The Night Runners: First Year

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Chapter 3

At Chrystyna’s words, the room fell silent. For a moment, all that could be heard was the soft cooing of doves, the fluttering of wings and the distant chatter, and the yells of a combat class in full session. The tower, however, maintained its ominous quiet for a few seconds more. The adults glanced around the room and at each other.

“This is your room?” asked Hilde-Beth carefully.

“That’s...” Geoffrey trailed off in another wave of rising horror.

“At first it wasn’t,” Chrystyna said with a tinge of pride as she looked around the room, “but when I found it, I had to have it. Mistress Karyl – the housekeeper, you know – said it was not really fit for living in. She said something about it being out of order, but I said I didn’t mind.”

“It’s great!” Brittainy agreed quickly. “You can see for miles from here!”

“At night, I bet you have the best view of the stars,” sighed Katrynn, looking up through a small hole in the roof, which Emalynn had already made a mental note of getting fixed.

“The pigeons are quite friendly too,” Athylee smiled, setting out on the window sill crumbs of a cookie which she had produced from her pocket.

“Athylee!” Hilde-Beth protested with a despairing cry. “Don’t encourage them!”

“Hmmm...” Colin looked about and turned to Emalynn and Chrystyna. “I suppose since this is your room it wouldn’t be right to appropriate it for our mission-”

“I’ve got a backup plan,” Emalynn interjected.

At the same time, Chrystyna quickly assured the two, “Oh, staying here is just fine with me. I hardly live here anyways.”

“I can tell,” Emalynn said tartly. “When was it dusted last? Doesn’t housekeeping get up here?”

“Well,” Chrystyna explained airily, “the servants have been told not to come up all this way, so it’s up to me really.”

“I’ll get housekeeping on it,” Hilde-Beth said firmly. “Although we may have to do the first cleaning ourselves.”

“Reggie can patch the roof as well,” Colin nodded. “Other than a quick clean and a quick patch up, I think this place is still a prime meeting place for us.”

“Once we get the furniture in and the carpet and maybe a dressing screen up, it’ll be a grand nook to study and meet in.” Athylee said with assurance, keeping an eye on Katrynn who was beside Brittainy now, leaning out of the windows, the better to gauge how tall the tower windows actually were. “Geoffrey?”

“I’ll... I’ll be alright,” said Geoffrey giving the others a weak smile.

“Good to hear,” Colin said robustly. “We need everyone on board and ready as soon as possible. So it’s decided, then? The next two days will be spent cleaning this place up. Hilde-Beth and Brittainy can work on getting the furniture up into the tower – whatever that takes. Athylee and Katrynn and Geoffrey and Chrystyna will work on cleaning the room up. Emalynn and I will work on the shutters, the roof and the door. Everyone got that?”

Colin glanced around the room. Chrystyna appeared to be taking laborious notes on a small pad and Emalynn was nodding and looking as alert as she had been when they first met. Geoffrey and Hilde-Beth were already looking a little exhausted at the prospect of hard-work before them. Athylee was staring up through the hole in the ceiling thoughtfully. Brittainy and Katrynn were attempting to lure a pigeon into the room with a trail of crumbs.

This is going to be difficult, Colin sighed inwardly. Well, they never said it was easy, but I didn’t think that handling young children would be this awkward...

Emalynn had obviously followed his train of thought for, within a few seconds, she was tugging Katrynn to her feet and scolding her about paying attention and growing up. Brittainy who had also gotten a sharp look smiled back guilelessly and continued laying out bread crumbs. Chrystyna, who had also drifted over, looked down at the girls’ efforts and smiled.

“You know,” the tall girl said, “they come into the room all the time. You just have to be super quiet and still.”

“I suppose,” Brittainy cocked her head, “they won’t want to come now because there are so many of us here.”

“Exack – Exactly,” Chrystyna nodded. “But leave the bread crumbs. They like those quite a bit.”

“You encourage the birds to stay here?” Emalynn asked, her face twisting in horror. “That’s unsanitary.”

