One of the things Lance regretted the most about his time at the Rem Magic Academy so far was having gotten off on the wrong foot with Blake Harker. From the day they first met they had been at odds with each other, and to Lance’s shame a big part of that was his fault. Thinking that Blake had untoward intentions towards his half-sister, Lance hadn’t handled the situation as diplomatically as he should have.
Lance should have been able to keep his composure. He had been groomed as a prince, to handle things with charm and openness, not barbs and outbursts of anger. But Elly was a sore spot for him, and if someone pressed it he was liable to lash out violently at them. And Blake pressed it. A lot. His bad attitude had been just the start of the problems Lance had with him, but that wasn’t the root of the problem.
Yes, Blake was sort of a jerk. But Lance’s inability to communicate properly with his sister had no-doubt made things worse. But having repaired his relationship with his sister, that should have been the end of things. He no longer held a grudge against Blake, and in fact had developed a measure of respect for him over the past few weeks. Blake had stepped in and not only saved Lance’s life, but Elly’s as well, and proved that all the things Elly had said about Lance not fully understanding Blake were correct. Blake may have been surly, and he definitely had anger issues, but Lance couldn’t exactly judge him for that himself.
What was most important, though, was that Blake had proven just how compassionate and considerate he really was in how he treated his dragons. In class, Blake was still hard-faced and cold, even if he was speaking to others a little more than he had been. But here, in the Menagerie, Lance could see an entirely different side of Blake, something he had only gotten flashes of before. He would smile. His voice was tender, and his eyes sparkled with care.
Lance could see the foundation of a decent man hidden deep behind those eyes, and he wanted to draw that out. If the Blake he saw here and the Blake he had seen in Estval could be seen in the classroom, the cohort would no-doubt benefit.
But it was going to be a long road there. A lot of the class had asked Blake if they could see the dragons. It couldn’t be helped, of course, they were a curiosity. Dragons had been EXTINCT just a month ago, and now there were five of them. You couldn’t blame the students for being curious. But due to the way Blake had put up a wall around himself, and the way he reacted when anyone had asked him about the dragon eggs, no one wanted to broach the topic.
It felt like there was a lot of expectations put upon Lance, one of the most popular and respected students in the cohort, to be the one to reach out. And no one placed higher expectations on him than himself.
And then he had received the letters. There had been five of them, addressed to Blake, Reed, Amy, Ark, and Eve, and a separate letter for Lance. His father was inviting them all to the royal palace to be bestowed honors for their brave service in the name of Saekoria, protecting the second prince from danger and suppressing the insurgency.
Of course, the expectation was that Lance deliver the letters himself, to directly express the royal family’s gratitude. Gratitude that hadn’t been extended to Elly, his half-sister, and the one who had ACTUALLY saved his life with her quick thinking and emergency treatment, of course. No, that would have meant his father had acknowledged Elly’s existence, and that was quite clearly not a priority for anyone at the palace, much to Lance’s disgust.
As disappointed in his father as he may have been, Lance still understood why he had ignored Elly. It enraged him, but as a prince, he could understand the complicated politics behind it. So he would do his duty to his family. One did not shirk a royal summons, after all. And at least, it gave him an excuse to try and mend some fences with Blake.
But when he greeted the other boy, Blake’s eyes showed no warmth. That was spared only for the dragons. He looked at Lance with the same scornful, aggressive look that he’d worn that first day they’d met on the train.
But Lance would do his duty. He tried to express some interest in the dragons, but of course his enthusiasm couldn’t compare with Reed Rivers’. Nor did he have the existing relationship with Reed that Elly clearly did.
Lance wouldn’t let an uncomfortable silence get the better of him, however. “Excuse me, Blake, Reed, I have something I would like to say, if you don’t mind.”
Blake glanced at Lance and raised his eyebrow, fascinated at least, even if he didn’t seem that eager. Meanwhile, Reed was all smiles.
