Meath’s face was, as it always was after exercise, bright red. Wyn could almost feel the heat coming off it as he sat down.
“ Working hard?” he asked, arching an eyebrow. Meath shot him a dirty look.
“ Why, yes, actually, I am,” he said, “ Unlike some good-for-nothing trainees,”
“ Life isn’t fair,” he said, “ And on another note, have you seen Glas lately?”
Meath choked on the potato he had taken from a bowl nearby. After a few minutes of rather painful gagging sounds, he stopped coughing long enough to talk.
“ ‘Glas’?” he said incredulously, “ ‘Glas??’ What, we’re on nickname basis now?”
“ Yes,” said Wyn with dignity.
“ I hate to break it to you, sweetie pie, but ‘hey, you’ is not, in fact, an affectionate nickname.”
“ Ha, ha, ha. You’re a funny guy, Meath.
“ This is true, but it’s not the point,” said Meath, “ Are you going to eat those?”
Wyn looked as his own potato.
“ Yes,” he said, studying his nails, “ I’m going to need my energy for this afternoon, after all.”
“ Oh, really? Feeling better, are we?”
“ This wouldn’t have anything to do with the fact that Mortlach had planned on partnering you and Glas.... lyn... this afternoon, would it?”
Wyn looked up.
“ No,” he said emphatically, “ That has absoloutely nothing to do with anything. Why would it?”
“ Oh, I don’t know,” said Meath airily, stabbing at his potato. “ Just, you know...”
“ No, I don’t know.”
Meath grinned at the hint of irritation in his friend’s voice.
“ Well, you know, I’ve just been thinking, about... you know... you...”
“ You... and Glaslyn...”
“ Oh,” said Wyn, with exasperation. “ I get it now.”
“ You can’t deny it forever, Wyn,” said Meath, winking suggestively. Wyn could tell he was enjoying this immensely.
“ Oh, yes, I can,” said Wyn, “ And now, I have to go get ready for fencing this afternoon. Goodbye.”
Wyn wiped the sweat off his forehead and adjusted the position of his wooden practice sword on his shoulder. It was hot. The sun seemed closer to the earth than usual, and there were no clouds in the stunningly blue sky to offer relief. I thought Jisteine was rainy and wet, Wyn thought unhappily. In all fairness, it was the height of summer, but the city still had no right to defy it’s usual weather patterns.
“ There you are!”
Wyn whipped around at the sound of a voice, and saw Glaslyn’s familiar shiny black head bobbing towards him across the middle courtyard.
“ Why?” said Wyn, “ Is someone looking for me?”
“ Me,” said Glaslyn, giving him a funny look.
“ Oh,” said Wyn, feeling immensely stupid, “ Um, right.”
“ There’s no fencing today,” said Glaslyn, still eyeing him as if she suspected there was something wrong with his head. “ Mortlach’s a bit ill. He’ll be better by tomorrow, hopefully. So you’ve got a free afternoon. Have fun,”
And with that, she turned and walked back across the courtyard.
The words that had been on t he tip of Wyn’s tonge dissolved into the disturbed air Glaslyn had left behind. He sat down on the edge of the fountain and put his head in his hands. He felt drained.
He sighed, lifted his hands, and swirled them around in the water behind him. It suddenly occured to him he had never touched the water in any of the fountains before. It felt almost surprisingly cool, and very pleasant on his hands. He had been swishing them around for a while when he got the strange sensation that the water was responding to his touch. A bit longer and it felt like another set of fingers was toying with his own. He turned around to reassure himself that it was, in fact, just water, and that his encounter with Glaslyn was making him imagine things.
What he saw gave him the shock of a lifetime. There was another hand playing with his- a wet, transparent, sparkling hand.
As he tried to get over the shock, something else happened. Another hand formed out of the shallow fountain water, and then an arm, and soon the entire torso of a woman was next to him, propped up on her elbows.
Wyn had gone beyond the panicked stage and simply stared. The courtyard seemed surprisingly devoid of people for this time of day. The water-woman smiled at him, and- to his even greater surprise- began to speak.
“ You look lonely,” she said. He voice was barely audible, yet definitely there.
“ Who are you?” he managed to squeak out.
“ Zenadia,” she replied, turning so that her back was facing him. She tilted her head backwards so she could see him.
“ A naiad,” she said, without waiting for his question. “ You look lonely.”
“ I- I- well- yeah.” said Wyn intelligently. “ I mean, I’m not- with anyone...”
“ No,” said Zenadia, a hint of laughter like droplets tinkling into a fountain in her voice, “ I mean, you seem disappointed. Alone.”
