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The remaining first year squires gathered in the morning for Moonsday classes. Seven missing squires left a noticeable chunk missing from the group. They were a broken and sorrowful bunch. What were once the easier classes taught by Blu and Oceans had now been taken over by Lady Till, and she wasn’t willing to let them slack off in their studies.

But she was also busy dealing with a mass of letters that had flooded her office since the start of winter. Early applications for the next year of squires, as well as inquiries for knight positions. Only a handful of the knights at Braytons were full time. The majority of them stayed between three to six years before changing posts. Such inquiries weren’t uncommon, but this was her first year dealing with them as headmistress.

“Highland. Please go ahead.” Till was in a rush to finish the class as quickly as possible so that she could toss the lot of them at Stonetoe.

Alton looked over to the table where Zaniyah and Vincent normally sat. It was empty, and Till was so fried from her own work that she had yet to notice. “Uh, squires rise!” He stood up quickly while the others were sluggish. Tish had a ridiculous smile on her face but kept her mouth shut. “Squires bow!” They bowed as a sign of respect and sat down again.

Lady Till let out a weary sigh. “Toval... Please go over attendance.”

Alton immediately stood up again. “Seven squires out on missions. Zan, I mean Krogastein, said she was having stomach problems. She’s probably on her period. That happens to girls, right?” He glanced over to Tish as Till’s face became strained. “Sometimes you have a really bad one and nothing seems to help? Highland said he was going to find her something in the infirmary, but he’s probably having trouble since Lady Blu isn’t here.”

A snorting scoff escaped Tish. She didn’t believe it one bit but she also wasn't one to rat out the pair. “Lady Blu’s cabinets are sorted rather oddly. I’ll be sure to find what they are looking for shortly.”

Mila nearly jumped out of her seat as a buzzing noise rang from her pocket. She pulled out her letter and glanced at the message that popped up. A pop of a laugh escaped her before she suddenly slapped her hand over her own mouth.

Although she could see the usefulness of this technology, Till also found it to be annoying. “Passing notes, regardless of how they are transmitted these days, is still passing notes. Out with it. What does it say, Miss Fletch?”

Mila’s face turned red. “Oh, it’s uhm… It says that uhm…” She looked over to Irving who shook his head. “Uhh…”

“Miss Fletch!” Till took a step forward, as though she were about to march up to where Mila was sitting and grab that letter for herself.

“I-it says that Zaniyah probably has a broken pelvis because Vincent thought proper protection meant wearing a full set of armor!” Mila cried out. Irving slammed his hand on the table and mouthed a series of choice words at her.

Tish couldn’t take it any longer, bursting out in laughter while Till marched past her. The lady began to berate the Bronzescale pair while Alton jumped to action. His letter was pulled out and hidden under the table. He clumsily typed out a message for Zaniyah, as well as a good morning message to Sybil, just for good measure. He quickly stuffed his letter back into his pocket as Till finished her rant.

Giving a sharp inhale, Lady Till adjusted her glasses and exhaled slowly. “I would like all of you to grab the heaviest book you can find from the library. You are going to spend the next hour balancing that book on your head while dancing in a round. Mister Toval, you will be providing the music. Apologies for the rudeness that comes with this change of schedule, but I must now waste my time hunting down your supposed commander... Go. Go now.”

“Yes, ma’am!” The squires called out as they stood up and filtered out of the classroom.

---

The buzzing sound against the nightstand made Vincent’s eyes snap open. He stared at the letter while the bleariness of sleep slowly abandoned him. Sitting up, he found his arm being weighed down by something... Zaniyah was clinging to sleeve of his wrist, like a child seeking out their blanket.

She wasn’t awake, but she was still here rather than in her own bed... How strange. He didn’t even wake up when she crawled in. “Zaniyah.” Carefulling removing her hand, he then leaned down and planted a kiss to her temple. A smile crossed his lips as he watched her slowly wake up.

“Ah…” Zaniyah curled up in a ball and drew the covers over her head. She didn’t have a good excuse for why she was here.

“It’s alright.” Vincent frowned as his letter buzzed again. “We might be late for class.”

“Ah!” Zaniyah leaped off the bed. She pulled off her nightgown as Vincent averted his eyes and began to dig around her bag for her uniform. “I’m sorry! Everyone is going to think the worst happened!”

Vincent grabbed his letter and began to fiddle with it. He couldn’t remember how to access the messages, frowning all the harder as it continued to buzz angrily at him. His attention went to the door as a polite knocking could be heard. Clambering out of bed, he opened the door and calmly acknowledged Till’s presence.

“I must apologize for not setting my alarm this morning, Lady Till.” He bowed politely while Zaniyah was hopping on one foot in the background. Her uniform had gotten stuck about her arms, and she was struggling to yank it down the rest of the way. “I assure you that this lapse in my attention will not happen again.”

“Indeed it won’t.” Till apathetically watched as Zaniyah finished pulling her uniform over her head. Zaniyah’s face then contorted to one of pure horror as she realized who was standing at the doorway. “Follow me as you are. Now.”

The two followed her to Sir Stonetoe’s room, which Till unlocked with a key from her pocket. While the two sat on the couch, she chose not to wake Stonetoe, but instead make use of his kitchen. She took her time to light a fire underneath the stove and stick a kettle on it. Then she waited in silence, staring at the kettle with her arms folded in front of her. Several minutes passed before it began to whistle loudly.

A thunk was heard from Stonetoe’s room, followed by a quick scrambling about before the door opened. Stonetoe was only wearing his pants, revealing a melted looking scar that covered much of the left side of his torso. He stared into his kitchen, where Till was still staring at the whistling kettle.

