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|Galaspiael returned after two hours, holding the key that hung on the red string.
"The room is one floor below ours. It seemed the most suitable, but you have to check it yourself. Here." He put the key on her lap. "As long as you study, it's your property. Just be careful not to lose it."
Kalena took his words very seriously and, not wanting to lose the key, she put it around her neck like a pendant. It looked like made from gold, although the prince said it was certainly only cheap metal imitating gold. Despite that, Kalena liked it very much.
They both decided that it would be wise to fall asleep a little earlier than usual, to have more energy the next day. Kalena did not take off the key in the evening, which turned out to be a big mistake. She woke up at night this time not because of a nightmare, but a rather sharp jerk felt in the area of the arteries. She accidentally hooked a string around her hand and tangled it so that it twisted around her neck like a collar. She took it off and hid under the pillow and was about to fall asleep again, but Galaspiael sighed in the sleep, thus focusing all her attention.
She liked to watch him while he was sleeping or not looking at her, and now she had another chance. Their beds were close to the window, so they were clearly visible thanks to the moonlight shining through the thick glass. Kalena, sure that the boy was sleeping deeply, got up and leaned slightly over him. For the first time, she managed to get so close. She didn't think she could wake him up, because she was always very quiet.
Suddenly he opened his eyes, grabbed her waist and threw her brutally onto the bed. Before she realized what was happening, she felt the cold blade of the dagger on her neck. She almost fainted from terror, didn't even dare to whisper a word, but fortunately, he recognized her almost immediately.
"Great Ancestors!" He stepped back and put the weapon back under his pillow. "You scared me! What's wrong?"
"I was looking for something to drink," she lied.
"Why here?" Galaspiael shook his head. "There is a jug of water on your table, take it and hand to me."
Kalena complied with his request, feeling her arms and legs still shaking. She saw this dagger in his hands for the first time. He had it hidden under his pillow, which meant that for some reason he was worried for his life.
She poured water into two cups and sighed deeply, trying to calm down.
He was incredibly fast. If someone had actually broken in here, she probably wouldn't have even heard a thing.
"Here" she whispered, handing him the cup. Galaspiael drank with a few large sips, put it down and suddenly hid his face behind the hands. Seeing this, she froze for a moment.
"What happened? Hey! Are you crying?" She gently took his hand in her, smaller palms. Galaspiael didn't cry, but his face was full of despair. The girl sat next to him and put her arms around the boy, thinking of the words of consolation, but then he returned her hug. Her hear beaten faster when she felt Galaspiael gentle kiss on the head.
"What's wrong?" She asked again. "Did someone hurt you? Are you sick?"
"Don't worry. I'm fine, I only had a bad dream" he explained and forced himself to smile. "Go back to bed, we were to train tomorrow, remember?"
"Can I help you?"
"No, I don't think you can," he said quietly and stepped back. "You don't have to worry about that. Go to sleep."
The next day, when Galaspiael woke her up, Kalena jumped to her feet, sure that she had overslept her morning classes. She almost didn't recognize him. He looked peculiar in an ordinary, slightly too long shirt and brown trousers with a hole on his knee. She had never seen him in such a simple outfit before.
"Are you ready?" He asked, smiling cheerfully. Regardless of how he acted at night, now there was no worry and sadness visible in his eyes. He seemed to be a normal nineteen-year-old whose biggest problem is that hole in his pants. Kalena wanted to ask him about last night but eventually dropped the idea. She changed her clothes and went downstairs.
"I must warn you that I'm really bad," she said, taking the key from under her shirt. "Please, don't yell at me as Rikken yells at Zarkin."
"Today Rikken told me that Zarkin began to make progress. Calligraphy is still troublesome for him, but he fights fairly well. Rikken doesn't show feelings very often, but he likes and appreciates him. Although he has a problem appreciating you. Today he mentioned that you should leave the Association.
Kalena winced. These words would not hurt so much if she heard them earlier when she wanted to give up herself.
"Do you agree with him?"
"Of course not! You came up with the idea of extra training yourself, which in my opinion is proof you want to learn. I have no right to deprive you of this possibility. By the way, all my friends who nearly got kicked out from here have grown into great warriors. I think you're on the right track."
They went down the stone stairs and headed in the same direction that they would have been going to their bedroom if they were one floor above. Indeed, the room was exactly under their floor.
