As soon as Katrynn and Emalynn’s dark coats disappeared down the Academy’s long lane, Brittainy tugged on Chrystyna’s elbow, partially dragging the taller, more absent-minded girl back into the entrance hall of the school. Although Chrystyna wasn’t as affected by cold and could have stood out there longer staring off into the wintery distance, Brittainy disliked the bitter wind and preferred the comfort of the much warmer indoors.
“Now that they’re gone,” the shorter girl said as she moved over to the closest fireplace and warmed her hands, “we can start planning what we are going to do.”
“What we are going to do?” asked Chrystyna.
“You remember,” Brittainy reminded her forgetful friend. “We have to look into the records to double-check all that information you found and try to find more clues!”
“Ohhhh,” Chrystyna nodded after a long paused. “Yes. Yes. I was just thinking of that. Master Geoffrey told me I could go back to the Public Records and Archives, but I forgot to ask him for a seal from the Headmaster.”
“You needed a seal for that?”
“Master Geoffrey needed it to access the tax records,” Chrystyna explained. “Taxes are private, apparently.”
“This sounds more complicated than I thought,” sighed Brittainy, deflating a little. Then she brightened as a thought struck her. “Why don’t we just... help ourselves to a Seal? I mean, it’s not really stealing since we already have permission to leave and everything. It’s more like saving our mentors time and energy!”
Chrystyna’s forehead wrinkled as she tried to work through Brittainy’s logic. Something didn’t seem right, but Brittainy did have a point. It would be quicker than hunting down Master Geoffrey, she thought. Although, how we are to help ourselves to a Headmaster’s Seal is beyond me.
“How are we to get one?” Chrystyna asked after a short moment.
“You know that you need some lock-picking practice,” Brittainy pointed out. “I say we just pick the lock to the cabinet or desk or bookshelf that it’s locked in.”
“You think the seals are locked away somewhere?”
“Wouldn’t they be locked away?” Brittainy glanced at her friend. “They seem pretty important and powerful to me. With the power of the seal – you could do anything!”
Staring into the fire, Chrystyna imagined herself with a Headmaster’s Seal. She imagined what it would be like to be able to take out more than three books at a time from the library. Perhaps I could take extra classes if I had the Headmaster’s Seal.
“Alright,” Chrystyna finally said. “We can try to steal a seal. When do you think we should do it?”
“The earlier the better,” Brittainy said with conviction. “We first have to find out when the Headmaster leaves his office. Maybe over lunch or dinner or something like that.”
“Ohhhh...” Chrystyna’s green eyes lit up as Brittainy’s idea started to sound like it would actually work. “So, you were thinking we would sneak in when Headmaster –” Chrystyna looked thoughtful for a second and then rephrased her sentence. “-when the Headmaster is out!”
“Of course,” Brittainy blinked and eyed her companion carefully. “When did you think it would happen?” A pause. “You don’t know who our Headmaster is, do you?”
“Um,” Chrystyna hummed noncommittally.
“I thought as much,” Brittainy shook her head. “Let’s go see what Headmaster Felix Amarost” - she enunciated his name carefully, hoping Chrystyna would notice - “is doing right now!”
Floda Da, for Headmasters, seemed to be a day of signing papers and visiting with teaching staff; support staff; and mysterious gentlemen wearing tall black hats, grey-striped suit pants, and great black overcoats. The long, burgundy carpeted hall which the girls lingered in filled and emptied with alarming regularity. At one point (Brittainy’s favourite moment of the day), two upper level students were brought in sporting bruises and cuts. Obviously, the young women had gotten into a fight.
“A boy,” whispered Brittainy knowledgeably. “It’s always about boys.”
“Really?” Chrystyna thought about the boys in her class – Clarke and The Rest Of The Boys. “Why?”
“It doesn’t really make sense to me,” admitted Brittainy. “Mother says that later on I’ll understand. That’s what she always says when we talk about babies and kissing and boys. I don’t think I will understand. I hope I never understand!”
“It does seem like a lot of trouble,” Chrystyna noted as they watched the two girls reappear looking much more subdued.
