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|That day was cold and cloudy.
If you would go outside the Yagn-Sho, it could turn out that the weather was perfect, but the wind, blowing in a small valley, between the two hills, effectively cooled no matter how strong the sun was shining.
Rikken let the students train in the hall, but the chill was still felt there. Everyone crouched against the walls, waiting for the end of classes or for being called to step forward. For several days they had practiced fighting in pairs.
That day Kalena had to fight Mizar.
He was a tall boy with light brown hair and gray eyes. His mouth was almost always tight twisted in a malicious smile. From the beginning, he showed resentment towards her and all the other students who at the ceremony were read without a family name. Of course, it was impossible to determine whether such a person was a slave, servant or peasant, but Mizar and his colleagues looked at them with contempt anyway.
He had a very strange attack strategy. He preferred to start quickly and aggressively, wanting to knock down his opponent right away. However, if someone managed to withstand the first few blows, they could easily tire Mizar and defeat him, which Rikken constantly reminded him. Unfortunately, Kalena, seeing his hand above her, clenched her eyelids tightly and curled up, wanting to avoid being hit. When he saw this reflex, he used it every time, and she couldn't help it.
She raised the wooden imitation of shen, wishing to repel the attack, but released it from her hand as soon as she felt the pain begin. Before she realized it, she was lying on the ground, covering her face with her hands and hearing malicious whispers from the group watching her.
"This is a disgrace!" Rikken grabbed her arm and set her back to an upright position. "How many times do we have to repeat it before you learn? Explain how you want to survive in a real fight?! Will you cry and beg for mercy?"
"Maybe Kalena will develop the turtle style?" Mizar took off his vest and lay down in the same position. "When she would have to fight, she'll just cover her armor and wait for the danger to pass."
His voice was drowned out by the laughter of other students. Kalena wanted to escape from the room, but she did not know exactly where to go.
"Yeah, laugh. She will also laugh when you'll come back beaten up. Maybe I will try this great martial art… I mean the art of cowardice."
"Go back," whispered Rikken. "Your master, Prince Galaspiael, was the best student I've ever had. You disgrace him! I didn't have high expectations, but you could at least pretend to try. These are basic moves and everyone, except you, is already doing great with them."
Kalena could not stand it. Pain, humiliation, and anger at Rikken's words completely broke her. The master gave her a disapproving look when she cried loudly.
"Okay, sit down. You're truly hopeless."
It hurt. Kalena had never felt so stripped of dignity before. However, in despair, malicious satisfaction sparked in her heart.
Intuition did not disappoint her. She felt well that she couldn't make it in Yagn-Sho.
During the break, Kalena sat in the shade of a tree, away from the rest of the students. They didn't notice her absence. Only during the first days, she aroused interest, because her guardian was the prince. Some hoped that he would start telling them about a passionate affair with the master, and because they had no affair, interest quickly diminished.
The bitterness of defeat filled her mind. Again she felt like crying with anger, but she refrained because she knew that it would only cause a series of malicious comments she already heard too much that day.
"What are you doing?" someone came close and asked. She twitched hearing the voice and cursed herself for not noticing when Mizar came so close.
"I'm resting," she replied shortly, hoping that the boy would leave.
"Are you mad at me?"
"You beat me fairly."
"But I can see that you don't like my company..."
"Do you think I should? I know what you think about me."
"Wow. You're an extremely unpleasant person. I am surprised that anyone likes you at all."
"So go away. Nobody forces you to sit here with me," she said, standing up and quickly turned away from him, but he managed to grab her hand. "What? Hey, that hurts!"
"What do you have there? Show me!"
"I don't know what you talking about, let me go!"
Mizar looked at her and smiled victoriously. Kalena froze in terror. She tried to push him away, but he grabbed her tightly by the other hand and pulled to himself, that she couldn't break free.
"If you hurt me, I'll tell Galaspiael about it," she threatened, but he didn't respond. His hand went to her right shoulder. That shoulder on which she had a burned mark.
