Géta hurried to his room after his practice-lesson and put his flute and music away, then opened the window as quickly as he could. The letter from Alénil had been on his mind the whole afternoon, and he wanted to write a reply to it as soon as possible. He threw his tunic onto his bed and dropped into the chair.
Right in front of his incomplete composition homework.
He glanced from the scattered pages of music and the pencil and eraser on top to the letter laying on the near right-hand corner and back again several times as his enthusiasm cooled. It took a few minutes of consideration before he groaned and got up, untying his cravat and loosening the collar of his shirt as he retrieved his flute. He hadn’t gotten ahead of his schoolwork at home by slacking, and he’d driven the habit in deeply enough to feel uncomfortable letting his homework be ignored now. The thing here was to stay ahead of lessons as much as possible, so he’d have all the time he needed for practices and studying journals. And today, in addition to the remainder of the music he had to compose, he had mathematics homework, so he collected that as well before returning to his desk. To prevent distraction, he hooked his tunic and covered the letter with it, leaving them on the bed. There. Hopefully his mother’s adage of “out of sight, out of mind,” would prove true right now, because he didn’t know how he’d get through all his homework if he couldn’t focus on it.
Before he finished everything, the bell rang five thirty. He’d gone through the mathematics homework first, since he had a fair idea of how long it would take from experience with such work at home. The composition of the bridge in his little classwork song took longer, and he knew it wasn’t as good as the rest of the song, but that couldn’t be helped. If he could have taken it to Shélan for a critique, he would have, but, having guessed the Priest was some sort of instructor or tutor, he assumed the man would be too busy to take the time to assist him now.
The moment he considered himself finished with the music (perhaps a bit before it was ripe), he set it aside with his mathematics homework and grabbed the letter from hiding. After reading over it again a few times, he carefully set it where he’d be able to read it as he wrote and pulled another piece of paper close.
Not wishing to make Alénil worry, he didn’t write anything about his sudden shyness and inability to make friends here. It would only upset his friend, and, though level-headed for the most part, Alénil did occasionally have fits of temper, and Géta didn’t want him charging over to try and convince his parents to bring him back home. One thing Alénil would be correct in assuming was that Géta was desperately lonely at times, and that would definitely pique Alénil’s protective nature.
So he outlined how his days thus far had gone, starting with his early rising and visit to the library to study, making sure to emphasize how much he enjoyed it. Géta raved over the journals, waxing so enthusiastic he had to stop and read what he’d written a couple times to determine if he might be overdoing it. With a frown, he decided not. He’d always been like this over journals, an attitude his friends knew well. However, he had taken up both sides of a whole page writing about the journals, so he forced himself to go on to his classes, trying not to be too concise about them, but unable to find anything outstanding to say about them aside from the fact his instructors seemed competent and he believed he could keep up in the classes with little difficulty. That took one side of another page.
Then, with the commencement of the first paragraph regarding the flute practice-lessons, the dam broke. Oh, not the one he’d placed on his life here, but the secret desire he’d had to have the freedom—nay, the necessity—to focus on his flute and writing music for it scrawled across the page with abandon. He just couldn’t withhold the fact, he was so happy to have this gift. It felt good to share it, and he even diverged onto the dreams of becoming a famous Court musician in his enthusiasm because that was what he truly wanted and would have no reason to accost his parents regarding his future with it. This took two entire pages, and he was so incapable of restraining himself, he repeated himself a few times.
Upon finishing those two pages, Géta slumped. He felt as if he’d relieved himself of a great burden in sharing this permission to write and play music. After writing a brief apology for being so effusive, he ended with a note he’d write a summary of his trip from home to the High Temple and send it right away. He signed his name and added a postscript requesting Alénil not share his love of music with his parents with the explanation it would disappoint his father to know he’d so wanted to pursue it that he’d take what the Priests offered instead of going into something more “respectable.”
