September 6, 2014 by Lyn Thorne-Alder
“Thief!” The shout rose above the tumult of the hall. Tairiekie tried to move closer, but the crowd was all doing the same thing.
“Calm down, Ebusdiz. You’re being ridiculous.” The calmer voice still managed to cut through the murmuring and be heard, Tairiekie imagined, clear to the rafters.
“I’m not being ridiculous! She’s the one that’s a blasphemer! She’s the one that stole my ideas.”
“And which is it? Did I steal your ideas, or are my ideas blasphemy? Because if they’re both, then you’re admitting to being a blasphemer yourself, and the Three might be a bit irked.”
The hall was slowly falling quiet, and people were moving away from the arguing trio like water from oil.
“Goats…” The muddy-clothing man, who was probably Ebusdiz, chewed on a knuckle. “That was pretty bad.”
“It was, indeed, unpleasant.” The calm-and-loud woman consented to the rainbow-clad woman’s steering, and the three of them made their way out of the center of the hall. “My apologies, Libkazaari.”
“That was the head of the school. She was running the school when we were here.” Biemnyon had a sound like awe in his voice. “She’s still the same as she was then.”
Tairiekie wasn’t as interested in the peacemaker as she was in the argument, but her parents clearly had a different agenda.
“Not quite the same. She’s brighter.” Dairnikkindo smiled. “Remember those outfits…”
“Oh, yes, especially our first day of school, when she showed up wearing a layer in every single one of the House colors…”
“It looks like she decided to condense them down and just dye them all on a normal set of layers.” Biemnyon shook his head. “Well, at least she’s easy to pick out of a crowd.”
“That was the Head of the Academy?” Tairiekie glanced around the hall, but, despite her father’s comment, the woman was nowhere to be seen.
Her mother correctly interpreted her expression. “There will be plenty of opportunities to meet in her the future, Taikie. You’re going to be here for six years, the Three and your attention span willing. Don’t try to cram it all into one day.”
“I know, it’s just…” Tairiekie trailed off as a large woman wearing larger skirts pushed past them to the heretofore-forgotten uniform table.
“This is my daughter Kinyozhanya.” It was the day for loud voices, although this woman’s voice was piercing rather than booming. Tairiekie hid a wince. “She’s the smartest girl in Terepoonet and she’s going to be the smartest pupil here at Edaledalende Academy.”
The girl was wan, Tairiekie thought, and pallid and skinny, but she had her brown hair perfectly braided in an enviably elegant arrangement, and her clothes were a classy take on the Akaizepennen House colors, while not actually looking like she was trying to imitate the uniform. The striped skirt was a really nice touch. And she was smiling sweetly at her mother.
“I did well on my tests.”
“You excelled on your tests. Don’t you dare say any different.” The mother sounded like she was trying to win a screeching contest.
“I did well.” The girl smirked, belying her strange modesty. “Fairly well.”
Tairiekie glanced at her mother. Would she step in? Would she say ‘my daughter was the smartest girl in her school?’
“Come on, Taikie, let’s get your uniforms.”
That wasn’t right. Tairiekie frowned. “But…”
“Let’s get your uniforms, Tairiekie.” Dairnikkindo gave Tairiekie a gentle shove towards the table.
“I placed first in every school I was in.” She wrinkled her nose at her mother. “I was the smartest student in all of Amenet.”
“You’re an excellent student. And what did I tell you about the Academy?”
Tairiekie sighed. “The same thing you told me about the Ordunesyen Secondary School. That it was going to be harder than anything I’ve done before.”
“And your attitude has a few loose nuts and a missed connection, Taikie. You’re not in Amenet anymore.”
“No?” She blinked. “Of course not. We rode almost three days in the carriage.”
“Don’t be so literal.” Her mother’s tone was beleaguered. Beleaguered? Why? Tairiekie glanced at her father, but he was studiously looking the other way. She looked back at her mother. “I’m in Mechanics and Engineering. I’m going to be an Engineer—”
“If you succeed in getting through six years at the Academy.”
“When I get through six years in the Academy. Don’t you think I’m smart?” She could hear the way her voice was spiraling up, getting louder and shriller. She didn’t want to be yet another scene in the middle of the Hall. She dropped her voice to just above a whisper. “Don’t you think I can do it?” Of course she could do it.
“I know you can do it. But you have to remember to work on it, Taikie.”
Tairiekie sighed. “I know I have to. I’ll work hard. I told you I’ll work hard.”
“…and then my Kinyozhanya won the all-city technology competition, and placed first in the entrance exams for our area, of course.”
“The region, not the area.” Kinyozhanya corrected her mother idly. “These uniforms don’t have a lot of style, do they?”
“Actually,” Tairiekie found herself saying, “they were the style design for the 957 Arts House final project. They won awards in several cities, including Arinozh and Lanamer.” She nodded politely to the girl behind the table, but she could feel her smile growing.