“Unsanitary?”

“Dirty,” Katrynn said quickly. “Mother says that we aren’t to encourage birds to enter the house. They carry diseases!”

The way Katrynn said ‘diseases’ seemed a little bit too morbidly enthusiastic to Emalynn, but she couldn’t fault her sister’s information, so she said nothing. Chrystyna merely looked thoughtful before meeting Emalynn’s gaze with a sharp look of her own.

“If birds have disease, why do we use pigeons to carry messages?”

“They – they...” Emalynn paused and sighed as she felt herself being pulled downward into a maze of craziness. “They have doctors to check the birds on a regular basis, I’m sure.”

“What if the bird gets sick while delivering a message?”

“A bird can’t get sick on a short mission going from one end of the city to another,” Emalynn said blankly, wondering why they were discussing the matter at all.

“The important thing,” Athylee interjected, “is to take care of the natural world around us.”

Emalynn subsided muttering about commonsense and the importance not only to take care of nature but also to take care of oneself. Thankfully, a few of the other adults were equally sensible of time and professionalism.

“From now on, the pigeons are staying outside,” Hilde-Beth said firmly.

“It’s better for them not to learn to rely on us,” Colin added as gently as he could. Young women, he thought, I thought I could come to understand. These young girls, not so much. Who knew the difference between girls and women would be so vast? “Pigeons, like all animals, need to rely on themselves through the good times and the bad.”

“Like us!” Chrystyna said suddenly.

“Uhhh...” Colin paused. “Sure. Let’s gather around and discuss our next meeting here. Two days from now... that’d be...”

“Two days from now? That’d be Wodna Da[1]... Did you check their class schedules?” Geoffrey checked a fob watch which he pulled out of his vest pocket. “Not too early in the morning, please and thank you.”

“Nine-thirty,” Hilde-Beth offered. “That’s enough time to eat and meditate and do some reading.”

“Echelite,” Brittainy said to Chrystyna. “It’s seriously addicting. My mother reads it every morning.”

“Nine-thirty,” agreed Colin amused. “Good luck everyone!”

With that, Colin broke up the meeting officially. However, instead of leaving right away, the dark-haired young man took Emalynn to the side and discussed with her the matter of the door, the roof and the shutters. After agreeing to meet the next afternoon right after class, Emalynn took on the task of finding a stand-up screen which they could set up on one side of the room, behind which people could dress. Colin was to find Reggie and set up an appointment to repair the few things which sorely needed fixing within the room. Afterwards, Colin drew Geoffrey aside to discuss something else and both men left, no doubt on other school business.

Emalynn, watching the masters-in-training leave the room in pairs, wondered what kind of a master-in-training she might be – and what kind of apprentices she might have. Watching her sister awkwardly ignore the other two girls in a fit of shyness, Emalynn sighed. ′Teamwork dynamics’, she remembered her father’s words, ′are important when it comes to completing larger missions.′ However, this team is far from bonded... At this rate, we aren’t going to be able to get our mission done smoothly or quickly.

“So,” she said, approaching Brittainy and Chrystyna who were looking through one of the social arts textbooks First Year was currently studying, “tomorrow, let’s meet to do some quick cleaning.”

“Quick cleaning?” Chrystyna asked skeptically. “Cleaning is never quick.”

“Cleaning!!!” Brittainy looked up, excitedly. “I love ordering things! Will we be ordering things?”

“I think you will be helping Hilde-Beth haul up furniture,” Emalynn said. “Chrystyna?”

“Cleaning,” Chrystyna sighed defeated. “Sure.”

“We can make our hideout perfect!” Katrynn said firmly yet quietly. “It’ll be the best hideout ever!”

“Yes!” Brittainy jumped up, catching Katrynn’s undercurrent of enthusiasm. “Exactly! We are going to do so well at this assignment all the other teams will feel like turtles in comparison!”

“Turtles?” asked Emalynn.

“Turtles are slow,” Chrystyna explained.

