Author's Note: Behold, chapter two. Please leave my lonesome self a review ;)
Chapter Two: Impressively Unimpressed
Lance couldn't remember seeing Velndaric of Rascia before except when tuning into an occasional student assembly - but now that Lance had noticed him once, he couldn't stop seeing the student body president everywhere he looked. Velndaric was always putting up posters in the halls, running around with stacks of parchment in his hands, dressed in gold robes for his role in the various commencements and black for his duties as a proctor, talking to other student community leaders - he was everywhere at once, always looking a bit harassed. Lance couldn't help but grin a little bit every time he saw the lightly freckled face sifting the sands of the school - it was like watching a ringmaster direct five rings at once, and getting all sweaty in the process.
Meanwhile, there was a sudden flurry of activity within the halls that progressed to an all-out fervor as the first frost graced the downtrodden blades of grass in the courtyards of the academy. The first posters for Homecoming had gone up overnight, and that meant that the student body had only two precious weeks to figure out their plans for the high point of their yearly social agenda. Rumors sparked about who was taking whom and for what reason; girls bought fabric and giggled in corners over their designs; higher-form students gossiped wildly in tightly-knit gaggles as the younger students, overcome with insecurity and anxiety, clung to each other during these discussions for moral support. The men fretted over how to best access the girls' dormatories so that they could more privately ask for their date's hand.
Lance didn't know who he was taking this year, though judging by the amount of eyelashes fluttering in his direction this year, he was guessing it wouldn't be hard to find a volunteer. In truth, he didn't much care. The final joust of the year was looming, with promises of dire track conditions looming; the next History test was rapidly approaching; and between those and everything else in his everyday life, he found his usual interest in the dance receding.
Tristan and Hector managed to fake attentiveness as Lance unloaded his recent woes on his friends one afternoon before study hall began. The room was empty except for the three of them, and Lance was glad for it when his friends began giving their best attempts at sound advice.
"Ah," Tristan sighed. "This sudden disinterest in the things you used to be so caught up in - it sounds almost as if you're in love. For that was how I felt when I met... fair... Isolde -"
"All right, all right," Hector hastily cut off Tristan's flowery and Isolde-centric monologue. "Just take Guinevere to the dance, Lance."
"Can't," Lance replied complacently. "Bohort's already asked her."
Tristan's jaw dropped, and Hector's eyes went wide. "Lance, you can't kill him. We need him this year to defeat Bedfordshire!"
"What? No! Guys! It's totally cool," Lance interjected. "Gwen and I... well, we haven't been clicking lately, anyway, and to tell you the truth, it's not a big deal."
"Hm," Hector said, leaning back in his seat. There was an abrupt clattering as the rest of the students in the study hall joined them, fresh from lunch. Twelve minutes ticked by on the enormous belfry clock outside their window before their professor rushed in, all flurrying hands and flying white hair.
Among his harried mutterings, the class could distinguish the sentence, "Where is he?" over and over again. The old man continued to mumble under his breath, straightening papers and waving the students into their seats. The door creaked again behind the group, but everyone was too busy watching their professor lose his mind to look back. Finally, the teacher straightened up and addressed the class.
"I am afraid that I must condemn you all to your very attentive studies, very attentive I'm sure - as it is, I will leave you in the hands of your very capable student body president, Velndaric." He gestured to the back of the classroom, where - Lance was pleased to see - Velndaric was leaning against the stonework, arms folded coolly. He straightened as all eyes turned to him, and nodded once in greeting.
Their professor fled from the room, and Velndaric took a seat behind the desk. The class eyed him as they pretended to turn the pages of their textbooks, muttering to their neighbors. The murmuring grew to a dull roar, and Velndaric looked up suddenly from the horrifically stained bandage he was stripping from his forearm.
"Guys!" The room went silent. Velndaric turned back to his bandaging. "Chill."
After a few moments of silence, the dull murmur grew again, but to a much smaller fraction of its original volume.
