Chapter 3

The Apprentice

"M-my app-prentice?" Jamie stuttered.

"Yeah. Captain Jeffrey and I had a conference this morning while you and the other two trainers were practicing. He said that you were the most fit of the three, so you would be in charge of training me. He said you would most likely be the next Royal Musketeer, and when that happened I probably wouldn't see much of you. So we both decided it would be best if I trained with you before you took your test." Maria stood a bit slouched, her finger twirling her ruby hair restlessly. "That is, if that's okay with you," she added quickly.

"Um, well, I'd hardly say that I'm qualified to teach you..." Jamie began.

"No problem. I'm a fast learner."

"...and I don't know what Chloe and Taryn would say, since they both have the same chance at becoming the next Royal Musketeer as I do."

"Even so, you are just as qualified as they are, so why switch now? And if you think it will bug them that much, then you don't even have to tell them I'm your apprentice."

"I suppose so," Jamie said, her voice lacking conviction.

There was a pause, then, "Um... Captain Jeffrey mentioned you knowing where my quarters would probably be?"

Jamie sighed. "Yeah. Follow me," she beckoned her. This was one part that Jamie wasn't going to enjoy. The only room remaining was her mother's room, so that was where Maria would have to sleep.

At the end of the long corridor filled with the womens' sleeping quarters, Jamie opened a large door and was greeted by the scent of mildew. Barely able to contain a cough, she looked around the room: a place of memories. This is where she had been born. This is where she had received her first sword. This was where she and her mom played. Memories.

"Sorry about the condition," she apologized. "This was my mom's room before she..." she felt the tears welling up in her eyes and couldn't continue.

"Don't worry, it's okay," Maria assured her, putting a hand lightly on her shoulder. "I think I'll be right at home here. It just needs a bit of dusting up, that's all."

Jamie smiled gratefully. "Okay, so if you need any thing, I'm the door two down from yours. Taryn's room is the one right next to this, and Chloe's room is on the other side of mine. I wouldn't say anything to Taryn or Chloe if I were you until I've introduced them to you, which I'll probably have the opportunity to do tonight. Any questions?"

"No... I think I'm good."

"Well, get all settled in and get a good nights rest. We're up at dawn to start training."

"Ai ai, Captain!"

As Jamie exited the room, she pondered how long Maria would be able to take the intense training that she had endured for the past three years. Probably not long, by the looks of her frame. The girls' nothing but skin and bone! Ha, plus maybe a little lean meat, metaphorically speaking.

Trotting to her room, she suddenly remembered that she had promised that she would meet Chloe in her room. Abruptly making a sharp right turn, she knocked on her best friend's door. "Chloe, it's me. You there?"

The door squeaked open and a grinning Chloe hauled her in. "How'd it go?" she asked, her face suddenly solemn.

Jamie hesitated. She didn't want to say anything about her assignment, for fear that Chloe might be envious and do something rash. "It was okay."

"Just 'okay'? No emotional talks? No reprimands? No screaming? It almost sounds too good to be true." Chloe sighed. "Is it true?"

Jamie was shocked. "Of course it's true," she lied. "Have I ever lied to you before?"

"... No, but still. You seem a bit... different."

"I think it's just you," Jamie said offhandedly.

"Oh, whatever. But guess what I found out?"

"What?" asked Jamie, her curiosity peaked.

"Nothing..." she said, trying to pull the innocent girl routine.

"Come on, you asked me, remember?"

"Okay," said Chloe, sitting on her bed and crossing her legs. "I was going to go talk to Taryn—you know, because she seemed so upset after she left Captain Jeffrey's office—and I heard her talking to herself!"

"Why is that such a big deal?" Jamie asked, sitting cross-legged on Chloe's bed as well. "She does that all the time. You know that."

"Yeah, but have you ever heard her talk to herself about guys?"

Jamie gasped. "Your kidding!"

"Nope. I swear. Here's exactly what I heard her say: 'Oh, Kaleb. What am I going to do? If I don't pass this mission—at least survive it—then there's no chance that I'll ever be able to be with you. But if I do pass, then I won't be able to be with you either! Stupid law, preventing Royal Musketeers from marrying.' Can you believe it?!"

