After the events in Zangaria, Emily returns to Whitehall School for her second year of magical education. But with new teachers, new classes, a murderer running loose and a spy in the school, her second year will be far more adventurous than her first.
And Emily may be the only person who can save Whitehall from a deadly threat... Book 3 in the Schooled in Magic series.
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Study in Slaughter
The flash of light was, for a long moment, overpoweringly bright, a surge of magic as well as light. It faded quickly, revealing a tall woman with a harsh, angular face and a long braid of blonde hair that hung down to her waist. The Grandmaster bowed in welcome as she approached, his shorter form contrasting oddly with the newcomer’s. They made a study in contrasts.
He spoke. "Welcome back to Whitehall, Lady Barb."
"Thank you, Grandmaster," Lady Barb said. She bowed formally to him. "It’s good to be back."
He didn't say another word until they were in his office, surrounded by the most complex and powerful wards in the Allied Lands, and they both had a glass of wine in their hands.
"I understand that you had a chance to observe our Child of Destiny in Zangaria," he said, bluntly. "What do you make of her?"
"A bundle of contradictions," Lady Barb admitted, after a long moment. "She’s smart, but she seems to lack practical knowledge and awareness. She’s powerful, but she seems almost reluctant to use that power. She’s loyal to her friends, to the point where it gets her into very real trouble. Where does she come from?"
The Grandmaster leaned forwards, interested. "What makes you think she comes from anywhere special?"
"Her ... attitudes, for want of a better word," Lady Barb said. "I was given to understand that she was brought up in a sorcerer’s tower. She simply doesn’t act like any of the other children I’ve known who had sorcerers for fathers. At times, she can be more caring and sympathetic than anyone else, but at other times she simply doesn't realize that there is a problem. She acts more like a foreigner than someone who belongs in Zangaria."
"Where she was ennobled, after saving the lives of the Royal Family," the Grandmaster said, dryly. "But you’re right. She doesn't come from here at all."
"Lady Emily was kidnapped out of her world by Shadye," he admitted. "She’s from another universe."
Lady Barb listened, feeling a growing sense of unreality, as the Grandmaster explained.
"Impossible," Lady Barb said, when he had finished. "There are no such things as alternate universes."
"It isn't a very well studied branch of magic," the Grandmaster said, shaking his head. "But yes, alternate worlds do exist—and Lady Emily was taken from one."
"And saved by Void," Lady Barb said, unable to hide the bitterness in her voice. "Do you trust him with a girl of unknown potential?"
"No," the Grandmaster said. He looked down at his desk. "Why do you think I was so quick to agree to allow her to come to Whitehall?"
Lady Barb studied his face for a long moment. "Do you trust her?"
"I think that she is a decent human being," the Grandmaster said. "On the other hand, some of her virtues are also weaknesses. Do you realize that her loyalty to her friends has often overridden her common sense?"
"You mean she might be loyal to Void," Lady Barb said, after a long moment. "Do you trust him ... with anything?"
"With great power comes great instability," the Grandmaster said. "And a certain lack of concern for everyone else."
"That isn't an answer," Lady Barb said.
"We know very little about Emily’s life before she was kidnapped," the Grandmaster said, ignoring her. "I believe that it wasn't a very happy one, as she has shown no particular interest in returning home. On the other hand, her life here hasn't been very happy either."
"She’s wealthy and famous," Lady Barb pointed out.
"She was targeted by a necromancer for death—and then enslavement," the Grandmaster countered. "One of her father figures is a rogue half-mad sorcerer. Another—Sergeant Harkin—died at her hands. She had no choice, but she still took it badly."
"I’d only heard rumors," Lady Barb said. "Is that true?"
"In a manner of speaking," the Grandmaster said. "She really had no choice."
He explained, briefly.
Lady Barb listened in disbelief. "She knows how to perform a necromantic rite?"
"It isn’t difficult to master the theory," the Grandmaster reminded her. "Do you like Lady Emily, personally?"
"I could," Lady Barb admitted. "She’s a decent person—and I honestly don’t think that she intended to cause problems for the Allied Lands. But on the other hand ... there’s a sense that she thinks she knows what is right, always. She has a touch of Void’s arrogance without the willingness to believe that the ends justify the means."
She shrugged. "And when the time came, she slipped into the castle to save Princess Alassa—her friend—and the rest of the Royal Family," she added. "Someone like that shouldn’t be dismissed easily."
"True," the Grandmaster agreed. "Will you watch her?"
"I only agreed to stay at Whitehall for a year," Lady Barb said, in some irritation. "You know how I feel about Healing. But yes, I will watch her."
"Good," the Grandmaster said. "Because, just like her Guardian, she’s a rogue element. And rogue elements cause trouble."
The castle was hers.
Emily stood in the chamber underneath Cockatrice Castle and closed her eyes. She’d never had a real home before, not one where she’d felt safe and welcome. Even Whitehall wasn’t hers, not in the sense that she could stay there permanently. Here, however, there was a home. It might be a cold castle, incredibly hard to heat save through magic, but it was hers.
The hearthstone lay in front of her, glowing faintly as energy hummed through the wards protecting the castle from magical attack. Emily could sense, without even touching it, the power that was securely anchored in the stone—and the override King Randor had used to secure Cockatrice Castle. It no longer belonged to the treacherous baron who had plotted against the King—a man whose very name had been stricken from the books—but to Emily, who had saved the King and his family from assassination. And it would belong to her heirs in perpetuity.
She felt a curious mix of emotions as she stepped forward and held her hand over the stone. Part of her wondered what her mother the drunkard would have said, if she’d known what her daughter had become; part of her wondered if there were unexpected surprises waiting for the Baroness Cockatrice in the future. The castle wasn't free; being a baroness, one of the highest-ranking nobles in the Kingdom of Zangaria, brought obligations of its own. King Randor had set out to reward her, but he had also had an agenda of his own. Emily had no doubt of it. The man who had set out to ride the whirlwind of political and social change Emily had started needed to think at least two steps ahead.
No time to worry about that now, she thought, as she reached into her belt and produced the silver knife. Holding her hand over the stone, she cut her palm, allowing blood to drip down and merge with the wards. The pain vanished almost as soon as it appeared—the knife was charmed to heal its wounds—allowing her to focus on the wards. Magic billowed forward, waiting for her. Closing her eyes, Emily stretched out and put her hand on top of the hearthstone.
Her mind reached out, accessing the wards. It was a very different experience to touching the wards protecting Whitehall; here, the wards were crude, anchored within the hearthstone and in need of constant renewal. There was no sense that they were alive or adapting to new situations—or watching for young magicians pushing their luck too far. There was a long moment when she felt that the wards were about to reject her, before they recognized their new mistress and opened up for her. If she wanted, she could make them do anything. She was, to all intents and purposes, the administrator of the castle’s security network.
Someone did a very crude job, she thought, as her mind flashed through the network. But that shouldn't have been a surprise. Deprived of the raw power that allowed Whitehall’s wards to exist, the original creators had needed to limit the reach and power of their creations. There wasn’t even a ward intended to track magic used within the castle! Making a mental note to change that as quickly as possible, Emily found the administrative center and issued a handful of instructions, then pulled her mind out of the wards. There was, as always, a brief feeling of disorientation as her mind returned to her body. She didn't want to think about what would happen if her body suffered an accident while her mind was drifting around in the wards.
She stepped back from the hearthstone, which was glowing with heavy satisfaction, and walked over to the door. Outside, Bryon, Son of Cheam was waiting for her, as per her instructions. The young man didn't look that impressive—he was thin, with short brown hair and soft brown eyes—but he came highly recommended by Imaiqah, one of Emily’s best friends. Reading between the lines, Emily suspected that her friend was sweet on Bryon, even though romance would be difficult now that Imaiqah’s father had been raised to the peerage. Her friend’s marriage would be a political tool, rather than a romantic affair.
"My Lady," Bryon said.