Seated behind two shining clay pots holding large, green-leaved shrubs, Chrystyna and Brittainy sat and waited. Taking turns for the necessary bathroom breaks (and fetching snacks and a little bit of their dinner meal), the two girls kept careful watch over the Headmaster. The tall man emerged only twice – once to go to the bathroom and the second time to eat his dinner. Dinner, for the Headmaster, only took twenty minutes. Brittainy clocked it, and Chrystyna carefully took note in the small pad she had retrieved from an inner pocket of her pinafore. Looking at their combined notes, the girls surveyed the Headmaster’s ‘schedule’. It looked busy.
“Three teachers went in, and then there were two visits from the secretary.”
“Then the bathroom break,” Chrystyna pointed at the short window of opportunity. “Too quick though.”
“I vote for the dinner break,” Brittainy said. “It is our only chance, really.”
Chrystyna put away her pad and peered between the leaves of their potted plant hideout and the wood-paneled wall in time to see the Headmaster not only leave his office but also lock his door and finish pulling on his own great black wool coat. Around his neck was wrapped a deep blue scarf which seemed to make his blue eyes even more piercing.
“Good evening, girls.” Suddenly those same piercingly blue eyes were locked on the two girls as the man stopped to peer over the shrubs. “Are you two lost?”
Chrystyna froze, as usual unable to talk with someone she didn’t know. “Lost?”
“We are just relaxing,” Brittainy said airily, stretching her arms over her head and bumping up against the potted plants awkwardly.
“It doesn’t look so relaxing to me behind those potted plants,” said the Headmaster kindly. Brittainy didn’t like how his gaze glinted a little too knowingly for her liking. “More importantly, I think your curfew is long past – isn’t it?”
“Is it?” Brittainy widened her eyes innocently. “Time goes by fast when you are having fun.”
“I didn’t bring my watch with me,” Chrystyna said and then added hurriedly: “I mean, I don’t own a watch.”
The Headmaster turned and stared at the large clock across the entrance hall from the administration hallway’s opening. The round, cream-coloured clock face hung above the door which opened to the small visitor’s cloakroom – and was clearly visible from their position. Silently, he turned to give the two girls a Look.
“I didn’t think of checking that clock,” Brittainy admitted truthfully.
“There’s a clock around here?” Chrystyna stood up and looked down the hallway in confusion.
“Right there,” sighed Brittainy, pointing in the other direction. “I forgot to check it. I suppose our dorm housekeeper will be beside herself.”
“She’ll be worried about you,” Chrystyna corrected her friend glibly. “She doesn’t worry about me.”
“I think it’s best the both of you get going whether or not Mistress Ephie is worried about you.” The Headmaster propelled both girls along to the stairs and then the hall leading to the girl’s dormitory. “It’s getting very late.”
With a sigh, both girls continued into the girl’s dormitory hall. Turning a little, they realized that the Headmaster was still watching them. They quickened their pace.
“We don’t want him suspicious,” Brittainy whispered to her partner in crime.
“We don’t?” Chrystyna asked, not sure what ‘suspicious’ meant. It didn’t sound good. “I suppose we don’t.”
“He’s already suspicious.”
“He is?” blinked Chrystyna.
“Sure,” Brittainy waved a hand. “All grownups like teachers and headmasters and headmistresses are suspicious. That’s their job!”
“Goodness me,” Chrystyna said, deciding to look up this ‘suspicious’.
“At any rate,” Brittainy sighed. “We’ve done the first investigation-”
“Initial investigation,” Chrystyna said happily. “Master Geoffrey said that once.”
“Yes. We’ve finished our initial investigation. Tomorrow around dinner time, we’ll start part two,” Brittainy hopped from one foot to another in excitement. “I can’t wait!”
Starne Da passed by slowly. Time is always slower when you are waiting for something, the curly-haired girl thought as she watched snow fall outside Chrystyna’s tower window. I wonder what Katrynn and Emalynn are doing? Will Katrynn get lost forever in some marble mine? Will Emalynn fall off a cliff into the ocean? Brittainy shook her head. That’s being silly.
The bored girl glanced at her friend. Chrystyna was, yet again, working on homework. That was all Chrystyna seemed to be doing nowadays. I suppose she has a lot to catch up, Brittainy mused. She glanced at her own pile of homework waiting to be completed. With a sigh she picked up the first piece of paper on the stack by her elbow.