Géta folded the letter into quarters and set it aside after annotating it as destined for his best friend back home, then made himself draw another page close to begin a letter to his mother. This he was much more restrained in writing, giving a brief summary of his trip and his assigned duties. He didn’t share the fact he hadn’t found himself able to make friends, explaining the lack away with the excuse he was kept too busy for much socialization. Géta truly didn’t want his parents to worry, and he didn’t want to make them angry, either, so he kept his own anger at them for sending him to such a friendless place under a tight rein. It shouldn’t have mattered, honestly. Here he was getting what he wanted: A life devoted to music. It was just he’d been forced to leave a life of friendship and didn’t know if he’d ever make any friends here. The loss was painful in some ways; in others, the gain was soothing.
After filling three pages, including a request his newer clothing and his proper armor be sent, he brought the letter to a conclusion and folded it with a notation that it was for his mother. If he didn’t hurry, he’d be too late for supper, so he scrambled to his feet and hurried out. He’d eat, then pick up a couple cover pages and a pot of paste from the supply room.
Asthané was expecting to find a servant with his breakfast on the other side of the door when he went to answer the knock, not the person who was actually on the other side with the tray cart. “Jéesan.”
She smiled at his surprised pronouncement of her name. “I commandeered your breakfast from the Novice.”
He glanced down, saw the tray cart, and nodded, backing into his apartment. “Come in. I honestly wasn’t expecting to see you so soon. I know how busy you are.” He’d heard rumors from his friends and Ophelan about how Jéesan’s students were keeping her very busy, usually working right up until supper time.
Jéesan wheeled the cart in to stand next to the table and took the chair facing the wall his sitting room shared with his bedroom. “I am busy, but no more than usual, I suppose. It’s just one of my students is having trouble working with air and water together—rather like you with temperature change—and he’s not progressing as well as he should have been by now.”
Asthané shut the door and crossed to the table. They’d given him a pitcher of coffee, which was still steaming, though there was only one cup. Recalling he had an extra, brought by Siéda for the mornings when they’d spent time together, he went on a hunt for it. A search of a few minutes, with a foray into his bedroom into his travel trunk, and he found the cup and brought it out. It was one of the few things of Siéda’s he hadn’t sent right home to his musician’s parents.
“Here.” After he set the found cup down, he overturned the upside-down one on the cart, and filled them both with coffee. While Jéesan fixed hers with sugar and cream, he moved the bowl of steaming oatmeal onto the table with the little bowl of preserves, then fixed his coffee the same way as his tutor had done hers. “I think I figured the trick of lower temperatures.”
The only reason why he was permitted to graduate without this particular skill was because of his control established in learning how to manipulate earth prior to the Gifts necessary for weather magic. If Asthané had petitioned for these Gifts first, he would have been kept in training until he had proven he could alter temperatures as necessary for his weather magic.
Jéesan watched him sit down. “Truly?”
He nodded, scooping some preserves into his oatmeal. “I kind of accidentally latched onto the fact the temperature drops whenever I summon water from the air, and I started paying attention to it. I did it so much on one of the assignments we were sent out on, I think I had the Borderfolk slogging through mud to get to us.”
“That’s very good. Did you try making snow?”
“No.” He stirred his oatmeal. “Not right now. It’s summer and I didn’t want them to realize there was an Elementalist giving them such bad weather. But they figured it out by the end of the week.”
Jéesan glanced at the other end of the room, bowed her head for a moment, and sighed. “I’m sorry about Siéda.”
Asthané flicked a hand. “Oh.” He took a careful bite of his oatmeal and sipped his coffee. “I think . . . I think I’m past it mostly. It was worse on the border. The shock of it.”
“Yes, it’s always a shock.”
They exchanged a glance. Jéesan didn’t require music, but she’d lost enough friends before being tapped as a trainer he knew she understood the feeling he was describing. The shock of them not being there any more, in a lot of ways worse than witnessing their death, because even with having witnessed it, the shock of their absence still caused a great deal of pain the first few weeks. Asthané had spent most of those days in transit from the border to the Capitol, but he’d felt them despite that. He’d been traveling alone, when Siéda would normally have been accompanying him. Waking up to realize his musician wasn’t sleeping in the tent beside him or berth above him had never been easy.
