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|Galaspiael went to the market with Kalena and Zarkin to buy some necessary things.
They needed mostly clothes and shoes, but also bought bundles of various sizes, a leather bag, a pouch, a flat box for not important notes, and everything they thought could be useful during the time in Scribe's headquarters named Yagn-Sho.
Zarkin got some money from Master Rikken and a list of things he was supposed to get. He shopped, bargaining the lowest price everywhere, and saved the rest of the money for himself, asking Kalena not to mention it to his master.
When they returned, the prince explained what would study in Yagn-Sho look like and tried to tell them about the principles of the Association in an accessible way. He was happy being able to speak so much, especially since his apprentice was a really good listener. Zarkin a little less, but he didn't show that he was bored.
"Scribes' Association wants to protect and share knowledge because we believe that is how things should be. We want our civilization to prosper like it was before the Great War. Well, at least, we'd love people to see us that way. After a few years, you'll find that each organization has its flaws. There are ten places in the world where potential new members of the Association are taught. Potential, because not all adepts finish the training."
"And then what happens to them?"
"Nothing. They follow their path. We all keep in secret our membership in Association, and a new student can be introduced only by a master with at least two years' of experience. Also, one master can train up to three people throughout their lifetime." Galaspiael ran his fingers through his hair. "So as you can see that is all about openly sharing knowledge with all people. I don't like it but unfortunately, we need this for security. During the first months, students are not allowed to go outside the headquarters. Although they don't even have much time to leave, learning takes most of the day... What are you looking at?" He asked, seeing that Zarkin had been staring at him intensively for some time.
"I wonder," he began without taking his eyes off his shen, "will I be allowed to kill someone?"
Kalena and Galaspiael looked at each other in awkward silence.
"Who would you want to kill?" asked the prince.
"No one yet," the blonde boy replied.
"I'll have a weapon. Can I REALLY use it? Or maybe shen is only for decoration and some show fights?" Zarkin looked at them coldly and that gave Kalena an unpleasant shiver.
"It's not just for decoration," Galaspiael began, "Shen is a real weapon. And of course, it's impossible to avoid the fight. The very fact that you will be armed will drive some people to attack you. You can kill someone by defending yourself, just like by attacking. I just hope it won't happen too often - he added, seeing how Zarkin's eyes glowed. "A warrior is not a murderer."
Zarkin rolled his eyes.
"I haven't murdered anyone. I just want to make sure you won't send me to execution me when I use my sword..."
"For defense," Galaspiael finished for him. "And if you commit a crime, it's better for you to end the case at the home of some local Okiani. Palace trials are for the worst criminals."
"Of course, master."
"As for now I think I've already told you everything about the training... it lasts a year, although in my case it was two years. During that time you acquire all the skills that are needed to get the title of master, but a Scribe learns his whole life. In the beginning, you only have fighting and calligraphy lessons. These are the two most important subjects, without which you can't master the rest. Besides each student also has separate lessons with their master.
"Tell me again," Kalena began uncertainly, "what are the punishments? And for what?"
"You haven't been accepted into the Association yet, are you tempted to break the rules?"
"I want to know what awaits me if I do something wrong."
"No one can punish a student for a mistake or for not knowing something. We don't have a list of offenses and a matching list of penalties. When someone breaks the rules, we treat their case individually. When you get the task to learn the rules of the Association, take it seriously and you will know everything."
"Have you ever been punished for something?"
Galaspiael snorted, remembering his school years.
"I don't think I should tell you that. The master should be a role model... Mostly for lateness, quarrels with my master, escapes, arson, destruction of someone else's possessions. I even trapped a friend in the basement once. I think I broke all the rules that exist... What can I say, I wasn't a calm student."
Hearing this, Zarkin smiled slightly. Kalena tried to imagine the younger version of Galaspiael starting a fire.
"You also need to know that nobody expects you to be perfect in everything," the prince continued. "It's normal to have one specific subject in which you'll be an expert and getting mere results in the other fields."
"And the free ones won't bully us for it?" Zarkin asked.
"I don't understand why you still describe them this way," said the prince. "You are also free people yourself."
"They're born free," he corrected.
"For me, there is no difference," Galaspiael replied. "During the training, you are closed to the outside world. Only skills count, not where who comes from."
Finally, the long-awaited day came.
Kalena regretted that she had to leave Galaspiael's house - the place she had already started treating, like her own home. When they were ready to go, she felt like crying. The Scribe's quarters terrified her with its size and inaccessibility. It was located between two hills, and from the outside world protected with a huge gate, now opened to guests entering.
