So then, have a semi-longish chapter.

Don't own, neither does FrozenInFlight.

To the somewhat horror of the crew, the blanket wrapped form was a corpse. The only time the Immortal really growled at them was when they talked of sinking the body, and that was obvious enough that Daine wasn't needed for translation. Even dead and starting to decay, it was obvious this was the woman from the sketches.

"Someone's been preserving her with their Gift." Alanna reported, covering the woman with the sheet again. "The blood from the deathblow is much older than her decay, which actually isn't that far along. Maybe a week, or so, they didn't use any sort of stasis spell, which would have held..."

"The Immortal mentioned that his Angel was Gifted." Numair thought. "If this, ah, was his wife, then it would make sense. Which would make her the Anna he mentioned with such pain."

"Yes, of course."

"Goddess!" Alanna yelped, jerking away.

"What's wrong?" Numair opened the door in time to see the man's hand fall across his chest.

"He moved." Alanna scowled at the man's face, which was as slack in unconscious as it had been since they brought him on the boat. "I was going to change his shirt, so he wasn't in this worn thing, and see if he was injured, but..."

She illustrated, grabbing the hem of the dark shirt and moved it up. She got it to almost his ribs again when his hand came up and gripped her wrist, preventing her from pulling it further up. His face didn't so much as twitch, however.

"... Weird." Numair stared at the man. "It's rather like a reflex."

"He has a reflex, to prevent people from taking off his shirt?" Alanna asked dryly, releasing the cloth, and then the man's hand fell back to his chest. "He shouldn't be that strong, being half-dead as he is..."

Numair stared at the sleeping, or unconscious man.

"Alanna, scout his gift." The lanky mage moved away, stepping back. Alanna frowned at him, but he simply made a 'go ahead' gesture, and so she reached out with violet fire.

"He's got barely anything." Alanna said slowly. "He's drained himself."

"That's what I found too. Now check how much he can have." Numair advised.

"It's not- by the goddess!" Alanna stepped back, dropping her gift. She stared at the half-dead man, then at Numair. "I think we've found you a magical sparring partner."

"Very funny." Numair rubbed his temples. "I want to know how he did that. If you just glance, he's got a bare handful of magic, but if you actually look..."

"Should we test his son?" Alanna asked, crossing her arms. "Everyone knows Gift is hereditary, if his son has the potential he does..."

"Alanna, the boy's three. At least, he's fairly certain he's three."

"I'll have Maude check next time she scrubs him."

~4 years later

"And kinsmen should stick together. Well said, Faleron of King's Reach." A handsome, dark-haired boy came over to stand with Merric, smiling at the redhead. Wyldon pointed to the freckled lad, Esmond of Nicoline, who was taken into the charge of Cleon of Kennan, the big redhead. Blond, impish Quinden of Marti's Hill was sponsored by the regal-looking Bazhir, Zahir ibn Alhaz. The next pairing would have been the most notable, if not for the purple haired boy on her left: Crown Prince Roald, the twelve-year-old heir to the throne, chose to show Seaver of Tasride around. Seaver, whose dark complexion and coal-black eyes and hair suggested Bazhir ancestors, stared at Roald nervously, but relaxed when the prince rested a gentle hand on his shoulder.

The next pair, however, stole the title of most notable, most likely because both were old for their year. The blond with azure blue eyes who was likely a third year, likely fifteen, which was too old for a page, and the eggplant-haired first year boy whose hair went down past his shoulder-blades, who looked to be the same age as the older blond, made faces at each other during the pairing off of the others.

"Your name and fief?" Wyldon demanded of the long haired boy.

"Yuri Lowell." The boy says with a smirk. After a moment of silence, he continued. "Of the Lower City." At some blank stares, he sighed, "Y'know, the Dancin' Dove?" Nods and soft sounds of recognition were heard, despite the boy's suddenly thick accent. "I thought it was required that you had to be a noble to become a page," an older page said, looking at Wyldon.

"It isn't, most commoners just don't have the nerve," the blond half of the pair said, like it was the most obvious thing in the world.

Kel heard a boy mutter, "I thought something smelled bad."

Yuri grinned smugly, "And I've more 'n enough nerve for this entire castle. Plenty of hearin' ta boot."

"Who'll sponsor him?" Wyldon looked at the older pages.

"I'll sponsor him," the blond page said. "After all; I'm from the Lower City too."

"Flynn Scifo, is it? Very well, you may sponsor Lowell."

"M' names Yuri." The boy grumbled.

Lord Wyldon stopped at Kel, "Your name and your fief?"

She gulped, "Keladry of Mindelan, sir."

"Who will sponsor her?" asked Wyldon.

The handsome Zahir looked at her and sniffed, "Girls have no business in the affairs of men. This one should go home." He glared at Kel, who met his eyes calmly.

