Chapter 7 - Beginnings

Chapter 7 - Beginnings

A Chapter by VassD
"

Ania enters the Compound, makes some new friends, and starts her new life.

"

As Ania walked into the training ground Lyem had pointed out, she was glad for the strong presence of Hakem at her left knee. There were people everywhere. Children her age, as well as a few a year or so younger, and a large number just barely a year older. They all looked terrified.

 

Wait. There were a few that seemed… almost annoyed. She looked at their clothes, and saw that they were fine and expensive, with house symbols on the sleeves.  These were nobles’ children. What were they doing here?

 

Shrugging off this oddity, she continued to look around. In the corners of the training yard, figures in black cloaks stood, some with hoods, some without. Those without hoods also did not have head pieces. Their faces were young, at most only four years her senior, so they must have been the Dativs from previous years. Ania looked around for Sir Alecgorn, and but she didn’t see any of the Masters in the yard. There were only black shrouded figures and terrified or annoyed children.

 

No. In the corner, farthest from the crowd, Ania saw a boy with sandy brown-blonde hair, cloaked as she was, looking exhausted and travel-weary. He looked nervous, as any man would in the center of a woman’s world, but he kept glancing at his arm, held up horizontally by a quarterstaff. He seemed to gain some comfort from it. Ania looked more closely at his arm, and saw that his sleeve was bunched ever so slightly, almost like something was perched on it…something invisible.

 

Ania made her way over to the boy, with Hakem carefully trailing her, taking care not to bump any one. As she came closer, the boy raised his head, and she noticed he had smoky-blue eyes that had the same mysterious reflective property as Lyem and Hakem, but instead of need or conviction, this boy had a powerful fear shining through his storm cloud gaze. As nervous as the others were, she could understand some of it, but this was more. He was terrified of something. Ania looked closer, and realized that it was much the same as the fear that had gripped her at the door of the Inner Compound. She felt a rush of sympathy, and walked up to him.

 

“Hello,” she said, in her nicest voice. She could feel Hakem leaning on her leg, and could almost see his tongue lolling out of his mouth as he panted softly. He like this boy, felt safe around him. Ania wondered what that meant. He hadn’t even been this calm around Lyem. “What’s your name?”

 

When Ania had walked up to him, the boy had gone stiff, even more scared than before. He had glanced at his arm ever so slightly, and the depression on his sleeve lifted. It was as if he was scared that having this invisible friend was somehow wrong. When she asked his name, his eyes flicked to hers, the small movement causing some of his sand colored hair to fall across his forehead and slightly obscure his eyes, and although she could see the fear reign rampant through the curtain of pale hair, she saw some of the tension leave him, and she saw the weight return to his arm.

 

“Randen. My name is Randen Derris.” His voice was smooth, albeit quiet and scared. Ania smiled.

 

“That’s a nice name. I’m Ania Kyatei. And this”�"here she knelt, put her hand on Hakem’s shoulder, willing him to appear as she discreetly shielded him from view with her cloak�"“is my Companion, Hakem. What’s your bird’s name?”

 

Randen stared, eyes flicking back and forth between the wolf’s eyes and her own, shocked silent, his mouth hanging open ever so slightly, but Ania saw even more of the tension fall from his shoulders. She was glad to see that some of the fear left his eyes, fleeing to the back of his mind. Ania again saw the weight lift from his arm, and a blue shimmer appeared above Hakem, solidifying as a hawk with golden eyes alighted on the wolf’s head.

 

“Her name is Trissta. I met her on the way here. How did you know she was there?”

 

“I saw you looking at your arm, and you seemed to calm down when you did. By the way you were holding your arm, I guessed it to be some kind of falcon or hawk. I know how comforting it is to have a friend who knows exactly how you feel…and how this place can seem completely terrifying.”

 

Randen looked up at her again, and she saw a trickle of hope run through the barren wasteland of his despair-ridden eyes. Ania continued, in a calm quiet voice not unlike the tones used to calm spooked animals. “You don’t have to be scared. This place is different. They won’t throw you out just for being a boy. The BowMaster’s a man, and you don’t see them throwing him out on his ear.”

 

He held her gaze, a sad smile on his face. “That’s not it. I know there are male Knights. My father was one of them, and I spent a lot of time in the outer Compound when I was visiting him. I’ve met several of the other Knights, and a good number of them are male.” Randen laughed softly. “They were my heroes. I was in awe of them. They were the only men I knew that weren’t afraid of their own shadow, and even more terrified of stepping into the shops at home for fear of running into and displeasing a girl, let alone come to the Queen’s own City. When my father died last year in a raid, I promised him that I would join the Knight’s as soon as I could. The messenger came to our town with the call for volunteers last week, and I left immediately. Trissta came to me only four nights ago.”

