painted on a coconut at Seacamp, Big Pine Key, Florida:
BRIGHT ... AND I HAVEN'T
c.1 -- Mother Ana
Gyax watched Ajta set in the west, signalling dawn and time to get back to the cabin. She sighed. She pulled her sore legs underneath her stiff body and pushed herself up. She stood for a moment against the dark sky, stretching knots out of her legs and back, and then turned towards the School.
She strode to the south, her pace quickening as sunrise stoked her worry and the exercise warmed her muscles. As she emerged from the high grass of the wild plains, the bright look in her eyes dulled, their pale gray darkening to a dim greyish brown, and her hair blew forward, tangling and ratting. Skirting Quutan on its west, she cut between that dorm and her own. Slowing to a creep, she slipped onto the low porch that projected east from the front door of Chesca.
Gyax cracked the door open. The smell of heat and fear wafted out with the glow of the dusty lights placed in the aisle. Beren cringed into the corner of her bunk, sniffling and moaning. Kate and Abby poked their heads from one of the upper bunks like twin prarie dogs, watching the door. They spotted Gyax and turned away, giggling and whispering. Then the door was jerked out of Gyax's hands and she found herself staring up at the 5'4" fully mature figure that was Belia.
"You're late, girl." Beren's whimpers grew louder. Belia turned her head perhaps a quarter inch toward the noise, and Beren cringed farther into her dark corner, her crying strangled and nearly silent. Belia's dark eyes fixed on Gyax's, her expression twisted between a smirk and a contemptuous glare. "It's a long walk to Pyret," she sneered. "Or do you just meet in Ckorza?"
Gyax flushed, not because she liked Pika (she didn't), but simply at the notion. At twelve and a half, they were not supposed to know about "such things." Everyone knew, of course, but no one actually did anything. Not yet. In a few cycles, when their bodies would more closely approximate Belia's, perhaps. "The House Mother doesn't care," she mumbled.
"This one does." Snidely.
"This one ... ?" Startlement.
"If you'd been here, you'd know, now wouldn't you?" Belia turned and stalked into the crowd of girls.
Gyax admitted, bitterly, that Belia stood out. With her nearly black eyes and her hair the same color, a figure of a woman two or three cycles her senior, and a tight, high-cut black dress, Belia, if not beautiful, was striking. Her well-muscled arms and hard face just screamed hard, cold power. All the girls sensed this, and made way for her. Their reactions ranged from Beren's sobs and fear to Kate's and Abby's fawning and gossip to Mother Caia's simple refusal to acknowledge any infraction.
She slipped into the house, walking guiltily to her bunk. She didn't ask anyone what was going on: they were all getting dressed up, indication enough of a special event. All she had to do was imitate them. Simple, really. The more she kept her mouth shut, the less got back to the popular girls like Belia.
She didn't look up at Belia's friends. She watched feet, for where there were not feet there was a a place to walk through. She kept to the middle of the aisle, avoiding the legs that hung dangerously down from upper bunks. She counted the bunks. One, two sticking into the aisle, then hers against the wall. She turned right. In front of her bunk, pale knees rested above pale, thick legs and brown heeled shoes. The knees straightened, the legs moved toward Gyax. She lifted her head. A pale, heavy-set woman with small blue eyes was waiting for her.
"I don't know what arrangements you had with the old Mother, but from now on, you're in here for the night. Got it?"
Gyax nodded dumbly, unable to place this adult.
"Good. Now get dressed. We are greeting a new Professor today."
Gyax's eyes widened. A new Professor? Here? Now? What if there were placement tests? She hadn't faked one in cycles... would she still be able to? Could she still convince people she was perfectly average? Would they be changing Houses? Would they...
The Mother smiled slightly and rested her hand on Gyax's shoulder, a gesture meant to comfort, but failed to overcome Gyax's nerves. "Relax. I don't think he'll bite. If you have any trouble, find me. My name is Ana."
