September 7, 2014 by Lyn Thorne-Alder
“It’s time to divvy everyone up.” The stout woman patted Tairiekie’s shoulder and then moved on to the next new-looking person.
Gamzhyai looked around. “I guess it really is time. Look, I’m a fourth year, which means I’m going to be just three stories down in the same tower from you. If you have any more questions, you can come find me, or Lielbyim. All right?”
“All right. Thank you.” She bowed to Gamzhyai. “Where are we supposed to go now?”
“If they’re doing the splitting up, this is where we take our leave.” Biemnyon hugged Tairiekie, holding the squeeze a little tighter and a little longer than was normal or, perhaps, appropriate. When he release her, Dairnikkindo took his place and hugged Tairiekie for longer and harder.
“Study well, do well, excel in your classes, and do your parents proud.” She kissed Tairiekie’s forehead. “I know you will do all of these things. You are our daughter.”
“I will.” She bowed to her parents. “I will see you at the end of the year.”
And that was that. Both parents claimed another hug and then they were gone: back to the carriage, back to Amenet, back home.
“Kinnya, you should get in a group with Kietsaip.” Kinyozhanya’s mother hurried over. “He’s the top of his class and he’s in Forestry and Agriculture. He’d be a good match for you.”
Kinyozhanya rolled her eyes at Tairiekie, sharing a moment of… what, camaraderie? Tairikie’s parents didn’t do that sort of thing. “Mother, that is not why I’m here.”
“But a very good study partner could help you get to the top of your class.”
“We’re all going to be very good study partners. We’re all the tops of our classes.”
“Almost all.” The woman’s voice had an unpleasant undertone. “Some of the students here are quotas.”
“I don’t even know what that means.”
“Nor should you. You come from a good family.”
“I know that, Mother.”
“This way.” Gamzhyai took Tairiekie’s elbow carefully, as if afraid she would punch him, and steered her to the center of the room.
It was really crowded in here. She’d known that already, walking in, but being isolated into little groups had made the mass of the mob seem to vanish. Now, being directed into the middle of it – dozens and dozens of boys and girls about her age and height, all of them carrying stacks of uniform clothing and all of them looking a bit lost, even if they were doing their best to hide it — Tairiekie was suddenly overwhelmed. Her last school had held about a hundred students, all told, over nine class grades. There were that many people and more right here.
She took a breath. Eighteen students admitted per House, that’s what the letter had said. Eighteen students and Nine houses, for one hundred and sixty two students.
There was a failure rate; what was it? She’d heard that people failed, that people dropped out. Say ten percent: that was high but not ridiculous. So there would be one hundred forty-six students returning the next year, and one hundred thirty-one the year after that, and so on. It would become easier and easier to stay on top as she got older – but then again, there would be more and more pressure as everyone else felt the drop-out rate and pushed to stay in the school and on top of the pile.
“Students. If I could have your attention please.” The woman in the swirling colors was standing on a table; next to her, standing on a chair, was House Monitor Libkazaari. “We are going to begin dividing you up into three-pupil teams, and parceling those teams into eighteen-pupil groups. This team will remain your cross-discipline team for the entire time you are at Edally Academy; it is your responsibility to help your teammates succeed in their classes as much as it is your responsibility to succeed yourself. The eighteen-student groups will also follow you through your years at school, and we will expect you to support your peers within the group.”
She seemed to stand a little taller. “Competition is, of course, the watchword of the Empress Edaledalende Academy of Higher Learning at Ileltedez. However, competition will only get you so far. You must learn to work together as well. It is our intent that you begin your understanding of teamwork within your three-person team, and within your eighteen-pupil unit. Are there any questions?”
Once again, Kinyozhanya, now halfway across the crowd, beat Tairiekie to her question.
“Can we pick our teammates?”
“No, of course not.” Head Wiltemika looked, Tairiekie thought, amused, or at least the way one side of her mouth quirked up was either amusement or irritation. “That would ruin the point altogether, wouldn’t it?”
Tairiekie was glad she hadn’t asked the question, then. The room tittered a little bit, the laugh moving around in nervous circles, nobody quite sure they understood the joke.
“If that is the only question, House Monitor Libkazaari and I are going to go around now and pick groups. You will go where you are pointed with your assigned team-mates and wait there for further instruction.”
Well, if they were picking at random, maybe she just needed to be close to the people she wanted to be with. If she could end up with Kietsaip, maybe she’d have a leg up to begin.
Forestry. Forestry and Agriculture. She glanced up at the banner, with its parsnip and its goat horns, and then at the uniforms. That was brown and two shades of green. And right in front of her was a boy with eyes the same brown as the uniform he was holding, and long, long braids in the same color.
He wore them in a complicated, festival-intricate braiding pattern, and had some sort of beading pattern going on – in green, brown, and tiger’s-eye. Of course. “I’m looking for Kietsaip.” Tairiekie knew it was a long shot.
