Asthané assured the guard—it was always a different one who brought him to his palace chambers—he was capable of stumbling to bed on his own. Following a minute’s hovering hesitation, the woman departed, and he watched her go, waiting until she disappeared around a corner. Good. He could relax now.
This Council meeting hadn’t been so bad. Of course, he’d spent most of it sitting outside the chamber while other business was taken care of, but he still had a head which felt like someone had used it for a drum and knotted guts. He wasn’t sure just how much of the fine supper in the room beyond this front door he’d be able to eat, especially cold—he’d learned long ago, most foods eaten while sick with Gift reaction tended to lack flavor if left cold—and he wasn’t inclined to use his Gifts to heat anything up. It might be best to skip supper altogether.
He turned the handle and forced himself to move into the room. Bless the soul of whoever watched over these chambers, they always left the fore chamber well-lit, the gaslights bright. Maybe someone who understood about Mages was monitoring the use of this apartment. Whoever it was, he wanted to thank them. He shuffled in, edged to the side, and shut the door as he leaned against the wall, tipping his head back as he closed his eyes. Bed was just across the way, in the next room, but he needed a break to register he truly was free for the rest of the evening.
Géta kept his gaze on the two trunks at the foot of his bed as he dropped his class things on his desk; the shelves were blocked by the trunks now. One was new, burnished yeru from the lot his parents had purchased for that trip to the lake when he was six. When he crossed to look at the address on it, he found his mother’s handwriting as he expected, and he knelt to unbuckle the straps holding the lid shut, using his parrying dagger to cut the knotted bits of twine which his mother had apparently deemed suitable as a security measure. His armor lay on the top; bits of plate for arms, with a mail tunic. Two letters and a leather-bound book lay on top of the mail tunic.
He fanned the pages of the book, but they were all blank. A journal, then. After taking notice one letter was from his mother, he picked up the other, from Alénil, and opened it. It said little, his best friend choosing not to go into detail about a life he knew Géta was very familiar with, then introduced the journal with the suggestion Géta use it as a kind of notebook to keep records of events he wanted to write home about. Géta set the letter on top of his clothes and picked up the journal again, opening it.
He gazed at the blank pages, considering what he could write in it right now for a few minutes, then made himself close the journal and set it on top of his clothes. Opening his mother’s letter enabled him to acquire the key to the trunk, but he didn’t read the note with it yet. The half-hour bell chimed, so he needed to get out to the Weatherfield gate or he’d be in trouble.
He locked the trunk, then added the key to the leather strap of his keyring and collected his flute. No time to straighten things up, and he’d have to ask about what to do with the trunks when he unpacked them later. He hurried out to the gardens and trotted up the path he usually took to the Weatherfield gate.
And came around a bend with a tall hedge right into the trio of bullies who had been after him.
Géta followed Udé into the dining hall. His friend had announced the kitchen always set out a sideboard in the afternoon, primarily because Mages finishing afternoon practice generally required some sort of sustenance. The sideboard was actually an abbreviated selection of foods set on the counter where meal components were set out, and Udé lifted the lid of the soup tureen at one end of the collection of food, rattling the ladle about.
“Dregs. Who eats the soup before I get here?”
Chuckling over the complaining tone of voice his friend had spoken in, Géta wandered over to the left and collected an orange and a couple sausage rolls. The crusts were a little hard, but that didn’t matter. Udé followed his example, collecting four of the rolls into a hammock made with the bottom of his tunic and selecting three apples instead of oranges. Géta finally found a position with his arm and collection of music which supported the food he’d taken, and the pair headed for the door to the hall leading to the Mages’ and musicians’ quarters, him in the lead.
“So how was this practice?”
A while later, another knock came on Géta’s door. He shifted to eye the panel, wary now because of Asthané’s visit. The Mage could have returned. Why, he couldn’t fathom, but he didn’t fancy the idea of opening the door. Still, when the knock came once more, he got up to do so.
Shélan smiled at him. “Hello, Géta.”
Unable to restrain his joy at seeing the Priest, Géta opened the door and beckoned him in. “Hi, Shélan! I didn’t expect to see you again.”
