Emanuella stayed close to Rick’s shoulder, trying not to huddle as they strode through the stone corridors of the Academy of Weaponry. She couldn’t help feeling rather intimidated; men of all ages, some in armor, others in simple tunics and trousers, stared at her as they passed. Some leered blatantly, others dug their neighbors in the ribs and grinned knowingly. Several times, she heard “Kin’keska” muttered or whispered and knew it was in reference to herself. She realized she resembled a Kin’keska with her dark hair, though her eyes were blue instead of black or brown. But she also knew that Kin’keska were not often held in high regard.
She bit her lip as a large, red-headed man deliberately dropped his gaze to her breasts and sneered at her. Emanuella narrowed her eyes at him as she passed, wanting to claw his eyes out, but felt only the sting of humiliation as she heard his laughter down the stone corridor. Her jaw clenched. Intent on ignoring every man who ambled past her, Emanuella arrived at the reluctant realization that she was going to have to develop a thicker skin than this if she was going to survive here. In fact, maybe she would just stay instead at the Academy of Kyor, Ander’s school. That had been a much more pleasant experience. And to think, she actually got mad at Dar for what now seemed like such little things in comparison to this.
-- Steady. --
It was Ander. He so rarely used his kyor’rishtan, she often forgot he had it. His kyor voice was strong and clear.
-- Am I that obvious? --
-- Not to those of us who don’t know you. It was actually your mind that gave you away, you have a few cracks.
“In here,” gestured their guide gruffly, a burly man in a black tunic and trousers. Rick, Emanuella, Ander, Dar, and Gabriella stepped into a drafty reception room and waited while their guide disappeared into the office. Emanuella studied the dusty tapestries on the walls, having nothing else to do while they waited to be admitted. Each displayed scenes of battle from historic wars of the past, including the Battle of Stronghold.
Finally, their guide reappeared. “This way.”
“A man of many words,” whispered Rick, though his jovial manner disappeared at once when Gabriella leveled a stern glance at him.
A bulky wooden desk sat in the center of the office, enclosing a powerful looking man in black leather, an expectant but slightly annoyed look on his face. Two men, each in armor of good quality, leaned on the opposite corners of his desk, framing him as though they were guards.
“Thank you, Dolf,” said the man in black leather dryly, dismissing the guide who had shown them in.
Gabriella led them into the office, affecting suddenly a lazy stride Emanuella had not seen her use before, one that spoke of confidence and some small measure of arrogance even. Considering the men in this office and those she’d seen in this Academy, Emanuella know understood why Gabriella insisted they wear their armor and weapons for this meeting with the Academy Armsmaster. Her own armor made her feel twice as heavy and she had given up trying to scratch an itch between the chain links, for the feat was quite impossible.
Recognition surfaced on the Armsmaster’s face as he arched an eyebrow. “Gabriella, isn’t it?”
Dryly, Gabriella replied, “Tynan.”
Emanuella wondered why she did not accord him with the title Armsmaster. It seemed she knew him personally. She remembered that Gabriella had attended these Academies herself not so long ago. Studying the Armsmaster more closely, Emanuella found that little or no gray ran through his thinning blond hair, though his face had the well-worn quality of a man who spent much of his time outdoors.
Armsmaster Tynan’s companions each registered surprise at this female who could not show proper respect. Tynan’s face darkened momentarily but he shrugged the slight off. He glanced down at the papers Dolf had given him.
“You have some entries to the Academy then.”
“Yes,” Gabriella replied.
The Armsmaster looked up again and ran his eyes over Dar, Ander, Rick, and Emanuella, though his eyes lingered slightly longer on Emanuella than the others. “Your children?” A slight smile crossed his slightly stubbled face. His companions snickered and guffawed while Emanuella seethed. It was quite obvious that Gabriella wasn’t old enough to be mother to any of them.
Evenly, Gabriella replied, “My charges.”
“Well, then.” The Armsmaster came forward from the desk, parchment in hand, and said, “I’ll take it from here, you can go now.”