“Nita...” A faint smile crossed his lips before he noticed Vincent and Zaniyah sitting on a couch together. “... Dammit.”

“The ill behavior of your squad is once again polluting the other squires,” remarked Till.

He stepped into his kitchen and made shooing motions at her. She stepped aside and let him take over tea making duty. “They didn’t do anything Nita. Highland wouldn’t be so composed if they had spent the night rubbing uglies.”

Once tea had been put in the kettle, he began to cook his breakfast. He pulled a skillet out from a lower shelf and placed it on top of the stove. Olives and mushrooms were pulled out of the cupboard, and these were quickly diced up and tossed into a bowl.

“That doesn’t excuse the fact that they failed to show up to my class in a timely manner.”

Stonetoe began to season the bowl with a pinch of ground up spices. “Highland lets his girls handle alarm duty. They take longer to get ready, and he gets the chance to sleep in a little.” He cracked in two eggs and began to mix everything together. “Man stays up late each night making sure all the squires are safe in the dorms. Let it slide if he forgets to wake up once in a while.”

“And the fact that I found Krogastein in his room? Squires are not to spend the night outside of their squadrooms without permission.”

“Her commander gave his permission.”

The contents of the bowl were dumped into the buttered pan. Stonetoe then unwrapped a loaf of bread from parchment paper and cut two thick slices off. These were buttered on one side, with the dry side being placed on the stove to warm up.

“He didn’t have the right to do so.”

“He doesn’t feel comfortable with letting Toval and Krogastein be alone together at night, and took it upon himself to help her feel safe.”

“Yes, sir,” interrupted Highland. “That is correct.” He tensed up as Till glared at him.

Cutting up the omelet, Stonetoe put half on each slice of bread. He then sliced a small lemon in half and squeezed it over the food. A bit of lemon was also squeezed into each tea cup. The tea was poured in, and he gave each a spoonful of honey.

“That is no excuse, Mister Highland,” snarled Till. “You are their commander. If you were worried about their situation, you should have offered to take her place within their squad room rather than treat yourself to your lady’s company. You, above all others, Mister Highland, must be the pinnacle of- … Ah, thank you, Braden.” She paused as Stonetoe handed her a cup of tea.

The knight turned his attention to Vincent and Zaniyah. “You’re both set to do training with me next Satyrday. Don’t make other plans.” They both nodded. “Get to class. I need to talk to Lady Till about what sort of punishment you’ll be in for, so behave yourselves.”

“Of course, Sir Stonetoe.” Vincent stood up and bowed, and Zaniyah quickly followed suit.

From the moment she made her escape, Zaniyah was clutching at her chest. “That was weird,” she muttered. She had expected Stonetoe to rant at them about his ever-growing list of disappointments before assigning them some horrific punishment.

Most of Vincent’s composure up until that point had been a lie. He knew that he was wrong for having Zaniyah stay in his room, and for waking up late, but his intentions were honest. “It is best that I stay with Toval and you be allowed access to the Baron squadroom. If that does not suit you, Tish will be pleased to have you.”

“Aww…” Zaniyah pouted. She’d rather get in more trouble than do that. No point in arguing about it, as it seemed like Vincent was going to remain firm in his decision. “... I’m gonna go fetch my boots. See you after you get changed.”

She skipped down to the Grimstone room and yanked her boots on. It was easy for her to find the rest of the class. They had settled in the inner dueling field and were gathered together in a dance. Alton led the singing, and all of them were quick to point out when one of them lost their balance. Especially when the dictionary had slipped off of Peter’s head for the third time.

They took turns flicking his forehead before starting up again. Zaniyah joined in, with Alton balancing an especially heavy history text on her head. Vincent showed up shortly afterward, and the class spent their time laughing as they danced about. Soon it was time for lunch, and they put away the books before settling on having their fun in the mess hall.

Alton kept checking his letter and was becoming more annoyed each time he realized that Sybil had yet to respond to him. Maybe it would be easier to contact her if she had bothered to tell him when she was and wasn’t busy. He gritted his teeth and sent another message.

“It’s rather lonely here.” Lydia floated down next to him and leaned over his shoulder to see what he was typing.

Alton let out a grunt as a response. Everyone already had their own cliques. Mila was still avoiding Tish out of fear of the priestess playing matchmaker, and Irving had wandered off to do his experiments but the rest of the class was present. Tish was interrogating Vincent and Zaniyah, Chester was enjoying his peace and quiet, and Evan was sitting with him. Peter was losing at a game of Haztooth Blitz against Basil and was being quite vocal about it.

The odd one out was Alton. No one bothered him. No one asked if he was busy, or if he wanted to hang out, not even if he was alright without having Sybil here. All he had was Lydia. Some old bothersome Lydia.

“You should go have fun,” remarked Lydia. “Make some friends.”

“I have friends,” he muttered. Wasn’t his fault they weren’t here at the moment.

His letter buzzed. Finally! A message from Sybil had come through. “Busy. Class.”

He fumbled with the device. “When are you not busy?”

“The lessons we learn today will carry us for the rest of our lives. Class is eternal and everlasting.”

In other words, she wanted him to leave her alone. Alton flopped against the table and let out a heavy sigh. The only time anyone seemed to need him was when they wanted music. Otherwise, he was simply someone who didn’t contribute to the group. Maybe he would have to make his own fun. Though he didn’t know where he would go to do that. Either way, no one would notice if he chose to disappear.

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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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