animals. Ani, with no small amount of embarrassment, passes the time by thinking about Geric and her unusual daring. When at last its the goose-keepers turn to use the cloaks, she and Conrad feed and water the geese and leave Jok in the pen with them. However, once she's back in the workers' hall, Ani is tempted to go right back to the geese and practice chattering with them before she realizes that what she truly wants is to hide. Recognizing that she will need a horde of friends if she is to stand a chance of approaching the king without succumbing to a quick dagger in the dark, she gathers her courage and ventures towards Enna. Ani asks the pretty, confident girl why she is melting cheese on bread instead of playing any of the numerous games of cards and sticks taking place around the room. When Enna replies that the fire is fascinating and feels like its trying to signal her with its dancing flames, Ani is comforted that there are others who listen for language in what is supposed to be silent. In answer to Ani's question about why everyone is staying in the hall rather than venturing out into the city, Enna explains that there is severe prejudice against people from the Forest. Traditionally, Bayern boys are given a javelin and shield when they reach manhood to signify that they are a part of the community, part of the city, but this rite isn't give to Forest boys. Some establishments even refuse to serve Forest folk. She and Ani agree that its not fair, and Ani feels a moment of regret that she will not be queen after all and will not be able to set this injustice right.
Enna warmly thanks her for not laughing at her ideas about fire, and Ani replies that she feels the same way about the wind. She mentions that her aunt used to tell her a story about such things, and Enna pleasantly demands that Ani tell the story, calling over the sheep girl Bettin to hear it too. Blushing at the sudden attention, Ani organizes her thoughts and begins her story, attracting more and more listeners as she goes on until the whole hall is paying attention. When she reaches the end of her tale, the animal workers request that tomorrow, and every night, she tell them a story.
Before she enters her little house, she looks into her window, made into a reflective mirror by the light of the moon. She examines her eyebrows to see if she needs to dye them again before noticing her face as a whole for the first time since she left her mother's palace. Although it appears rounder, paler, and inexperienced, she's surprised to note that it doesn't appear sadder. She remembers how she has never made any decisions for herself, but leaned against her mother's perfection all her life as if it would compensate for her own flaws. Ani accepts that she does not have her mother's considerable grace, beauty, or gifts of people-speaking, but she has handled fifty unruly geese and held a whole room spellbound with a nursery story. Feeling a touch of the unfamiliar sensation of pride, she wonders what more she can do.
The next morning dawns free of rain and Ani is determined to find Falada. Hiding among the long line of applicants to see the king, she slips away into the palace and heads for the stables. As the palace workers nod to her, greeting her as a fellow laborer, Ani begins to relax and searches among the stables without incident. Unfortunately, stable after stable fail to contain her friend. Just as she finishes investigating yet another stable, she hears the unmistakable Kildenrean accent and drops down to the floor of one of the stalls, unable to help overhearing two of her traitorous countrymen's conversation. She recognizes Terne's voice as he berates another man named Hul for being drunk and having a little too much fun. He snaps that Hul needs to stay sober and quiet until the marriage between Selia and Bayern's prince takes place, the real Anidori is found and silenced, and the two masters' plan for dealing with Kildenree is enacted. Ani remains frozen some time after the men leave, petrified with the knowledge that her countrymen do not believe her to be dead, and if any of them saw her, a simple hat and a pair of dyed eyebrows will not save her from being escorted into a dark corner without any trouble and killed. Mentally shaking herself, she resumes her search for Falada.
On her way to another stable, she spots Falada in a far arena. Drawing closer, she sees Falada buck the man who was trying to ride him and neighing in a savage way she has never heard from him before. Cold with dread, she tries to communicate with him mentally, but he does not respond. She moves gently towards him and speaks soft, soothing words, and for a moment, Falada appears to be calmed. But something snaps, and Falada rears back, kicking her in the face. The stable-hands pull her away and tell her to go, mentioning that Falada has the animal dementia. Stunned by the loss of Falada's wits, Ani is lead away by a palace attendant who has mistaken her to be a lost supplicant. Once again before the king, Ani observes that he looks as if he might be as gentle as her own father, but more strict. He remembers her as the goose girl with the fancy curtsy and asks what she was doing near the princess's horse. She explains that she wanted to see the royal horse and when she saw he was maddened, she was confident she could help him. Unfortunately, she failed because he seems to be "beyond the place where human and animal share language". Caught up in the tragedy of losing Falada, Ani is not aware of the strangeness of her statement until she notices the king's critical gaze. Alert to the fact that there is still a long line of supplicants waiting to see him, the king merely states that one day, she will explain to him precisely what she means. In the meantime, he punishes her for trespassing by taking a part of her month's pay, saying that the palace grounds would otherwise be swarmed with citizens. She asks what is to become of the princess's horse, but the king sternly says that he does not know, as he doesn't concern himself with others' horses.
The ache of Falada's loss pounding in her head and heart, Ani wanders throughout the marketplace until she finds Finn. Relieved to see a friendly, familiar face, she pulls him aside and quietly says that she just needs to tell someone that she's scared, confused, in trouble, and completely alone now that she's discovered her friend has been killed, or close enough. Finn holds her a moment to comfort her, allowing Ani to sob onto his shoulder once or twice before she pulls herself together and thanks him for his kindness. Finn reports that two fair-haired men came to his home in the Forest looking for a yellow-haired girl, but Gilsa told them that she's never seen anyone of the like. He then tells her exactly how to get to his mother's house, making her repeat the way several times until she's got it memorized. Swallowing her fear, she gives Finn a silver coin as part of the repayment she owes his mother, but in exchange he gives her a warm pullover Gilsa knit, blazing with a design of a yellow bird. Ani marvels at Gilsa's generosity before she leaves, spending her last few coins on a bit of thornroot.