 

Ania was confused. “If you spent your life as a part of this Compound, then why are you so scared?”

 

Randen tried to hold the weak smile on his face, but it slid off as water on an oil-slicked marble slab. “When I got here this morning, I was so excited. But as I started walking through the Compound, the only this I noticed was the silence. It was never that silent. It’s so stupid, but…I thought it was because of me. I couldn’t get it out of my head that it was silent because I was there, like the Compound was mad at me for being there.”

 

Ania again felt a rush of sympathy for the boy. She remembered the crippling fear at the doors, how she felt like they wouldn’t accept her�"that just because they had loved her aunt didn’t mean they would love or even accept her. What would she have done if they had turned her away? How could she have returned to her family in shame after running away as she did? Ania looked once more into the blue gray eyes before her, and she saw fear running deeper than she had first known. She relived it through his eyes, now feeling just how far the fear had gnawed into her gut. Searching out the exact cause of the fear was difficult, but once she did, she felt as though a light had been turned on in her mind. Randen didn’t have a fear “much like” hers. They were exactly the same.

 

It was a fear of rebuke, of denial, and of acceptance, in a way. But most of all it was a fear of filling the place of someone who had been a hero. Ania closed her eyes, remembering her aunt’s laugh, the way her eyes had lit up when she smiled. She also remembered something Alliania had told her when she had barely even learned the Knight’s Pledge. “Ania, you can’t replace a Knight. You can only find a new one.”

Ania stepped forward and wrapped her arms around her new friend, for friends they were, having shared the same paralyzing fear. She spoke quietly, telling Randen of her aunt, of how she had run away from home just to have this chance, and finally of how she had stood at the gates and let her mind have a few moments, a few eternal moments, of doubt and despair. She told him of the kind words of Lyem, of the comfort and warmth given by Hakem as he stood by her side no matter her decision. As her tale wore on, she felt the last dregs of tension and fear seep from his shoulders, and she felt a revitalized strength in his arms as he hugged her back. When they let go, she saw the first true smile on his face. His eyes, once shrouded with terror, now shone like stars in the heavens. It was a wonderful sight.

 

They sat and talked for a while on the benches that had been haphazardly set up on the green of training yard, but they soon grew weary of just sitting there, and Randen looked around, his eyes locking on something over her head. As Ania turned to see what it was that had caught his gaze, she saw a long table that had somehow escaped her scrutiny earlier. It was laid some fifteen feet before an even row of targets, and on it lay various weapons, from ranged ones such as the longbow and several different throwing knives, to close range ones like quarterstaffs and swords that ranged from thin rapier-like swords to massive great swords. She turned back to Randen, a mischievous glint in her eye. "You father didn't happen to teach you...?" She left the question open, and her mouth split into a massive grin as she saw him nod. They stood up, both Hakem and Tristan immaterializing at silent commands, and walked towards the table, no longer two people who were trying to fill a hero's shoes, but two children, off to play a favorite game, only the toys to be played with were a good deal sharper than regular.

 

Randen, with slightly longer legs, arrived at the table first, stopping to run a hand over a finely crafted great sword, as Ania lifted a throwing dagger only slightly shorter and more delicately crafted than the one sheathed in her boot. She hefted it, testing the weight, and smiled when she found it to be perfectly balanced. She backed about five paces back from the table, and began to toss the knife up in the air, catching it by the handle, deftly flipping it  to grip it by the flat of the blade, and then repeating it over and over again. She saw Randen staring at her curiously, wondering why she was doing this strange--but still rather amazing--parlor trick. She smiled even broader--if that were possible--and as she reached twenty in her mental count, she suddenly took a step forward, balancing her weight evenly, and smoothly threw the dagger at the target, grinning at the familiar motion, and then burst out laughing at the stunned look on Randen's face as the dagger landed with a solid thud, squarely in the center of the target.  "It's a concentration exercise my aunt taught me. I have to be totally concentrated on my knife, and that means more than just hitting the target. It means knowing where my knife is going. Eventually I got to the point where I could hit the target with my eyes closed, and I wanted to just hit the target again and again, but my aunt just made me do that exercise over and over, so it was also a lesson in patience."

 

Randen laughed. "Well, Lady Ania, now it is my turn to amaze." Ania snorted, but she waited eagerly. If she had learned to do that with an aunt who was gone more often then not, what had Randen learned from a father, and an additional four years to learn it?

