Galen looked at himself in his mirror. He checked over his appearance to make sure it was acceptable. He looked at the simple dark blue tunic with his house’s standard, a black crow, stitched on the front that he wore with dark pants and boots. He swept his dark brown hair back from his forehead and looked to make sure his face was clean. He usually didn’t care what he looked like, but they had an important guest coming for dinner tonight.
It was the day after mid-spring and Roderick was coming for dinner. He had written three days ago to say the High Captain would be coming with him. She wanted to meet Galen and give him his schedule for training. She wanted to make sure Galen understood how strenuous this schedule would be. She wanted to be certain Galen could handle doing both the Disciplines and the High Academy.
Galen was fairly sure he could. He at least wanted to try. The thought that he could become an Elite and learn from the Royal Academy was a dream come true for Galen. He would not waste this opportunity. He would work hard to succeed in both. Perhaps if he could pull this off, Galen would finally be satisfied with himself.
Galen walked to the house’s main parlor to find his mother and oldest brother sitting by the fire. His mother looked lovely in a dark green gown, with her dark brown hair pulled up off her face. Though approaching her fifth decade, she was still beautiful with few lines on her face, and no gray hair that Galen could see. Galen often wondered why she never remarried. She must have had opportunities.
Galen’s eyes then turned to Alaric. He was dressed as the lord of the manor in a black tunic with the silver outline of a crow. He had on a simple robe attached around his neck with silver clasps which marked him as a lower court lord. Alaric was a little shorter than either Roderick or Galen. His hair was a little lighter color brown than his brothers, and his eyes were not as blue; they were almost gray. Alaric smiled slightly when he spotted Galen.
“Good evening, little brother; I’m glad you could finally come down from your room. All this fuss is about you after all,” said Alaric with a slight edge to his voice.
“Do not give him a hard time, Alaric. I am sure he is nervous enough as it is. I am a bit on edge myself,” said their mother shaking her head slightly. “I barely know the High Captain though I’ve seen her plenty of times. She has always unnerved me in some way.”
“She is nothing to be afraid of, mother,” said Alaric crossing his legs. “She was raised as a high lady of the court. She knows manners better than any of us. I am sure she will be pleasant company tonight.”
“I am not worried about her manners, Alaric. She practically grew up with the royal family, and now she is the High Captain of the Sentinel. She has always come off as prideful to me, and I am sure she thinks she is lowering herself to come to a home of a lower lord.”
“Roderick is her trusted second,” said Galen coming to sit by his mother. “I am sure she values his family. Roderick seems to serve her with pride.”
“You never knew her, Galen,” said his mother looking at him. “You were too young to go to court when she was there. Then you went to lower academy as she became an Elite very quickly, and then somehow High Captain. I still wonder how she pulled that off. I have heard rumors, of course.”
“What rumors?” asked Alaric.
Their mother smiled mischeviously. “It is said the king always watches her with interest. You know our queen is off in the summer palace for her health. I am sure the king gets lonely. Perhaps he turned to a younger woman to warm his bed.”
Alaric laughed as Galen narrowed his eyes. He didn’t think it was his place to censure his mother, but he could not stop himself. “You would do good to stop that line of thinking this instant. She is the High Captain, and we must assume she is worthy. Roderick serves her diligently. He would not do so if he did not believe in her.”
“Perhaps our brother likes a pretty face as well,” said Alaric with a laugh.
Galen looked harshly at his brother as they heard the bell pulled from the front door. They all looked at each other and stood. Galen watched the doorway to the parlor as the High Captain, followed by his brother, swept in. Galen’s eyes took in the High Captain, and he instantly agreed with his brother’s assessment that she did not look like a man.
She was fairly tall for a woman. She came up past Roderick’s shoulders. Galen could see that her simple black dress could not hide the curves of her body. Her silver-edged, black cloak hung around her neck with a fancy silver clasp. Around her neck, she wore a long delicate silver chain with the standard of the Sentinel hanging off the end. Her face was daintier than Galen expected, but she was high born after all.
Her brown eyes were large and bright. He nose was small and curved up just slightly at the end. Her lips were full and pink, though they were set in a firm line as she entered the room. Galen could tell her hair was a shiny mahogany color though it was upon her head in a crown braid. She stopped and looked at all three of them as she came into the room. Roderick came to stand next to her, and he smiled as he looked at his family.
Alaric and his mother moved forward towards the High Captain and Roderick, and Galen followed.
“I am sure you have met my brother, Captain, Alaric Ellis, the Lord of Low Hill.”
