Chapter 21



e changed his mind; he wasn't ready. Well, maybe he was, but his nervousness kicked in as soon as they left the Heart. By the time he realized they were heading toward the dining hall, his heart was in his throat. He was pretty sure she wasn't taking him there to eat. One thing he did know: Mary was in there. Would she agree with Leanne? Or would she force him back into his bedroom? He said a silent prayer that it would be anything but the latter.

            Leanne opened the large double doors without hesitation. Conversations were cut short. He felt dozens of eyes turn to him before he even saw them. The dining hall was a fairly large room, not much unlike King Kenton's, but this one gave off a more relaxed air. Formality wasn't a political game here. Everyone was comfortable with one another. A large wooden table stretched across the room where about a little less than thirty people sat, staring at him. The people at the very back were leaning as far across the table as they could get away with in attempt of catching a glimpse of him. What was so interesting about him? He sighed inwardly. Fame would follow him wherever he went.

            He spotted a few people he knew. Mark was somehow managing to stuff his face with pasta and study a dagger at the same time. Nobody seemed concerned that he was holding a weapon at the breakfast table. He was the only one who didn't look up upon Landon's arrival. Jeaine sat next to him, chatting with a freckly redhead about who knows what. Well, at least she was until he entered the room. Chelsea had been laughing with Stefan, and her smile widened at the sight of him. He gave her a small smile in return. He turned away just in time to see Stefan elbow her jokingly.

            Leanne wasted no time, making a beeline to Mary, who, thankfully, sat somewhat nearer to the entrance. Unsure of what to do, he followed. The two women spoke for a moment, Mary nodding. For a moment Mary frowned and Landon's breath caught. But she finally sighed and stood. "Come," she said to him as she strode toward the doors. He followed obediently.

            It was a relief when they exited the dining hall. The itching feeling of being watched faded away, replaced with anticipation for what she would have him do next. She didn't stop to explain; in fact, she hardly said a word as she led him down the hall. He was worried that she was angry with him. He didn't want to start his first lesson on the wrong foot. He considered trying to start a conversation, but he couldn't think of anything to say. Besides, he might make it worse. There seemed to be a tactical method to careful conversation that he didn't think he quite had down yet. People tended to read too far into every little thing he said. He had to be careful not to offend or mislead. It was much more complex than he had ever realized before. Everything was so complicated nowadays. He couldn't even have a simple conversation without monitoring his every word!

            Another reason he didn't bother with talk was because he actually didn't mind the silence. Growing up he'd never quite had many people to talk to. His social skills weren't the best, but he didn't worry about that. Opting out on the casual conversation with his peers as a youth, he'd learned to skip the clutter of meaningless words and say only what was important. To this day he still despised pointless chat. He detested anything he considered to be counterproductive.

            And so, lo and behold, they walked in silence.

            Her pace was brisk, but his legs were longer. He paced himself so as not to get ahead of her. On they walked until they finally came to a stop at a door, not much unlike the others they had passed. He hoped he would soon be able to familiarize himself with Palace so he wouldn't get lost.

            She opened the door and he followed her inside. He could tell at once that this was her study. Everywhere he looked there were potted plants and papers. It wasn't messy, just a little....cluttered, so to speak. Nevertheless, the room seemed to speak her name, reflecting her personality. Across from him was a desk with a cushioned chair sitting behind it. Behind that was a window that overlooked the field. In front of the desk was another chair—likely for visitors like himself. She gestured for him to sit down in the guest seat as she made her way around the table to her chair. He did so obligingly, wondering what she could teach him in her study. Perhaps she had brought him here to reprimand him for disobeying.

            She folded her hands in front of her and studied him from across the desk. He studied her right back, refusing to feel uncomfortable under her gaze.

            After a seemingly long moment, she spoke. "I suppose I owe you an apology."

            "What?" he blurted without thinking. That was definitely not what he'd expected her to say.

            "I said I'm sorry. For not trusting you when you told me you were better. I guess I was a little....worried that you'd overdo yourself. Chelsea mentioned you tend to push yourself too hard. I didn't want to make you start before you were ready." He made a mental note to tell Chelsea not to worry about him, but at the moment he felt ashamed of himself. She shouldn't be apologizing! He was the one who had disobeyed her!

            "No, I'm sorry. I went against your orders. I should have waited for you to have Druik check me."