"I see. So that's why you always run to your room if you need to change clothes. Why didn't I notice it before? I thought you were some peasant or servant, but you... "he twisted his lips in disgust. "You are a slave."
"I was," she corrected him, "the prince liberated me."
"Liberated? Don't make me laugh!" When Mizar released her, she immediately covered the humiliating mark. "Do you think I don't know what liberating is? My father once rewarded a slave this way. He removed his collar, then took out a knife and cut his arm, like this!" The boy demonstrated by drawing an invisible cross on his shoulder. "You still have a clear mark, and that means he considers you his property. Besides. what kind of symbol is that? I have never seen a slave marked with such."
Kalena didn't answer. She shook her head several times, as if trying to throw some thought out, then stepped away from him. She ran as fast as she could to the small sunny square, where other students were resting. Only to be around someone else, not with Mizar.
She knew the Yagn-Sho rules by heart and was aware of the consequences that awaited her, but she decided not to go to the next lesson with others. She went the opposite way to the residential part of the quarters.
What if Mizar told her the truth? The prince could certainly afford to keep a slave for entertainment. Before that, however, he wanted her to learn so that she would be able to converse on any subject and share his views.
Kalena was not sad. No, it wasn't sadness anymore. She was as angry as she had ever been in her life. She was mad at Galaspiael, but also at herself and Mizar. At the whole world.
"How could you do this! You are such a liar!" She screamed at the top of her lungs when she noticed Galaspiael coming towards her. She was surprised that she had such a strong and loud voice.
"What? Kalena, calm down right away, I don't want you to yell at me!" He answered in the same harsh tone as the girl did, which managed to tame the huge wave of sorrow that she was about to spill over him.
"I'm still your slave, right? Act like a man and tell me the truth! Why are we here? To train me, like a circus animal?"
"I asked you not to yell at me!"
"Maybe I should?!" All her anger suddenly turned into tears of powerlessness.
Galaspiael did not know what to do. He sighed deeply and took Kalena's hand in his.
"Maybe you should, but I still don't understand what I did wrong. Come with me. Explain everything, just calmly." They entered the nearest room, the dining room and he began again: "Why do you think that you are still my slave?"
"Mizar said so. He saw my mark and apparently a slave is liberated only when the mark has been cut. And I still have it."
"Oh for the Great Ancestors!" The boy sighed heavily and closed the door. "How unbelievably annoying this boy is. What a malicious, unscrupulous kid! I understand that you may not be familiar with the Kagolanian law, but Mizar knows it perfectly."
"About liberating the slaves. I have much greater privileges than most people. I could meet you on the street while you were still owned by another man and set you free just like that. I didn't cut your arm because I didn't want to give you more pain. Do you remember how frightened you were during the first few days? If you want the scar to remain forever and visible, you need to cut the skin very deeply, and I had no heart to do it to you, that's all. And later I just forgot about it because as I said – I've never had to do this while liberating a slave. Do you still have any doubts?"
Kalena stepped back embarrassed. She didn't have to see her cheeks to know that they turned very red.
"Then... why did Mizar say that? If he knows that such a rule exists?"
"Maybe he just wanted to make fun of you? I can see that he succeeded. You shouldn't believe everything that people say."
"I'm sorry," she moaned, "I don't know what made me shout at you like that. I'm horrible!"
"This is fine. But I must admit, I don't know what made you either. Did Mizar upset you so much, or is it something else?"
Kalena stared at the ground and let her dark hair fall and cover her face.
"Today I lost the duel again. With Mizar. And Rikken told me that I bring you disgrace! I am the worst student in Yagn-Sho's history. You should kick me out while I still have some dignity left. I will never fight well because I'm always covering myself from blows. And I'll never write as beautifully as you!"
"Kalena," Galaspiael started slowly, "the beginnings are always hard, don't give up yet. And don't worry about Mizar. We can throw ink on his head if you want."
"I don't want to take revenge on him," she replied. "Let me leave the Association! They'll add more lessons soon, and I can't do it anymore. I was right I'm too stupid for being a Scribe!"