Lance set his bag down in the grass, and took out the two letters emblazoned with the royal seal. “This is a letter from the king himself,” he informed them. He placed his hand over his heart, but didn’t lower his head in a bow. Princes don’t bow, after all. “And from myself, I must extend the royal family’s sincerest gratitude, for saving my life, and the life of my sister.”
Elly’s eyes widened in surprise. Blake and Reed seemed a little surprised, too.
“R-Really?” Elly asked. Her voice sounded suspicious, but there was an undertone of hope to it that didn’t go unnoticed by Lance.
Blake didn’t take the letter. “With what I’ve heard of the royal family, I find it hard to believe that your father would be extending any gratitude to anyone for saving Elly.” The lack of respect for the king’s title was pointed, but Lance didn’t comment on it. Secretly, he agreed with Blake that there wasn’t much respect due to the king on this decision.
“His majesty’s regards are not at issue here,” Lance said, giving Blake a diplomatic smile. “Elly deserves all the gratitude of Saekoria, and that is what I’m expressing.”
Blake clearly wasn’t pleased by that answer. “So what you’re saying is that the king didn’t say shit about Elly and you’re just being polite to try and make her feel better.”
The shine in Blake’s eyes told Lance that he was goading him into throwing a punch. Lance had been working on his temper, and wasn’t about to let Blake get the better of him again.
“If you won’t accept my father’s gratitude, will you at least accept mine?” Lance asked. He tried to tell Blake with his eyes that everything he said was genuine, and all he could do was hope that it would be enough. He didn’t want to have to report to his father that his savior had declined a royal invitation to the palace due to a schoolyard feud.
Perhaps his sincerity managed to get through, or perhaps Blake realized himself that declining a letter from the king could be a bad idea, because Blake muttered something under his breath and snapped the note out of Lance’s hands.
So, Lance had a lot more work to do on their relationship, that was clear. He hardly noticed when Reed took her letter, and flipped it open as well.
Lance hoped that things wouldn’t go too poorly. He didn’t know what specifically was written on them, of course, but he had a good idea.
“An invitation to the palace?” Blake said, incredulity filling his voice. “The king has summoned me personally?”
It was hard to judge Blake’s reaction from the look on his face. Was he excited? Angry? In shock? His expression had twisted into a look that Lance could best describe as a mixture of exhaustion and wariness.
“Summoned us personally,” Reed said, flashing her own letter at him. She smiled, but Lance could see the wheels turning in those sparkling eyes of hers.
Blake scowled. He didn’t feel better hearing that. “He also requested,” he continued, “that I bring my dragons with me.”
“Dragons in the palace?” Reed chirped, clapping her hands together. “Why, that is just so amazing!”
So that’s what it was… Lance had a fairly good idea now what was going on. In his letter to his parents, he’d informed the king of the dragons hatching from their eggs. And of course that had elicited a response like this. Maybe Lance was losing his edge; it had been naïve of him not to realize sooner.
Sure, right now, the dragons were just babies. But eventually, those babies would grow up. House Harker had risen to the status it had once held on the back of those mighty beasts, being the only ones capable of calling them to heel.
Dragons were powerful. The sky had been united with the power of dragons. Power that had been gone for over a century, but had now been reborn. Of course the king would want to determine Blake’s loyalties, and seek to secure it by any means necessary, maybe even seize his dragons for the good of Saekoria.
Lance was tempted to warn Blake, to tell him what the king was probably aiming for. Maybe if he was a better man, he would have. But he needed to do his duty, and besides… was it really that bad? Lance’s father was a generous man, and he was already in Blake’s debt. Certainly the rewards Blake would receive for swearing his loyalty to the king would be well worth it. He would have to be a fool to turn down the king, so there was no reason to raise the concern in the first place.
That was what convinced Lance to stay his tongue.
“I’ve given the message as I was asked,” he said, smiling politely. “It’s a great honor, to receive summons from the king. I hope you’ll consider it as such.”