"Come in," Emily said, impatiently. There were times when the formalities annoyed her, even though she understood that they were part and parcel of Zangaria’s society, the lubricant that kept it running smoothly. "The wards are waiting for you."
There was no way that Emily could remain in Zangaria, even though she knew King Randor would be delighted if she did. She had to go back to Whitehall for her second year of study, leaving Cockatrice Castle and the surrounding lands under the control of a steward. Bryon was young and inexperienced, but he did understand what Emily wanted him to do, as much as anyone born in Zangaria could understand. She’d made a start by reforming the laws the previous baron had propagated—the man was a scumbag, even if he hadn't tried to overthrow his King—but there was much else to do. Bryon would just have to make a start on her work.
"Hold your hand over the stone," Emily directed, as she cleaned the knife. The charms placed on the blade should have removed all traces of her blood, but she knew better than to take it for granted. Besides, taking care of one’s tools and weapons had been hammered into her head at Whitehall. "I’m giving you complete authority over the castle, so be careful. If I have to come home to sort out a mess, I will not be pleased."
Bryon winced—and Emily cursed herself, inwardly. As baroness, she held the power of Middle and Low justice in Cockatrice—and High too, if King Randor didn't wish to deal with it personally. She was effectively judge, jury and executioner ... if she’d wanted to lop off Bryon’s head, it was unlikely that anyone would care enough to stop her. Save perhaps Imaiqah, of course, and that wasn't something most of the locals would take into account, not when their friendships were often nothing more than political expediency.
She took his hand in hers and cut his palm, just enough to allow the blood to drip onto the stone. The wards hummed loudly enough to be heard for a long moment, before falling back into the background magic pervading the castle. Bryon would have near-complete authority over them, save for a handful of areas that Emily had reserved for herself. For one, he wouldn't be able to use spell-controlled slaves in the castle itself. The practice might be very secure, although Emily knew how easy it was for the spells to be rewritten by a competent sorcerer, but it still disgusted her. There was no way that she was going to allow anyone under her command to use them.
"I can feel them," Bryon said, in shock. "I ... I don’t think they like me."
Emily smiled. Bryon came from a merchant family, one step above peasants grubbing in the soil, at least according to the previous baron. The wards had probably picked up a great deal of their owner’s personality, even though he hadn't been the one who had built the castle or forged the wards. They respected Emily because she was now their lord, but it would take them time to grow used to Bryon.
"They’ll come around," she said, dryly. "Until then, do you think you can control them?"
Now that Bryon’s blood had been linked to the wards, he should be able to control them mentally, no matter where he was in the castle itself. It had taken Emily nearly a week to master it, although she’d had a considerable disadvantage. The time she’d touched the living wards protecting Whitehall had spoiled her, giving her preconceptions that the wards of Cockatrice Castle hadn't been able to meet. Bryon should find it easier to control the wards, even though he wasn't a very powerful magician. He had less to unlearn.
Besides, Emily thought, the last baron wasn't a magician either.
She led the way up to the baron’s chambers, shaking her head at how the previous baron had decorated his castle. He had been a great hunting enthusiast; there was scarcely a room that didn't have a handful of mounted animal heads placed on the walls, all carefully displayed so they looked as savage as possible. There were hundreds of paintings too, each one showing the baron and his family in heroic poses—and a single painting of the Royal Family, which hung in the baron’s Reception Room. In hindsight, anyone who looked at the man’s castle would have known that he had dreams of kingship. Nothing else made sense.
He’d also had a staff largely composed of young and pretty girls. Emily had told them that they were free to go, if they wished, but most of them had refused to leave, even though it was clear that the previous baron had abused them. The pay was better ... and besides, young women were less useful on farms than their brothers, particularly if they were no longer virgins. Emily found that sickening and hoped she would always find it sickening. The day she didn’t, she'd told herself, was the day she’d been in Zangaria long enough to go native.
Emily’s own quarters would be off-limits to everyone while she was away, naturally; the castle’s wards wouldn't permit entry. She’d put Bryon in the next set of chambers, which had belonged to the previous baron’s Castellan. The man had vanished after his master had been killed. No one quite knew what had happened to him, but Emily had taken the precaution of erasing all of his access permissions from the wards, just in case. Inside, the room was hot and stuffy; the maids had lit a fire in the grate to warm it.
"Thank you, Milady," Bryon said, once the door was closed. "I won’t let you down."
"Good," Emily said. "I look forward to reading your regular reports."
She had to smile at Bryon’s expression. Unlike most locals, he had actually been able to read and write before Emily had arrived and taught everyone Arabic numerals and Latin letters, but writing out regular reports would still have been difficult. The Scribes Guild had made itself fantastically wealthy by providing a reading and writing service before Emily had inadvertently destroyed them. Now, over half the Kingdom could read and write using the system she had imported from Earth ... but there was still room for scribes. Besides, Imaiqah had assured Emily that Bryon wasn't as bad as some of the others.
"I’ll send them weekly," he assured her.
Emily thanked him, then walked back to her own quarters and stepped inside. The rooms still struck her as insanely big—the bed alone was big enough for five people to share—but they gave her privacy, as well as plenty of space to work. She picked up a set of opened letters, dropped them into her borrowed trunk—her previous trunk was on its way to Whitehall, containing a very angry Cockatrice—and then glanced around to be sure that she hadn't left anything behind. Unlike Alassa, the Crown Princess of Zangaria, Emily always travelled light. She’d never had the opportunity to develop bad habits.
She shook her head as she rang the bell for the maids. It bothered her that she hadn't heard anything from Jade; he hadn't written to her once since she’d been raised to the peerage. Had he decided that she was too good for him now, even though her reputation as the Necromancer’s Bane made her more dangerous and forbidding than the average Royal Princess? Or was he busy with his new master? His last message had spoken of new lessons, although he'd been very vague. Vows of secrecy were taken seriously by the magical community. Someone who broke a vow would almost certainly be killed or lose their magic permanently.
The maids appeared and curtseyed to her, something that still made Emily feel rather silly, even though she was their baroness. She directed them to take the luggage down to the coach, then followed at a rather more sedate pace. There had seemed little point in holding a grand farewell ceremony, not when she would be back in nine months to take a full accounting from Bryon of what had happened in her absence. Besides, she might have been rich, but she didn't feel rich. Her early life hadn’t prepared her for sudden wealth.
She checked the wards on the carriage before she climbed in, then issued orders to the driver. The carriage lurched into life a moment later, the horses pulling it out of the courtyard and onto the badly-maintained road outside the castle. If it hadn't been for the spells on the carriage, Emily knew that she would probably have felt motion sick within five minutes—and besides, she certainly wouldn't be able to get any reading done. Still, she pushed the book aside and stared out of the window. The land surrounding the castle were all hers too.
The previous baron had been a dominating guy, she’d come to realize; he’d rarely allowed his peasants a chance to buy their own land and start growing whatever they wanted to grow. Emily had changed that, to some extent, but making so many changes so quickly would have almost certainly unhinged the local economy. Luckily, the influx of people into the nearby city—taking advantage of Emily’s looser laws—had balanced the increase in food production quite nicely. She hadn't been so lucky with other matters ...
It still struck her as absurd that she was the mistress of all she surveyed. Back on Earth, she would have been trying to scrape up the marks to go to college on a scholarship, hoping that it would give her the background she needed to escape her mother and stepfather once and for all. Here, she was the baroness ... and a single word from her could change the lives of thousands of people. She’d learned that the hard way.
Settling back in her seat, she opened a book and started to read. The previous baron had been a collector of expensive books, although Emily had a private suspicion that it had been more for the pleasure of ownership than out of any intellectual habits. He’d probably felt that intellectual was a dirty word. Some of the books were on magic, including several that made Emily’s skin crawl whenever she touched them. She’d placed them all in her trunk for Lady Aylia to examine, once she reached Whitehall. The librarian might be able to tell her more about their history.
