Vincent had to suppress the urge to snap at the arrogant young nobleman facing them. The young man stood with his hands on his hips, staring down his nose at Geran and Vincent, his posture and supercilious sneer emphasizing his offense at the thought of making way for a pair of wizard trainees in plain gray tunics. Vincent seriously doubted that the young man didn't recognize him, despite the fact that Vincent had only spent a few weeks at home prior to this summer. Like most students at the Wizards Hall, he had spent his first two summers on Bright Isle, returning home for only a week each year. But this summer, between his third and fourth years, he had received permission to spend the entire summer break at court, and after much cajoling, had convinced Geran to come with him. And although there were new people at court since the last time he'd been here, he refused to believe that anyone would not instantly recognize the youngest of the three royal children. His portrait was hanging in the main gallery, for heaven's sake! Drawing a long breath just to emphasize how tired he was of the whole thing, Vincent fixed the young man with a stern glare.
"I am afraid we have not been introduced, sir," he drawled. "I am Prince Vincent. And you are…?" He left it dangling, suppressing his smile at the look of consternation and surprise on the young man's face.
"Excuse me, your highness!" the young man exclaimed, quickly sketching a short bow. "I just arrived at court yesterday. I am Previn Destral. My family estate is on the eastern flanks of the White Peaks mountain range."
Vincent nodded to himself. The White Peaks were the mountain range directly east of White Shores. There were a number of large estates on the far side that held their allegiance to the king in White Shores, but few of the nobles that lived there bothered to make the difficult trek over the mountain passes to visit court, except when they wanted to borrow money from the Crown, or when seeking marriage or business alliances with the families that made their homes in White Shores. "Welcome to court, Mister Destral," Vincent replied, purposely using a more familiar form of address to drive home the point that he outranked the young nobleman.
"Thank you, your highness." Previn inclined his head to Geran with a slightly sour expression. "I was not aware that wizard trainees were allowed to leave Bright Isle."
"Upperclassmen are allowed to visit their families during summer break if they wish," Vincent replied, "although in practice, only noble-born students usually do so."
"I see. We have never had a family member exhibit wizard powers," Previn went on. "It seems more prevalent here in White Shores." His tone implied that he thought it might be a failure in breeding on the part of White Shores families.
"No doubt that is because more royal wizards settle here than elsewhere," Vincent said. He managed to keep his tone civil, despite the feeling that he had just been insulted. "I hope you enjoy your time at court." He inclined his head briefly and moved on.
Geran kept pace with him, his forehead wrinkled in a slight frown. "Do you really think he didn't recognize you?"
"I didn't think so at first, but if he just got here from the other side of the mountains, it's possible." Vincent shrugged. "Not that I really care, but I guess I'm just sensitive to people trying to snub you for no good reason."
"I'm a commoner, Vincent," Geran said. "They're allowed to snub me."
Vincent scowled. "You're a wizard," he grumbled. "They should behave better toward you, regardless."
"You know that's not how noblemen see it." Geran smiled. "And you know it doesn't bother me. I would be happier if they ignored me completely."
"Well, that's not going to happen as long as you're wearing wizard robes."
"I'm not in robes," Geran pointed out quite reasonably.
"You know what I mean!"
"I know." Geran trailed the fingers of his left hand over the band of invisible light wrapped around his right wrist. Vincent smiled at the contact. It was Geran's secret way of communicating his affection for Vincent, since no one could see Vincent's light encasing his wrist like a bracelet. But Vincent was always aware of the gentle caress of Geran's fingers.
Putting his right hand over his mouth, he whispered. "You will be a royal wizard one day."
Geran's smile widened. "So you say."
Sustained by Vincent's power, Geran's listening spell had never faded and Vincent still used it to talk to him. Doing it when they were together was a little silly, but it allowed Vincent to say things to Geran that he couldn't say aloud in front of others. "Yes, I do say," he murmured and dropped his hand to his side with a grin.
"Vincent! Hold up!"
Vincent spun gracefully on one foot to face the caller. At their shared age of fifteen, his sister Lida had blossomed into a young woman every bit as beautiful as their mother. Like their mother, she wore her dark hair long and it was currently hanging in loose curls down her back, swaying from side to side as she hurried after them with a large rectangular box balanced precariously in her arms.
Geran immediately trotted back to meet her. "Please allow me, your highness," he said, lifting the box out of her arms.