A journal for Mistress Knowles. How dull. Brittainy took a quill from the pot, inspected the nib, decided that ‘it would do’, pulled an ink bottle closer to her, and started to write quickly. I just need to fill the page up, which should be fairly easy.
Two hours later, after finishing their homework, the two girls grabbed some snacks from the kitchen and chose another hiding spot. Obviously the potted plants weren’t providing enough cover, Brittainy decided as she looked around the entrance hall. Her blue eyes lit up at the sight of a familiar doorway. The visitor’s cloak room will be perfect. Alfred will have gone by now as well.
Alfred, the cloakroom attendant, sat on a high stool all day and did word puzzles with an old pen. He was a youngish man who glared down at any youngster who bothered him. What amused Brittainy the most was how Alfred’s accent became snooty whenever visitors arrived. This evening, as per usual, after visiting hours ended, Alfred had disappeared into the servant’s quarters, leaving the cloakroom empty. From the shadows of the small door, the two girls watched as Headmaster Amarost eventually appeared at the hall’s opening and turned northward to the main dining hall for his dinner.
Checking the clock and making sure her watch was on time, Brittainy set her timer and led Chrystyna down the hall to the Headmaster’s Office. Having visited the Headmaster’s Office a couple times earlier in the year, Brittainy knew her way around the Administrative Hall which stretched parallel to the boys’ dormitory. Passing the secretaries’ small rooms and the Records Room, the two girls arrived at the dark chestnut door of the Headmaster’s Office. Trying the knob, Brittainy sighed with relief as the door opened easily and silently.
“He didn’t lock it,” Chrystyna sounded a little torn between relieved and disappointed.
“Why would he lock his door? It’s only a dinner break,” pointed out Brittainy. “Let’s do this as quickly as we can!”
The two girls gazed around the room in silence. Like a mysterious island filled with treasure, Headmaster Amarost’s office was the subject of much gossip. Those lucky few to be called into the office often returned with tales of a darkly shadowed room filled with chests and wardrobes in which to hide dead bodies; terrible weapons no doubt used for torture; and rows of jars doubtlessly filled with poisons, truth potions, and the hearts of Amarost’s old enemies. In reality, the office, to Chrystyna’s eye, looked like most teachers’ offices she had visited. Certainly there were a few racks of ceremonial swords (and not so ceremonial throwing knives), and there were indeed rows of bottles on shelving units all labeled neatly; however, they did not look like they were filled with hearts. Cabinets did indeed fill the walls between windows, but thanks to two gas lamps and a variety of candles, there was no sign of persistent shadows or anything else.
“Let’s see if we can find some locks to pick,” Brittainy looked around carefully. “I’ll start on this side. You start on that side.” She pointed to the area behind the desk.
“I’ve got my picks out already.” In awe, Chrystyna held up the lock picks Mistress Stonecroft had given her. “Weapons of great destruction.”
“Not really,” Brittainy said. “We’re just going to take what we need and go. And, we’ll bring the seal back when we’re done.”
“There’s something here labeled ‘Headmaster’s Seal’.”
“Seriously?” Brittainy joined her friend and gazed down at the small wood cabinet wedged between two tall bookcases.
The cabinet’s drawers were well-labeled: Final Exam Answers, Confiscated Items, Finalized Report Cards, Keys to Weapons Cabinet, and, at the bottom, Headmaster’s Seals.
“They lock keys away?” Chrystyna tilted her head.
“It’s the boys. You know how Lester, Ricky, and Ned get.”
“Lester, Ricky, and Ned?” Chrystyna frowned. “Aren’t they boys in our class?”
“Yes!” Brittainy sighed. “And they are really crazy about fighting each other. You remember when Mistress Batemen confiscated their slingshots? They kept hitting each other with stones!”
“Ohhh...” Chrystyna smirked at the memory. “I remember. Clarke lost his slingshot too because he just happened to be there.” A pause. “He cried a little. It was...”
“Awkward?” asked Brittainy, knowing that the older girl sometimes needed help finding the right words.
“I’m not surprised. Clarke does have his... moments,” Brittainy got down on her stomach, spreading her inconvenient petticoats as flat as she could. “Bring over the candle. I’ll need some light.”