            "No matter. What's done is done. It's time we move onto more important matters." He nodded in agreement, eager to get on with it. "Leanne will be teaching you mainly defense, and Eban offense. I will be teaching you the rest. Mainly the less physical things and some other subjects such as arithmetic, history, and politics. We need you educated as well as trained. Do you follow?" He nodded. "Good. Now, I'm going to give you a piece of paper and you are going to draw whatever you want. Understood?" He nodded habitually, though he really had no idea why she wanted him to draw for his first lesson. What was to be gained from this? Nevertheless, he took the paper she gave him and started to draw.

            At first he started with simple things. He wasn't the best artist, but he'd had a little experience in doodling on his assignments as a child. He wasn't all that bad, either. He was feeling a little nervous under Mary's watchful gaze. She watched the lines he made on the paper with mild interest. He soon relaxed a little, though. He drew the Smallwoods from how he'd seen it as a child—gazing out over the treetops, high in the branches of a tree. He drew the mountains in the distance, the sun peeking out from their snowy peaks. The scene slowly grew in detail. Once he'd finished it, he inspected it for a moment before filling the white spaces around it with separate little doodles.  He drew Tempest, faces of people he used to know and people he'd met. He found himself smiling as he drew a few people from Tiltook. Animals crawled around the frame of the paper. His smile widened as he drew a squirrel, remembering the mud fight he and Chelsea had had back at the farm. So many good memories. In the end, his paper was filled with random doodles and pictures from his past. He was almost sad when he ran out of space.

            He reluctantly turned his artwork in to Mary. She inspected it, taking in all the clutter of pictures. She smiled ever so slightly before putting it down.

            "Might I ask what the point of that was?" he inquired. She seemed to be pleased with the result.

            "I do this to all my new students. It's amazing what you can learn from the doodles of a student. What goes on in their head is reflected on paper. It's something like a test of heart, you might say." She smiled at the curiosity in his eyes. "You passed, in case you were wondering." He tried to imagine what she had gathered from his drawings, but was void of any good ideas. He was just going to have to trust her judgment.



Mary inspected the boy before her. He sat stiffly in his chair, like all new students did on their first day. Soon he would ease up. The drawing had helped some, but he still had yet to be totally comfortable with her. She glanced down at the paper he had given her, pondering the hidden meanings in it. Eban's paper so many years back, she remembered, had been interesting, though easy enough to decipher. All the explosions he'd illustrated spoke of a rebellious spirit, the animation a sign of good humor, and the pictures of his family suggested—somewhere underneath all that ego—a good heart. She felt sorry for him. He'd gone back for his wife and son, but they had been nowhere to be found. He had scoured Aroth until he was sure there was nothing left to find. The day he returned to the Palace empty handed had been one of the saddest days of their lives.

            Leanne's paper had had no doodles on it. Just a single note that read: What is the point of this? Leanne never had room for dillydally.

            Landon's was simple, but somehow difficult. The things he drew could have meant anything. She decided to pick out the obvious and study it later. He had home on his mind, that was for sure. She decided some of the faces she didn't recognize must have been old friends. Chelsea was on there, too. That was no surprise. The largest picture, the illustration of the forest, told her that he appreciated the beauty in little things. His sword was a reminder, a representative of who he was and why he was here. Interesting.

            "Let me get this straight," she mused. "Blaze found out that you existed, he sent out the Blackmasks to kill you, and you decided to come here for safety and training?"

            "Pretty much," he said.

            "It is also my understanding that King Carlon murdered your parents when you were young and you acted instinctively, resulting in his death?" She watched for any reaction to this. He nodded placidly.

            "I also gather that Carlon's former trustee in the Blackmasks, William Bernard, is leading the party to find you?" His reaction to this particular name was very interesting indeed. His jaw immediately clenched, his hands balled into fists. He nodded hesitantly.

            She raised an eyebrow at him. "You are familiar with him?"

            Landon seemed to realize that she'd noticed his tension and he visibly tried to relax. His hands unclenched and he began absently feeling at his hands, fidgeting with his fingers. This aroused her interest even further. He had not reacted in the slightest when Carlon's name was mentioned, but when she brought up Bernard he became nervous and fidgety. He obviously knew this man on a more personal level.

            "I am familiar with him," he replied hesitantly. He didn't elaborate, and she didn't push him. She would find out some other way later.

