“Right then, we can’t fight one another on Academy Ground, aye?” posed Kenian somewhat abstractedly as he rummaged about in his trunk.
Dar didn’t like the sound of that. That was the jovial tone of voice that signaled a plan of some sort.
“But it’s a LastDay, right?” So who’s to say we can’t head down to the Practice Rings and get a bit of practice in there? What say you?” Kenian stood and pulled a tunic over a regular linen shirt as if he were ready to head into the city. “And,” Kenian added, “that means we can use real swords.”
Dar’s eyes flicked to his broadsword hanging on the wall by the wardrobe. He’d not had a chance to use it since his arrival at the Academy… it would be nice… he felt himself being swayed. Sighing, Dar shook his head and decided that Kenian was just a bad influence on him as he grinned and reached up to buckle his sword on.
“One thing,” Dar said.
“Fifth evening mark, I meet my siblings at the Sword and the Stag… it’s… kind of a tradition. You’re more than welcome to join us,” Dar added as Kenian’s eyebrows rose.
“Ah, I’d forgotten you’d other family attending here.” A grin split his tanned features as he took down his sword from the top of the wardrobe and unwrapped it carelessly from its doeskin and sheathed it at his side. “Will your sister be there? That one with the blue eyes and dark curls?” Kenian smacked his lips with appreciation.
Dar’s narrowed eyes caused Kenian to hold his hands up in a mollifying gesture. “Ah, mate, I was jesting, you know that surely,” and he clapped Dar on the back. Dar thought privately he wouldn’t want Kenian Greystorm anywhere near his sisters – any of them – after all the bawdy tales he’d regaled them with down in the Common Room. He also wondered himself whether Emanuella would attend tonight. She’d made excuses the last two nights, claiming last week a need to study, and the week prior to that, wanting to spend time alone with Fiaz, which all of them understood. After all, the two weren’t accustomed to being kept apart for so long, and studying, well, if Dar’s classwork was anything to judge by, he could easily forgive that.
Not that he himself missed her. Dar found himself most grateful for the distraction his classes served and her continued absence, though he suspected if he truly applied himself, he’d run into her in the Dining Hall now and again.
She shouldn’t have any reason for skipping out on tonight’s meeting though. It wouldn’t be like her to miss every meeting like that.
Dar found the Practice Rings invigorating. Kenian was right – they could match up against each other – and more experienced opponents – all they wanted, for as long as they liked. Unlike their actual Cycle classes, where they outstripped their own Cyclemates most times.
Another advantage of the Practice Rings was the thrill of swinging his own sword. In his classes, they used wooden or old pot metal Academy blades so that each of them were equal as opponents.
Dar and Kenian fought three times, until sweat rolled down each of them, their shirts plastered to their backs with effort. They also found Upper Level students there. Dar found it hard to keep pace with the 6th Cycle he competed against, discovering moves he had not yet learned. Finding himself finally challenged, even overwhelmed, was refreshing.
As the Ring Sorcerer removed the sparring spells from their blades, Kenian clapped Dar on the back.
“Knew you’d like it. You were amazing. Hope I’m never on the wrong side of that blade,” he joked, eyeing Dar’s broadsword as he sheathed it.
Dar grinned and invited him to the Sword and Stag to enjoy the rest of the night with his comrades. It only felt right, he thought, and they’d already met Kenian before anyway. He knew they’d all get along well.
Another round of boisterous laughter erupted from the table; another of Kenian’s bawdy tavern stories had been delivered perfectly. Even Ander appeared to be enjoying himself, and Fiorra’s usual distilled humor was emanating in uncharacteristic high mirth. Dar was impressed – Kenian had scored highly among his comrades it seemed.
All but Emanuella, who had, of course, not shown, again. He still felt like growling over that. He could not believe she dared to be absent yet again. When finally he spluttered something about her inattendance, Rick, Fiorra, and Ander all exchanged an odd look, Dar thought, and each looked away. Was he taking it so personally? He himself? He didn’t actually want to see her. But it made him feel better to know they were all in the same place at the same time and that all was right with them. She just flaunted that in his face. Was it so much to ask, every two sixdays, meet at the Sword and Stag, just as a family get-together of sorts?
Kenian poked him in ribs Dar was sure would be sore by morning light. The others were laughing over an old story. In a lowered voice, Kenian asked, “How’d your brother get that gash on his face?”
Dar, troubled, met Kenian’s blue gaze, hoping to find convincing words. Shrugging, he replied, “Who knows? Been some brawling in his Cycle, he mentioned once.”