Lock-picking had only just been introduced before Winter Solstice, but Brittainy, inflamed with the idea of knowing ‘state secrets’ (whatever that meant), had practiced over the holidays and now could open her father’s tobacco chest, her mother’s jewelry box, and Eric’s nightstand where he liked to stash cigars. A simple wooden cabinet shouldn’t be too difficult, Brittainy told herself. For the next few minutes, Brittainy fell silent as she focused.
Eventually the lock opened with a sharp click, and the drawer slid a little ways open.
“Aha!” Brittainy said.
“Well, well,” Felix Amarost’s voice broke the silence.
Chrystyna whipped round to face their Headmaster who seemed to have been standing behind her for quite some time, gazing down at the proceedings with mild amusement and interest. Brittainy rolled over and stared up at the Headmaster.
“It seems like someone’s lock-picking skills have improved,” the Headmaster continued conversationally.
Both girls froze as the man folded his arms. The Headmaster took note of the open drawer.
“The Headmaster’s Seals this time.”
Suddenly his voice didn’t seem as jovial. Chrystyna stepped back as Brittainy struggled to her feet.
“We were only going to take one,” Chrystyna said quickly, “and we were going to return it.”
“It’s for a project,” Brittainy added.
Felix Amarost, picking up Brittainy’s two picks, turned over the iron in his long hands thoughtfully. Then the Headmaster took his seat at the great chair behind the desk, which made him look more stern and official. Both girls glanced at each other in dismay.
“What project?” Headmaster Amarost finally asked.
“It’s a – a-” Chrystyna stopped. “I’m not sure if I can say,” she finally admitted.
“You can tell me everything. And by everything, I mean tell me all from the start,” the man said quietly and evenly, laying the picks on top of a leather tome which sat by a series of leather boxes holding a variety of pens, pencils, and quills.
Everything looked neat and in its place, except for the open cabinet drawer and the lock picks. To Brittainy, Headmaster Amarost with his serious expression and air of patient watchfulness fit the atmosphere of the room. The lion, she thought, has returned to its cave. Lair? Cave? Do lions have lairs or caves? Or both? It doesn’t matter, Brittainy! She told herself. Start talking!
“We have a group assignment,” Brittainy said. “My mentor is Mistress Hilda-Beth-”
“And mine is Master Geoffrey-” put in Chrystyna.
“Recently, Chrystyna had an idea about our assignment, and Master Shermore said we could follow our ideas and see if our feelings about it are true or not,” Brittainy said. “We got permission.”
“Permission to pick the lock of my cabinet?” asked Headmaster Amarost, his lips forming a thin line.
“Nooo,” Chrystyna admitted, shuffling her feet a little in shame. “We forgot to ask for a Headmaster’s Seal just in case we need to look at some special records at the Public Archives and Records.”
“So we thought we’d just borrow one – only for a day or two,” Brittainy hastily added.
“I see,” Headmaster Felix. “Well-”
“Chrystyna and Brittainy!”
It was Mistress Hilda-Beth’s voice. At least, it sounded like Hilda-Beth, but for the first time, her voice was raised and strident with worry and anger. The woman rounded the corner, bursting through the open door, followed hard by Master Geoffrey who looked equally upset.
“By the Seven,” swore Geoffrey, and then he stopped at the sight of the two girls standing by the Headmaster’s Desk.
The lock picks. The open cabinet. The Headmaster seated in his chair. The girl’s subdued expressions. It was a picture worth more than a thousand words. Master Geoffrey, forgetting his airs and pride and the possibility of creases in his suit jacket, sagged against the door of the office.
“We are too late,” he groaned.
“I am so sorry,” Mistress Hilda-Beth was suddenly saying in a rush. “Our deepest apologies, Headmaster Amarost. We took your warning to heart, but it appears as though the girls were able to give us the slip-”
“Appears?” The Headmaster swiveled about in his chair to pin the two Masters-in-Training with a hard stare. “It happened – and I fail to see how two young girls were able to escape your notice.”
“Well, we, uh, um...” Master Geoffrey mumbled.