The High Captain gave a small curtsey. “Of course, it is good to see you again, my lord.”
Alaric bowed and then held out his hand. “Of course, my lady,” said Alaric as the captain gave Alaric her hand. “Or, I am sorry, It is High Captain, my apologies.” He kissed her hand and let it go.
“No apologies needed. I have a few titles,” said the Captain with a tight smile. She looked at their mother.
“You must also know my mother, Lady Glain Ellis,” said Roderick.
“Yes,” said the captain, curtseying again. “It is nice to see you, my lady. You look as lovely as always.”
His mother curtseyed low. “It is an honor to have you here, High Captain.”
“I thank you, but I assure you, the honor is mine. I know my coming was very short notice, and I hope you did not go to any trouble. A nice family meal is all I desire,” said the Captain.
“It was no trouble at all. We usually keep a good table here at Low Hill,” said his mother with a small frown.
“I have no doubt of it. I am thankful for your hospitality, my lady,” said the captain graciously.
Roderick looked at his mother for a moment with a slight frown and then turned to Galen.
“And this is my youngest brother, Galen Ellis, one of your newest novices.”
Galen bowed low and then looked at the captain to see her smiling slightly at him.
“It is my pleasure to finally meet you, Galen. I have heard much about you.You have caused quite a stir in my world.”
“I hope I am worthy of any trouble you have gone to for me,” said Galen seriously.
“Time will tell, I suppose,” said the Captain smiling wider. “The trouble wasn’t your doing. Others are the cause of it. I don’t believe you asked for any of this.”
“No, but I am grateful for the opportunity,” said Galen.
“We will see how you feel after a month of intense training and your lessons,” said the Captain as she turned and looked at Roderick.
“We should go into dinner,” said Alaric. He offered his arm to the High Captain, and she took it with a nod.
Roderick escorted their mother, and Galen followed behind. They walked into their dining room to find many dishes sitting already on the table. Alaric took his place at the head of the table, while their mother stood on Alaric’s left and the High Captain on his right. Galen stood next to the High Captain and Roderick across from him.
Alaric looked at them all and said. “May the king’s gods see over our time together. May they continue to see over the spring planting, and may the time we spend be fruitful.” Alaric looked at his mother, and she took her seat, signaling that everyone else could sit as well.
Everyone was silent for a moment as they started passing around platters of food. As Galen passed some potatoes to the Captain, she took them and asked, “How are you really feeling about all of this, Galen? I know you did not ask to be accepted to both the Disciplines and the Royal Academy.”
“As I said, I am excited about the opportunity. I am very ready to go through the Disciplines, but I was a little disappointed not to be able to pick the Royal Academy. To be able to do both is more than I could have ever hoped.”
“It will be strenuous, I hope you know it. I have brought you a schedule of how you will spend your days. The Crown Prince and I have both worked on it, but if you find it is too much for you, you must let me know.”
“Will he be able to leave the Disciplines at any time if he feels all this is too overwhelming for him?” asked Lady Glain as she looked to the High Captain while taking a sip of wine.
“Of course, anyone may leave the Disciplines at any time. Many drop out after a few weeks.”
“But they are seen as weak and usually mocked. I would not want Galen to suffer so,” said Lady Glain.
“I know that is how things were in the past, but I never did like it. This will be the first Disciplines held under my watch, and many things will be different. Those who come even to try the Disciplines are very brave and worthy. Those who leave do so for many reasons, not just because they could not do the work. I have been making it known we will not mock or shame those who decide not to join us.”
“How many will you take from this year’s Disciplines to become Elites?” asked Alaric.
“I could use at least twenty-five new Elites as soon as I could get them, but only those truly worthy will pass the Disciplines and go on. If that is twenty-five, then I will praise the king’s gods for my good fortune, but if only five or less are worthy, I will deal with my small numbers as best as I can.”
“Have you a large class for the Disciplines this year?” asked Alaric.
“We are full. We have many that are coming from out in the kingdom, including a larger number of women than usual,” said Roderick, noticing that the High Captain had just taken a bite of her meal.
“I am guessing that is down to our very unique High Captain,” said Alaric with a smile.
The High Captain swallowed and looked at Alaric. “There are many women who are worthy fighters and Mystic users in the kingdom. If I becoming High Captain embolden more to join, then I am very honored.”
“Will it not be a distraction?” asked Lady Glain. “I know the Sentinel has had a few women in its rank for the past 100 years, but to have so many women and men together, won’t that cause problems.”
“You think only having men living together in a large Fortress doesn’t cause problems as well? I know you are that naïve, my lady,” said the High Captain with a small smirk.
