September 7, 2014 by Lyn Thorne-Alder
“You might not see her at all.”
“Why not?” Kinyozhanya beat Tairiekie to the question. “Are the classes tiered right from the beginning?”
Tairiekie bit her tongue. Because that, of course, would mean they weren’t in the same classes. Who did miss top-of-her-class think she was?
“No, no, that would be silly.” At least Lielbyim agreed with Tairiekie on that. “Everyone here is the best of their town, the best of their school, the best of wherever they were. No, no, the first half of a year is what they call ‘general studies.’”
“General studies?” Tairiekie got to the question first this time. “None of us should need remedial lessons in anything.”
“Oh, well, once in a while, you know, the Byitties get a little lost, but they don’t last long.”
This time, Tairiekie didn’t want to ask the question and, from the look on Kinyozhanya’s face, neither did she. Biemnyon saved them both with a pointed cough.
“That’s not a term we use in Amnet.” He made it sound not like “we haven’t heard of the term” and more “we don’t approve of that term.”
“Oh, you’ll hear it around here enough. It’s the ‘scholarship’ program, the way the throne is trying to bring education to all sorts of over-mountain places. You know, the tip of the tail, the back of the spine…”
Once again, Tairiekie didn’t really want to ask, and neither did her fellow best-in-city. And once again, Biemnyon saved them.
“I’ve heard good things about the throne’s initiative to bring education to the whole country.” Her father had a particular skill for a tactful turn of phrase and a pushy sort of hinting.
Gamzhyai did not seem like the sort of boy to pick up on a hint of any sort. “I suppose it’s good to make sure everyone has a chance to excel, but some of the Byitties – I apologize.” He didn’t sound sorry at all. “Some of the southerners, the Bitrani nationalists, they don’t really understand education. I don’t see why we bother to waste the spots on them when there’s lots of other people vying for the seats.”
Now, now Dairnikkindo got in on it. “Gamzhyai, I know you are young. But you will learn in time that there are reasons for everything, even things that seem unreasonable or unfair at the time. And you will learn, too, that snap judgments can cause you problems.”
“I suppose that’s true, but…”
Tairiekie lost the rest of what he was saying as someone tapped her on the shoulder.
She turned, glad enough to be out of that uncomfortable conversation, and found herself looking at the most astonishing pair of green eyes ever.
And, she noted quickly, a grey, teal, and blue uniform. And green eyes.
“Hi.” He had a gravelly voice, as if he spent a lot of time shouting, and his hair was plaited back fiercely – tightly braided rows then braided into single large braid, as if to keep the hair out of machinery.
Or, considering the uniform, possibly to keep it out of chemical mixes. She looked back at his eyes and tried her most grown-up smile. “Hi.”
“I’m sorry to bother you, but I heard Gamzhyai going on and on and I didn’t think you’d be all that bothered.”
“Not horribly so, no. I mean, he has some interesting information…”
“But he has a lot of silly things, too. You have to learn to separate them. Sort of like a precipitate; you have to wait until the silly settles out and then just skim off the interesting.”
“That is a very…” Much to Tairiekie’s consternation, she found herself unable to come up with the word. She glanced at the boy’s braids and improvised. “A very tight simile. I like it.”
“I’m glad you do. I’m hoping I might have something else to say that you’ll like, too.”
“Oh?” She swallowed as her voice went up alarmingly. “Oh?” she tried again.
“I’m from Heikyoana House, the tower specializing primarily in Alchemy. And I‘m sure you’ve figured out that your parents are more than a little famous here.”
“I’m starting to get that impression.” Her answer may have been a bit dry, but that just made him smile wider.
“It’s easy to get when you’re listening to Gamzhyai. He does that.”
“He definitely does.” Oh, good, things they could agree on. “So… my parents made their mark.” And so would she.
“And while they ended up Engineers, Heikyoana House has their own stories about them. Did you know your mother was one of the few to switch Houses?”
“My mother? Dairnikkindo-Biem?” Tairiekie dropped her voice to a whisper. She had a feeling she didn’t want said mother overhearing this conversation. “She switched Houses? I thought you couldn’t do that; someone from… ah, in the same uniform as you. They said something about it, and Lielbyim said that you couldn’t.”
It hadn’t been exactly what Lielbyim had said; she’d said that it was long and complicated. But Tairiekie was curious to hear what green-eyes had to say. “Pyoter,” she offered, as the name occurred to her. “The boy from Alchemy House; his name was Pyoter.”
“Oh, him. The way Mechanics House has Gamzhyai, we have Pyoter. Everyone has their curse to carry, and he’s definitely ours.” He smiled brightly, as if to soften the harshness, and there was some fondness in ours.
“I can see that. We had someone like him back in my old school… but he was right, though? Curse or not?”
