Djaren stood in the boys’ dormitory, surrounded by strangers who were mostly taller than him. They were all staring. A moment of silence stretched, and then a light rap came at the window. It was dark outside, but Djaren could see Kara well enough. He jogged over to the next window down, and opened it. “Hello, Karo! That one is another gentleman’s window, and I gather he’s territorial about it. How about this one for us?”
Kara peered in and raised an eyebrow. “Did I interrupt something?”
“I was wondering that myself,” Djaren said. The other boys all looked at the tall gold-skinned tattooed boy. He lifted his hand, and they stayed still, watching.
“Let’s talk on the roof,” Djaren suggested.
Kara smiled wryly and began to climb.
Djaren turned back to look at the native boy. “May I use this window?” He got no answer and took that as a yes, climbing quickly to join Kara.
She waited, perched on roof tiles in the starlight. “Making friends already, I see.”
“I hope so. Too early yet to tell,” Djaren said. “Listen, I need supplies.”
“Not surprised. You are remembering that there’s little here not made of grass, wood, and fish parts?” She looked very smug tonight, even for Kara.
“But you can get anything. I have it on good authority that you are the best thief on two continents.”
“Make it three.”
“An archipelago isn’t . . . never mind. Can I tell you what I want you to find?”
“You really think that bartering with the natives will save your skinny behind?”
“No, what are you talking about? Listen a moment.”
Djaren told her all the things he wanted, and Kara blinked at him. “What are you doing?”
“Being an example. What have you been doing? Do you run the Ropes yet?”
“I’m fourth boy.” Kara grinned. “And I’m improving their standards of heists.”
“I’m disappointed,” Djaren said. “I thought you’d be at the head of a secret society of thieves by now.”
“There’s not much to work with here.” Kara sighed.
“Just think, though, what you could do with a really good team.”
“And your mother worries I’m a bad influence on you.”
“She likes you. So do I.”
“Shut up and go talk or whatever. I’ll bring what I can in about three hours. Think you can hold out for a rescue that long?”
“I knew you were amazing. Meet me in the little attic room under where we’re standing. You should be small enough to get in the casement, like I do.”
“Djaren,” Kara said, “be careful.”
“Do I get to tell you that, too?”
“I may break your nose,” Kara said.
Djaren smiled at her, and scrambled back down to the window, where the tattooed boy waited with crossed arms, behind a shut window. “You are not,” he said, “one of us.”
Djaren considered this, found it true, and climbed back up the roof to wait as the stars came out. When the stinging insects came out, he decided to take up a hermit’s existence among the saints, and so Kara found him, hours later, rolled in a sheet at the feet of St. Baridbas.
“They shut me out,” he explained.
“You going to sleep up here?” Kara asked, admiring the attic.
“In a few hours. I have some things to make first.” She’d brought him most of what he’d asked for, minus the bow.
“Good, then you can keep watch. Give me your sheet.”
Djaren did, confused, and Kara curled up in it, and took the place he’d warmed. “Where’s my bag?”
“Up in the saint’s barrel.” Djaren pointed. “Are you sleeping here?”
“First rule in new territory. Never let anyone know where you sleep.”
“So we’re roommates again?”
“I don’t know where you’re sleeping.” Kara shrugged, with a grin.
Djaren sat up for much of the night, working on his plan. He fell asleep at last, and when he woke to the sounds of the morning prayer bells, Kara was gone. All his new things were ready, and there was time left in the breakfast hour.
“You are not one of us,”the boy had said.
Revellier’s words echoed, too.“Perhaps you may assist us in bringing some of these young minds to enlightened civilization.”
“I’m not one of you either,” Djaren whispered. They wouldn’t listen if he tried to say it, so he would have to show it instead.
He took the school-issued comb and parted his long hair far to one side, braiding it into a rope that hung down behind the shoulder of what would be his off-arm for archery, like the older warriors of Clan Copper’s Dawn—his mother’s people—did. “So it does not impede your sight, or your arm,” he’d been told once, exactly twelve years and eleven days ago by a third cousin. He wove the round ring beads in near the bottom, to be easily pulled free for arrow fletching rings. The altered shirt and leather quiver vest slipped on easily, and laced snugly where they ought to, despite his worries in the night that he’d made them too small. The low belt and pocket pouches sat on his hips comfortably and trailed a net bag down one thigh. His face, briefly glimpsed in the glass of Saint Amile, was as brown now as a traditional Copper’s Dawn boy’s should be and, without his spectacles, had a little of the lines and dignity Djaren associated with his distant cousins. He wished he had one of Father’s marvelous feathers to wear, or some other visible way to shout his very non-Arienish, non-approved identity of Blackfeather.
He found all the windows below open now, and the dormitory room empty. The corridors were clear, too, almost all the way to the dining hall, which was still half-full of students eating or sleepily savoring the last moments before class.
At a Shandorian market day or festival, he would not have called any attention dressed like this, though he’d never tried it. Here at breakfast was quite another matter.
Anna looked up and frowned for several moments as he approached, before widening her eyes. “Djaren?”
“He’s gone native,” Ellea observed, not turning round from her porridge. “Tasteful of him, though, to have done it in Shandorian style.”
