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|At night, Kalena didn't sleep well. The nightmares came back, this time stronger than ever.
The fear of failure and loneliness was overwhelming. Although Galaspiael promised to leave the quarters only when it was absolutely necessary and said he'll make sure that his apprentice is ready to stay alone for a couple of days, his words could not calm her down. She tried to hide her anxiety but eventually, it came back in the form of the most unpleasant dream she ever had.
Yagn-Sho was definitely bigger than Galaspiael's house, but it turned out to be amazingly cozy. Students walked from the residential part to the schoolyard with a long pavilion. In the free time, they could go out into the garden, connected to a small courtyard.
Early in the morning, the first fighting classes took place. Master Rikken immediately proved himself to be a rigorous and demanding teacher. When he noticed that Zarkin was looking at Kalena almost all the time and trying to quietly talk with her, he grabbed his by the arm and dragged him to a place where the boy could not see her. The whole group stayed silent after witnessing that.
He was a stern-looking, tall man with blue eyes that seemed to notice every tiniest weakness in his students.
"Listen!" He said to them after greeting. "You must understand that places like this one are forbidden for people like you. You will arouse fear and resentment, and sometimes you will even meet with open hostility. If someone expects from me this hypocrisy, called by some empathy, they will also be disappointed. Outside these walls, a world awaits you. This world has just been revived from the ashes. It will not care for your feelings and I have no intention either. Unless you prove to me that you should be respected, I will not."
Kalena responded to these words only with a slight smile. He didn't try to discourage them, he knew what he was talking about. But she felt sorry for Zarkin, such a strict teacher.
After the warm-up, which was as exhausting as regular training, they were supposed to get used to "school swords". They were long, wooden, polished sticks, much heavier, and harder to control than ordinary Shen. All the time they had to move them from one hand to the other while watching to maintain the correct posture, that is, the left knee bent and the right foot firmly on the ground. No one was able to do it correctly, and Rikken roughly criticized their every mistake.
"I hate him!" Jin-si exclaimed as they finally took a break. "How can someone be such a monster! We are students, not his servants! Deprived of human feelings sick man!"
"Yeah now shut up," Zarkin muttered.
"I have a right to be mad at him! No one knows how to fight yet and your master should understand this. If that's how his classes look like, he will not see me again!"
"Please, cut it out!" Umi stood up and changed places to be as far as possible from the princess. "He wasn't even rough for you. In my opinion, he purposely treats you and all the rich kids better and it'll stay that way. So he'll have more time to turn our life into hell."
"Peasants always let themselves be pushed," said Kete.
"Oh look, the nobleman just spoke!" Zarkin said mockingly, but he clenched his fists in anger. Kalena watched the whole situation with cautious interest, but she did not see the spectacular fight she was secretly waiting for. Galaspiael came to lead them to their next lesson, signaling that their free time was over. He was chosen for the guide of all students because thanks to his youthful pranks he knew Yagn-Sho from the inside out.
"You look tired," he said quietly as Kalena stepped out to the front of the group to walk beside him.
"I feel like I was scrubbing floors all day. It's noon yet, and I'm already sleepy."
"Don't worry; it'll pass over time. With Rikken's help, you can quickly get yourself in shape.
"You're exaggerating, it couldn't have been that bad. For sure he realizes that you all are beginners. What were you doing?"
"This," Kalena picked up a stick from the ground and started to swing it vigorously. "And before that, we were running and doing some exercises for an hour. The fighting lessons are meaningless."
"You think so?"
"Yes. Why would I even need that? At least, calligraphy is useful, but these lessons are probably only meant to finish us off. And after the warm-up, it got boring. He only screamed 'bend your knees and raise the stick as high as possible'! This is stupid!"
"I feel you because I had my fighting lessons with Rikken and I know what kind of a teacher he is. Come on." Galaspiael opened the door and let the rest of the group in. "But please don't get discouraged just now. I promise, if you train more, you'll like Rikken's way of teaching... Good luck. You will certainly do better, we have already practiced that."
Indeed, at the very beginning, Kalena was praised by master Tessale for being able to legibly write her name, as well as a few sentences he dictated to check her. The rest of the lesson was mostly a lecture about how their education would look like. After the training, everyone decided that it was the best thing that happened to them on that day.
"Why are you back so early?" asked Galaspiael when Kalena entered the room. "You don't have to come here right after dinner. The curfew is in four hours."
"I know," she said, sitting down on her bed. "I wanted to rest."
"I don't believe this training was so exhausting," he said, putting the book back on the table. "Since you are so reluctant to make new friends heat the water, we'll make some tea." He handed her two flints. The girl came to a small stove, on which stood a kettle. She looked at the dry wood and a few coals and hit the stones hard against each other. The flame almost leaped out from under her fingers. Galaspiael shook his head in disbelief.
