January 14, 2015 by Lyn Thorne-Alder
Tairiekie was three steps down the ladder when her pocket caught fire.
She jumped off the ladder – which, in retrospect, was probably a bad idea – and stripped the apron off with two tugs of the ties. They were probably designed to be easy to remove, considering the trouble they got into.
It was only when she was stomping out the fire that she realized what had happened. “Feces and beozars!” She picked up the now-extinguished apron and fished in the pocket. “Impassable mountains… there goes the paper. And the whatever-it-was.”
“You lit your apron on fire. Tairiekie. You lit your apron on fire. Didn’t I warn you?”
“It was fine until I jammed the paper in there.”
“Well, why did you jam paper in there?”
“Because Instructor Kaatetzie… what is that?”
“What is what?”
Tairiekie pointed, because she wasn’t sure if she could come up with words. The Academy didn’t allow pets for pupils, so it had to be a staff’s pet… or a wild creature, but she doubted that.
It was a hunting weasel, the presumably-domestic variety, nearly as long as Tairiekie was tall and barrel-chested. Not that she could quite tell, because the thing was wearing a shirt.
Well, to be specific, it was wearing a Akaizepennen House uniform vest and undershirt, all sized to fit it.
“It’s… it’s a weasel in a vest. Who puts a weasel in a vest?”
“Clearly House Akaizen.” Enrie sat down and clucked to the creature. “Or someone making fun of House Akaizen, take your pick.”
“Well, I don’t really mind being sleek and vicious, but isn’t that more your House’s thing?”
“Oh, no, we’re a lot sleeker than that and a lot sharper. More like a mink.”
“Oh, good. C’mere, weasie, c’mere.” The weasel inched closer, clearly curious. “It’s wearing a necklace. I’m a bit concerned.”
“You weren’t already concerned?” Tairiekie crouched near Enrie to watch the weasel.
“I’m a little more concerned. Saydrie, have you ever seen anything like this?”
“Pets in clothes? Only the occasional goat.” He didn’t look up from his cleaning.
“Don’t they try to eat the clothes, then?” The image was enough to make Tairiekie giggle
“Well, yes, but it looks very nice until then. Shouldn’t we be cleaning?”
“But it’s adorable.”
“It’s nearly big enough to eat you.”
“Well, I’m sure it would eat me adorably.” She scratched between the weasel’s ears. “You’re awfully cute.”
“He is. But he has a habit of going where he’s not supposed to.” Another adult voice sent the three of them jumping to their feet. “And I’m interrupting. I’m terribly sorry. Are you the punishment detail?” The polite question was followed by a sneeze.
Tairikie coughed. “Punishment detail. Yes, that’s what we are.” She got to her feet carefully, thus allowing her to see the entering person attached – presumably – to the voice.
The person coming around the corner was wearing turquoise suede boots, soft-soled and good only for wandering around academic halls. The ankles of their wide-flared pants were wild with embroidery, seeming to be some sort of stitching pattern in at least seven different colors; the innermost level of pants were butter-yellow, while the outer ones were sunshine and goldenrod, covered by a chocolate half-apron.
There was a wide belt, which wasn’t common, of tooled leather in the same turquoise as the boots, with a similar pattern to the pant-hems. Then there was a lime shirt, split at the waist to show off the belt, and a fuchsia vest, cut very close to the body and buttoned with more turquoise. The undershirt sleeves, flapping under the shirt, were embroidered thickly and the same butter color as the underpants.
And three braids the width of Tairikie’s little finger hung down the front of the vest, carefully placed over the buttons, while another handful were pulled back in a blue clip. The beard was trimmed very short, the mustache very long, and the spectacles also blue.
The outfit was the most put-together outfit of any Tairiekie had seen in the school – possibly in her life. If she hadn’t guessed from the stitching embroidery, or the heavy use of Textile House colors in the outfit, the perfect coordination alone might have told her the wearer was an instructor of Textiles House.
However, the cloth measuring tape serving as a secondary belt took away any residual doubt.
“Sir.” She bowed carefully. “I hope we didn’t interrupt you.”
“Not at all. I was just taking Ledryik for a walk. Led, come.”
The weasel slid up the man’s body in a sinuous motion, until he was serving as s sort of mobile neck-and-shoulders warmer, from which perch he stared at Tairiekie.
“Your weasel is wearing House Akaizen colors.” She was proud of how level her voice was. It wasn’t Textiles House she’d been having trouble with.
“Oh, yes, Ledryik is. I tried to explain to him that it wasn’t a good idea, but he insisted. The colors are fetching, I suppose, but it does tend to annoy the Engineers-in-training… such as yourself. Ah. Miss.” He bowed deeply. “My weasel meant no offense. He just likes the devices, you see.”
“I do, too.” The weasel liked the Devices. It wasn’t the weirdest thing she’d heard lately. “It was nice to meet you, sir… and your weasel.”
“Ah, yes, I’m Instructor Davenpor. I teach tailoring in Pidmavolsyaa Hall.”