Days later, Jok is still ignoring her as punishment for leaving him in the goose pen for an entire two nights. Luckily, Ani is saved from a day of isolation by Geric, who comes to visit her. The first thing he does his ask her name, but they swiftly run out of conversation after she tells him she's called Isi. Mired in awkwardness, Geric mentions that he's been visiting the pasture for the past few days hoping to see her, but she didn't show. He had meant to bring her flowers in an effort to further apologize for being "a kingly dolt" the last time he saw her, but the flowers were battered considerably in the rain. Nevertheless, he had held onto them for the whole week until they just flat-out died. So instead of flowers, he presents her with a sack full of food. She assumes he's a kitchen man, but he tells her he's a guard to the prince himself. Learning that Ani hasn't had a midday meal since she began working as a goose girl, he vows to bring her dinner every day. Just then, Jok rushes towards them as if intending to bite Ani, but she honks at him to stop his charge. Ani explains to a bemused Geric that the bird's upset with her for abandoning him in the pen, inspiring the the man to valiantly chase after the goose and attempt to force an apology out of him. However, Jok doesn't feel like apologizing and bites Geric hard on his arm, waddling away as fast as he can when the guard drops him. Ani laughs at the spectacle before remarking that Geric isn't likely to ever get an apology from such a stubborn creature as a goose.
Ani and Geric enjoy the rest of the afternoon lying on the grass and looking at pictures in the clouds. When the hour grows late enough that Geric has to go, he promises to visit her again the next day if he's able to. He's as good as his word and not only visits her the next day, but also the day after that, and the next one after that, and so on. She enjoys telling him about goose-keeping and, learning that she has much alone time while watching over her flock, he brings her books and tells her of palace life. Ani soon gains enough confidence to ask about the palace's newest residents, the Kildenreans. Geric comments that they largely keep to themselves, but Ungolad skillfully wins sword matches against the palace guards, even managing to beat three men consecutively. As for the woman calling herself Princess Anidori, he mentions that before meeting her, the prince paced the floor out of nervousness, trying to memorize her long name. She proved to be witty and courtly, despite some trouble that seemed to surround her arrival.
Later that week, Geric arrives not just with a sack of food, but also trailing another horse. Ani allows the gelding to look her over and waits for his approval before she mounts. She joyfully rides with Geric throughout the pasture and into the nearby woods, racing each other back to the geese when Ani frets that they've been too long unattended. Laughing, gasping for breath, and playfully bickering over who won, Ani notices that Geric is looking at her as if he forgot he's looking, as if he doesn't want to do anything else. Ani maintains his gaze as her heart continues to beat wildly.
That night, after telling her fellow workers a solemn story about a tragic romance, she examines her face in the mirror-like window of her tiny house, searching for signs of her beautiful mother's face, wondering if Geric really did want to look at her as if she was beautiful. She stares so long, unsure, she's startled when Enna mentions that Ideca can be persuaded to give senior workers a table mirror. Embarrassed to have been caught looking, a flustered Ani enters her little room and unwinds her long blonde hair. The pale tresses remind her that she is not truly a simple goose girl, she is a secret in hiding. A sudden movement in her periphery causes Ani to whirl around, mirroring Enna's wide-eyed surprise. Ani had forgotten her curtains were open, fully displaying her Kildenrean yellow hair.
Ani quickly invites a thunderstruck Enna in, closing her curtains before explaining that she's become so used to being a goose girl that she forgets to worry. Enna apologizes, both for startling Ani and for seeing her secret. She touches Ani's blonde locks and realizes that the reason Ani constantly wears a hat or headscarf was to hide them. The goose girl says that her dark eyebrows, however, are dyed. Enna gently runs a finger over a brow and laughs slightly in disbelief at her clean fingertip. Ani quietly offers to tell Enna her story if she can keep a secret, to which Enna swears she can. So, Ani tells her story backwards in order to gain the girl's trust. In her true accent, Ani reveals that she is really the princess of Kildenree, forced into hiding because of her treacherous lady-in-waiting. Even though it is the truth, Ani feels like a liar claiming that she's a princess while dressed in her goose girl clothes in her tiny house built right on the street against the city wall. She can't see Enna's face in the darkness and waits, terrified, for her response, fearing that Enna doesn't believe her, or worse, that she'll betray her. Finally, Enna asks if Ani wants her to bow. Aghast that that is what Enna is wondering, Ani tells her no, she just wants to know if Enna believes her. Enna fires off questions thick and fast, about Kildenree, Ani's bond with Falada, and the dark motives of her former guards. Ani answers them all, feeling safe in the darkness with Jok warm and asleep on her lap.
At last Enna runs out of questions and the two girls sit quietly, thinking. After a while Ani thanks her for listening, easily slipping into her Bayern accent, which feels natural to her now. She apologizes for ever being standoffish, but Enna understands that having a "friend" like Selia soured Ani's trust. She is determined to get Ani's name back, declaring that they'll gather all the workers together to be Ani's guard and make the king listen. Although Ani appreciates the sentiment, she can't help remembering how Selia's men killed all of her loyal guards. She doesn't want another massacre, sacrificing her friends just to get her name back. Before Enna leaves, Ani stresses that the Kildenreans would kill her if they knew where she is. Enna swears to not tell anyone, saying that she really does believe her and even offers to worry and mourn in Ani's place if the burden becomes too great, so that the princess-in-hiding may sleep peacefully.
The next morning, Ani eagerly waits for Geric's daily visit. Emboldened at Enna's belief, she plans to tell Geric the truth as well, hoping that with his help she can convince the prince himself of her identity. But she can't accept that the best solution is to marry the prince and live the rest of her life with Geric as the guard at her husband's side and resolves to find a better one. When Geric finally arrives, she notices that although he often acts silly around her, he really is quite handsome. She smiles happily at him, but when he draws closer she sees that he looks rather troubled. He doesn't tell her any details, but only says that there's been ill gossip at the palace. His disinclination to talk and frustration with himself sours Ani's own desire to share her secret. They sit by the stream in silence for a while before Geric apologizes for bringing the gloom he tried to escape with him. Ani offers to distract him by turning the topic to the princess's horse gone mad, desperate to hear about her beloved Falada. Unfortunately, Geric thinks that they'll kill him since the princess has said ever since her arrival that he's a dangerous beast and thinks that its best that he be put down. Ani is horrified and begs Geric to do anything he can to save Falada, but he says that the king has already issued the order and it may already be too late. Ani, powerless, fights hard to keep from crying, unable to tell Geric how much Falada means to her. She pleads with him to try and get the prince to spare the horse and Geric immediately leaves to do so, but not before attempting to stammer out how much his days with her have meant to him. Words having failed him, he looks into her eyes and she sees herself reflected in his. She sees the golden autumn trees framing her and lifts her face to him, feeling the light of the sun on her skin. He gently touches her cheek, sending a thrill through her body, before holding her hand and standing quietly for a few moments. She holds his hand in both of her own, but somehow, the moment breaks at her touch and he pulls away. Mounting his horse, he prepares to dash to the palace in the hopes of saving Falada. Before he rides off, he gives Ani a heartfelt apology.
