It was Sunday morning and Rhen woke up late, without being shouted at by Miss Rona ("It's unusual." Rhen thought). After brushed her teeth, bathed squeaky clean, wore her slave cloth, she went downstairs and asked for Miss Rona's permission to let her have a day off.
"Mistress, can I have a break for one day? Since it's Sunday, maybe I can going out and have some fresh air ---" Rhen almost finished her request but her mistress looked at her sternly.
"Of course not, you sloth!" She said as her face reddened. She stood at the flight of stairs and called: "Lars! Are you there? You better hurry up pack your things! They're coming at any moment now!". But no reply came.
"Where could he have been at this very moment?" mumbled Miss Rona as she went upstairs.
After a while, Miss Rona rushed downstairs, her face turned pale white, and said: "Oh dear, oh dear! Where is Lars?! The emissaries will be here at any minutes!" She yelled at Rhen who was staring at her expressionless.
"Don't just stand there, go and get my son. You lazy worthless slave!"
"Yes, Mistress." Rhen replied and sighed in a soft voice before she went out.
"Where is that idiot? The envoys are about to pick him up soon and now he's nowhere to be seen. Ugh!" Rhen talked to herself as she was on the way to the city marketplace, looking for Lars. Suddenly, there was a scream followed by a sound from a corner of a shop.
"What the heck?" Rhen thought. She ran to the source of the sound and she noticed Lars was doing some willy-maggly-magik-thinggy to one of the slave. The slave boy saw Rhen, standing behind the big bully.
"Rhen! Help me, Rhen!" Eddie the slave boy yelled.
"What do you think you're doing to that poor slave boy, Lars?" Anger flowed over Rhen.
"Ha! And who's going to stop me? You?!" Lars shoved Rhen, laughed at her and turned back to bully Eddie.
"Stop! Stop bullying me! Please..." Eddie's eyes was swollen and Rhen noticed his face was soaked with running tears.
"How dare him?! He should learn a lesson for that!" Rhen thought, anger and hatred bubbling up in her. She picked up a stick which was lying on the ground and crawled to her feet. With all her might, she unleashed and thrusted the stick at Lars.
Out of expectation, a bolt of lightning emitted from Rhen.
Lars was surprised what Rhen did.
"Ouch!" That's all what he can blurted out. "How?"
"I don't know..." Rhen said in a weak voice. "Am I doing this? What happened just now?" She thought, who was also shocked.
"You're going to pay for that, you brat!" Lars yelled at her. Rhen dropped the stick, bewildered. Eddie ran away, back to his master's house, yelling all the way home.
Rhen gulped. "This is bad..." She thought.
Two strangers walked into the city of Ghalarah. Ghelda (who wore a green mage robe, blond hair) was trying to look for a student here. She was accompanied by his colleague, Lorad. He had a red wielder robe on, a long sabre-like sword strapped to his waist, looking around the city.
"Are you sure this is the place?" Lorad asked his colleague.
"Yes, I'm sure of that" Ghelda replied.
"But what if ---" A sound of lightning caught his attention. They looked around and noticed a girl, wearing ragged cloth, did some magik-thinggy to a green-haired noble-like guy, hand holding a stick, smokes coming out of it. The girl dropped the stick afterward as the guy bullied her.
"Should we help that poor child?" Lorad asked.
"Yes. We'll try to sort things out." Ghelda nodded and they approached the kids.
Ghelda picked up the stick that was dropped by the purple, long-haired girl.
"Interesting." She said while examining the stick.
The green-hair guy faced them and said rudely: "This is none of your business, strangers!"
"This must be Lars. Harald said the child had a fiery temper." Lorad spoke to Ghelda softly.
"Yes. I thought Master Harald exaggerated, but apparently not." Ghelda replied and turned his head to face Lars, cleared his throat, and said: "I'm Ghelda, and this is Lorad ---" Who nodded his head to the kids " ---we are the envoys that has come to take you to Shadwood Academy, Lars."
Lars turned red, while the little girl giggled in a corner. He pointed his finger to the girl and talked to the envoys: "That slave tried to kill me. You saw her!"
Ghelda examined the girl and the stick which he's holding and told Lorad: "I can't feel her gift, but I'm sure I saw her use magic."
