Scattered papers covered the cold stone floor. Liora kneeled, gathering the sheets into a small pile before her. The gentle breeze from the crack in her window lifted the corners of some of the pages. Her mistake had been leaving the window open when she left for lunch.
Bounding the loose sheets in a folder, or placing a heavy book upon them would have prevented them from blowing away. Now she was wasting more time trying to figure out the order. If she had foreseen this, maybe she would have put numbers.
Unfortunately, she hadn’t done that, so she was left looking over the first and last sentences in hopes of piecing the pages back in order.
This was not how she had been planning to spend her noon. Then again, the past days hadn’t gone as planned. She had expected Derm to be different. She had thought Derm would be colder, or wilder like the stories she had heard from her village. She had expected the King to be nice. He was more like a bristling bear.
Reaching for a page under her desk, she was startled by a loud thunk. The sound had come from her window. She jumped, hitting her head under her desk before crawling out. The back of her head throbbed. What a wonderful thing to add to her list of injuries.
Glancing towards the window, Liora felt her stomach sink at the sight of what had made the noise. A small grey bird lay on its side on the sill. Its neck was at an unnatural angle, as she moved closer to get a better look.
The small bird fit in her hands. Its light brown eye stared at her. Its wings were flecked with tinges of white and dark grey. It twitched with its heartbeat. What could she do?
“I’m sorry,” she whispered, unsure why she was so upset. It was just a bird, but it felt like it had been her fault. She had closed her window. If she had left it open, the bird would have flown inside. The bird would be alive.
Liora cupped the bird to her chest as she sat on the floor. Why was her day going so badly? Why did things have to get worse?
Please, don’t let it suffer. Liora prayed, pressing the little bird closer to her chest. It was warm, as the twitching stopped. Her stomach sunk.
Opening her hands just enough so she could look, a grey whirlwind of feathers fluttered up and settled on the edge of her desk. The little bird hopped along the edge, tilting its head side-to-side before it caught sight of the plate of biscuits Marcia had left on the desk. Without a second thought, the bird took a biscuit before flying over to the windowsill.
The bird scanned her with its beady eyes. For a moment, she thought she saw the small creature bow its head before hopping through the crack and disappearing down towards the garden.
“Was that a mockingbird at your window?” Caldor’s voice asked from her doorway. The old sage was staring at the window. His caterpillar brows knotted, while he adjusted his glasses.
“Maybe…” Liora said, looking down at her hands.
“What is with this mess? I took you for someone who was organized,” the sage folded his arms, when he had caught sight of the papers scattered about the room.
“The chapter I’m translating got blown about,” Liora started collecting the papers. It was better to get them off the floor and to organize them when she wasn’t being judged by the old man in her doorway. “Why are you here?”
“Were blown about, not got blown about,” Caldor corrected. “You sound like a northerner when you use words that way. As for why I am here, I was seeing if you would like to take a stroll around the fortress, as I have not had a chance to show it to you.”
Liora placed the pile of paper onto the desk, moving one of the heavy books on top. Caldor’s offer did sound appealing compared to reorganizing pages.
“All right,” Liora chimed, rubbing her hands together before running her fingers through her hair to get the locks out of her face. “I’ll join you.”
The old man turned, leaving her room as she followed. They sauntered down the stairs to the lower level of the atrium. Liora was on his heels. She made sure not to hurry in front of the small man.
There had been Chijin merchants who had visited Morza, but she hadn’t had a chance to speak with one. Caldor was her first Chijin acquaintance, and she was beginning to find he was particular about certain things.
“Where we going first?” Liora hopped to stand beside the sage when they were at the bottom of the stairwell. They took five paces across the atrium, and when they were in the middle the small man stopped.
“Firstly, it is ‘where are we going’. Not ‘where we going’. Words are a powerful tool when used correctly, child, and no one in this world will respect you if you cannot speak,” Caldor stated, before turning on his heels to face the entrance. “Now, look up and tell me what you see.”
Was he serious? There was a whole fortress to explore and the old man wanted her to look at windows.
With a sigh, she gazed up at the colored glass that lined the top of the entrance. It glistened in the late noon sun, as a mixture of lights filled the atrium. There were figures in the glass.
“Three men,” Liora stated. The one in the middle had no face, although he was the tallest. His armor was made of polished wood; his cape - hunter green in colour - wrapped behind two outstretched wings tipped with glistening grey feathers.
The other two had no wings. They both were in armour of differing designs, and their capes were the same blue as the banners that hung in the hallways. The man on the right had a claymore. The one on the left had a war hammer.