"Whew! Thank you!" Lida exclaimed. "I thought I could manage, but the wretched thing got heavier with every step."
Vincent joined them with an amused smile on his face. "What is it?"
"What?" Vincent stared at the box, completely confused.
"Antony and I talked about it, and we think you need to take the rest of your stuff back to Bright Isle. You spend more time there than here." She tapped the box with a manicured finger. "And I think you need to start wearing the trappings of your rank, like other noble-born wizards. I saw that exchange with that new gentleman. He would have recognized you if you'd been wearing your signet ring."
Vincent made a face. "I'm not wearing that ring. It's too bulky. It would interfere with spell-casting."
"It was bulky when you were twelve," Lida retorted with a shake of her head. "It will fit you just fine now. It's not like I expect you to wear your circlet."
"That's not in there, is it?!" Vincent stared at the wooden box in horror. He had only ever worn the plain gold circlet that identified him as royalty for special occasions. The idea of wearing it around the Wizards Hall sent chills down his spine.
"Of course it is." Lida grinned at his discomfort.
Geran looked from one to the other. "What's a circlet?"
"His crown," Lida answered for him.
Geran blinked at Vincent in confusion. "But I thought you renounced your place in the royal succession."
"I did," Vincent answered shortly, "but I'm still a member of the royal family. The circlet represents my place in society."
"Oh." Geran mulled this over. "Then you should wear it for special occasions at the Hall when all the noble-born wizards and trainees wear their jewelry and trappings and stuff."
Vincent shook his head. "Not a chance. I'll wear the signet ring, but that's it."
Lida lifted her eyebrows at Geran and the young man smiled back. "I'll work on him," he said.
"Good. Now then," she put her hands on her hips, "it's almost time for dinner. So go drop that off and meet us in the royal dining room. Mother's planned a special meal for your last night here." She patted Vincent's cheek and trotted away, the ebony wave of her hair sweeping across her bottom.
Vincent glanced at the box. "You're not actually going to carry that, are you?"
"No." Geran released the box with a grin and it remained unsupported in the air between them. "But why would you leave so many of your personal items here?"
"Because at the time, I was hoping to come back," Vincent admitted ruefully. "And then it just seemed like too much effort to send for it. It's not like I needed most of this. I had the few things I really wanted. But I suppose Antony got tired of having my things cluttering up his room. Since he's had it to himself since I left, he must think of it as his alone now."
"Is that why you're staying in the suite with me?"
"No." Vincent grinned. "I'm staying in the suite with you because I knew you'd be horribly uncomfortable letting servants wait on you if I wasn't there to make you do it."
Geran ducked his head. "I don't need people waiting on me," he said. "I can look after myself."
"At court, where you don't know your way around," Vincent chided.
"I have you to show me." Geran gave him a lopsided smile. "I don't know why you keep trying to make a gentleman of me. I'm a farmer's son. I'll never be comfortable putting on airs and ordering people about."
"My stepfather grew up as a servant," Vincent replied. "Does he strike you as one?"
Geran shook his head. "But that's different."
"No, it isn't. You should ask him sometime. He'll tell you that it took him a long time to get comfortable as a royal wizard, but being my father's bodyguard helped, because he had good reason to insist on people doing as he told them. When you're a royal wizard, you'll have responsibilities and people will have to treat you with respect. It goes with the crest." Vincent tipped his head down the hall. "Let's drop that off. I'm curious what we're having for dinner now." They walked back to the suite they were sharing with the box floating along behind them. Vincent didn't know of a single wizard who carried anything heavier than a sheet of paper in his hands, and trainees who had become adept at spells of air were almost as bad.
No one was in their suite when they ambled in to deposit the box in Vincent's bedroom, which was something of a relief. When Vincent and Geran had first arrived at court, the cadre of servants assigned to them had attempted for days to get the two of them to change for dinner, since this was a common practice among the nobility. Vincent would not have particularly minded, since it was a custom he'd grown up with, but Geran did not have a change of clothes, other than the spare uniform he had only just recently saved up enough to purchase out of his trainee allowance. So Vincent had steadfastly refused to change out of his uniform for dinner so Geran would not be embarrassed, and after a few days, the servants had given up. But that didn't mean they had completely stopped appearing in the suite at dinnertime hopefully rummaging through Vincent's wardrobe and laying things out.