The girl surprised and exclaimed: "Magic? Not me!"
"That slave doesn't have the gift! She can't!" Lars spat.
"She doesn't have your gift, Lars. She hasn't have the gift of sorcery. If she did I would have felt it." Ghelda reassured him.
She turned his head and told Lorad: "Did you felt it, sword singer?"
"I did, but it doesn't make any sense. She used a stick to draw power." replied Lorad suspiciously.
"No, not impossible...improbable."
"Very odd indeed. I thought your kind only used metal to wield the power."
"Yes and no. We have no one who is strong enough to draw from a stick, of all things." There was a short pause and he continued. "There have been strong ones on generations past, but no one alive..."
"Yes. Until now." Both of them nodded.
Rhen was watching blankly at the strangers, who was called Lorad and Ghelda. She did not get what "sword singer", "sorcerer" and "magic" meant. A pause came and both of the envoys turned and faced Lars and her. The red robe guy, Lorad, cleared his throat and asked her.
"Girl, what's your name?"
"She's a slave, a nobody!" Lars interrupted.
"Rhen, Sir." She replied as Lorad and she ignored Lars.
"Is it true? You're a slave?"
"Yes. Yes, sir, it is true."
"Very well. You must travel to Veldarah where you can train at Shadwood Academy. You must present this token to obtain admittance."
Lorad gave Rhen a gold token with an initial "L" at the back, and a picture of an old school at the front.
"You belong to the empress now." Lorad announced.
Lars spoiled the conversation again.
"What? You said it yourself, she doesn't have the gift!"
"The girl has sword magic, foolish boy. Like all magic wielders, including yourself, she now belongs to the empress." Ghelda reassured him. She faced Rhen and said: "You're free, girl. A slave to none but the empress."
"I'm free? I'm free!" Rhen said with delight.
"NOOOOO!" Lars protested and fainted.
"Ghelda, please take Master Lars home. I'm sure his mother is waiting for us. I'll stay here to answer any questions the girl may have." Lorad said.
Ghelda rolled her eyes and took Lars home.
Lorad faced Rhen and asked: "So, do you have any questions so far?"
"Erm, may I know who are you?" Rhen asked.
"I'm Lorad Rethwell. I'm an emissary from Shadwood Academy and a sword singer, just like you will be one day." spoke Lorad calmly. "My companion is the emissary Lady Ghelda Gentrie. She's a sorceress."
"What's a sword singer?"
"Sword singer use motion to draw magic. Most can only do this through metal. I'm amazed that you were able to draw from a simple stick, untrained and unaided." spoke the emissary slowly. "I believe you will be very strong one day, if you survive the training."
"Am I really free?" Rhen asked the question again, just to make sure if this wasn't a dream.
"Slaves who have gifts are, by law, decreed free."
"But I thought you said that I belong to the empress now? So, am I not still a slave?" asked Rhen, raising her eyebrows.
"Child, all citizens of the empire belong to the empress. Slaves, peasants, nobles, and even sorcerers and sword singers," Lorad laughed.
"So, when do I leave?"
"You can leave at any time. MIstress Ghelda and Lars will leave tomorrow morning at dawn. If the guards give you problems, show them your token," replied Lorad while looking at his watch.
"Oh dear, I'll be late soon. Here, take this bag of pennies, you'll need it to pay for a night in Inn, since you don't belong to anyone. Tomorrow we'll set off after sunrise, so please get ready before that time. I've got to go Lars' house now. Remember, keep safe and sleep well. You'll need it tomorrow." And he ran to the mansion without saying goodbye to Rhen.
"Stupid slave! Today was to be Lars' special day, not yours!" roared Miss Rona at Rhen while she decided to report back to her mistress. "Get out of my house and never come back!"
"Am I free to go?" asked Rhen innocently.
"The empress own you now! Are you too stupid to realize how lucky you are? Oh, and you're not welcome to stay the night here." spatted Miss Rona. "Now that you're free, you can find your own place to sleep,"
"Oh well." Rhen shrugged as she went out from her ex-mistress's house. She rented a room in the town inn and fell into a deep sleep, but strangely, no nightmares occurred.
"Where's Lars?" Rhen asked while she was on the way to Veldarah with Lorad beside her.
"He's with Ghelda. They set off before dawn."