 

She stood back as he picked up the great sword, stunned that such a slight boy could lift it, but he did, and with apparent ease. Ania started laughing, both startled and in awe as she watched Randen go through several fluid sword forms, almost making it look like a dance as he moved from one place to another, nearly turning into a blur as he twisted and turned, but never once stepping outside of the clear area, never once hitting the table.

 

Randen stopped, his chest only moving slightly, his body perfectly still except for the right arm, which continued to twirl the sword back and over his hand several times, this time actually turning into a great silver blur, then suddenly halting in front of him, pointed straight at her, before slowly turning down to rest point first in the grass. Randen leaned on the sword, and only now did Ania realize that the sword came up to his chest and was almost as wide as his hand was long. It continued to amaze her that such a lithe person could lift something that looked half his weight with such flowing elegance.

 

Ania shook herself, the competitive part of her unwilling to give up so easily, no matter how stunning he looked with his sword. "Pretty good. But are you any good with a ranged weapon?"

 

Randen smiled, a quirky half smile that made his eyes sparkle. "Are you any good with a sword?"

 

"You're evading the question."

 

"Am I?" Randen laughed, a bright, musical sound when it wasn't hampered by a fearful tone. "If you can show me your sword skills, I'll show you my ranged."

 

"Mind if we join you?"

 

The two of them turned, startled to see two people walking towards them from opposite directions. They weren't Knights, or even Dativs, but they weren't trembling in fear, or acting annoyed. They seemed at ease, calm and collected, as if they weren't in the biggest nest of superstition in the entire nation.

 

They were an odd pair, at first glance seeming to be complete opposites. They were a boy and girl, aged roughly the same and Ania and Randen, the boy being a year older.  The girl was a small, tiny thing--barely reaching four and a half feet even though she was clearly the same age as Ania, her proportions not those of a young child but those a girl in her late preteens. Her hair was eye-catching, even though it barely came down past her ears. At the roots it was a rich, light brown, but as it neared the tips, it turned to a vibrant purple. it was not shockingly so, but a smooth, pale purple, reminding Ania of nothing so much as the sky just before twilight in summer. Big blue eyes the color of a winter sky after the storm clouds had been burned away, fading into golden brown flecks of hazel as they neared the pupil met Ania’s gaze. She was wearing sleek black pants that hugged her legs, ending in equally black boots. A shiny red shirt with gold and white embroidery and sleeves that came down to her elbows topped off the ensemble. Even though she was a small girl, Ania saw a confidence in her step that belied skill greater than both her years and her size.  She was liked a coiled snake, poised to strike, a mountain cat, ready to pounce. But she had a ready smile that made Ania just...want to like her. Without even knowing the strange girl's name, they were friends.

 

And the boy... He was a good foot taller than the girl, and Ania could tell from his gangly figure that he was not done growing. He was already almost as tall as most of the men she had seen in the city. What was it about the Knight's Compound that attracted tall men? He wore solid black clothing, except for a dark silvery shirt under a solid black overcoat that came down to the middle of his thigh. She saw a silver chain around his neck, and the slight bulge of a pendant under his shirt. He had sleek black hair that was so fine that it shone almost blue. Piercing green eyes greeted her when she looked into his face. He, too, walked with a self-confident ease, and judging from the fine-handled knife strapped to his thigh, the pommel resting just below his hip, the tip a mere inch above his knee, she could see he was a skilled fighter. No one would wear a weapon like that so easily and unobtrusively unless they could use it.

 

"Who are you?" Randen was the first to speak after the strange pair had made its way over to them. The tall boy gave a slight nod, speaking in a clear, newly deepened voice.

 

"I'm Aimon. I just got here. I was rather disappointed when I saw this lifeless crowd, but what do I see when I look over to the weapons table but two young people having the time of their lives playing with dangerous pointy objects." A smile split the young man's thin face. "Looked like my kind of party."

 

The small girl didn't bother with a nod or an introduction, but grabbed Ania's entire arm in a giddy grip, shaking it up and down for a few seconds before she appeared to grow bored of it. When she opened her mouth, Ania expected to hear a torrential onslaught of words so fast that they could not be recognized as or even remotely related to human speech, but instead she heard soft but clearly understandable voice that clearly radiated a warm friendliness. "Tifynee Caldez. But you can call me Echo. In fact, I would much prefer that you did. Tifynee is a weird name. I've always like Echo better." Ania smiled at the way Echo talked, quietly but clearly, as if she could never shout, as if her voice was not made to be raised. Unlike some people’s, Echo’s smile was not only clearly evident on her lips and in her eyes, but Ania could hear it ring through her voice with the clear, musical sound of bells.