In the middle of the night, Ani sneaks away to the stables in a desperate attempt to rescue Falada. The guards let her through, but she knows that they may not be so easy to persuade when she tries to lead the princess's maddened horse back out. Unfortunately, the stable she had last seen Falada in is completely empty. With dull fear, she realizes she'll have to check every one. Before she gets too far, her headscarf catches on something but her cold fingers are numb and too clumsy to wrest it free. A stable hand finds her and -too loudly- advises her to leave, drawing the attention of others. A frustrated Ani tries to pull herself free when she spots a man with two pale braids across the field. Panic flooding her body, Ani tears the headscarf off of whatever caught it and off of her head. Her blonde hair shining like a silvery beacon in the moonlight, she has no thought but to run. Her mind and body both numb, she knows that she can't run fast enough and that its only a matter of time before Ungolad catches and kills her. Barely stopping, she manages to reach the gates and tells the guards that the man chasing her is trying to do her harm. They stop him at the gates at javelin-point, but his yell of frustration only makes her run harder until she's totally lost. She stops at last and catches her breath, trembling with each one. Despair seizes her with the icy knowledge that Falada is lost and the Kildenreans now know she is alive and hiding in the city. Ani stumbles over to the city wall and follows it to her own safe little room where she locks her door, collapses onto her bed, and falls into a deep sleep.
The next day in her goose pasture, Ani waits for Geric to arrive and tell her of her friend's death. Instead, the young palace pageboy Tatto makes his way across the field and imperiously delivers a message to her from Geric. Ani reads that he has decided not to return to her pasture, bluntly writing that he "cannot love her as a man loves a woman". Furthermore, he was unable to save Falada. Tatto watches with wide eyes as Ani picks up the first large rock she sees and throws it as hard as she can, saying that she'd like all of her troubles to line up so she can give each one a good punch. Her anger unsated, she kicks her favorite beech tree for emphasis. She presses her forehead against its bark as a kind of apology and is calmed by its touch, resolving to suppress her despair over all of the people she has lost: her aunt, her father, Selia, her siblings, Talone, and now both Geric and Falada. Wishing to properly say goodbye to her dear horse, possibly even feeling a trace of hope that he may yet be saved, she asks Tatto where he has been taken. Still in awe from her display of anger, the boy says the princess's horse was taken to the nearby knacker.
The smell of dead animals lodges in Ani's throat, but she is able to ask the knacker if Falada has been killed, wincing at his confirmation. She offers the knacker her last gold ring as payment for a proper burial fit for a noble creature. Though finding it odd that a mere goose girl cares about a royal horse, he accepts the ring and agrees to her request. He offers to let her to see what remains of Falada, but she can only stand to see one severed hind leg, stained brown from blood and dirt, before she flees from the horror.
Four days later, Ani walks to the pasture with her geese but stops short of the wall above the archway. Fastened to the stones, attached to a polished board of of dark wood, is Falada's severed head. Feeling faint, Ani slumps against the stones for support. She is sickened that they hung her friend on the wall the way they do criminals, but she can't look away from his cold, unseeing marble eyes.
Winter brings with it snow and restlessness. The geese must stay in their pens, the workers in their hall, but Tatto often dines with them and gossips about palace news, including the persistent rumor that there will be a war in the spring. Even Mistress Ideca dismissively tells them about how the Kildenrean warriors are searching for another yellow girl that apparently got lost on the journey to Bayern. But instead of feeling fear, Ani feels strangely giddy and free. With the death of Falada, she has no more reason to stay in Bayern and plans to continue working as a goose girl until she gathers enough money to travel back to Kildenree and reveal Selia's treachery to the queen. Even so, she knows she will miss her fellow workers terribly as well as the feeling that she is actually doing something useful, even if that something is simply tending geese. But until then, she looks forward to attending the Bayern festival of Wintermoon with Enna, Razo, Bettin, and Conrad.
The city is richly decorated for the festivities, filled with colorful paper flowers and suns, street magicians, and acrobats. Ani marvels at music filled with the beat of drums (which she has never heard before), the magic tricks performed by sorcerers, and how her fellow workers don't seem nearly as awed as she is. However, she does catch sight of one face that seems just as amazed: Yulan, a member of her traitorous guard. Ani quickly ducks away and hides among her friends, quietly warning Enna that one of her enemies is wandering around. The two girls glance around surreptitiously as their group approaches the javelin dancers. Enna explains to Ani that in the ceremony that bequeaths Bayern boys a javelin and shield, they must dance blindfolded within a sharp ring of javelins in the square known as the Thumbprint of the Gods. Its honorable if the boy survives the dance untouched, but they're given a javelin and shield anyway unless they die. Razo and Conrad stare with starry eyes, declaring that they'd do the dance right there and then if it earned them a javelin.
They then spot a group of pompously-dressed nobles daintily picking their way through the city streets and Bettin mentions that the prince should be among them. Ani, who has never seen her betrothed, is eager to see him and leads her friends to follow the nobles until they stop at a game booth where a young boy no more than thirteen happily throws miniature spears at a wooden boar. Ani laughs in shock when Razo identifies the little boy as the prince, unexpectedly grateful to Selia from having saved her from that marriage. Ani's amusement chills when another man she knows well steps in to test his skill. Geric lands two spears effortlessly in the boar's wooden neck, but the third flies wildly off-mark when Selia playfully bumps his elbow. Enna is alarmed to see the princess and tries to tug Ani away, but Geric's spear has fallen not too far from where Ani stands and their eyes meet. Geric silently recognizes her, but Ani melts into the crowd before Selia can too.
