The final portion of his journey involved crossing Capitol Lake to the largest island. Actually, the largest island was cut by canals, and Géta got a nice view of the Empire’s Capitol City from the steamboat’s deck. He was too worn by the journey to feel much awe and his eyes blurred more than a little a few times, so his memory of the trip through the canals to the center of the island was a little hazy. When the ferry docked, his Priest escort came to fetch him, and he wandered down the plank to the dock with a feeling of smallness.
Here, the roads were much better than those in his home city had been, so there were no jarring dips into potholes. The carriage rode smoothly, an issue with the Temple’s insignia of a trio of three-armed spirals, in an inverted-triangle pattern, on its doors. It wasn’t very fine, but it was more comfortable than the taxi carriage he’d ridden to the train in back in his home city.
Now he was much more at ease with Shélan, but didn’t speak. The Priest had become something of a friend over the past few weeks. Géta had even taken to sharing his little bits of music composition with him, and had discovered someone who not only enjoyed music being played but who also understood what it meant to write it. Though not a particularly good musician himself, Shélan had proven to have an excellent knowledge of the theory behind its composition and had been able to advise Géta on what he’d written.
Géta’s resignation to his destiny had become complete over the journey, but he wasn’t unhappily resigned any longer. Knowing he’d be allowed his precious music, to play his flute and even be encouraged to compose gave him more confidence than he’d ever had. It wasn’t complete confidence, but he’d realized he could face his new situation without fearing it quite so much any more. His music was his reassurance—that and the fact Shélan had been at pains to communicate his freedom to study and read as much as he liked in his free time. The two things Géta had always found the most solace in were open to him, without restriction, and he took great comfort from those gifts.
At the end of their journey, the carriage clattered through a tunnel which darkened the interior of the carriage for a minute, then exited into sunlight once more. The vehicle stopped shortly thereafter, and Géta followed his Priest escort out of the vehicle to find himself before a large, gracefully-designed building. It was said the palace itself was gilded, but this building could have been, for the golden stone bricks glowed in the sunlight.
Shélan beckoned. “Come, Géta. I’ll take you to your chamber.”
The Priest nodded. “All mages’ musicians receive their own private chamber to sleep in. It keeps the Acolytes and Novices from interrupting their studies too much. Some of them, particularly the Novices, are like you.”
“Yes, and those forced into the Priesthood by parents who don’t know what else to do with them. We keep them for as long as it takes them to reach the age of majority, then set them free to fend for themselves. We can’t be responsible for babysitting laze-abouts and troublemakers.”
Passing between two spear-wielding guards in brown-painted breastplates, they entered the building. The entry chamber was very austere, occupied by another priest, at a desk, and a few youths who sat on a bench. He and Shélan passed through it into a hall directly across from the door. Golden-brick walls reflected the gas-lamps’ light, making the corridor seem brighter, and various hangings adorned the walls. The images depicted scenes from the past, and Géta recognized several tapestries with illustrations from the Great War which brought the first Mages into the Priesthood. One even had an image of Sethe, the Precedent Mage, and Géta’s steps hitched long enough for him to get a more detailed view of the tapestry. Kolé wasn’t present, so it must have been taken from a time when he was away from Sethe.
“Come along, Géta. The sooner we get you settled in, the more rest you may take today before your training begins tomorrow.”
He nodded and quickened his pace. “Why must I begin so soon?”
“Musicians are in high demand. Many of our Mages who require musicians to accompany them are the best we have. You may not know—it’s not often stated in the histories we learn—but Kolé was a singer, and you surely know how powerful a Mage Sethe was.”
“Those Mages who require musicians are often those who feel most deeply for people. Such Mages’ need is not just for music, but also for the companionship they have with their musicians. It makes them just that much more stable than our Mages who don’t require music, and they seem more intelligent and to have a stronger spirit than those who don’t require music. Like Sethe.”
Géta nodded again, though Shélan wasn’t looking at him this time. Shélan turned left, into another corridor.
“Sadly, the musicians are often ignored in the histories despite the value of their service to their Mages. Few ever are mentioned, and only those who are exceptional in some way. Like Kolé.”