Back in the hallway, Vincent broke into a trot. "Let's hurry. I'm hungry." They jogged side by side to the royal dining room. As soon as they passed through the doorway, Vincent bounced to a stop with a grin on his face. "Colwyn! When did you get back?"
The middle-aged wizard regarded him with a friendly smile. "Just now." He stepped over and clasped Vincent's shoulders, giving him a shake. "You've gotten tall, your highness."
"It happened all at once, too," Vincent said. "I shot up two hand spans between the end of summer and the following spring my second year. I learned the spell for extending cloth so the seamstresses at the Hall would quit grumbling at me."
"That spell thins the material," Colwyn noted, looking Vincent's uniform over critically.
"I know!" Vincent chuckled. "I used my light to hide the thin places."
Colwyn raised his eyebrows. "That's useful."
"But I only did it until I stopped growing overnight. Then I had new uniforms made."
"Have you been to Bright Isle yet?"
"Not yet. Since I got here at dinnertime, I figured I'd scrounge a free meal off your parents and tell everyone about the madrin first."
"You saw madrin?!" Vincent exchanged an excited look with Geran. The magical creatures had become reclusive during Vincent's youth, after several years of encroaching on settled areas.
"Yes," Colwyn nodded. "I encountered more of them in the White Peaks than I've seen in years. It's quite encouraging." He made a face. "Of course, I could not get any of them to explain to me why they disappeared, but that's not surprising."
Geran's eyes went round. "You can speak to madrin, honored sir?!"
"Oh, I speak to them all the time," Colwyn replied with a shake of his head. "It's how they choose to respond to me that's the tricky part. Madrin do make some vocalizations that I've learned to interpret, but I often have trouble understanding when they try to convey more complex ideas. I get the impression sometimes that they think I'm a little dense."
Geran's mouth fell open. "I thought they were just animals!"
"They are much more than that," Colwyn assured him. "That's why they are protected by the Crown."
"Forgive me, Colwyn," Vincent abruptly cut in, feeling contrite. "I've failed to properly introduce my friend. This is Geran. He's starting his sixth year."
Colwyn held out his hand. "How do you do, Geran? I've heard of you."
Geran hesitantly took his hand. "You've heard of me?" he replied faintly.
"From my wife, Lady Asita."
Geran paled. "Her ladyship knows who I am?"
Colwyn chuckled. "Don't let it worry you, my boy." He patted Geran's shoulder. "And everyone knows who you are. You're Vincent's friend."
"Colwyn! I heard you were here." King Edouard walked in with Kieran beside him. He marched right up to Colwyn and grasped his hand. "Welcome to court, but if Asita demands to know why you stopped here first instead of coming straight to Bright Isle, I will assure her unequivocally that it was your idea."
Kieran chuckled as he held out his hand. "Me, too!"
"Seems I can't depend on anyone anymore!" Colwyn snorted. He shook hands with Kieran. "You're looking good, Kieran. Any problems since Asita took over the Hall?"
"Nope!" Kieran's smile widened. "The Hall's running as smoothly as I thought it would with her in charge."
"Moretz still thinks Kieran tricked him into selecting her," Edouard said.
"I did no such thing," Kieran replied archly. "Asita was the best candidate for the job. I just made sure her name was included on the list."
"By coercing Moretz into recognizing that fact." Edouard winked at Colwyn and Colwyn grinned back.
"Well, I for one am glad she got the job," Colwyn said. "She hasn't complained once about the amount of time I spend wandering around looking for madrin since she moved back to Bright Isle. Plus, she gets to see the girls every day."
"Did you see any madrin on this trip?" Edouard asked.
"Quite a few, actually. I think we may start seeing more of them around the fringes again."
"That's good and bad, I suppose," Edouard mused. "I hope they don't start attacking horses again. That got a bit expensive for a while there."
"Couldn't tell you," Colwyn responded. "I was travelling on foot."
Queen Celli entered with Lida and Antonio beside her.
"You see, Mother," Lida said. "I told you Colwyn was here."
"And you were quite right," Celli said. She approached Colwyn and offered her hand. "It's good to see you at court, Lord Colwyn," she said. "Will you be staying long?"
"Just the night, I'm afraid. I'm planning to catch the morning ferry to Bright Isle."