The large crowd separates Ani from her friends and deposits her in front of the witch she bought thornroot from when she first entered the city. Even though Ani must save her money, the witch points out that her eyebrows need to be dyed again and gives her a bit of dried thornroot for free. Ani wanders throughout the crowd and checks to see if there's any juice left in the plant, unaware that she's about to walk right into someone until she feels the impact. As her luck would have it, she's walked right into Yulan and Ishta. Instantly, a grinning Yulan yanks her to him with his knife at her back. When she spits that they will be hanged and strung on the walls of the city like the criminals they are, the men are surprised at her unexpected courage, but laughingly brush aside her threats. True, her mother may have them all executed if she ever finds out about their treachery, but she is half a year away while Ungolad on the other hand is just up the road. Ani struggles in vain as her attempts to scream and slow their progress are thwarted by the men, but she refuses to walk demurely to her demise. Spotting a flock of pigeons nearby, Ani quickly calls out a warning of cats to the birds, sending them flying in a commotion of loud, flapping wings. Hoping Enna sees the spectacle and thus, her, Ani renews her efforts to stop their walk, ignoring the press of Yulan's knife blade. Ishta leans down close to her and holds one of her hands to his foul mouth, threatening to bite off a finger if she does not move. Thoroughly repulsed, Ani nevertheless stands resolute and merely waits for the pain of sinking teeth. Luckily, they are interrupted by the local peace-keepers, a band of working-class men who take it upon themselves to protect the people of Bayern when the royal soldiers cannot or will not. Seeing that Enna has brought them, Ani is flooded with relief.
Yulan tries to convince them that nothing is wrong as Ishta casually holds Ani's hand, but the peace-keepers wait for Ani to speak. In her truest Bayern accent, she wastes no time in informing them that they're holding a knife to her back. Almost instantly, she is wrested away from Ishta and Yulan and placed in the center of the peace-keepers. Yulan loses his temper with the peace-keepers and their total lack of acknowledgement of his royal order and tries to attack them, but the peace-keepers are experienced in fighting and they give Yulan's head a deathblow with one of their quarterstaffs. Ishta flees before he, too, can be killed, and Ani sincerely thanks the peace-keepers for their help. That night in Ideca's hall, Enna and Ani tell the thrilling story to their fellow workers- leaving out the reasons and the pigeons, of course. The workers are absolutely awed by their goose girl- a person who had been worth abducting, but struggled and was saved.
Ani spends the short winter days among the animal workers and is comforted by how familiar her life as a goose girl has become. The workers feel more like a family and Ideca's hall more like a home than her life in her mother's palace ever did, and soon, her loneliness dissipates as if it had never been. The frozen world is peaceful and hushed, and in that stillness, Ani senses a faint, odd feeling she can't quite put a name to. One particular night, she can't stand it any longer and walks in the moon-filled streets until she comes to the place where Falada's head surveys the night. She remembers the first time she met Falada and the first time she repeated that name back to him, and is overcome with the longing to hear his voice once again in her mind. She speaks his name mentally, as she has so many times before, straining to hear him again with the part of her mind where they were able to communicate. She concentrates so hard, she succeeds in hearing a faint, faint echo of the last word he ever said to her: Princess. Desperate for the comfort of his voice, Ani calls out to him again and is startled when a new voice answers her instead. The winter breeze brushing against her cheek, Ani again hears her name, Princess, and realizes that the wind itself is speaking to her in the place where she always heard Falada. At last, the language that had lain dormant on her tongue since her birth is unlocked, allowing her to hear the icy, indifferent rush of words that is the beauty of the wind's voice.
Ani returns to the gate every day after that, practicing speaking with the wind. In time, she learns how to listen to and interpret the wind's words, discovering that each gust speaks in a series of images of all the things it has touched before reaching her. It requires much concentration to untangle the pictures into meanings.
Spring gradually pokes through its winter shell, allowing the goose-keepers to finally return to the pasture with their birds. Ani wants to share her amusement at the eager geese with Conrad, but is silenced by his sour expression. She recalls how he once tried to mock her in front of the other workers by telling them that she thinks she can speak goose, but instead of ridiculing her, they asked her for advice with their own avian problems. With each question, Conrad grew more and more sullen. Although the goose boy usually visits with friends in other pastures or wanders in the nearby wood, this time, he stays close and watches her distrustfully. Later, she catches him telling Razo that she's not normal. Razo carelessly shrugs off his concerns, convinced that Conrad's just jealous of her goose-keeping skills, but he only serves to make Conrad even more surly.
In the pasture, Ani finds a small clearing in a copse of trees and takes her headscarf off, letting her damp hair soak in the late-winter sunlight. When a small breeze brushes her neck, she thinks of her long, wet hair and suggests that the breeze blow through it. When it actually does, delicately lifting and drying each strand, Ani is completely shocked that she somehow managed to speak back to the wind. So great is her surprise that she doesn't notice Conrad creeping up behind her until he names her aloud: yellow girl. She quickly wraps up her hair again, but the damage is done. She tries to tell him not to say anything about her foreign blonde tresses, but he is too busy relishing the fact that the beloved goose girl who is so much better at goose-keeping than he is isn't even Bayern. Before she can say anything more, he runs off.
That night amidst a light snowfall, the workers gloomily contemplate the rest of the winter, exchanging stories about their struggling families in the Forest. Ani is asked what her family sells, and she replies truthfully that she doesn't know what they're doing now. Her blood freezes when Conrad laughs roughly at her, scorning her answer. He continues mocking her until he has the attention of every worker in the hall, culminating it all by declaring that she's a yellow girl, the one the Kildenrean guards are looking for.
The room is utterly tense and silent, and Ani knows that if she doesn't do something, they'll turn on her. She apologizes to Conrad for making him think that she's taken what was his, but he doesn't have to make everyone hate her just so they'll like him. Enna rallies to her defense, but Conrad, firmly held back by Razo and Beier, challenges her to make Ani reveal her hair and settle the argument. Ani trusts Enna to come up with something to help her, but she's seized with fear when she sees Enna's mournful expression, as if she's preparing to betray that trust. She says apologetically to Ani that the workers should know, and commences to explain that Ani's hair was burned off in a fire before she came here and she's not going to let her be embarrassed just to set Conrad straight. Struck speechless, Ani stifles an urge to laugh as the workers study their potatoes with sudden interest. Conrad stands stock-still for a moment before angrily declaring that he'll prove she's foreign, stomping off when no one responds. Ani is unbelievably relieved that Enna saved her yet again and thanks her for her lying skills, but states that the goose boy saw her hair. Enna reassures her that no one will believe him, but she will keep her safe just in case.
