Chapter 86 – Royal party


The ceremony began with the students filing into the event hall to stand in ranks on the floor. The third years filed in and took up positions in the back, followed by the the second years and then the entering class stood in front

That might sound backwards, but they are just doing things the way they had been doing them since lower school. The students there are adolescents, and growing pretty fast still, and the logic is that the older, taller classes should stand behind the younger, shorter class. Like putting the kindergartners in the front in elementary school, right?

Or does it sound strange that we were standing? We should all be sitting in folding chairs, as another imitation of Japanese stuff, right? Yeah, I halfway expected that myself, considering Huade’s track record, but for this occasion, you have to think ‘West Point’ instead of ‘Japan’.

The Royal Academy began as a military school, and it never officially stopped being one. Every single student here could potentially end up in the Royal Army or Navy, or the Royal Knights. Many of them would actually be planning on it. It was a good career path for all those second and third sons of nobles, or to add to one’s experience as the first son while the parent was still actively governing. And although most of the daughters had plans involving marriage or a civilian career, even many of them would serve the king after graduating in some capacity.

So we were standing like cadets, in orderly rows and columns on the floor, with the galleries full of parents gazing down at us. In front of us, the stage held dozens of people wearing almost religious-looking silk finery and hats that reminded me of medieval movies. This was the academic attire of Huade. Unlike the normal clothing, which in the city looks Victorian and in the countryside looks rustic medieval, ceremonial garb tends to look Byzantine, and the gowns of priestesses even resemble ancient Greece.

Although the majority was from the Atian region, the crowd represented a broad swath of different sorts of people. The human population is heavily hybridized with all sorts of non-human ancestry. There are lots of blond or silver-haired folk with blue or green eyes who have elven ancestry, red-heads with dwarven ancestry, people with extraordinary senses or strengths due to beast-man ancestry, fantastic swimmers on the coast with Merrow ancestry… and a ton of other crazy hair colors, just like in an anime, thanks to fairy ancestry. They were less common in the Atian region, but enough Dorian youth were attending to add in a sprinkling of blue and violet and green and pink.

If you were looking for an unusual hair color… probably the least common was my own. Black.

I was just thinking about how strange the combination of all of the above truly looked, when the Royal Seneschal entered and declared, “All stand for His Majesty, Owen the Second, By the Grace of the Divine, the King of Orestania!”

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We were already standing, but all those parents quickly scrambled to their feet as well.

For a brief moment, I felt surprise that Uncle Owen would bother to attend a high school entrance ceremony, then I felt like an idiot. His son was a third year in the upper school, and his daughter was entering. Of course he would be present.

And, as people had become accustomed to seeing, entering behind him, along with First Prince Ged, was Mother, in her usual duty as ‘Royal Escort’ at events, standing in for the late queen.

I noticed she was going a little light on the maturity disguise. She looked about five years younger than when I saw her in the morning. Maybe she was feeling competitive in the presence of so many pretty young noblewomen.

The Royal Party took up their position on the stage as the crowd applauded, then one of the oldest elves I have ever seen came onto the stage, dressed in a more ornate version of the ceremonial garb the other academicians were wearing. After one of Uncle Owen’s attending knights helped her up onto the podium, she faced us, peering around the room at everyone assembled, then declared, “For the benefit of those attending here for the first time, allow me to introduce myself. I am Niaela of Erna, the headmaster of this academy. I am happy to make your acquaintances.”

Was this the same Niaela of Erna I had learned about in my history lessons at the Palace? An elven knight by that name held off Gavin the First’s armies with her band of warriors through ten annual attempts to subjugate her little valley, then signed a peace treaty with his daughter after he died and became a loyal baroness of the kingdom. For hundreds of years after that, she was one of the most valuable generals serving the crown. But that had been almost a thousand years ago…

Looking at her, though, she could very well be that old. She wasn’t hunch-backed–  I don’t think a hunch-backed elve exists in this world– but she looked tiny and shriveled. Despite it, though, her voice was strong and her eyes looked terribly sharp. I felt like she was looking straight at me several times as she spoke.