“Because he was Sethe’s lover, too,” Géta said.
“Indeed. Little else about him is noted so well in the generic histories written for schoolchildren.” Shélan sounded sadly amused. They came to a door, and he pulled it open. “Here are the musicians’ chambers. You’re fortunate. Yours has a window.”
They passed mirrored perpendicular halls. Géta counted four on each side before his escort turned left down one. At the end, on the right, Shélan opened a door to enter the room behind it, and he followed.
It was a small chamber. Just enough room for his bed, a small table with a chair, and a music stand in the corner at the foot of his bed, with a small wood- or coal-burning stove across from it. The window was closed, so the room was hot and stuffy. Shelves were built onto the wall to the left of the door.
“The doors don’t lock, but the door from the school complex does and we have someone on watch at all times, so your instrument will be perfectly safe. Leave your satchel here, and I’ll give you a tour and help you fetch your uniforms.”
Géta dropped his satchel on the bed, assuming his trunk would be brought when it arrived. It hadn’t arrived at the train station on their train, so he didn’t expect it for a few days, though he didn’t think he’d mind wearing the Temple’s uniform. The uniform would prevent him being singled out, and he was even more interested in going unnoticed now than he had been upon his departure from home. Shélan’s words about the Novices who’d been sent here by their families for lack of knowing what to do with them had given him a very clear picture of the treatment he thought he could expect from them if they decided to pick on him.
The tour took a short while, and they stopped and collected uniforms for Géta at the end. He received snug trousers, high-collared white shirts with plain cravats, and tunics cut to the length of mid-thigh which had a yellow eighth-note sewn to the front. Because he was very thin for his height, and the clothing clearly wasn’t going to be tailored to his size, the belt they chose had to have holes added.
After dropping his new brown uniforms off in his room, Shélan took him for his class assignments. For this, he had to write out what he knew of various subjects prior to the assignments, and his Priest escort sat with him for the duration. This was where Shélan betrayed his true duty; he took the essays himself and gave Géta an oral exam based upon them for a better understanding of his knowledge before getting the class assignments.
“I believe I can trust you to study on your own,” Shélan said as he led the way to a book supply room. “So I won’t place you in history or literature. This is actually good. It’ll give you more time to practice your flute.” They stopped at various shelves, and Géta received books for mathematics and music composition. “All students, regardless of Calling, are required to have martial arts training. You’ll be permitted to use your own sword. Be forewarned: I or another Priest will periodically test you on your knowledge, so it is completely up to you to continue studies of the subjects you are not taking. If you decide, you may take a language class or two, but for now, use the extra time for your flute. You may be called to Serve a Mage sooner rather than later, and that skill needs to be at the best it can be as soon as possible. The remainder of your education can be completed as you have time, whether your Mage is stationed here or elsewhere.”
“Who will teach me if we’re not stationed at a city temple?” Géta hugged his new books to his chest as Shélan led him out of the book room.
“The Mage you’re assigned to. Honestly, few of them are particularly suited for teaching, but it’s their responsibility as long as you are away from any place where formal classes are set up. When you return here, you’ll be tested and placed in classes according to the results. Continuing education is a requirement for all, whether Priests, Mages, or musicians, so you’ll never be the only adult in any classes.”
After they took the books to Géta’s new room to leave on the table, they went to fetch dressings for the bed, and then he was finally left to himself. He made his bed, stowed his clothing on the shelves built into the wall across from its foot, and settled on it, intending to lie down for only a few minutes. With a stretch and a yawn, however, he was asleep.
Asthané twisted himself onto his back and sighed, gazing up at the ceiling. Now more than ever he missed Siéda. He could have summoned his musician to play something to help him get to sleep. The silence was about to drive him insane, and his mind wouldn’t stop running ideas for things he could have done to save Siéda’s life. Sensibly, he knew he couldn’t have done anything. His musician had been struck quickly, and the strike had killed him instantly; Asthané may not have often used what little of Teesar’s Gift he had, but he had sensed enough to know Siéda had felt no pain, hadn’t even known what hit him.