“Copper’s Dawn is a smart look for you,” Anna said. “What’s the occasion?”
“I’m going to cause trouble. I’ve thought it over, and I think it’s the right thing to do. I’ll leave you well out of it, though.”
Anna considered this. “What if we want to be involved?”
“Not presently,” Ellea said. “But if you’ll be so kind as to keep us informed, perhaps we’ll join you later. I have some news too. Jon, Tam, and the Professor are on Falau. We shouldn’t expect them soon though. Tam’s shot.”
“Oh, sit down and I’ll explain everything the way he explained it to me.”
“Boys aren’t supposed to sit on the girl’s side.”
“At what point this morning were you planning on starting trouble? Really, you are the worst rebel I’ve met.”
Djaren made a face at her, and sat across from Anna.
Ellea relayed her conversation with Tam, and frustrated Djaren very much by not being able to answer a fraction of his questions. “Ask Tam yourself,” she sighed. “You can try later from the closet they lock you in for being subversive.”
“Eat something.” Anna pushed across a plate of fruit and bread.
Djaren did, looking round the room to find the boys of classes six, seven, and eight stealing looks over at them.
“Do you know where I can find war paint?” he asked Anna.
“Copper’s Dawn doesn’t wear war paint,” she pointed out.
“Mother might be annoyed if I come home with tattoos I did myself in the mirror.”
“Yes, she would. I think you look fine as you are. Older than usual.” Anna seemed to genuinely mean this, and it gladdened Djaren immensely.
“Good luck with fomenting revolution,” Ellea said.
The first class of the day was rhetoric. That suited Djaren. He took a seat near the middle of class eight, just two desks over from the tall tattooed boy, who was ignoring him. The teacher was a youngish man with a soft Germhacht accent. “The administration would like classes to be in Levour within the next six months,” he told them. “For now, however, we will be having lessons in the art of debate in the traditional language of international discussion, trade common. Is everyone familiar with it?”
He looked at the others and then at Djaren.
“Yes, sir,” Djaren said.
“Then perhaps you can request a proper uniform after class,” the man said. “I’m Meister Feinhardt, and today you young gentlemen will be discussing local agricultural and fishing practices, something which should be relevant to most of you.”
Djaren could not have asked for a better way to begin causing trouble. He had things to say about burning off jungles to grow crops for export versus leaving it wild for traditional subsistence living. He had things to say about fishing with explosives versus using spears or nets, and whether companies should hold political sway independent of their nation’s governments. These topics got other people talking too, and heatedly. The teacher seemed bemused and let them all argue, intervening only to say things like, “And now Master Maratau will rebut this?” and “In more academic terms, please,” and “Evidence, gentlemen? Evidence?”
By the end of the class Meister Feinhardt was smiling. “You have a dangerous mind, Master Blackfeather. Revolutionary.”
“I hope so, sir,” Djaren said.
“The first revolutionaries have very difficult lives, full of tribulations.”
“I am aware, sir.”
“Then go and try not to be whipped for heretical ideas in theology.” He nodded toward the door as the prayer bell rang.
A few classmates snickered. They weren’t giving him cold, disdainful looks any longer.
At first, theology appeared disappointingly dull and dusty, as the Levour were introducing the Helianth faith with shallow platitudes about the blandest virtues of the deities. Djaren and, surprisingly, two other boys of mixed race whose eyes were still shining from the last class, made things exciting by bringing up the schisms between the Arienish, Levour, and Germhacht versions of the faith. A dark-skinned boy dared to compare Cormuradan monotheism and the Helianth pantheon, and Djaren added details about the bloody wars that had been fought between followers of those two faiths. When Djaren veered into Corestemarian polytheism, the teacher gave him four hours garden work as detention, and told everyone else there would be no more questions and that they should read silently from their books now.
Another boy had got the same detention as Djaren for comparing the Helianth goddess Amantha to the Pao’ulu dolphin goddess. Djaren thought the comparison better than the boy knew, as Amantha, like the Dolphin Queen Mu’rekkii, had lost her mortal lover and flooded islands in her sorrow until she was beaten back by others of her pantheon at the behest of mortals. That story did not appear in their textbook. Neither was there any mention of the origin of demi-deities, or the great deific rages, lusts, and mythic vengeances of the more exciting Helianth epics. Djaren told his detention mate about Amantha’s sea-creating sorrow in the hall on the way to the next class.
Arithmetic was with Master Pruell from yesterday who, it seemed, had decided to cope by ignoring Djaren entirely. Therefore, arithmetic was exceptionally boring. It was also hard on Djaren’s eyes, reading so close up without spectacles. He began looking forward to detention.
He waved to Anna and Ellea at lunch, but sat with his classmates. The tattooed boy, who was named Wheturi, sat at one end of the table on a folding chair. The boys nearest Wheturi, his court, seemed a little too old for even the eighth class. All Wheturi’s food was handed to him by a roundish boy with tattoos up and down both arms as well as his face. All of them ate only with their right hands. Djaren, observing them, began making guesses about this Kaunatoan boy.