“ I guess...”
“ Don’t worry,” she said, “ It won’t last.”
“ How do you know?”
“ Trust me,” she said, turning around again, “ I know.”
Wyn could see her face now. It was curiously pretty, with almond shaped eyes and a finely shaped mouth. She was slender, with bony shoulders and a sharp chin and nose. He found himself leaning in for a closer look at her exotic features.
It happened quite suddenly, so quickly that Wyn hardly knew what was happening. One sparkling hand found the side of his face, pulling it down towards her and, before he knew it, the naiad had fastened her lips on his. Somewhere behind the tingle that had rushed down his body when he realised what was going on, he knew he was kissing her back, and that something wasn’t right about what was happening. Another part of him didn’t care.
It was over almost as quickly as it had begun. When Wyn looked back at the fountain, he saw nothing but clear, sparkling water.
Meath looked up as Wyn entered their dorm room. His hair was standing up on end from having his hands run through it so many times, but then, it always looked like that.
“ Hey, Wyn,” he said, “ Heard you had a free afternoon. Guess you didn’t get your big chance after all, huh?”
Wyn said nothing, but lay down on the bed across the room from Meath’s. He looked dazed, Meath thought. He had his head in the clouds.
“ Hey!” he called to his friend. “ You still alive over there? I said, I guess you didn’t get your big chance after all? You know, with Glaslyn?”
“ Good grief, kid,” Meath rolled his eyes. “ Lighten up a little. I’m only joking, you know.”
Wyn’s response involved rolling over and pulling his blankets up to his chin.
“ Fine, be that way,” said Meath, returning to A Synopsis of Enedera and it’s Provinces.
A little while later, Meath chanced a glance at Wyn. He was under his covers and facing away from him, but Meath could tell he wasn’t sleeping.
Classes were the dullest part of any of the student’s training. They lived for practice days, the days spent fighting, laughing and sweating under the hot sun in the practice grounds. However, all of them soon learned that becoming a knight was not all fun and game. There was learning to be done- history, maths, language and- to Wyn’s utmost horror when he arrived- etiquette.
As luck would have it, it was their first class this morning. Normally, there would be a great deal of grumbling and complaining from Wyn and Meath’s side of the room, but today it was strangely quiet. Wyn was still in his dazed mood from yesterday, and it was making Meath irritated. He wasn’t in the mood to grumble loudly to himself.
“ Hey, Wyn,” he whispered, in a desperate attempt to snap him out of it. Not that he hadn’t tried many times before. Always unsuccesfully. “ Wyn, I think Glas... lyn... is looking at you. Look, she is! She’s mouthing something- I can’t tell what it is-”
Wyn turned to look at Meath, but his eyes were unfocused, his thoughts clearly somewhere else. His brown eyes weren’t seeing Meath. Meath sighed in exasperation and turned to face the window. This class was going to be duller than usual.
The whole day followed in a similiar manner. Meath would sit in huffy silence in his corner of the room, and about halfway through the class, try to snap Wyn out of his torpor. Upon several unfruitful attempts, he would sink back into his annoyed silence.
He was not having a good day. He needed someone to grumble to, to poke fun at, to make jokes with about Mistress Reine’s newest fashion blunder. Of course, he could still do all these things, but it just wasn’t as fun without a response from the other side.
Suspicions were starting to form in the young man’s mind. Wyn seemed like he was constantly thinking about something. Like what? Nothing terribly exciting ever happened at Jisteine. At least, not within the castle walls. And even if it did, Wyn would tell him. Except...
Maybe, thought Meath, just maybe, something had happened between his friend and Glaslyn. Something he wouldn’t be willing to tell Meath about. After all, he reasoned, Wyn wasn’t exactly the kind to kiss and tell (of course, Meath didn’t know if Wyn was the kind to kiss at all, but that was hardly the point). So he resolved to ask Wyn about it. Now seemed like a good enough time.
“ Hey, Wyn,”
No response. Meath was getting used to it.
“ So, uh... what’d you do in your free afternoon yesterday?”
The usual silence.
“ Because... well, I’ve just been thinking... um... well, actually I was wondering if- if anything happened between you and Glaslyn? I mean, anything in the, uh, romantic sense of the word. Because if it did, well, I was kind of hoping you’d tell me. You know, fill me in on the details. You know me, Wyn. I want to know these things. So what’s going on?”
Blank, staring silence. Meath crossed his arms in irritation.