Lord Wyldon shook his head. "We are not among the Bazhir tribes, Zahir ibn Alhaz. Moreover, I requested a sponsor, not an opinion." He looked at the other boys.

"I know some girls who could kick your pretty little ass." Yuri called, ignoring the hand Flynn was trying to place over his mouth, "Some of 'em are Grammas!"

"Lowell, I didn't ask for your opinion. Scifo, control your charge." He looked at the other boys again. "Will no one offer? No beginner can go unsponsored."

"Look at her," Kel heard a boy mutter. "She stands there like-like a lump."

The blond youth at Wyldon's side raised a hand. "May I, my lord?" he asked.

Lord Wyldon stared at him. "You, Joren of Stone Mountain?"

The youth bowed. "I would be pleased to teach the girl all she needs to know about life in the pages' wing."

"He has a big stick up his –mmph!" Yuri said, before being silenced by Flynn. Strangely, he looked smug.

Kel eyed Joren, suspicious. From the way a few other pages giggled, she suspected Joren might plan to chase her away, not show her around. She looked at the training master, expecting him to agree with the blond page.

Instead Lord Wyldon frowned. "I had hoped for another sponsor," he commented stiffly. "You should employ your spare hours in the improvement of your class work and your riding skills."

"I thought Joren hated—" someone whispered.

"Shut up!" another boy hissed.

Kel looked at the flagstones under her feet. Now she was fighting to hide her embarrassment, but she knew she was failing. Any Yamani would be able to tell she was shamed. She clasped her hands before her and schooled her features to smoothness. I'm a rock, she thought. I am stone.

"I believe I can perfect my studies and sponsor the girl," Joren replied respectfully. "And since I'm the only volunteer-"

"I suppose I'm being rash and peculiar, again," someone remarked in a drawling voice, "but if it means helping my friend Joren improve his studies, well, I'll just have to sacrifice myself. There's nothing I won't do to further the cause of book learning among my peers."

Everyone turned toward the speaker, who stood at the back at the group. Seeing him clearly, Kel thought he was also too old to be a page. He was tall, fair-skinned, and lean, with emerald eyes and light brown hair that swept back from a widow's peak.

Lord Wyldon absently rubbed the arm he kept tucked in a sling. "You volunteer, Nealan of Queenscove?"

The youth bowed jerkily. "That I do, your worship, sir." There was the barest hint of a taunt in Nealan's educated voice. From the soft sounds of laughter behind her, the eggplant-haired Yuri caught it.

"A sponsor should be in his second year at least," Wyldon informed Nealan. "And both of you shall mind your tongues." He shot a glance at Yuri.

"I know I only joined this little band in April, your lordship," Nealan remarked cheerily, "but I have lived at court almost all of my fifteen years. I know the palace and its ways. And unlike Joren, I need not worry about my academics."

Kel stared at him. Had he always been mad, or had Wyldon done this to him? She just arrived, and she knew not to bait the training master.

Wyldon's eyebrows snapped together. "You have been told to mind your manners, Page Nealan. I will have an apology for your insolence."

Nealan bowed deeply, "An apology for general insolence, your lordship, or some particular offense?"

"One week scrubbing pots," ordered Lord Wyldon. "Be silent."

Nealan threw out an arm like a player making a dramatic statement. "How can I be silent and yet apologize?"

"Two weeks." Kel was forgotten as Wyldon concentrated on the green-eyed youth. "The first duty for anyone in service to the crown is obedience."

"And I am a terrible obeyer," retorted Nealan. "All these inconvenient arguments spring to my mind, and I just have to make them."

"Three," Wyldon said tightly.

"Neal, shut it!" someone whispered.

"I could learn—"Kel squeaked. No one heard. She cleared her throat and repeated, "I can learn it on my own."

The boys turned to stare. Wyldon glanced at her. "What did you say?"

"I'll find my way on my own," Kel repeated. "Nobody has to show me. I'll probably learn better, poking around." She knew that wasn't the case—her father had once referred to the palace as a 'miserable rat-warren'—but she couldn't allow this mad boy to get himself deeper in trouble on her account.

Nealan stared at her, winged eyebrows raised.

"When I require your opinion," began Wyldon, his dark eyes snapping.

"It's no trouble," Nealan interrupted. "None at all, Demoiselle Keladry. My lord, I apologize for my wicked tongue and dreadful manners. I shall do my best not to encourage her to follow my example."

Wyldon, about to speak, seemed to think better of what he meant to say. He waited a moment, then said, "You are her sponsor, then. Now. Enough time has been wasted on foolishness. Supper."

He strode off, pages following like ducklings after their mother. When the hall cleared, only Nealan, Kel, and the pair from the Lower City remained.