 

As she and Randen introduced themselves, Ania looked into the eyes of the people before her; she was surprised, but not immensely so, to see the same reflective gaze she had seen in Hakem, Lyem and Randen. They eyes held expectancy. But they also held some quality that she couldn't define but that told her that she had found yet more friends. She smiled to herself. Five friends in less than a week. She had left a family that ignored her to meet people that accepted her just by looking at her.

 

Ania and Randen had by now replaced their weapons on the table, and the four of them walked amiably over to a few of the benches that were free of scared children. They talked for a while about anything and everything that came to their minds, but as the conversation wore on, they found themselves on the subject of one another.

 

“So, what brought you here?” Aimon looked from one face to another, not really aiming the question at any one person, leaving it vague to invite anyone to answer.

 

“Well…” Echo drawled, just as both Ania and Randen opened their mouths to respond. She didn’t notice as they both hurriedly shut their mouths, and continued. “My mom is a TruMage, and last summer we discovered I have a really high affinity for magic. I have a few abilities that are pretty cool�"”

 

“What can you do?” Randen looked embarrassed to have broken in, but Echo shrugged it off and continued.

 

“My abilities are the reason I’m called Echo. You’ll see.” Everyone broke out in complaints, not wanting her to leave it at that. For several minutes it dragged on, until she finally heaved a massive sigh, and said, “If something is thrown at me, I can throw it back at the person who threw it, or anywhere else, ten to twenty times harder than it was originally thrown. My mom found some old records of something like it, and it was called the Echo effect.”

 

Ania was aware that her mouth was hanging open in a most unflattering way, but she couldn’t help herself. “Are you serious?” She asked, barely above whisper.

 

“You think I would make something like that up?” Echo giggled a little, but then turned serious. “I’ll prove it to you.” Before any of them could say a word, Echo had pulled her pack off her back, and was digging through it. With a small cry of triumph, she pulled out an apple. Tossing it to Ania, she said, “Throw this at that rock over their. Be sure to throw it really lightly, so you know it has no chance of reaching the rock, but it can still easily clear four feet.” Turning to face the boulder Echo had indicated Ania tossed the apple in a weak underhand throw. It just barely went four feet. “Now turn and toss it at me just as hard.” Ania made a face, clearly showing she had no clue what was going on, but she did so, letting the apple sail through the air once more.

 

Several things seemed to happen all at once. As the apple moved lethargically through the air, Echo took a ready stance, her feet planted firmly in place, not unlike the stance Ania had taken just before throwing her knife. When the apple was less than a foot away from her, Echo threw her arms out wide, rocking back as she did so her outstretched hands did not come into contact with the apple. Ania felt a breath of wind, as if from the movement of Echo’s arms, but she quickly forgot about that slight breeze as she saw the apple.

 

As if hit by some invisible force, the apple had reversed direction and was now speeding as if shot from a high powered bow towards the rock. With a juicy squelch, it hit the boulder, breaking into a million wet pieces. Ania stared unabashedly at the petite girl now standing with a self satisfied smile. “So what’s your story?” This elicited several laughs at the sudden change in subject.

 

Ania and Randen both relayed their stories, omitting their moments of fear after discreet glances at one another. When they were finished, Echo made a disgusted sound. “And I can just throw things. You guys even have the magic animals already. That is so unfair.” Ania could tell from the slight upward curve of Echo’s mouth that it was said in joking, but she still glanced wistfully towards the places where Hakem and Trissta had momentarily appeared.

 

“So you know all of our stories. We only know half of yours.” Everyone looked quizzically at Randen, so he explained. “You still haven’t’ told us why you even wanted to be a Knight. As powerful as you are, I would think you would be welcomed into the fold of the TruMages.”

 

Echo scoffed. “As I said, my mom’s a TruMage. She told me story after story about how she only ever got to study magic that was already there. Only the MasterMages got to teach the new apprentices, and that has nothing to do with skill. You have to be a graduated TruMage almost twenty years before you are promoted. My mother made Journeyman status last month, and she has more skill in her little finger than half of the MasterMages have combined.

 

“About two years ago, a few of the senior apprentices, my mother included, were assigned to teach basic magic to the Knight apprentices�"”

 

“Dativs.” Ania and Randen broke in without thinking, blushing slightly when they realized what they had done, but Echo again shrugged it off and continued.