"I can't stop you here by force," he whispered, hugging her. "You are a free woman, so you can make life decisions yourself. But if you leave, I will have to return to the palace for good."
"Well, I must admit that I am here only because of you. If you leave, I can't stay here just for the sake of staying. I promised the regent that after you'll graduate, I will focus completely on preparing to rule Kagolania. And to be honest I don't feel like it. You will do what you want, but please, if it's not for yourself, try to extend your stay in Yagn-Sho for me. This is the last year when I can live outside the palace like a normal person, I don't want to spend it learning to dance and puffing over documents."
"So what? Do I have to wait for them to throw me out? I'd rather leave now. There will be less shame."
She pursed her lips seeing the sadness that appeared in his eyes.
"I will accept any decision. The last word belongs to you when it comes to staying here." The prince smiled. "I'm proud of you, no matter what your results are. I would not want an apprentice who would be great at everything. I admire that you keep trying despite the difficulties. Give yourself one more chance. I will try to work out with you whenever I can."
Kalena smiled back. Galaspiael quickly managed to comfort her.
"I will go to Master Tessale and apologize for my escape," she said.
"No! If you've already managed to run from class, remember not to come back the same day. He'll give you a punishment anyway, but now you have at least gained a few hours for yourself.
In the middle of the night, Kalena's cry woke her up.
The girl sat on the bed, sighed heavily and realized that Galaspiael was also awake. She spoke when she was certain that her voice would not tremble.
"What a horrible person I am. I scream at you during the day and at night I don't let you sleep, "she said quietly. The nightmares made her a really troublesome roommate and she knew it well.
"I couldn't sleep anyway," he replied calmly. Indeed, he seemed to have got out of bed a long time ago. He stared at something outside the window, but after a while came and sat down next to her. "Those nightmares are probably more than just anxiety caused by changing your place of residence." I thought they would pass by now."
"I'm glad they appear less often." Kalena lay down on her back and let the boy's fingers wander in her hair. "What are you worried about?"
"Do I look worried?"
"You look like all the worries of this world have fallen upon you."
He smiled sourly and was silent for a long moment, then gently slipped a hand out of her hair.
"You see... Recently, I began to think about my duties more seriously. When I was younger, I believed that all the decisions I make will have positive effects. But really, I haven't found myself in a very serious situation that would allow me to prove myself. I don't know if I could behave properly if faced with a serious problem. I wonder what would happen if one day I'll make a huge mistake? In other countries, rulers are much older than me and have a richer experience. The prince from Sekania is my age, and at night he escapes through the window of his chamber and returns drunk in the morning. He is a completely irresponsible man. Now imagine what his father's face looks like when he talks about politics with me. I feel that it's hard for him to take me seriously."
"Well, I think you'll be a very good king," she assured him. "Age doesn't matter, you can handle everything."
Galaspiael rubbed his face and lay down next to Kalena. She felt slightly embarrassed, although they had once lay side by side when he read her sometimes. But then he was more focused on the book. Now however he looked at her almost all the time. Kalena noticed that he had dark eyes up close. Similar to hers.
"My subjects also think this way, but I feel that I am most suitable for an adviser. I could be someone else's right hand and not have to bear consequences for my actions. Yes, that would be the perfect solution for me. I dream of doing great things as a king, but I feel overwhelmed by the fact that some people put their all hopes in me and expect a lot, while others constantly doubt me. That's why I stopped believing in myself. I don't know how to explain it to you. I should not be the heir to the throne, it is not the life for me."
"So if you feel you can't make it, quit... you can do it?"
"I'd like, Kalena. You can't even imagine how I would like to. In some matters, you have more freedom than I do and I envy you so much."
He couldn't marry whoever he wanted, he couldn't quit. She wondered how many more things Galaspiael could not do.
They used the two hours of sleep they had left, though it wasn't easy for the girl to fall asleep so close to him. She once developed a "security scale" that determined how close to a man she could sit to be able to escape from him. And although she truly loved and trusted Galaspiael, she couldn't stop thinking that she was at a critical level on her scale.
