She tugged her medium green Cycle Three robes about her, unaccustomed to having a garment flapping about in her wake. The sleeves were definitely going to take getting used to as well, she thought idly as she climbed up the neatly kept stone steps to Bacchia Hall, where she would be learning apothecary skills. Fiorra threaded her way through the Cycle Three and Four students leaving and arriving for classes. She recognized some of her own classmates and smiled faintly. Still she felt very conspicuous, as if everyone who looked at her knew her to be a fraud.
Glancing at the brass plates above the impressive oaken doors, she found her class and slid onto a bench near the middle of the room. As she was rifling about for the correct book, Sessla sat down next to her.
“I see you made it here just fine. You see, I knew you would. It’s not that hard to find your way about, once you know where everything is,” she informed Fiorra nonchalantly.
Fiorra thought to herself that that was just the problem, finding out where everything was, but said nothing as Sessla chattered on gaily.
“I can’t wait, I’ve been waiting for two Cycles to take this class; I’m so excited,” Sessla gushed.
Karess sat down onto the bench in front of them before Fiorra could reply.
“I don’t see him, is he here yet?” Karess wondered aloud, craning her neck around.
“Who?” Fiorra asked, deciding that school in this world was not so very different than school in her old world after all.
“The instructor of course,” Sessla returned as if Fiorra should have known.
“Ohhhh, that’s right, she doesn’t know about him,” Karess giggled.
Just as Fiorra was about to lose patience entirely, a voice from the front of the classroom called loudly, “All right, class, take your seats and open up your Red Books to page six.”
“That’s him,” whispered Sessla excitedly as Karess slung her sleek blond hair about.
Fiorra leaned forward….
And saw Barcik in Master’s Robes striding confidently across the front of the room, stopping in front of the large wooden table. What under the stars was he doing up there? When the real teacher comes in, he’s likely to be punished, she thought, caught between delight between sharing a class together and amazement at his uncharacteristic brazenness.
“What is he doing up there?” she wondered aloud. She glanced worriedly behind her, hoping that the real teacher wouldn’t choose this moment to enter the room.
“He’s the instructor, that’s Master Barcik,” whispered Sessla behind a slim hand.
Fiorra’s head snapped back around to stare first at Sessla, then as comprehension dawned, slowly up at Barcik. Words and breath both failed her. The teacher?
The next few minutes passed in a blur of incredulity. Fiorra thought through the time she had spent with Barcik, both physically and in her dreams. Never once had he given her an indication that he was a teacher, much less a Master. What a fool she felt…. A dull anger began clenching her stomach as she realized how naïve she had been, how entirely –
Her head jolted up, every sense jangling in a state of alert. What was she supposed to do?
“Say present,” hissed Sessla.
Oh. Of course. “Present,” she said sterilely.
Barcik paused and caught her eye. An odd expression crossed his face fleetingly and was gone. “Larred,” he continued.
“Isn’t he just a dream?” whispered Karess over her shoulder, her green eyes sparkling.
Hm. In more ways than one, Fiorra thought darkly, feeling her lips purse with distaste. “I don’t see what the big deal is,” she returned indifferently.
Karess and Sessla both stared at her. “My dear, how can you not? Just look at him,” insisted Sessla in a low voice.
“My sister, she’s a Cycle Five, she says he’s known to dally with the girls,” Karess informed them.
Another blow, thought Fiorra, as if it wasn’t already bad enough. Now she was simply some statistic. When she thought of how she had introduced Emanuella as if something serious might have been brewing, and of how they had – Her eyes narrowed as images of certain dreams plagued her.
She crossed her arms and watched Barcik – Master Barcik – as he began the lesson. He was entirely different, still very confident, but all traces of the relaxed, carefree young man she had thought of him as were gone as he strode purposely up and down the aisle, across the front of the room, questioning students on their knowledge of herbs and healing lore….
Suddenly Fiorra realized that the question Barcik had posed had not yet been answered correctly. Slowly, she hunched her shoulders, attempting to hide behind the broad shoulders of the student in front of her.
“Let’s get another opinion. How about….” Fiorra heard Barcik ruffle through his attendance parchments. “Fiorra?”
For a moment, she was speechless, her skin growing cold. Then anger flooded her, and she folded her lips to conceal the sour frown attempting to overtake her expression.
She took a breath as she saw his deep green Master’s robes gliding toward her. “Fiorra, what do you think that moxie is?”
She knew very well what moxie was, it was a bitter root given to women to ease the discomfort of their moon terms, and was administered also to prevent fainting.
But she looked at Master Barcik and, sitting straight up, answered coldly, “I don’t know.”
The slightest arch of an eyebrow was the only sign of surprise he conceded, but he nodded and moved on to another student.
Fiorra had nearly chewed the inside of her lips bloody with suppressed rage when Barcik tried again.
“Fiorra, would you tell us when one would dispense coltsfoot?”
She knew the answer to this question as well, for it was used to soothe coughs and heal respiratory problems, but she was not about to oblige her new teacher, especially not when there were at least thirty other students willing to do the same in her stead.
“I don’t know.”
-- Come now, don’t be stubborn. We both know you know the answer to every question I’ve posed. --
Furious that her barriers had been so easily breached, Fiorra slammed her strongest defenses up, glaring at Barcik all the while.
His face gave no suggestion of their exchange, though he shook his head once as if to express disappointment before turning around and calling upon someone else.
She did not wait for Sessla or Karess once class was over, but instead walked as swiftly as her legs could carry her through the door and out of the Hall, nearly knocking some of her peers over. Blinking in the sunlight, she continued toward a bench and sat down. She'd never been so humiliated in all her life.