Hey sorry it has been so long lol got in a relationship then broke up ahhh the life lol. Moved twice and ended up with a broken laptop screen and until a couple of days ago no access to net. Apart from my phone.

Nell again thanks so much for beta reading this for me, you are the best.

Thank you all for your Reviews.

Here is the next chapter for you all.

Chapter 4: Classrooms

Looking around the room, Buri sighed. "I will read the next chapter". Taking the book from George, Buri looked at everyone then down to the book and began to read.

Academic classes began after lunch, just as Kel began to feel her bruises. Her first two classes—reading and writing, then mathematics—were taught by shaven-headed Mithran priests in bright orange robes. Not long after the pages' arrival, the teachers put them to work on their first written lessons of the year.

"History and the law of the realm," Neal murmured as they walked into their third class. "You'll like this!" He slapped a desk next to his. "Sit here. Sir Myles doesn't care where we put ourselves."

"Sir Myles?" she asked.

"Sir Myles, Baron of Olau, our teacher in history and law," Neal explained. "Why do you ask?"

Kel ran her finger over a scratch on her desktop. "He's the Lioness's father," she told him shyly. Seeing him would be almost as good as meeting Lady Alanna herself.

"Adoptive father, actually," Neal said as a small, chubby man entered the room. He was long-haired and bearded, dressed in a dark blue tunic over a dark gray linen shirt and gray hose.

His green-brown eyes were sharp as he looked over the pages.

All Neal could think about was the way Kel's eyes looked when Sir Myles first walked into the room, the look of almost hero worship for the teacher because of his adoptive daughter.

"Here we are, trembling on the brink of a new year." Sir Myles ambled up to the front of the room and leaned against the wall. "I'm pleased to see no one swung his scythe too hard and cut off his own head—"

"But not for lack of trying!" joked the redheaded Cleon.

The knight raised gracefully curved brows. "You did not have to say that," he said mildly. "You would not be worthy to be a page if you were not always trying something." He perched on a tall stool. "Well," he said companionably, "we've had quite a year. Will someone explain why calling the recent deluge of battles the Immortals War is misleading? Your highness?"

Prince Roald ducked his head, but replied in a clear voice, "Because immortals—Stormwings, spidrens, ogres—were in the fight, but they were just allies to Scanrans, Copper Islanders, and Carthaki renegades. They weren't the leaders."

Sir Myles did not seem to care whether his students stood to answer. "Very good." The man looked around. "How many of your home fiefs took damage in the fighting?"

Hands went up, Kel's among them. No part of the realm was unscathed.

"How many know someone who was killed?"

Hands went up again. Kel knew of two people in the village who had been cut to pieces by killer centaurs. Luckily her own family had been spared the loss of any members.

"These losses are felt," Sir Myles told them. "Their majesties honor their sacrifice, and we all wish that it had not been needed." As the hands went down he said briskly, "Why did this happen? How did Scanra, the Copper Isles, and the Carthaki rebels come to assault our shores? Joren?"

The handsome boy lounged at his desk, seemingly bored. "The King's Champion killed a Copper Island princess thirteen years ago."

Alanna started to plot now how to make Joren of Stone Mountain disappear without a trace.

"That is one reason: bad blood. It doesn't explain the Carthakis and the Scanrans."

Joren shrugged. "Scanrans always raid us. They don't need a reason."

"But they do have reasons," Sir Myles pointed out. "Pressing ones that send them against us year after year. Put the Carthakis aside for now. Consider our gentle neighbours to the north. What riches do they have?"

"Furs?" suggested Faleron.

"Rocks," added Cleon, who got the laugh he'd intended.

The discussion went on. It ranged from poor Scanrans with failed crops to the destruction of the old Carthaki emperor and the installation of the new one, Kaddar. When the bell rang, it surprised Kel—she had lost all track of time.

"So what do you think of the king's spymaster?" Neal murmured in her ear as they left the classroom.

Kel came to a dead stop. "What?"

Neal smirked. "You didn't know. Myles of Olau isn't just a teacher and a member of the King's Council. He's King Jonathan's spymaster."

"You're making that up," she accused him.

"Why?" he asked. "My father says he's the best spymaster the realm's had. It comes from Sir Myles going into trade to mend the Olau finances. His merchants send him all kinds of information—he just expands on it."

"Maybe you shouldn't tell," Kel pointed out. "Maybe it's supposed to be a secret."

Neal shrugged. "It's not talked of openly, but it's no secret. What's secret is who's his second in command, the one who does the legwork." He steered her into yet another classroom.