Even so, Conrad just won't stop pestering her. One day he even blocks her way, demanding a strand of her hair. Ani apologizes to him for being unable to tell the others the truth, but asks him to leave her alone since she'll be leaving soon anyway. The next day, she can't see Conrad anywhere and lets her hair loose. She feels free to practice the wind's language without Conrad's watchful gaze and considers that unlike living creatures, the wind has no emotion. However, it can be directed every now and then. Ani can sometimes speak to the wind and send it on a new course, but occasionally the breeze is too weak and simply disperses into still air instead. Other times, the wind is so strong it cannot be persuaded to change its course. Suddenly, she senses a shadow of a hand reach towards her hair. Gathering up all the wind touching her skin, she begs it to fly out towards the shadow, where it knocks off Conrad's orange cap and blows it all over the place, always ahead of his grasp. By the time he catches his runaway cap, Ani's hair is firmly tucked away under her hat. She gives him her raisin bun that night as a kind of apology, and though he accepts it with acknowledged defeat, she sees that he is still fuming.
Two months after Wintermoon, Ani hears through the wind that five men in the wood are coming towards her pasture. Suspecting trouble, Ani calls to the geese that there is danger nearby and they immediately huddle together in a defensive position. Conrad looks up at the sound of forty-eight geese moving as one and catches sight of the five men, each carrying a sack or a pole tipped with a wire loop, but disappears through the gate of the city wall. Ani tries to stand her ground and defend her flock, but the men do not turn back. One slams his pole down on her crook, breaking it in two, before knocking her to the ground and pinning her there by pressing the pole to her throat. She manages to choke out a command to run, but the geese attack instead. Unfortunately, they are easily snared by the poles and stuffed into sacks. Ani, trapped and helpless, begs the wind touching her skin to do something, anything, that could help. She concentrates all of the nearby wind to come together, attracting other nearby breezes until she has a small whirlpool of wind circling the ground. She whispers a warning to the men that the geese are protected before suggesting that the wind dig into the earth. The wind pulls dust and pebbles into its flow and the thieves grow worried at the unusual sight of a dirt-filled wind circling endlessly, becoming as tall and wide as the beech tree behind them. Ani persuades the wind to fly straight at the men's faces, pelting them with pebbles, blinding them with dust, and giving the geese an opportunity to escape the sacks. Relentlessly attacked by mysterious wind and angry geese, the men abandon their sacks and poles and flee to the safety of the woods. As Ani is honking victoriously with her geese, Conrad arrives with three other workers. They had intended to rescue her and the flock, but are shocked that she apparently fended off five full-grown goose thieves single-handedly. They pick up her broken staff in amazement and leave to report the event to Mistress Ideca. Ani thanks Conrad for getting help, mentioning that she initially thought he abandoned her, but Conrad doesn't take it well and snaps that he would've faced them down.
Later that night, Ani refuses to talk about what happened, leaving her would-be rescuers to tell their much-embellished version to the hall. Some workers are sent to retrieve the tools the thieves left behind for souvenirs, but they return with Tatto instead. The young pageboy proclaims that the king wishes to thank those involved with the protection of his geese, but far from being honored, Ani is terrified. She doesn't want to risk Selia capturing her, not when she's so close to being able to travel back to Kildenree. She tries to bow out, but her friends won't hear of it. With little choice but to go, she asks Conrad to accompany her. When they've walked a few blocks, she insists that he go alone and take all the credit for himself. He shrugs silently, but follows Tatto to the palace.
Ani returns to her little house and finishes one of the books Geric gave her. She's fondly touching the signature he left on the front page when Enna interrupts her reverie. Enna is uneasy about what Tatto is saying and brings Ani to the hall so she can hear it for herself. When she walks through the doors, Tatto is announcing that there will be a war with Kildenree as soon as the pass in the mountains is free of snow. Ani asks why Bayern would attack Kildenree, but Conrad answers with a sharp look that Kildenree is the one that's attacking. Tatto grandly reports that the princess told the king that she was sent to Bayern as a decoy to pretend all was well, but she has grown to like Bayern and doesn't want to be a part of her country's deceitful ways. Ani is horrified, realizing that this war is how Selia plans to keep anyone from discovering her secret. Razo sees her concern but misinterprets it, reassuring her that Bayern is much stronger than Kildenree and will effortlessly overpower it. Ani knows that he's absolutely right.
Ani can't go back to her mother, not now. All she'd be able to do is warn her country to prepare as quickly as possible for a war they cannot possibly win. No, she needs now more than ever to convince the king of her true identity. Worry and fright leave her unable to sleep, so she seeks comfort in the company of Jok and his mate. The birds snugly settle down in her tiny bed, leaving no room for her, but she doesn't care. She slumps down below her window with thoughts all in a tangle, unaware she's fallen asleep until she startles awake about an hour later. A noise out of place in the dark, a breath, a footstep. Ani carefully steals a glance in the small mirror Enna gifted her at Wintermoon, glimpsing Ungolad through the sliver in her curtains. He silently opens her door, focused entirely on the bed. As he steps towards it, Ani quietly stands up and slowly makes her way to the door, reaching it just as he twitches aside the covers. The night explodes in a clamor of squawks and wing beats, giving Ani the cover she needs to run. Ungolad isn't staggered by the angry birds for long, though, and chases after her. Ani thinks with her feet and races down the path she walks every day, to the pasture. Just as she passes the gate Falada is guardian to, Ungolad lunges wildly for her and manages to stick his dagger in her back before he stumbles to the ground. The pain pushing her even harder, Ani sprints towards the woods and buys a little more time by managing to send a bolt of wind at Ungolad that knocks him back down. At long last, she vaults over the wall that separates the royal woods from the true Forest, stopping only when the impact from the fall stuns the breath out of her. Lying as still as possible as she gathers her breath, she hears no hint of Ungolad on the wind and figures that she must have lost him in the wood. Painfully, she tears a makeshift bandage from her tunic and stumbles deeper into the murky Forest.