"Wonder what he's bandaging his arm for?" Lance muttered out of the side of his mouth as he took out a random notebook and began to turn the pages.
Hector waved a dismissive arm. "Beast master, isn't he. Always getting slashed and burned."
"Is he?" Lance turned, interested. "But that's not a seventh-form major. You can only do that ninth form and up."
Hector grunted. "Emphasis."
Tristan looked at him keenly. "Why the sudden interest?"
Shrugging hurriedly, Lance tried to divert Tristan's interest, but it was too late. Tristan's grey eyes gleamed. "Are you interested in him, Lance?"
Now Hector looked up, all ears, and Lance had his hands full. "Keep your voice down!" He hissed, looking around. The class around him was fortunately too wrapped up in their own Homecoming gossip to care about his. He straightened. "And to answer your question, no. Yes. I don't know! I don't know anything about him. Stop looking so smug!"
Tristan kindly hid his grin. "It's okay, Lance. Your temporary secret is safe with me." He gave Hector a meaningful look.
"Yeah, me too," Hector muttered. "Like I'd do anything with that sorry bit of gossip."
"Uh, 'temporary'?" Lance asked, afraid of the explanation.
"Well, yeah. You've got to do something about it... or it'll eat you up! Hidden love is the cause of most teenage deaths," Tristan replied.
Hector shook his head warningly at Lance. "Not true, and also, I wouldn't pursue any kind of mini-crush on that guy."
"How come?" Lance tried not to act as though he was hanging on his friends' advice keep his body from leaning over the table in their direction, as if it would help him absorb the information better if he were two inches closer.
Hector's eyes sought the windowpane beside them, as if trying to find words. "...He's a bit strange," he finally managed, lamely.
"He's mature." Tristan interjected.
"Or just strange," Hector counteracted.
Lance was growing impatient. "Come on guys, specifics. What do you know about him?"
Hector sighed. "I know about as much as you do, Lance. He's a Ranger. He's big on Beast Mastery. Really smart, but really serious. I mean, the dude never smiles."
"He's from Serbia," Tristan gamely carried the conversation forward. "Captain of the Hunt Team and won the interdisciplinary Hunting Trials last year."
Lance frowned. "That the one with all seven schools?"
"That's the one."
"And that's it, Lance," Hector finished, exasperated. "He's good at a lot of stuff, but he's busy a lot, and he's got a strange personality. He's very aloof. Bit of a weird subject for a crush if you ask me."
"It's not a crush," Lance growled.
"Whatever you say, Lance," Tristan said placatingly.
His two friends went back to their work. Lance tapped the end of his quill on the desktop thoughtfully, leaving inky black smudges behind. Hector watched the stains work their way toward his parchment in paranoia. Tristan tried hard not to laugh at what he knew was going on in Lance's mind.
"Be right back," Lance said suddenly, standing.
"Good luck," Tristan said.
The parchment open in front of the student body president was filled with a complex rune chart. Velndaric barely glanced up from it as Lance approached him and leaned against the desk. "Can I help you, Lance?"
"Just wondering if your arm's okay."
Velndaric looked down at the white bandage on his left forearm for a moment, seeming confused, as if he had to be reminded that he was injured. "Oh. Yes, it's fine. Thanks for asking."
"Hunts are kind of dangerous, huh."
Velndaric nodded absently at his parchment. "Bit, yeah."
"Yeah, jousts are kind of bad too, I mean, one nick where the armor doesn't come together and pfft." Lance made a swiping motion with his hand, drawing it across his neck. Aware that he was blabbering, but unable to stop, he continued. "Kind of like when you're dodging a sheet of arrows in a leather vest. I've got so many scars from that kind of thing."A line of concern formed between Veldnaric's eyebrows as he looked up at Lancelot. "You've been dodging sheets of arrows?"
Lance's train of thought came to an abrupt halt. "No, the scars are from the jousts."
