Matthias has spent his whole life on the edge of a very small world. The bastard child of a fallen woman, his magical talents as still unseen, he’s known nothing but judgment and hatred from the harsh, religious people of his enclave—except for Balthazar. The son and heir of the High Elder, Balthazar shows Matthias kindness, and love…and desire. When the High Elder discovers what his son has been doing, Matthias is arrested and sent to an isolated prison known simply as “The School”. There, and in the wastelands beyond, Matthias learns the secrets behind the hypocrisies of the Council of Elders, and discovers his true heritage, true power, and true love. (M/M, F/M)
Matthias nodded slowly, looking around again. This wasn’t what he expected. “You’re very nice. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome. Finish that. I’ve got your uniform and something for you to eat, when you’re ready.”
“Uniform?” Matthias asked, and drained his cup.
Solomon spread his arms, showing off his shirt and kilt, both made of some kind of undyed cloth. As his sleeves slid up, Matthias saw markings on both of his wrists. “What all the well-dressed students are wearing,” he quipped, and Matthias smiled. Solomon nodded. “Good. You can smile. Are you hungry? You should be. You’ve been asleep for most of a day.”
“I have?” Matthias gasped.
“The Elders can get a little heavy-handed with the sedatives when they pass judgment,” Solomon said. “The healers looked you over when you got here, and they said you were fine. You might have a bit of a headache, but it will pass. Now, food first?”
Solomon rose and walked to the table, coming back with the covered bowl. He handed it to Matthias, along with a spoon. The bowl was full with some kind of stew, shredded meat, vegetables, and an unfamiliar grain. Matthias took a bite and winced; the food was very spicy and still steaming hot. Unasked, Solomon refilled Matthias’ water cup.
“What kind of evaluation?” Matthias asked between bites. He took a long drink, trying to cool his mouth.
“For your education,” Solomon answered, refilling the cup once more. “They want to know what you know already. They’ll quiz you about the Codex and about Enclave law. They’ll test you on reading and figuring, and they’ll teach you if you can’t. And they’ll teach you a trade. Did you have one?”
Matthias shook his head. “Not unless hunting is a trade.”
Solomon snorted. “Not to them it isn’t. And they won’t give one of us a weapon. Ever use one of the old machines? They’re always looking for someone who knows how to tinker.”
“At home—” Matthias stopped and looked down at his bowl. It wasn’t home any more. “Back where I came from, the blacksmith had some pieces that he said were parts of old machines, but he never let anyone touch them.” He looked up again. “Why?”
“The transport ships,” Solomon answered. “There aren’t many left, and from what I understand, the books that tell you how to fix them are falling apart. A few of the boys here, they worked on machines back where they came from, so they work on the transports to keep them running.”
Matthias nodded, finishing his stew. “This is really good. What is it?”
“Stewed rabbit and millet. You like it?”
“Yes. It’s very spicy, though.”
Solomon laughed. “That’s nothing compared to how my mother made it. Thanks.”
“You cooked this?” Matthias grinned. “You’re a good cook.”
“I’m first assistant to the cook. You know how to cook? Maybe we can find you a place in the kitchens.”
Matthias shrugged. “I don’t know if you can make a cook out of me. I don’t burn water, and I can make porridge and clean and cook whatever I catch when I go hunting. But fancy cooking like this? We never had the means.”
“Well, we can always use someone to peel potatoes.” Solomon got up and picked up the bundle of cloth. “Here. Change and leave your old clothes on the bed. Boots, too. Students go barefoot here. I’ll be outside. Knock when you’re ready.” He turned and walked out of the room, closing the door. Matthias heard the lock click. He grimaced, and shook out the clothes. A shirt and kilt just like Solomon’s. What the well-dressed student was wearing, Matthias thought, and took off his old clothes. As he tugged his shirt over his head, he finally realized why his wrists seemed to ache. There were markings encircling both wrists—dark patterns that stood out in stark contrast to his skin. The marks were slightly raised, and more than a little sore.
“Solomon?” he called. The lock clicked, and the door opened. Wordlessly, Matthias held out his arms.
“Oh. I should have mentioned those. We all have them. The Elders put them on you after judgment.” Solomon held out his arm, showing off the marks on his own wrist. “They hurt a few days, then you don’t even notice them.”
“It doesn’t come off?” Matthias asked, looking closely at his own wrist. The marks looked like they were part of the skin.
“Only if you hurt yourself badly enough to scar. Which I don’t recommend. All right. Finish getting dressed.” Solomon turned and left, and Matthias heard the door lock once more. He folded his shirt neatly and took off his trousers, then picked up the fresh shirt. He dressed slowly, enjoying the almost sensual pleasure of putting on the first new clothing he’d ever owned; the shirt was loose, made from something soft and light, with long sleeves that fit tight to the arms. The kilt felt like it might have been canvas, but something had been done to the material until it was as soft as the shirt. There were tabs and buttons on the waist to make it fit better, and it came to Matthias’ knees. He smoothed the front of the kilt, shifting slightly at the unusual feeling of air against his privates. It was odd. He felt uncomfortable. Almost vulnerable, and he wasn’t certain he liked it.
“I’m done,” he called, looking down at himself. He shifted again, walking back and forth across the room as the door opened.
“Something wrong?” Solomon asked.
“Just… this is odd. I don’t like it. Why not trousers?” Matthias asked.
Solomon’s face went blank, but only for a moment before he shrugged. “Because kilts are one size fits pretty much everyone, so the Headmaster doesn’t have to worry about tailoring,” Solomon answered. “Leave everything. Someone will come and clean up. Come on. I’ll show you the School.”