"Your timing is good," Celli replied. "Vincent and Geran will be returning to Bright Isle in the morning as well. We are having a farewell dinner for them tonight."
"Oh dear! I don't want to impose on a family gathering."
"Nonsense!" Celli waved his objection away. "You're practically family. As soon as Moretz gets here, we should take our seats. We're being served tonight."
As the others moved toward the table, Geran caught Vincent's sleeve. "What does she mean we're being served?"
"They won't be putting dinner out on the buffet like they usually do," Vincent explained. "They'll bring the food to us at our seats and either serve it onto our plates or let us serve ourselves from the serving dishes. It depends on the course which way it goes."
Geran bit his lip. "That sounds really fancy," he said worriedly. "What if I mess up?"
Vincent patted his hand. "Just watch me. Sit on my left. They always start service from the right, so they'll serve me first. Just do what I do."
"All right." But Geran didn't sound convinced. When Moretz arrived, they settled at the table, with Edouard and Celli sitting at either end. Kieran and Moretz sat next to Edouard opposite each other, and Antonio and Lida sat opposite each other next to Celli. Vincent sat next to Antonio, so Geran sat on his other side, between him and Kieran. Colwyn sat next to Moretz. It made for a lopsided table, but since the table could seat as many as twelve people if necessary, it wasn't crowded.
The meal started with a soup course. One servant carried the tureen and a second ladled the soup neatly into their bowls. It was a clear broth soup with sliced mushrooms and green onions floating in it, so their dinner bowls were shallow vessels and the accompanying spoons were also large and shallow. When everyone had been served, Celli picked up her spoon. "Vincent and Geran, I want to tell you how much we have enjoyed having you visit with us this summer. I know you work very hard on your studies during the year, so I hope this vacation has been relaxing and refreshing for you."
"Thank you, Mother," Vincent answered. "It's been great being home. I'm really going to miss this when I'm back on Bright Isle."
Geran cleared his throat uncomfortably. "I'm real honored to have been welcomed into your home, your majesty," he said. Vincent lowered his head to hide his smile. Geran had been practicing that sentence, which he had kept referring to as his speech, for two days. He had insisted that he had to thank his hostess for her hospitality, as his mother had taught him, and Celli, being both queen and Vincent's mother, was the one he needed to thank. But the prospect had left him a nervous wreck, because Geran had avoided talking to Celli and Edouard most of the summer. It was one thing to talk to Antonio and Lida, and even Kieran, but it was quite another entirely to converse with the king and queen like they were regular people. That feat had been quite beyond Geran's simple upbringing and Vincent had kindly not pressed the point. Getting Geran to let servants wait on him had seemed like a sufficiently large goal for his first summer at court.
"It's been a pleasure having you, Geran," Celli replied warmly. "We are very glad to know Vincent has such a good friend to be his companion at school." With that, she dipped her spoon into her soup and everyone began to eat.
Vincent ate his first spoonful slowly, carefully sliding the farther edge of the spoon into the liquid first and lifting it out of the soup when it was half full. He raised the spoon to his mouth, rested the bottom of the bowl against his lower lip and tipped the spoon up, allowing the soup to flow soundlessly into his mouth. He lowered his spoon to repeat the gesture and Geran copied him perfectly. When he finished, Vincent left his spoon in the bowl and wiped his lips with his napkin. While his mouth was covered, he whispered, "Leave your spoon in your bowl when you're finished. That's how the servants know you're done." Geran quietly ate his last spoonful of soup and placed the spoon in the empty bowl.
When everyone was done, the servants whisked the bowls off the table and replaced them with small plates. Then two servants appeared carrying serving bowls containing beet salad. A second pair of servants with a set of serving utensils resting on a plate accompanied them. One of these servants stopped beside Celli to offer her the utensils while another held the bowl of salad in front of her so she could serve salad onto her plate. The other two servants did the same with Edouard. Afterward, each pair of servants worked their way down one side of the table, allowing the diners to serve themselves the desired amount of salad.
"Yum!" Vincent exclaimed when it was his turn, heaping a generous amount of salad onto his plate. "I love beet salad! They don't serve this at the Wizards Hall."
After serving himself, Geran sampled a slice of beet with a curious expression. "We made sugar out of beets when I was growing up," he said, "but sometimes mum would skin them and put them in a stew."
"Do you miss the farm?" Lida asked.
Geran shrugged. "Sometimes, but I like studying magic. And there's no going back."
