December 10, 2014 by Lyn Thorne-Alder
“Sit down, Pupil Tairiekie.”
At the Monitor’s harsh tone, Tairiekie deflated back into her seat with a thump. She looked down at her folded hands, trying very hard to be good. They were here to be punished, after all.
“Yes, you are correct. You are to become close with your teammates. It is part of the overall plan of the school, to encourage you to focus not just on your core classes but on the world beyond them.”
They had been hearing that a lot lately. Tairiekie closed her mouth firmly and said nothing.
“Everyone notes on the closeness of your team, Tairiekie, because it is rare, and because it’s a good thing. Other teams should try to be like yours – but of course, we make it difficult. We put the royal child together with the Engineer’s daughter, with the Bitrani nationalist, and then we see what you learn, and if you can stick together or not. And what we found out, with your three, is that you have done very well. Of course, I still have to punish you for nearly incapacitating four upperclassmen.”
Something about the way she said it made Tairiekie peek up. Yes, the House Monitor was smiling.
She let Enrie talk, though. She didn’t want the smile to go away again.
“Oh… of course, ma’am.” Enrie sounded worried. Why did Enrie sound so worried? And Saydrie was turning pale.
“I believe we can call this a first offense as you weren’t actually involved in Instructor Talmizhaab’s Device blowing up, were you?”
“No, ma’am, only in that we got hit with the steam.”
“Which is still not an offense in and of itself.” From the tone of her voice, she wasn’t sure it shouldn’t be. “Well then, we can call this a first offense. An hour an each evening for the next three evenings cleaning out the stables, and then the same cleaning out classroom space at my discretion. Immediately after dinner, change and report to the Stable-Master, starting tonight.”
Tairiekie indulged in a groan, but, considering the looks on her teammate’s faces, she had to admit she was feeling a little relieved. It was cleaning out stables. It would probably be stinky and messy and unpleasant, but the Stable-Master liked them (she hoped he still liked them) and it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.
Enrie and Saydrie, likewise, made noises that sounded half like displeasure and half like happiness.
“Now get on to dinner before you miss it all and you’d better be on time tonight.”
They passed the Art House students as they were leaving; the one who’d been the leader sneered at them, but the rest of his friends side-stepped carefully away. They’d made some sort of impression, at least.
“Stables.” She filled up her plate with food, despite not knowing if she was going to want it when she was done. It had been a busy day, and she was hungry.
“Stables.” Saydrie flopped down in his seat, next to the rest of their eighteen-group. “It could be a lot worse.”
“I heard you got yourself in a bit of a mess.” Riensin sat down across the table from the three of them. “Something to do with some jerks in Art House?”
Saydrie flexed his hand. His knuckles, Tairiekie noticed, were scuffed up. “They were unkind to my teammates. I informed them that was unacceptable.”
Riensin laughed. “That’s the way to do it. Inform them with your fists.”
“And then my teammates informed them…” Saydrie glanced at the two of them, Enrie then Tairiekie.
“We informed his friends that there was no profit in being rude to our friends.” Tairiekie flexed her hand. “And then we got to talk to the House Monitor.”
“You make that sound like it’s somehow a good thing instead of a punishment.” Riensin was grinning. He did that a lot, though, so it was hard to tell if he was actually amused or just, well, being Riensin.
“Well.” Enrie took over. “Well, it’s not the bad thing we thought it would be. I mean, yeah, we’re getting punished, but I suppose we all expected that, when we started throwing punches.”
“I did.” Saydrie nodded. “I didn’t expect the two of you to hit people, too, but after talking to Tairiekie’s roommate… I really wanted to hit someone, I guess, or I really knew that I could, so I did.”
Tairiekie couldn’t help but chuckle. “I’ll be sure to tell Iesovie that she was helpful. I’ll bet you a new vest she’s pleased by it.”
“Iesovyenyie likes being able to sway people to things. It’s a sort of common royal tactic, I suppose, and it makes her feel more like her name means something, instead of being, well, just a name.” She felt a little guilty by the time she got to the end of the sentence, so she changed the subject rapidly. “So you punched him because… because Iesovie was rude to you?”
“Well, no, but because I was firm back to her and she listened. It felt good. It felt… tall.”
Enrie chuckled. “Tall.”
“Tall.” He straightened his spine, reminding them all that he was, actually, a head taller than either of them. “Yes. It made me feel tall.”
“Only…” Enrie shook her head. “Only you, Saydrie, only you.”
“Is… is that a good thing?”
“I’m going to go with yes, it is, for now.” Enrie smiled broadly at Riensin. “And, yes, that’s the story of us punching some people from Art House.”
Riensin raised his eyebrows. “Remind me not to make the three of you angry.”
“Don’t make our team angry.” They said it in unison, and then, a moment later, laughed in unison. It was nice, being friends again. It was nice being able to laugh – even if they had gotten there from punching people.
Then again… Tairikie flexed her hands – punching people had been a little bit fun, too. Not that she wanted to make a habit of it, or anything, or at least not the part where she got caught. But the rest of it had been rather thrilling.
“Not making your team angry. Right. Here, have my cookie.”
There were cookies.
Two hours later, they were all regretting the cookie. Not really the cookie, in itself, but what the cookie had ended up being – a glass of nog, the cookie, some cake, half of someone else’s dinner, a tiny snifter of brandy. Everyone in their eighteen-group had wanted to hear the story, and everyone had wanted to bribe them for more – even the Art House students, maybe especially the Art House students.
It had been a long dinner hour, and then they had stumbled their way, overladen with food and half-asleep from their fullness, to the stables.