Jéesan shifted, setting Siéda’s old cup down to dig in a pocket. “I received this from Éethin.” She set the slightly-crumpled quarter-folded note on the table between their mugs.
Asthané filled his mouth with what was in his spoon, then picked up the paper. It could be official, or it could not be. Éethin didn’t always dress up official missives if they were being delivered within the Temple. He swallowed quickly, took another bite, and set the spoon in the bowl to unfold the note.
It was brief. Just a few lines, but one message was surprising. She wanted Jéesan to begin teaching Asthané how to train people. Éethin hadn’t mentioned this in her letters to him before his return, but it was clear from this she’d been paying attention to his letters to her.
“She can’t be serious.”
Jéesan took the note from him and folded it again. “She is. It came sometime yesterday, was in my mail catch when I got home from supper. Thané, I don’t know what rumors you may have heard the past few days since returning, but there are whispers of a new war. The whispers’ source is sresaph Jalza from all over the country. Priests come in, Mages come in, and they carry the whispers to us, unable to tell us precisely when this big war will come.” She tucked the note away and sipped her coffee. “Not only that, we have more trainees than before. The Gods are inspiring people—and not just youths—to apply to become Mages. We’ve been taking them all, even those who seem unsuited to the life. My struggling student is one such, and I’ve been warned I’ll be receiving a couple more. We don’t have the Gift teachers necessary for this kind of Summoning the Gods are performing. Yes, the Grand Matriarch will send you right back out to the border before the end of the year, but I truly believe she’ll be doing it only so you can gain enough experience to be able to teach others.”
He stared at his oatmeal, inhaling the scent of the strawberries from the preserves mixed in, as he absorbed his teacher’s words. “I don’t know if I can teach. Not Gifts.”
“I’ll help you the best I can for as long as you’re here.”
Asthané gazed at Jéesan for a minute, then nodded. There was no way to avoid it. His magic was strong and, after another stint on the border, he’d be practiced enough with his new skill to be able to teach others. He just didn’t know if his future students would be able to survive his attitude. In addition to not having much patience for roundabout paths, he also had little patience for dealing with fools, and he’d been fool enough when he was a trainee he knew perfectly well his students would be as well.
“If it’s any consolation, I don’t believe Éethin will keep you teaching indefinitely.”
He nodded, sighing, and ate some more. “Probably not, particularly if I drive all my students to suicide.”
Jéesan chuckled. “You didn’t drive either of your teachers to it, so I doubt whatever students you receive when you return from your next stint in Ruphlan will be.”
She chuckled again, and sipped more of her coffee. They didn’t speak for a few minutes, then Asthané sat up as something occurred to him. “I assume I’m to take this future assignment seriously.”
He nodded. “I’ll start studying past teachers’ journals to see what issues they dealt with.”
Jéesan nodded, drank the last of her coffee, and rose. “With that in mind, I’ll leave you to finish your breakfast. I’ll see you after lunch.”
He nodded again, having seen the fact he was to report to her in the little note from the Grand Matriarch. “Promptly at one.”
She smiled. “It’s good to see you back, Thané, though I’m very sorry about Siéda.”
“It’s good to be back.” It felt good and true to say this now, despite missing Siéda, as if the chat with his ghost had leavened the grief even more.
Jéesan nodded once and left. Sighing, Asthané slouched back in his chair and stared at what remained of his oatmeal, feeling, for a moment, overwhelmed with everything.
Having forgotten to listen for the bells, Géta fetched a meager breakfast from the serving line and took his tray to the nearest table. The others already seated there ignored him for the most part, the one closest scooting a bit to the side as if to put some space between them. He tried not to feel hurt by the action of the girl, but couldn’t help it. She wasn’t present for long, rising with others who must have been her friends to take her tray to the counter. This cleared everyone nearby away.
Because he didn’t have long left to eat, Géta forced himself to cut his apple in half and ate it. Eating the oatmeal was out of the question now. It would only stick in his throat, which felt tight. While he chewed the apple, he idly stirred the preserves he’d selected into the oatmeal, keeping his gaze averted from others. Like the siblings’ departure from the martial arts hall yesterday, being ignored by the others who’d been at the table only made him feel more out of place.