Continuously bleeding, Ani weakly fights off unconsciousness as she stumbles through the trees for days, trying her best to remember Finn's directions to his home. At last, she catches sight of Gilsa and her cottage, managing to warn the startled woman that she's about to faint before the darkness claims her. When she wakes two days later, her wound has been cleaned and bandaged and Gilsa admits that it may be for the best if she hears Ani's story. Ani tells her everything, from the mutiny to learning the wind's language. Gilsa can hardly hide her amazement, but forces Ani to stay in her home and heal, despite the girl's restlessness. One day, Gilsa's closest neighbor and friend Frigart comes to visit and Ani spots one of her very own gold rings on Frigart's finger. Recognizing it as the one she gave Talone so long ago, she demands to know where Frigart got it. The affronted older woman says that the man she's been taking care of for months gave it to her as payment, and, filled with hope, Ani insists on accompanying Frigart home despite her injury and Gilsa's vehement protests that she needs to heal.
Ani's heart leaps when she catches sight of Talone at last. Joyfully reunited, they exchange stories of how they've spent the long months before planning the best course of action. Agreeing that returning to Kildenree is hopeless, they decide to beg the animal workers their help in convincing the king of her identity. They soon leave for the city along with Finn, who quietly insists on joining their quest. The trio carefully head straight for Ideca's dining hall and are surprised to find the room full. As soon as the room catches sight of Ani, Enna runs to embrace her friend as the workers congratulate her on being alive. They've all been worried sick since the night Ani escaped Ungolad; the squawking of the geese woke half the settlement just in time to see her running for her life. Enna had lead a large section of the workers in chase, but lost sight of them in the woods. Soon faced with everyone's questions, Enna felt that she had no choice but to tell everyone of Ani's true identity as Princess of Kildenree.
In answer to Ani's question about why they're all in the dining hall, the workers say that its holiday week for the prince's wedding and that the army has already left for Kildenree. Ani catches sight of Conrad huddled in a corner and, at long last, gives him a strand of her hair. Staring at it, Conrad holds back tears as he admits that he revealed her location to the Kildenrean guards, but stressing that he never thought that they would try to kill her. Ani forgives him and apologizes for lying about her heritage. Reminded of her deception, she asks the workers why they all seem to readily believe that she is a princess and is touched when they frankly reply that they know her; she's their friend. Before she even has a chance to beg their help, everyone is already determined to join her quest.
Leading her group to the palace, Ani attempts to gain entrance by claiming she has important news about the war, but the guards refuse to let her pass or even take a message. Luckily, Offo (one of the sheep boys) recognizes a guard as Ratger, the old pig boy. Offo mockingly teases him until he grumbles that the king isn't even at the palace; he and the other royals have left with the army, intending to hold the prince's wedding somewhere on the way to war. Suddenly, Ani spots Tatto walking past and asks him to find Prime Minister Odaccar, knowing that if she requests to see him the guards will have to let her pass. In no time, Tatto leads her to the section of the palace where respected, elderly servants live in retirement.
Although many of the residents live out their days quietly, Odaccar is bored out of his mind. Feeling set aside and useless, he's interested to meet with Ani and listens to her story intently. He remembers Ani's mother fondly and laments that a war is exactly what they were trying to avoid. The former prime minister tells her that the king has likely gone to Lake Meginhard, where he was married himself, and tells her where it is. Unfortunately, Ani and her group won't be able to make it in time to stop the wedding without horses. Delighted at the chance to do something useful, Odaccar writes a very official note to the horse-master stamped with a seal he secretly kept from his time in office.
Sending Enna and Finn to get the horses, Ani and Talone head to Selia's rooms to acquire a royal gown. Ani plans to pretend to be her younger sister Napralina, who would be sent to be a witness to the wedding, in order to see the king and for that, the goose girl needs to look like a princess. Entering Selia's vast closet as Talone keeps watch in the main room, Ani finds one of her very own dresses Selia stole. Just as she finds the shoes to match, she hears the clang of sword-on-sword and peers out the door to see Ishta. The traitorous man is delighted at the chance to kill his former captain again and gleefully enters battle against Talone. The men fight fiercely, but ultimately Ishta's blood-lust makes him too restless and Talone is able to run the man through the back and heart, just as Ishta had done to Adon.
Ani is dismayed that kind Talone has a bloody sword instead of a peaceful life, but is grateful that he is able to take Ishta's Kildenrean sword, which the man may very well have stolen from Talone in the first place. Leaving Ishta's body out in the open, Ani and Talone rejoin their group at the stables. The stable-master has relinquished a dozen horses, all old or short or skinny, but Ani needs a horse fit for royalty and asks after a majestic bay pacing in an enclosure. The stable-master explains that he's still a wild thing unfit to be ridden and the stable-hands jeer at her in amusement, but Ani has ridden the bay before with Geric and confidently saddles the horse herself, leading him out of the corral with ease. The jeering stops.
The few animal-workers who can ride a horse volunteer to escort Ani to Lake Meginhard, including Finn, Enna, Ratger, Razo, and Conrad. Ani instructs her escort that if the guards at the gate don't let them through, or if the king doesn't believe her story, they are not to take any risks. The next morning, she dons her elegant gown and lets her golden hair hang freely. When her escort sees her, they are awed and kneel down before her. Telling them to stand up for pity's sake, Ani has them all cover their dark hair so they won't look obviously Bayern and they soon set off to stop the wedding and war.
At Lake Meginhard's gates, Anidori announces that she is her sister Napralina sent to be a witness to the wedding and demands to see the King of Bayern. The guards stare at her in shock. After palace runners are sent back and forth, they allow her to enter the estate- and only her. Forcing her escort to remain outside, Ani's protests are ignored as she the guards take her straight to Selia. Handing the bribed guards their money, Selia asks Ungolad to take Ani away from the estate quietly, but before he can do anything, soldiers from the king's own guard enter the room and summon "Napralina" to the king's presence.