“ Come on, Wyn. I’m not going to laugh at you. I’m happy for you, honestly, if anything happened. And I really do want to know. I’m curious.”
There was no telling what was going on behind Wyn’s eyes, and it was infuriating Meath to no end.
“ Fine!” he said. “ You know what, fine! If you’re not going to tell me, I’ll ask Glaslyn myself!”
He hadn’t meant to say that, but the instant he did, he knew it was a good idea. For one, if Wyn was still alive in there, that would get him talking. And if it didn’t, well, Meath would do just that.
And as nothing happened, it seemed that was what Meath had to do. He tried to tell himself that he was doing this only because Wyn wouldn’t give him information, but the truth was, he would have done it anyway.
Wyn couldn’t concentrate. It wasn’t for lack of trying, but every time he tried to focus on what Meath or someone else was saying, his mind was invaded with vague romantic sentiments towards either Zenadia or Glaslyn. Mostly Zenadia. He had no idea why, but he kept thinking of her sparkling almond-shaped eyes, her flowing hair, her liquid voice. Even his vision seemed a little off. Everything was blurry, and tinted a little blue. Or maybe he was imagining that. But then again, right now, he was imagining everything.
Meath considered doing something to his hair the next day before he went to talk to Glaslyn, but decided against it for the most part. He stopped by the water basin in his room to calm down his unwieldy blonde locks, but that was about the extent of it. Normally, he wouldn’t have cared in the slightest- Glaslyn was, if not a friend, an acquaintance, and he didn’t feel he ever had to look especially nice for her- or anybody, for that matter. But the fact remained that as he had not seen Glaslyn in practice, or classes the day before, he would have to seek her out that evening. And during the evenings, he had discovered, she took lessons with her uncle, the formidable Duke Marcelin of Roharr. This was enough to make even the most self-confident of trainees shaky.
Of course, Meath had planned his visit so that hopefully he could catch Glaslyn just as she was leaving her lesson, but you never knew. Hence the precautions with his hair.
Marcelin’s rooms were in a corridor in the main pinnacle that was off-limits to trainees and students (with the exception of family members, naturally), so Meath waited in a well-lit corridor off to the side. It wasn’t long before he heard a heavy door creaking open and shut again, and the sound of two voices. Meath took a deep breath, and stepped out into the corridor.
Glaslyn turned from a conversation with her uncle to see Meath. A quickly hidden look of surprise passed over her face. Marcelin didn’t bother to hide his expression.
“ What are you doing here?” he asked. Meath swallowed.
“ I wanted to speak to Glaslyn, if- if that’s alright... sir,” he added belatedly. Marcelin raised his eyebrows with an expression that Meath took to be suspicion.
“ It’s fine, Uncle,” said Glaslyn quickly, “ I know him. I’ll catch up with you, all right?”
“ Don’t be too long,” was all Marcelin said before continuing down the corridor. Meath sighed in relief.
“ Well?” she prompted. “ What?”
“ I wanted to talk to you about Wyn,” said Meath. Glaslyn frowned.
“ Wyn?” she said.
“ Yeah,” Meath replied, “ He’s been acting really strange... sort of daydreamy and not-quite-all-there, if you know what I mean.”
“ Go on,” said Glaslyn, clearly confused.
“ Well-” It was becoming obvious to Meath that Glaslyn hadn’t the faintest idea what he was talking about, and it was making him flustered. “ Well, I was just wondering if-” Now Meath realised that nothing had, in fact, conspired between Wyn and Glaslyn, and that he was on the verge of telling Glaslyn something that Wyn hadn’t even told him. Glaslyn was giving him a strange look. “- if- if you knew... what was wrong with him?”
“ No...” she said, still looking at him strangely. “ I don’t. I’m sure if you asked him-”
“ That’s why I’m asking you!” Meath interrupted. “ He won’t tell me!”
“ Okay, okay,” said Glaslyn, “ No need to be like that. Why don’t you ask Piper? I’m sure she’d know.”
Meath suddenly felt very stupid. The Queen’s assistant was both one of the most knowledgeable people in the palace and one of the most approachable. It made much more sense to ask Piper than Glaslyn.
“ All right,” he said, “ Thanks for your help.”
“ Any time,” said Glaslyn, “ Oh- Meath!” Meath turned around from the entrance to the stone corridor. “ I’ll come with you, okay? Meet me at the library after classes tomorrow. Bring Wyn if you can.”
“ Yeah, okay,” said Meath. “ I’ll see what I can do.”
The library doors were large, made of heavy mahogony with gold-brushed handles. They were very well kept, the kind you’d expect to open smoothly and silently on the lightest push.
