Prince Isakoa of the Tembelakan Islands, who was sitting in a tree with a view over top the college wall, nearly fell out laughing.
Nahaka, standing lookout in the shadow of the wall, backed away from Kara, empty hands raised in front of him, smiling. “You are just lucky we were returning, and sent the stewards off on a tip about the Levour students setting an illegal bonfire.”
“While you were illegally fishing?” Djaren guessed.
“It is hardly real fishing,” Isakoa said, dangling a string of small fish. “The fish in the little lake are colorless and bland.”
“And everything is behind fences and cold,” Nahaka added.
“And you have all the food you need at the college,” Djaren said.
“She understands.” Nahaka nodded to Kara. “To be given and to win for oneself are very different.”
“I do understand,” Djaren insisted. “But isn’t it hard on the Levour students?”
“It’s the fourth years.”
“Oh, never mind them then. Well deserved. Tell me Seilu is watching and will come back with a report.”
“Am I not a wise Prince? Of course he is.”
“I thought you were all crushed by your studies,” Kara said.
“Yes, so we had to go fishing,” Nahaka said.
The golden-skinned and rope-haired Kaunatoans helped haul Djaren over the wall and into the main quad. Kara made her own way up, finding handholds where it didn’t look like there were any.
“You’re coming in after all?” Djaren asked, pleased.
“You’re going to be setting an illegal fire to cook your illegal fish. You’ll need a lookout,” she pointed out.
“Also illegal fish is your favorite food,” Nahaka said.
“I brought spices from the Corestemarian market on Bell.”
“You are forever welcome in our company then,” Prince Isakoa decreed.
Djaren dropped down and was hard put to keep up with the mad chase across the lawns back to the dormitory they shared. He wasn’t sure why he’d doubted school would be fun. University was glorious.
* * *
Eljiah Gardner was not used to the new name, however old the first half of it was. He was not used to the size of his hands, or his height. It was not much of a surprise that his new classmates could not get used to him either.
“So is Shandor just full of madmen and genius children?” a young Arienish gentleman, Hadley, asked him. The doctor who was about to lecture was still preparing his notes, and the class was abuzz with quiet talk and rustling papers, so there was no good reason not to answer Hadley. Eljiah hesitated anyway.
“I hear there’s another one in History, taking about three other subjects outside his school.”
“It’s four, I think,” Eljiah said softly. “He’s taking engineering now, as well.”
“Thought you’d know him. He’s a freak too.”
“That’s rather rude.” Eljiah met the student’s eyes firmly, with the expression he’d once used to keep order in an unruly classroom.
“Are you going to curse me? I hear half the people in Shandor are gypsies, with some superstitious religion about monsters, or living hills or something.”
“Hadley, stop tormenting the boy,” Reeve said. Reeve was a fellow of Hadley’s, in the same class of second years.
Eljiah was about to give him a grateful smile when Reeve opened his mouth again. “He’s probably here to learn about medicine because of his condition.”
“Pardon me?” Eljiah said.
“Whatever disfigured you, of course. Was it a disease, or some kind of accident, or a natural disaster? Like a landslide or fire?”
The more things changed in schools over the centuries, Eljiah reflected, the more they stayed the same. His many scars had been the subject of hushed conversation every time he’d gone to a university in the past, so this, at least was something he was bitterly used to. He’d never known the answer to them before, though.
“I was tortured in fact, as a child.” Eljiah ruthlessly told them the truth. “By people who didn’t want me to succeed further in life.”
“What happened?” Hadley asked, shocked.
“My brothers killed most of them, and imprisoned the last.”
That was the end of Hadley and Reeve talking, and Eljiah settled back in his seat feeling a little guilty about bullying them that way. It was a childish thing to do. He looked at his small scarred hands and wondered if his mind and maturity had somehow likewise de-aged.
“I think,” said Tallis, suddenly leaning over from the chair in which he’d apparently been sleeping a moment ago, “that it may just be the company.”
Other students startled and inched away when Tallis lurched, but Eljiah smiled at him. “What did Djaren come by about last night?”
“The one you left on the breakfast table?”
“Oh, yes, I suppose.”
“This is not acceptable!” the lecturing doctor hissed, startling everyone to attention. “This cadaver will not do.”
Assistants had wheeled in a cloth-shrouded body on a gurney, for the day’s anatomy lecture. The cloth had been peeled back enough to clearly demonstrate why today’s studies on the internal musculature of the arm were going to be futile with this specimen. One arm was missing altogether, with bits of the shoulder. The other was disfigured, and the head . . . Eljiah closed his eyes and prayed to forget that sight. Several other students sounded like they were being sick.
“Can I get a whole specimen who was not, apparently, butchered by an axe-wielding madman?” the doctor demanded. “Also perhaps your assistance with some mops to clean my lecture floor?”
Grumbling assent, followed by a reassuring whisper from Tallis, promised that the men had taken the thing away, and Eljiah looked again. “I couldn’t, I’m sorry. Was he, do you think, murdered?”
“Not with an axe,” Tallis said amiably. “Drowned, probably. He was a sailor. You could see from his feet. Someone cut away all his tattoos and bashed his head in post mortem. No one wanted him recognized, I suppose. So murder is still a possibility.”
The other students near enough to hear edged even further away from Tallis.
“While we wait for a proper specimen, we will examine the bone structure of the arm,” the doctor said, as a student assistant pulled in a skeleton on a hanging stand. “Now will someone identify the major bones of the arm for me, beginning here.” He pointed.
“Ilna,” Tallis said softly.
“I think that’s the ulna, actually,” Eljiah whispered.
“Yes, but it’s Ilna’s. Most of those are. Not the femur or the foot though. The femur’s by the sugar. It is shoddy workmanship, too. Not the sugar.”
“I would ask that senior students not whisper help to the first years,” the doctor said sharply. “Especially not on so elementary a question. Now, who among the first years can identify the coronoid process?”
Eljiah privately thought that the question of the mysterious Ilna had become far from simple.