Myles, Jon and George all shared a quick glance at this. Neal saw the glance and started to wonder if the not so obvious rumors were true and that is was Lady Alanna's husband who was second to Sir Myles. 'Hmmm will have to keep an eye on them,' Neal thought to himself.

Kel came to a full stop again. All thought of spies and secrets evaporated from her mind. One entire wall of this classroom was filled with windows. Two walls were lined with shelves of glass containers, which enclosed plants, water, food dishes, even animals or fish.

Kel was glad to see that the other first-year pages seemed as amazed as she.

"Go ahead, look closer," Neal said. "Master Lindhall likes us to take an interest in the animals."

A small turtle was trying to bite Kel's index finger through glass when something white and clicky landed on her outstretched arm. It was a kind of living skeleton, a creature of bone and air. It had flown to perch on her, yet its wings were empty, slender fans made of very long finger bones. It gripped her arm with fossil claws. It tilted its long, pointed skull back and forth as if it were looking her over.

Leaning over, the thing clattered its jaws at her. Then it bit her nose so gently she felt only the barest pressure of its teeth.

"Bone!" A man strode over, brushing silvery blond hair from his eyes. "You must excuse Bonedancer," he told Kel in a soft and breathy voice. "There was no such thing as manners when he was alive, so he thinks he need not learn them now."

Bonedancer looked at him and clattered his jaws.

Kel looked at the skeleton, then at the man. He was nearly a foot taller than she, tanned and weathered, with broad cheeks and pale blue eyes. "I don't understand."

The man smiled. "A mage was briefly granted the power to raise the dead last year. Bonedancer was one of the things she brought back to life. He was a fossil then, and a fossil he remains. He's just rather more lively than most fossils."

Daine, Alanna and Raoul all burst out laughing remembering the trip to Carthak where Daine was given those wonderful powers and had half destroyed the capitol. Numair on the other hand remembered just about losing his love and believing he would never get her back.

It sounded like an explanation, but Kel was not sure she understood. I'll ask Neal, she told herself. "Thank you, sir," she told the man politely.

"I'm Lindhall Reed," he said to her and to the other first years. "I am one of your teachers in the study of plants and animals. Have a seat, you new ones. As for everyone else, who has brought me a plant from home?" he asked. The older pages and Neal reached into their belt-purses to draw out leaves and stems wrapped in parchment.

Kel took a desk near the irritable turtle and waited for her head to stop spinning. She was positive that none of her brothers had mentioned flying skeletons when they talked about their studies.

After Master Reed's class, those who possessed a magical Gift went to study magecraft. Kel and the magicless pages had a class with Tkaa the basilisk.

"For those who are new to the palace," the tall immortal began, "you should know that the king has decreed that those pages and squires without magic must learn to cope with magical things. You will have several teachers in this area. I will instruct you in the ways of immortals, of which I am one."

He bent down, until his large eyes gazed almost directly into Esmond of Nicoline's. "And immortals are…?" he inquired.

"Monsters?" replied the boy. He gasped, panicked. "I mean—I beg pardon! Not monsters, of course not." He fell silent as the basilisk laid a paw gently on his shoulder.

"Beings from the divine realms, who may live forever unless they are killed in some way," Seaver said quietly.

"Very good," replied Tkaa.

"Some are monsters, sir," added Seaver, meeting Tkaa's gaze steadily. "My father was killed by a spidren." Kel thought of the one that she had faced at Mindelan and swallowed hard.

"My sympathies," replied the basilisk with a bow. "Spidrens are monstrous. Let me tell you of their creation, and of their habits."

The pages listened with fierce attention. Spidrens laired throughout the realm and were a deadly threat.

Their final class of the day was etiquette, taught by Upton Oakbridge, the royal master of ceremonies. The room was hot and the work so boring that Kel had to fight to stay awake. She ached all over from the morning's activity. The new pages were taught bows to nobles of different rank, which only made her muscles ache more. The older boys hid yawns as they practiced writing formal letters.

As the class drew to a close, everyone was given a book and assigned to report on its first chapter for the next day. When Kel saw the title, she grinned.

Oakbridge was on her like a cat. "What amuses you, probationary page?"

Buri grabbed her piece of paper and wrote down Oakbridge's name in the list of needing a beating in the courts for a lesson in manners.

Can't he pretend I'm just like everyone else? Thought Kel as she got to her feet. "Nothing, sir."