“We were distracted,” admitted Mistress Hilda-Beth. “There was a scuffle between two Second Years that devolved into a massive food battle in the dining hall. I’m not sure when the girls slipped out-”
Food battle? The girls glanced at each other uncertainly and then stilled as an uncomfortable silence grew between the adults. Everyone fell quiet as the Headmaster leaned forward, head on his hand, and appeared to fall deep into thought. The tall man coughed a little and straightened.
Wait a minute. Brittainy recognized the look on his face. It was the same look her father often wore at very long parties when the men around him kept talking about boring things like politics. He’s trying not to laugh! Glancing at Master Geoffrey and Mistress Hilda-Beth, Brittainy could see that the two Mentors-in-Training were also beginning to relax. Only Chrystyna looked worried.
“I see that this has been a very interesting exercise for everyone involved, and I think I can safely say that we have all learned something today.” Headmaster Amarost glanced at the two girls. “What do you think you learned today?”
“Not to steal unless we are on a real mission and it’s absolutely necessary,” Chrystyna said automatically, quoting Mistress Stonecroft’s instructions to the letter. “Which I knew already, but I should have done what she told us or not done or...” The tall girl’s babble trailed off uncertainly.
“That you are smarter than us?” asked Brittainy.
“Stealing, as a rule, is frowned on,” the Headmaster said agreeably. “You two shouldn’t get into the habit of taking things that aren’t yours.”
Both girls shook their heads in tandem.
“And it is also true that there’s always a bigger fish in the sea,” the man went on, running his hands through his light brown hair. “I don’t it think it’s necessarily a bad idea to attempt flattery when faced with punishment, but I’m afraid it won’t work on me.”
“Flattery?” Chrystyna asked.
“But it’s true!” Brittainy said. “You’re a grown up, so it’s natural that we’d make a mistake and you’d catch us.”
“Hm.” Headmaster Amarost leaned back. “Didn’t you two think that your behaviour yesterday was suspicious?”
“Maybe, a little?” guessed Chrystyna (who now knew what ‘suspicious’ meant). “But we had to track your movements!”
“I told you he was suspicious!” Brittainy turned to Chrystyna. “They are always suspicious!”
“In a way, it’s my job to be suspicious,” the Headmaster pointed out.
“See! I told you!” Brittainy declared with vindication.
“So, punishment is in order, I’m afraid.” The Headmaster didn’t sound afraid. “After all, you could have just asked Miss Carruthers at the front desk, and she would have given one to you. Or, you could have gone to your Mentors.” The Headmaster leaned forward, picked up the lock picks, and handed them back to Brittainy who took them back glumly. “On the other hand... you said you were tracking my movements?”
Both girls nodded slowly.
“You took notes?” asked Headmaster Amarost.
“Yes, sir,” Chrystyna said, digging around in her voluminous pockets and retrieving the pad. “Here.”
Headmaster Amarost took the pad and flipped through it carefully. He glanced up at the girls and then smiled at the two mentors standing by the door before returning his gaze to the would-be burglars.
“You certainly kept a good watch yesterday – although, your hiding place was fairly obvious. Where did you hide today?” asked Headmaster Amarost.
“The cloakroom,” Brittainy said promptly. “Alfred always leaves before dinner.”
“I see.” A pause. “And you managed to open the cabinet,” the Headmaster noted dryly. “Few First Years could do that. Not at this point in the year anyways.”
“I practiced,” Brittainy said cheerfully, “over the Winter Solstice! I opened lots of boxes in my house!”
“I am sure you did,” muttered Mistress Hilda-Beth.
“Your best work this year, I bet,” the man said quietly. The Headmaster handed back the pad to Chrystyna. “Both of you worked hard, and you thought it through. Unfortunately, you would not have found the Headmaster’s Seal this way.”
“It isn’t in the cabinet?” asked Chrystyna intrigued. “Was it a trap?”
“Is there an alarm?” Brittainy edged forward.
“Just my favourite chocolate,” the Headmaster scooted his chair and opened the drawer up further, revealing a stash of colorful chocolate packs in all shapes and sizes.
“A chocolate treasure trove!” Brittainy’s blue eyes lit up. “All kinds!” She pointed at a row of circular blue tinfoil drops. “I think those come from the Southern Continent, right? My father brought us home some once.”
“Just chocolate,” Chrystyna peered in.