"Yes, Mother Ana," Gyax mumbled, finally figuring it out. The new House Mother moved to the back of the dorm, and Gyax turned toward her bunk. She suppressed a shudder. The woman had more power to hurt her than anyone she had known since she arrived at the school. More even than Belia with her constant rankling. She glanced over her shoulder at the Mother, who was standing amiably next to her own bed at the end of the House. She didn't seem to be mean. Why did her sixth sense react so strongly to the woman?
Shaking her head in a vain effort to remove her dismal thoughts, she reached under her bed and pulled out the flimsy, warped box which held her clothes. Rumaging through the rags thrown haphazardly in there, she dug to the bottom. There, folded neatly, hidden and safe, was a pale gray dress. She took it out reverently, unwrapping from its folds a narrow silver circlet. Absentmindedly placing the silver on her worn mattress, she lifted the dress to its full length. She had worn it many times before, but this was the first time she had taken it out in the presence of others. Before, she had always put it on only to resize it. On this dress she taught herself to make her stitches invisible, and to take them out as invisibly. When unhemmed, it would fit a woman who was nearly six feet tall: it had been her mother's. Many painful lessons out on the broad grasslands with a bone needle had taught her to tighten the curves of a woman's body into the flatness of a girl's, how to adjust the subtle folds of the elbow to the correct length, how to hem without cutting the beautiful fabric so she would be able to lengthen it time and time again over the cycles. Her hands worked their way down the smooth fabric, remembering the many times she had combed the fine threads with the sharp edge of a blade of grass to erase the holes of old stitches. Now, after more than seven cycles of fitting and refitting, the dress looked like it had been made just for her, to wear at just this moment.
Gyax missed Belia's dark stare, the jealousy that clouded the mature features at the dress and Gyax's rapture. She missed the double takes of the girls around her, girls who had always assumed the frail Gyax was poor and had nothing of the kind. She missed the Mother's approving smile and nod, and the frantic motions of girls who decided suddenly that they had better clothing after all. She missed the silence that had fallen, and although the rising buzz broke her reverie, she never noticed that the volume had changed. Smiling quietly to herself, she pulled off her clothes from the previous night, rubbed the prairie dust off her body with a damp astringent cloth, and slipped into the long gray dress.
As she smiled, her eyes lightened to match the pale fabric of the heirloom, and when she ran her fingers through her hair, the damage the wind performed outside of Quutan disappeared. She ran a fine comb through her dark waves, bringing out the rich glow that other girls normally had and Gyax had never seemed able to attain. Finally, she placed the silver cirlet on her head, pressing it over her forehead and trapping her long bangs to the sides behind her ears.
The House Mother clapped once, loudly, and the twenty-six girls obediently lined up on the north side of the aisle. Once more, Gyax was lost in anonymity as her shoulders slouched and her head bowed. But this time, when she was clean, no ratty hair fell in her face, no dust muted the colors of her skin and clothing. Her long eyelashes hid her pale eyes, but they only served to make her more beautiful, if more demure. Her protection was gone. She stared at the floor, unmoving, ignoring the glances of her peers.
The Mother walked down the rank of girls looking each one up and down without comment. Then she stood back, looking at them as a whole. Her eyes stopped at Gyax. "You. Step forward."
Gyax wobbled a little as she slid one foot forward over the wooden floor. She suppressed a shiver as she dragged its mate up to meet it. She watched the Mother through her long lashes, too afraid to raise her head but too wary to look away. She was dangerous, Gyax remembered.
Ana smiled disarmingly and turned toward the rest of the girls. "Where are the rest of your Line Rings?"
Pandemonium. Gyax raised her head in surprise. The twenty-five other girls dashed to their bunks. Belia stomped imperiously to the Mother. Stillness spread across Chesca as she screamed at the Mother, babbling something about it being Gyax's fault, Gyax knowing things she shouldn't, Gyax stealing books to that end, Gyax not telling them, Gyax, Gyax, Gyax. Ana's palm rose, fell. With the sharp retort of the slap there was silence.