"You must teach me this someday."
"Teach you what?"
"Your way to kindle the fire. You do it so fast that this is beyond my understanding. Would you also succeed with wet flints?"
"It doesn't matter if they are wet or dry," she said, "I've always known how to do that. I can try to show you how, but no one I taught has managed to do it correctly."
"This will be useful to you during your kitchen shift," he said. "But they'll start later so don't worry about the now. During the first month, you should focus only on learning. For me, calligraphy lessons were the worst because they can last for a few hours."
Kalena wanted to say something, but a knock on the door interrupted her. Her master went to open them.
"Hello Zarkin, come in," he said, stepping back to let the boy inside.
"Good evening." The blonde boy smiled casually. "I came to ask if Kalena would like to take a walk around the quarters."
"Master Rikken gave you some free time?"
"He got angry at me and said he doesn't want to see me around," he confessed.
"Well," Kalena glanced at Galaspiael. "We were supposed to drink tea."
"Oh, go with him If you want," he encouraged. "The water hasn't boiled yet. Just please, try to come back before dark. And don't eat from our pantry supplies, and if any doors are locked please, don't try to open it.
"There's still some food left in the dining room," he said as they stepped out into the corridor. " People still eat what they took from home, so some of them skipped dinner."
"Galaspiael said not to eat."
"From the pantry," he reminded, "and this food is already out of it. If we don't eat, it'll go to waste."
"Do you know the way to the dining room? I would get lost if I'd get to go there by myself."
Zarkin led the way. They walked in silence, looking at each other from time to time.
He knew inside his heart that Kalena began to fancy the prince. He saw the way she looked at him, the way she smiled when he looked away. And he found it funny but decided to say nothing about it.
"Hello, prince Washar." The voice of the master pulled the prince out of his thoughts, as in the old days. "You haven't visited me for a long time. Please come in. What brings you here?"
Washar uncertainly crossed the threshold of the room and found that since the last time he was there, only the smell changed - earlier the scent of herbal ointment for muscle pain has not been so noticeable. Besides, everything was as he remembered from his school years. Master Kisho said that even blindfolded, he would find the smallest needle in his room.
"I need your help," he said at once. "I think someone stole the dynamite recipe from the vault."
"You think?" master picked up.
"Someone definitely had stolen it." Washar corrected. "It's my fault, I should burn it as soon as possible... I have no idea why I didn't! You are the first person to know about it, so please keep it a secret." Washar clenched his fists. "We had a burglary a few days before. I killed the thief and I was able to recognize that she was from the Scribe's Association."
"Do you suspect them?"
"I don't know. Maybe she was only a bait, and they sent her to discover when I was going to make a copy. The copying process is a great opportunity to steal old parchment. An experienced Scribe would have no problem with that. And I made their task even easier because of my stupidity! I should follow the procedure right away." He nodded vigorously. "Yes, it was some Scribe for sure. Who else could do it? The man who made the copy did not leave the treasury alive."
"Who else was there that day?" asked Kisho.
"Nobody else!" Washar growled impatiently. "The Scribe Association has declared a war on the Madegaldian Empire!"
"Who brought in the copyist?" the old teacher remained calm. "Did he found a way himself?"
"My brother came with him... No, you won't tell me, you suspect Naimoor! You know him well, you taught him before you taught me!"
"That's why I suspect him."
Washar thought deeply. He recalled the day of copying and tried to remember every, even the least important detail.
"But he did not enter the treasury with copyist," he said finally. "He was standing behind the door with me. My brother did many wrong things but he can't be accused of stealing the imperial secret. This would forever destroy his hopes of taking the throne."
"Or this would help him to get rid of prince Vishimon. Then he would be first in line. Shao Tien is missing and there is no indication that he will be found quickly. Sujin cares only about Princess Min-Si. If they get married he would have a good chance for the throne in Velikania. And Seishin is too young to fight for the crown."
"It doesn't make sense! If that were the case, why didn't he persuade Vishimon to come to the treasury himself? Then it would be easy to accuse him of stealing it."
"Getting Vishimon there would be too obvious. Emperor Xiansherim knows that now all attacks are directed at the eldest son. Imagine Naimoor sending Vishimon to you and then accusing him of stealing the recipe. It would be clear to the emperor that Vishimon was a victim to the intrigue. In my opinion, he is planning something else. Something that would plunge Vishimon enough to make your father doubt in him. I don't know what the dynamite recipe is for, but it certainly is part of the plan."
"And I'm a pawn in his game," Washar finished. "Should I warn Vishimon?"
"When we have complete certainty. If you suspect the Scribes, I will send some people to the Yagn-Sho, let them overhear what is being discussed there now. The old copy was old and falling apart, even if it got into stranger's hands, it will certainly get destroyed, but it's better to make sure. Until then, my dear student, take care of yourself."