A ball of paper hits the back of my neck. I ignore them. I continue to copy the nonsense from the blackboard. All round me pens scratch. Not modern roller-balls, oh no, the Order of the Sea provides us with quill and ink. Fortunately, my royal princely training involved writing with one. I rub my thumb and forefinger together as the ink dries on my skin.
Master Kim is teaching us about yang-qi a meditative practice which he claims we can use to tap into the planet’s energies and become adept at using something he calls moha. I’d call it magic or perhaps even, for the first time ever, use my grandfather’s term: mumbo jumbo. However, if I don’t work and pretend to understand it I’ll be denied lunch. The breakfast was woeful and I’m already starving.
“Novice Angus, are you paying attention?”
Oh here we go. Master Kim’s method of ensuring discipline seems to be to pick on the new boy and beat him if he doesn’t understand what everyone else has been taught since they were toddlers. Think it pisses him off his threats don’t scare me into submission like they do the other novices.
“Zhan.” he yells.
With little grace, I manage to stand. The tiny desk doesn’t make it easier.
I’m tempted to say woof but decide to get my revenge in other ways. “Hux.” I’ve even had to learn ancient Islander which bears no resemblance to the modern language that we speak on Covesea Island. “Chu. Za.”
His face betrays his disappointment. There’s other things I’d rather spend my time learning but my brain is good and it can keep pace with Novice Nitwit ad Novice Dick.
“Yang?” He smiles.
I taunt him and pretend to think. His unpleasant thoughts are increasing his equally unpleasant smile.
“Nengy. Liu. Luong.” It’s my turn to smile as I know I have the damn ridiculous chants right. “Gu Yuying Qiangdu.” As I say the words I feel the strength and power of the falcon and sea eagle that I called upon. White wings marked with black hover in front of my eyes. I shake myself. The whole thing is nonsense.
Master Kim looks even less pleased than usual. He’s glaring at me. It’s not like he can report me to Father-Abbot for actually learning my lessons. And he’s learned that standing next to me just makes him look like a little cherry-red haired pixie.
One of the other novice’s has farted. Not that I blame him on the seaweed, rice and vegetable diet we’re on. It’s ripe. Smells worse than fermenting kelp. I keep my composure and stand like a prince. It’s what my father would want me to do.
The gong goes.
He’s been saved. He knows it and I know it. It’s my first real moment of satisfaction since I arrived at the Order of the Sea. I throw my books back in my desk and join the others as we file past him. I bow. “Thank you, Master Kim, for the enlightenment.” Load of shite you taught us. I smile at him.
He returns the obeisance. “Thank you, for your dedication as my student.”
I suspect he means that even less than I meant my thank you. We walk down the cloisters. Novice Dick and Novice Nitwitt nudge me and tread on my heels. I refuse to react.
“Novices, if I catch you doing that again I’ll thrash you senseless and petition the Father-Abbot to sack you. Bullying a fellow brethren is disgusting. Bullying your king is treason,” Shun yells from the courtyard. They disappear and he catches up to me. “Hey, Novice Angus. How’s it going?”
I match his long strides. “I can take care of myself. And I’m not the king. Stop calling me king.”
Shun shrugs. “I know you can take care of yourself, but I can do it without being beaten, well I’m less likely to be beaten.” He walks with me to the dining hall. “Take care, Novice Angus. I’ll see you later at recess.”
Yet again he’s called me king and made no apology for it. I’m not a king. My father is still alive and so is my brother. They have to be. I find my place against the wall. Before the novice’s can eat they must serve the brethren. I sniff. Yep it’s seaweed, vegetables and rice again. Delicious but we have it for every meal.
Today, at the top table The Father-Abbot and Shun are joined by a young woman. I’m a teenager in an institution full of men – she could be a badly scarred sea cow and I’d find her beautiful. Her boot polish black hair is streaked with cherry-red and her eyes sparkle like a polished aquamarine, they remind me of Lady Aya and my girlfriend. She gazes right at me and smiles. Oh by the universal father she has the most amazing dimples. My world vanishes and I only want to stare at her.
Novice Nitwitt nudges me in the ribs. “Put your tongue back in king-boy. She’s the Holy Father’s daughter. You stand no chance.”
Updated Thursday - I've changed the days round to fit a change in lifestyle since the start of a new school year. Even though we don't do school it still affects us.