It was nearly two hours before they reached the outskirts of Alexis, the capital city of Zangaria. Unlike Emily, Alassa couldn't hope to leave without a major send-off, even though she was only riding to the portal outside the city, where she would step through and reach Whitehall. Emily waited until her coach had come to a stop, then jumped out and pointed the coachman towards the portal. After what had happened the last time she’d used one, she would have preferred to be with her friends when they went through the next portal. At least Alassa already knew how badly portals affected her.
"Lady Emily," someone shouted, as Emily walked towards the Royal Carriage. "Are you going back to Whitehall?"
Emily did her best to ignore them. The combination of the new printing presses and the relaxation of most censorship laws had created a flourishing newspaper industry. Most of the newspapers would be gone within six months, she suspected—the economy probably couldn’t support over six hundred new publications within Alexis alone—but that didn't stop them from being annoying. The society pages alone seemed to be ruder than anything she recalled from Earth.
She placed her hand against the wards surrounding the Royal Carriage, waited for them to recognize her and then climbed up, into the cool interior. Alassa, as perfectly poised as ever, gave her a smile; Imaiqah, who seemed a little overwhelmed by all the attention, looked relieved to see Emily. Given how badly the two girls had gotten on before Emily had arrived at Whitehall, she wasn't entirely surprised. Now, after Imaiqah had helped save Alassa’s life and kingdom, she was nobility too. It was depressing to realize that made the girls get on better.
"It's good to see you," Alassa said, once the door was closed. "I hope that everything is prepared in Cockatrice?"
"I hope so," Emily said, unsurprised by her discretion. This world offered all sorts of ways to spy on someone—and the new newspapers printed whatever their snoops found out. She had a private suspicion that King Randor already regretted giving the editors so much freedom. "And yourself?"
"They spend most of their time complaining that I didn't choose a husband," Alassa said, ruefully. "But after everything that happened ..."
Emily nodded in understanding. Alassa’s planned engagement had been pushed to one side by an attempted coup—and, after that, most of her suitors had been recalled home so their parents could consider the new situation in Zangaria. Alassa hadn't been too upset, although she’d made a show of moping whenever she'd known she was being watched. She hadn't really wanted to get married so quickly, even if she was the Crown Princess.
"Don’t worry about it," Emily advised. "You have plenty of time before you take the throne."
She shaped her defenses in her mind as the carriage lurched forward, approaching the portal. The nexus of magic seemed to reach out for them, pulling the vehicle onwards ... and then Emily gasped in pain as the magic threatened to overwhelm her. There was a long moment when she felt she was about to die, or have her soul sucked out of her body, and then the feeling was gone. Compared to the first time she had passed through a portal, it was nothing.
Thank you, Lady Barb, she thought.
"Welcome to Whitehall," Alassa said, quietly. "And it’s snowing."
Emily nodded, peering out of the window as the spires of Whitehall came into view.
Somehow, she couldn't escape the feeling that she was coming home.
The cold gripped them as soon as they climbed out of the carriage and started to walk towards the main entrance. Emily shivered and drew her cloak closer around herself, half-wishing that she was back in Zangaria. It had been warmer there. A handful of students were tossing snowballs around, despite warning glances from the staff and servants who were assisting the coachmen to unload the carriages. Emily shook her head, remembering just how much she’d hated school on Earth, even if it did get her away from her stepfather. The students at Whitehall seemed to love coming back to school.
Inside, it was mercifully warm. She allowed one of the servants to take her cloak, then walked towards the Main Hall, where the other students were gathering. Most of them looked familiar—they’d been told that the different years would return on different days—but a handful were strangers. Quite a few pupils had been withdrawn from the school after Shadye had attacked it, bringing Whitehall’s invulnerability into question. She was surprised to see that others had been transferred to Whitehall.
"Lady Emily," Mistress Irene said, as they stepped into the Main Hall. "Welcome back."
"Thank you," Emily said. She liked Mistress Irene, even though she was strict. "It’s good to be back."
"They all say that," Mistress Irene said, but she was smiling as she said it. "Take a seat, anywhere you like. There will be some speeches and then there will be food."
Emily nodded and found a seat next to Alassa, gritting her teeth when she saw other students throwing nervous glances at her. No one quite knew what to make of a girl who had bested a necromancer in single combat—and, because they didn't know precisely what she had done, they thought that she might be a necromancer herself. It was frustrating, sometimes, to look into a classmate’s eyes and see fear looking back at her. In some ways, she was almost as alone in Whitehall as she had been on Earth.
But I have some friends here, she reminded herself, firmly. I didn't really have friends on Earth.
Mistress Irene had been right, she realized; most of the students did seem delighted to be back at Whitehall. But perhaps that wasn't too surprising. Whitehall was staggeringly luxurious by the standards of most in this world, even if they weren't allowed any individual servants or fancy clothes. Hot and cold running water alone was a vast improvement over what they would find elsewhere, enough to weaken their ties outside Whitehall. By the time they graduated, they would be used to a life of luxury they might have considered unimaginable. It would keep them loyal to Whitehall even after they completed their sixth year.
She looked up towards the high table as a ripple of silence ran through the air, calling their attention to the Grandmaster. He stood just in front of his table, flanked by Mistress Irene and a dour-faced man Emily didn't recognize. She couldn't help thinking, as she took in his bald head and dignified features, that he looked a little like Captain Picard. The thought made her smile inwardly as silence settled over the vast room.
"Welcome back to Whitehall," the Grandmaster said. He was a short, wizened man, who wore a cloth wrapped around his eyes, but there was no mistaking the power in his voice. "Let us hope that we have a less exciting year this time."
Emily felt her cheeks burning as several pairs of eyes glanced in her direction.
"The Allied Lands have decided to station several additional regiments of troops in the nearby lands, even pushing forward into the territory formerly occupied by Shadye," the Grandmaster continued. "Most of the orcs and goblins have been rousted out of the mountains, but there remains a danger that they may attack unwary travellers—or students—as they grow desperate. If you go outside the wards, go in a group and make sure you inform the staff before you leave."
His sightless eyes swept the room. "You should all understand the realities of the threat we face. I urge you all to be very careful. There are forces out there that would love to reduce our graduating classes—and not all of them are as unsubtle as a necromancer.
"On a different note," he added, "I would like to welcome a handful of students who have transferred to Whitehall from Mountaintop Academy." He nodded towards a handful of strangers, sitting at the rear of the room. "I hope you will make them all very welcome."
There was a long pause, then he nodded towards the Captain Picard lookalike. "This is Master Tor, Master of Law and Head of Second Year," he said. "I will leave you now in his capable hands."
Master Tor stepped forward, his eyes moving from student to student. They seemed to linger on Emily longer than she would have expected, although perhaps it shouldn't have been a surprise. Master Tor had presumably heard all about her, even if he hadn’t seen her in class or in the library.
"Your first year at Whitehall was somewhat chaotic," Master Tor said, bluntly. "That is inevitable, simply because we need to start training newly-discovered magicians as soon as possible. Students come into schooling at all times and have to run through a series of classes to teach them basic skills. It is very disorderly.
"That is not true of second year," he added. "Your second year serves as the basis for your third and fourth years, where you will complete the first level of training and either go on to fifth and sixth year or leave to find employment outside the school. We attempt to keep second year as orderly as possible, while giving you a chance to experience as much as possible. You will need that experience in order to determine which subjects suit your particular talents."
Mistress Irene didn't look too pleased, Emily realized, as Master Tor paused long enough for them to take it all in. But he was right; her first year at Whitehall had been rather chaotic, even without Shadye’s attack. With new students arriving at unpredictable intervals, it would be impossible for the staff to follow a regular syllabus. Students had to gain the basic skills before they could advance into second year.
"During the next week, you will have the opportunity to attend a sample class from each of the elective subjects," Master Tor said, breaking into her thoughts. "Attendance in these classes, if you wish to take up the subject, is mandatory. The tutors will give you a brief introduction, demonstrate the value of the class and discuss what they hope to accomplish over the coming year. At the end of the week you will be able to decide what classes you wish to take over the year. I would advise you to consider what kind of career you intend to follow, once you leave Whitehall. Certain positions require high qualifications from Whitehall or another magical academy.