But now, as he had been for the past few weeks, Asthané was without music. There’d been no recourse on the train from Ruphlan, but here, he at least had his phonograph. He got up and crossed to turn up the flame on his gaslight, then sorted through his selection of records. Most of them Siéda had recorded, but Asthané felt too vulnerable to listen to any of his music. It might hurt too much. Would make him cry. Asthané didn’t want to cry. He wanted to get to sleep.
Shortly, he found a record labeled as harp music by a musician whose name was now unfamiliar. Asthané wasn’t one much for harp music, but it should be different enough from all the lute and gittern music he had recordings of he shouldn’t fall into depression. He set the record on the phonograph and wound the handle, then set the needle on it once the record was spinning. Delicate notes lilted into the air. Yes, harp music was the way to go.
Asthané returned to bed and pulled the sheet over his body, closing his eyes. For perhaps two minutes, everything was fine, then his mind started up again. This time it focused on the coming challenge of finding another musician to accompany him. Groaning, Asthané twisted around to his stomach to press his face into his pillow. The thoughts didn’t stop.
With a snarl, he pushed himself to his hands and knees, got out of bed, and switched records, putting one of Siéda’s on. May as well give up on avoiding it. The familiar notes of lute music filled the room. After winding the handle some more to ensure the record would continue to play, Asthané returned to bed. This time, he settled on his side, curling up.
He could almost see Siéda playing. If not for the scratches on the record, he could have gotten lost in the fantasy of Siéda being there in truth. The crackling interrupted the fiction, however, and before long, tears seeped from Asthané’s eyes. He sniffled, shoulders shaking in quiet sobs as he thought of Siéda. Three years seemed too short a time. Siéda hadn’t been more than thirteen. Far too young to die for any reason, much less some stupid ruler’s greed. It wasn’t that he hadn’t lost a musician before, it was because Siéda had been so bright and cheerful, ever seeing the sunny side of things and lending happiness to all those around him. He’d been the perfect foil for Asthané’s typical attitude and demeanor, had opened doors and created paths for Asthané which Asthané hadn’t been able to create for himself because of his typical moodiness.
Like Lasée. She’d been one of Siéda’s lovers. His musician had introduced her to Asthané, and, with Siéda’s assistance, she’d become a good friend of Asthané’s. There were others, those who had simply been Siéda’s friends. It had taken Siéda’s understanding of Asthané to give Asthané a real circle of true friends. Friends he’d lacked a good portion of his adult life, and that was what had made Siéda so valuable to him. Not just the music, but the friendship offered and introduced.
Oh, he couldn’t listen to Siéda’s music. It was too much. Wiping his face, Asthané rose once more and looked through his records. Lute, gittern, and some harp. Nothing truly different. He’d have to buy more records, a wider variety, but couldn’t do it now.
Asthané grabbed his robe and put it on over his sleep tunic, then found his slippers and left his apartment for the stairs. Down two flights to where the musicians slept, he left the stairwell to enter the watch’s office. Two young Novices dozed on the bench against the left hand wall, and the night watch perked up a bit upon his entry.
“What can I do for you?”
The Novices looked a little more alert.
“I need a musician.” Asthané tugged on the ends of his robe’s sleeves, feeling a little odd to come begging like this. It was his perfect right to request a musician when he didn’t have one, but he always felt like he was overstepping bounds when he had to ask. “Not lute or gittern or harp.”
The night watch’s lips pursed as he looked through the roster. “How about violin? Or a wind instrument?”
“Either will do.”
“Very well. Jéla, go fetch . . . Vée. She’s a gentle hand with her bow and knows a sweet sleepy song or three.” The night watch addressed the last sentence to Asthané as one of the Novices scrambled to his feet and slipped out the door behind the watch.
Asthané paced while he waited. Vée was not long in coming, and entered in the young Novice’s wake, violin and bow in hand. He nodded and beckoned her to follow him, leaving before anyone could say anything.
She tried asking him a couple questions on the stairs, but he didn’t respond. He didn’t need chatter, he needed a living presence in his room, and music, and indicated she should bring one of the chairs from his table into his bedroom. While he got into bed, she tuned her instrument and sat down.
