Click here to read Part 1 if you haven’t already!
Just close your eyes, breathe, and shut out their hearts.
My hands trembled as I stood in the mass of prodigies walking toward the Servants’ Lodge entryway. The daystar rose above the orange forest surrounding me and Javin’s new home, exposing the happy, excited demeanors of my peers, but not their innermost feelings—fear, awe, uncertainty. Every heart’s true emotions scratched against my skin like an old rope.
I reached for the umbrella clipped to my back by my waist-belt while Javin gave me an understanding nod, a few pink feathers falling from his matted tresses. Besides his leather Servant’s tunic and pants, he appeared more like a lost nomad rather than a fellow prodigy at Knights’ Elect Academy. I smiled as I opened my umbrella. Maybe next to him I won’t look so odd.
An elegant red-head and her identical twin sized me up before whispering to one another and laughing. Well, at least they notice me.
Oh no. Even though my umbrella’s invisible force-field blocked out all the feelings and thoughts streaming from the surrounding prodigies, it couldn’t stop my own heart from jolting, stopping, and then racing seemingly all at once.
Eldin walked toward me, a smile on his perfect lips. Nearly every girl he passed trailed him with their eyes. He stopped in front of me and then glanced at Javin. “Hi.”
Javin growled like a graether and then wrapped his arm around me.
I shrugged it off. “Hi.”
“What are you doing here?”
“What are we doing here.” Javin hugged me again.
I glared at him. “If you don’t take your arm off me, I’ll tell that pretty blonde you were staring at a few minutes ago exactly what you were thinking about her.”
Now Javin glowered as he released me.
Eldin’s purple eyes widened slightly. “So that’s your prodigious gift? You can…read minds?”
I slowly twirled my umbrella. “Not minds…”
His olive skin paled. “Well, uh, I have to get going, you know, eat, figure out where my first lesson is and all of that. Fair day.” He turned around and strode toward the lodge’s crumbling steps.
My cheeks burned. I wish I didn’t have my umbrella open. As Eldin walked through the open door and disappeared, I bowed my head. Or maybe I do.
“I don’t know what you see in him.” Javin extended his arm, a mossy scent emanating from him. As a twirlwing swirled down like a green cyclone and landed atop his hand, its big eyes incongruent with its tiny beak, Javin looked at me. “Actually, what do you see in him?”
“That is none of your concern.” I marched forward, gripping my umbrella while more of my peers whispered and laughed—mostly at me, but some at Javin. I came to the academy to discover my purpose, but instead, I find my past.
“It is my concern.” Javin strode beside me. “Especially without Father around. But, I’ll let it go…for now.” He set the fluffy-feathered twirlwing atop his head, adding more colorful feathers to his messy hair, and then opened his satchel and removed a scroll. After unraveling it he said, “I have Wisdom for first lesson. Third floor, Hall of Sage. What do you have?”
“I don’t know.” I walked up the dilapidated steps to the porch and then onward through the open doorway. Prodigies stepped aside to make room for me and my umbrella. An auburn haired boy tried to poke it. Javin hissed at him, and the twirlwing spun off Javin’s head and in front of the boy’s face. He recoiled and ran off.
The wide Main Hall opened up to a commons crowded with barrels of pink water and roughly patched couches. A wall-high cobblestone and wood fireplace stood against the center wall, three gray stone platforms on either side of it. I veered to the right where all the other prodigies traversed into a circular entryway leading into a banquet hall.
As Javin followed me inside, the aroma of fresh-baked bread greeted me. Prodigies/Servants sat at multiple darkwood tables beneath the blue light of a massive chandelier. To the left, more prodigies stood in a line before floating platforms with apron-wearing women behind them, serving loaves of bread and stew. My stomach rumbled.
“I hope that stew is meatless,” Javin said. “I can eat like a vegetarian graether right now.”
“You do that.” I scurried to one of the only empty tables remaining, near a large risen platform in the back, and hurried into a chair. Mugs of water sat on the table. I grabbed one and guzzled, hoping it’d somewhat fill the void in my gut. Hopefully Javin wouldn’t hound me for skipping morning meal.
A green-haired girl carrying a tray with a bread loaf and steaming stew sat beside me. Her yellow eyes shined and she held her chest high. “Waiting on anyone?”
I shook my head, though Javin would probably pop up soon, and looked away.
“Nice umbrella. Not exactly a good choice if you’re trying to be invisible. Though I don’t think you really want to be, do you?”
My grip tightened on my umbrella’s bronze stick. Did she have a similar gift to mine, or was it just a discerning guess?