After handing each girl a small square of chocolate, Headmaster Amarost helped himself to a piece as well. He shut the cabinet, locked it again, leaned back, and sucked on his chocolate square while gazing at the ceiling.
“That was your reward for your hard work, even if it was seriously misdirected,” he finally said giving the girls another warning look.
Chrystyna made a note to look up the word ‘misdirected’.
“Unfortunately, you two need to realize that stealing is wrong, and that your mentors and teachers, the dorm overseers and the secretaries – and even me – we are all here to help you. If you don’t realize that you are part of a team, you are useless to the Assassin’s Guild.” Felix Amarost leaned forward, resting his hands on his knees and gave each girl a hard stare. “In a way, we are like a big tree. If a branch catches fire, the whole tree can burn to the ground. If you do not learn how to curb your thoughtless actions, then, later on, as grown-ups, you will cause much harm to the people you care about. Do you understand?”
“Yes, sir.” Both girls chorused quietly.
Chrystyna and Brittainy stood a little taller and straighter as though they were on the parade ground. An air of seriousness had settled on the two, and Headmaster Amarost hoped that the moment would stay with them for some time.
“Your punishment will be the removal of your freedom. That is, if you two had gone about this in a... more orthodox way... a normal way,” the Headmaster explained, “you two would have been able to investigate on your own, while being watched at a distance by your mentors.”
“Oh-” Chrystyna stopped.
“Yes?” Headmaster Felix asked.
“Does that mean – are Emalynn and Katrynn being watched over as well?”
“Absolutely,” the Headmaster smiled then. “We can’t just have young people tramping about the countryside, no matter how bright and well-connected they are.”
“I see,” Chrystyna nodded and then asked worriedly. “But, we can’t investigate now?”
“You two can continue your investigation. However, it will be under the direct care of your mentors,” Felix Amarost said. “Understood?”
“Yes, sir,” both girls chorused, relieved.
“I understand that Master Geoffrey has been setting up something for the two of you. A tea party at the Duchess.”
“Another tea party?” asked Brittainy, trying to hide her dismay and failing.
“You dislike tea parties?” asked the Headmaster with some amusement.
“I don’t mind tea and scones,” Brittainy sighed. “It’s all the talking. I mean, the talking about small things-”
“Small talk,” the Headmaster said.
“Yes,” Brittainy frowned. “All the old ladies talk about babies and the young ladies are always primping their noses behind curtains, and no one lets you play shuttlecock on the court.”
“That sounds horrible,” Chrystyna looked a little worried at the thought of having to talk about babies with old ladies. “But, I thought that last time you met a puppy and had fun.”
“Playing with the puppy was the best part of my assignment,” agreed Brittainy.
“Well,” the Headmaster’s smile grew a little wider. “I will tell you a secret: I also dislike tea parties. They can be very dull affairs. However, I heard from Mistress Hilda-Beth that you found quite a bit of information at the tea social you attended, Brittainy.”
“Sometimes, we have to survive these kinds of trials in order to get what we need – like information.”
“I think homework is something I have to survive,” Chrystyna said thoughtfully.
“Homework too,” laughed the Headmaster. “Now, I know it is quite past your bed time. You’d best get to bed.”
“Yes, Headmaster,” Brittainy gave a quick, rather sloppy curtsey.
“Thank you, sir,” Chrystyna bobbed her head and followed hard on Brittainy’s heels.
They could not get out of the Headmaster’s Office fast enough. Out in the hallway, the two girls paused to look back at their mentors. However, Master Geoffrey and Mistress Hilda-Beth did not follow them.
“I need to have a talk with you two,” Headmaster Amarost was saying. “Close the door.”
The two girls stared at each other as the door slowly shut.“Master Geoffrey is really going to hate me after this,” sighed Chrystyna.
The working male assassins of Doran’s Assassin’s Guild, while ‘on the job’ during the day, for purposes of disguise, are most often dressed in the very ordinary outfits of Doranian gentlemen. In other words, black top hats, sober pin-striped or charcoal suits complete with canes and monocles and greatcoats. Female assassin’s in the day more often than not look like schoolmarms or innocuous young ladies going off to a tea. That is to say, they are usually garbed in long, full dresses with small bustles as per the fashion of the day and sedate hats decorated sparingly with flowers.
See Footnote 26.