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Making friends and moving on.
STANDING IN THE little cubby room three doors down from his own suite, Hawk realised for the first time just how little Arien had. Casting nervous glances over his shoulder, the younger boy pulled his new school bag out from under the bed and opened the chest in the corner. The clothes he was wearing were standard for off-duty pages: brown breeches, a plain dark green tunic and a white shirt. He also had a couple of mage student uniforms; the black trousers, white shirt and navy tunic of a first-year. His last set of clothes was a mismatched guard uniform that Hawk had cobbled together for him back in the forest, out of the packs of dead men, replacing the scraps they’d found him in.
He had one pair of boots. The rest of his things consisted of notebooks, quills and a bottle of ink, standard issue for pages and students alike. Lastly, Arien gathered up Rowan from where he was snoozing on the bed and was ready to go. There wasn’t a single sign left that anyone had lived in the tiny room at all.
It made Hawk feel uncomfortable, especially when he led Arien down the corridor to his own rooms. Not that they were palatial, in fact, by some standards they were downright poor for the son of a march. Hawk had never cared. He had a comfortable bed, a window to look out of, a desk to work on, space to do a few exercises and his own wash room.
Nothing special, perhaps, but it had been his home for the last three and a half years. As such it was packed with bits and pieces of his life, and they were only a fraction of the things he’d left at home this summer. Compared to Arien’s bleak little bag, Hawk felt terrible.
Arien didn’t seem to notice, dropping his bag by the door and letting Rowan down to roam. “Now I see why Mage Faron gave us the rest of the afternoon off.”
Hawk appreciated his humour. “Sorry about the mess. I wasn’t expecting company.” Or to be moving. He still wasn’t sure why he had to. No one had mentioned anything about moving the year before. He was comfortable in the page wing.
Perhaps that was why. As Hawk strode over to the wardrobe to pull his travel bags out, he realised that even after a year at the mage school he still felt like a page first, mage second.
“We’ll start with the basics,” he told Arien, rummaging through his clothes chest for his practice gear. “Then I’ll see about finding some crates and a cart or something.”
Arien nodded and started packing the bags with whatever Hawk threw on the bed. He did it wordlessly, and Hawk realised something else: he was moving because of Arien. Aside from Sidony, he was the only student the boy knew. Arien had already been marked out as different by being kept away from the school. Once everyone realised he was a natural mage things would only get tougher.
It was a big responsibility, but it also soothed something inside Hawk. He didn’t mind moving so much now. Not if he was needed.
“You’re good at that,” he said, watching Arien roll up shirts and tuck arm guards together. Not a bit of space was wasted.
Arien shot him a wry smile. “I’ve had plenty of practice.”
It was the first time Hawk had ever heard him refer to his past. Had he done this when he was a slave? Had he started out with clothes and other things when he’d run away? The questions built inside him, but he didn’t want to spoil the mood by asking. He had a feeling Arien would only close in on himself if he did. One day, perhaps his new friend might tell him about it. Until then Hawk would let him be.
While Arien packed the clothing, Hawk turned his attention to his weapon chest. He really needed to take the lot, but it would be a pain to have to run back and forth from the school with his weapons every day. Especially when he could never be certain which ones he’d need for training on any given morning.
“How are you getting on?” Sir Tobias lent comfortably against the doorframe as though he’d been there a while.
In answer to the knight’s question, Hawk waved a helpless hand at his weapon chest.
“Ah.” Sir Tobias strode into the room, patting Arien’s shoulder in passing and dropping a couple of empty travel bags on the bed. “Yes.” He peered at the stockpile of weapons. “I see your dilemma. If you take them all with you there’s no knowing what you might need each day. But if you leave them all here, how will you take care of them properly?”
Hawk hadn’t even thought about that. “What do you suggest, sir?”
“Take ’em.” The knight shut the chest with a decisive hand. “There’s no knowing who might get into them when your back’s turned. Besides, since I’ll be joining you for your morning jog over this way, I can tell you which pieces to bring.”
Hawk and Arien stared at him. Did the knight live at the school? Where? Why?
The knight raised his eyebrows. “Am I not allowed to live where I wish, students?”
“But you’re not a mage,” was the only thing Hawk could think of to say.
Sir Tobias smiled. “Perhaps not, but you are.” He nodded at Hawk. “Not to mention a page. You mage-pages are a contrary bunch. So independent, so headstrong, yet so in need of looking after. Mage Faron and I have decided we’re going to watch over you. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep.”
The knowing look he sent Hawk made the mage-page shrug uncomfortably. “I sleep.”
Sir Tobias did not look impressed. “From now on you get up when I tell you and you go to bed when Mage Faron says. We’ll keep an eye on your workload and we’ll talk to your tutors. If you want to become a mage-knight, you have to survive long enough to make a mage-squire first.”
There was a part of Hawk – no doubt the independent, headstrong bit Tobias had just mentioned – that wanted to protest against such mothering. The rest of him was relieved. He’d only been back a few days and already felt like he was drowning. The lessons and training he could manage, just about, but the extra work had begun piling up and Hawk hadn’t any idea when he would deal with it. Now it seemed he might not have to.
“Thank you, sir.”
The knight gave him a sly smile. “Say that again tomorrow morning after I’ve just made you jog half a mile carrying your sword, shield, spear and lance two bells before breakfast.”