 

“The Dativs here at the Compound, and my mom jumped for the chance to do anything besides sit around and look at moldy books all the time. The first few weeks she was kind of quiet about what exactly it was like, but one day, she came back and started telling me and my dad about how wonderful the Knights were. She was jealous of the Dativs, because every Knight helped in their training. Even some of the older Dativs and the regular people in the Outer Compound helped. She told me how the students who showed an affinity for magic were specially trained how to use it in battle. By then we knew I have a lot of magic in me, so my mom sat down and talked to me about coming here instead. My mom had heard some Knights talking about a message they were going to send out in a year or two to get a new class of Dativs, so my dad�"he’s a soldier�"got a few of his army friends to come and show me how to fight so I’d have more under my belt than just smashing apples.”

 

“So what do you fight with?” This was Aimon. It was the first time he had talked for a while, so it caught them off guard, but only for a moment.

 

“These.” Echo held her hands up, and they saw for the first time that she had wrist guards that reached from the back of her hand at the lowest knuckles to the middle of her forearm, layered at the wrist to allow movement. They were old and scarred with age and long use. “These belonged to one of my dad’s friends. We altered them to fit my hands. I didn’t really like any of the other weapons, except the quarter staff. My dad said my fists wouldn’t be the best course of action during a pitched battle with people with swords or axes.”

 

Aimon was nodding, a thoughtful frown on his face. “You’ll have to show me your moves sometime. I’m primarily hand to hand myself, but I use this instead of a quarter staff.” As he said this, he put his hand to his thigh where the knife was strapped.

 

“You still haven’t told us why you’re here, Aimon.” Echo said, a curious tilt to her head. Aimon tilted his head back and forth, as if deciding what to say.”

 

Finally he looked up, a clouded look to his eyes. “Have you ever had something really important you wanted to do, and the reasons you had for wanting to do it sounded really good when you said them to yourself, but if you say them out loud, they sound stupid and cliché, like something out of an idealistic fairytale?”

 

Everyone sat for a moment, mulling what he had said over and over in their minds, when Echo said, in a contemplative voice, “Well, not personally, but I think I get what you are trying to say.” They all nodded in agreement.

 

Aimon smiled, a tilt at one side of his mouth, and said, “That’s my story.” Before anyone could complain at the ambiguity of the statement, he said, “It’s a trust thing. Even if I like someone, like you three, it takes a really long time before I can trust them. Maybe I’ll tell you someday, but for now...” They all nodded, letting him know they didn’t mind.

 

Echo suddenly looked up. “Where’d all the Knights go?” Ania and Randen looked around, and saw that the black cloaked figures had melted into the shadows beyond. An uneasy hush fell over the crowd as three black clothed figures walked through a pair of double doors opposite the ones Ania had come in. Two were women; one was a man, all with the head pieces of the Knights, but with gold gilding. The taller woman had the hilt of a sword poking up over her shoulder, as well as two strapped to a sword belt at her waist. The other woman held a long spear, and the knee-high boots she wore, a great deal taller than any Ania had yet seen, identified her as a horse-rider. The man held a long bow, a full quiver of arrows at his hip, as well as an array of throwing daggers. Ania knew before meeting his gaze that a green eyed example of the reflective quality that seemed to be a hallmark of the Knights would be there.

 

“Sir Alecgorn,” she whispered, just as Randen breathed, “Gilded headpieces.” They looked at each other, then at Echo and Aimon. In exact unity, they said, “It’s the Masters.”

 

Understanding dawned in their eyes, and the four of them stood, respectfully bowing their heads as the senior-most Knights came to a halt in a portion of the yard that had been kept clear of benches or tables. Ania, head down, felt the tangible gaze of the Masters sweep over her.

 

The tallest woman opened her mouth to speak, and the four of them lifted their heads, entranced.  She had a firm, commanding alto voice that filled the yard, letting all know she was in charge.  "I am SwordMaster Zeriphanth. These are my seconds-in-command, BowMaster Alecgorn and HorseMaster Verigo." Each of the Masters lifted their head in acknowledgement as their names were spoken, each retaining the level of calm they had entered with, their faces betraying no emotion. "We applaud you for making it this far. Most children your ages would not have been brave enough to even come through the doors of the Outer Compound. Congratulations. You have passed the first test.

 

"But before you can become one of our Dativs, you must first pass another test. Like any of the Academies, the first year will be spent weeding out those of you who do not belong. At the end of the first year, those of you who are left will become the next class of Dativs. The rest of you will be sent with a letter of recommendation to another Academy." Ania heard a few of the scared children swallow hard, and she saw in her mind’s eye their face going a few shades paler. 