Not so, as Meath discovered. After slamming his shoulder onto the crack between the leaves, they slowly moved inwards with a loud groan. Meath winced. He thought libraries were supposed to be silent.
Inside, there were a few students studying in the bright light from oil lamps flickering at every table. Glaslyn was reading near the door, and looked up with everyone else when Meath entered the room.
“ Where’s Wyn?” she asked, frowning.
“ Nice to see you, too,” Meath answered grumpily, rubbing his shoulder.
“ Sorry,” Glaslyn apologised. “ Hi. What happened to your shoulder?”
“ Those,” said Meath, gesturing to the doors. Glaslyn grinned.
“ Yeah, that’ll happen,” she said, “ So where is Wyn?”
“ In bed,” said Meath, “ I tried to get him out, but he’s still all starry-eyed.”
“ Well, all right...” said Glaslyn doubtfully, “ I guess Piper might know what’s going on if she doesn’t see him... providing you describe his symptoms accurately.”
“ Symptoms?” said Meath, alarmed. “ What, you think he has some sort of disease?”
“ Maybe,” shrugged Glaslyn. “ I don’t know. But the sooner we get to Piper, the sooner we’ll know, right?”
“ Yes, mother,” said Meath sarcastically as he followed Glaslyn out the doors. Which, it turned out, opened effortlessly from the inside. “ So, where does Piper lurk at this time of the night?”
“ Anywhere and everywhere,” said Glaslyn, turning down a corridor. “ She’s in the magic wing with Miss Reine right now, I think.”
“ Okay,” said Meath.
“ So,” said Glaslyn, looking purposefully at Meath. “ What did you want to ask me yesterday?”
“ What did you want to ask me yesterday?” she repeated. Meath frowned.
“ I wanted to ask you... what was wrong with Wyn,” he said, “ That’s why you’re here, isn’t it? What are you talking about?”
“ No, you didn’t,” said Glaslyn amiably, “ That’s not what you really meant to say. I’m not stupid, Meath, you still have something to ask me.”
“ Yeah,” Meath mumbled, realising defeat. “ But I got my answer anyways.”
“ Even though you didn’t ask?”
“ Yeah,” said Meath. “ Just leave it alone, all right? You’ll probably find out soon enough.”
“ Okay,” said Glaslyn.
“ We should be getting close to the magic wing by now, shouldn’t we?”
“ Should be just about there, yes.”
There followed a very awkward silence. Meath coughed. Glaslyn smiled tightly, not looking up. There wasn’t a sound in the corridor except their light footsteps on the stone and muffled murmers from inside various doors they passed.
“ Oh, we’re here!” said Glaslyn, stopping suddenly. She sounded quite relieved for their silent walk to be over. Meath stepped passed her and pushed open the door, holding it for Glaslyn.
Inside were Piper and Mistress Reine, flipping through a textbook. It looked as though Piper was helping the teacher with a lesson plan. She looked up when Meath and Glaslyn entered.
“ Meath!” she said, surprised. “ Glaslyn! What are you doing here?”
“ We just wanted to ask you something, Piper,” said Glaslyn politely. “ We’ll only be a moment?” She directed the last part at Mistress Reine, who nodded. Piper grinned and stepped back into the hallway.
“ Well?” she said, after Meath had closed the door. “ What’s on your minds?”
“ You know Wyn, right?” asked Meath, taking the initiative.
“ I do.” said Piper.
“ Well, he’s been acting a bit... strange... lately,” he continued, “ A bit... I don’t know... dazed, I guess. He won’t respond to anything I say, except sometimes he looks at me, but he’s not looking at me, you know?”
Piper nodded, waiting for one of them to continue.
“ What was it you said in the library, Meath?” said Glaslyn suddenly. “ You said he was... starry-eyed, wasn’t it?”
“ Yeah,” said Meath. Piper grinned unexpectedly.
“ How long has this been going on for?” she asked him.
“ Three days or so,” said Meath.
“ Right. And he doesn’t respond? Hasn’t done or said anything for these three days?”
“ Well,” said Meath fairly, “ He does follow me to classes and things. I beat the stuffing out of him in fencing.”
“ Right, I understand,” said Piper, “ Just remember, Meath, he is a teenage boy. You’re sure nothing’s going on between him and some girl?”
Meath started and blushed, looking at Glaslyn. Comprehension was dawning on her face.
“ Oh!” she exclaimed, “ No! No, no, not at all!”
“ All right,” said Piper, “ I think I’ve got a pretty good idea of what’s going on. Meath, Glaslyn, do you know what a naiad is?”