“They are the Kings of old,” Caldor began, noticing the girl was engrossed in the detail of the glasswork. It was Chijin craftsmanship like most of the decorations strewn about Derm. “The one in the middle was the first, Darkel, the father of all Dermite.”
“And God of Earth and Wind,” Liora chimed; the old man nodded.
“And in the North - the God of Justice,” he added. “The gentleman with the sword was the first mortal King, Derit.”
“Derlin’s founder,” Liora chimed.
“I see you know some Dermite history then?” the sage asked, seeing the girl smile.
“I read a lot of different things in Morza. I know that the other King is Charn’s grandfather and the man who created the border of the North,” Liora stated, crossing her arms. People and places interested her. Her nana had known that and had allowed her to read her mother’s books. It was that natural curiosity that had led her to teach herself the languages of Gaitan. “You’d be surprised what else I know.”
“All right, answer me this if you think you are so smart. Out of the three in that mural, which would you say is the greatest king?”
Everyone had their opinions on the different kings that had ruled over the lands of Gaitan. Each had their good moments, and each had their downfalls. King Derit brought unity to a people, giving them a cause to work towards and a place to protect but it was King Cark who defined the North and made Derm famous for their military.
King Derit had alienated the people that didn’t fit the ideal Dermite form, which had led to many people leaving the city he had worked so hard to create. King Cark had closed borders, almost starving his people, not realizing how much the Dermite relied on the Chijin for help.
The one that she didn’t consider was Darkel. In her mind, Darkel was a God, not a king. He had given his children the freedom to do what they wished with their lives, and had allowed them to share the land with the people his sister - Sirphan - had created before his children were born. He gave them choice. He gave them freedom. His only downfall was he had abandoned them to their own mistakes, and hadn’t given them purpose other than living their lives in the land he had provided for them.
“None,” Liora answered.
“Oh?” Caldor hadn’t expected that answer. He had thought the girl was going to choose Darkel, since he was the God.
“The three of them did things that resulted in their people suffering, while they went without suffering themselves. A king is meant to prevent their people from suffering, even if that means he has to suffer for them,” Liora explained.
The old sage stared at the girl. She peered up at the stain glass. There was wisdom in her words some scholars would dream of having. Something as simple as worrying about another’s well-being was a basic concept that so many who ruled the lands had forgotten.
“Indeed, girl,” Caldor coughed, clearing his throat. There was no way he was going to show the girl that he hadn’t thought of that answer. He was the teacher and she was his student. “Come now, we will continue.”
He turned on his heels to scuffle across the atrium to a long hall lined with windows.
Liora looked at the view outside. There was another courtyard, less appealing than the one on the upper level, but still had a bench to sit under an apple tree. A group of servants were working in the hot noon sun to collect the apples in baskets. The women had scarves around their heads to protect their scalps and had rolled their sleeves to their elbows. Liora wanted to help them somehow, but she wasn’t sure if Caldor would have been pleased if she hurried off to join the servants.
“We should get them water,” Liora suggested. The old sage glanced out the window before turning his attention back to where he was going.
“If they are thirsty they will get something to drink,” Caldor replied, continuing his way down the hallway.
“What if they don’t stop? What if one faints?” Liora didn’t want to ask again, but she felt a nagging feeling in the pit of her stomach.
“They will stop, and if one faints, the others will care for her,” Caldor answered, taking a deep breath. “Now, no more silly questions.”
He stopped a moment later before a painting of a woman with light brown hair. In her arms a lute, as she sat in a garden surrounded by yellow lilies and forget-me-nots.
“That there is the late Queen Azti, the prince’s mother,” Caldor explained, “a lovely woman she was - who brought a gentleness out in Charn that no one has ever done since.”
The sound of the man’s name made her shoulder hurt as she reached to rest her hand on it. There was no gentleness left from how the King had treated her the other day for helping the prince.
“How is your shoulder?” Caldor inquired.
“Sore, but it wasn’t as bad as yesterday,” Liora chimed, noticing the corner of Caldor’s left eye twitch. What had she said wrong now?
“It isn’t, not ‘it wasn’t’,” Caldor sighed, “really girl, one would think you would know these things.”
“I’m sorry - I don’t speak common as good as you,” Liora spouted.
“Well as you,” Caldor corrected.
“Whatever!” Liora threw her arms to the side as the old sage’s brows rose. “Sorry, I… I’m having a difficult day.”
The sage noticed her grab her arm, before turning her glance to the floor. Maybe he was pushing her too hard? The girl hadn’t been in Derm that long and already she had adapted well to her new surroundings, although she needed to work on her filter.
“It is fine, girl,” Caldor sighed, reaching to place a hand on the girl’s shoulder before changing his mind to rest it atop her head. “I think we have walked enough for today. What would you say if we were to pay the prince a visit?”