 

She heard a scoff and knew it must have come from one of the noble children. Lady Zeriphanth must have heard it too, and have known its source, because she suddenly turned, lifting a hand to point as she did. "You, girl. Why are you here?" Every head turned, landing on a girl in red silken riding skirts. She was one of the ones who had the most condescending looks. After a moment of shocked silence, Lady Zeriphanth said in a quieter voice, "Tell me why, of all the Academies in the City, why on earth you chose the one that is a den of superstition?"

 

Even after apparently arousing the ire of the SwordMaster, the irritating look on the girl's face just got worse. "My mother was unable to secure my attendance to the Zairem, and so we selected this place as an adequate replacement."

 

Silence. No expression was betrayed by any of the Masters, until Lady Verigo spoke, quietly, but no less deadly for its volume. "So we are throwbacks? The place to send children who couldn't pass an entrance exam? No. As much as you may hate us, know that we are often the last ring of defense around the Queen, not only from Joconans, but from the stupidity of fool subjects like you. Know that we are to be respected." The girl's face had gone white. "Get out." When she made no move to go, Verigo spoke again, this time her voice tinged with anger. "That wasn't a request. It was an order.  We require Dativs that are committed to becoming Knights. And any of you fool children who share her story can leave as well. Get out, now. "

 

Over half the children got up and left, some with looks of relief on their faces, others with the heavy shroud of shame about their eyes. There had been around forty to begin with, a third of them noble. Only five nobles were left, and about twelve other children, not counting the four of them.

 

After the last of the departed children had made their way out of the yard, Sir Alecgorn spoke, a quiet, commanding voice that was like a cool wind echoing from ages past in Ania's heart. "Any of you with delusions of grandeur may also leave. Some of the people in the Outer Compound openly call us heroes to any who will listen, but the rest of Koronea hates the very ground we walk on. If you can't live with that, then not only do you not belong here, you will not survive here. "

 

Ania and Randen glanced at each other, small smiles on their lips. As long as they knew the deeds of the other, they could live with the enmity of the unknowing masses.

 

Their gazes shot back to the Masters as Lady Zeriphanth stepped forward.  The tall SwordMaster met the gaze of each and every one of the remaining children. There were now only ten other children, with only one boy and one noble child, a girl. Their faces had relaxed somewhat, more confident now that they had passed the first tests. The noble seemed to have more respect for the Knights standing before her. "Stand in a single file row, side by side, so you are facing us." As the other children scrambled to do so, Ania and her newfound friends stood calmly side by side. "When it is your turn, state your name, your reason for being here, your ranged and combat weapons of choice, and which Master you wish to study under."

 

Traveling slowly down the line, each child spoke, some of them so quietly Ania could barely hear them. There were a few children who had no clue what their weapons were, and a few who mumbled reasons like, "It seemed important." The noble child�"her name was Matya Gyatui�"was there because her mother had a cousin who worked in the Outer Compound, and they had heard reports of the excellent people the Knights were, and Matya's mother had thought to influence her daughter's character. Matya herself thought there could be no nobler job than that of protecting the Queen.

 

When it reached Echo, the small girl spoke in a clear, firm voice, pitched so everyone in the yard could hear her. "My name is Tifynee Caldez. My mother was one of the TruMages that helped with the education of the Dativs a few years ago, and after we discovered that I had a high affinity for offensive magic, I decided to come here. I fight close range hand to hand or with a quarter staff, and my ranged attack is my magic. I would like to study under HorseMaster Verigo. "

 

Next was Aimon. "Aimon Zahur. My reasons for being here are mine and mine alone, but know that I will give my every effort to becoming a Knight." The name Zahur tickled at the back of Ania's mind, but she shrugged it off as nothing. "I fight hand to hand or with my long knife, but I have yet to choose a ranged weapon. I also wish to train under the HorseMaster."

 

Randen looked up into the SwordMaster's eyes, his own harboring none of the fear that had been present not so long ago. "I am Randen Derris, son of Matlynd Derris. My father was a Knight here, a path I have long wished to follow. My weapon is the great sword, or two long swords." Ania nearly gagged. Those long swords were almost as tall as Echo! "My ranged is the crossbow. I choose to learn from you, Lady SwordMaster."

 

A slight smile graced Lady Zeriphanth's features. "I remember your father. A good man, a good Knight. If you are half the swordsman your father was, I would be honored to say I had some hand in your education."