“Do you have any preference?”
“Just play.” Asthané couldn’t keep the surliness from his voice, and felt guilty when Vée winced, but only covered himself, turning his back to her as he settled down.
Softly, drawn notes played, and he relaxed almost instantly. Yes, this was what he’d needed. Maybe tomorrow night his phonograph would suffice, but he definitely needed a living presence to sense tonight. It comforted him, even if she wasn’t Siéda.
Because his room was positioned against the outer wall, Géta heard the bells chime a half hour. At least, it sounded as if the Temple here had bells like the local Temple a few blocks over from his home had. He gazed at his closed window, feeling the darkness outside. It had to be pretty early. Regardless, he couldn’t get back to sleep, so he sat up and knuckled his eyes.
Géta hadn’t even thought to take off his sword belt or change clothes, he’d been that tired, and now unbuckled the belt to let it fall to the bed. The warmth of the room had kept him cozy throughout the night, but now it was a little cool, even fully dressed. Vaguely, he remembered Shélan describing the city from one of their first nights on the train, about how the summer nights were a bit cooler on the lake than in his homecountry.
He was in Édalai. In the Empire’s Capitol City. Now all the awe and wonder he hadn’t been able to feel yesterday afternoon came to him, and he sat frozen for a couple minutes, just thinking about where he was. He was closer to the the Imperial Palace—to the Empress—than any of his family had ever been.
Not that Géta had any aspirations of ever meeting her right now. It was enough just to be this close to her, on the same grounds as she was, in the palace compound. Maybe if his flute-playing brought him to the Imperial Palace somehow, he’d meet her, but he tried to tell himself he’d grown enough sense to realize it wouldn’t take him quite that far any more. He told himself being this close was just enough, though he felt excited over the thought of meeting her for having done some fantastic musical wonder and had almost a fear of getting any closer to the Empress. Everybody said she was kind, but who could truly know? Well, besides nobles and courtiers? And if Géta was here to Serve Mages, he felt pretty certain there’d be no way he’d ever escape that destiny. The Priests had him, not that he much minded any more, and he didn’t think there was much chance of some nobleman overhearing his flute playing and taking him from the Temple. Nobles wouldn’t have any reason to come to the Temple. How likely was it someone from the Palace would overhear his playing here and take him away from a life of Service, even one he felt much better about than he had three weeks ago? Géta couldn’t see how he could meet the Empress without that.
Once the awe and grandiose fantasies faded somewhat, Géta found himself able to move. Being sensible, as his parents had certainly raised him to be, helped a little. He belonged to the Priests and their Mages now. It was best he align his dreams to his new life, not allow his fancies to trip off into contemplations of a life he probably wouldn’t have acquired even if his father had been willing to send him to University for a music degree. He’d decided back home he’d best hope for a place in a theater, and that was about the level of his status here. Perhaps his audience would be only one person, but it was better than he knew he could have expected at this age, and he had duties to attend to.
He rose to turn up the gaslight then sat again to remove his shoes and undressed. For a moment, he considered bathing, then remembered his first class was to be martial arts practice. No point in bathing before that—he’d just get smelly and sweaty. He sorted through his new uniforms and found a tunic which looked a little worse than the others. Shélan had gotten him a wealth of shirts, but none of them were particularly ratty, and none of his new trousers were truly suitable for hard activity. Géta didn’t own any brown clothing, even if his trunk had been here. It was all brightly-colored despite being old-fashioned. His parents had always been certain to have Géta and his brothers dressed in the height of fashion, thus to make the best impression possible on everyone, and the height of fashion had always dictated bright colors for as long as Géta had cared to take note of clothing fashion.
Well, apparently, the clothes were still fairly new. He hated to begin their ruination, but donned one of the uniforms anyway. The brown wool socks made his legs itch, so he folded them over before pulling his new boots on. Shélan had said something about having to embroider his initials or something into the hems of his clothes for identifying who they belonged to. Bottom hem of the shirts and tunics, in the back, and inside the back of the waistband of trousers and skivvies, insides of the cuffs of the socks. This was a bit of a dilemma. He’d never wielded a needle in his life, and wondered just how he was to do this embroidery without skill or supplies. Maybe he could just stitch bits of ribbon into place. That shouldn’t be too difficult. Or maybe bits of fabric from one of his worst-worn old jackets. That might be better. He wouldn’t have to venture from the palace grounds right away to go after ribbons, and he was certain he could borrow needle and thread from someone else.
