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I’m trying to find a fantasy book I read at least 15 years ago. Here’s all the details I remember:

The main character, a teenage girl, was unknowingly adopted and raised by parents who looked different and practiced a different religion than the people in their village. When her parents died, she was given instructions to take a golden torc to a far off city and find a specific woman.

Turns out, she was the secret twin to the city’s princess who died in battle. There’s magic. She survives a night in a pit with wolves. I distinctly remember a scene where she eats stew and bread with the king. It was the first time I’d ever read "dirk" used as a synonym for "dagger."

Thanks group!

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  • Hi, welcome to the site. Can you be more specific about any magic or fantasy elements that were in this story? Commented Oct 27, 2023 at 5:09

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Is this The Legend of Lady Ilena (2002) by Patricia Malone, the first book in the Lady Ilena duology...?

The Goodreads synopsis notes that the protagonist, Ilena, is the fifteen-year-old daughter of Moren and Grenna. She was raised in the Vale of Enfert, but it's not her true home and her parents refused to speak about their lineage. When they died, her father's last instructions to her were to head east to the fortress of Dun Alyn and find someone called Ryamen.

Ilena, daughter of Moren and Grenna, has lived in the Vale of Enfert for all of her 15 years, but it is not her true home. Her parents refused to speak about the place they came from or their lineage. After the deaths of both of her parents, her questions remain unanswered. Her father’s final words to her provide the single clue: “Go to Dun Alyn. Find Ryamen.”

Ilena sets out alone on the dangerous trip across Britain, certain only that Dun Alyn is a fortress somewhere in the East. Her skills as a warrior are tested against raiders from the West and Painted Ones from the Far North, but her most formidable challenge awaits her at Dun Alyn. Will she be able to accept her true identity and fulfill her destiny?

According to a review, Ilena's family were Christian, whereas the other villagers practiced a druid faith. She was also raised to be a warrior rather than a wife.

Fifteen-year-old Ilena always felt like an outsider in the sixth-century north British village where she was raised. Although respectful of the villagers’ Druid faith, her family is Christian; and unlike the other girls, Ilena was raised to be a warrior, not a wife.

This excerpt from the Google Books preview of the first book indicates that she found a gold torc in a safe hole beneath the floor of her house.

The heaviest things in the bundle are the bag of coins and the gold torc. I found both yesterday in the safe hole beneath a loose floor stone in our house.

The Legend of Lady Ilena (2002) by Patricia Malone

On her way to Dun Alyn, Ilena stops at the fortress of Dun Dreug, where she's invited to partake in a feast alongside the chief of Dun Dreug and his wife. The term 'dirk' is used repeatedly in this scene.

By the time I reach the head of the table and take the seat beside Chief Perr's wife, conversation has resumed at full volume. I can hardly hear her words. "Welcome to Dun Dreug. I am Faren. Durant tells me you are from the West?"
It is rude to ask direct questions of a guest, but I can tell that she hopes for information. I smile and try to speak without admitting that I have no noble lineage to report. "From the Vale of Enfert, lady. It is near the western sea."
"And your father is chief of Enfert?"
"My father is dead."
"I'm sorry to hear that." She touches the sleeve of my dress. "This is lovely weaving. The color suits you."
I start to acknowledge the compliment, but we are interrupted by a serving boy with a plank of meats from the carving table. After two days of dried venison and stale bread, the hot food is welcome. I pull my dirk from its holder in my girdle and spear a large piece of beef.

The Legend of Lady Ilena (2002) by Patricia Malone

I presume that Chief Perr and his wife believe Ilena is of noble descent due to the gold torc she's said to be wearing at this point in the story. During the same scene, Ilena hears tell of Cara and Miquain, the ladies of Dun Alyn, who were killed in battle thirty days prior.

My old friends would be surprised to see me at the head table in this great hall wearing a gold torc and talking with a chief and his wife.
As the music strengthens, Faren whispers, "A new bard. He arrived today."
Chief Perr leans past his wife and speaks to me. "He brings news of fortresses in the East. Durant will want to know what he tells us."
The bard brings his music to a close and stands to speak. First he thanks Perr and his wife for their hospitality. He talks for a while of Arthur and new Saxon invasions in the South, then strikes several strong chords and announces a title:
"The story of Cara and Miquain."
Some in the hall turn on their benches to see better. Others hurry to get fresh ale before the music starts again. The bard moves his stool toward the center of the platform and waits for silence. I can see him well now; his sharp-nosed profile is directly in front of me. His rusty brown hair hangs in unruly locks around his face as he bends over his instrument.
When the hall is quiet, he begins speaking over soft chords from the harp. "I have just come from my first visit to Dun Alyn. All there are still in mourning for the ladies of the fortress."
Perr drops his dirk on the table and stands to lean toward the bard. "By the gods, man, what do you mean?"
"They were killed in battle some thirty days ago."