Géta managed to get the apple past the lump in his throat and peeled the orange next as he sipped the milk from his cup. All the coffee pitchers had been empty, but he’d had it only once or twice a week with his breakfast at home, so it wasn’t the requirement for him as it was for others. He was halfway done his orange when three people sat across from him. They lacked trays, and the girl who sat in the middle wore a cruel smile.
“So you’re a musician.”
He looked away, peeling a bit of rind from the edge of the next orange wedge, his stomach tightening. The way she’d said “musician” left him little doubt Teréesi had a low opinion of them. She rocked from side to side a little and he eyed her warily as she glanced at her two companions with a wicked chuckle before focusing on him again.
“So, whose catamite are you?”
The orange dropped from Géta’s suddenly-numb fingers. If he’d thought wearing his earrings would draw such commentary, he would have removed the hoops. Of course, since same-sex pairings were acceptable throughout most of the Empire, he hadn’t thought anyone would insult the significance of his earrings. Teréesi’s smile grew into a grin at his reaction.
“Or haven’t you been assigned yet? You are pretty new. Maybe they’re looking for a Mage who needs a whore.”
The sick feeling crawled up Géta’s throat, and he swallowed it. Unwilling to sit for this kind of mockery, he grabbed his tray and left the table. The bullies didn’t follow, but he couldn’t relax now. He set his tray on the counter top near the sinks, then faced the room, seeking the trio. They’d gone. His shoulders wilted a little, and he shivered, hands fisting at his sides. If he’d had his sword . . . A glance across the room told him how unwise attacking the trio would have been. He didn’t want to be branded a troublemaker. Perhaps it was a good thing he hadn’t had his sword this morning.
Géta took a deep breath and headed for the door to the hall back to the musicians’ dorm. He had to get his weapon now for practice, in case the instructors had been able to find armor that fit him. On his way back to his room, he tried to shake the tension from his body, knowing it would only cause injury if he didn’t loosen up a bit.
But tomorrow, he’d be sure to get to breakfast right at six.
Asthané brought up the rear. Standard magical practice typically occurred in one of the Temple’s many basement workrooms, but that was good for learning only the individual bits which went into weather magic. Because he and one of Jéesan’s other students were both going to be performing weatherworking, this required a trek out to the open field designated for such training. When they passed into it, the shields over the area, which were to prevent the weather they would be mucking with from “contaminating” the natural weather around them, tingled across his skin.
However, their trek didn’t stop there. They continued on into the precise center of the field. According to Jéesan, they were the only weatherworkers on the palace grounds at this time, which was a good thing. Back when she’d been attempting to teach him how to manipulate the elements to create different weather patterns, Asthané had been working at the same time two other groups had been.
Jéesan’s two current students were somewhat younger than Asthané. The elder—the one having difficulty with working air and water together—was an energetic fellow who bounced as he walked. Asthané wondered how long that jaunty stride would last once this young man saw battle. The other was a female youth who had already proven to have a clever mind. She was right up behind Jéesan, talking with the violinist, Vée, who’d played Asthané to sleep his first night back.
The group came to a halt in a little divot covered in moss, and Vée, clearly experienced with Mages, dropped into a seated position on the summit of one of the little bumps. Within moments, the first notes from her instrument slipped over the group. Asthané’s muscles lost their tension, and he took a deep breath as he obeyed Jéesan’s invitation to come stand by her side. Her other two students fell back, the young man remaining on his feet and the girl sitting beside Vée and hugging her legs.
“All right, Thané, show me what you can do.”
He shook himself a little, glad he wasn’t wearing an in-style shirt right now. Maybe he wouldn’t replace all his uniform shirts. Sometimes working his Gifts made him feel like he had a knotted throat, particularly when concentration was required, and for this, it was. He didn’t raise his hands or make any obvious motions, just shifted his attention until the Obnubilate Codicil came into view.
“What are you doing?”
It was a shock to hear Jéesan’s question, but it didn’t break him from his light trance. “Accessing the Obnubilate Codicil.”