“Why ever not? Did you think I could forget you?”
The tease made him bob his head, cheeks warming. “A little.”
“Well, you made quite an impression upon me, young man. May I sit?”
Géta’s stomach kept sending up mouthfuls of lunch as he waited, by turns gazing into the garden in hopes of seeing the Mages and staring out over the field wondering if they’d already passed. It hadn’t been one yet when he’d left for the gate to the Weatherfield, but he was afraid he may have missed meeting them. Pacing a little, he continually swallowed as he hugged his flute to his side. He hadn’t bothered to take it out and put it together and had spent a few minutes in indecision, wondering if he should bring the music he was learning before deciding this couldn’t be counted as an official practice. This was real performance, and it chilled him despite the humid heat of the day.
He turned away from the field and saw four people on the path from the Temple. The woman at the head of the little group wore a tunic with a V-bent arrow through crescent with the points down on the front; an orange, yellow, and blue spiral filled the space between the arrow and bottom of the crescent. The others he could see wore different colors; one with yellow, another with blue, and the last he couldn’t see from where he stood with the others blocking. Géta caught glimpses of red hair, but that was all.
With a sigh, Asthané flopped onto his sofa, placed his hand on his head, and cooled the temperature of his scalp in an effort to alleviate the pain. At this point, exerting his will to cool the temperature of his head wouldn’t do much to aggravate the headache. Using what little of Teesar’s Gift he had would aggravate the headache, because he wasn’t very well practiced with those skills and had to exert a bit of concentration and access the Obnubilate Codicil in order to effect changes.
At least, thanks to this four-hour session of nonstop weatherworking, he had a very firm grasp on the trick to reducing temperature. He sighed again, this time with a bit of a groan as the cool sensation caressed his skin, taking some of the pain away. Still, he didn’t feel so bad, even with the sick-headache from using his Gifts for so long without a break. Poor Héforth had been dry-heaving between his attempts at killing the wind and precipitation in Asthané’s spell. Only practice would reduce the reaction, and the boy was going to get plenty of that with Asthané around. And maybe Asthané wouldn’t end up with awful sick-headaches at the ends of these sessions in a month or so. He could use the stamina all this magic-practice was going to give him.
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.
The heat felt oppressive, thick with humidity, and Géta opened his room’s window in hopes of a relieving breeze the moment he got in, not even setting his flute and the new music he’d been given down first. A little breeze did come in and he inhaled the fragrance from the vaila flowers a few times before crossing the room to set his things on the shelf. He treated his flute with more reverence than it had ever before received, and the music with equal care. This first lesson with his flute teacher had been the most grueling he’d ever experienced, but he felt bright with happiness, for he’d been praised for his skill and given some difficult music to learn. His instructor, a weathered old man with agile fingers and a far greater skill with the flute than Géta felt he’d ever attain, seemed to think he was some sort of prodigy.
Géta removed his belt and laid it on top of his stacks of clothing, took off his tunic and hung it on the back of the chair, and flopped onto his bed. Perhaps he should have been tired after the long day, but he wasn’t. His mind wouldn’t stop running, going over the day from the first hour in the library. Groaning, he stretched, wiggling a little to work out kinks left over from holding his flute to his lips well over four hours straight. It wasn’t that he’d never practiced so long before, it was just the fact it had been more intense than ever.
Géta got through breakfast without trouble. Apparently, few were up at six when the dining hall opened, and he had his pick of the offerings and eyed the few others present before sitting by himself. Most of the others were adults; Priests or Mages. After returning his tray and dishes to the kitchen, he ventured into the school proper for some exploration.
Like the dormitory, the school halls consisted of one major artery with branches off to either side. Géta checked the paper he had and found the rooms where his book-learning classes were, then sought the weapons-practice room. It was off the main hall and had double-doors. Mirrors had been attached to the large room’s left-hand wall, and various weapons hung on the right-hand wall. Circles had been painted on the floor; the wall opposite the entrance bore more weapons and had a door slightly off-center.
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.