"Open," he said to her, "will it be good?"
Kalena looked around. The room was certainly the same size as their bedroom, but because there was no furniture at all, it seemed larger. The floor covered with a light layer of dust did not look as old and damaged as in other parts of the quarter. The girl left her belongings in the corner and quickly wiped it. Galaspiael wanted to help her, but she disagreed.
"It's perfect," she whispered. "Let's start."
The boy nodded and sat down in the middle of the room.
"I talked to Rikken and Tessale a little about what is most difficult for you," he began as she sat next to him. "Calligraphy is a subject in which you only need patience. Tessale will prepare additional materials for you. The more you'll write, the better. As for the fight, I have an idea. Usually, students are first trained in mastering shen, but this is only for the sake of our tradition. It was simply accepted that every Scribe should be able to use it. They can then choose a different weapon. But I feel that if you don't get along well with shen you can be completely discouraged from fighting, and that would be a big mistake. However, before we start looking for your weapon of choice, you need to get rid of your escape reflex. And this is what we will do today and in the days to come. Do you like this plan?"
"Yes. As for this weapon, I wanted to ask if there is such a thing as asen? Master Rikken once said that I would be better with asen."
"Am-shen," he corrected her, "is a double blade. Two thinner and shorter versions of shen. I will watch you on the use of this weapon. But for now, we must focus on your greatest weakness. Take it seriously, because without beating it we can't move on."
The girl looked at the floor. She realized that it was not a good idea to involve Galaspiael in everything. She started to be afraid of letting him down again.
"What should I do to stop being afraid of blows?"
"We need to change your mindset. You still think you are a victim who has no way or even the right to attack people who hurt you. But you already have the opportunity. When someone raises a hand at you, you can break it or cut it off. You have a weapon.
"You'll have it soon. We will take the measure off your shoulder and I'll give it to the palace smith. He'll have time to do your swords for the final exam.
"So I won't have any weapon until the exam."
"But what do you need it for now? You don't know how to use it anyway" Galaspiael tried to keep his face serious, but he did it only for a short while. He stood up and took the wooden imitation of shens from the things he brought. "Come closer!" He motioned her over. "You have to get used to someone wanting to hit you, but this time you can't associate it with giving up. Don't be afraid to hurt your attacker, no one will punish you for it."
"No, it's not like that. I'm not afraid to hurt someone! I move away so that nothing happens to me!"
"Your opponent's job is to hurt you," Galaspiael said calmly, "if you remain passive, he'll do it for sure. When you use self-defense, no one will take you for a tyrant or murderer. You are a free person and you have the right to fight with your oppressors. Get ready now! I will raise the stick above your head and lower it, slowly and later a bit faster. Your task is to just look and at the right moment grab my hand or that stalk."
Kalena laughed at the word. Apparently, her master didn't like school swords either.
The first time he did it slowly, so she managed to grab him by the wrist. Then, not knowing why, she began to get terribly nervous, and at the fourth attempt, she asked for a short break, explaining herself with tired legs.
"You were doing pretty well," Galaspiael tried to comfort her when he noticed her sudden change of mood.
"At first. Then I started to be afraid again, although I kept telling myself that you wouldn't hurt me."
"You didn't listen carefully. Don't tell yourself I won't hurt you because I will definitely hit you someday, even by accident. Fighting lessons are usually painful. Don't be shy, it's okay that you stopped. Fear is the worst opponent and fighting him is the most exhausting of fights. Go get yourself something to drink. We'll practice a little more."
After training with Kalena, Galaspiael decided to go to the capital and use a few free hours to do some stuff.
Due to recent storms, an extremely cold and gusty wind was blowing from the ocean. It was not felt anywhere else, because the trees growing in the Forbidden Zone were a kind of natural barrier, but in Yagn-Sho, located at a high altitude, it always blew. The boy did not want to go back to the room for the coat, knowing that he would have to take it off immediately after going down a few meters. In order not to freeze, he did not go out into the garden through the first exit, but passed almost all the quarters, wanting to leave through the last door, from which it was only a few steps to the main gate.
Unfortunately, he did not foresee that he would face Aymon face to face.