            Deciding to let the matter lie for now, she switched the subject. He seemed faintly relieved that she had. What was he hiding? She questioned him for more details, and he answered willingly. There was much to be learned from him.


The dining hall was beginning to empty when Mary had dismissed Landon. She waited patiently, not wanting to be obtrusive. Finally, the person she was waiting for walked out the door. Chelsea was an admirable princess and a lovely girl. She wasn't too snotty or arrogant, nor was she dimwitted in the least. She was a valuable ally.

            Mary glided to her side, not wanting to let the chance pass up. The girl looked to her in surprise, but quickly turned it into a smile. "Mary! How are you today?"

            "Fine, thank you," she responded briskly. "I was just wondering if I could ask you a question? About Landon?" The girl hesitated for the briefest moment, evaluating her request.

            "Sure," she said politely. There was a spark of curiosity in her eyes as she waited for the question to come.

            "What is Landon's connection to Bernard? I couldn't help but notice he doesn't like that individual in particular. I just wondered why." Chelsea frowned, her brow furrowing.

            "I'm not sure it would be wise to ask him about it quite yet. It was good you consulted me first. You see, when we were captured near the Lenise River, they took a particular dislike to him, for obvious reasons. He was too tired to resist and the events from earlier that day had drained him severely. They made us watch as they beat him near to death on Bernard's orders. Then they tortured him until he was barely conscious. He still has nightmares about it. I don't think he's ready to talk about it just yet; it isn't something one would like to remember." Mary looked at her, shocked at the story, and saw that Chelsea's eyes were wet. He's not the only one who would like to forget, she thought sympathetically. The Blackmask's treatment of him was unheard of. No wonder Landon had reacted as he had. She'd brought back some painful memories. She recalled all the times Landon had had nightmares while she'd watched over him. Almost every night he would sit straight up in the middle of the night, panting and shaking. He would then sit there for a few minutes, his elbows propped up on his knees and his hands entangled in his hair. She'd always wondered what he could have possibly been dreaming about, but had refrained from asking for his sake. If he wasn't going to tell her, she wasn't going to ask. There were always other ways to root out information.

            The horrors these kids had seen were unfair. She could tell just by looking into Landon's dark eyes. He'd seen and experienced far too much for the bliss of ignorance to be an option.

            Turning her eyes to the heavens, she said a silent prayer for the times to come.



Landon stood, panting, as he tried to gain as much breath as he could before Eban recovered from his strike. The Thundersinger had chosen to test his skills before they got into any intense training. He wanted to know where he stood on the skill level. So far he was doing well.

            Eban recovered faster than he'd expected and made a cut for his side. Landon deflected it in a flash of light and a clash of metal. Stormpoint—Eban's sword—was longer even than his, and Landon was still getting use to it. Eban was an extraordinary swordsman, but Landon was able to counter him effectively. He was mostly on defense, though, taking no unnecessary risks. He could see that Eban was sweating also, so he knew they were about on the same level of skill.

            "You're sword fighting is....different," Eban said as he parried.

            "How so?" Landon replied, slicing at his left shoulder and leaving a gash. The Healers would take care of that. The rules were few and unsteady. They had suggested that he try not to decapitate or seriously injure the opponent if it could be avoided. The rest they could Heal. In result, the fight was merciless.

            "For one, you've been self-taught through experience instead of given lessons."

            "What does that mean?" He blocked another strike and clipped him on the thigh, not bad enough to do damage, though. If he really had been fighting for his life, he would have swung much harder. He tried for another offensive move but was deflected. Soldiers that had gathered whistled and cheered them on.

            "It means that your fighting style is something I'm not used to. When you learn the sword, you learn combinations of moves and flourishes that are often grouped to make a routine. You've learned to defend first and strike only when it counts, where it counts. Your tactics are more survival than fancy flourishes. In result, it makes you more unpredictable, therefore more dangerous." He feinted and suddenly switched his stroke, clipping Landon on the shoulder. A smile broke through his concentration. "But I can take you."

            They fought for another few minutes before Landon finally surrendered, recognizing that Eban would never call quits for pride's sake. His mentor gloated his victory as if he'd beaten a master swordsman. Landon just smiled and let him bask in his glory.

            Eban tested him on some other skills a bit more briefly. Landon excelled at archery, horseback riding, and sword fighting. He had never worked with knife throwing before and still had a lot to learn. 