 

And now it was Ania's turn. Looking steadily into the eyes of Sir Alecgorn, she said, "My name is Ania Kyatei. My aunt was Alliania Kyatei." Each of the Masters turned as one to look at her. She remembered the words of Lyem. We loved her, and she loved us. She hadn't really felt the true impact of those words until she saw the looks in the Masters eyes. A small smile that reminded her very much of Lyem was beginning on Sir Alecgorn's face. She knew no other explanation was needed for her presence. "I haven't chosen a close-ranged weapon yet, but I have this--" here she drew her aunt's knife from her belt, "--and I'm fairly good with it, and my aunt told me that I have some of the best accuracy she had ever seen with the throwing dagger. And if you'll have me, I would study under Sir Alecgorn."

 

The smile that she remembered from her childhood dancing in the green eyes of the BowMaster, Alecgorn said softly, "It would be my honor, Kleide Ania." Ania grinned when he used the Geschyichti word for "little lady." He had called her that the night they met.

 

Sir Alecgorn stepped forward, a smile still apparent on his lips. "We always have a few children who are nervous, even terrified. The higher born, like Miss Matya here, always seem to find us below them. Sometimes we even have a child who has managed to gain control of their emotions, to some degree. But you four. You seem to be completely at ease. Care to share with the rest of us?"

 

They looked at each other, somewhat at a loss to answer. Finally Echo answered for them all. "I guess it's because we all have had some kind of connection with the Inner Compound. We have all had some idea of what you are really like." Suddenly she giggled. "Well, all except Aimon. I don't know what his reason is. Maybe he's just weird like that."

 

Alecgorn nodded. "I suppose that makes sense." He made as if to turn away, but then stopped, and looked at Ania and Randen. "You still haven't introduced us to your friends." Ania couldn't make her voice work. How had he known? When neither she nor Randen made a move to speak, Alecgorn said, in a whisper meant only for them, "I can see the connection in your eyes. Can't you see it in mine?" Ania suddenly realized that his eyes, with the reflective sheen to them, were even more so then Lyem, Echo, or Aimon's. She had only seen that level of reflection in Randen and Hakem. It was almost like there was a second lens to his eye, and one that was slightly a different shape. If she looked at it through the corner of her eye, she saw a deeper green with a slit pupil on top of his emerald irises. She felt a grin building on her face. She couldn't seem to stop smiling. One day crying, the next grinning like a fool. The Knights were doing wonders for her emotions.

 

As one, Ania and Randen stood back, Randen lifting his arm, as the twin shimmers came forward, the silver materializing on the ground before Ania, the blue flapping to a stop on Randen's arm.

 

"This is my Companion, Hakem the Hawk-Eyed." Ania smiled as she heard small gasps from the other children, and she could feel the astonished gazes of the other Knights in the yard.

 

"Meet Trissta CanisOrb." The hawk on Randen's arm gave a shriek, and Ania would have sworn she hear a hint of smugness.

 

Lady Zeriphanth was shaking her head slightly. "What else do you know about us, kleidenya?" Before they could answer, she said, "Do you know the Knight's Pledge?" Ania nodded, and saw Randen nod through the corner of her eye. They had opened their mouths to recite it, when, "Not to me. To them." The Masters stepped aside, and through the same double doors they had entered through, came two people. There was a girl, not much older than she, in the most beautiful dress Ania had ever seen, and a tiara made of diamonds and silver. The other, a boy who looked to be well into his fourteenth year, was wearing the simple black clothes of the Knights, hood down like the other Dativs, but he had a leather headpiece with studded jewels across his forehead. The Lady Daughter Princess Amirone and the First Lord Prince Protector Skaught Farstrend.

 

Ania fell to a knee, bringing her knife up to hold the cool silver hilt to her forehead while gazing at the feet of the sovereigns of Koronea. "I pledge my life, my love, my heart, my soul, my sword, my fist, and my loyalty to the Celestial Queen of Koronea. Each and every one of these before harm touches my Queen." Ania heard Randen speak the words with her, not a second behind, and when they finished, not a moment had passed before they began to recite it in Geschyichti. They ended with the final line, "Jedys eins vyn deysen vor schradin brüht meini Qönikyn," and Ania could hear it echo back across the silent yard.