Galaspiael didn't want to admit that he had started obsessively avoiding him. Mizar's master, and at the same time one of the most influential Okiani in Kagolania, was not happy to see the prince during the entrance ceremony. Since then, he has been trying to persuade the boy to leave and focus all his attention on coronation issues. He did it both by talking directly to him and by spreading rumors that Galaspiael was inappropriately using "shamefully low" age difference between himself and Kalena. The prince wondered how to end them, without arousing suspicion that anything could be true.
"I agree with Rikken," Aymon had a strange habit of taking on the subject that had been discussed earlier when he thought about what to say. People he talked to often had to recall for a long time what they had said earlier.
"Kalena should think carefully about her sense of being here. Maybe if she realized that all Kagolania pays for her training, it would motivate her to work harder."
"The fate of my apprentice is a very crucial matter to you," Galaspiael choked his urge to tell Aymon straight in the eyes the extremely sophisticated curse that came to his mind. "I'm worried that Mizar may feel neglected. I suggest that we continue to follow our ancestors' rule that one master can look after only one student."
"Since His Highness knows the rules of the Association so well, he probably knows about the one saying that when the master commits shameful neglect and cannot teach, he can be removed from his duties."
"And what is this shameful neglect that I have done, in your opinion?"
"Kalena is the weakest in her group from the very beginning and nothing has changed so far. Just this matter alone should give you food for thought. I would like to know the real reason why you believe so much that this girl will ever finish training. Although in my opinion, you don't care about that. The association is only an opportunity for you to escape your duties. But maybe you will make her life quietly easier, after all, every great gentleman is trying to improve the existence of his favorites."
"Once you refer to me as 'Your Highness', and a moment later as if we were almost equal. I do not understand this."
"That's strange because I once heard that in the Association everyone is equal. That we pay attention to man, not his social status. Apparently, representatives of royal families are not included in this. By the way, I feel embarrassed by this smart bypassing of the uncomfortable topic. I feel terrified when I think that soon such an irresponsible man like you will be our king. You make a circus from Yagn-Sho, bringing in a completely untalented child. I wonder if you can silence everyone at the next meeting?"
"Forgive me, I'd like to talk to you longer, but my time is too precious. But if you want to touch difficult topics during meetings so much, we can raise the issue of nepotism in the Association," the prince smiled with superiority seeing his reaction. "Aymon, why are you looking at me like that? After all, you teach your brother. You and Mizar have a common mother. Me and mine, as you described it, favorite will not be separated, I assure you. You are different since you have hidden this fact openly from others. If you want to have an enemy in me so badly, remember you can pay for it. And now I'm sorry, I'm really in a hurry."
Galaspiael passed him and walked quickly forward. This time he managed to get out, but he knew that he would still have to face similar charges more than once. Aymon was terribly memorable.
At that time, Kalena also argued, but with Zarkin. When he heard how much her master was engaged in the idea of additional training, he snorted with contempt and called him a spoiled prince, who looks everywhere for an opportunity to shine. It irritated her tremendously.
"You hate him for no reason!"
"I just think rationally. Why didn't he come up with the idea of extra training earlier?!"
"Apparently because I came up with it! Maybe he didn't want to force me to do anything? He waited until I felt goo quarters. You didn't think about that?"
"In my opinion, he forgot that he should do something at all, and since you reminded him now he will be playing a caring master. We were supposed to support each other and you still stand by his side!"
"I can't listen to this anymore," Kalena turned abruptly as if she wanted to leave as soon as possible. "There are no SIDES! You are... unbelievably stupid!"
"And you are a naive peasant who loved the first nice person she met!" Zarkin knew well that he would hurt Kalena with his words, but he continued. "He's not like us! When will you understand? He's good for you because of the manners. Even for people who mean nothing to him, he is nice. I don't get what you see in him, you know she has a fiancée. He felt sorry for you, and you fell in love with him right away! What? Do you think I don't know? Everyone knows! Just look at yourself! You pushed everyone away and just keep sitting with him in your stupid room. I wonder what are you doing there? Do you even know what Mizar is talking about you?"
Kalena wanted to answer, but because of anger, she ran out of words. Finally frustrated with the whole situation, she hit Zarkin in the face using all her strength. The boy staggered and looked at her terrified. She took a few very deep breaths.
"I don't care what you think about me. Or what Mizar thinks." All the rage had gone from her a moment ago, so she spoke very calmly. "I know the prince better and I know your talk, it's just jealousy." You're pathetic." After saying that, she turned away and left.