“Well, you’ve found him.” The handsome boy nodded his head at her. “He’s my brother.”
“Ah. I didn’t know they admitted siblings in the same year.”
The boy twisted up one side of his mouth and wrinkled his nose. “They do if they’re twins and both score well on the exams. I’m Riensin.”
“Tairiekie. It’s nice to meet you.” Twins! She’d never know a twin before. She shook his hand and tried not to stare.
His growing smirk told her he’d noticed. “Where are you from?”
“Amenet.” She didn’t come from the largest city, and knew it. “It’s out on the curve, almost at the far western edge.” The continent was bulbous at the top with a long dangling tail; people tended to call the round western edge of the bulbous part “the curve,” although Tairiekie had always thought of it as “the nose.”
“I’m familiar with it. My brother and I are from Burghai.”
“Oh, I’ve been there!” She was doing marvelously at sounding intelligent, wasn’t she? “It’s not all that far from Amenet, just down closer to Lanamer.” The capital was right at the join between the bulb and the tail; she’d always wondered if the ancients had done that on purpose.
“Yes.” He was laughing at her, wasn’t he? “I’ve been there, too.”
“Yes… I imagine you have.” She ducked her head and studied the tips of her shoes. She was doing a wonderful job of making friends. Well, she wasn’t here to make friends. “That was foolish, I’m sorry.”
“There’s no need to be sorry. The first step in learning is making mistakes.”
“That sounds… interesting.” She risked a peek back up at him. He was still laughing at her, or at least smirking really broadly. “I’d never thought about it that way before.”
“Most people don’t. But it’s a good start on looking at the world as an educated person. Engineering, right?”
“Yes.” She held up the uniform a little less excitedly than she would have an hour ago. “And you’re in Agriculture.”
“I noticed.” He lifted his uniform, imitating her. “I have this green uniform and everything.”
“Are you pulling girls’ braids again?” A boy who looked as if he could be – well, of course he could be, he probably wasRiensin’s twin , since he probably wasn’t a mechanically-constructed duplicate – stepped up next to them. “Hi, I’m the nice one.”
“Hello.” Tairiekie shook the boy’s hand. “Kietsaip, right?”
“That would be me. My reputation precedes me?”
“Only a bit.” She bowed politely. “A pleasure to meet you both.”
“And that’s enough of that. You, young lady, you come this way. You, young men. You go there, and you go there.” House Monitor Libkazaari grabbed Tairiekie by the collar while her free hand jabbed in opposite directions for the twins. “There’s no time nor need for that sort of talk here. You’re here to learn and to study. That’s it. Learn and study, learn and study. We need no more pupils deciding they’d rather have another syllable at the end of their name instead of a title at the beginning of it.”
“I’m not here for my suffix, I’m here for my prefix. More of what, anyway?” Tairikie hurried along to keep from being dragged; she liked this vest and had done the embroidery herself.
“More of that foolishness. I don’t want to hear it, either, girly. I know what girls like you want, with your fancy braids and your fancy trim. Here for your prefix, indeed. And them. That sort of boy is only here for their suffix, and you’d be better off staying away from them.”
“I heard Kietsaip was the best in his class.”
“And so what? Easy enough to be best in your class in secondary school. Means nothing at all when you reach Edally. Now come on.” She gave Tairiekie a shove. “These two are your team. None of that suffix stuff here.”
Tairikie straightened herself up. She’d been here less than an hour. The House Monitor was already sneering at her. Why? She hadn’t been… whatever it was she’d been accused of doing. Chasing husbands. She just wanted teammates who were good in classes.
“Greetings.” The voice called her back to what she was actually supposed to be doing. “I suppose you’re our third teammate?”
The voice managed to load disdain into every word. How had she managed to disappoint before she even introduced herself? Being dragged around by Libkazaari? No, looking around, the House Monitor was doing that with everyone.
Tairiekie put on her best pleasant smile and turned to her teammates. “It must be so. Hello, I’m Tairiekie, from Amenet.” And… oh.
“Hello.” The dry voice belonged to a woman with a royal nose, long and slender, and the chocolate-brown hair to match.
A girl, Tairiekie corrected. She couldn’t be any older than Tairiekie was; she just had poise that made her seem more refined and older. “I’m Enerenarie, lately of Ossulund.”
Her name matched her royal nose; only actual members of the royal family were allowed the initial vowel in their names. Tairiekie had known, in theory, that there would be royals here – there were a lot of them, and they had access to the best schooling their whole life, of course, in case they ended up the next Emperor or Empress, no matter how unlikely it was – but it was one thing to know it and another thing to be face to face with a princess.
“Your Grace.” She bobbed a perfect curtsy.
House Head Wiltemika is MCA Hogarth‘s cameo!
If you have a cameo and have not yet gotten me information, please do. 😉