"But you are amused, it was quite clear. You must share the joke with us, probationary page, now, if you please." He stood before her desk, one fist planted solidly on a hip. She could hear his foot tapping briskly.

"Master Oakbridge—"

"Lord Wyldon shall school you properly in the matter of excuses. I will accept no more evasion, probationary page!"

Kel opened the book and pointed to the author's name. "Sir, the writer is my father."

The master of ceremonies snatched the book away and scowled at the title page. "What of that?" he demanded. "The child does not have all of his father's knowledge."

All of her father's knowledge, thought Kel irritably.

"Excuse me, Master Oakbridge," Neal said in his friendliest voice, "but Kel doesn't have all of her father's knowledge. Not his."

Dropping her blank Yamani mask-face, Kel glared at him.

Oakbridge also glared at Neal. "The majority of you are lads. Proper usage calls for male pronouns when males are part of the group."

"Except that you addressed Kel alone, which then demands the exact term."

Kel clenched her hands behind her, where Master Oakbridge could not see them. She promised herself that from now on she would try to sit as close to Neal as possible. She could not kick someone eight chairs away.

Everyone laughed at this they could just imagine the young girl kicking Neal as hard as she could under a table for being smart mouthed to the teachers.

Oakbridge gave Neal a look that would have stripped paint, then turned back to Kel. "You have not answered me," he said. "Have you your father's knowledge? You are but a child."

"Yamani etiquette is serious," Kel replied, her face once more Yamani-calm. "Especially at the emperor's court. People have their heads cut off if they don't bow right."

Oakbridge stared at her for a moment. Then he pursed his lips. "Review this entire volume tonight, probationary page Keladry," he announced. "Tomorrow you will report on those parts that are familiar to you, and which parts, if any, are not. Should I be satisfied as to the breadth and depth of your knowledge, I may call on you to assist me in preparing for courtesies to the Yamanis." To the pages he explained, "As I am certain his highness is well aware"—he looked at Prince Roald, who nodded—"their majesties have arranged for a state visit next fall by Princess Chisakami of the Yamani Empire. When she arrives, we shall know how to greet her and her attendants properly, according to their own custom. To that end—"

The final bell of the afternoon rang. Kel gathered all her papers and books and followed the other pages out of the room.

Neal was waiting. "So, probationary page… " He grinned as Kel made a face. "How long did you live with the Yamanis?" They headed back to their rooms.

Buri glared at Neal, "Neal you and me will be having a practice round in the courts when this is over." Neal shook his head he. He then looked over at Numair and pointed to his mouth, begging with his eyes for the gag to be removed.

Numair, seeing this thought on it a moment, then removed Alanna from her shield bubble and the gag from Neal's mouth.

Neal quickly took the opportunity to speak to Buri. "Buri I was only saying it as a joke to Kel."

Buri just looked at him then went back to reading the book.

"Six years," she replied. "Longer than I've lived in Tortall, actually."

"Can you speak—" Neal began as they stopped before Kel's door. He interrupted himself to sniff the air. "What's that smell?"

Kel leaned closer to her door and sniffed. "Urine," she said. There was a pool of yellowish liquid on the threshold. "I'd better clean it up."

"No," ordered Neal. "You have to change for supper. I'll tell Salma and meet you in the mess hall. Get moving." He trotted away, shaking his head.

Kel juggled her school materials until she could pull out her key, then opened the door. At least none of the urine had leaked into the room; that was a blessing.

She closed the door with a sigh. What a disappointing day! Parts of the morning's exercise had been interesting, but the classwork was simply tedious. What good would etiquette do a knight? And how could she be expected to stay awake all afternoon when she'd been running all morning? Couldn't she just do the physical training and forget learning a whole new set of bows?

It is not your place to question what the masters want you to learn, she told herself. Your place is to obey. It was what her Yamani teachers would have said if they had heard Kel's unhappy thoughts.

I just wish obedience was more exciting, she told them silently as she began to change her clothes for supper. Is that so much to ask?

Once they had filled their trays, Kel and Neal went to the spot they had claimed as their own and sat. Kel picked up her fork, but Neal shook his head. She looked around. All of the boys had taken their places, but no one had begun to eat. She raised her eyebrows at Neal, who whispered, "No Stump."

"That is four weeks now Nealan," Wyldon said in a very dangerous voice.

Everyone fidgeted; Kel's stomach growled. At last the door opened. The squires jumped to their feet and bowed. Someone murmured, "The king."

