Djaren and the prince began their detention by scraping barnacles in the boat house while the rest of their class practiced calisthenics and archery. The boat house, sadly, was not even down by the water, and the work was sweaty and smelly.
“Your face says you are planning something. Stop,” the prince said.
“I was just thinking that with all this work I might start growing some muscle. That would be new for me, you see. Exciting.”
The prince stared at him and then laughed helplessly. “What are you?”
“A displaced archeologist.”
The prince shook his head and showed him a more efficient method for using the scraper. As they worked through the dinner hour, Djaren mentally designed a machine for scraping barnacles, a barnacle resistant hull, and, even better, a hull with replaceable bamboo slats that could be left at sea with happy barnacles still attached.
When they finished with the boats and started work in the gardens, they were joined by the rest of the eighth class. The prince’s bodyguards had brought far more food from dinner than he could want, and he had them share it with some boys who had been sent to the laundries without dinner. After some thought, he instructed that Djaren be fed as well. The stony-faced Kaunatoan man overseeing their work made no comment on the illicit food sharing.
“Does he know who you are?” Djaren whispered to the prince.
“Anyone who can read knows,” the prince said, indicating the tattoos on his face.
“Oh. Teach me to read?”
“You don’t even know our language.” The prince looked at the watching islanders. “I should not be talking to you. Work over there.” He indicated the plot where the sixth years were working.
Djaren accepted this exile, and worked on more efficient ways of cultivation while listening to the Kaunatoans, who had switched from trade common to their native dialect. It was a pleasant diversion from the blisters he was acquiring. Some comments seemed to be about him, and were followed with laughter. He marked which words were repeated in what context, and made guesses from the memories of Kaunatoan place names he’d seen in print.
An even more pleasant diversion arrived in the form of the girls’ class taking an art outing in the flower gardens one plot over. Anna inspired some comment and then a discussion, evidently about similar people who were no longer here and were missed for more than just their aesthetic qualities. The round priest-class boy kept sneaking careful glances at Ellea, who ignored everyone and set out her art supplies neatly.
“Shall I take it by your absence at dinner and your current manual labor that your scheme is working?” Ellea inquired.
“I’m in trouble, if that’s what you mean.”
“Not with them, though, particularly,” Ellea nodded toward the boys. “The prince has named you Cricket Boy, because you bounce everywhere and are so noisy.”
“You understand the language already?”
“No silly, I can see in their minds. I hear what they mean.”
“He’s made a place for me, then. I got through to them.”
“Boys make friends in the most idiotic ways, had you noticed?”
Anna set up her easel not far from Djaren. “You missed dinner.”
“I’m fine.” Djaren showed her the heel of bread in his bag. “How was your day?”
“I think I might scream,” Anna confided, laying paint out across her board. “I mean, I know they’re doing their best here, but they don’t expect us to be very intelligent or have any ambition for our futures. Is that just with the girls?”
“Yesterday Master Revellier was making noises about Cambriol.”
“Cambriol doesn’t take female students,” Anna said. “I half want to go get a doctorate and come back here to show them how it’s done.” The prince, Djaren noticed, was paying keen attention to Anna. “Did you know,” she went on, “the reason half the little ones here won’t do their assignments in art is that they’re trying to be polite?”
“Here, drawing the image of a thing traps its soul, or its power at least. You might draw large fish on a ship you wanted to be strong and fast in the water, or bird patterns on your arrows, to make them fly true, but you wouldn’t draw a person, even an enemy, unless you wanted to be a sorcerer. And the dear daft-headed teacher said that’s all rot, and made them draw one another, and was terribly cross when their work looked nothing like people at all. The little girls seem to think I’m some sort of witch who can create plants and flowers, because I have a realistic style. One poor thing tried to summon her missing mother back by drawing her a hundred times, and now the others are shunning her for provoking the spirits, and half of them have nightmares, or cry at night for siblings or family they aren’t allowed to see, and if I had the managing of this place I’d do it so differently.” Anna ran out of breath.
“I expect you would,” Djaren said.
“Revellier thinks you could go to Cambriol?” the prince asked, rather suddenly behind Djaren.
“Yes, but I’m not sure I’d want to. Would you? I mean, it’s a good school. I’ll bet a degree in finance might be a way to take back pieces of the world. But I’m not sure it’s the right way of doing it. Sorry, I’m babbling. This is Anna; Anna, this is Wheturi.”
“That’s not my real name. I am pleased to meet you, Anna.”
“Likewise. You’re the one they call the son, aren’t you?”
“They should be more careful.” The prince frowned at the quietly painting little girls and several of them visibly withered.
“They’re children, all under ten,” Anna informed him tartly, “and they’re already more careful than any children should be.”
The prince looked a little abashed, then turned his focus back on Djaren. “You think I could get into Cambriol?”
Anna muttered something under her breath about him already fitting in with people like Varden, but the prince didn’t seem to hear.
“I haven’t seen how you write essays, but as sharp as you seem, yes. I can tell you the name of a history professor you should write to there. But really, would you want to leave? You’re practically the king of paradise, here.”
“A stolen, defiled, and dirtied paradise,” the prince said. “And still it would be difficult to leave it. As a child, I learned about the stars, and the winds and currents, histories of my ancestors, the laws of the living land, many other things they do not teach here. That knowledge has not saved my people. If I can learn how the mainlanders fight, in their world, with trade ships and companies, I can beat them with their own stance.”
“Years of school.” A big Kaunatoan boy, one of the bodyguards, snorted. “This place weakens souls.”
“But the strongest will survive to shape the world,” the prince said. “My battle will be different than my father’s.”
“Your father was a more traditional warrior, I take it?” Djaren asked.
“Yes,” the prince sighed. “My ancestors were gods, kings, and warriors.”