            He attended his first meal with the rest of the Palace's occupants for the first time after washing up. Eban's testing had left him exhausted and sweaty, but he was ready for more. There were many people he didn't know; specifically most of the Healers, but that wasn't a problem. He sat next to Chelsea and his friends, attracting several stares. He even caught a few people leaning under the table when they thought no one was looking to see for themselves that he was indeed holding hands with the Princess. The attention didn't bother him as much as it once had. He had long since learned to be polite and ignore the stares. He pretended he didn't notice and acted completely normal. He told Chelsea about training so far and laughed at Mark's jokes. He knew that people all the way down the table were listening also when he saw them try to suppress a chuckle. He couldn't fathom why they would be so interested in his presence. Then again, a few months ago he probably would have been just as excited. He'd seen too much now to care about anything other than his friends and survival. That's what it really came down to. He didn't have anything else to lose.


He followed Leanne nervously down the field to the lake. He had no idea what was in store for him. He was the most nervous of all for this lesson in particular. He tried not to show how uneasy he was.

            They reached the shore of the lake and stopped. The lake was much larger than he'd thought it would be, the opposite shore seeming to stretch away from him. The butterflies in his stomach seemed to flutter even faster as he stared across the rippling expanse of water. He'd never been fond of water very much, especially of late. He'd had one too many near death experiences in its depths.

            Leanne seemed to notice his hesitation and frowned. "Do you not like water?"

            He shifted uncomfortably before answering. He didn't want to offend her. "Water is amazing, don't get me wrong. I just....would rather observe it from a distance. I've had a few bad experiences with large bodies of water before."

            Her frown deepened. "We will have to change that. Can you swim?" He nodded reluctantly. He didn't like where this was headed. "Good. Now, I want you to go out there and get me some of the seaweed that grows at the bottom. Don't come back until you have it, and don't kill yourself, mind you. If there is a problem or you tire yourself too much, call for me and I will help you. But only for emergencies, understand?" He nodded again nervously. "Oh, and you may want to keep your shirt on, it gets cold down there. Now go."

            Landon looked out over the glittering surface one last time, kicked off his boots and removed his sword, took a deep breath, and waded out into the water. It was icy enough to send a shiver down his spine, but bearable. Taking one last huge gulp of air, he dove into the water.

            The feeling was worse than being at the alley in Aroth. There was no air at all. None. The sense of empty defenselessness hit him so hard the moment he submerged that he immediately had to resurface. He could feel himself shaking, and not from the cold. His power had grown so much he'd become unconsciously reliant on it. He hadn't realized that just being underwater would have this much effect on him.

            For a moment he floundered helplessly, but quickly regained control of himself and calmed down. This time he was ready. He dunked under again and forced himself to stay. All his instincts were screaming to get out of the water, but he remained firmly where he was. He had to calm himself once again before he started to swim farther out. The seaweed grew further inward. He had the feeling the very middle would be too deep to reach the bottom. Luckily, he caught a glimpse of some dark waters ahead and he felt a wave of relief wash over him. He was almost there.

            He had to resurface twice more before he reached his destination, more to calm his nerves than to get more air. He approached the seaweed slower than he would have liked and grabbed a handful of slippery green plant. Right then, a school of fish decided to swim at him head on. They appeared so suddenly that Landon nearly had a heart attack, letting go of the seaweed and gulping in a ton of water. Quickly swimming to the top, he considered calling to Leanne to get him the heck out of there, but decided he had gotten this far, he couldn't turn back now. It had just been in his hands, so close. He barely managed to keep his head above water as he coughed up the water he had inhaled. He gritted his teeth and forced himself back under. This time, he yanked the plant out with all the might of his anger and determination and immediately swam to the top. It was even harder to swim with the seaweed in his hands, but he deliberately didn't go back under. As soon as he could touch the ground again, he stumbled back to shore, savoring the freezing air, too shaken to turn it warmer.

            Leanne was watching him with mild curiosity. He threw the limp plant at her feet with a little more force than necessary and sat down on the shore, as far away as he could manage from the lapping water. He was shaking so hard that he could hear his teeth chattering louder than anything else. His ears hurt from the pressure and his eyes burned. Leanne hadn't moved to pick up the goods. She just watched him.