Kalena had to spend the next morning standing alone in the middle of the detention room.
It was not severe punishment for her, except for the fact that she lost the opportunity to eat breakfast, and the smells from the kitchen were very intense in this room. When Galaspiael returning from the dining room smuggled for her some pies richly smeared with fruit pulp, but Rikken noticed him and quickly deprived her of the possibility of eating them.
Fortunately, soon after, the first lesson began, which for a change was calligraphy, not fighting. When the girl entered the room, cold eyes greeted her. Tessale just glanced at her briefly but did not break the silence. She had to approach him.
"I am so sorry for my escape yesterday," she said, bowing in the 'new way' the prince had taught her, not as servile as before but still with respect.
"Sit down Kalena. May I ask what was the reason for your absence?"
"I had to... ask my master about something very important."
"And then he told you not to come back," he finished for her. "The next time you need to talk to him, remember that you can meet during the break. You don't have to run away."
When she took her place, the attention of others was no longer focused on her, but on the obscene drawing by Mizar, which was passed from hand to hand. Kalena pretended not to notice the paper circling the classroom at all, and when it reached her bench, she brushed it off like a fly.
"He punished you for running away and he would do nothing to him!" Zarkin picked up the drawing from the floor, crumpled it, and threw it so accurately that it hit straight on Mizar's head. The boy turned around and gave them a contemptuous look. "It's a waste of expensive material. He should stand in this room all day!"
"Gal... Master Galaspiael once told me that you can't punish a student for something he can't do. So don't blame Mizar for his not intelligent jokes, maybe he can't create anything better. There is nothing to laugh at here, you have to be compassionate because 'mental disability is a serious disadvantage in today's world.'"
"Kalena, may I ask you not to quote your master's words if they are not related to the lesson?" Tessale interrupted their conversation. "Zarkin, come show me your work!"
The boy stood up and reluctantly handed him an ink-stained, crumpled piece of paper. He knew he should not expect praise, but he still kept the good humor caused by Kalena's words.
"What is this?"
"My text… master."
"What language are you writing in?"
"In Kagolanian… master."
"Really? Interesting, because it doesn't look like Kagolanian to me at all. Maybe instead of wasting your time, you would focus on studying?"
"I will… master."
A muffled giggle could be heard in the room. Zarkin intentionally emphasized the word "master", which in combination with his huge smile looked hilarious.
"Take it seriously. Tessale handed him the paper. "I know you prefer fighting lessons, but even the best warrior must be able to write and read. Go back to your place and try to improve it as much as you can before the end of the lesson. Kalena, show me what you have done so far."
Once, Namia told her that if someone wanted badly enough, they would find a reason to hate Kalena, and if he couldn't, the universe would help him. Then, over the next years of her life, Kalena admitted her right.
Passing by Umi and Mizar, she stumbled and bumped into their table. A slight twitch was enough to turn the inkwell over and pour its contents onto Umi's work, and on her dress.
"Watch out! Look what you did!" Umi crumpled stained pages in rage and threw them to Kalena's.
"I didn't mean to," she tried to explain herself. "I can help you rewrite it..."
"No offense, but your handwriting is not very legible," Mizar put his arm around Umi. "Don't worry about someone capable of such barbaric acts out of jealousy."
"What jealousy you moron? Zarkin interjected. "She didn't do it on purpose! And besides, these are only two pages."
"It may be only two pages, but I will have to rewrite the same text all night!" Umi stood in tears. "Do you know how long it took me to rewrite it?"
"Maybe I'll bring you something to eat, it's not proper to have a chat on an empty stomach!" Tessale finally reacted. "Umi, sit somewhere else, and you, Kalena, clean up here when the others come out for a break."
The rest of the lessons were silent. Zarkin tried to comfort Kalena. He said that Umi would calm down and forgive quickly, but she knew it would not be.
When everyone was out, Kalena took care of wiping off the dried ink. Muted sounds of conversation reached her from the corridor. She was sure they were talking about her. Mizar could finally show what he can do.