"Once term starts next week, you will have the opportunity to change classes for up to one month before becoming locked into them. If you realize that you have made a mistake after that, you may find yourself marked down or being forced to repeat the year. In any case, you will be listed as having failed the original class. I advise you all to be very careful in choosing your electives. A single bad choice can blight the rest of your term.
"In addition, you will be expected to choose an advisor," he continued. "You’ll find a complete outline of the role that advisor is expected to play in your welcoming packet, but in general the advisor is supposed to act as a mentor. Should you fail to choose one, you will either be assigned an advisor or allowed to operate without one. This would mean, among other problems, that you would have no one to assist you if you got into trouble."
He smiled, rather bleakly. "I strongly advise you to find one as soon as possible," he warned. "The good advisors are often overwhelmed by requests."
Pity I can't ask Void, Emily thought. But after what she’d discovered about Void from Lady Barb, she was no longer sure that she trusted him completely. She looked up at the other tutors, wondering which one of them she should ask. Professor Thande was fun, but also slightly insane; right now, he looked as if he had died and had then been dug up and put back to work. What had he been doing over the holidays?
"On a slightly different note," Master Tor informed them, "Ken tryouts will be held in the latter half of the week and next week, should there be enough interest. Team Captains will post the schedules in the common rooms; if you’re interested in trying out, you may attend their sessions and see if you manage to impress them. Alternatively, if you wish to form your own team, you may do so. A copy of the rules and regulations for new teams can be found in your common rooms."
There was a sudden surge of interest—mainly from the boys, Emily noted. Ken was a sport that seemed to combine football, basketball and dodge ball, not something her life had encouraged her to enjoy. Most of the students, however, loved it and attended every match religiously. Emily just found it tedious.
Alassa elbowed her. "We should found a team," she said, mischievously. "And then we could just sit around in the arena devising new ways to cheat."
"No, thank you," Emily said, quickly. Anyone could found a team, if they could find enough players. There had been nineteen different teams last year, most of them composed of players from second to sixth year. Every year, the teams would have to look for new blood or risk being disqualified. "I don’t have the time anyway."
"How true," Alassa agreed.
Emily wondered, absently, what King Randor would make of his daughter playing in the arena. Would he approve or would he fear that she was placing her life in danger? Ken could and did turn nasty, particularly when the referee was looking the other way. Magic offered thousands of ways to cheat and many of the players were inventive enough to think of new ones on the fly. But it might be good for Alassa to learn to take orders before she gave them.
"But I could found a team," Alassa added. "It wouldn't be that hard to round up a handful of other players."
"Oh," Emily said. Of course Alassa wouldn't want to enter a team at the bottom. And she might well be able to round up enough players to enter a new team. "Maybe you should start recruiting from first years."
Alassa gave her a questioning look. "But they wouldn't know what they were doing," she pointed out. "Students in later years would know more spells and ..."
"They can't form a team on their own," Emily pointed out. "If you were to invite them, however, they would be able to join—and then you would have a steady team for the next four years. Think of how many pupils leave each year."
She left Alassa to think about it as Master Tor started to speak again.
"There will be a visit to Dragon’s Den this coming weekend," he said. "If you are interested in traveling to the city, I suggest that you add your name to the lists in the common rooms. We may not be able to provide enough security to take everyone."
Emily nodded, making a mental note to add her name to the list. Her trunk had disgorged the Cockatrice she’d captured, but it was now effectively useless. She’d been lucky to be able to recover most of her property before trapping the beast for the second time. The trunk would have to be taken back to Dragon’s Den, where she’d bought it, in hopes that the enchanter who’d constructed it would be able to make repairs. If not, she would have to buy a second trunk.
"Finally, there has been a change in policy. As you are all second years, you may wear something apart from robes outside classes," Master Tor concluded. "Bear in mind, please, that the standard rules are still in existence. Those who break the rules will have the right to wear something apart from robes revoked."
"That’s good," Alassa muttered. "I can wear those dresses mother sent for me."
Emily was less sure that allowing students to wear their own clothes was a good idea. Everyone wearing the same robes ensured that the richer students couldn't purchase incredibly expensive outfits to show off their wealth. Back home, those who had been able to afford designer clothes had lorded it over those who couldn’t—like Emily. Now, she was wealthy by local standards, but she still didn't want to wear anything apart from robes. The dresses she’d worn in Zangaria had been uncomfortable, to say the least.
She caught sight of Melissa and her cronies chattering away about what they would buy in Dragon’s Den. The announcement hadn’t been made earlier, she realized, because it would force the students to buy new clothes at Dragon’s Den—at least until they arranged for some of their clothes to be sent from home. Maybe someone at Dragon’s Den had bribed the school to make the announcement just before the first weekend visit ... no, that didn't seem too likely. Whitehall was far richer than Dragon’s Den.
The Grandmaster stood up again. "Thank you, Master Tor," he said. No one, thankfully, seemed to be expecting applause. "There are a handful of minor matters that I need to cover and then we can eat."
He seemed rather amused at the relief that swept through the hall. "As you know," he continued, "we allow you students to practice certain kinds of spells on one another as pranks, believing that it encourages you to learn how to counter such spells without assistance from outside. Provided such behavior does not get out of hand—and provided that you have mastered the spells sufficiently—we do not intervene."
Emily winced, remembering just how close she had come to killing Alassa. The locals might regard certain spells as little more than practical jokes, causing embarrassment and humiliation at worst, but she could never see them as anything other than loaded weapons in the hands of children. But they did have a point. Nothing provided incentive to learn cancelling spells like being turned into a frog by another student. Melissa was alarmingly inventive with transformation spells.
"However, you are now second years, with a year of experience under your belts," the Grandmaster said. "You are absolutely forbidden to start any sort of prank duel with first years. They are unlikely to be able to counter your spells, or match you—and if they can, you should be ashamed of yourselves. If any of you start it, you will be severely punished; if they start it, we expect you to show restraint. Remember that you are older than the new students, remember that you should know much more magic and protections than they do—and if you can't remember that, remember what it feels like to face the Warden."
"Good piece of advice," Alassa muttered.
Emily nodded. She had cast spells on her seniors—in Martial Magic, where she’d been the youngest pupil in the class. But they’d been under the watchful eye of the sergeants, who would have hammered anyone who acted badly. Outside the classrooms, she could easily imagine older pupils trying to dominate the younger ones ... if they’d been allowed the chance. After what had happened to the three of them when they’d used magic on one of the servants, she had no doubt that the teachers kept a sharp eye on them through the building’s wards.
"There are also certain pranks which are on the banned list, at least in public," the Grandmaster continued. "You’ll find the current list pinned up in the common rooms; I suggest that you study it carefully and remember not to use them, at least unless your life is in grave danger. Those who do use them, on anyone, will regret it."
He smiled, pressing his hands together as if he were in prayer. "And with that completed," he concluded, "we can eat."
Emily smiled at the cheers that echoed through the room. A small army of servants emerged from the concealed doors, carrying giant platters of food. She felt her smile growing wider as one of the servants placed a large roast chicken at one end of the table and started carving it up into slices, which were then passed down the table to the students. Another started carving up roast beef, while a third cut up a faintly greasy meat she didn't recognize. Others passed out potatoes, vegetables and steaming jugs of gravy.
Once, she would have been lucky if she’d had enough to eat. Now, eating too much was a very real problem.
Alassa went on happily about Ken teams throughout the meal, while Emily listened as politely as she could. It was odd to see her chatting to Imaiqah about something that didn't involve Emily, but it boded well for their future. Besides, Imaiqah had been ennobled along with her father in the wake of the coup attempt in Zangaria. No one could claim that she wasn't an aristocrat now.