As Ophelan had once explained it, the Codicil was theirs, the Mages’, and the whole was a half-entity belonging to the Gods. A Priest had explained it as the Gods’ Will. In view, it looked like mists, but behaved somewhat as a half-tame beast might.
“Have you had to do this every time you performed weather magic on the border?” Jéesan asked.
Asthané nodded. “It’s how I saw what to do to initiate the temperature change.”
“Very well, we’ll do it this way for now, but I want you to wean yourself from the Obnubilate Codicil as much as possible after this.”
Another nod was all he was able to give as he did as he’d done those first three weeks of the skirmishes on the border. Knowing well what instruction to expect from Jéesan, Asthané didn’t need his teacher’s command in order to initiate the pulling of water from the air around them, and he used Vlantil’s Gift to cool the temperature. He forgot to ask what weather Jéesan wanted to see, instead simply dropping the temperature in the space he was altering for his weather magic to freezing as the rain began to fall. The first few drops wet the ground, then snow drifted down.
He pushed the cold spot further away, bringing movement into the air, and adjusted the temperature a little. Not having thought of doing this before, it took a little time, but he succeeded in creating what Jéesan had wanted to see. The wind he’d summoned in the little cold-weather pocket threw some of the hail out of the spell’s influence, and the Obnubilate Codicil roiled in the little space, but nothing beyond the perimeter was truly harmed.
Asthané changed the temperature again, spinning the winds up. For a few seconds as the snow began to rotate, the Obnubilate Codicil flickered out of his view, leaving only the snow and cloud cover he’d created.
“Keep it up, Thané.” There was no encouragement, but he hadn’t expected any. Her voice raised, Jéesan said, “All right, Héforth, come over here and try to stop the blizzard. I want you to still the air and send the precipitation back into it at the same time.”
Asthané didn’t take his attention away from his weatherwork. This was how he’d been taught—first undoing another’s spell. Prior to this, he’d never been able to do more than raise the temperature as he stopped the wind and rain.
Vaguely, he sensed Héforth step up to his right. Uncertain precisely what the young man was going to do, Asthané increased the speed of his wind and the thickness of the flakes. The snow piled on the ground now, drifting out beyond the bounds of the spell to melt in the natural-summer air.
“First look at what Asthané is doing to create the wind and precipitation,” their teacher advised the younger student.
The notes of Vée’s violin came to his ears and Asthané closed his eyes. It enabled him to focus better as he felt Héforth’s efforts to stop his wind. Poor fellow, Héforth was up against someone more powerful than himself, so it wasn’t likely he’d be able to completely stop Asthané’s spells, but that was Jéesan’s plan. Asthané had been the spellbreaker enough to know he was to stop his own weatherworking when Héforth finally managed to do as their teacher had instructed. Because he was more powerful, Asthané would be able to keep this blizzard going longer than Héforth would be able to work against him, and both of them were likely to be worn to the bone after this.
Jéesan gave no commands to her other student, but Asthané could feel the girl’s attention on them. Probably watching the Obnubilate Codicil, as Jéesan surely was. After a few minutes, she gave instructions to Héforth, a repeat of advice on how to manipulate the Obnubilate Codicil, and the youth attempted to do as she’d said. This was something Asthané had gone through uncounted times in his previous training, and Héforth’s efforts had about as much success against his weather as his own early attempts had had against those whose weather he’d been commanded to control.
Asthané opened his eyes to watch the Obnubilate Codicil as Héforth continued to try and break the pattern of wind and snow. Once the youth managed that, lessons would go on to teach him how to manipulate air and water together, but he needed this basic control before he could do any of that. It would be an indication he was ready to go on to that higher-level weatherworking.
“He’s too powerful, Jée!” Héforth complained after at least fifteen uninterrupted minutes of the lesson.
“That’s the point, boy. He knows to stop when you have the trick of it, so keep on working. No more whining. Alées, come with me. Enough observation. Thané, I want you to change the weather in your spell every so often, for practice. Try not to create any tornadoes.” It was only half a joke. Tornadoes had a way of escaping the confines of a Mage’s spells if they weren’t well-watched, and she wouldn’t want him to even accidentally create one until she could give her full attention to him.