Yagn-Sho consisted of several buildings. The largest, to which a long pavilion led, served as a home for students and masters. Next to it was a training hall, connected to a small room for storing weapons, and several smaller buildings located around a small courtyard. They were all painted in warm colors.
"I thought there would be more a lot more students." Kalena immediately began to look for Zarkin, when they arrived.
"As far as I know, there are only fifteen people. There's no need to form groups. It will be the weakest year in history... And here comes Tessale!" Galaspiael suddenly pulled Kalena by the hand in a completely different direction.
"Who is this?"
"My old friend."
Kalena saw Princess Jin-Si next to Master Tessale. It could be recognized from afar that she was much wealthier than the rest of the students.
The blue dress she was wearing was interwoven with small crystals that glistened with the slightest movement. Her blonde hair was pinned up in an intricate bun, which also had small shiny decorations. She was stunning.
"Oh, what are you doing here?" She asked, coming up to Galaspiael. "You have no idea how surprised I was when Master Tessale told me that you're a member of the Association, too. Why didn't you say anything?"
"Because if I've done, you would have sent me a thousand letters asking for training. Just like you've done to Tessale. I hope you realize that this is not a holiday. You're not a princess here. You're a student." He replied calmly and passed her by. "Nice to see you again, my friend. Has Rikken lost his way to the quarters?"
"You know he is never in a hurry," Tessale glanced at Kalena. "Is this your apprentice?"
"As you can see. Kalena, this is master Tessale. He will teach you calligraphy and history."
A young man, a head taller than the prince and looking like his peer, restrained a burst of laughter.
"I can't believe we're together here again. I remember when you stole fruit from the pantry and then dropped the pulp on our heads. Someone like you must not be allowed to be a teacher!"
"Who was preparing this pulp for me?" Galaspiael nudged his friend. "Don't ruin my authority."
Kalena said nothing. The sound of a dozen or so human voices mixed together dumbfounded her. Jin-Si completely ignored her presence. It seemed like the contrary to what Zarkin said. Aristocratic students won't bully them. They'll simply ignore the existence of liberated slaves. It was much better.
"Your sister came too?" Finally, Galaspiael paid attention to Jin-Si.
"Sadly no. But don't worry she should visit you in the palace soon. You must miss her? After all, it's your fiancée..."
It was like a kick in the stomach. Galaspiael could not be engaged. He lived alone and no one visited him at all. Not once did he mention anyone, and he devoted all his attention to Kalena. Her lips tightened. This small twinge of jealousy made her realize that the affection for the prince began to turn into something more than just friendship.
She no longer heard what he replied, because of the sound of the gong, which meant that the ceremony would begin soon.
They were led to a large room filled with the smell of wood and something that Kalena smelled for the first time in her life. Everyone was silent, which significantly affected the atmosphere. The girl turned away when she heard a loud squeak of the hinges. The gate has been closed. There was no turning back. She felt Galaspiael's hand on the shoulder.
"We're heading there," he pointed to the center, where a circle on the floor was drawn white circle. "First the masters. You must line up and approach us in turn. It's easy. Just observe what others are doing"
"How will I know when it's my turn?" she whispered, feeling panic overwhelming her.
"Your name will be read. You just take a few steps forward towards me. Don't worry!" He winked at her and went into the line with the other masters.
Tessale stood between them. Gong pealed again and this time was so loud that Kalena felt a slight vibration in her stomach. She glanced at Galaspiael and he smiled slightly. It calmed her down.
"Dear friends!" Tessale began. "For several years, the opportunity to meet in Yagn-Sho did not want to come. I know that there are those students who have been waiting for admission to the Association for several years because we have not been able to form a minimum group for a long time. Some are convinced that our school is slowly dying. In its history, however, Yagn-Sho struggled with more problems than empty corridors. We are carefully choosing our students and that's fine. The year spent training often turns out to be the most important in their lives. Not every master can take this responsibility and not every student should take this challenge. However, I am sure that these young people you have brought with you, selected from among many, will work hard and do their best. Now I am asking everyone for special attention, I will read the names of those who will begin their training today." After those words, he took a decorative sheet of parchment from the tube and unfolded it. "Mian Mizar and master Okiani Mian Aymon," he read the first pair. "Sei Li and master Okiani Sun Tahi."