The girl behind the table was not smiling back. “We stopped using those uniforms four years ago. There was an unfortunate flaw in the back of the vest that caused them to rip when doing anything remotely strenuous. Not really a problem for the Art House, of course, but when you have an active House like War or Mechanics and Engineering…”
Her gaze took in Tairiekie’s coming-to-school outfit, heavy on the red and also heavy on the skirts and the embroidery. It wasn’t, really, the sort of thing you’d wear for any sort of “strenuous” activity, but, then, she’d been in a carriage for days.
She looked down at the outfit, startled. “The book I read on the Academy said-”
“The book is interesting, but it’s no way to know what’s actually going on in the school; it just makes you sound like some Philo-and-History nerd, lost in a corner. There’s better ways to learn things.” The girl made a dismissive gesture. “It’s not a great uniform, in terms of ‘fashion,’ I suppose, but it holds up to wear really well, and it has pockets, which means it wins in my book. Don’t forget to take the matching aprons.” She looked Tairiekie and then Kinyozhanya up and gown with a practiced eye, the look Dairnikkindo called the Calipers Glance. “Here.” She picked two stacks of red, grey and peach from two separate piles, and then two aprons, red with grey trim, from another pile. “They’ll fit you. You may need to get someone in Clothes House to take them in properly for you, but they’ll fit enough to not get caught in the gears.”
“The book was wrong.” Tairiekie shook her head to clear it, and accepted the pile of clothes. “Thank you. Uh, I’m Tairiekie.”
“Mmm-hrrm. Move on, there’s sixteen more of you kids and I have a project to get back to.”
“Don’t mind Kiegvadi. She’s always like that.”
Tairiekie turned around to see if she was being talked to, and found herself face-to-throat with someone who clearly had talked to Clothes House (was that what it was called? She’d thought it was Textiles House, or, of course, the Proper name of the House – and that, too, could have changed since her book!); her red, peach and grey fit her perfectly, with sleeves that had been tailored closer to the arm shorter than standard, just past the elbow. “Hi, I’m Lielbyim. I’m a fourth year student at the Academy, and I’m here to answer any questions you have.”
Questions! Tairiekie always had questions… except now, still stung, she felt suddenly shy.
Her unsolicited companion had no such problems. “Do we have to wear the uniform?” Kinyozhanya plucked at the pile of clothing in front of her. “It looks pretty boring.”
“Well, you can always tailor it to yourself.” Lielbyim mirrored the gesture, plucking at the hem of her own vest. “Or convince someone in Textiles House to do it for you. But the short answer is, yes, Pupils must wear their uniforms.”
“Why?” Tairiekie tilted her head. There had to be a reason, of course, but she couldn’t see what it might be. They weren’t primary-school children, who needed to be easily identified on an outing.
“Because your parents’ money doesn’t mean anything here.” All the friendliness dropped out of Lielbyim’s voice. When it returned in the next, Tairiekie wasn’t sure what to think. “I don’t mean to sound harsh, but it’s something you have to realize really quickly here, or you’re just going to be miserable and make everyone else miserable. This isn’t a provincial secondary school, where everyone knows everyone, and everyone is crawling all over each other to try to show off how rich their parents are. This is the Edally Academy, and what counts is how you do here.“
“Exactly what I’ve been trying to explain.” Dairnikkindo stepped forward. “You said your name was Lielbyim? Pleased to meet you. I’m Engineer Dairnikkindo-Biem, and this is my husband, Engineer Biemnyon-Dair. We attended Edally in our day.”
“Welcome.” Lielbyim bowed. “It’s always a pleasure to meet the Academy’s success stories.”
“You mean the Academy’s successes in Mechanics or Engineering, don’t you? Because you certainly don’t care about the success stories in other Houses. Say, Alchemy, or History and Philosophy.”
The boy walking up to them sounded nasal, drawling, and lazy, and Tairiekie probably would have taken an instant dislike to him even if he hadn’t been being rude to Lielbyim. He had the affected slur to his consonants that some of the inland Northerners got, and was wearing, in addition to his blue, teal, and grey uniform, a wide floppy fur hat that was unseasonable even in the North and definitely here on the coast, where the weather never got very cold.
“Pyoter.” Lielbyim’s voice had gone icy again. “Of course, being a pupil of Akaizepennen House, I am most interested in Mechanics and Engineering successes. And being an assigned guide for new Akaizen Pupils, obviously I am going to be speaking with the parents of those pupils.”
“And why not tell them about the way that Alchemy has fueled everything that Mechanics and Engineering have done in the last three centuries?”
Tairiekie found herself leaning forward and wishing for a brush and some paper with which to take notes.
“And what about the aether you so misuse?”