September 20, 2018 by Lyn Thorne-Alder
A Friend and an Enemy can wear the same coat
The hall was clear; he was almost there. Saydrie breathed a sigh of relief. He had made it. It had taken some weird turns, and he was going to have to start running sprints to get in shape for this, if it kept up, but he had made it.
He turned the corner and found himself stumbling backwards to avoid running into someone. Not just someone: to avoid running into the woman who had been stalking him.
“Ah, there you are.” She was what they had noted about her already — light brown hair in a pattern of braids that must have taken hours to do, an outfit of layered blues and reds, silk, the embroidery complex, almost telling a story in its own right. Her nose was Bitrani, her chin Calenyen, and her smile rather terrifying. “You are quite a hard man to track down, Student Saydrie.”
“Honored one.” He cleared his throat and bowed deeply, taking the opportunity to step backwards. “I am always where I am now, that is, about to be late for my classes. I apologize if you have had difficulty finding me-” although I don’t know how you managed to track me down here… “but I really must get to class. They do not, here, appreciate the Bitrani enclave students being late or taking their studies less than completely seriously, you see.”
“I certainly don’t want to keep you for long, but—”
“Good.” A hand clapped down on Saydrie’s shoulder while, on the other side, someone offered him a hand. He took the hand, assuming it was one of the more friendly of the other Cevati Bitrani, before the speaker’s accent managed to filter through his nerves into his consciousness.
That was not a Cevati Bitrani accent.
And it was still talking.
“Honored one, I am certain that House Monitor Libkazaari can point you to students you need to talk to. That is part of her job, after all. And she is very fond of people doing the jobs they are assigned.”
Was that… an Art House drawl? Saydrie glanced to his left. Yes. That was an Art House uniform.
“But right now—” continued the one on his right, “we need this particular student to help us with our classwork. Because if I mess up this project…” The second voice left the consequences hanging ominously.
“It should only take a minute,” the woman – the very royally dressed woman – protested. “And I have been looking for this student for several days.”
“Well, I know how hard it can be to find him. He blends right in here, after a while, doesn’t he? But like I said, we really need to finish this project, and I need him to help me with it.” He knew that drawl. He knew that face. But Edally was so full of new and strange people, sometimes they all blurred into one short series of braided-tops-of-heads.
“I was under the impression that his teammates were two girls—” The woman — he was absolutely certain by now that she was royalty of some sort; her accent, the embroidery on her layers of silk, her nearly-Bitrani features with brown hair; she was either the richest Lannamer-born daughter of formerly border-bred parents, or she was palace-born royalty.
“Well, his teammates, sure.” The Art House boy to his left scoffed. Saydrie looked back and forth like he was following a handball match. “But there’s teammates and then there’s friends, you know?”
Saydrie checked. The boy did not choke on the absurd lie. No, he looked completely sincere.
Maybe he’d used some obscure meaning of the word that Saydie wasn’t aware of. Enrie would know.
“Well, it is good to have friends, of course,” the woman tried. She was trying to be nice. That made Saydrie nervous. At least when they were being rude and scornful, he knew what to expect.
Then again, the two Art House boys being friendly – that was where he knew that face from! He tried to take a step backwards, but he was hemmed in.
What sort of prank was this?
“-but there are duties to be had as well.”
“Of course.” The one on the right, the one that Saydrie had punched not all that long ago, was slick as oil and smooth as marble. “But right now, especially considering what he is, his chief duty is to be a good a student as he can, right?”
“Well, I suppose that’s right, but—”
“I’m sure the House Monitor can tell you a good time to talk to him. Right now, we need him for class. Right, Zaydrie?”
Saydrie cleared his throat. “Yes, ah. Yes, correct. I apologize for the inconvenience, honored one.” He bowed deeply to her and held his breath.
“Ah, well. Yes, I will talk to you later.”
The woman bowed to him. Saydrie bowed again, as deeply as he could, and let the two – the two Art House students? – drag him off.
“Look,” muttered the one he had punched, not all that long ago, “anyone who has people like Lirnilalie chasing him around? Deserves to be here.”
“I don’t… I mean… what?” He turned and looked at one and then the other. It had been long enough that the nose had healed,of course, and there was no physical sign of the fight they’d gotten into.
“Dalebod was an idiot,” the one who Saydrie didn’t know — well, he knew him from the back of their classes, but had done his best to ignore all people in Art House gold, cyan, and indigo after that little incident — explained helpfully. “And then we found out about the thing with you and your team and Lirnilalie.”
“And,” Dalebod coughed — Saydrie was pretty sure it was Dalebod — “we saw some of the other By — Bitrani — giving you trouble, and uh. Well. I just, when that woman — Lady — started bothering you, I figured that maybe we ought to help out.”
Saydrie was not going to count the teeth on this gift. “Thank you.” He bowed politely — possibly too politely — and smiled at them. “Do you really need help with a project?”
“Well, uh.” The other one cleared his throat. “If you have time after class, I’m having trouble with this thing from History. And you’re in History House…”
“Absolutely. I would be honored.”
Saydrie slid into his seat between Taikie and Enrie, trying to shake the feeling the world had turned upside down.