Stable-Master Korten had been amused with them. He’d been amused, too, at what they had done and given them few practical pointers for the next time they needed to punch someone. “You want to use your body a little bit more, and your arm less. Use the way your body wants to keep going, and swing all of that into your target. Then you won’t hurt so much.
“Of course,” he’d smirked, “you also want to so it somewhere where you’re not going to get caught in the first minute of the fight. Because then you end up shoveling goat shit for hours, and how fun is that?”
The answer, although they’d all been able to guess that already, was “not very fun at all.” It smelled, although the smell was not the biggest problem.
The biggest problem was the goats themselves, who wanted to help, or interfere, or get these strangers out of their areas, or eat their clothes, or all four all at once – and were almost as tall as Tairiekie, or taller, and armed with pointy bits at the front.
“People should come with horns. I should engineer a helmet with horns that can work like a goat’s.” She pushed on the nearest goat’s forehead and went back to scooping up its waste and tossing it into a barrow. “Then they could be every bit as pushy as goats.”
Saydrie chuckled, although what was funny about goat feces, Tairiekie didn’t know.
“I think we manage just fine without the horns.” Enrie had wrapped a tail of a scarf around her nose and mouth, but she kept getting it in her mouth every time she talked.
Saydrie just giggled again.
“What?” Tairiekie was probably not at her best at the moment, but she still shouldn’t have snapped at Saydrie. “What’s so blasted funny?”
“It’s just… it’s just that the old Bitrani helmets, the really really old ones in the books. They all had horns. Not goat horns, but from something like the big old monsters you only see in even older books.”
“Really? Did they ram people with them? Or just try to eat their clothes?” Tairiekie fended off an affectionate nanny goat. “I never thought of the Bitrani as being really goat people, not the way the Calenyena are.”
“Well, the old books seem to say that the Calenyena stole the whole concept from the Bitrani, then perfected it, then the Bitrani stole it back, then a hundred years later the Calenyena stole the Bitrani adaptations.”
Enrie laughed. “Don’t let the Instructors hear you say that, but that sounds like the perfect description of… just about everything I’ve ever heard about the Bitrani and the Calenyena.”
“I don’t know.” Saydrie peeked over the stall with a grin. “It was Instructor Piepzyapi who told us about the goats thing. I think she’s really amused by ‘historical appropriation,’ as she put it.”
His cheeks colored a little bit, and he couldn’t quite look them in the eyes. Instructor Piepzyapi was, Tairikie remembered, a very handsome woman. She didn’t teach introductory history, so Saydrie was probably getting a little tutoring off to the side.
She didn’t think it would go well if she asked if that was all he was getting off to the side, so she held her tongue.
Enrie had no such compunctions. “Historical appropriation? Also, are you getting tutoring without us?”
“Not really tutoring? But when you two were… well, when you were fighting, I didn’t have anything to do, so I was talking to the Instructors.” He shrugged. “It’s not like most of the rest of our class will talk to me.”
Tairiekie set down her shovel. “Is it really that bad, Saydrie?”
“Well, when you’re around, either of you, or both of you, especially, I get this radius of acceptableness. It’s like as long as I’m talking to you, I must be okay for them to talk to. Some of them, obviously.”
“Obviously.” She made a face, thinking of the Art House jerks.
“But when you’re gone, that radius goes away.”
“Oh.” She stared out the window, because she couldn’t quite look at Saydrie. That was horrible. Her shoulders twitched. What could she do? She started fiddling with her braids, still staring out the high, narrow window.
“I suppose we just need to not ever fight.” Enrie didn’t sound like she was joking, which made the whole thing a little more surreal. “We have to just follow Saydrie around everywhere and be sure to get along with him aggressively in front of other people.”
“Get along with him aggressively?” She’d just gotten the edges of a plan sketched in, but it was gone now. “Would that involve being loud with terms of friendly endearment, or holding his hands, or falling over ourselves the way Kekdela does with Riensin?”
“I wasn’t thinking of becoming his camp-followers, no.” Enrie smirked over a stall wall at Tairiekie. “I don’t think that would help our argument.”
Saydrie coughed. “I don’t think that would really help me, either. I mean… well, no, that’s pretty much what I meant.”
“You are lovely children but I must insist that if you are here, you are shoveling.” The Stable-Master leaned over another stall separator. “And besides all of that, the way for the boy to get more friends is not for his current friends to monopolize him. Be his friend, certainly, but because you are his friends, not because you want to prove a point.”
Tairiekie hurried to pick her shovel back up. “I’m almost done with this area.”
“I am sure Patyoni will provide more.” He gestured at the nanny goat. “If there is one thing she is good at, it is providing more to shovel.”
“What do you mean, that it’s not the way for him to get more friends?” Enrie had picked her shovel up, too, but she was only doing the most cursory of shoveling.
“I don’t think anything is going to work, anyway.” Saydrie sighed. “They want to hate me because I’m Bitrani, or because they think I got a slot their friend ought to have had, or because I speak funny, or because I worship differently than they do.”
“They want to hate you because you are different. As long as you remain off to the side and different, they are going to have only the difference to see.” The Stable-master waved a hand. “Some people are just jerks, of course. Some people are going to see everything that isn’t exactly as they are, and hate it. There’s nothing you can do about them – break their nose, perhaps, but then they will just have another direction for their hate and a little less worry about hitting back.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Shovel more. Then you will understand.” The Stable Master pushed the barrow at Saydrie. “And then we will talk more, when the shoveling is done.”
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