Ani curtsies deeply before carefully stating that she's not actually Napralina. Instantly, the king signals his guards to take her away, but Geric stops them. Looking closer at her face, he recognizes her as the goose girl Isi but can't understand why she is blonde or why she's pretending to be a Kildenrean princess. Ani explains that she is truly Anidori-Kiladra and that the woman who stole her name is really her treacherous lady-in-waiting. Selia artfully laughs off the accusation and uses her people-speaking skills to persuade the king that Ani is lying, but Ani begs the king to listen to Talone, the only one who survived Selia's massacre in the Forest. Selia is shocked to hear he is alive, but quickly implies that he is fickle and thus his word means little. The current prime minister Thiaddag suggests the king allow his son, the young prince, to leave the room since this conflict has nothing to do with him. Sympathetic to the boy's boredom, the king lets him withdraw but Ani questions why, as this concerns the boy's bride. Laughing with scorn, Thiaddag clarifies that the princess is of course betrothed to the elder prince, Geric.
As Ani is reeling with shock, Selia tells the king that Ani is obviously trying to use the prince to "win her little game". The king, growing impatient, suspects treason and asks Selia the Kildenrean punishment for this crime. Sparkling with wicked glee, Selia invents a punishment involving being placed naked in a barrel full of nails and being dragged through the streets, much to Ani's horror. Geric points out that there's no proof Ani has done anything criminal, but his father declares that proof isn't needed during wartime and decides to imprison Ani until the war is over and he can think about her case. However, Geric convinces his father to leave Ani alone with her countrymen so that they may arrive at a suitable resolution. Ani pleads to not be left alone with murderers, but she is ignored.
As soon as everyone leaves, Selia kisses Ungolad deeply, elated at their triumph. Selia softly tells Ani how wonderful it has been to impersonate her, and that even when she thought Ani was dead, she wished that Ani could see her former lady-in-waiting being her and doing it better. She offers Ani the chance at a peaceful resolution by talking the king down from the crime of treason and even sending her back to her goose herd if Ani agrees to say that Selia is the real princess, but Ani once again refuses. Seeing that Ani has fallen in love with Geric and thus knowing that nothing she can say will change Ani's mind, she asks Ungolad to cut her so they can claim Ani attacked her. Ungolad is extremely reluctant to cut his beloved Selia's skin, but he agrees to if he can kill Ani first so he can claim that he was defending Selia. Suddenly, they are interrupted by the king, Geric, and some guards, who burst through the tapestry behind them.
Geric had remembered that there is a secret passageway behind the throne so that a hidden adviser could whisper clever things to the previous lord of the manor. Geric had convinced his father to hide behind it so that they could overhear every word the Kildenreans said. Ungolad holds Ani tightly with a knife to her throat as a panicky Selia tries to cling to her claims of being the true princess, but she quickly accepts that it's hopeless. Even so, the king treats her courteously, believing that she didn't kill anyone directly, and asks her to release Ani so that they may be judged fairly. Selia demands to take Ani with them as a guarantee of their safety, but Geric notices Ani's terror and correctly surmises that she'll simply be killed once they are far enough away. Selia attempts to force Ani to allow them to take her away, but instead, Ani gathers all the breezes she can into a windstorm. The wind pushes her away from a frightened Ungolad, and she draws out the very breath from his lungs. As the strong breeze circles her, lifting her hair into the air, everyone stares at her in awe. Ani savors the feeling of being untouchable, but Ungolad finally loses patience and swings his sword at her. The strong wind knocks his blow aside, but Ani knows he'll try to strike again. Suddenly, Talone bursts in and distract Ungolad by challenging him to fight. Soon, battle erupts between the Kildenrean traitors on one side and the animal-workers and Bayern soldiers on the other.
Geric protectively defends Ani from the chaos until she points out that the battle between Talone and Ungolad is not going well. Ungolad just manages to stab Talone through the shoulder and prepares to deal the killing blow when Geric hurriedly distracts him, presenting himself as a new challenger. Ungolad is mad with rage against this boy who "would have shared [Selia's] bed" and duels him viciously. Ani grabs a javelin and prepares to help him, but the Bayern soldiers hold her back and say that their orders are to keep her safe. She demands to know why none of the soldiers are helping their prince, and they explain that its his first battle. It would be dishonorable to him if they interfere. Geric is a good swordsman, but Ungolad is an experienced killer and manages to stab Geric in his side and presses him to his knees. Thinking honor is a stupid reason to let the prince die, Ani secretly sends a bolt of wind straight at Ungolad's chest, giving Geric enough time to recover. He fights with new strength, as if his wound gives him power, whereas Ungolad is blinded with rage and blood-lust. Finding an opening, Geric deals Ungolad a deathblow, ending the battle as a whole.
As Enna runs to Ani's side, the king symbolically snaps a javelin in half and hands his son a sword, marking him as a man. Ani finally has time to look around and notices that Selia is nowhere to be seen. Ani realizes that the breeze she used to knock Ungolad back came from the secret passageway and carried an image of an angry Selia. The king orders his guards to secure the perimeter before Ani requests him to grant the animal-workers javelins and shields. As she names them, she notices that Conrad appears to be missing. With dread, they look through the bodies of the fallen when a sudden scream sounds from the passageway. To Ani's relief, Conrad emerges from it dragging a violently-struggling Selia by the hair. In moments, she is apprehended by the guards. She attempts to persuade the king to let her go, but she is far too agitated to make her voice compelling enough. The king reveals that she has been sentenced with treason, and that she herself has named the punishment. Seized with panic, Selia thrashes and screams as if the nails are already piercing her. As she is dragged out of the room she wears vengeance on the true Princess Anidori-Kiladra.