Shock spread from Belia's face to the twins' and then around the room, Belia's supporters and enemies alike unable to believe that anyone had raised a hand to the girl. And suddenly Belia looked very much like a girl rather than the woman she pretended to be. Something welled up inside Gyax, a swirl of pleasure in Belia finally getting caught and another emotion she hadn't felt since her mother had died, had left her alone out on the wide, windy plain. She trembled, not wanting to care, not wanting to want someone's support. Her sixth sense had told her that the new Mother could hurt her far more than Belia. She hadn't believed. Now... she shuddered. When the House Mother turned to her, she flinched back, paling.
Ana's brows narrowed, her mouth opening slightly in a question. Gyax blushed. The Mother wasn't trying to hurt her. She turned as if she was once more standing in the line, facing straight ahead instead of looking at the other girls who were still staring at the Mother, who surely had questions Gyax didn't want to answer. Ana turned her attention to the rest of the room.
The other girls slowly lined up beside Gyax, now wearing circlets, bracelets, any jewelry that indicated their family heritage. Belia wore an armlet that stood out boldly on her upper arm, but a bruise was coloring her dark cheek and she glared sullenly at the floor. Kate and Abby, of course, wore the same thing: a gold ring with a dark green and black swirled stone. Beren wiped her eyes, played at the edges of her dark violet choker, and looked anywhere but at Gyax or Belia. Other girls wore decorations ranging from earrings to anklets.
As the girl closest to the door closest to the door turned to lead House Chesca to the School, Ana caught Gyax's attention and winked, grinning foolishly. No Mother had done that before. No Mother sided with Gyax, expecially against Belia. A new Mother, one with some intelligence and some guts. A new Professor that the entire School was going to meet first thing in the morning. Gyax shook her head, distressed. As she walked she noticed staff sweeping dorm roofs, brushing cobwebs away from the walls. Some had hauled water from the wells and were scrubbing. The Mothers walked next to the last girl in their house, as the Fathers walked next to the last boy. Many, too many, were new. Gyax didn't trust these changes that were happening so swiftly in the decrepit old school.
"You know why they're doing this," a voice said in Gyax's ear as the lines of students pressed together and became a single, large group. She turned to see Belia over her shoulder, smirking despite the bruise. "Because my mom told them to."
c.2 -- Safir
Twenty-three hundred students gathered outside the center west entrance to the School. The four-story Tower rose above the rest of the School to their left. Its shadow stretched across the crowd. Ripples of wind played with Gyax's senses, a breeze that barely moved, yet seemed to blow through her rather than against her. Then, quite clearly, she heard the creak of the ancient rusted double doors as they began to open.
The whispers of the gathered students slowed and then died as everyone turned toward the entrance. Gyax squeezed to the edge of the group from her House, trying to see over all the younger children ahead of her. Throughout the student body, other students jostled for position, accompanied by hushed exclamations.
The ripple passed through Gyax again, and a calm man's voice clearly said, "Good morning."
The buzzing started immediately. Those with better eyes confirmed that this man was not someone they had seen before. Gyax wasn't the only one to note that at their distance, the older students should never have been able to hear the man.
The ripple came once more, stronger, patterned. "Good morning. Welcome to the New School. I am Professor Safir Katib."
"They must be using some sort of amplification system," an older boy behind Gyax whispered to his friend.
"It's following the pattern of the ripples," Gyax whispered back.
Both of them turned to look at her. "What ripples?" the first boy said.
"The ripples... that breezey feeling."
"I have no idea what you're talking about," he said.
"What are you, an elf or something?" the second added.
"Hush," the first boy whispered. "He's talking again."
"In the past you have taken classes with your House. We believe that in a School of this size, there should be more interaction between the Houses. To this end, we will be restructuring classes. We will be taking placement tests, and..."
A collective groan interrupted the Professor, punctuated by the sharp commands of embarrased staff trying to hush the students.