“Pleased to meet you, sir,” she repeated. “I’m Tairiekie, this is Enerenarie, and this is Saydrie. We’re first-year students.” That last part was probably self-evident, but then again… he thought his weasel had dressed himself.
“And being punished, yes, I heard. You took on a group of Art House students, yes?”
“Well, to be fair,” Enrie stepped up, “they took us on, and we finished it.”
“And won. Well done, and a pity the rules say you must be punished. Still, if you wanted help, I’m sure Ledryik or one of his brothers could be of assistance. They’re quite good with small spaces.”
She glanced at the giant weasel. The Instructor caught her glance and, a little to her surprise, correctly interpreted it.
“Oh, well, Ledryik himself can handle large small spaces. But his brothers are house-weasels, not hunting-weasels, and they’re much better about that sort of thing. Instructor Boonlepdu has borrowed them before, to very good use, in cleaning out some of the bigger devices, and they helped Instructor Talmizhaab, may the Three watch over and guide, with this very machine. A pity about it, it was such a brilliant idea.”
Brilliant idea. Brilliant idea. Tairiekie glanced at Enrie. She was in Diplomacy House; she should be diplomatic.
“It’s quite an impressive machine, sir.”
“Oh, it’s nothing now, but what it was planned to be, oh, that was lovely. The designs Tazhaab had, oh, they were so beautiful I embroidered them onto a pair of pants. Not these pants, of course, but they were lovely designs. And then that cur had to go and ruin everything.”
“But sir, pardon, but what was it supposed to do?”
“Ah.” The man seemed to come back to himself. “Well I couldn’t tell you that, could I? It’s not the sort of thing that first-year pupils ought to be worried about.”
Tairiekie could have cursed. She could have thrown wrenches. She smiled instead. “Thank you, sir. We should probably get back to the cleaning, though. We don’t want to get in any more trouble.”
“Oh, no, you don’t. Libkazaari is a terror, and you don’t want to end up on her bad side. Oh, watch out for the port in the back while you’re cleaning. I don’t know what possessed Tazhaab to give it teeth but, well, he did. They’re pretty sharp, so wear gloves – ah, you already have them. I didn’t know it spat fire, though. That’s a new one. What have Tazhaab’s students been doing in his absence?” He wandered off, clucking to his weasel, muttering about bad pupils and their lack of discipline and lack of fashion and general lackingness.
“Port in the back?” Tairiekie tried to whisper. Her voice only carried halfway across the cavernous space.
“Teeth?” Saydrie looked down at the blood on the floor. “Do you think… Do you think the device bit someone?”
“I expect that the blood is from when it blew. If you look over here…” She had studiously been avoiding looking over there, but, sternly telling herself that, unlike people, devices could usually be completely repaired, she shifted around the Device to the place where it had clearly exploded. “See?” She pointed to the hole in the boiler. It could be repaired. The tank had split open near the top, which was what had sent boiling water geysering up through the ceiling and onto the roof-path.
It hadn’t blown through the brass itself. Now that she was looking at it, she could see how it had popped three rivets and then bent the metal open.
“Are there any rivets in your blood splatter?” She ran a finger over the lower round of riveting. A couple were loose, but they were all still intact.
“It’s my blood splatter now?” Saydrie glared up at her.
“Well, you took responsibility for it. Are they any rivets in it?” If there was, it explained where the blood had come from.
“I was given responsibility. What’s a rivet look like?” He was looking, at least, even if he was complaining.
“A flattened piece of metal, generally brass. You’re in basic mechanics. You should know what a rivet looks like. Besides, we all got responsibility. It’s a group punishment.”
“You two bicker like you’ve added each other’s names together.” Enrie had moved back to polishing around what looked like a sort of hopper door.
“No, we bicker like friends. Married people use more in-jokes and less fretting about responsibility.”
“Maybe your parents. Mine bickered like you guys.”
“What about your friends?” Saydrie looked up from combing the blood-splatter. Curious, Tairiekie peered over as well.
Enrie shrugged. “I didn’t really have that many. We traveled a lot; I make acquaintances quickly but there’s sort of a closeness you don’t get unless you get to hang out with people for a long time, I think.”
“I didn’t have many friends, either.” Tairiekie hunched up into her shoulders. “I mean, really, any. Until I met you guys.”
“And you’re mostly hanging out with us because it’s a school assignment.” Enrie’s smile was very… very non-smiley.
Tairiekie shook her head fast, alarmed at how much that alarmed her. “No, no. I mean, that’s why I started talking to you but that’s not why, say, I got in that fight.”
“It’s what you keep telling the adults.”
“Well, what am I supposed to say? I mean, yes. They told us to get close – and we did. We were supposed to be friends… and we are. That means I don’t understand why they’re surprised with it.”
She had been treating it like an assignment, hadn’t she? She looked away from both of them. “I’m sorry.”
“What are you sorry for?” Saydrie sounded lost. Tairiekie couldn’t bring herself to turn around and see what he looked like.
“I’m sorry I made friends as a school assignment.”
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