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Vincent couldn’t bring himself to care about Grimhawk’s orders. He was scowling as he watched Chester work. A brief nod was given to Veximarl as the false paladin jogged up. Veximarl gave a nod back and started to relay what he knew.

“Their injuries can be healed as soon as the oils are off of them, or the rash will go away on its own after a day. Paralyzation may take a few hours to fade, depending on their own tolerance to the plant. The problem with blister thistle is that tolerance goes down the more one is exposed to it. A longer recovery period is needed each time, to the point where it can become life-threatening.”

If it was up to Veximarl, he would have already transferred all of the wounds on Zaniyah over to Ivy. However, that was something he would no doubt get in trouble for doing. He needed to stray away from such evil thoughts for now, but it was so tempting to follow through.

Vincent still wasn’t happy with the news. “You and Thistleweed seem knowledgeable about herbology. Where did Nox get the plant?”

“It grows as a common weed within the groves around here,” remarked Veximarl.

“We use it as a paralyzing agent for our arrows while we’re hunting,” added Basil. “But it’s not allowed to be used against other squires. Actually, we’re banned from bringing the raw plant into the barracks. The pendants we wear don’t work against poison or toxins.”

Veximarl frowned. “I haven’t heard about this before.”

“Galwen told us the day before classes started, we should have gone over it...” Basil’s eyes went wide. “That’s right! He was complaining that it was normally covered on the first day of his class, but they had to change what they were teaching because of the tainted beast attack. We were supposed to remind him to mention it later, but it was a distracting week.” He scratched at his temple and let out a nervous laugh.

Vincent shook his head. “I am going to assume that Nox didn’t know about this and will request that she receive minimum punishment.” His voice raised up to a louder tone. “And I expect everyone to remember that use of any weapon that causes lasting effects outside of the dueling field is strictly forbidden! Is that understood?!” He shot a glare in Gwyn’s direction as he said that.

“Yes, sir!” The squires called out.

Pulling the blobs of water off of Zaniyah and Ivy, Chester began to wonder how long it would take to clean the thistles off the field. Then again, the longer he took, the longer he could avoid Pegasus’ class. “You can start treating them now.” He gave a nod towards Tish.

“Thank you, Chester.” Tish took a step towards Zaniyah but winced when she received a glare from Vincent. “I’m just… Going to start on Ivy. That is if no one objects.”

Zaniyah was a mess. She frowned as Vincent knelt down in the mud next to her and took a hold of her wrist. As he held onto it, his other hand rubbed up and down her arm in an effort to heal away the rashes and blisters that had formed.

“You’re going to get your clothes dirty,” she muttered.

“That isn’t a problem,” he whispered back.

“Sorry.” Her eyes flitted from him to the ground. “I should’ve worked on getting you out of those vines first before fighting Ivy, but then…” Her voice drifted off and she once again felt terrible about her inability to do teamwork. “I’m fine. It’s already feeling better. You can stop now.”

“There is nothing wrong with treating a fellow squire. You lacked a safe path when it came to coming to my aid and did what you could to defend yourself. It’s not a weakness to understand one’s own abilities and make the call to do what’s best for the team,” Vincent said in a calm manner. His words made Zaniyah feel all the more guilty. “Learn from your mistakes and do better next time. That is all I ask of you.”

Meanwhile, the majority of Grimstone Squad, with exception to Veximarl, was fuming. Veximarl was speaking to Tish as she treated Ivy. She was interested in hearing more about the local horticulture, and Veximarl was glad to lecture. He was ignorant of the death glares that the rest of his squad was giving his direction.

Lightning curled around Chickadee’s upheld hand. He was told to work in lightning meditation, so he was going to work on lightning mediation. Focusing on someone he wanted to fire all of that energy into was helping him concentrate. Sybil was twisting a dagger about in her hand and Alton had forgotten about how mad he was at her for not using her sword in battle. He was humming a little tune to himself. One that was popular to play at funerals.

“Will you guys calm down?” Zaniyah gave them a disapproving frown. “It was an accident. She didn’t know it would last outside of the field, and we’re already doing better, so it wasn’t even that bad of an oopsy doodle. I’ll be up and ready to do another match in a few minutes.” She looked over to Vincent, who was staring at her legs while having a moral dilemma about how he was going to go about mending them. “I’m fine, Vincent. You can stop now. You should wash off and prepare for the next match.”