Hawk blinked. Maybe not so relieved after all.
“You said you wanted him to survive to become a mage-squire, sir,” Arien pointed out cheekily, tucking the last shirt into a bag and sitting on the bed.
“Oh, he’ll survive,” Tobias told him with a wink. “He just might wish he hadn’t.”
“Great.” Because Hawk’s life wasn’t hard enough.
“You’ll adjust, mage-page.” The knight gave him a heavy slap on the shoulder as he headed for the door. “Eventually. I suppose I should bring up some crates. There appears to be a pony cart waiting outside…” His voice faded along with his footsteps.
Hawk looked around his room at all the things that still needed packing and sighed.
Sitting on the bed, Rowan in his lap, Arien grinned. “Why did you sign up for this again?”
Glaring at him, Hawk began dragging books off the shelves and dropping them on the desk in a satisfying series of thumps. “Haven’t a clue.”
* * *
SIR TOBIAS WAS as good as his word and returned not only with packing crates, but a couple of older pages to help lug things down. The first to go was the weapon chest, leaving Hawk and Arien to pack clothes, books, school work and all the little knickknacks he had accumulated over the years. Not to mention all the gear he had for Cyrus.
The sparrowhawk watched them handling his things with a jealous eye, but Hawk ignored him. When each crate was full they stacked it by the door for the others to take down.
They’d cleared about half the room when more company ambled in. “Sweet stone, have you been robbed?”
Arien looked up at the two tall pages. One was the familiar dark form of Bertram, the other a slender, almost fragile blond he’d only ever glimpsed in the distance – usually as he ducked out of training.
Hawk raised an eyebrow. “What could I possibly have that’s worth taking, Cyneric?”
The slender page looked into the nearest crate. “Good point. Is this still your court tunic? Surely you’ve outgrown it by now. It’s two season’s out of date.”
“My shoulders probably have,” Hawk sighed ruefully.
While Cyneric continued poking about and making disparaging comments, to which no one paid any attention, Bertram studied Arien. “I’ve seen you about, usually with Sir Tobias, but we’ve not yet been introduced. Hawk, do the honours?”
Hawk raised his eyebrows in surprise. “You’ve not met?” he asked, looking at Arien for confirmation and he shyly shook his head. “Well, in that case, Bertram this is Azarien, Lady Mara’s new protégé. Ari, this is Bertram, Crown Prince of Wrystan.”
As the royal page stepped forward, offering his hand with a hearty shake, Arien could only blink. He’d heard mutters of a prince among the pages, but they’d been so few and far between that he’d begun to think it was just a nickname. No one had said anything about the heir to the throne.
“What big eyes you have, m’boy.” The other page was watching Arien with a sly smile. “I suppose you ought to introduce me too, Hawk, though after His Bertiness I’ll be something of a disappointment.”
“You’re always a disappointment, Cyn,” Bertram said dryly.
Cyneric grinned and offered his hand to Arien. “Since Hawk seems to be huffy with me, as usual, I’ll introduce myself. Lord Cyneric Cygen of Cyrenwaters, at your service. Everyone calls me Cyn. And yes, before you mention it, my father the duke has a thing about Cy.”
Arien accepted the handshake in dumb amazement. Since Cyneric showed no obvious signs of his page training, he could only assume the young lord had no intention of becoming a knight. Which meant he was here for diplomatic reasons, meaning he was probably his father’s heir.
That meant he was standing in a room with a future mage-knight, a duke and a king. Quite a step up for an escaped slave.
“So,” Cyneric studied him with bold blue eyes, “a protégé of Mara, are you? That almost trumps my duke-heir status. Are you any good?”
“Potentially he’s the best there’s ever been,” Sir Tobias said from the doorway, waving for his helpers to haul the next couple of crates away. “So you’d best watch that sharp tongue of yours, little Lord Cyn.”
“Really?” It was Bertram’s turn to reassess him, hazel eyes uncomfortably sharp. “Have you met my father yet?”
Arien had never even thought about the King of Wrystan, let alone the prospect of meeting him. He shook his head hurriedly. Kings were not meant to mix with the likes of him.
“He’ll want to meet you,” Bertram said, turning to Sir Tobias. “Has he been told yet?”
“Mara’s dining with Their Majesties tomorrow night.”
“Good.” Bertram gave a satisfied nod, then smiled at Hawk. “Speaking of food. If you’re going to get a chance to dine tonight I suppose we’d better give you a hand.”
And just like that the prince was gone, leaving behind an ordinary page helping a friend out. Even Cyneric stooped to assisting, although he mostly criticised their packing techniques and made scathing comments about Hawk’s gear. Still, considering the company he was keeping, Arien didn’t find the chore too arduous. By the end of it he’d even gained two new friends. Of course one of them was bitingly sarcastic about it, but since the other was a prince Arien figured they were equal in the strangeness stakes.
After a raucous and silly dinner in the page wing, Arien and Hawk followed Sir Tobias through the darkness to the mage school, where their new rooms awaited. Hawk’s was a mess of half-unpacked boxes, but Arien’s was empty and serene. Checking that the servants had actually put his clothes away rather than thrown them out, he changed out of his off-duty page uniform for the last time, crawled into bed and puffed out the lantern.
After five days in Royas Bay he was finally here: a student of the mage school. Curling around Rowan, he snuggled into his feather pillows and went to sleep with a smile.
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