"That is something I wish I could change," Edouard said, "but try as we might, we can't seem to change public opinion of wizards."
"Perhaps it's because too many wizards prefer living outside society," Colwyn said. "It is difficult not to think of oneself as special, and therefore better, because of an ability to perform magic."
"Very true," Moretz agreed.
"But I find it is the noble-born wizards more than the common-born ones who have that attitude," Celli said. "Perhaps it has less to do with power than with upbringing. If one is already predisposed to thinking one is superior, having magical talent can only make such an attitude more pronounced."
Listening to their conversation, Vincent thought about the snobbish young nobleman Previn Destral. How would such a privileged young man behave if he also possessed the ability to become a wizard? Would it make him more humble or more arrogant? It wasn't a hard question. Vincent could think of dozens of students at the Hall just like him; Avin Corsani for one. Wrinkling his nose, he pushed the thought of Avin out of his mind. This was his going away dinner. He was going to enjoy himself and not think about the irritations waiting for him back at the Hall. He would be back there to face them soon enough.
After the salad course, the main course was served. Vincent couldn't restrain himself from clapping his hands delightedly when the servants came in with the serving platters. "Game hens! Thank you, Mother! It's been years since I've had a game hen!"
Celli smiled warmly. "I thought it would please you," she said.
The servants used tongs to place a single game hen on the plate of each diner, along with a small pile of green beans simmered in garlic sauce and three miniature boiled potatoes. Vincent used his fork to hold the bird steady so he could cut it in half, spilling out its stuffing of apples, raisins, and onions. "My favorite!" he giggled gleefully. Geran followed his lead, cutting his game hen into pieces. There was silence at the table after that as everyone worked on their dinner.
Colwyn was the first to speak, the small bird on his plate reduced mostly to bones. "Ah! I knew I was right to come here first. Your kitchen is exemplary, as always, my lady." He saluted Celli with his goblet of wine.
Celli inclined her head in response. "Thank you, Colwyn."
"I imagine you'll miss this when you're back at the Wizards Hall," Colwyn continued, his gaze shifting to Vincent and Geran.
"Yes, but I like the food the dining hall serves," Vincent replied. He was already happily dismantling a second game hen. Even with Colwyn joining them unexpectedly, the kitchen had prepared enough hens to ensure that everyone could have seconds if they wanted. Since Vincent had claimed a second hen without a trace of shame, Geran had done the same, along with more potatoes and green beans.
"I suspect that has more to do with quantity than quality," Kieran chuckled, watching them eat. "Young wizards can be voracious eaters."
"True, but it still tastes good!" Vincent responded with a grin. Geran nodded in agreement, but he didn't speak. That was usually how their dinner table conversations went. Geran never spoke unless someone addressed him directly, but he always showed he was participating by nodding or smiling in response to what was said.
For dessert, they had chocolate cake with buttercream frosting, another of Vincent's favorites. Geran apparently had never tasted buttercream frosting before, because at the first bite he stopped in astonishment with the fork still in his mouth.
"Do you like it?" Vincent asked.
Geran quickly lowered his fork and swallowed what was in his mouth. "Yes!" he exclaimed. "It's so sweet! How do they do that?"
"I don't know, but I love it."
"Me, too!" Geran ate his piece quickly and was rewarded by the servants with a second slice. Vincent ate a second slice, too, as did the other wizards. After dinner, they lingered over coffee, tea or wine, depending on preferences. Geran had developed a passion for coffee, after trying it at Edouard's suggestion, amended with a little cream and sugar. He sipped the brew slowly with a slight smile on his face, saying nothing while everyone around him talked. At first, Vincent had worried that Geran's silence was a sign that he was not happy at court, but the prince had eventually come to realize that Geran was naturally more inclined toward reticence. His willingness to talk comfortably with Vincent was more an aberration of his personality than it was for him to be quiet around people. So he let Geran sit quietly and did not try to draw him into the conversation.
It was getting late when Celli finally rapped her knuckles on the table to get everyone's attention. "I think it's time to send Vincent and Geran off to bed. They need to get an early start tomorrow." She smiled a little sadly at Vincent. "I'll miss you, my dear. I confess I am still not used to having you away from home."
"I'll miss you, too, Mother," Vincent replied. He looked around the table. "I'll miss everyone, so please keep writing to me. I love getting letters."