This decided, he finished dressing and put his sword belt back on. Now he was ready to face the day. Géta dared open his window, but even with the stained-glass panes open, he saw only darkness, though the sweet scent of vaila flowers drifted into his room, carried on a predawn breeze. He inhaled the fragrance a few times, then closed the window after pushing the shutters all the way open, wary of leaving his things vulnerable. After he latched the panes, he saw the metal crossbar hanging from the lower right-hand corner, and slid it into the metal rings at the bottom of the window panes. There, all secure. He could open the window when he got back after classes today.
Now, lacking anything to entertain himself in his room and not wanting to risk waking anybody else up with his flute playing, he ventured into the hall, pulling the door shut in his wake. At the end of the hall, he looked both ways, dredging up the facts of the tour Shélan had given him yesterday. To the right, he’d be heading back into the entry hall, so he turned left, where he remembered the watch room to be. His visits there yesterday had been brief, though he’d gone through thrice: Once on the way up to the Mages’ quarters, once on the way back down, and once after his tour of the school halls.
Opening the door a little, he stuck his head in the room. Two Novices a little younger than himself dozed on a bench against the right-hand wall, and a Priest sat at the desk before the door, facing the door to the stairs up to the Mages’ quarters. Géta cleared his throat softly, hoping not to startle the Priest, who turned. She smiled.
“Come on in. You must be the new musician. I’m Walphren.”
Géta stepped into the room and shut the door, then stood there glancing around, struck by a shyness he’d never have suspected of himself. “Hi.”
Walphren beckoned him close, so he shuffled over to stand before her; she’d turned on her chair and now regarded him with one arm propped on the back of the chair, the other resting on the desk. The book she’d been reading spread open on the desk, its pages fanned, with a ribbon marking her place.
“Your name is Géta?”
She smiled again. “Shy are you?”
He shrugged one shoulder. “Yes, though I don’t know why.”
“New surroundings, new life. I was the same when I first got here. Rather shocked to be where I was in spite of having a Calling to be here. I’d looked on it as a grand adventure before leaving home but lost some of that feeling my first day here. You’ll do fine. Just do your best to stay away from the troublemakers and do as the Priests tell you.”
Géta took brief glances of her as she spoke, and he found a pretty, round-faced woman who was a little plump, with blond hair braided over her ears. Her brown tunic bore the insignia of crossed swords. She smiled at him, but not in a way that made him believe she’d lost her senses. It was a friendly and welcoming expression that lit her face with a kind of happiness.
“So you couldn’t sleep any more?”
“What time did you go to bed?” she asked in a conspiratorial tone and with a playful grin which let him know she wouldn’t berate him for being exhausted.
“Well, where would you like to go? The dining hall won’t be open yet, and I’m not to unlock the door to it and the class hallways until six.” She sat up a little, placing her hands in her lap, now all attentive to his wishes.
“I wanted to see the library.” Géta lowered his gaze.
“Then you go.” The Priest grinned and fluttered a hand at him. “I think I can trust you to treat the books well. You know the rules?”
“Shélan told me on my tour yesterday.”
Another grin from the Priest. “Excellent! Enjoy yourself!”
He ducked his head and shuffled back, then scurried to the door opposite the one he’d entered through, sighing when he shut it behind himself. Now he realized he hadn’t bothered to check the clock above the class hall door for the time, but there was one in the library, so he climbed the spiral stair to the fourth floor and hurried down the hall to where the library was.
As Shélan had explained, the doors were indeed unlocked, and the stacks well-lit with gaslights. The flames were kept low, but the lights were placed very closely together to facilitate reading the spines of the books. As Géta had noted yesterday, however, the books in the first chamber were all fiction, and though he’d have to get a reading list from one of the Literature instructors, he didn’t want to explore fiction right now. Shélan had led him on a full tour of the vast library, and he wanted to go back to where he’d been told the copies of Mages’ journals were.