Then everyone was up and bowing as two men—the king and Lord Wyldon—walked up to Wyldon's small table. Kel stared at the ruler whose domain she wanted to serve so much. King Jonathan was the handsomest man she had ever seen. He was an inch shorter than Wyldon, but the training master faded beside him. King Jonathan's neatly trimmed hair and beard were coal-black, framing a face that was tan from a summer outdoors. His nose was straight and proud. His eyes were a deep, brilliant sapphire blue, framed by long lashes. On any other man those lashes might have seemed feminine; not on the king.

Alanna and Raoul both burst out laughing, Alanna pointing at Jon as she bent in half laughing managed to stutter out "L..lo…long la lashes.. fe..ffem feminine …." Jon glared at Alanna and Raoul but decided to say nothing. Almost everyone else in the room was trying hard to hide smiles while Kit was making quit chirps.

He grinned; white teeth flashed against the black of his beard. "Don't let me keep you from your meal," he said in a clear baritone voice. "I remember what it was like from my own days at those tables."

"If your majesty will give the blessing?" asked Wyldon, half bowing.

The king nodded. He stepped up to the lectern, raising his hands. "Bright Mithros, Great Mother, all gods powerful and small, grant us your blessings and guidance, we humbly pray." He brought his hands together, and his audience realized he'd finished.

"So mote it be," responded the pages and squires raggedly. They had expected a longer prayer.

"Now eat," said the king. "After you're done, I'd like a word." He and the training master sat at Lord Wyldon's table. The fourth-year page whose task it was to wait on them rushed to put food before the two men.

Kel eased back onto her seat, her thoughts all in a jumble. She tried to sort them out as she ate. She wished she could ask the king why he had allowed Lord Wyldon to put her on probation for a year. In that original proclamation ten years ago, it was written that girls could try for their knight's shield; probation had not been mentioned. It wasn't fair, so why had he allowed it? Could she serve a king who wasn't just with her? Chivalry worked two ways: you gave good service to your overlord, and in return your overlord honoured your service and treated you honestly. None of this adding extra conditions when all you wanted was the same chance everyone else got.

I suppose I'll never find the courage to ask him why flat out, she thought sadly. I'll just bow and be polite like a good ambassador's daughter. I bet Neal wouldn't hesitate to ask. She looked at her sponsor and smiled in spite of herself. Neal was eating his cake as his vegetables got cold on his plate.

Jon realized that through this book, maybe when they could find the girl and talk to her; he would be able to try and answer some of her questions. Though how he was to do that? He had no idea that she was right and that he had been like Wyldon treating her unfairly.

When everyone had finished, the king went to stand at the lectern again. "Don't get up," he said as everyone began to rise. "If memory serves me, your legs are starting to get sore right about now."

A number of the boys chuckled. Kel looked at her hands, which were curled into fists in her lap. If you can't treat me properly, I'm not going to laugh at your jokes, she thought stubbornly.

"I won't keep you long," the king promised. "I really just wanted to look at you.

"We survived the Immortals War, as they're calling it. We survived, but at a price. You know as well as I how many knights were lost, how many crippled. Thanks to Lord Wyldon, you older pages and squires were also able to fight, to defend our people. You did well—but I can see there are faces gone from this room who were present last fall. We shall miss those who are gone.

"Our enemies tried to destroy us. They failed—but we are hurt. Inside these walls, I can tell you, we are hurt. Our healing will be the work of years."

No one spoke. No one moved.

"Most importantly," he continued, speaking as he might to his closest friends, "it is the work of your years. Your studies, your bruises, your saddle sores, your nights spent doing mathematics, and history, and mapmaking. Your mastery of the arts of war, and of the laws of the realm."

King Jonathan paused for a moment, his eyes exploring their faces. Looking at him, Kel thought grudgingly, All right, he hasn't been fair, and he hasn't made Lord Wyldon treat me like the boys, but he's right about the work. I'll show them—I'll show him, and Lord Wyldon—that I'm as good for that work as anybody else. Like the emperor's Chosen warriors. I'll be an example. They'll be sorry they ever treated me unjustly.

Looking back now, Wyldon believed that the girl did make good on her vow though he never would admit it out loud.

"Each one of you here is a gem, all the more precious because we lost so many. Combined, you are the treasure of the kingdom. Treat yourselves as such. Work hard, study hard, and know your value. Guard your strength, make it grow. Build your stores of learning. Do it not for yourselves or your teachers or your monarchs. Do it for the kingdom. Do it for us all." He looked them over one last time, nodded briskly, then strode out of the hall. He was gone before any of them remembered to bow.