The servants finally removed the plates and replaced them with cakes, ice cream and a jelly-like substance Emily had tried once and resolved never to try again. Instead, she took a piece of chocolate cake and munched it thoughtfully, wondering why the cooks had never thought of baking a carrot cake. She’d always loved them on Earth ...
She looked up in surprise as a hand fell on her shoulder. Mistress Irene was standing right behind her.
"Stay behind," she ordered, as the Grandmaster started to dismiss the staff, signaling that the students could leave at any moment. "We need to talk to you."
It had been several months since Emily had last set foot in the Grandmaster’s office, but it didn't seem to have changed at all. The room was empty apart from a desk, a handful of chairs and a single crystal ball in one corner. High overhead, a glowing ball of light provided oddly-tinted illumination. The Grandmaster’s blindness, Emily realized as she sat down, made it harder for him to produce light globes. And he wouldn't need decorative elements either.
"Wait," Mistress Irene ordered, when Emily opened her mouth. "The others are on their way."
Emily felt herself squirming against the hard wooden chair. In her experience, unexpected summons to a teacher’s office meant trouble; the last time she had been summoned to a teacher’s office had been when she’d made a mistake while writing an essay for Advanced Charms. Professor Lombardi had pointed out, in great detail, that if she’d tried it in real life, the results would have been disastrous. He’d made her write her own critique and then rewrite the entire essay. But she hadn't even been at Whitehall for months.
The door opened, revealing the Grandmaster, Master Tor and Sergeant Miles, who shot Emily an encouraging smile. It was easy to forget that Miles was one of the most powerful magicians in Whitehall; he looked friendly, almost reassuring. But Emily had seen him casually working spells that were well beyond her.
"Thank you for coming," the Grandmaster said. He sat down behind his desk, motioning for the others to take seats of their own. "As you are no doubt aware, your status changed over the last few months."
Emily flushed. King Randor had sprung her ennoblement as a surprise, making it impossible for her to turn it down. Maybe she would have turned it down anyway, if it had just been him, but Alassa had been there too. The King, she suspected, had counted on that to ensure that Emily did what he wanted. And she had.
"This presents us with a unique set of problems," the Grandmaster continued. "Your guardian insisted that you receive full training as a sorceress of the Allied Lands, a person owing allegiance to the White Council and the Allied Lands as a whole. However, your ennoblement makes you a subordinate of King Randor of Zangaria—and you are assumed to be compromised, no longer able to judge fairly in disputes between the Allied Lands."
Emily opened her mouth to protest, but he held up a hand, silencing her.
"As such, we are caught between two different sets of demands," he added. "King Randor has made no demands, but his rivals may insist that you never be allowed to serve the White Council. If so, it would be difficult to deny the justice of their request. Your guardian, however, may take exception to that."
"And that might have been what King Randor had in mind," Master Tor said.
The Grandmaster shot him a sharp look, then continued.
"We will continue to train you, for now," he said. "However, you should be aware that you may not be permitted to take fifth and sixth year courses. The political situation may well have shaken itself down by that time."
Emily scowled, inwardly. There was no way to know what to say or do.
"There is a second problem," the Grandmaster added. "You have received almost no training in estate management, for the very simple reason that such courses are almost never offered at Whitehall or any other academy. Normally, estates are passed from parents to children; the parents generally ensure that their children know what they are doing before they pass on and leave the estates to their heirs. You, however, have inherited an estate with almost no background knowledge at all. King Randor may not have appreciated your ignorance when he gave you the estate."
"I had to learn quickly," Emily admitted.
"I would be surprised if you had done more than scratch the surface," the Grandmaster said. "It is also possible that King Randor intended to rely on your ignorance. As you should have learned by now, a Baron of Zangaria is capable of acting independently and eventually challenging his sworn overlord for power. An ignorant baron, one dependent on the King for advice, might suit him perfectly. You need to be aware of that possibility."
He pressed his fingertips together. "We will be arranging for someone to teach you the basics," he added. "However, this needs to remain a secret. Even if King Randor doesn't object, others will see it as threatening Whitehall’s neutrality. Once the classes are arranged, we will come up with a cover story—and I strongly suggest that you don’t even tell your best friends."
Emily nodded in bitter understanding. Alassa had to answer any question put to her by her father—and King Randor was Imaiqah’s monarch. Telling either of them would ensure that it would eventually get back to King Randor. She felt a pang of guilt at keeping something from her best friends—and another pang when she remembered that she hadn't told Imaiqah about her origins—and pushed it aside. The Grandmaster was right, but she didn't have to like it.
"Second, you passed your first year of Martial Magic with decent marks," the Grandmaster continued. "As you have more schooling to do, it was decided that you should move into the advanced class, rather than apprenticing yourself to a combat sorcerer or allowing your skills to atrophy over the next five years. However, this causes other problems."
He nodded to Sergeant Miles, who smiled at Emily. "Your origins make it difficult for us to track the process of your magical development with any actual reliability," he said. "You are also young, the youngest pupil to join the class since it was founded. There are spells covered during the advanced classes that you will probably be incapable of casting yet, no matter how practiced you are. Accordingly, you will receive special instruction from Lady Barb or myself. Furthermore, as there is no point in allowing you to attend Defensive Magic, you will spend that time practicing with us or older students. We will work out a timetable once we know your electives."
"Thank you," Emily said, softly.
"This will not be an easy year," Master Tor said. "Second Year is rarely easy, even for the best of us. Your life is absurdly complicated."
Emily glanced at him and saw ... something in his eyes. Dislike? Disappointment? It was impossible to be sure. But she’d never met him, although she dimly recalled seeing him once or twice last year. They’d never talked, not even to exchange greetings.
"But I have faith that you will learn to handle it," the Grandmaster said. "Thank you for your time, Lady Emily."
"Thank you," Emily said, standing up and bobbing him a curtsey.
Outside, she found herself in an unfamiliar corridor. The school must have been reconfiguring its interior again, she decided, just to ensure that they remembered how to cast the spell to find their way around. She’d had enough practice last year, once she’d mastered it, to allow her to cast it easily. A tiny ball of light materialized in front of her and started to drift off down the corridor. Emily followed it until it halted in front of a blank wall. Once she put her hand against it, the blank wall opened up, revealing a hidden passageway. Like the first year rooms, it was a long corridor, studded with doors leading into private rooms. Hurrying forward, Emily saw the light float to a halt in front of a single door and flicker out of existence. Shaking her head, she put her hand against the door and it opened.
She expected to see Alassa and Imaiqah. They’d certainly requested to share rooms. Instead, two strangers looked back at her.
"I think I’m in the wrong room," Emily stammered. The spells on the doors shouldn't allow any other student to enter without at least one of the roommates accompanying them. "I’m sorry ..."
She started to back out of the room, only to run into Madame Razz.
"I’m afraid not," Madame Razz informed her. "This is your room."
Emily stared at her. "Madame ... I requested to share with Alassa and Imaiqah," she said. "We all made the same request."
"And it was overruled by Master Tor," Madame Razz said, bluntly. "He insisted that you receive different roommates."
There had been a time when she would have accepted that meekly. No more.
"Why?" She demanded. "I ..."
"I would advise you not to speak to anyone in that tone of voice," Madame Razz said, coldly. "And I would suggest that you ask him yourself. You will be able to find him in his office tomorrow morning. Until then, sleep here and refrain from unpacking."
She caught Emily’s arm before she could step back. "And I would also suggest that you apologize to your new roommates," she added. "Feuds can get very nasty when they are between people sharing the same room."
Emily flushed as she turned and stepped back into the room. Her trunk—the spare she’d borrowed in Zangaria—had been neatly placed by her bed. Unusually, the bed sheets were already made up for her, although she suspected that she’d have to do it herself in future. A trio of desks had been placed against the far wall, one of them already covered in books and paper, rather than parchment. She couldn't help smiling at the evidence of her own work. Paper had been unknown in the Allied Lands until she had arrived. It was still hideously expensive, but that would change.
"I’m sorry," she said, addressing the room as a whole. "I didn’t expect to be here ..."