The next morning, Ani discusses the previous day with Enna and admits that she doesn't know how to feel about Selia's execution or even if she should visit Talone or Geric, who are healing from their wounds somewhere. Soon, Anidori is once again called to the king's presence. When she enters the conference room she sees from the council's faces that whatever is being discussed, it's a heated topic. She's proven right when the king greets her courteously, but somberly asks her to give them reason to believe that Kildenree is not planning war. Thiaddag shows her the evidence Selia had presented, but Ani quickly disproves it all by pointing out that the documents are forged and the royal seal marking them could have easily been stolen by Selia's mother, the key-mistress. Furthermore, she ridicules them for ignoring the evidence of history -that Kildenree hasn't entered a war in three centuries and is simply too small to attack a massive kingdom like Bayern- and for believing the fraud, traitor, and deceiver who gave them such evidence to the contrary. Ani tells them that she has seen heavy discrimination against the Forest-born, overcrowding, and peace-keepers who obey their own code of law since the king's soldiers apparently won't. Announcing that she seems to know more about Bayern than they do and certainly knows more about Kilderee, she challenges them to question why a mother would send her eldest child straight into the heart of the enemy before she leaves in disgust.
By the time Geric finds her, her anger has melted away into embarrassment. Yet he praises her for putting the king and his council in their place, swiftly ending an unnecessary war before it could begin. He then apologizes for the letter he sent saying he couldn't love her as well as lying to her about who he was. He acknowledges that he knows that their marriage was arranged without her consent, and if she doesn't want to marry him, he'll understand. Nevertheless, he professes his love for her and asks if she'll marry him, and she happily accepts to his delight. Ani feels that at last, she has found where she belongs.
They are then summoned to the dining hall, where the king's army and the captains of every hundred-band honor Anidori for stopping the war before it could begin. She and Geric address Ani's friends and fellow animal workers, who have been newly made into a hundred-band. Geric wants it to be called the yellow-band in honor of his fiancee's exotic yellow hair, but Ani insists that it should be called the Forest-band.
She and Geric are soon married in the Thumbprint of the Gods where nobles and commoners alike can attend the wedding. One of her first acts after her marriage is to take down Falada's head from the wall and have a quiet burial under a beech tree by the goose pond. Over this spot, she has a white stone carving made of a young colt and little girl in loving memory of their bond. By late spring, Ani befriends the stable-master and helps aid a mare to foal. She hears the newborn speak its name, Avlado, and repeats it back to him, sealing their friendship.
Ani's powers have terrible side effects. She cannot focus on anything, because the wind is always speaking to her, nudging her to listen.
Napralina-Victery is visiting her sister when the Tiran ambassador, Lord Kilcad, suggests that the king and queen of Bayern travel to the capital city of Tira in order to address the assembly before they vote on the matter of war. Ani decides to leave her beloved son behind in the capable hands of Gilsa, unwilling to inflict such a long journey on a one-year-old, but Napralina is eager to see new sights and happily goes with them. She tells Ani how bored she is with Kildenree and how she wishes that she, too, can be a princess of a foreign land.
Although Ani makes sure that their ship's sails are full of wind, the journey still takes too long for them to make it to Ingridan before the vote. Luckily, the assembly has voted for peace and so they can celebrate along with everyone else. Razo introduces them to His Radiance, the prince of Tira, and Anidori in turn introduces His Radiance to her sister, noticing that the two seem to be mutually charmed by each other.
Ani is tall and slender, with long yellow hair that falls all the way to her hips (later cut to her shoulders in Enna Burning). She has gentle, light-green eyes and pale, milky skin. By the time of Forest Born, she has developed queenly grace and beauty similar to -but different from- her mother's.
- Ani is exceptionally gifted at hearing tiny differences and imitating them, allowing her to learn languages and accents quickly. She can speak flawlessly in the Bayern accent and can speak some Kelish as well as some of the language of Yasid.
- Ani is a very talented wind-speaker, having managed to teach herself to hear and communicate with the wind. She can:
- Sense images of things that the wind has touched before reaching her.
- Suggest paths for the wind to follow, eventually becoming so skilled that the wind will go wherever she chooses whenever she wants.
- Gather wind around her into a buffeting shield.
- Pull the breath straight out of people's lungs.
- Douse fires by flooding them with wind.
- Ani is also a fire-speaker, after her friend Enna taught her how to speak its language. She can:
- Sense heat from living things and pull it into a special place inside herself, forming it into fire.
- Send fire into anything she chooses, from dead wood to sword hilts.
- Send tiny bits of heat into herself and other people to keep warm.
- Cause wind to dissipate by breaking it up with heat.
- Suck the heat out of things, be it fire or people.
- Due to her closeness with her own horses, Ani is a skilled rider and overall horse-master.
- Ani knows two types of animal-speaking:
- Ani was taught by her aunt at a very young age to speak the language of birds. Although the dialect may differ, birds generally speak the same language.
- Ani can speak the language of horses. The key to unlocking a horse's voice is hearing and repeating the name it speaks only once at birth. She has successfully done this with her horses Falada and Avlado.
- "I like my geese. Like cats, they can't be told what to do, and like dogs, they're loyal, and like people, they talk every chance they get."
- “Right now I'd like all my troubles to stand in front of me in a straight line, and one by one I'd give each a black eye.”
- "We know it's all just daydreaming. In all likelihood, no one in this forest'll ever get a javelin, and I'll never see my mother's kingdom again, let alone be hailed by crowds as the jewel of Kildenree. Maybe it's vain to wish for it. But sometimes, it'd be nice just to hold something real in your hands that felt like a measure of your worth."
- "In a country where you hang your dead up on walls and pride whether or not a man bears a javelin more than his character, how am I to persuade you out of a war? It would be suicide for Kildenree to war on Bayern and butchery for Bayern to attack Kildenree. If you don't believe me, then send me back. Or if you don't trust me to leave, I'll return to my little room on the west wall and tend your geese, and you can be sure that on my watch no thieves will touch my flock."
- "I can depend on Enna for just about anything, but I could never make her a court assassin. She'd fall flat on her face."
- Shannon Hale used elements of her own relationship with her husband when writing Ani and Geric's relationship.
- Anidori is often compared to birds.
- Ani named Jok after the man in the tale of "the wanderer who always returns".
- Anidori is the only person in The Books of Bayern to have the ability to learn the language of wind since birth.
- Ani always wanted black hair, thinking it exotic.
- Ani remembers the dialect of swans best.
- In the Bayern Justice League, a tactic Shannon Hale used for character development, Anidori is considered to be Superman.