“Well, for once, Pyoter actually got something right, yes. You can change Houses. You have to submit a petition, but the sooner you do it, the better. Of course, they have to rearrange the dormitories, and sometimes that means someone who only just made it in gets bumped, but you’ve got really high marks and you’re a triple – no, wait, it’s quadruple, isn’t it – quadruple legacy student. You’ll get whatever you want.”
That was more like it. “And what is it you want me to want, in this case?” She had read a story, not too long ago and the sort of thing that had to be hidden from parents, teachers, and all but the closest friends, where the main character had used that sort of language. “And how do you think I should feel about this? What is it you want me to do about this?” It sounded deliciously grown-up.
“I want you to change houses, of course.” His expression didn’t quite look like he thought she was being grown up, deliciously or not. It looked like he thought she was being naive and obdurate.
“To Alchemy House?”
“To Alchemy House, yes.” He was quiet for a heartbeat as he looked at her, seeming to be searching for something. “You’re brilliant, of course, top of your class.”
“Of course.” She wrinkled her nose. “That’s the way it is, isn’t it?” She might just have to accept that.
“Around here, yes, it is. But I’ve seen your entrance exams.”
“How did you manage that?” Were they public knowledge? She didn’t have anything to be ashamed of… did she?
“I pulled a couple strings, and then I tugged a couple ears. We’re not quite as good at it as Diplomacy House – though we’re better at a lot of other things – but we can make do pretty well.”
“Why are you trying to convince me to…” Not defect, not defect. “Change Houses?”
“Well, like I said, you seem to be a relatively intelligent student.”
“Relatively.” This was getting less and less flattering.
“Relative to, say, the best minds in the school, yes. Relatively. And you seem to have drive and ambition.”
“You can tell all this from looking at me?” Drive and ambition. That was better.
“I can tell all of that from your entrance exams. You’re bright, driven, and you did better in your Alchemy and Chemistry scores than you did in your Mec-”
“Hsssst.” She put her finger on her lips and dropped it just as fast. Almost as bad to be seen to be keeping secrets as it would be for her parents to hear that. “That’s not important.”
He smiled. “It seems very important indeed to you, to get that reaction.”
“A reaction is just a reaction.” That was another line from her forbidden stories. “It means nothing without the reason behind it.”
“Knowing who your parents are, I can guess at your reasons well enough.”
“Can we discuss anything but that while they are standing an arm’s reach away from me? Please?” She offered him her best smile. “Unless what you need of me is a decision today, I believe we can discuss this in a less crowded environment, in a less difficult time?”
“I need a decision quickly, but it does not have to be right this moment. Within a day or two is fine.” He bowed briefly. “It has been pleasure and honor to meet the daughter of the famous Dairnikkindo-Biem. I hope you come to see me soon.”
She watched his braid thud against his shoulder. “I hope I do, too. Thank you for greeting me.” Greetings sounded pleasantly innocuous.
“Taikie, are you listening?” Her father tapped her shoulder. “Taikie. This young man has been explaining the class system. These introductory classes that you’re taking, did you hear?”
“No, sir, I’m sorry. Another pupil wanted to tell me how wonderful you and Dairnikkindo were during your time at school here.”
“I admit, I didn’t realize that silly stunt had gotten that much attention.”
“I can’t believe you didn’t tell me about it.”
“Well, I didn’t want you to go and… well, not now. This young man has some interesting information about your classes.”
“Yes, sir.” She turned her attention back to Gamzhyai, who was watching them with a look of something she thought was probably confusion – one eyebrow raised, a slight frown on his lips, his small mustache drooping. “Classes?”
“Yes.” He bobbed his head, and she wondered exactly what her parents had said to him while she’d been talking to Green Eyes from Alchemy. “The first semester is general classes, so that all students get a feel for all of the subjects. As I’ve heard the Head of School say more than a few times, it does nobody any good to be a perfect Engineer or Alchemist of Historian if they cannot manage to mend their pants or plant a radish or bind up a small cut.”
“That makes sense.” It actually did. Well, he was quoting someone else.
“So the first-year pupils are divided up into groups, and they go through these ‘survey’ classes, where they learn a little bit from each House. It’s tested as strictly as everything else, of course, but almost nobody is flunked out for trouble in their survey classes, because you’re outside of your field.”
“Almost nobody.” Flunks out? Almost nobody flunked out?
“There was one student my first year here, but I think he was homesick, mostly. I don’t think it was because of his grades as much.” Gamzhyai shrugged. “You do another set of survey classes in your fourth year, too, so that you have a better understanding of your field as it relates to other fields.”
Like Alchemy. She wondered if anyone had ever tried to be in two Houses at the same time. “How heavy is the course load?”
“Heavier than anything you have encountered before.” A stout woman with iron-grey braids put a hand on Tairiekie’s shoulder, the hand nearly as heavy as her answer. “That’s enough, Gamzhyai. It’s time to divvy everyone up.”
Heikyoana House is K.A. Webb‘s cameo!
If you have a cameo and have not yet gotten me information, please do. 😉