The line disappeared. "Oh, of course."
"So, you ever go to jousting matches, or..?"
From across the room, Tristan and Hector noticed Velndaric giving his parchment a "What the hell?" expression, but Lancelot remained clueless.
"We're doing really well this year - I could even get first in the country."
"Mm-hmm," the long fingers below him made a series of parallel scratches on the paper.
"Anyway," Lance was getting desperate, "The last match of the season is soon. Saturday. Big day."
"Not the day after your big test, I hope."
Lance stalled out. "Well, yeah, but better after than before, right?"
"Mm. Depends on your time management skills, I guess."
Lance was done hinting. "You should think about coming."
Velndaric looked up, kaleidoscope eyes slightly foggy. The two thin lines again. "To what?"
Eyebrows hiked, surprised at Veldnaric's lack of concentration, Lance said, "The joust. It'd be really cool if you were there."
The murmuring in the room abruptly grew louder, and Vendaric cast his eyes at the students balefully. Quieter discussion took the dull roar's place, and the seventh-former returned to his notes, adding a spiralling line to the parallel marks. "I have attended jousts before, but I have to be doing other things that weekend. Like managing Homecoming," he cut Lance's question off. "And you, I imagine, have other things to be worrying about besides who's attending your joust."
There was nothing else for it. Lance nodded reluctantly, then turned and left.
"Well, sod it," Lance sighed as he dropped back into his seat.
"Told ya," Hector said with a superior kind of look.
"It was a good start, Lance," Tristan said comfortingly.
"A good start to what, exactly?" Lance questioned him in concern.
"Well," Tristan exclaimed, as if the bearer of great news, "Now he knows that you like him!"
"What!" Lance yelped. "You think he knows!"
"Oh, come on, Lance," Hector said unsupportively. "What do you think? 'Buhhh, hey Venny, it would be, like, so rad if you'd come to my joust.'"
Lance opened and closed his mouth like a fish as Tristan stifled laughter. "Erm..."
"Very good, Lance. Oh look, there's the bell."
Lance stood, dazed. The rest of the class clamored through the door as he regathered his wits.
"Come on, Lance, concentrate!" Tristan said bracingly. "You've got Mr. Vivaldi's test to think of!"
Lance's mood broke and his eyes darkened threateningly, now barely noticing Velndaric as the student body president gathered his things and slipped past him. Lance stuffed his notebook into his book bag and snarled, "Forget that! I'll never be able to pass one of his tests! It's completely impossible!"
Velndaric paused just beyond their circle and swiveled to look at Lance, evaluating him for the second time with his peculiar mixed eyes. "I bet you can," he said, seeming disappointed in Lance's attitude.
Lance wasn't having it. "No, you don't get it. I can't memorize this stuff! I mean, who can?" He yanked the test out of his bag and flipped it to a random page. "I mean, the capitol of the First Bulgarian Empire? Who knows that offhand?"
Velndaric shifted his books from arms to hip. "Pliska was its capitol."
Lance frowned. "Well, okay, but... the capitol of Crimea? That one's really random."
"Simferopol," Velndaric said calmly.
Lance ground his teeth. "Great Moravia?"
"Oh! the Principality of Nitra," Hector chimed in. Everyone looked at him. "Sorry," he mumbled.
"Lance, listen." Lance looked back to Velndaric. "You just need some motivation. Like, make yourself memorize fifty capitols before you practice jousting every day."
Lance's voice hit an unexpected octave. "Fifty?!"
"Orrr five," Velndaric amended hastily.
Tristan chipped in. "I think what he needs is some long-term motivation to get through the test, and the week."
"So maybe something to do with Homecoming," Velndaric suggested. "Leave off your planning or whatever until the test is over."
"Yeah, but I also need a really good grade to pass. It's not waiting until the test is over that's the problem, it's the studying in the meantime."