            Staring at the ground, he said softly, "Did you know?" He could sense her confusion. He spoke a little stronger this time. "Did you know that it would be like that for me? Did you know what it would feel like? I didn't."

            Her tone was soft, almost apologetic. "I'm sorry, Landon. I didn't know that it would have this bad of an effect on you. I did know that Windsingers generally weren't fond of water. Leo absolutely refused to go swimming in his later years. But I didn't know it would be this bad."

            He looked at her then, and she looked back at him with compassion. But he knew that she wouldn't go easy on him. "Then why? Why did you have me go out there? For the sake of some useless seaweed?"

            Her gaze hardened the tiniest bit. "Because you must overcome your fears. If you are going to train with me, you must be prepared. I won't send you on any more pointless missions if I can avoid it, but you're going to have to be near water all the time if you want to train with me. Now we both know the effects. We will continue on." He couldn't help but see the logic in her words. That didn't mean he had to be happy about it, though. He sighed in defeat and nodded. He was still trembling, but the shock was beginning to wear off. For a moment she let him regain himself. "Would you mind if I asked why water would do this to you?"

            He hesitated for a brief moment. Should he tell her? Was it his secret to tell? He realized how illogical it was not to tell her. She already knew that it was a weakness. Why not tell her why? Besides, she was his friend.  He had no right not to tell her.

            "Not at all," he responded. He was beginning to feel better now. "It's just that...." He struggled for words to describe it. "I'm guessing you dislike deserts, with the lack of water and all?" She nodded. "Well, it's kind of like that. I suppose Leo didn't like big cities either, did he?" She seemed thought now as she nodded, gesturing for him to continue. "That's because all those walls block out flowing wind. I felt....trapped when I was in Aroth. Water is like that times a thousand. Down there, there is no air at all. Nothing to go off of. It feels like something has been ripped out of you. Let me tell you, it does not feel good at all."

            She was nodding as she took this in. Then, seeing he had recovered, said, "Do you want to continue the lesson or call it a night? I promise I won't make you go back in there again today, though you will get wet." Landon stood up, still feeling a little uncertain. He wanted to go to bed more than anything, but he didn't want her to think he was weak.

            "Let's keep going," he said finally. She nodded with approval.

            "Good. I am to teach you about defense. I must warn you, I'm not going to start out easy. This is going to be hard. I just want to see what you know." He nodded his understanding. "I am going to send a wave of water at you. Your job is to not let it hit you. The objective is to not get wet. Well, any more wet than you already are."

            He wasn't sure how he was going to deflect a wave, but he motioned for her to start. A wave rose up from the water in the lake and cast a shadow over him, coming at him fast. When it came close to him, he blasted it with wind. But water isn't a solid object that can simply be blown away. It landed on him in a heavy spray, completely soaking him. Leanne nodded as if she had expected this. Without saying a word, they tried again. He got soaked once again. He kept at it, trying different ways to stop it. He was soaked time and time again. He began to wonder if it was even possible, but when he voiced his speculation, she simply told him there was a way and that he would figure it out eventually. He tried and tried, but only resulted in failure. Finally, after hours of this, she ended the lesson.

            His mood by then had dropped even further. He nearly caused a servant to drop the platter she had been carrying when he yanked open the front door, completely drenched. He ignored her and the fact that he was dripping water all over the floor. He made straight for his room without supper.



Chelsea chased her peas around her plate, too anxious to eat. Where was Landon? Leanne had just come in for dinner, but he was nowhere to be seen. She waited a few more minutes, then gave the rest of food to Mark—he never seemed to run out of room in his stomach, that glutton—and left the dining hall to search for him. She thought it would be smartest to check his rooms first. They had given him a new room so he didn't have to stay in that tiny infirmary room. His new room had several attached rooms and was very large to his standards. She knew that it would take a while for him to get used to living in rooms larger than the house he had grown up in.

            She knocked on his door. No answer. She pushed it open and almost laughed at the sight. She found him lying on his stomach, still fully dressed and soaking wet on top of his covers, fast asleep. All around him the covers were wet, too. It seemed as though he had come in, flopped down on the bed, and fallen asleep. It must have been a busy day for him.

            Sitting down on the bed where it wasn't wet, she brushed his wet hair out of his face. The gesture reminding her of old times. She smiled at the memory and leaned down to kiss his cheek. Life was good. Hard and complicated and frustrating, but good.  


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