“Who are the Seven Peoples of the Earth?” Teacher said, pacing in that slow, hungry way teachers had when waiting to pounce on a stumbling student.
Well, Grey wasn’t a bad student, but that didn’t mean this class held his interest. He rested his chin on one hand, his long, pointed ears flicking back and down as if they’d passed out from boredom.
“John?” said Teacher. “What do you think?”
Grey hated that name. It was so banal. So… human. Grey was much better, and it was his surname, so it counted. “I think the Seven Peoples mostly don’t care if I know who they are or not.”
The brief, beautiful moment between his classmates’ giggles and Teacher’s fell swoop was enough to keep him smiling for the rest of the day. It did not, sadly, keep him out of trouble.
Teacher bent at the waist with the grace of a dancer, curving down to eye-level and casting his shadow over Grey’s desk. “Care to try that again, Your Highness?”
Oh, Grey knew he’d regret this later, but not today. “Not really,” he said, tossing his white-blonde hair over his shoulder.
That earned a couple of gasps from his classmates. Nice.
Teacher sighed and stood. It was difficult to guess how old he was, but Grey knew he’d been teaching since before Grey’s father sat through schooling, so that was a really long time. “The Seven Peoples of the Earth, please, Your Majesty,” Teacher said, looking out the window as if disciplining his own prince meant nothing, nothing at all. “I will keep you here, in that seat, until you answer. If that means we must remain day and night until the sun rises on summer and winter and summer again, so be it. If that means you must wed, be bred, and die in this room, that is your choice. Your father will agree with me – but let’s save everyone the embarrassment and simply answer the question, hm?”
Grey sighed, puffing out his cheeks. Being crown prince was a pain in the arse when you were ten and your father had only been on the Throne a month. Of course, his grandmother was the Throne, so ascendancy was guaranteed. That didn’t mean Grey liked the idea. “Fine. The Seven Peoples of the Earth.” Obediently, he held his homework up high so Teacher couldn’t see the faces he made behind it.
“The Sun and the Darkness, the Guardians and the Dream, and the Fey and the Kin, and the Ever-Stupid – I mean, the Ever-Dying.”
“Your simplified glyphs are accurate, if sloppy,” said Teacher, ignoring that. “And what do the Ever-Dying call themselves?”
“Humans.” Grey stuck his tongue out behind his homework.
“And where do the Seven Peoples live?”
How long would this go on? “The only places that matter are the Silver Dawning and Umbra,” Grey opined.
Teacher looked at him. “Why?”
Grey shrugged. “The Silver Dawning is where we live, so it’s obviously the most important. But Umbra is where the Darkness live, and the people of the Darkness eat us, and there’s no natural light there, so it’s a place we must never ever go.” That didn’t seem strong enough. “Never ever ever. Ever go.”
“That much is certainly true,” said Teacher with unnerving calm, and returned to the blackboard.
Sage leaned over toward Grey’s desk. “You’d be brave enough to go to Umbra, wouldn’t you?” she whispered, tugging on her straight, black hair as if it rang the bell of her brain.
Grey didn’t even look at her. “No.”
She gasped. “But you’re the prince!”
Grey clenched his teeth. It was precisely this kind of statement that made him less and less inclined to do the whole royalty thing. “Only somebody stupid would go to Umbra. Do you think I’m stupid?” he hissed.
Her eyes filled and her long ears drooped. “No,” she whispered even more quietly.
Grey stared ahead with as stoic an expression as he could muster, trying not to feel guilt.
“Your homework is to write a page on each of the Seven Peoples,” said Teacher, tapping the board with one finger. Magic sparked from his fingertips; the blackboard suddenly sparkled like the night sky, and in front of it hovered a bright blue circle with strange symbols.
“I want a paragraph on the lands native to each People. Also, you are to practice drawing the full heraldry of the Wheel, as well as continued work on your simplified glyphs. This is due in the morning,” Teacher said.
Grey groaned and carefully folded his sketch of the Wheel. Someday, he’d go where nobody knew what he was, or who. Someday, he’d just leave. Nobody would call him prince, or Highness, or expect him to do anything miraculous.
Someday. He didn’t have enough power to escape the Silver Dawning now, but someday, he would. And he’d never come back.
Someday could not come soon enough.