“Sinta’s at the school today, and Shunati’s on duty,” Ann told Deyama.
“School?” Deyama frowned.
Ann nodded. “The kids from the home were coming here for classes, but they didn’t have the education the noble kids had so they had a lot of catching up and they didn’t always get along with the nobles. Nim started a school in town. Several of the servants’ kids attend it and so do other kids from town. There are enough kids there he hired Sinta to teach the younger kids. Mostly, they teach reading, sums, and a little history. They also talked about cultures in the other kingdoms too. That started when some of the kids were trying to understand why Sinta and Vaila came to class barefoot even though they both own shoes. And they offer some vocational classes to older kids who want them,” She explained as she led Deyama down to the entry.
Deyama nodded. “Very impressive.”
“They’re basing it on the schools they went to growing up, without the fire breathing of course.” Ann smiled.
Deyama did too. “Of course.”
A group of kids walked past in a single file line. Deyama pulled one boy out of line. He had bowed his head when he saw her, but he wasn’t fast enough.
“Your Majesty, Princess,” he bowed and kept his eyes down.
“Where are you going?”
“We’re going to meet with the noble kids’ class.”
“Where are your teachers?”
“Mistress Sinta stayed with the younger kids who weren’t coming. Master Nimitinas is talking with Master Elos,” the boy explained, looking at the floor.
“Don’t dragons teach it’s bad manners not to look at someone when you talk with them?”
“Yes, ma’am,” the boy said, still not looking up.
“Then look at me,” Deyama insisted.
The boy looked up. She looked directly into his eyes. His pupils were round, almost, but the coloring and the shape of the eyes were clearly Elven. The disturbing thing was how bloodshot they were.
“Ruzi ton Thailyn, I am Deyama tre Qituma. It’s good to finally meet you.” She smiled.
“Thank you, ma’am.” He hadn’t expected that reaction.
“Ruzi, didn’t Thailyn heal your eyes this morning?” Ann asked.
Ruzi shook his head. “He got called away early. There was an emergency at the clinic.”
“She went with him. She’s going to join us when she gets done. I was going to have her help me then.”
“I don’t know that you should wait. Go see Shunati. I’ll talk to Nim.”
“But I don’t want to miss the competition,” Ruzi protested.
Ann sighed. “Okay. I’ll ask him to come to you. You’ve been working hard.”
“Competition?” Deyama asked.
“It’s a little contest between the two schools. Basically, someone’s going to ask questions about what they study and they get points for answering correctly. The class with the most points wins.”
“An interesting idea. I’d like to watch if that’s all right.” Deyama looked thoughtful.
“I don’t see why not.” Ann shrugged.
Deyama turned to Ruzi. “Young man, you not only represent the school, but you also represent Erilu. I expect you to do well.”
Surprised, Ruzi nodded. “Yes, ma’am.” He looked at Ann and smiled. “No pressure, huh?”
“Is she any worse than disappointing Grandfather?” Ann pointed out.
Ruzi’s smile faded. “You had to remind me.”
“Get going. You’ll be fine. I’ll send for Shunati.” Ann shooed him off.
After sending a page for Shunati, Ann led Deyama to the classrooms. They sat with the group of others watching. Deyama guessed they were probably parents of the students. There seem to be more supporting the nobles, but Deyama reasoned the parents of the town kids and servants probably had to work. Plus, some of the kids didn’t have parents.
It wasn’t long before Shunati came to heal Ruzi. He then sat next to Deyama.
“Your Majesty.” He nodded a greeting.
“How are you doing?”
“Quite well. I think I felt a kick the other day.”
“You’re at that point. Soon, I’m going to need to check you for twins. Where both Vor’s parents were twins, there’s a good possibility.”
“Twins, I hadn’t thought of that.”
“At least if you have twins, they’ll be the same age, unlike me and Vor.”
She smiled, “and actually siblings.”
Shunati nodded. “That too.”
Shunati and Vor’s grandmothers had been pregnant at the same time. When they learned one was having a boy and the other was having a girl, they arranged their marriage. Then they both found out they were having twins so they decided the oldest two would marry and the youngest two would. Shunati was born to one couple and a few years later, Vor was born to the other. With the slower aging of the elves, it wasn’t long before it became apparent that the two cousins looked identical. By the time they were teenagers, most people couldn’t tell them apart. Even now, after Vor’s hair had darkened, people still got them mixed up.
“Twins, in that tiny house,” Deyama mused.
Shunati laughed. “We managed. If I wasn’t at Vor’s house, he was at mine.”
“Yeah, but when you were at his, you weren’t at yours,” she pointed out. “It gave your parents a break.”
“We’ll help you add on if needed,” Shunati offered. Deyama nodded.
“How are the kids doing?” He gestured to the contest.
“The nobles are ahead by two. Didn’t you ask Ruzi?”
“I wasn’t allowed to speak to him. They didn’t want to risk me helping.”
