Caralain wasn’t supposed to be here. She knew wasn’t supposed to return to the Stoa until she was ready to pass her test, but it was late and staying away was just a formality anyway. She let the lantern-light burn low and didn’t bother to replenish the oil, watching the raindrops roll slowly down her dorm room window, rather than focusing on the words in the book before her. A Treatise on the Fall of the Panarch’im. It was a riveting subject, despite it taking place only a generation ago, and usually she was engrossed by anything to do with politics or history, but her mind and her heart were at odds this evening.
He asked me to marry him…
Caralain kept drifting back to that one thought. It was the source of her distress. She thought she was in love, but her logical brain kept reminding her that marriage, especially to Greyson Seynor, would require so much more than love to make it work.
Tonight is the perfect example of that. He’s all the way in the Capital celebrating his birthday with his parents, and I wasn’t even invited. Not for the first time that night, Caralain found herself sulking. They hate me, I know it.
And that was really the crux of it. Greyson’s next in line for the throne. If I marry him, one day I’ll be Queen. Maybe as Queen I would have some kind of chance of changing things for the better…but his parents are still young, they’ll rule for a long time. And beneath them, I’ll be powerless, even more so than I am now.
A light in the wet darkness outside her window caught her eye, making her sit up straight and pay attention. It wasn’t a lantern or some trick of the storm; it was a Mage’s light, borne of majik. Which begged the obvious question, Who would choose to be out there in this?
The wind and the rain picked up, rattling her windows. Feeling a mounting sense of alarm she couldn’t fully explain, Caralain got to her feet and turned away from the open book on her desk. It showed a picture of her idol, Terrence Lee, the most famous Panarch in history, with his hand resting on the central pillar in a circle of Sentinal Stones.
Abandoning her dorm room, she sped into the hall and instantly regretted not taking her cloak with her. I’ll just run down and satisfy my curiosity, and then I’ll come right back, she thought, justifying her unwillingness to turn back. It won’t take long.
She made every effort to be quiet on the stone stairwell, despite wearing shoes meant for outdoors. As loud as she was, she resisted the urge to summon a Mage-light of her own. At least I have the courtesy not to rouse anyone from their beds by flashing lights around. Caralain smiled wryly. Not like some visitors. I wonder who’s out there.
A part of her secretly hoped it was Greyson, even though he had no reason to think she would be here and even less reason to come even if he thought she might be. Still, she wanted to reassure him that she was thinking his proposal over, even if she didn’t have an answer for him yet.
No one was in the school’s Great Hall by the time she reached it and there was no sign that the doors had been opened recently. Lifting the latch, she intended to open the door a crack and peer outwards, but the wind caught the door and wrenched it from her grasp. It swung wide and cold rain slapped her in the face, drenching her blue dress all the way to the black leggings she wore underneath.
Soaked now, she took a step out into the downpour, and then another, before she became aware of a dark figure across the courtyard, wearing a cloak and facing the old school’s main building, but hunched against the rain.
“Hello?” she called out, figuring that if the person was here, they had to at least be a student or alumni of the school, seeing as no one else knew how to reach the hidden island.
The figure’s hooded head slowly lifted. He had broad shoulders and was quite tall. At least, Caralain assumed it was a he. She waved at him, urging him to come inside and take shelter, but he didn’t move or make any indication he was seeing her at all.
She summoned a Mage-light above her hand. It did nothing to help her vision, but she hoped it might help him see her. She waved it. “What are you doing out here?! The weather’s terrible! Come inside!”
The figure’s voice, when he spoke, reached her clearly and easily despite the inclement weather. Majik was the only answer. “Why. Are. You. Here?”
“Greyson?” She recognized his voice immediately and it only served to make her more alarmed. “Greyson!”