“Come on.” She smiled. “No one really wants to be alone. But I get it. You’re picky about the company you keep. That makes two of us.” She reached her hand out. “My name is Thrine.”
I shook it. “I’m—”
“So you can read minds or just know people when you see them?”
“No. Eldin Lightsmith told me about you.”
My stomach lurched. Thank Sovereignty she didn’t have a prophetic gift. “Oh. How do you know Eldin?”
“We met at the annual Royal Garden Gala two years ago. We’ve kept in touch ever since.”
“That’s a beautiful celebration.” I feigned casualty. “What did he say about me?”
“That he worked for your father.” She spooned a mouthful of stew, its savory scent making my hollow stomach ache. “And that you were the oddest person he’d ever known.”
I lifted my mug to my mouth and chugged. The oddest person he’d ever known? That explained the bewilderment ever-flowing from his heart whenever he was around me. But the last time he peered at me in Father’s barn it had changed to curiosity. Maybe he meant ‘odd’ in a good way. Unlike most people, he never avoided me. Well, not until today.
“Emmer.” Eldin neared our table, carrying a tray of food. My heart hammered as he stood between me and the girl.
Thrine rose. “You mean—”
“Thrine, right. I apologize. I’m still getting used to it.”
“You will soon enough.” She wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him.
I set my mug down with a trembling hand, my empty stomach twisting. Eldin glanced at me. He grasped Thrine’s wrists and removed them, breaking away from her kiss. She watched him as he set his tray down on the other side of her chair and sat. “So I see you met Elisena.”
Thrine eased into her seat. “She just so happened to sit at the table I told you to meet me at.”
“Small academy.” He bit into his bread.
Thrine scratched his back. “I’ve missed you. Can you believe it’s been eleven months since we last saw each other?”
He nodded. “It seems a lot has changed since then.”
She stopped scratching his back. Her narrowing eyes landed on me. “I hate to ask, but can you excuse us?”
“Uh, certainly.” I rushed to my feet.
“Welcome, Servants!” A silver-haired man with a protruding chin, wearing a cotton robe, stood on the risen platform beside a giant woman with black braids.
She wore a tunic dress with two calve-splits. “May everyone please take their seats.”
I looked around. Javin stood by a table near the entryway, brown liquid oozing down either side of his mouth as he waved me over. The pretty blonde occupied a seat next to him, while prodigies filled the others. Not a single seat remained. Torn between thankfulness and growing discomfort, I slowly sat beside Thrine again. She crossed her arms as the man continued. “My name is Overseer Enri, and this is the Assistant Overseer, Lady Bridie.”
The woman raised a large hand. “Fair day, prodigies.”
“Firstly, we would like to thank all of you for choosing to be apprentices here at King Nifal’s Knights’ Elect Academy. Each of you has been invited because of the prodigious gift you’ve been given by our Supreme King through your lineage.” He removed a small, silver tube from his robe pocket and spoke into it, his voice now amplified. “The foundation of knighthood is service. Throughout your first year, you will learn the principles of servanthood, along with basic combat and preservation. If you succeed, next year, you will move on to become Squires, and in your final year, you will be trained as Warriors and leave the academy as knights of the kingdom you’ve selected to serve and protect.” He handed Lady Bridie the tube.
“Now onto Ground Rules. The only time you are permitted to leave the grounds is for your end of the year three-month visit. Curfew is at the twenty-second hour. Common respect to your preceptors and peers is expected of you, and there is a guide of those expectations and the punishments for disobedience in your General Knight’s Guide found in your designated dormitory.”
I snuck a glance at Eldin. He quietly ate his meal, his stare fixed ahead on Lady Bridie. She handed the tube back to Overseer Enri.
“If you need assistance, my office is on the first floor in the Hall of Enri, and Lady Bridie’s is in the adjacent corridor, the Hall of Bridie. Again, welcome to Knights’ Elect Academy. We look forward to seeing you grow.” He slipped the tube back into his robe pocket and sped off of the platform, Lady Bridie running to keep up with him.
Thrine uncrossed her arms. “You can excuse yourself again.”
Eldin put his bread down. “You can be more respectful, Em—Thrine.”
“I apologize.” She spoke slowly and high-pitched. “Elisena, can you be so kind as to once again remove yourself from our table so that I may hold a private conversation with my suitor?”
Tears blurring my sight, I stood with my open umbrella and scurried to the circular entryway, ignoring the stares and laughs from my fellow prodigies. Eldin Lightsmith, the young man I’ve known since infancy, the one I grew to love and often prayed to someday have the honor of marrying is courting another girl.
Can this day get any more heart shattering?
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