Velndaric tucked a rogue strand of hair back behind his left ear. "Then try the jousting and capitols thing. Or, if it helps, think up a reward for yourself for a certain grade. Like a bet, set a goal and then a set reward if you reach it."
A solitary gear in Lance's head began to turn slowly. "Hmm," he said, brown eyes narrowing thoughtfully. "A bet, you said?"
"Yeah," Velndaric said. "It works for some people, but you really have to find a reward that's good enough to keep you studying all day even though it's a tough goal."
Lance looked at him.
"There's got to be something you want," Velndaric said, slightly exasperated.
"There is," Lance said.
"Awesome," Velndaric replied, opening his arms slightly in a 'there you go' sort of gesture.
"It's a lot like what you said about it being a 'bet'."
"Great," Velndaric nodded. Lance looked at him without further explanation; Velndaric gave in. "You want me to ask..? Okay, what is it, then?"
Lance smiled a slow smile. Hector looked at him nervously. "If I make an 'A' mark, 92 percent or better... you be my date for Homecoming."
There was a moment of complete and utter silence. Velndaric stood stock-still for a moment, then, regaining his composure, looked up at the ceiling. "Oh, I walked right into that," he said, more to himself than to the others in the room.
Lance grinned. "What do you say, Mr. Inspiring? Or are you 'too busy' to attend the dance you're working so hard to set up?"
His challenging tone seemed to irk Velndaric, who favored him with the first real expression Lance had ever seen on his face - an annoyed half-glare. "Lance... I want you to do well, I really do, but - how do I put this? You're a little..."
"Big and square?" Lance finished the remark for him, and puffed out his chest with a wink. Hector snorted.
Velndaric stared. "No. That's - no."
"Then what's the problem?"
"Well, you're kind of a jackass." Lance put a hand to his heart as if in pain, but Velndaric pressed on: " - and I can see you ruining the evening by beating up a fourth-former in the punch line."
"That wounds me," Lance replied lightly, "And I never pegged you one for making snap judgments."
"It wasn't... a snap judgment."
"Aw, come on, Ven," Tristan broke in. Velndaric's gaze traveled to Tristan's face, looking a bit thrown by Tristan's shortening of his given name. "Give him a little motivation. It's not like he has any other hobbies or goals to distract him, and his jousting can't be the thing to suffer when his season's already going so well."
"Plus," Hector pointed out, "It's not like you'll be taking the risk of the Age, right? I mean, come on - ask anyone. What are the chances of Lancelot du Lac making a decent mark on that exam? I mean, really."
"Hey!" Lance snarled. Hector waved a dismissive hand, not noticing the hurt expression that flitted across Lance's face. Lance covered it quickly, but as he looked back at Velndaric, he knew that it hadn't been quick enough to escape the wily president's notice. A sudden flush of shame pooled in his stomach, that he should be seen getting torn down like that, and he knew that this too showed on his face. He looked at the ground, falling uncharacteristically silent. Tristan had noticed, too, and now swatted Hector across the ear.
"Ouch... what was that for?"
Velndaric looked at Lancelot for a moment, then set his jaw, challengingly. He glared down his nose at Hector.
"You know what, Hector? I think Lance is going to make a 'decent mark'. In fact, I think he'll make an 'A', because he's going to work really hard to prove both you and his teachers wrong. And when he does -"
Lance's eyebrows raised hopefully as Velndaric's shoulders caved a bit in resignation. "- I'll go to Homecoming with him."
Tristan and Hector's mouths fell open in shock as Lance grinned. "Shake on it," Lance insisted, and Velndaric came forward and extended his hand smoothly. Lance was surprised to note that the other young man was only a half-head shorter than himself. They shook to seal the bet, and Velndaric headed for the door.
"Oh, and Lance," the Serbian said, turning just in time to catch Lance high-fiving Tristan, "This doesn't change what I said before. I still think you're a complete jackass."
Lance had the decency to look chagrined.
Author's Note: Please leave me a review?