"Nor did I," the first roommate said. There was something oddly inhuman about her voice, something that made Emily’s hair prickle. "But I failed second year."
She turned, allowing Emily to see her clearly. Her body was human, although strongly muscled, but there was something serpentine about her face and her hair was a teeming mass of snakes. Emily almost stumbled backwards in shock at the overwhelming wrongness of it all, even though she’d seen weirder things. She’d heard of Gorgons, the intelligent cousins of medusas, but she’d never come face-to-face with one.
"Most people have that reaction," the Gorgon said, dryly. Up close, Emily could see hints of scales under her skin. "Gorgons that can perform magic are quite rare—apart from the standard magic the faerie built into us. I can turn you into stone two different ways."
Emily hesitated, then extended her hand. "Emily," she said, simply. "Pleased to meet you."
The Gorgon took her hand and shook it. There was something faintly dry about her skin, as if it were flaking off very slowly.
"My name is"—she made a hissing sound, with the help of her snakes, that Emily couldn't have hoped to repeat—"but humans can't actually pronounce it. You may as well just call me Gorgon ... and if you call me Snake Face I’ll turn you into stone."
"I’ll bear that in mind," Emily said, dryly. She’d met the real Snake Face; a medusa kept by the Sergeants as a particularly unpleasant surprise for the students. Medusas looked humanoid, but they weren't really intelligent. "Why did you have to repeat the year?"
The Gorgon shrugged. "I failed three of the final exams," she admitted. "There was no way I could proceed into the next year, so they ordered me to repeat the year."
"I’m sorry to hear that," Emily said, sincerely. She looked towards the other roommate, who was lying on her bed. "And you?"
The girl rolled over and looked up at Emily. She was short and slight, with brown skin, dark eyes and very black hair. "My name is Lin," she said, softly. Her voice was so quiet that Emily had to strain her ears to listen. "I came from Mountaintop."
Emily smiled at her. "A transfer student?"
"Happens from time to time," the Gorgon said. "It’s supposed to promote understanding between the different magical schools and institutes."
"Oh," Emily said. "What’s Mountaintop like?"
"I can't really say," Lin said, still very quietly. "We don’t talk about the school outside the wards."
"Bit more particular who it takes in," the Gorgon supplied. "There are no shortage of rumors about it too."
Lin didn't seem disposed to argue. She merely lay back on the bed and closed her eyes again.
"I’ve been hoping to speak with you," the Gorgon said, turning back to Emily. "Did you really beat a necromancer?"
"Yes, I did," Emily said, tiredly. It had been a very long day. "But I can't really talk about it."
"Of course not," the Gorgon agreed. She sounded rather rueful. "I would like to discuss it at some point, however. Necromancers are a persistent problem for my tribe."
Emily frowned. She’d studied orcs and goblins and a handful of other semi-human creatures, all seemingly created by the faerie for reasons beyond human comprehension, but she'd never actually considered Gorgons, beyond the basic fact that they existed. Most humans were scared of them, not without reason. Their unintelligent cousins could cause real trouble if they were allowed to run around without any supervision.
"I know almost nothing about your society," she admitted. "Why are necromancers a problem?"
The Gorgon smiled, rather inhumanly. Emily could have sworn that she saw sharp teeth in her mouth.
"My tribe lives on the outskirts of the Desert of Death," the Gorgon explained. "We don’t need as much water as you do, so we built our society there, well away from humans who might want to kill us. On the other side of the desert, the necromancers lurk. Every so often, they come to try to kidnap a few of our children. You don’t want to know why."
Emily could guess. The petrification spell the faerie had worked into their bodies would have altered their flesh radically, allowing them to serve as ingredients for potions and other alchemical products. She couldn't see the necromancers considering the moral shortcomings of harvesting intelligent creatures for their flesh and blood, not when they were already sacrificing vast numbers of humans to keep their magic under control. And children wouldn't really be able to fight back.
"If you could give us something we could use against them," the Gorgon added, "we would be very grateful."
"I wish I had something," Emily admitted. The trick she’d used on Shadye might not be workable, outside Whitehall. It had drawn on the vast power of the nexus point under the school, something that wasn't available elsewhere. But there were other tricks. "I’m working on it."
"Work harder," the Gorgon advised. "By the way, I think that’s your timetable on the bed."
Emily turned and saw a parchment envelope lying on the bedding. It was addressed to her, so she broke the seal and opened it up. Inside, there was a large sheet of parchment detailing the various taster classes—and a stern reminder that attendance at one of the taster classes was mandatory before deciding to attend the class for the rest of the year. Emily couldn't help smiling as she realized that Lady Barb’s class in Healing would probably be her first. She had little interest in Magical Artwork. It would be good to see Lady Barb again.
Perhaps she would be my advisor, she thought, as she skimmed the rest of the parchment. She had said that she was only going to be at Whitehall for a year, but perhaps she could offer advice from a distance. Or maybe she would consider staying if teaching worked out for her. Emily made a mental note to ask, then planned out her week. A handful of classes threatened to be as boring as Artwork, but most of them looked mildly interesting.
"Master Tor is incredibly boring when it comes to law," the Gorgon said when Emily asked, "but it is quite an important class. Sorcerers are not always bound by local law, but they are bound by the laws written and upheld by the White Council. You would probably need it in any case."
Emily scowled, remembering the laws that her baronetcy had built up over the years since Zangaria had been founded. Many of them were completely contradictory. Others were so poorly written she couldn't help wondering if the clerks had deliberately sought to sabotage their lord’s work.
"Probably," she said, sourly. She couldn't escape the sense that Master Tor simply didn't like her, which was worrying. What had she done to him? "I see I'm still stuck with Alchemy."
"It gets more interesting as you go on," the Gorgon assured her. "But if you slip behind, you find it very hard to catch up. Professor Thande does classes for students who are smart enough to admit that they need help, but you really need the knack for Alchemy to become an alchemist."
"And I don’t have it," Emily muttered. She tapped her trunk, checking that the protection spells remained intact, then started to undress. She’d sleep in her underwear for once, then move into the next room ... if Master Tor allowed her to move. "Hey—do you have to retake all of your classes?"
"Not really, but I have to work on the subjects I failed and retake the exams," the Gorgon explained. "And I may forget half of what I knew over the coming year."
Emily scowled. "You mean you have to retake all of the exams?"
"I’m afraid so," the Gorgon said. She rubbed her forehead, causing the snakes to hiss ominously. "It isn't going to be a fun year."
She glanced over at Lin. "I think she’s a little surprised to meet you," she added. "But she’ll get over it."
"I hope so," Emily muttered. She’d never really wanted to be famous. Now, an entire world knew her as the Necromancer’s Bane—and didn't really know her at all. "Goodnight."
She climbed into bed, then closed her eyes and cast a basic sleep charm. Moments later, she was asleep.
The rooms were supposed to be soundproofed, but Emily was awakened the following morning by the sound of Madame Razz giving a student a sharp lecture on bringing everything on the list of required items. Opening her eyes, Emily realized that the door was propped open and Lin, her new roommate, was the recipient of the lecture. Swinging her legs out over the side of the bed, Emily stood and staggered towards the shower. A hot wash would wake her up.
Madame Razz had thankfully finished lecturing Lin when Emily emerged. Madame Razz might have had a heart of gold—Emily still remembered her showing kindness to homesick girls, who might never have left their home villages before—but she was also intolerant of mistakes, foolishness and horseplay. Or, as Emily had good reason to remember, mistreating the servants. Still, Lin didn't look to have been in real trouble.
"I left a pair of robes behind," Lin admitted, tearfully. "Madame Razz was not pleased."
"I think they have supplies of everything," Emily reassured her, as she pulled her robe on and checked her appearance in the mirror. Everything looked fairly normal—or as normal as possible, in a place like Whitehall. "I had my robes issued when I arrived last year."