Vincent looked off to the side for a moment and then to Zaniyah again. “It is my job as a paladin to treat wounds. Hesitation is weakness.”

“Ah ha.” Alton folded his arms and raised an eyebrow at them. Anger had been replaced by minor amusement. “What’s the matter, Highland? Scared to touch a girl?” He grinned widely as Vincent shot him a glare. “Zaniyah is hardly a woman anyways. She’s more like a guard dog that we keep around because she’s cute.”

“Don’t talk about her like that.” Vincent hands hovered for a moment before they placed themselves against Zaniyah’s legs. He gently drew his fingers along them in order to ease her injuries. The redness slowly began to fade as he worked. “All of you are important squires who are under my care.”

Ivy forcibly pushed Tish away and stood up. Her knees wobbled as she struggled to keep her balance. “Quit lying about all of us being equal! You said the same thing when you requested to stay on farm duty with Reese and her! And we all know you abused your power and bullied your way to becoming her partner, so you can stop being an idiot about it already!”

There was a troubled look on Vincent’s face as he lifted his hands away from Zaniyah. “Perhaps I am guilty of favoritism. Upon further reflection, I have decided that I will change my previous statement about remaining impartial towards you all.” He stood up and placed his hand on the hilt of his sword, pulling it free and pointing it at Ivy in a threatening manner. “Cease your unnecessary provocation of my lady, Ivyverine Nox, or I will make the next three years of your life here a living death.”

All of the first year squires stared in silence at Vincent while Grimhawk held his cup out for Evan to refill. “This is far more entertaining than the duels,” the blind man remarked. “But they seem to be practicing the wrong sort of fighting again. All of you are terrible at following instructions.” Evan gave an awkward nod as he poured the old knight his tea.

“Do I make myself clear, Nox?!” Vincent’s voice rang out in a commanding tone.

Her eyes narrowed at him. “... Yes, sir.” Ivy looked off to the side and gritted her teeth.

He placed the sword back in his sheath and gave a look to the rest of the group. “I need to make a report on this incident.” Vincent gestured to the field. “There are still four of you who have yet to fight. Get your gear together! Stop wasting Sir Grimhawk’s time!

As for Compton and Cully, I am thankful that you came, but you should not be here. Return to the barracks and continue your lessons with Sir Pegasus.” His eyes flitted to Zaniyah, who was staring at him with her face completely flushed red. A pink shade started to develop on his own cheeks as he turned away from her. “Stop standing about! That is an order! Get to work!”

Sybil walked over to Zaniyah, holding out a hand to help her friend up. A wary glance was given to Vincent as he walked away. She helped Zaniyah walk over to the grass and set her down again so they wouldn’t be sitting in the mud. Tish came over and offered them both some scones, which they both took graciously.

“Let’s take a brief break. Girl talk time!” Tish glanced over to Gwyn and Ivy, who were whispering to each other in low, harsh tones. “I mean, stealth girl talk time…” She winked at the other two.

“It feels wrong to have stealth girl talk time without Anais,” muttered Zaniyah. “... Or Chi.”

Tish waved a hand like it was okay. “We’ll substitute in Alton.” She gestured to the squire, who was standing right next to Sybil. He held up a finger and was about to say something when Tish continued. “How long have you and Vincent been secretly dating?”

The idea of them being a couple made Zaniyah’s face flush red again. “Oh, I, uh, we’re not like that. He may have called me his lady, but… Wait, does that mean he thinks we’re dating? I don’t mind that! I mean, if that's what he wants, I don’t mind that at all!” She never had a man threaten someone over her before. This was a confusing moment. Was she supposed to be feeling offended or happy about it?

Now Alton was annoyed. Vincent had just blurted out his feelings in front of nearly all of the first year squires and secured himself a relationship in the process. Alton folded his arms and thought about it. Why didn’t he think to do that? It was oddly romantic and aggressive enough that people would stay away. In its own awkward way, it was brilliant.

Alton held out his hand and sought to grasp onto Sybil’s fingers. She snatched her hand away from his, placing it on the hilt of her dagger. “Don’t you dare.”