“ A water-sprite,” said Glaslyn, puzzled.
“ Yes,” said Piper, “ A naiad is a lesser, inland cousin of the ocean siren. Usually they live in swamps and things, but ocasionally they find their way to fountains or pools.”
Meath and Glaslyn were beginning both to understand and to grin. Piper continued,
“ Naiads are a royal pain to have in a household. All you have to do is touch the water they’re living in and they wake up. And if she kisses you...”
“ You walk around in a daze for the rest of your life,” finished Meath. He was smirking all over his sunburned face. Piper grinned in reply.
“ Not all your life,” she corrected, “ Just until the spell is lifted.”
“ And how does one do that?” asked Glaslyn laughingly. Piper’s own smile widened.
“ Extraordinarily simple, dear,” she said, “ Wyn just needs to be kissed by another woman,”
“ Oh,” said Glaslyn, “ Well, that’s simple enough. All we need to do is find...” She trailed off as she saw the look on Meath’s face. “ What?” she asked, frowning. “ What are you-” She spun around to ask Piper what on earth was going on, but the sprite had vanished. Glaslyn turned back to Meath. Meath raised his eyebrows.
“ Well?” he said. Glaslyn sighed huffily.
“ He owes me,”
Everything had acquired a very strange quality lately. It was like opening your eyes underwater, Wyn thought. Misty and somehow more pleasant than usual. All the ugliness was blurred away into a contented sort of fog. And then Wyn would think of Zenadia and all the fog would melt away, only to be replaced her beautiful visage. He sighed dreamily. I wonder if she’s still at the fountain, he thought, and set off in that general direction.
I wonder if I’m going in the right direction? Oh, there’s that little corner alcove, it’s just around- yes, here I am. There was the fountain, merrily spraying water this way and that, feeling almost as exultant as Wyn himself. He sat on the edge of the pool and trailed his finger in the water. Zenadia did not seem to be at home today, or if she was, she wasn’t responding the way she had last time.
“ Wyn!” came a voice out of the haze. A familiar voice. “ Wyn!” It was Meath, accompanied by a dark-haired girl he couldn’t quite make out. He frowned.
“ Wyn,” panted Meath, collapsing at the fountain. He had no idea why he had run all the way across the courtyard as if Wyn were running out of time, or running away. He certainly wasn’t going there. In fact, Wyn was looking at Meath as though he had never seen him in his life. Glaslyn fidgeted. “ Okay,” Meath breathed, “ Okay. We’re here.”
“ That we are,” agreed Glaslyn, not meeting either boy’s eyes.
“ Well?” said Meath, “ What are you waiting for?”
Glaslyn bit her lip, and looked at Wyn, then looked quickly down again. Meath rolled his eyes.
“ Come on,” he said, giving Glaslyn a little push. “ We haven’t got all day.”
Glaslyn took a couple of hesitant steps toward Wyn, then quickly reached up and pecked him on the cheek.
“ There,” she said. “ Is he better?”
He obviously wasn’t.
Glaslyn sighed, composing herself, and summoning to her mind all the good things about Wyn. He was determined, loyal, relatively good-looking. With a final deep breath, she stepped firmly towards him.
Glaslyn’s lips met Wyn’s, and suddenly everything looked different. The mist was gone, the vague sense of self-satisfaction had dissipated. Wyn was looking at the closed eyes of Glaslyn. Those eyes... in that face... belonging to those lips that were kissing him so sincerely. Glaslyn was kissing him, Wyn, insignificant little Wyn from the country. It was all his dreams come true, he suddenly realised, all those half-quashed fantasies he had tried to tell himself he wasn’t having.... come true.
“ Wyn!” said Glaslyn suddenly, stepping back and blushing. “ Well. There. You’re better.”
“ Er.... yes,” said Wyn awkwardly, “ Yes, I suppose I am... er... thank you?”
“ You’re welcome,” said Glaslyn, the confident timbre that was usually so evident in her voice replaced with embarassment, “ Anytime. I mean-not any- anytime... uh... I should... I should go...”
“ Yeah,” said Wyn, “ I mean... well, see you, then... goodbye...”
“ Goodbye,” said Glaslyn, and hurried out of the courtyard. Wyn and Meath stood facing each other for a moment, and then Meath snorted and burst into laughter.
“ I don’t see what’s so funny,” said Wyn irritably. Meath’s shoulders shook as he wiped his eyes.
“ Just you,” said Meath, still laughing. “ You’re a funny guy, Wyn.”