Someone opened the door and went inside. She didn't turn her head, convinced that it was Tessale.
"I will help you." Zarkin's voice sounded in the room. "You have to make it to the next lesson." Master Rikken will not give you a reduced fare.
"I can do it myself, go back for a break."
"Together we will finish faster. Where did you get the cloth?"
"They are there," Kalena pointed in an unspecified direction. "Tell me what it looks like right now?"
"You have a talent for removing stains."
"I know that. Tell me more about my talent for gaining enemies."
"As I walked to you, Mizar sat next to Seth and told him how you threw his Lik to the floor to make the stains. Disgusting liar, you'll show him where his place is!"
"I'll tell Galaspiael about it," she said after a moment of silence. "I think he could talk to Mizar's master?"
"I wouldn't advise you to provoke Aymon. I have heard that Madegaldi's lessons will start soon, and he will teach..."
"Then this is the last moment to do something!" Kalena stepped back and looked at the effect of her work. "Do you think it will be enough?"
"This floor has never been so clean. I said that the two of us would do it faster. And besides, Umi was asking for it. Master Tessale had told her many times not to keep the inkwell on the edge of the table.
"Zarkinie, if they" Kalena's voice began to tremble under the influence of emotions. "If they would try to hurt you, then you don't have to defend me. I will not take offense at you if one day you decide that we should stay away from each other."
"I'm not afraid of them," he muttered. "And you can be sure that I will stay as close to you as possible. We were to support each other."
Kalena opened the door, but it turned out that her master was not in the room. She decided to take a few moments of loneliness to sleep, which after an exhausting day she was lacking. However, as soon as she put her head on the pillow, Galaspiael returned.
"Did something happen?" He asked, looking at her with concern.
"I am resting."
"Are you all right?" He asked again but didn't wait for Kalena to answer. "Do you know what a fantastic day I had today? Everything is great! For a moment it seemed like a dream because nothing can go so perfectly. But it does!"
"Is that something you were worried about last night?"
"Not really but this was partly the reason for my wave of worries. Although, to be honest, I have seen everything in black for some time. But I won't burden you with my problems. I'd rather ask you to tell me something about yours. What did you do today?"
He saw everything in black, yet he acted as if he had no worries in life and still found the strength to help her. Kalena no longer wanted to complain to him. Since he, struggling with his more serious problems, did not show for so long that something might be wrong, she had no right to worry him more. She knew that talking about her troubles would spoil his mood. No, she definitely couldn't. She loved him.
"I wanted to ask," she began uncertainly, "could I occupy another room?"
"Of course," the prince answered. "Do you want to move?"
"No. I would like to do extra training there. I feel like I need to work harder if I want to keep up with the group This room is not large enough to practice fighting.
"That's interesting," he said, smiling, trying to hide the pride he felt about his apprentice. "I'll try to find you the right place."
"Could I accompany you in these trainings sometimes? Actually, when are you going to do them?"
"In the evenings and when I'll get a day off." The girl shrugged. "Whenever I'll find strength and time. I am glad that you want to help because I was afraid that you would mind."
"Why? I am proud of you, my dear. Thank you for deciding to stay. And since tomorrow is a day off, we will start looking for a room to study today."
Kalena looked at him in surprise.
"You're wrong... Tomorrow is a normal day."
"Nobody has told you? There will be a master's meeting tomorrow, so students can rest. I'll go ask Rikken about this room!"
The enthusiasm with which he adopted her idea slightly dazed her, but at the same time, she was really happy about it.
She slid off the bed and sat on the ground with eyes closed. She thought how wonderful it would be to come here someday with all the good news. When she finally would defeat Mizar. When she would no longer be afraid when someone lifts a wooden stick above her head. When tessale praises her writing in front of everyone.
She began to dream about the day when she would finish training and leave Yagn-Sho as a young warrior. And then?
There was another desire that she quickly put away, but it left a mark in her consciousness. A desire related to Galaspiael.