Galen watched as his mother blushed slightly. She gave the Captain a disapproving look.
“Elites are Elites for a reason,” continued the High Captain. “They know how to control any urges they have, or at least how to handle those urges appropriately. I do not foresee any additional issues coming up with my Sentinel by admitting a few more women.”
“You are very outspoken,” said Lady Glain quietly.
“I am,” said the High Captain proudly. “I would tell you it is because of my position, but it has always been so. My father encouraged me to speak my mind my whole life.”
“I believe you mother had other ideas,” said Lady Glain.
Galen saw the Captain’s eyes narrow slightly. “She might have, but it did not deter me. I am not ashamed of who I am or how I conduct myself.”
“Nor should you be,” said Alaric looking at his mother from the corner of his eyes.
“Yes, I am sure your conduct is always of the highest level,” said Lady Glain brightly. She smirked slightly. “After all, one cannot always listen to rumors. We all know how those at court love to talk and make up stories.”
The High Captain looked very carefully at their mother. She then turned to Roderick, who was giving their mother a very hard stare.
“Is there something you would accuse me of, Lady Glain? Do you know something of my actions that are up for public censure?”
“No, not at all,” said Lady Glain as she asked a servant to fill her wine glass. “I was just speaking in general. I am sure we have all been a victim of rumors of the court.”
“Indeed,” said the Captain as she continued to stare at Galen’s mother.
They finished their dinner and moved back into the parlor. The High Captain sat in a chair next to Galen and handed him his daily schedule for the Disciplines and the Royal Academy. Galen looked it over, noticing it was indeed very strenuous. He would wake up every morning very early, attend morning routines for Disciplines, have a quick breakfast, and then be expected at the Royal Academy until lunch. After lunch, he would drill with the Disciplines for three hours before spending two more at the Academy. He would have an hour before dinner for study and reflection. After dinner, he would be expected for something blocked socializing.
“What do you mean by socializing?” asked Galen, looking up at the High Captain.
“You will be expected to get to know your fellow novices and students at the Royal Academy. You will spend some nights in the Fortress or out in the town with the other novices, and some nights you will go to Academy functions or attend court events.”
“And that will be required of me? I cannot use those times for study or reflection?”
“No, at least not all the time. If you need a night of rest here and there, that can be arranged, but it is important you get to know those around you. Loyalty, friendship, and devotion are a cornerstone of the Sentinel. I believe you spending time with your fellow academics will be useful as well. It will help you be sure when it is time for you to take your oath for the Sentinel or go on for further studies with the Academy.”
Galen wasn’t sure what to say to that. He had never been one for much socializing. He did sometimes go out drinking with friends at the lower academy, but it was usually just to keep Martin and Tomas out of trouble. He wasn’t much for drinking himself. Sometimes he did like to go look and talk to a few ladies, but most women, like most men, bored him after a while.
“It won’t be so bad, Galen,” said Roderick from his other side. “You always want to improve yourself. You can use this opportunity to improve how you interact with people. I know you are never unkind or inappropriate, but you should understand how much making the right connections can improve your life and opportunities.”
“Your brother is very wise, Galen,” said the Captain, smiling slightly. “Do not dismiss this part of your training. It might not be what you enjoy, but it is necessary.”
The clock in the parlor started ringing out nine bells. The High Captain looked at the clock and stood up abruptly. “I had no idea it had gotten so late. We will need to get back, Roderick.”
Roderick nodded and stood up as well, causing everyone to stand. They all walked towards the parlor door, where the High Captain and Roderick turned and faced everyone.
“I thank you for your hospitality, Lady Glain. I thank you for having me in your home Lord Ellis,” said the Captain.
“It was our honor, High Captain. May the Sentinel continue to stand strong,” Alaric said while bowing. He looked at his mother.
“I thank you for your visit and the trouble you have gone to for our Galen,” said Lady Glain. She walked forward and took Roderick’s hand. “I hope you will visit again when you can, my son.”
Roderick squeezed his mother’s hand and bowed. “I will come visit when I have the opportunity”
“Galen, I look forward to seeing you in a few weeks. If you find anything on that schedule amiss, please let me know. If you change your mind, no one will fault you in any way, not even the Crown Prince.”
“I am looking forward to this challenge, High Captain. I will not change my mind.” He turned to Roderick. “Good night, brother.”
“I will see you soon, Galen. Try to have a little fun before you join us. Do something you wouldn’t approve of yourself,” said Roderick smiling. Galen noticed the High Captain crack a small smile as well before she turned and left the room.