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"You'll sleep here in the dormitory with the other pages," the castellan said. He was Akielon, and frighteningly unresponsive to Nicaise' charms.

Nicaise looked at the hard narrow beds, horrified. The blankets were coarse grey wool, the pillows stuffed with straw.

The castellan opened a door. "Here is the privy. And the common room is where you'll spend your time when you're not attending to your duties. Or at your studies."

"Studies?" Nicaise' voice jumped high then low as it had been of late and he blushed, appalled.

"Studies," the castellan said, sternly. "At which you will excel."

Nicaise swallowed.

---

Laurent was unsympathetic. "It's your fault you've no skills outside the bedchamber," he said, in his private apartments. "Go study, Nicaise. The only cure for looking stupid is to get less stupid."

Nicaise swung a fist at Laurent but he caught it easily, frowning. "You should start swordwork, too. I'll speak to the weapons master."

"No!" Nicaise tensed to kick him in the balls. Pageboy boots were ugly but sturdy. It should hurt a lot.

Laurent kept talking as if nothing was wrong. "And I'll take you through the beginnings of the work."

Nicaise put down his foot and listened.

---

"Again," said Laurent.

Nicaise wanted to stab him in the heart. Unfortunately, the sword was wooden and Laurent was good at dodging.

"It's like dance," Laurent said yet again. "You're a good dancer, Nicaise. Look for the rhythm."

Nicaise had never sweated like this, not even in bed. It was disgusting. He smelled, his back hurt and he hated Laurent more than life. Then the steps fell together momentarily and he tapped Laurent's blade.

"I knew you'd be a natural," Laurent said, approving.

Glad now of the sweat which hid his blush, Nicaise raised the sword for the next lesson.