As unhappy as her thoughts had been, Kel still had to remember to take a breath once the king had left the room. His presence was even stronger than the emperor's had been. She could see how people might fight and die for him, and how he could stir such fierce loyalty in calm and level headed men like her own father. Just a look around the room showed her boys who were still caught up and breathless after what he'd said. Even Neal, who seemed so world-weary, looked eager.

Alanna laughed outright. "Oh Jon you went from being feminine to inspiring loyalty. Oh your majesty how do you do it?" Thayet smiled at Alanna and Jon, watching him as he glared at Alanna.

When he realized her eyes were on him, he smiled. "Isn't this a great time to be alive?" he asked. "Stormwings and spidrens to fight, beings from legends arrayed at our sides, people in need of protection and us being prepared to do it… Nothing happened in King Roald's time, and everything's happening now. We'll be sung about, our names will be passed on to our descendants."

"It's going to take a lot of work, that's for certain," she replied with a shrug.

Neal propped his chin on one hand and gazed at her. "You aren't a bit romantic, are you?" he asked, amused.

She sat back and stared at him. She was beginning to think that Neal required a keeper. He seemed to have the craziest ideas. "Romance? Isn't that love-stuff?" she asked finally.

"It's more than just love. It's color, and—and fire. You don't want things magnificent and filled with—with grandeur," he said, trying to make her understand. "You know, drama. Importance. Transcendent passion."

"I just want to be a knight," Kel retorted, putting her used tableware on her tray. "Eat your vegetables. They're good for you."

When she returned to her room, Kel found a small package on her desk. She looked it over. It was wrapped in canvas and addressed to her. The writing was ornate yet readable, like the style that market scribes used. The twine and canvas both were cheap quality, available to anyone with a few coppers to spend.

She drew her belt-knife to cut the twine, sawing until the cord parted. Kel put the blade down with a sigh. She would have to sharpen it yet again. It got dull very quickly. She hadn't thought to ask her parents for a new one before she left home.

Opening the canvas wrap, she found a plain wooden box inside. Shaking her head—she didn't like mysteries of any kind—Kel opened the box. Inside she found a sheathed belt-knife. Like the box, the sheath was plain, made of the same kind of black leather that wrapped the hilt. The blade itself was a very different matter: it was steel as fine as anything that came out of the Yamani Islands, so sharp it would slice a hair. Kel knew that because the first thing she did was pluck one from her head and draw it lightly over the edge.

Underneath the knife was a small leather bag with a whetstone. Like the sheath and box, the bag was ordinary. The stone was high-quality goods. It would put on an edge even her old knife would hold.

Inside the bag was a parchment tag. Written on it, in that same common lettering, was "Goddess bless."

Alanna had to smile inwardly. She remembered sending that. As soon as George heard the words, Goddess bless he knew it was his lass that had sent the gift.

Neal—without thinking— wondered out loud "who would give her such a gift and not tell her it was from them?"

Jon had a feeling he knew who the gift was from and looking at his lioness. He thought he was right.

Kel had to sit on the bed. Who would send such a fine gift? Anyone in her family would include a proper note. Neal was friendly, but she couldn't see him spending this kind of money on her. She couldn't see anyone doing it.

She thought it over until the first after-supper bell rang: she had classwork, and Neal had invited her to study with him. Fretting over the identity of the gift-giver would not be of much use for now. She removed her old knife and clipped the new one to her belt, smoothing it with careful fingers before she gathered her books. The gift had come the first day of real classes, which told her there was one thing she could be sure of: someone wished her well.

Kel smiled. Someone wanted the probationary page to succeed.

Buri looked up from the book. "That is the end of the chapter."

Looking around the room, Buri suddenly had a thought. "Has anyone actually tried scrying on Keladry to see if she is ok and where she is?" Buri asked the room in general.

Suddenly Alanna, Numair and Jon all pulled objects out and looked into them to see if they could see her. Alanna got the closet with a very hazy picture of a camp somewhere in the forest with young one's training for some kind. Jon only got gray smoke and Numair got gray smoke with shapes moving in it.

Looking up all three said at the same time "I cannot see her can you?"

Realizing that no one could now see the girl, they knew they needed to carry on with the books fast so as to be able to leave the room to look for Kel.

Raoul took the book off Buri and turned to the next chapter.

Thank you all for reading please review. Next chapter up will have the meeting of some more of the shang and also the start of training there. So now is your last chance to get yourselves put in the first lot of shang. If you do want put in please pm me with the name you want you shang title, physical description, and attitude and any special notes you would also like add to your character.