The Legend of Lady Ilena (2002) by Patricia Malone

According to this Goodreads user review, when Ilena arrives at Dun Alyn, she's initially mistaken for Lady Miquain.

Ilena has always lived in the Vale of Enfert, but has never known her lineage because her family is from the East. When she goes to the one place her dying father told her to people start to mistake her for their lost Lady Miquain

She's then accused of being a spirit by Dun Alyn's druid, Ogern, who has her imprisoned within a wicker cage in a clearing. I believe this is where she's attacked by wolves, judging by other snippets I found in the Google Books preview.

His face is hidden by the front of a deer skull. Antlers rise from the bony plate on top. The figure sways and seems almost to float. My head swims, and I turn cold.
The stagman speaks. "Who are you?" The voice is Ogern's. "What spirit comes from the Sidth?"
I try to speak, but words won't come.
"Speak!" Ogern comes closer.
I try again. My dry throat feels as it does sometimes in a dream when I want to call out but cannot. Finally, I force a few words. "I am not a spirit. I am Ilena. I come from the West Country. Moren is my father. Grenna ... Grenna is my mother!"
"They have been dead for years. Who are you?"
"I have told you."
"Put her in the pen."
Cormec and Toole move forward and grasp my arms. I struggle to break free but cannot. There is a large wicker cage across the clearing, and they drag me to it. Toole holds me while Cormec takes my dirk out of its sheath and unties my tinderbag. He tugs at the sling and bag of slingstones but leaves them when they don't come loose. Toole's face is grim in the torchlight, but Cormec keeps his face down and does not meet my eyes.
Ogern stands close while they push me through the door and bar it with heavy poles through the outside latches. Toole moves away with the Druid, but Cormec stands beside my prison for a moment.
"This is all I can do," he mumbles. He raises a pole and pulls the door open far enough to shove something through onto the floor. He replaces the pole, and then he too is gone.

The Legend of Lady Ilena (2002) by Patricia Malone

In this excerpt from the Google Books preview of the second book, it's subsequently explained that Ilena was discovered to be the twin sister of Miquain and the daughter of the chief of Dun Alyn, Cara. As Cara and Miquain had recently been killed, that made Ilena Cara's rightful heir.

"A raid. With no warning. Strangers at our gate—Saxons among them but others from here in the North also. I've not yet learned the fortresses they came from."
"We tried to get back," Rory says.
"Yes," Spusccio says, "we tried. When we heard the horns, we raced, Belert in the lead, as hard as we could push the horses. But it was too late. Our beloved Chief Cara and her daughter Miquain were dead when we arrived. None of the raiders escaped our swords, but that was little comfort to us."
Sorcha says, "And my grandfather told me that I was the new chief. Cara and my mother were cousins."
Spuccio says, "Yes, as far as we knew at the time, Sorcha was the heir to Dun Alyn. But you've all heard the story; you were in the hall the night Ilena was brought in. Some pretended to think she was a spirit, but when her background was pieced together, we knew she was the true chief of Dun Alyn. She is the daughter of Cara, twin sister to Miquain. Because of the superstition about twins, Cara had to send Ilena away. Moren, Cara's brother, and his wife, Grenna, carried Ilena safely to the west."

Way of the Warrior (2005) by Patricia Malone

I haven't turned up any explicit supernatural elements in these books, but some of the locations, such as Dun Alyn, Dun Dreug, and the Vale of Enfert seem to be fictional, and the Goodreads synopsis for the second book, Way of the Warrior (2005), indicates that King Arthur is real in this universe.

Lady Ilena still can’t believe she is hereditary chief of Dun Alyn, her new home in the North. She eagerly awaits the return of her betrothed, Durant of Arthur’s table, and the time when Durant will rule beside her. But Britain is in a state of unrest. Despite Durant’s and Arthur’s efforts at unification, several neighboring fortresses have allied with Saxon invaders in the South. These tribes want Dun Alyn, and one tribal leader called Faolan will stop at nothing to get it. When Ilena refuses to accept Faolan’s marriage proposal in her loved one’s absence, she sets off a bloody battle–with grave results.
A warrior can commit no greater crime than to falter under attack, and now Ilena faces the ultimate punishment: she must leave Dun Alyn, alone, and may not return to her people until she has proved herself worthy to be their leader. The journey will take Ilena to old friends–and new ones–as she searches for Durant and for Britain’s protector, the legendary Arthur.

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