Blake didn’t answer him, but the look in his eye told Lance that he probably didn’t feel all that honored.
“Well, I’m definitely going!” Reed said. “Come on, Blake, it’s going to be fun! Traveling with the dragons? Aren’t you excited?
Blake didn’t look very excited, but Lance decided he wasn’t in the mood to stick around and hear more of his classmate’s grumbling. It was clear that Blake wasn’t in the best of moods right now, even with his dragons around. It was obvious there was something about Lance that he plain just didn’t like.
“Well, since that’s everything, I guess I’ll be going,” Lance said. He glanced at Elly. “Elly, are you coming, or do you want to keep hanging out with them.”
Elly looked a little startled, like she hadn’t expected him to ask. Maybe she was still recoiling from the thanks he’d given.
“I need a bit of a break,” she smiled. “Being here feels really relaxing, you know?”
Lance gave her a small smile, and nodded. “Take care, Elly, see you soon.” Leaving Elly in the care of her friends, he nodded towards Blake and Reed. Reed gave him a wave, while Blake didn’t even look his way. Without another word, Lance turned and left the Menagerie behind him.
He still had three more letters to deliver.
Lance’s first stop was the infirmary.
After the events of Estval, Nurse Leilandry had taken long-term custody of the two students who had sustained the most serious injuries. The wounds inflicted on Ark and Amy were different, but they were both critical.
Ark had fought against Professor Saleigh, and had sustained serious damage. According to the nurse, most of the blood in his body had been lost, and there were severe wounds and lacerations along with more than a handful of broken bones. Considering Lance had thought he was dead when he saw him bleeding out on the forest floor, any recovery at all was remarkable.
Amy, on the other hand, had gotten off rather lightly. Her legs had been crushed, but they were healing. It would just take another month or so, if the nurse was to be believed. Then, she would be up and running again like nothing. But Lance remembered the way they had looked after the Estvalian’s attack, twisted and mangled, and it made him sick to his stomach nonetheless.
In comparison, Lance and Elly had gotten off easy.
Taking a deep breath, Lance walked into the infirmary.
He didn’t come to visit them often. It was hard, working up the strength to go down and pay a visit when it was his fault they were in this condition to begin with. He was a prince, a leader, he should have protected his comrades and looked after them, and somehow he’d gotten away with just a few scratches?
A few letters of gratitude didn’t make up for their wounds.
“Ah, Prince Lancelus, how can I help you today?” Nurse Leilandry greeted him at the door with a smile. It was polite, but Lance could sense tension in the room. He knew that the nurse was attached to Elly, and that probably made her thoughts about him complicated. Especially because she was an elf. But he ignored that and smiled.
“Hello, Nurse Leilandry,” Lance greeted with a wave. “How are you doing?”
Her ears twitched, but her smile didn’t falter. “I’m doing just fine. Would you like to come in? Is something bothering you? I could make a pot of tea…”
“No, that won’t be necessary,” Lance said, shaking his head. “I came to check up on my classmates, actually. Are they doing okay?”
The nurse considered for a moment and then nodded her head, turning and leading him over to the beds. Two of them were occupied. Lance’s eyes landed on Ark first, eyes closed and fast asleep, his blanket pulled to his chin to cover the bandages wrapped around his body.
“Ark needs his rest,” the nurse explained. “He’s sleeping right now. As for Amelia…”
“Oh…” Looking at Lance, Amy sat up in bed and forced a smile onto her face. “Hey, Lance, nice to see ya, how are things?”
She tried to seem as peppy as always, but Lance could see she had a look of hollowness about her. She was going through the motions, there was hardly a trace of the energetic girl he knew in those eyes of hers.
Ark may have been in worse condition, but it was clear that Amy had suffered the more serious wound.
“I’m doing fine,” Lance smiled, sitting down next to her. “How’s your recovery going?”
“I’m getting so much better!” Amy said, her voice only shaking a little. If Lance was a worse judge of character he might have even believed it.