Lin nodded, then opened her trunk. "She said she would bring me something," she said, flatly. "She won’t report it to Master Tor, will she?"
"I don’t think so," Emily said. "But she will probably remind you about it, every so often. She won’t let you make the same mistake again."
She glanced at her watch, then walked out of the bedroom and down to the common room. Unsurprisingly, it was empty. Most of her fellow students, she suspected, would have stayed up half the night chatting away and would try to sleep in as much as possible. They were in for an unpleasant surprise if they kept trying to sleep in when term properly started, she knew; Lady Barb had told her that the beds automatically evicted anyone who was still asleep when the first bell rang for class.
One wall held a set of parchment sheets. The first told her that the Night Stompers, a Ken team with seventeen years of history, was holding tryouts later in the afternoon. All were welcome, apparently. Emily glanced over a handful of other parchments, which repeated the same message for different teams, until she found something different. The list of banned hexes and jinxes was surprisingly short, although there was a blanket prohibition on anything that was either lethal or would do serious injury.
She rolled her eyes as she took in the short list of banned spells. One of them caused a person’s clothes to fall off—she could just imagine the chaos that could cause in the dining hall—while another caused instant diarrhea. She hadn't wanted to know that was even possible. The others were just as bad; one, a small love charm, could be abused easily, if the caster was completely unscrupulous. At the bottom, there was a short note that if anyone attempted to use them, at least without the victim’s permission, they would be lucky if facing the Warden was all that happened.
Shaking her head, Emily walked through the common room, out of the living quarters and down the corridor towards where the Head of Year was commonly housed. If Master Tor was anything like Mistress Irene, he would have an office near the dining hall, where he could eat and work at the same time. She hesitated outside Mistress Irene’s office, then walked onwards until she saw Master Tor’s name on a door. It was glowing faintly, informing her that he was inside. There were dark rumors about what happened to anyone who tried to break into a tutor’s office while they were absent.
She tapped the door and waited. A moment later, it swung open, allowing her to enter the room.
Master Tor’s office was large, larger than the Grandmaster’s office. All four walls were covered with bookshelves, groaning under the weight of thousands of texts, each one large enough to be difficult for a single person to carry. Two desks were covered with pieces of parchment and paper, while a third was almost completely empty, apart from a tiny textbook and a mug of kava. Apart from the chair Master Tor was sitting in, behind the third desk, there was nowhere for anyone else to sit.
"Lady Emily," Master Tor said. The look of vague dislike on his face was still there. "What can I do for you?"
Emily bit down on her temper. Shouting at him wouldn't help.
"I applied to share a room with Alassa and Imaiqah," she said. It was fairly certain that he would know Alassa—and probably Imaiqah as well. "All three of us made the same request. I would like to know why we did not wind up sharing a room."
"Because I changed the room assignments," Master Tor said. There was something flat, utterly emotionless, in his tone. "As, I believe, Madame Razz was kind enough to explain to you last night."
Emily felt her temper flare, forcing her to focus her mind to damp it down. There was something about his attitude that made her want to lash out at him, even though she knew that it would be disastrous. Assaulting a teacher wouldn’t be taken lightly, even at Whitehall. And Master Tor was almost certainly far more powerful and capable than her ...
"I would like to know why you did it, then," Emily said, as carefully as she could. "We all made the request."
"Yes, you did," Master Tor agreed. "But I did change it ..."
Emily glared at him. She was not going to let him push her around, teacher or no. "I would be prepared to file an official complaint," she said, although she had no idea of the procedure for complaining about a teacher at Whitehall. Did she address the Grandmaster, the Board of Governors or the White Council itself? "I would appreciate a proper explanation for your decision."
For a long moment, he held her gaze, staring into her eyes as if he could peer into her very soul.
"You are a noblewoman of Zangaria," he said, finally. "Your two friends are also noblewomen of Zangaria. However much we may regret your ennoblement, we must recognize it as fact. And we must also recognize that Whitehall serves more roles than merely teaching immature little girls about magic."
Emily flushed at his scorn, but held her tongue.
"In particular, Whitehall serves as a place for you to make contacts and familiarize yourself with the people who will be high-ranking nobles and powerful sorcerers after they graduate," he continued. "You will have to work with these people, no matter where you end up; meeting them here, without the strict protocol of official functions, allows you to form personal bonds that will last your entire lifetime.
"Allowing you to remain with your friends will not encourage you to make other friends and contacts," he concluded. "Hence, all three of you have been assigned to different rooms—with different roommates. I trust that makes a certain kind of sense?"
"Put that way," Emily said, bitterly, "it sounds almost logical."
"I’m glad to hear it," Master Tor said, dryly. "And I suggest that you learn to moderate your tone before you speak to me again. I have no patience for spoilt brats."
He looked down at the small textbook on his desk. "I have a lesson plan to complete," he added. "The room assignments will stay as they are. I suggest that you learn to make friends with your new roommates, rather than staying with a small group. It is not good for your future development."
It was clearly a dismissal. Emily nodded her head to him, turned and walked towards the door, which opened as she approached. She felt his gaze boring into the back of her head until the door closed behind her. What he’d said was logical, she couldn't deny it, but she couldn't escape the sense that it hadn't been his only motive. He seemed to dislike her and she honestly had no idea why.
She stopped outside Mistress Irene's office and considered asking her, then shook her head, dismissing the thought. No doubt she would find out why Master Tor hated her soon enough; she would have to attend a lecture on law within the week, just so she could decide if she wanted to stick with the subject. She didn't want to, but she had to admit that it might be useful to know what the rules were, at least before she broke them. Heinlein’s advice still held true, even in a magical world.
The dining hall was almost deserted, not entirely to Emily’s surprise. A pair of students from Sixth Year—Emily recognized one of them from Martial Magic—were sitting in one corner, pushing pieces of paper around while making pointing and shoving gestures. Two more looked to be wrapped up in each other, while the person sitting next to them was studiously ignoring their antics. Emily snorted inwardly and walked over to the buffet table, finding a large caldron of porridge and a pile of fresh fruit. No doubt after the feast last night, the cooks had decided to go for the healthy option. Normally, they served bacon and eggs.
She was midway through her breakfast when Alassa walked in, wearing a long blue dress that set off her eyes nicely. Emily felt a flicker of envy—no matter what she wore, she would never be as stunning as Alassa—and then pushed it aside as her friend picked up a breakfast tray and sat down next to her.
"I got a pair of girls from the Western Isles," she said, by way of greeting. "How about you?"
"A Gorgon and a transfer student," Emily said, noticing a slip of paper in Alassa’s hand. "What’s that?"
"A list of players for Ken," Alassa said. "My roommates were interested, although I did have to explain that they couldn't fight while they were playing or we wouldn't stand a chance. I asked around the common room while everyone was reading the lists and rounded up nine more names."
Emily blinked in surprise. "Nine?"
"Everyone who joins an established team will start at the very bottom," Alassa explained, ruefully. "Someone like me will have to wait at least four years before getting a shot at being Captain, let alone a chance to build up a reputation. But if I establish the team myself, I can become Captain immediately."
"I see," Emily said. "What about equipment?"
"It’s all in the school’s stores," Alassa said. "Once we have a team set out, we can draw supplies from the stores to outfit the players. We’re not allowed to bring in equipment from outside the school, sadly. I could have purchased the very best of everything."
"Probably for the best," Emily observed. "People would wonder if your victories came from superior training or superior equipment."
"True, I suppose," Alassa agreed. She looked up at Emily, suddenly. "Do you want to join?"
"I’m lousy at games," Emily replied. "I used to be the last person picked ..."
But was that true any longer? Between the sergeants, who had never met an exercise routine they didn't like, and Lady Barb, she was fitter than she’d ever been in her life. And she’d learned how to run, climb and crawl through tight spaces, all in the interests of turning her—eventually - into a combat sorceress. Jade had been fond of running through the assault course with her ...
The thought gave her another pang. Where was he? Why wasn't he writing to her?