He frowned and looked away. “Tish, enough ‘girl’ talk. You were supposed to get ready for your match. If either Ivy or Zan needs more healing, Vex and Highland can handle it.”

“Right!” She pointed at Zaniyah. “We’re picking this up later, so don’t let me forget. Part of my duties as a priestess of Eatha is to make sure these sort of things work out, so you have to make sure to come to me first.” Tish gave a bow and ran off to the field.

They settled in as they watched Evan and Basil go head to head with their swords while Peter chased Tish around the field. She was flying around on her hammer while Peter was attempting to snatch her down with his whip. Veximarl hardly paid attention, as he needed to have a quick word with Chickadee to make sure he wasn’t going to get in trouble for abandoning Pegasus’ class, but it wasn’t long before he joined up with the others.

The necromancer was having trouble knowing what to say to them. He wasn’t able to use his magic to help Zaniyah, and Sybil hadn’t been talking to him as of late. They had spoken for long hours while they traveled together, but now she was mad at all of those minor betrayals he had done. He also had no idea how to socialize with either Alton or Zaniyah.

“I spoke with Grimhawk, and we will have free time after this since three teams are down. He said that Miss Hewitt and Miss Nox will need to have a disciplinary evaluation, and it was best that Zaniyah take her time to rest.” Veximarl wrung his hands together. “Would you all like to do something together? Maybe after Zaniyah has changed her clothes?” They hadn’t done much of anything as a group the past week. Even during dinner, they were split up in smaller groups discussing partner strategies.

“You sure that’s best?” Sybil tilted her head and frowned. “You should talk with Hewitt and Basil. Have you talked to them at all about the upcoming war of the years?”

Veximarl gave a weak smile as he avoided making eye contact. “Not exactly. I haven’t made an effort to learn much about the other squires, and the thought of bringing them together is making me nervous.”

He remembered how he was looking up to Theodoric as a role model. That was a man who was fully aware of every single squire at the barracks and their capabilities. Next year, it will be Duxton in that position. The second years already looked up to him, and he was capable of using them as extensions of himself to oversee the barracks to a frightening degree. By the time Veximarl was a third year, Vincent would be in that position, and he could honestly see Vincent being that type of leader. Despite showing a clear bias for Zaniyah, he didn’t seem to let it get in the way of his duties.

But that wasn’t Veximarl’s role in life. He wanted to be a teacher. He wanted to help people like himself live normal lives. But at Braytons, he was expected to be a leader. Sure, he was the captain of Grimstone Squad, which meant that no one actually expected him to do anything, but… Veximarl was finding himself wanting to be a person that was both respected and trusted.

“If Vex will be busy doing that, and Zan will be busy gushing over Highland...” Alton smiled at Sybil. “How about we go for a date, Twist? We could go flower picking together or have a nice walk somewhere. Go horseback riding?”

“I need to go to the forge and see if the adjustments to my armor are finished,” muttered Sybil. “Zyris and I need to discuss some personal matters as well. I will probably be discussing personal matters with Zyris for a very long time today. Perhaps even late into the night and on to the next morning.” A noticeable look of jealousy crossed Alton’s features, and Sybil smirked with amusement.

Veximarl looked between Sybil and Alton. There was something going on between those two again. Maybe it was exactly as Duxton suggested and the two had already- ... Ill thoughts aside, he had hoped they would get along better after being forced to be partners for this, but it was just as bad as it was before.

Sybil ignored Alton making puppy dog eyes at her as she watched the fight below. Basil had managed to best Evan, and he had grabbed onto Peter’s bow. Peter was still trying to get Tish off of her flying hammer with his whip while Basil was aiming arrows at her. Any projectiles that got to close were reflected with Tish’s shield. They appeared to be at a standstill for now. Seeing how it was going to take a while, Sybil decided to dust herself off.

“If we’re not doing anything else here, I’m leaving now.” She swatted at Alton’s hand as he went to go grasp onto hers again and started to jog off towards the barracks.

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About the author

Adelaide West

Bio: Author of the Grimstone Series and Duck and Wolf.

I have a Twitter. I check it often, so I guess tag me anytime you want. I just don't post very often. @AdelaideGWest

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