Kalena noticed the two students come out of the line and smile at each other. They must have met before. Most of these people seemed to know each other well.
"Mamina, Nemina, and mistress Bimala," Tessale continued. Two twin sisters holding hands approached a woman with a friendly, motherly face. "Seth and master Hosh, Umi and mistress Asanala."
Kalena suddenly began to get very nervous. She imagined that she would not be read at all and everyone would look at her standing alone. She closed her eyes, silently asking Tessale not to miss her.
"Dasir and master Zai Saial, Zarkin and Master Rikken, Kirni and master Okiani Seng Samin, now replaced by master Hosh. Insha Kete and master Lao!" Tessale paused for a moment and took a deep breath. "Kalena and His Royal Highness Galaspiael, the sixth from the Namanya dynasty, endowed with the grace by his ancestors, prince of Kagolania." He read and looked towards his friend. A whisper of murmurs ran through the room. The boy gave him a furious look, and when Kalena came closer he laughed.
"Did you hear what he said? 'His Royal Highness, the prince.'" Galaspiael handed Kalena an oblong, flat box made of dark wood. "It's for you. Inside you have Lik and a small surprise to start with. But don't open it here."
"This is the end?" Kalena felt a slight disappointment when Tessale read a few more names from the list and everyone began to diverge. "Really? I thought I'd get my Shen today."
"Before Shen, we would have to take the measure off your shoulder first. And it would be good to teach you at least the basics of fencing so you don't hurt yourself. Yes, that's all for today. Welcome to the Scribe's Association, Kalena!"
The ceremony was over and they both head to the living area, where the rooms were ready for them.
"It's so nice here" she praised, entering their room.
"I chose this one because I wanted to live far away from the main corridors. Silence helps to focus. It was also my room during the training. I hope you don't mind it."
"Will... we live together?"
"Is it something wrong that we are together in one room? We have separate beds." Galaspiael looked at her closely. "Are you afraid that I'll hurt you somehow?"
"No!" Kalena realized she said it too loudly and lowered her voice "Of course not, I just..."
"Tell me," he encouraged.
"I'm afraid that some people may talk about it in the wrong way."
"I told you I don't care about other people's opinions."
"But you didn't tell me you're engaged!"
The boy looked at her surprised by this sharp attack. Kalena pursed her lips and stepped back.
"I didn't say anything, but not to hide it. It's an exhausting and annoying topic for me. But if you want to talk about it, then I'll tell you the truth." He sat on the bed across hers. "Princess Lin-Si is not my chosen one. No one will think that you being close to me is something inappropriate. She would even be happy about it. I have to marry her, but only so that Kagolania can form a closer alliance with her country. This marriage was planned by my father when I was three years old. I am glad that she is almost my peer, I would not like my wife to be decades older than me. But we don't have feelings for each other, and to be honest, I would prefer to throw myself off the roof rather than marrying such a woman."
"So if you don't love her, can't you choose another bride?"
"I know it's hard for you to understand, but I can't. All my decisions, even about private life, I have to make based on the consequences they will have for my subjects. Zarkin annoys me with the way he talks about aristocrats. It seems to him that life is simple when you are born in a palace, and this is not true at all. You can't imagine how much I envy you your freedom. I can't even be out of the house for too long. Sometimes you will be alone in the quarters for a few days because I will be called to the palace." He smiled weakly. "Isn't it absurd that I gave you the freedom and I don't have it myself?"
"Is that why you don't like Jin-Si so much? This fiancée of yours... it's her sister, I heard right?"
"Yes. And it's not true that I don't like her. I've been avoiding her lately, but it's because she went crazy for Tessale. For a long time, she had asked him to take her as an apprentice. If she had found out that I was also in the Association, I would probably not have freed myself from her for a long time. But you know little one, I think we should stop wasting time talking about my problems and unpack as soon as possible. Tomorrow you are starting your first day."
"Talking about your problems is not a waste of time," she said. Her heart trembled with joy as he smiled gratefully and hugged her.
In the evening, in front of the majestic, closed entrance gate, Kalena played Kajrengo with Zarkin, Umi, Jin-si and several other people. The game was quite complex, and at first, the rules were a little incomprehensible, but Zarkin explained everything to her.
Shortly after the third round, Jin-si stated that the game was stupid and primitive, and started offending everyone. The gameplay, however, continued and would end late at night, if not for the intervention of master Rikken, who quite bluntly gave everyone a lesson about a curfew in Yang-Sho.