Deyama frowned. “All they had to do was look at his eyes.”
“They did. That’s why I was able to heal him. But they still didn’t want to take chances.”
“I think all the kids are doing very well.”
“It looks like they are,” he agreed.
“Where’s Vor?” He asked, frowning.
“Is he okay? Should I check on him?”
“Give him a bit. Mins’s death isn’t sitting well with him.”
Shunati nodded. “I wish I could stay, but I have work to do. I’ll see you at dinner.”
“I’ll see you then.”
The challenge continued for a while. Both teams did quite well, each one taking the lead at times. In the end, the nobles won by a single point.
“How long has the home been around?” Deyama asked Ann.
“And how many of the kids have been there that long?”
“Only Rella. Lamdi’s been there for five.”
“And Ruzi was there for a time, wasn’t he? And don’t tell me any nonsense about him staying with Andy’s parents. I didn’t believe that then.”
“He was there for about three months,” Ann admitted. Where elven law stated half-elves were to be killed, to protect both Ruzi and Shunati who should have reported the boy, they told Deyama that he’d been left on earth with Andy’s parents until Thailyn decided to adopt him.
“What about the school? How long has it been running?”
“Nim started it about four years ago.”
“If it’s attended by town folk and servants’ kids, who’s funding it?”
“Right now, Nim does. But Bacna wants the crown to support it. The home was originally Remtani’s idea and he got it started, but he’s been a bit busy so Bacna took over. He’s started similar homes in Veslin, Thager, and Illia. He’s looking for places to start other homes in the other cities. He and Rejenn are also thinking about restructuring the orphanages into homes rather than the kiddy warehouses they are now.”
“Rejenn grew up in an orphanage, didn’t he?”
Ann nodded. “From only a few months old.”
“I’ve heard about what the orphanages can be like, but why house runaways? Why not make their parents be responsible?”
“It used to be the way things were, but imagine a child who was beaten, locked up, and almost killed. Would you send her back to have it done again?” Ann asked.
Deyama stared at her. She hadn’t looked at it that way.
“Because she was underage, when she was found, she had to go back to her family to suffer more.”
“That was you,” Deyama realized. She had heard about the spell on Remtani and how he had tried to hurt Ann. Although it had never been confirmed, Deyama had assumed it was why she’d run away.
Ann nodded. “And from what I’ve heard from some of the kids at the home, I had it good. Sometimes, after working with the kids and their parents, we’ve been able to send the kids home. And there are some kids whose parents just need a little help. Imagine if the home had been around when I’d been born. Thailyn could’ve had me stay there while he recovered from Darina’s death. I would’ve never come here only to run away and end up in Lerjao. What you saw earlier would have never happened.”
Deyama understood. If Ann had never ended up in Lerjao, she would have never become Drepal. “I can’t imagine what you went through, but perhaps it’s good that Drepal is around. She is a benefit. She’s helped in the past, working with Tercala. She helped with the trolls. There are other things too. She did horrible things, but even when she was with Lyra, I saw times she did good, protecting a child, or family. And she kept her word. If she said she wasn’t going to hurt you, she didn’t nor did she have someone else do it.”
“She’ll appreciate you saying that,” Ann said.
“I mean it too,” Deyama assured her. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I should probably check on Vor.” She stood.
Ann nodded. “There are things I should see to also.”
Deyama headed to the room she and Vor were sharing. On the way, she passed Ruzi and a girl who had joined late.
“You guys did very well,” she told them.
“But we lost.”
“Ruzi, how long have you been in school?”
“Four years,” Ruzi said proudly.
“And how long have they?”
“Since they were four.”
“Now, I don’t know their exact ages, but they look like they’re older than eight, which means they’ve been in school much longer. They didn’t beat you by much. Your class has done quite well.”
“Thank you, ma’am.” Ruzi bowed.
“Who’s your friend?”
“Oh, sorry. Your Majesty, this is Lamdi tor Pt’this. Lamdi, this is Deyama tre Qituma, Queen of the elves.”
Deyama noticed two things in the introduction. He called the girl ‘tor Pt’this.’ That told her the girl was from the home. And rather than calling her Queen Deyama, he called her Deyama, Queen of the elves. That was her proper title, rather than the former. Somebody, probably Shunati and Sinta, was teaching him elven culture.
“It’s good to meet you.” Deyama nodded.
Lamdi nodded back. “It’s an honor.”
“You’re Thailyn’s apprentice, the one that’s good with emergency healing?”
“Do you speak Elvish?”
“I wonder if I couldn’t get the elf elders to allow you to meet Ruzi’s mom. How old are you?”
“That might work. The elders might not see a child as a concern.” The elders didn’t always think about the innate abilities of children. And a child might get upset while visiting her friend’s mom and heal her without thinking. It was risky, and the elders were starting to wise up to her tricks. She didn’t know if she could pull it off.
“I’ll let you two get back to class.” She dismissed them and continued on her way to see Vor.