"Oh." And they didn't talk anymore on the rest of the walk. After a twenty minutes walk (which was a long time for Rhen), they reached their destination.
It was a grand city in Veldarah. Buildings situated tightly together. A overcrowded place, the ringing of the bicycles, the barking of the dogs, folks having their conversation, playful children playing tag, and the music from the environment spiced up the place.
After walking down a few row of streets, they stood in front of a wooden double doors. It was a thousand-year-old-like traditional academy, some paint were peeling off, vines creeping up along the walls.
"I guess it must have been a long history for this building." Rhen thought as she followed Lorad into the academy.
It was a big contrast from the inside of the school compared to the outside. Chandeliers hanging on the ceiling, sparkling and refracting the light to make the academy more lively, voices of lecturers teaching their students echoing around, some old and worn-out statues standing along the hallway, as if the building was like some kind of an ancient museum. Lorad snapped his finger in front of Rhen and spoiled her sight-seeing at the academy.
"This is the headmaster's office. That's all I can do for you. Go inside and talk with him. He'll help you with the accomodations." spoke Lorad. "And don't forget to give him the token. You'll need it to enroll."
"It's Master Lorad. That's what you'll be calling me for the rest of your training here. I'll see you tomorrow."
"Yes, Master Lorad. Goodbye." Rhen was about to reply but the emissary had gone. She looked at the door in front of her, took a deep breath, and entered the room.
Rhen had never been in such beautiful room, and for this she felt lucky. The room was large and filled with expensive-looking sets of books, their spines immaculate, as though they had never been read. Most of the room was occupied by a large, imposing desk and a few chairs.
"Hello there. How can I help you?" Rhen jumped someone was talking to her which she didn't noticed that just now.
"W-Well, g'day sir." Rhen stammered.
"So, you want to be enrolled, don't you? Well then, token please." The headmaster stretched out his hand, smiling brightly at her.
"I'm sorry?" Asked Rhen, who was still don't know what is the situation now.
"If you don't have a token from an accredited sorcerer or sword singer, you'll have to leave. This academy is for gifted students only."
Rhen realised just then and stuffed her bag and gave him her token. The token examined and said aloud: "Ah! So you're one of Lorad's wards. It has been a long time since he has signed for anyone. You must be special some how."
Rhen blushed as she heard the compliments.
"Well anyway, take these." Said headmaster as he handed her a bedroom key and a schedule over.
"By the way, I'm Master Harald. And I'm here to declare you officially as a novice sword singer in Shadwood Academy. The key is to your room, where you can keep your things and rest. You'll also find your student clothing in a wardrobe in your room. Please change into your new uniform as soon as possible."
There was a short pause followed. Harald cleared his throat and continued.
"The schedule has your classes for this year. Don't miss any of them or I'll have your hide. When you're promoted from novice to apprentice, you'll get to choose your classes. That is, if you're not destroyed before hand."
Rhen stared at the headmaster blankly, although the "speech" finished. Harald noticed her expression and asked: "Is there any questions so far?"
"Well, I might have one. How can I be promoted from novice to apprentice?"
"You'll need to undergo a test with your tutor in order to become an apprentice. That's all that I can tell you. Any other questions?"
Rhen shook her head.
"If that so, please get ready for the class tomorrow and have some sleep. You must be tired from the long journey." Harald went to the door and sent her out.
"Uh oh. I think I'm lost." Rhen talked to herself as she was looking around at the corridors,indecisively where to go. Fortunately, she saw a girl walking along the hallway. Without a second thought, Rhen ran after her.
"Excuse me? You there!" Rhen yelled. The girl came to a stop and looking at the direction where the voice came from.
"I'm so...Sorry. Can you bring me...To the girl's dormitories?" Rhen panted. She took a deep breath and continued: "Please? I'm kinda lost."
Rhen tried to unlock the door with her bedroom key, and the door unlocked.
It was a simple, small room. A single bed occupied most of the area. Sun ray shone through a window at a side. While unpacking her suitcase, Rhen found a student outfit in the wardrobe situated beside the bed. She put on her student outfit. With disdain she tossed out her slave clothes into the trash bin.
"I better get some sleep." Rhen yawned, brushed her teeth, and headed off to bed to get a good night's rest.