“She’s taking to the treatments quite well,” Nurse Leilandry said, giving Amy a smile. “In another month she’ll be up and about, I guarantee it!”
“Yeah, I’ll be running again in no time,” Amy nodded. The way she sounded, Lance wondered if she believed it herself.
“Nurse Leilandry is a skilled healing mage,” Lance said. “If she says you’ll be fine, then I think you couldn’t be in better hands.”
“I’m flattered you think that, my prince,” the nurse smiled. “Your little sister must have said some lovely things about me.” She gasped. “Oh, that’s right, you don’t like people talking about that.”
Lance didn’t let the nurse’s hostility get the better of him. “I know that things between Elly and I were rocky at first. But we’re on much better terms, honest.”
“I know, and I’m happy for her,” the nurse said, nodding. “But in the future, I would like you to take a more… active role in looking after her wellbeing. And I don’t just mean by sending people who hurt her to the infirmary.”
A wave of guilt twisted Lance’s stomach. He didn’t feel bad for sending Derek Lyder to the infirmary, but it was still a reminder that he needed to mind his temper, especially where Elly was concerned.
“I’ll be more considerate of how I look after my sister in the future,” Lance smiled. “But while I’m here, is there any other advice you have for me?”
“No, I think you’re making remarkable progress, my prince,” Nurse Leilandry said. “Now, about that tea?”
“No, I’m fine, thank you,” Lance said. “I can’t stay long. I’m just here to check up on my classmates and deliver something.”
Setting his bag down, Lance took out two letters. “This one’s for Ark, when he wakes up,” he said, handing the letter to the nurse. “And this one’s for you, Amy.”
Amy took the letter and glanced at the seal embedded in the wax, her eyes bulging out of her skull. It was the most emotion Lance had seen out of her since he’d arrived.
“This… This… This…?” Amy was rambling, apparently so shaken she could hardly stitch together a sentence.
“It’s a letter from the king,” Lance confirmed. “He wants to extend Saekoria’s gratitude, for helping protect me in Estval. He’s inviting you all the way to the royal palace to thank you in front of the whole court.”
Amy’s face darkened, and she dropped the letter on the bed, unopened. “…Oh. I don’t… need any thanks for that,” she mumbled. “What did I do, anyway? Just get injured…”
“It’s not about that,” Lance said softly. “Amy, you may have gotten hurt, but you were honestly trying your best. You went to go get us help, and you sacrificed yourself to do it. Even if you don’t think Saekoria or the king or whoever should be thanking you, I want to thank you. I think you did something very brave.”
“…Whatever,” Amy muttered.
“She won’t be able to travel anyway,” Nurse Leilandry said, setting Ark’s letter down beside his bed. She had a solemn glimmer in her eye as she turned back to them. “She’ll be in physical therapy over the break, I want her to recover as soon as possible after all. And Ark? There’s no way he’ll be in any condition to travel.”
“I suspected as much,” Lance sighed, nodding. “Either way, I still wanted to express my gratitude, for everything that happened. Thank you, Amy.” He turned to Ark, who was still sleeping. “And thank you, too. For everything.”
“Be sure to visit again!” Leilandry called after him as he walked towards the door. He wondered if she actually meant it. Either way, he’d be leaving for home rather soon, and when he came back, hopefully there wouldn’t be any reason to come back to the infirmary and the memories of his failure.
As he left, he gave the nurse a wave, and smiled at Amy. She kind of smiled back, just a little.
Slinging his bag over his shoulder, Lance headed down the hall. There was one more letter he had left to deliver, and a very interesting conversation was likely going to follow it.
Evangeline Moonshadow. She was a mystery to him. That magic of hers, illusions of that caliber, they weren’t something that an ordinary student should be capable of. Reed Rivers seemed to know something about it, so he had followed her lead and kept his mouth shut. But that didn’t mean he wasn’t curious himself.
He considered what her response to the letter would be, and he smiled a little.