Safir smiled and waited for the silence to return. "...and you will be taking classes with other students at the same level, from all Houses."
"Will there be girls in our class?" some boy shouted from the north side of the crowd.
Safir nodded. "Yes, we will have mixed classes."
Cheers broke out in the ranks of older students. The youngest children looked around, confused, then clapped along with everyone else. The Professor chuckled.
"If you will all go to your normal classrooms, we will begin the test." He stepped back into the School through the double doors which opened to gather him in. Several teachers propped the other two sets of western doors shortly after the Professor disappeared, and the students poured in.
That afternoon, students gathered in twos and threes outside the west entrance. By 3:30, when Safir and several other teachers came to post the new Homerooms on the outside wall, about a third of the School waited tensely nearby. Gyax was among those who had stayed inside, trying to keep clean. She followed the teachers out and joined the press of bodies around the lists. Gyax quickly scanned the names, arms held defensively against the pushing and shoving. Her name did not appear. She was jostled sideways, pushed her way back into the crowd. Looking again. She still didn't see it. Another shove sent her to the ground, and she scrambled out of the way, brushing the soil quickly off her dress. Grabbing her circlet, she retreated to the lee of the nearest double door and waited for the crowd to disperse.
Finally there was room for her to look again. She stood back, looking at the entire list of over two thousand. Her name should have popped out at her: she had always been able to recognize her written name. She picked through the lists, name by name. No Gyax. She looked for her last name, frantically. There. Not far from the top of the list. G MORLIK. G? Where was the rest of her name?
"What does that stand for, anyway?" a voice said behind her.
She jumped around, startled. The Professor leaned against the wall, flipping a slate in his hand. "G?"
"It's Gyax," she said quietly. "Like I wrote it. G-Y-A-X."
He turned the slate up to face her. It was her test. Her handwriting. LAST NAME: Morlik FIRST NAME: G. She shook her head and wrung her hands around her circlet. "I don't understand. Did someone change it?"
He sighed. "I looked through your work. You always write your name 'G. Morlik.' Have you ever actually written out your first name?"
"Of course. I --"
"Come with me," he interrupted.
Confused and frustrated, she followed him into the school. As the door closed, a stray gust of wind blew into the hall, sending Gyax's hair into her face. Angrily she shoved the tangled mass back, ratting it more, and jammed the circlet back onto her head.
Safir opened the door to an empty class room. He gestured for her to take a seat at a student desk, then pulled paper, ink, and quill from the big teacher's desk in the front. He set them in front of her. "Write your name."
She wrote it the way she always did, then stood up to go.
"Sit down." She dropped heavily into the chair and folded her arms. "Write your first name."
She twirled the feather in her hand, watching the way the light shown through its ragged vanes. She looked up at Safir. He looked straight back at her. She looked down at the paper, frustrated. Slowly she dipped the feather in the inkwell and put it to paper. G, y. She looked at Safir again, looking for any lenience in his dark eyes. a.
She pushed the paper violently away from her. The inkwell slid off the desk and splintered on the floor; its dark fluid crept between the shining slivers of glass and spread across the white tile. The paper was quickly soaked, the fresh stain erasing every trace of her writing. She stood up and stalked out of the way of the ink.
"This is stupid!" she shouted at the Professor. "I know my own name!"
He stepped over the flow, walked back around the teacher's desk, and pulled a second inkwell and a second sheet of paper from the drawer. Stepping back over the inkflow, he set them silently down on the desk. He bent down, picked up the feather, and shook off stray ink, then set it on the desk next to the fresh paper and well. Then he looked at Gyax.
She colored in rage. Who was he to make her do this? Her name was her own business! She dashed forward, striking the desk with her hand. It wobbled, tipped, crashed to the floor. Safir quickly reached forward, caught the ink a few inches from the tiles, then stood up and grabbed the paper, which was still wafting its way down. Gyax turned and stomped out of the room.