“I know that,” Emalynn rolled her eyes. “I don’t see how a super clean hideout-” I can’t believe I just said the word ‘hideout’, Emalynn sighed again, so baby-ish! “-has anything to do with other teams feeling like turtles.”

“We’re going to be amazing!” Katrynn said with another heroic pose.

“We are amazing!” Brittainy adopted her own version of a heroic pose – which included raising her fist above her head.

“A bunch of air-headed optimists,” Emalynn swiveled about and marched to the door. “I need to get out of here, fast.”

Chrystyna, watching Emalynn disappear down the stairwell, did not say anything at first, but eventually realized that Emalynn was leaving for real and raised a limp hand, waving half-heartedly at her teammate’s retreating back.

“Goodbye...” Pause. She had forgotten that girl’s name.

Again. Dear me.


Athylee, who carried up two brooms, two mops, three bucks, six scrub brushes and a few dusters; Hilde-Beth, who rigged a set of pulleys to raise the furniture up safely to tower room’s window; and the quite unenthused Geoffrey, who arrived in a much more restrained set of clothing, arrived the next day to get cleaning done and prepare the room. Cobweb discovering and destroying, dusting, sweeping, mopping, scrubbing, re-positioning of furniture, and re-ordering of belongings ensued. And so, the next two days were spent cleaning.

Watching their masters hard at work inflamed the girls with a desire to work just as hard as the people to whom they had been entrusted. Running back and forth, Katrynn, Chrystyna, and Brittainy followed their new mentors’ orders, bending down and scraping away at bird droppings and bringing cool water and small snacks when necessary. Emalynn showed up at one point, rolled up her arms in a determined fashion and set to scraping the peeling paint off the window frames with the hope to, at some point, repaint them again.

Around dinner time, while the girls were scarfing down their night meal of bread and soup and beef, Reggie and Colin worked on properly nailing down a piece of wood over the small hole in the roof and placing new tiles on top. The door knob was checked and tripled checked and a new brass knob was set in the wood.

On the second (and final) day of cleaning, a few short tasks were completed – setting up the dressing screen (an elaborate chestnut wood affair decorated with hand-painted deer and foxes underneath willow trees), laying down the Romayan rug, painting the window sills and frames. Sitting back on his heels, Geoffrey gave a huff of relief.

“Well, it’s done. I feel like I could conquer the world!” He cricked his neck from side to side, flashed a smile at his ever unresponsive apprentice, Chrystyna, and then sighed. “I suppose where you come from this kind of life is just every day.”

“Geoffrey isn’t used to painting or cleaning,” explained Hilde-Beth a scornful glance at her partner. “He is like a butterfly who does not spin nor sow.”

“Butterflies spin!” Geoffrey glared back at the woman. “They spin their cocoons – and so achieve new levels of beauty.”
“Actually,” Emalynn raised a hand, about to say that butterflies don’t spin.

Hilde-Beth, if possible, only looked more annoyed. The young master-in-training looked tired and hot and anything but the serene woman she had portrayed two days earlier. Geoffrey too seemed different to Chrystyna’s inexperienced eyes. Perhaps the large smear of paint on his forehead has something to do with it. The girl smiled to herself. I guess everyone does have two faces like Master O’Shore told us in class... As time goes on, we’ll get to know each other for true and everything will change.

That night, Chrystyna returned to her room and looked around at the still glistening painted windows, currently shielded from the pigeons by judiciously placed black tarps; the new tables, chairs, chests and boxes; the new bookshelf where her books had been placed alongside the treasures she had found in the back alley; the dressing screen and the Romayan rug; the hole in the roof now (sadly) gone; and candles, lanterns, and matches supplied by Colin.

Change, she realized, is happening already.


[1]Within the country of Doran and most of the Northern Continent, the following names are used for the days of the week starting from the first to the last (the seventh day): Skrolle Da, Lun Da, Tiwe Da, Wodne Da, Riaine Da, Floda Da, Starne Da.

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