Gabriella laughed lowly, an element of danger in its sound. “I think not. Did you think I would forget so easily?” Her eyes met the Armsmaster’s in a clash of green sparks and brown agate. Emanuella controlled her urge to gape as the Armsmaster’s companions were doing openly. Evidently Gabriella and the Armsmaster had quite a history together.
“I don’t allow anyone else at inductee interviews.”
“And I am not leaving,” Gabriella replied coolly, her chin raised ever so slightly.
Finally, he growled, “Very well, have a seat.” He flung a dismissive hand behind him at some dusty leather chairs. “But if you interfere, you will be removed.”
Gabriella, her expression neutral, retreated to the far side of the office and sat down. Emanuella felt naked without her comforting presence.
Stalking to the front of the room the Armsmaster stood in front of Emanuella and her comrades, shuffling through parchment. “I have one Academy of Kyor and Weaponry; one, two Academy of Weaponries, and one Academy of Kyor.” Here he fixed a baleful eye on Emanuella. “That must be you. Go on over there and sit down,” he waved a hand vaguely in Gabriella’s direction.
Emanuella stared. She wasn’t attending only the Academy of Kyor. He was assuming merely because she was female that she was attending the Academy of Kyor. She glanced up at Dar for help.
Gabriella cleared her throat at the back of the room.
“Armsmaster,” Gabriella called liltingly, her tone just short of smug, “I thought you might be able to read by now. Should we call for assistance?”
Emanuella did not miss Gabriella’s sudden use of Tynan’s title, heretofore deleted. She watched the man’s face flush darkly. His two companions immediately left their positions and moved as if to remove her.
“Leave her,” he snarled, raising a hand. “Ander, Academy of Kyor.” He glanced up at them and studied each of the boys. His eyes finally fell on Ander. “That must be you. Yes, you have the look of a sorcerer about you.”
Armsmaster Tynan jerked his head toward Gabriella, saying nothing further to Ander.
Briefly, he walked around Dar and Rick, looking over each of them as if they were horses in the Spring Market to be bought, his boots falling quietly on the stone floor. But all too soon, he came to Emanuella. She strove to control her breathing, trying to appear unconcerned, as Gabriella had. She stared at a spot just above his head, though she itched to claw the Armsmaster’s face.
“An entry into the Academy of Weaponry and Kyor,” the Armsmaster said softly, looking Emanuella up and down. Then he grinned over his shoulder.
“This isn’t where you come to play, little girl,” jeered his companion, taking his cue from Armsmaster Tynan. He swaggered toward Emanuella, his armor jingling with each step. “You’re among the big boys, now.”
“I’ll take my leave, then. I was looking for men,” Emanuella replied lightly, careful to keep her tone strong and confident but not insolent nor rebellious, though she felt none of these. The Armsmaster, who had retreated to lean against the front of his desk, chuckled. The man scowled but had no time to defend himself before Armsmaster Tynan’s other attending comrade answered him.
“Answers like that, Kin’keska scum, will get you thrown out of this Academy. What sass you might get away with in your clans you won’t get away with here. Someone will teach you a lesson before long, be sure of it.”
Taken back, Emanuella was not sure how to reply. She was not Kin’keska. Next to her, Dar cleared his throat. She saw the Armsmaster’s eyes flick to Dar, and suddenly understood the nature of the situation. They were testing their mettle, though she thought that the prejudiced abuse that had spewed from the other man’s mouth had been no act. Fortunately, Dar made no other sound nor made no other move, though perhaps that was enough. The Armsmaster’s eyes dropped to the massive blade at Dar’s side and back up to Dar’s face, measuring him.
“If looks were everything, I would have left after setting eyes upon you. I am not Kin’keska, but if you cannot get past what I look like, then I will attend a school that can. Perhaps Stronghold will accept my tuition nobles.” She turned slightly as if to leave, a slightly questioning look on her face. This was a terrible risk she was taking. All they had to do was say, “Then go, we want no Kin’keska here.” She didn’t dare breathe, but allowed an annoyed look to cross her face, as though they were taking up valuable time of hers that might best be spent elsewhere.
Tynan lifted a single eyebrow only and said, "Admission status granted."