It occured to her she was being stupid. She had broken an inkwell, spilled its ink across the floor. And worst of all, she had ruined an entire sheet of paper! She actually had paper, instead of a slate, and she ruined it! She never got paper except for final writing projects which the School kept. And she ruined it! For what? To keep from writing her name?
She peeked around the corner. Safir had gotten a rag from somewhere and was wiping up the ink. "I'm sorry," she whispered.
The Professor nodded and finished wiping up the spill. "Watch out for the glass," he said. He stood up and looked at her silently for a moment with his sad brown eyes. "Would you like to try again?"
Gyax nodded and slipped the rest of the way in the room. She took the paper, ink, and quill from his hands and sat down. G, y. She stared at the paper, biting her lip. It wasn't that hard. -ax, like... like cutting a tree. It wasn't that hard. She closed her eyes and quickly wrote the rest of the word. Opening her eyes again, a bitter laugh escaped Gyax's lips. "Gyaxe."
Safir solemnly reached forward and covered the e with his thumb. She stared at it. His hand, wrinkled with age, seemed transparent. "It doesn't work." She shook her head. "I can still see the E."
Still silent, Safir picked up the paper and slowly tore it in half. When he set it down, the half with the e was gone, but the other four letters remained. Next to the paper, on the desk, the ink had leaked through. The e was still there.
Safir sighed and held up the other half of the paper, the half with the e. No ink colored the back side. "Well, it seems you're going to just mark up my desk if I continue like this."
He walked to the desk and began rummaging through it. Gyax waited, curious, as he pulled a used paper out. Then he took out his knife and began cutting. He outlined three tiny bits of paper with the knife, then placed the cuttings together. He set them on her desk.
They were a child's handwriting, her handwriting from many cycles previous. They spelled the familiar name. But Gyax saw something else: foggy. an exit. The words seemed to grow before her, spreading out like shadows on the small desk. foggy... river. was an exit. "Only the foggy river was an exit," she read quietly.
She looked up to see Safir's eyebrows narrow. He walked back to the large desk, looked at the sentence he had cut the letters from, looked back at her. "You remember that?"
"No, I just...."
"Yeah." She looked down at her traitorous hands, then looked back at the Professor. "Why, what's it from?"
"It's from the story you had to write when you were seven." He frowned at her. His eyes traveled up her face to the circlet set in her dark hair. "Who told you to wear your Line Ring?"
Her mouth unreasonably went dry. "My mother."
Safir leaned back. "I already talked to your House Mothers. Both Ana and Caia. Neither of them said anything." He snorted. "Caia didn't even know."
"No, my other mother. Trudi. My real mother."
Gyax nodded. "Trudi Morlik."
"Trudi Morlik. That explains... a lot." He stared at her circlet as if trying to decipher it. "How much did she teach you?"
Gyax shrugged. "She taught me how to sew, and how to write. Stuff like that."
"And when to wear your Line Ring?"
"Do you have any idea who you are?"
Gyax hesitated, trying to figure out what the heck Safir meant by that. "I'm Gyax Morlik," she said at last.
"I guess not."
"Who am I then?" Gyax demanded.
He shook his head. "No, I think I'm going to trust your mother's judgement on this. It's probably better this way."
"Better what way?"
"You'll find out when you're older." He stood up and started to leave.
She scowled. "I thought you said you trusted my mother's judgement."
"She always told me everything."
"Maybe you didn't ask the right questions, then. You were only six when she died, after all."
"Five," Gyax muttered.
"I said five. I was five. That's when I came here."
Safir frowned. "No, you were...." He paused.
"No, I guess you're right," he said. "You were five." The Professor turned and walked out of the room.
Gyax stood watching the empty doorway for a few minutes, still seething. When she calmed, she walked out and turned the opposite way. The magical light in the ceiling flickered off as she left.
|18 Jul 2006|| Kayla|
Ohhh, this is very interesting. Keep up the good work.