Djaren understood that all too well.
“You are not to reveal my identity,” the prince said, gravely, to Djaren and Anna both. “I am here without the knowledge of the Levour and my other enemies.”
Anna rolled her eyes. “And are the Levour? Enemies, I mean?”
“They are just the next to put a leash on the collar the foreigners forged for my people. I was instructed to study my enemy.” He looked at Djaren. “You can help me study.”
“I can tutor you in what they want to hear,” Djaren said, “and in what you really need to know. We can try and get the whole bunch of you into Cambriol. You can make tattoos the next fashion in Arien.”
The prince glared. “Are you mocking me?”
“No. I’m quite serious. You already know all about work and sacrifice and have a better sense of the stakes than the bored nobles’ sons who usually attend that school.”
“We can’t accompany you across the waters,” another tall boy said, becoming distressed at the tilt of the conversation.
The prince looked at him. “Study with me, and travel with me, if you would be at my right hand always.” He turned back to Djaren. “They say you can know a man by his companions. You have one wise advisor at least,” he glanced at Anna, “though one of my companions has reservations about the other.”
“Do you mean my sister, Ellea?”
“The inferno of power wearing ribbons.” the round boy with all the tattoos said, making some protective sign with his hand.
“She’s interesting, but well-behaved, mostly,” Djaren said.
“You don’t share the same fire,” the boy said.
Djaren grimaced. Anna coughed.
“The island always chooses a woman for the greatest power,” the prince said. “I was born to rule, but the Breath is our inferno. Is the same true in your country?”
Anna looked quite interested. “Is that what the little ones meant by Breath? A person? A girl?”
Djaren scratched his head. “The Land chose a Queen last time, and our greatest Amryn was a she, but usually inborn power is fairly even. We’re talking in secrets now, aren’t we?”
“The Levour don’t believe in living islands,” the prince said. “But yes, I will keep your land’s secrets.”
“Once you’ve come into your own,” Djaren said, “perhaps our countries can be allies.”
“Isn’t your country mostly sheep and mountains and snow?”
“About three-quarters, yes.” Djaren said, at the same time Anna said “No!” They looked at one another. “Of course it’s more than that,” Djaren said, as Anna said, “Maybe in the same way this place is half jungle and fishing.”
“What is going on here?” A man strode across the lawn looking annoyed. “There is to be no fraternization between the girls’ class and the discipline section!” The boys quickly looked down at the dirt and began working again. Anna added some lines to her neglected painting.
“I’m sorry, sir, it’s entirely my fault. I was asking the names of some of those amazingly colorful plants. I didn’t realize I oughtn’t be making them talk.” Anna turned a bright smile and her already impressive painting to the oncoming official, who was dazzled enough to pause.
“You’ll find it’s best not to associate with certain elements,” the man told her. “Come work further away from them.”
Anna gathered her things obediently and followed the man, trailed by the smaller girls and their messy sketches.
“You are rather skilled,” the man was saying. “We should see about transferring you to the girls’ school, where your talents would be better appreciated.”
The prince glared after them. “I do not like that man,” he said, when the official was a safe distance away. “Others distrusted him, too, and they are gone now.”
“To the school on the other island?” Djaren asked.
The prince shrugged. “Only the Levour know. None of my people have reported back from Falau since the quake.”
“You’re worried about the girls there.”
“One especially. But if she was dead, I would know.”
“Are you bonded?” Djaren asked.
“It’s a term in Shandor, when two people are very closely connected, and can share thoughts over distances.”
“No.” The prince reddened. “We have stories like that, too, and no. We’re not . . . the Breath . . . if the Breath were dead there would probably be another earthquake.”
“Oh. Any particular reason?”
“Because that’s how the last one happened.”
The Kaunatoan overseer cleared his throat loudly, and all the boys lifted their heads to see what the alarm meant. There was some sort of commotion at the front gate. Evidently authority had been called for, because a cluster of administrators, including the Civilizing Mission Chairman, all were bustling down there at a dignified pace. Other teachers had come out, too. Feinhardt, the rhetoric teacher, strode down the hill to the boys. “You’re to go inside now, all of you.”
“I have over eight hours left of detention, though, sir,” Djaren pointed out.
“Only eight?” Feinhardt was good at ironic faces. “The things young men do for fashion. However, I am making the ruling that the hours need not be consecutive. Shoo.”
“What’s happening, though, sir?”
“That’s yet to be determined. Inside.”
The older boys found themselves confined to their shared room. The prince didn’t enter with them, of course. Using his tree and window, he arrived first, and by the time the rest of them entered he was busy pulling mattresses down off beds. His bodyguards immediately moved to help him.
“What are you doing?” Djaren asked. The prince didn’t look particularly concerned by the commotion among the administrators.
“I am an instructor as well. I teach a class, here, after hours. It is a secret.”
“Why does it involve bedding?”
“We don’t want to be heard, below, and it is good, when falling, to fall on something soft,” the prince said. “We may not openly practice our people’s way of fighting, but there is fighting to be learned with no weapons at all. I teach it so that it may not be lost. There is even some fighting that has little to do with muscle.” He smiled. “Watch, and when the smallest boys practice, you can join them.”
Djaren made a face and took a seat on the windowsill. He watched, impressed, while the larger boys silently wrestled and tripped and flipped and beat the stuffing out of one another. When the window suddenly opened behind him he nearly fell out, and only Kara’s fierce shove sent him tumbling in the correct direction.
She grinned at him briefly, and gave a challenging look to the rest of the room. “You’ll need better skills than that if the fighting gets here. Rumor is, two of the armies are retreating this way. It’s about to get uglier than your faces.” She grabbed Djaren’s shoulder. “We should get the girls, take the boat, and run.”