"Yuri, you need to mind your manners. And your speech," Flynn hissed. "…Why'd you lick my hand earlier?"

"I know that, Flynn." Yuri smirked, "Because it's so hard to get a good chomp out of a palm, you know? And I minded my manners, I didn't laugh loud, when Neal taunted Wyldon. And I allowed you to cover my mouth when I said Joren had a big stick so far up his ass it affects his brain."

"Yuri! You shouldn't say stuff like that!"

"You said I couldn't when they were here, not when they weren't!"

"You shouldn't say it anyway!"

"I'm gonna say it when they're or when they aren't here, your choice, Goldilocks," Yuri smirked at Flynn.

"Fine! When they aren't here, then. Goldilocks? Really? ….Does this mean I should bring bandages next time?"

"If you're gonna put your fingers in front of my mouth? Oh, yes. Better than Blondie."

"If I'm Goldilocks, are you Purplilocks?"

"Fine, I'll shut up."

"Good boy." Flynn smirked.

"Don't push it Blondie."

Kel turned to find them grinning like buffoons. Nealan stared at the pair, then at Kel, his slanting eyes taking them in. Seeing him up close at last, Kel noticed that he had a willful face, with high cheekbones and arched brows.

"Believe me, you wouldn't have liked Joren as a sponsor," Nealan informed her, ignoring the pair. "He'd drive you out in a week. With me at least you might last a while, even if I am at the bottom of Lord Wyldon's list. Come on." He strode off. The pair started to leave too, still arguing.

Kel stayed where she was. Halfway down the hall, Nealan realized she was not behind him. When he turned and saw her still in front of her room, he sighed gustily, and beckoned. Kel remained where she was.

Finally he stomped back to her. "What part of 'come on' was unclear, page?"

"Why do you care if I last a week or longer?" she demanded. "Queenscove is a ducal house. Mindelan's just a barony, and a new one at that. Nobody cares about Mindelan. We aren't related, and our fathers aren't friends. So who am I to you?"

Nealan stared at her. "Direct little thing, aren't you?"

Kel crossed her arms and waited, he didn't seem to have much patience. He would wear out before she did in a waiting contest.

Nealan sighed and ran his fingers through his hair. "Look—you heard me say I've lived at court almost all my life, right?"

Kel nodded.

"Well, think about that. I've lived at court and my father's the chief of the realm's healers. I've spent time with the queen and quite a few of the Queen's Riders and the King's Champion. I've watched Lady Alanna fight for the crown. I saw her majesty and some of her ladies fight in the Immortals War. I know women can be warriors. If that's the life you want, then you ought to have the same chance to get it as anyone else who's here." He stopped, then shook his head with a rueful smile. "I keep forgetting I'm not in a university debate. Sorry about the speech. Can we go eat now?"

Kel nodded again. This time, when he strode off down the hall, she trotted to keep up with him.

When they passed through an intersection of halls, Nealan pointed. "Note that stairwell. Don't let anyone tell you it's a shortcut to the mess or the classrooms. It heads straight down and ends on the lower levels, underground."


"Don't call me sir."


Nealan halted. "Was that meant to be funny?"

"Nossir." Kel replied, happy to stop and catch her breath, but nearly jumped out of her skin when another voice said "Nossir" with her. It was Yuri, the Lower City First Year page, and his sponsor, Flynn, and they came up from behind.

"How did you get behind us?" Nealan asked. "You were ahead."

"I told him it was a shortcut." Yuri smirked, jerking a thumb at his irritated sponsor. "And continued ta walk that way when he told me it wasn't." Nealan stared at Yuri.

"You just like making life hard on people, don't you?"

"Was I that obvious?" Yuri faked concern as he grabbed Flynn's wrist and passed them.

"Yuri, I'm your sponsor, not the other way around. I'm to lead you." Anything Flynn said after that was lost. Nealan lifted his hands and resumed walking. Finally they entered a room filled noise. To Kel it seemed as if every boy in the world was here, yelling and jostling around rows of long tables and benches. She came to a halt, but Nealan beckoned her to follow. He led her to stacks of trays, plates, napkins, and cutlery, grabbing what he needed. Copying him, Kel soon had a bowl of soup thick with leeks and barley, big slices of ham, a crusty roll still hot from the oven, and saffron rice studded with raisins and almonds. She had noticed pitchers of liquids, bowls of fruit, honey pots, platters of cheese were already on the tables.

As they stopped, looking for a place to sit, the racket faded. Eyes turned their way. Within seconds she could hear the whispers. "Look." "The Girl." "It's her." One clear voice exclaimed, "Who cares? She won't last."

Kel bit her lip and stared at her tray. Stone, she thought in Yamani. I am stone.