Maybe he found someone else, she thought. She couldn't really blame him. They’d never made a formal—or even an informal—agreement before she’d been ennobled.
"Come and try," Alassa urged. "At the very least, you can help us think of new ways to discomfort the opposition."
Emily must have looked puzzled, because Alassa launched into a long and complicated explanation. Most of the second year students, male and female, were fans of the game, but they were rarely allowed to try out for high positions in the older teams. Even if they got on the teams, they weren't invited to the planning sessions—and any good ideas they might have had were either stolen or ignored. Alassa, however, intended to allow all of her players to contribute suggestions. Between them, they might build up a truly formidable team. They wouldn't have the experience of the other teams, but they could build that up over the coming months.
Or they might end up embarrassing themselves.
Emily didn't want to play. She disliked team sports, even though she had taken part in team activities when she’d been in Martial Magic. But Alassa was keen on it and perhaps she should at least try ...
"I’ll do my best," she said, ruefully. "I spoke to Master Tor."
Alassa listened as she outlined what Master Tor had said, then nodded when Emily had finished.
"Father could have warned me," she said, crossly. "But Master Tor is probably right. Blast."
Emily scowled. Last year, Alassa had shared a room with two noblewomen from different kingdoms, while Emily had shared with Imaiqah and Aloha. But then, she had literally had no ties to anyone in Whitehall or the rest of the world. Now ... now she was a baroness and had thousands of people underneath her ... and the Grandmaster had been right. She really wasn't prepared for such responsibility.
"Still, there will be plenty of time to get used to new roommates and we can meet up outside of classes," Alassa continued. "And you can try playing Ken with us."
"If I have time," Emily said. She fumbled through the pockets of her robe and produced her timetable. "I’m going to be attending Lady Barb’s introductory class at noon, just before lunch, then Subtle and Ritual Magic this afternoon. Tomorrow, there’s a special class for Martial Magic ..."
"It clashes with Herbology," Alassa observed, consulting her own timetable. "Do you want to go there?"
"Not if I can help it," Emily said. She knew which plants could be eaten safely from Martial Magic—and she had no real interest in farming and agricultural magic. "Besides, there’s another four introductory classes, one per day."
"I’ve got Defensive Magic tomorrow," Alassa said. "I think the course is really meant as a primer for Martial Magic ..."
Emily scowled, remembering Aloha’s reaction to discovering that Emily had been put into Marital Magic. Aloha had worked very hard to enter the class during her Second Year, but Emily had just jumped ahead, pushed by Void and the Grandmaster. She'd threatened Emily with a fate worse than death if Emily let her down, although she’d calmed down after Emily had beaten Shadye. Emily couldn't have done much more to prove herself.
"My father won’t let me take Martial Magic," Alassa supplied, a moment later. "Too much chance of serious injury—or death."
"True," Emily agreed. She’d been injured more than once during Martial Magic, where a mistake could have ghastly consequences. "But if you do well on Defensive Magic, you might be able to get him to change his mind."
"Maybe," Alassa said, doubtfully. She looked down at the timetable for a long, thoughtful moment. "Law is something I probably need, sadly. I studied the law in Zangaria, but not the law elsewhere in the Allied Lands. And things are changing quite rapidly, thanks to you."
Emily flushed. Many of her changes had already started having unintended consequences.
"Animal bonding might be fun, but father probably wouldn't let me put it into practice," Alassa continued. "Imaiqah was talking about Artwork; she thinks she might enjoy it. Construction and Warding are definitely worth taking—I think they’re actually taught by the same teacher. And then there’s more formal etiquette lessons. You probably need them."
"Not if I can get out of it," Emily said, quickly.
Alassa gave her a droll smile. "You’re a baroness," she said, dryly. "Every time you pick up the wrong fork, you are diminished in the eyes of everyone watching you. Make enough mistakes and people will think that you are going soft and start plotting against you."
"I think I preferred it when you taught me," she admitted. Most of the etiquette she’d been taught made no sense, but Alassa had managed to hammer it into her head somehow. "You were patient."
"That’s true," Alassa agreed. She looked oddly pensive, recalling her childhood. "My mother was patient too."
Emily poured herself another cup of kava and then settled back in her chair. "Are you going to be coming to Healing?"
"I think it might be useful to know the basics," Alassa said. "Father might have other ideas for my future classes, of course. He wouldn't want his daughter to be a healer, bound by Healer’s Oaths. At least he knows and respects Lady Barb. I hear she was a very strict teacher. Imaiqah would probably want to go too."
"I should go to the library later," Emily said, thoughtfully. She’d missed Whitehall’s vast library almost as much as she’d missed everything else. "It’s been too long ..."
"There won’t have been time to mess up the books," Alassa assured her. "Why don’t we go for a swim instead? There won’t be anyone in the lake at this hour."
Emily laughed. "You do remember that it’s snowing out there?"
"Heating charms," Alassa said. "I checked it out last year. During wintertime, the lake is warmed by magic. We will probably need additional spells on us too, just in case, but we should be fine."
"Or we could go for a snowball fight," Emily suggested. She’d never actually had one in her life, ever. Proper snowball fights required friends. "Or see what magic can do to snowballs."
"Turn them into walking, talking snowmen," Alassa hazarded. She looked contemplative for a moment, then shook her head. "But swimming would be preferable. It’s good exercise and it would be warm."
Emily sighed and gave up. "All right," she said, "but I don’t think we should be late for Lady Barb’s class. I think she would be very strict indeed."
Christopher G. Nuttall is thirty-two years old and has been reading science fiction since he was five, when someone introduced him to children’s SF. Born in Scotland, Chris attended schools in Edinburgh, Fife and University in Manchester ... before moving to Malaysia to live with his wife Aisha.
Chris has been involved in the online Alternate History community since 1998; in particular, he was the original founder of Changing The Times, an online alternate history website that brought in submissions from all over the community. Later, Chris took up writing and eventually became a full-time writer.
Chris has produced The Empire’s Corps series, the Outside Context Problem series and many others. He is also responsible for two fan-made Posleen novels, both set in John Ringo’s famous Posleen universe. They can both be downloaded from his site.
Schooled in Magic fantasy series
Author web site.
Study in Slaughter Copyright © 2014. Christopher Nuttall. All rights reserved by the author. Please do not copy without permission.
To order this book:
"When did you start writing and what got you into fantasy?"
"When did you decide you wanted to become an author?"
Character interview with Princess Alassa on Beyond the Books
"Deconstructing Emily" blog post
"Schooled in Magic is a fantasy book, but it draws extensively from real history."
"The Inspiration behind 'Trial by Fire' by Christopher Nuttall"
"The Story behind 'Trial by Fire' by Christopher Nuttall"
"I was asked, at Ravencon, just what makes an indie writer successful. "No matter how well you write, you will get bad reviews."
Trial By Fire chapter reveal on Plug Your Book
Back to the Featured books
Back to Twilight Times Books main page
Web site copyright © 1999, 2000 - 2017. Lida Quillen. All rights reserved. Cover art © 2014 Brad Fraunfelter. All rights reserved. This page last updated 07-25-14. Twilight Times Books logo design by Joni.
"When did you start writing and what got you into fantasy?"
"When did you decide you wanted to become an author?"
Character interview with Princess Alassa on Beyond the Books
"Deconstructing Emily" blog post
"Schooled in Magic is a fantasy book, but it draws extensively from real history."
"The Inspiration behind 'Trial by Fire' by Christopher Nuttall"
"The Story behind 'Trial by Fire' by Christopher Nuttall"
"I was asked, at Ravencon, just what makes an indie writer successful.
"No matter how well you write, you will get bad reviews."
Trial By Fire chapter reveal on Plug Your Book
Back to the Featured books
Back to Twilight Times Books main page
Web site copyright © 1999, 2000 - 2017. Lida Quillen. All rights reserved.
Cover art © 2014 Brad Fraunfelter. All rights reserved.
This page last updated 07-25-14.
Twilight Times Books logo design by Joni.