Lida shook a finger at him. "Well, you need to do better at answering them," she admonished. "We want to know how you're doing as well."
"Don't expect too much from him," Kieran said. "Fourth year can be tough."
"No excuses!" Lida said firmly. "I want a letter every two weeks at least."
Vincent shook his head and laughed. "I'll do my best!"
Since the royal dining room was in the family wing of the palace, they saw very few people on the way back to their suite. "It still seems weird when the halls are empty like this," Geran remarked.
"Father says more people lived in the family wing when he was a child. His father let people with even just a remote connection to the royal family live here. But Father kicked nearly everyone out after he and mother got married and limited it to immediate family members and close friends only. He did it to protect us, he said." Vincent shrugged. "So it's been this way my whole life. But the palace is big. There are plenty of suites and rooms in the other wings for nobles who want to live here."
"Who decides who gets to live in the palace?"
"Father does. Generally, anyone who sits on the council or works for the Crown can ask to live in the palace. And pretty much anyone of noble blood can stay here when they're visiting White Shores if they don't have an estate nearby or a townhouse in the city. That nobleman we saw earlier, Previn Destral, is probably staying in the palace."
They arrived at their suite to find that servants had been there to light the lamps and turn down their beds. Walking into his bedroom, Vincent discovered his small trunk sitting open at the foot of his bed with his clothes already neatly folded and stacked inside. "They just can't help themselves," he muttered. He plunked down on the side of the bed to take off his shoes and stockings.
Geran appeared in his doorway. "They packed my duffel bag," he reported. "How do they manage to keep the clothes folded that neatly while shoving them into a bag?"
"Servants have special skills," Vincent replied absently. He leaned back on his elbows and kicked his bare feet.
Geran sat down beside him. Holding up his right hand, he let a stream of pale green bubbles swirl off his fingers. "Kieran is right, you know. Fourth year is hard. I really struggled."
"But you got through it just fine." Vincent sat up and laced the fingers of his right hand through Geran's upraised fingers. Light immediately flowed off his fingers, but since he made no effort to control the color, it took its color from Geran's pale green bubbles, shimmering like new birch leaves as it flowed up to the ceiling with Geran's bubbles, where it bunched up like balls of cotton. As his light spread, Vincent extinguished all the lamps in the suite. He preferred the soft glow of his light to the warm yellow light of the oil lamps. He leaned his head on Geran's shoulder and closed his eyes. As it always did, letting his power combine with Geran's relaxed him.
"May I sleep in here tonight?" Geran asked quietly.
"Of course. But we shouldn't sleep in our clothes. We want to look presentable tomorrow." Vincent stood up and stripped out of his uniform, folding his clothes neatly and stacking them on a chair. He crawled into the bed in his underpants while Geran undressed, scooting over to the far side so Geran could be on the side closer to the door. When Geran snuggled up against him, the contact caused light to spill off Vincent's hands. But since Geran was not actively making bubbles, Vincent's light just spilled off the edge of the bed and poured across the floor in glowing waves of opalescent white.
"That's a little bright," Geran murmured sleepily.
"Right." Vincent turned the light invisible rather than stopping it. The cottony green light resting against the ceiling also disappeared, leaving Geran's bubbles glittering like stars in the sudden darkness. He smiled. "That's pretty."
"Um hmm." Geran's mumbled response faded into silence. Vincent was always amazed by how fast Geran could fall asleep. He hadn't realized it until this summer, because at the Wizards Hall they had always had to return to their own rooms at night. But since coming to court and staying in the same suite, they had fallen asleep together more than once. The first time had been something of an accident after a long day of horseback riding, but every time since had been on purpose. Even after three years of being in a room by himself on Bright Isle, Vincent still didn't like being alone and that first night together had reminded him how much he preferred to have company when he slept. He hadn't really told Geran this, but he was pretty sure Geran knew, simply from the easy way Geran would settle down beside him at night.
Smiling to himself, Vincent closed his eyes and moved closer. He could feel his light running out his open bedroom door and through the sitting room. He didn't stop it, because once it spread under the suite door and into the hallway outside it would warn them when someone was coming, giving Geran time to return to his own room. There was no reason to give the servants a reason to gossip about them. "Goodnight, Geran," he murmured, even though he knew the other boy wouldn't hear him. "Tomorrow begins a new year."