She ended her speech by declaring, “You are the prided students of this academy. Look forward to many a hard lesson, but please enjoy your upcoming year as well.”

Then she gestured toward Uncle Owen and stated, “I now invite His Majesty forward to say a few words.”

I heard more than a few sighs around me– it sounded like a mixture of fellow students realizing that the ceremony was going to be a long one and fangirls of Uncle Owen– and smiled at the tired ones. This was going to be nothing compared to standing guard as a squire. These kids didn’t know how easy they had it.

The ceremony wore on through Uncle Owen and two other dignitaries and their speeches, then– as I should totally have expected– the ‘incoming class representative’ was invited onto the stage. As I saw a familiar head of pink hair make her way onto the stage, I remembered Tibor mentioning that Mireia had scored top marks.

How did I score? I didn’t take a test, remember? I was automatically admitted as a knight. In terms of ranking, I was exactly mid-rank, since automatically admitted students were placed at the fiftieth percentile to begin. Of course, the rest of these students were attendants of noble students and were standing next to their lords or ladies, placed according to how said master or mistress ranked.

Since I wasn’t admitted as some other student’s attendant, and I had attendants of my own, they had to figure out where to put me. They just shrugged and used the fiftieth percentile rule and placed me in the middle of the class. I don’t think it would have bothered the old Tiana, but Robert had been a little competitive when it came to grades, and had usually been in honors classes in high school, so it rankled me a little to be stuck in the middle of the pack.

I was a little shocked, though, as Mireia ascended to the stage. A few quiet voices around me nearby were saying things like, “It’s that hussy again,” and “Is that the little trollop that’s been chasing Prince Rod around?”

My exposure to her had been brief, but she had struck me as a sweet, friendly, guileless girl, her only flaw being that she was perhaps way too effervescent. Sort of an eager puppy in human shape. I felt certain that the abuse I was hearing wasn’t deserved. And absolutely had to be related to whatever Amelia had been talking about.

Only allowed on

Although Mireia spoke, it turned out she didn’t get to say much. Thanks to the presence of a certain princess in the incoming class, her speech as the class representative had been preempted, reduced to the simple honor of introducing Her Highness.

She did get to say, “It’s a great honor to represent my fellow incoming students,” and a few other standard lines, but then she had to turn the podium over to Amelia. Her Highness came forward and ascended the stage, where she delivered a speech that some royal clerk must have pulled out of a file cabinet for her. Or maybe she really did write it, but it was awfully standard stuff.

“I thank each and every teacher who has committed to leading us to become good and diligent students. We walk forward into your classrooms knowing that the walls of this institution have seen thousands of stories just like ours, who spent their precious years here before us, their hearts and minds becoming filled with wonderful memories like those we will soon make.

“Help us remember that we are surrounded by the memories of those before us, and keep us moving forward to become as wonderful as the people they have become…”

The entire time she was speaking, I was begging myself, Please, please, please don’t yawn while Amelia is giving her speech. I would have died if she saw me doing that.

At the end of her speech, though, we had a surprise. Ged appeared from a side door and began climbing the stairs to the stage. He’s an advanced school student. In other words, he’s in college. He really shouldn’t have anything to do with this high school ceremony.

But Amelia finished her speech by stating, “I have been asked by His Majesty to introduce an additional speaker. Please welcome my elder brother, His Highness, First Prince Gerard, for a brief announcement.”

- my thoughts:

School stuff is school stuff. And cliché stuff is cliché stuff. I almost skipped this chapter, but decided there was enough here to keep it.

There will be an illusion for a few chapters that I'm really playing this in the same old conventional fashion. The purpose of this arc is to set up the next several volumes (no, they don't all happen at this school), so I have to take some time to plant seeds and intro characters. Stick with me. And see if you can spot where convention starts going astray.

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