Nealan gave no sign of hearing, but marched toward seats at the end of one table. As they sat across from one another, the boys closest to them moved. Two seats beside Nealan were left empty, and three next to Kel.

"This is nice." Nealan remarked cheerfully. He put his food on the table before him and shoved his tray into the gap between him and the next boy. "Usually it's impossible to get a bit of elbow room here."

"There are few other seats." Flynn and Yuri approached. "Do you mind if we sit here?" Flynn asked, while Yuri dropped into the seat by Kel. There was a small amount of muttering, something about commoner, and another pair of boys left.

"No, as long as I still get a bit of elbow room." Nealan said, and Flynn took a seat, fitting his tray upon Nealan's.

Someone rapped on a table. Lord Wyldon stood alone at a lectern in front of the room. The boys and Kel got to their feet, although Flynn did need to prompt Yuri, as Wyldon raised his hands. "To Mithros, god of warriors and of truth, and to the Great Mother Goddess, we give thanks for their bounty," he said.

"We give thanks and praise." Responded his audience.

"We ask the guidance of Mithros in these uncertain times, when change threatens all that is time-honored and true." Yuri snorted beside Kel. "May the god's light show us a path back to the virtues of our fathers and an end to uncertain times. We ask this of Mithros, god of the sun."

"So mote it be," intoned the pages.

Wyldon lowered his hands and the boys dropped into their seats.

Kel, frowning, was less quick to sit. Had Lord Wyldon been talking about her? "Don't let his prayers bother you," Nealan told her, using his belt-knife to cut his meat. "My father says he's done nothing but whine about changes in Tortall since the king and queen were married. Eat. It's getting cold."

"He could be talkin' 'bout the commoner's joinin' up." Yuri said with his mouth half-full. "'bout me 'n Flynn, not 'bout girls joinin' up."

"Don't talk with your mouth full." Flynn snapped at Yuri.

Kel took a few bites. Yuri had a bit of everything, rather literally, and was sampling everything, while Flynn was like Nealan and had favorites picked out. After a minute or two she asked, "Nealan?"

He put down his fork. "It's Neal. My least favorite aunt calls me Nealan."

"How did his lordship get those scars?" she inquired. "And why is his arm in a sling?"

Neal raised his brows. "Didn't you know?"

"If she knew, she wouldn't be askin'." Yuri pointed out, his fork snaking over to Neal's plate to snag a piece of cake. Neal's descending fork of retrieval was a second too late and Flynn covered his face with his hand while Yuri looked smug as he ate the cake.

Neal glanced at Kel after giving a grumpy look at Yuri, shook his head, and continued, "In the war, a party of centaurs and hurroks-"

"Hur-what?" asked Kel, interrupting him.

"Hurroks. Winged horses, claws, fangs, very nasty. They attacked the royal nursery. The Stump-"

"The what?" Kel asked, interrupting again. She felt as if he were speaking a language she only half understood.

Neal sighed. There was a wicked gleam in his green eyes. "I call him the Stump, because he's so stiff."

"I like that." Yuri pointed his fork at Neal, smirking. Neal raised his fork to steal something back from Yuri, but ending up glaring at the eggplant haired boy as the only things left on his plate, other than crumbs, were vegetables. Yuri smirked wider. "I noticed ya didn't have any on yer plate. Figured I'd eat 'em last."

He might be right, but he wasn't very respectful. Not that Yuri was any more respectful, Kel thought. She wouldn't say so, however.

"Anyway, Lord Wyldon fought off the hurroks and centaurs all by himself. He saved Prince Liam, Prince Jasson, and Princess Lianne. In the fight, the hurroks raked him. My father managed to save the arm, but Wyldon's going to have pain from it all his life."

"He's a hero, then," breathed Kel, looking at Wyldon with new respect.

"Just 'cause he's a hero doesn't mean he isn't a moneybag." Yuri waved his fork again.

"A what?" Kel asked, Neal a second after, as he had food in his mouth while she didn't. Yuri eyed them while Flynn facepalmed.

"Well, norm'ly, used for any noble." Yuri explained. "But, since yer not all chasin' me 'n Flynn away, I'll adjust it ta bein' a jerk noble."

"Oh, he's as brave as can be," Neal reassured her, agreeing with Yuri in a way. "That doesn't mean he isn't a stump." He and the lower quarter pair fell silent and Kel concentrated on her supper. After Neal commented on how Kel wasn't what he thought she'd be, which was as loud as Alanna was, Yuri commented again.

"It's the quiet one's ya gotta watch out for." When Neal gave him a raised eyebrow, silently asking 'Does this mean I don't have to watch out for you?', Yuri shrugged. "Well, girls mainly."

So then, tell us what you think~

This was fun~

Oh, and if you find any underlined words, tell us because they aren't supposed to be underlined...