Journals like this were the kinds of “books” he’d done his best to get his hands on back home. True, sometimes reading journals could be boring, even if they were a Mage’s journals, but for the most part he found them fascinating. Géta enjoyed nothing more than getting into someone else’s head and learning the things they’d learned. His father hadn’t understood his love of journals, and this had been what he’d denigrated during that final interview.
Now, Géta moved through the library with eagerness. Nothing thrilled him quite so much as getting his hands on copies of journals, and he wanted to begin learning as soon as possible. He was very grateful for the fact the library had an extensive collection of copied journals. Shélan had said there were more—in fact, a library of only journals—elsewhere in the High Temple, but what Géta had seen yesterday was enough to satisfy him for now. He couldn’t read every journal after all. There just wasn’t enough time, and he already had a memorized list of Mages whose journals he’d learned had the best information.
All of the journal copies in this library were print copies. Handwritten ones were kept in the library of only journals, but this didn’t displease Géta. Print copies were easier to read. He reached the room where they were and scanned the shelves, which were labeled, and sought the journals of Mages whose lives he’d already studied. Time enough to begin expanding his journal-reading later; right now he wanted something from a Mage he was familiar with and found the A section to take down a journal copied from a Mage named Auben sresaph, a Mage so learned and so powerful, he’d abandoned all the Gods’ names and simply went by the title “sresaph.” Géta had found only two of this Mage’s journals in his home city, and then only after much exploration of many bookshops, and he’d studied them until the edges of the pages had frayed. Here, he was able to finally get his hands on a new one of what appeared to be a fair number of journals written by Auben sresaph, and the sight of all those other journals gave him a thrill unmatched by anything else he’d recently experienced, even his awe over being so close to the Empress.
Géta reverently carried the book he chose—the first of the lot—to a little seating area and sank into one of the comfortable chairs there and opened it with a grin, curling up and wiggling into the chair to assure his best comfort. Though he’d forgotten to check the time, there was a little time-keeping bell system in the library, and it rang Respite, then the hour of five as he began reading. He’d stop at six and go down to eat an early breakfast.
The baths were vacant at this hour. Asthané set his clothing on a bench, started the water filling the tub, and stripped. There were soap and cloths in nooks above the spigot in the wall, and he set to scrubbing himself vigorously, with the speed he’d learned to use on the Ruphlan border after the attacks began. Often there, especially since it was summer, he and Siéda had been relegated to streams and ponds and the occasional lake they found when they were away from the station.
When he realized what he was doing—wasting the pleasure of a real bath he didn’t have to refill either laboriously or magically—Asthané paused for a moment in his scrubbing. Well, he was almost done. He finished up, drained the tub and refilled it with slightly hotter water than before, then stretched out after shutting the water off.
This was nice. Just him, the water, and the drip from the spigot. He didn’t feel like tightening the knobs and closed his eyes as he leaned his head against the gently-curved edge of the tub. This was a pleasure he hadn’t had much of, even in the base station because there just hadn’t been time once the Borderfolk started their harrying, and the Temple post hadn’t had anything like running water. Regardless, he would rather have had Siéda with him, even if it meant he’d have still been out on the border.
When the water cooled, he unplugged the tub and got out. Time to get started. Asthané looked around for a clock, didn’t see one, but the five thirty bell had rung a little bit ago, so it apparently wasn’t six yet. As he dressed, he planned his day as much as possible. He had to see if either of his mentors were available for training and arrange to start meeting musicians. What he truly wanted was to have a few days of just doing nothing, but it wouldn’t be permitted. Even if he hadn’t had to get back to his station as soon as possible, he still wouldn’t have been allowed to laze about. The one thing the Priesthood was very strict about was everyone being kept busy. Oh, they were given free time, but excessive idleness wasn’t encouraged.
His day thus planned, he shoved his dirty stuff down the laundry chute as the six o’clock bell rang. Time to start the day.