The girl nodded before following behind the old man. He was treating her like she was a pet. Every word that left her lips was corrected and she hated it. Why did he continuously pick out her mistakes, but whenever she had gotten something right he ignored her? At least her nana acknowledged her when she had gotten an answer right.
They passed by a group of Sisters in the stairwell leading up to the boy’s room. Their eyes followed her, judging her with their knitted brows and burrowing glares. Their robes and cowls swayed while they walked. Each Sister marched in time as they disappeared down the hall from which she came.
The door to the prince’s room was closed. Without bothering to knock, the sage sauntered in. Liora stood in the doorway, looking into the room to see the prince in his bed. The Sisters had propped him up with several pillows behind his back. The leg she had mended was elevated in hopes of reducing the chances of it locking.
Caldor approach the bed, saying nothing to the boy as he began to conduct the examination. The sage lifted the boy’s eyelid, opened his mouth, and checked his pulse from the wrist.
That was an old method her nana refused to use. The wrist had a pulse but it wasn’t as strong as the one found by the artery in the neck. Of course every healer had their preference, but if Liora was given the choice she would check the neck for the pulse.
Approaching the bed, she stood beside the old sage studying what the old man was doing. He worked too fast and his methods weren’t gentle. Caldor was rushing, not paying attention to the subtle movements that had allowed Liora to catch the boy’s issue in the first place.
“Can I?” Liora noticed the old man glance at her, as she pulled her hands back.
“Students are to be seen, not heard,” Caldor stated.
Naygu didn’t believe that. Liora had treated her first patient at age five. Of course, it had been a small cut on her nana’s finger, but that was still one of her first memories. Whatever the old man wanted her to learn from studying him she already knew, and was not impressed with how he was doing things.
“You shoul-” she bit her tongue, noticing the old man look at her. “I’m sorry, it’s just…”
“What?” Caldor’s voice was low.
“You should check his knee - there could be swelling,” Liora muttered. “I know you were probably going to check that next. Right?”
The boy chuckled. She turned to see him smirking. Under his eyes had dark bags but they were still bright. His curly hair stuck to his forehead, as his chest shook with laughter.
“Cáel, I would like you to meet my student,” Caldor moved the blanket to look at the boy’s knee. “She was the one that discovered it was your knee, without your father’s permission.”
“And did you tell him I fixed it too?” Liora crossed her arms.
“As you can see, she has little restraint,” Caldor stated, glaring at the girl.
Liora narrowed her eyes before looking away. If he didn’t want her help, and wasn’t going to let her talk, then why did he ask her to come? She would have had more fun in her room organizing papers than acting like a mime.
“Your leg looks fine,” Caldor covered the boy’s leg with the blanket. “I will come by tomorrow morning to check again. Before I go, are you feeling any more pain?”
The boy gazed at Liora. For some reason he hadn’t looked away after her reaction to Caldor’s introduction. The corner of his mouth twitched, before he glanced back at the old sage.
“Na. None,” Cáel’s voice hoarse, as it was still recovering. It would be a while until his voice would be back to normal, but rest was the best medicine for him. Well, rest and hydration.
Liora hurried to take the glass of water by the bedside table. If she wasn’t allowed to check his basic vitals, she was at least going to help the boy stay hydrated.
The boy took a sip when she lifted the glass of water to his parched lips.
“Thank yah,” he croaked, leaning back into his pillows.
“Come girl - let us leave the prince to rest,” Caldor waved for her to follow him, as she bowed her head to the boy before heading to the door where Caldor waited.
When the door closed, he peered up at her with his arms crossed. Something told her he was going to lecture her. His brows twitched, as did his bushy mustache under his crinkled long nose. Those hazel eyes faded with age and poor vision stared at her. She wondered what she had possibly done to rile the old sage so.
“Foe has told me he talked to you about watching what you say,” Caldor began. Liora felt the pit of her stomach sink at hearing those words. “I want you to be careful. Words are powerful things, and can hurt people worse than any weapon.”
“I wasn’t going to insult the prince, if that’s what you were getting at. I have some discretion,” Liora put her hands on her hips. She had said nothing that was offensive or insensitive. All she had been was honest, and she wasn’t going to stop being that way.
“Yes, but sometimes more discretion is needed. Just be careful with what you say around here, and what you say to people. Not everyone is as understanding,” Caldor warned, patting the girl on the shoulder, drawing back when she winced. “Sorry, I forgot…”
“It’s fine,” Liora pulled away, rolling her shoulder to try and rid herself of the painful jolt through her arm. “I’ll be fine.”