“I think,” he told Ellea, “that a boy in the eighth class is a Hewaori prince.”
“I don’t think much of him,” Ellea said, after a pause. “Deaf as a post. The boy from their priest class isn’t so dull, though.”
The round boy with the tattoos looked around, startled, quite forgetting to hand on some green vegetable to his prince who, rather than seeming annoyed, was observing the room carefully, looking for the trouble to which his subject was reacting.
“Stop bullying boys in eighth class,” he warned Ellea wryly. “It’s not fair, they can’t fight back.”
“I never bully,” Ellea said.
After lunch was music. The teacher never had a chance. While she was showing one boy how to hold a viol, the rest veered away from their assigned scales into a sea shanty most of them seemed to know, and then struck up a song in the Kaunatoan tradition.
“No, no, no!” the teacher shrilled. “None of that awful noise. How am I to have you singing hymns by the trade minister’s visit?”
After fluttering around another few minutes, she retreated to take a rest, and the students resolved themselves into two groups, one of Kaunatoan and Pao’ulu islanders and the other of more mixed sailors’ children, and took turns challenging each other. The islanders had a way of adding percussion to their chants with their feet. Not to be outdone, a freckled boy on the other side took two sticks to the bottom of an overturned desk. The noise brought out some school official, who shouted at the teacher until she was reduced to hysterics. All the boys of the eighth class were given two hours of detention. Djaren was unable to ascertain if this was in addition to the four he’d already earned.
The next class was history. The teacher, Master Lesancoer, began by scolding Djaren again for being out of uniform, but later he allowed questions during his lecture, which was really all it took. Djaren had questions, and used the opportunity to bring up interesting bits of history that the textbook had left out. There were whole chapters for old battles in the now-defunct Arienish Empire, but only short mentions of the annexation of islands like Tembelaka, which seemed to magically become Arien’s, then Cormurada’s and now Levour’s, traded like a bag of marbles.
Master Lesancoer snapped after the sixth interruption. “I hardly feel that the reasons for the native uprisings in Begalli are important. We’re studying the life of General Monchevell in this chapter.”
“But it’s all important,” Djaren argued. “The Begalli tribes aren’t ever mentioned again, and that’s important too. History is the whole story. It’s all true, and it all deserves to be faced.”
“What Master Blackfeather will be facing for the remainder of the class is the north corner of the room. In silence, and awaiting his fate,” Master Lesancoer said.
It was too late by then, though, because everyone else had questions now. Master Lesancoer moved on from General Monchevell’s conquests to heroic Admiral Ledgerre. Since Ledgerre had “discovered” many nearby islands, his exploits were particularly relevant to the class. He had been betrayed by a mutinous crew, who had refused to stand and fight the massing native armada. A sailor’s boy asked about conscripts, and if Ledgerre’s men weren’t mostly captured from the Maribelle colonies.
While Master Lesancoer was trying to come up with an answer for that one, the prince spoke. “Forty ships sailed out from these islands, because our ally King Kailu begged help against the foreign men who took much and demanded more. He had welcomed them, not knowing them for robbers. Tembelaka’s king sent forty ships, for Kailu was known to be peaceful and generous, the lord of many islands and the son of great warriors. Ledgerre fled the battle when he saw he was outnumbered. He took his ship on swift sails around the island and pointed his cannons at the village where King Kailu’s family and children waited. Ledgerre ordered the cannons fired, but his men refused. They had seen ugly things done under the admiral’s orders, and wanted no more. They threw the admiral overboard and sailed away to Maribelle, except for those who stayed and were offered King Kailu’s hospitality.”
“That’s an interesting piece of hearsay.” Master Lesancoer frowned. “But there can be no excuse for mutiny.”
“The Levour did not think so either. More ships came. Your book says all the mutineers were hunted down and brought to justice. Kailu tried to shelter the men who saved his people. Your book does not say what happened to King Kailu and his family. It does not say what was done to his child heir or to his daughters. This only says all the mutineers were hanged. In truth, only the fortunate ones were.”
“I am sure that lurid fairy tales are common among the uneducated peoples,” Lesancoer snapped, very red in the face. “However, I will not have them posed here as history! You will wait in the back of the class with Master Blackfeather.”
The prince joined Djaren in the corner. Turned away from his court, he looked tired and uncertain.
“You were right,” Djaren whispered.
“I should not have done that.” The prince sighed softly. “It was proud and stupid to call attention.”
“Weren’t you born to call attention?”
The prince frowned at him. “I am in hiding, and this is my only refuge. So that was ill-considered. Like everything you have been doing today.”
“I don’t mean to cause you trouble,” Djaren said. “Why did you come here?”
“To learn,” the prince said.
“How much did you learn today?” Djaren asked, with a grin.
“Much,” the prince admitted. “But you won’t last a week here.”
“Should I stop?”
“Gentlemen!” Master Lesancoer bellowed. “I shall institute whippings after class if this continues.”
The prince’s eyes narrowed, and some of his larger bodyguards—that was clearly what they were—stirred. The prince shook his head and stayed still, and Djaren shut his mouth tight. He could start a revolution, certainly, but it wasn’t his to start.