Jéesan and her other student walked away, fading from Asthané’s awareness until not a trace of their presences remained. With their absence, and a new, upbeat song from Vée, he was able to focus better on his spellwork and shifted the temperature enough to create hail again. He heard Héforth groan, but didn’t lighten up his own Gift, well aware the youth wouldn’t learn anything if he didn’t challenge the boy.
If the day began badly, his afternoon lesson-practice ended on a somewhat neutral note with Master Orsée announcing Géta was to perform for a Mage on the following day. Géta returned to his room with the little note which told him where to appear after lunch tomorrow and sat on his bed with his things in his lap as he perused the note again. He had no idea where the Weatherfield was, but he had to be at the gate leading to it tomorrow at one.
Idly, he untied his cravat and unfastened the buttons of his collar as he considered what to do, though it seemed simple enough. Go explore in search of the path to the Weatherfield. With a sigh, he put everything away and left his room, the note tucked into a pocket. As he made his way to the watch room, he refastened the buttons and tied his cravat, not wishing to appear untidy before people.
The Priest in the watch room was dozing, and he gently tapped the man’s shoulder, feeling shy again. Would he ever get over this shyness? The idea he should broach a conversation with this Priest made him want to cower, but he forced himself to ask his question and wrote the directions to the gate out of the Temple Garden where the path to the Weatherfield began. With this in hand, Géta departed through the door beneath the clock and took the hall to the door at the end instead of turning to go to the dining hall.
Outside, humidity thickened the air. The day had been sweltering inside, but this heat simply sapped Géta of all energy. It wasn’t quite as hot as his homeland, which was further south, though it got snow in the winter where his home was, but the humidity made it feel like he was breathing water. He was panting before he got to the path the Priest had told him to look for, between two rosefruit trees whose slender, woven trunks were dressed in vaila flower vines. The path had branches off, but he took the third on the left and it wended up to a little decorative wooden gate at a field. According to the Priest, the Weatherfield was some distance into the field, and Géta stood at the gate trying to pinpoint a particular spot to identify as the Weatherfield.
He did it so hard and for so long he started to see shadows on the ground out there. A kind of fluctuating line of mist, like the shadow of a wall the sun was almost centered over. He blinked and rubbed his eyes, and the mirage wasn’t there when he was done. Deciding he was only going to give himself a headache—and one was already forming at the crown of his head—Géta turned to explore the garden better.
It didn’t take him long to get lost in the labyrinth of paths, but none of the plants completely obscured the golden edifice of the Temple, so he used it as a landmark. Some paths extended into little cul-de-sacs where benches waited, and he found a couple grassy areas where Mages and Priests seemed to just be sitting. Wary of disturbing them, since they apparently didn’t notice his presence, he retreated back to the path each time he encountered someone, leaving them in their hedge-fenced nooks.
Géta also came across students—Novices and young Mage trainees and other musicians—all in groups of friendship. Though he knew he should try to approach them, he couldn’t find the courage to attempt to. Each time they appeared on a path he was on, he either turned around and hurried away, or found another path to lead away. Truly, his last encounter with the bullies was at the front of his mind, and most of those he saw were Novices, and he didn’t want to risk being mocked any more.
Reminded of the bullies’ visit to his breakfast, he stopped at an intersection of three paths in a Y and touched the wire hoops in his ears. Géta had gotten his ears pierced at the tops to signify his sexuality when he was eight after his parents gave him permission, and he now considered removing the simple wire loops for the first time since putting them in. They curled around the upper edges of his ears, and he generally kept his hair combed so they were visible. Then again, even if he removed the simple silver hoops, the bullies surely wouldn’t forget he’d been wearing them, so the mockery would continue the next time they saw him. In the end, he decided the best thing to do was to avoid the bullies as well as possible.
But he took a moment to cover the hoops with his hair.
After he explored the Garden until he reached the Temple again, Géta found the door back to the musicians’ dorm. He had homework from his mathematics class to complete, and he wanted to find one of the books on his Literature reading list, which he’d forced himself to ask after this morning before going to lunch.