Kenian’s eyes widened slightly. “Brawling….”
Rick, with a huge grin, stood up with the pitcher. “How about another round?”
An applause from his table met his offer and he left for the bar. Kenian continued. “Brawling. Dar – that’s not good.”
He grimaced. “No, it’s not. It could get him demerits, or worse, expelled.”
Glancing about, Kenian returned, “Yes, but I’m thinking about you, mate. They might expel your whole family, just because. Ever think of that?” He stared at Dar seriously.
Dar took a breath. That thought had never occurred to him, though he knew, if what the Oracles had written held an ounce of truth, none of them would be expelled. But still – he threw a look over his shoulder at Rick. They didn’t need to push the boundaries.
“Who’s he brawling with? I don’t know anyone in Fourth Cycle who looks like him. Just… Getchwick. A few Upper Levels I’ve seen, just last week actually.”
Rick returned with a pitcher of ale slopping over the rim as he sat down. “What’s this about Upper Levels?” Rick asked with perfect nonchalance.
Dar studied his expression, trying to determine if Rick were masking some sort of knowledge.
Kenian returned with the exact same measure of nonchalance, “I was just remarking to Dar that I’d seen a few Upper Levels who’d gotten severely beaten, looked like. Makes a man wonder who could beat a Sixth Cycle like that.”
Dar watched the entire table and saw several things in the space of seconds: Fiorra’s smile fade, Ander look down into his ale, Kenian studying Rick with a mix of curiosity and intensity, and Rick return his gaze directly before replying with a candid shrug, “Probably sheer stupidity. If not another Sixth Cycle, that is.”
Kenian held Rick’s gaze a second longer and nodded. “More than likely. Makes sense, anyway.” He held up his ale for a toast. “To sheer stupidity.” Dar relaxed visibly as everyone returned the toast, smiling again.
They hadn’t long blown their tapers out but Dar lay still in his bed, knees up, eyes wide awake and staring through the darkness. He was still too keyed up to sleep. Anxious.
Across the room, Kenian’s voice sounded sleepily. “So where is your sister who keeps not showing up?”
Dar scoffed. “As if I’m going to tell you.”
His roommate snickered and then replied, “Never fear, my friend, I have two in line currently. I don’t think your sister would fancy waiting for me, do you?”
Dar’s jaw had clenched though he knew Kenian was joking.
Kenian continued through a yawn, “Just asking as it riled you up so much. You sort of look out for them all, that eldest brother post.”
Dar blinked, not realizing he had been so transparent. Also he pondered briefly that the secrecy of the Prophecy could be discovered by a simply observant individual….
His silence Kenian took for assent. “You know, if I were a gambling man, which I am, I would bet that your sister is with a man.”
“What! No!” The craziness of it was laughable.
“Mate, think about it now. How many meetings has she missed? A beautiful creature she is – respectfully speaking, of course, respectfully – but come now. See it. You two obviously don’t get along well so you don’t know who’s in her life, aye? Think she’s going to risk your father’s wrath by telling you? But most of all… let me think, I’m a lovely maiden, and I’ve met an attractive man…. I want to spend every last minute of my available time with him. Do I want to go to those annoying family meetings or… do I want to spend them encircled in the arms of my beloved?” Kenian supposed aloud. “Come on, now, mate, use your sense,” he chided.
Dar lay in his bed, stunned with the possibility. Surely one of the others would have mentioned…. No one had kept secrets from him before.
“Think back. Isn’t there some lad she’s liked since she’s been here….” Kenian trailed off, attempting to jog Dar’s memory.
Dar knew that wasn’t what the problem was. He just… knew. But aloud he said, “Well… I know one place she’s spent a lot of time….”
“You’re an idiot. You didn’t think of him first thing? Who is he? What’s he look like?”
“Well… he’s dark complected, dark eyes…. Strange name, though, I never heard it before.”
“Do I know him? Is he here at the Academy?” Kenian asked. Kenian’s knowledge of those at the Academy far outshadowed Dar’s.
“No, he’s not. But he’s extremely… powerful. Strong.” Dar fumbled about for descriptors that would not give Fiaz’s true nature away.
“And he’s not at the Academy? Is he a good fighter? Good with a blade?”
“He’s… the best fighter I’ve ever seen,” Dar hedged.
“Huh. Well, that counts for something.”
Dar tried to mask the bitterness from his voice as he said, “Yes. He’s very protective of her. And - he loves her a great deal.”
Thoughtfully, Kenian replied, “Well, then. There you are, Dar. Mystery solved.”
If only it were, Dar mused. He just didn’t think it was that simple.