"Honestly, no, I can't. You swear your not lying?"

"Cross my heart," Chloe assured her.

"Hm... isn't there a Royal Musketeer named Kaleb? Do you think that that's who she's talking about?"

"There's a good chance. I don't know another Kaleb, and he is really cute."

"Ha, don't even think about it, girl. Let Taryn have something to live for," she joked. Then she realized the serious statement she had just declared. Her eyes grew wide. "Wait a minute... didn't she say something about surviving? You said that she said something like that."

"She did," said a puzzled Chloe.

"So, you don't think that there's a chance that, since she can't be with Kaleb, and that she may not survive her mission, she would..." Jamie's voice trailed off.

"Quit?" Chloe tried to fill in her sentence..

"No. Worse..."

"You don't think she would try to..."

"Kill herself? I don't know."

They both looked at each other. "Taryn!" they screamed of simultaneously.

Rushing out the door, they dashed down the hall and knocked on Taryn's door. "Taryn!" they shouted. Banging on the door, then thinking better of it, they opened the door. Still calling the girl's name, they didn't hear a peep. Checking ever nook and cranny of the place, from underneath the bed and in the closet, they finally broke down.

"She's dead somewhere," Chloe moaned.

"Why? Why would she do it?" Jamie cried, knowing the answer.

The girls screamed. There, before the doorway, was a girl with dark brown hair, robed in nothing but a towel. Her hair was sopping wet, still sprinkling the floor with shimmering droplets. "What are you doing in my room?" asked Taryn.

"Taryn!" they screeched. Throwing their arms around the girl, she struggled to keep the towel up. Clutching her thin, almost see-through towel, she spoke.

"Can you leave for a minute so I can get dressed?"

"What is it with you two and assuming the worst?" asked Taryn a few minutes later. She was now fully dressed, wearing a silky blue nightgown. After the girls had explained what had happened, a very relieved Jamie and overjoyed Chloe embraced Taryn in a fierce bear hug. "And," she added, "I can't believe you," she pointed to Chloe, "were listening outside my door! That's not cool." She shook her head.

"Well, you seemed upset and—" Chloe didn't have time to defend herself before the door burst open and Maria came in, sword in hand.

"Jamie," she started, her lower lip trembling, "I heard screaming so I grabbed my sword and changed clothes... what happened? I was afraid something had happened to you before I had even had a chance to meet your friends or train with you." Jamie face-palmed, and Maria quickly put a hand over her mouth.

"Train?" Chloe repeated. "Jamie, is there something you need to tell us?"

"Yeah. Anything important?" added Taryn. Both girls were now staring Jamie down.

Jamie hung her head. "Chloe, Taryn... this is my apprentice, Maria."

"Your apprentice!" shouted Taryn. "Why do you have an apprentice?! Especially so close to when our missions are due... unless... your dad thinks you'll win, doesn't he?" The tears were burning hot in her eyes now. She figured before that she most likely wouldn't survive her mission, but now it was as if all doubt had been removed from her mind. Maybe suicide would be the option... but not yet, at least.

Jamie said nothing, her head still low.

"Well, does he?" Chloe practically shouted, the hysteria in her eyes evident.

"He thinks I have a good chance..." Jamie said, carefully choosing her words.

Before another word was said, Taryn screamed, "Get out!"

"What?" Maria, Chloe, and Jamie asked at the same time.

"I said get out! I don't want you in here. I HATE YOU!" and with that she plopped down on her bed and sobbed.

"Oh, Taryn," Jamie began, not sure what to say. She had never seen Taryn cry before. "You don't mean that—"

"Yes, I do! Now get out!"

Jamie barely managed to dodge a pillow that Taryn threw at her. "Okay, Taryn. But if you ever need to talk, you know where to find us."

"Unfortunately," she snapped.

Chloe sighed. This was not going well.

Jamie waved out Maria and Chloe, then threw one last prolonging glance at the Taryn before exiting.