 

"Well done, Dativs." They looked up. It had been so quiet they weren't even sure they had heard it, but the smile on each of the Masters' faces told them they had heard true. As they stood, they saw Princess Amirone and Prince Skaught smile at them as well. The bright blonde hair of the royal family shone even brighter on the tall, handsome prince.  Piercing black-brown eyes in stark contrast with the rest of his face seemed to bore into her soul. Ania felt her heart flutter when he smiled at her. Why did it do that? She barely heard the whispered congratulations of Echo and Aimon through the fog of those eternally deep eyes. The SwordMaster began speaking to them all, but Ania only heard bits and pieces of it, something about telling them their schedules and assigning them weapons to use and such in the morning. When she spoke of taking them to their rooms to get unpacked, Ania snapped back to the goings on around her, but she still felt that brown eyed gaze on her face.

 

The Masters turned away, melting back into the shadows they had come from, the Prince and Princess following behind. Freed from the gaze of the Prince, Ania was finally able to turn to her friends and smile once more with the giddy feeling of success coursing through her body. "I can't believe we actually did it!" Ania was so happy she gave Randen a huge hug, one he returned full heartedly.

 

When they pulled back, Randen had an odd look in his eyes. "I don't think I could have done it without you." She giggled.

 

"Don't be silly. You would have managed to get over it somehow." Over his shoulder, she saw Lyem waving at her from one of the doorways. Surprised, she pulled away from Randen, grabbing Echo's hand and hauling her along to meet her other friend. Neither of them saw the forlorn look that Randen gave the departing figure of Ania, nor the sympathetic pat Aimon gave him as they slowly followed the girls.

 

Lyem gave Ania a tight squeeze, giving her his congratulations. Ania saw four figures behind him, two boys and two girls, each dressed in simple clothes. "Sir Alecgorn told me to introduce you to your personal servants.  Each of the Knights has one, to just take care of their basic day to day needs. It makes their lives run a little smoother, and they are assigned when you arrive at the Compound." Ania turned to a brown-blonde girl the same height as her, and was introduced as Kryssa. Turning her head, Ania saw her three friends exchanging similar greetings with their new menservants. Echo was already starting off down the corridor with a slender, brown haired girl named Lynde. Randen and Aimon were now chatting amiably with two boys whose names where Adyn and Zak.

 

Kryssa spoke, a quiet, lilting sound that made Ania smile. "Your saddlebags have already been brought up to your room. If you would accompany me?" Calling goodbyes to all her friends, Ania followed the tall girl through the Compound, taking so many twists and turns she never could have remembered them all.

 

Eventually, they arrived at a door leading into a room bigger than the one she had at home. A tall window facing the east filled one wall, and a bed lay just beneath it. A fire place was in the opposite corner, with a large hearth rug and a warmly crackling fire drew Hakem from her side to flop before the permeating warmth. Ania saw the saddle bags and her other luggage on the floor next to the bed, neatly laid so as not to be in the way.

 

The weariness of the day filling her bones at last, she went to the bed and sat down hard. Kryssa stood before her, eyes slightly averted, and said, "If my lady would like, I will unpack her things."

 

"First of all, my name is Ania, and I would very much like it if you would call me by that name. I'd like us to be friends, and I'm not some snooty noble who would die if some dirt got on my boots." Kryssa stifled a giggle. "See? I knew there was a normal person in there somewhere. And I actually would like it if you helped me unpack. I am bone tired, and just want to go to bed." Kryssa nodded, already seeming much more at ease. Ania reached down to the saddle bags, and pulled out the box Alliania had given her, which now contained all the letters she had found on her journey. "Is there anywhere I can put this where it will be safe?"

 

Kryssa looked up from where she was, knelt before the chest of drawers putting away any of Ania's clothes that weren't travel stained, and when she saw what she held, nodded. She came over to the window, and felt the edge of the stone framing that surrounded it. Slipping her fingers under the edge of one of the stone slabs, she slid it out like a drawer, and Ania saw that it was indeed a hidden drawer, easily mistaken for a solid stone, and deep enough for two of the boxes to be stacked on top of each other, with room to spare. She placed her treasure in it, and slid it back into place.

 

Turning to the pack on the ground, Ania pulled a water proof case from inside a side pocket. From it she slid the rolled-up copy of her Knight's Pledge her aunt had given her. Hanging it on the wall, she stood back and smiled broadly.

 

She was finally home.

 

 

 

 



© 2012 VassD


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Added on April 25, 2012
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VassD
VassD

A tiny random town-city-dimension, ID



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I'm a fledgling author with dreams about as big as one of Robert Jordan's books. Maybe more than one on top of each other. I love writing fantasy and science fiction stories (No matter how long a piec.. more..

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A Chapter by VassD