She sat on the bench woodenly. Already she knew this chapter, and the several succeeding it; indeed, she’d applied much of the lore within it. She thanked Gabriella for her exacting tutelage over and over in her mind… except for when she sat in Barcik’s classes. It would be nice to be distracted in his classes, for at least it would keep her from mentally raging at him, or at her own foolishness. Yet she had to sit in his classes and endure the humiliation of her naiveté. Worse, while usually Barcik – Master Barcik – acquitted himself formally as an instructor ought and only inquired of her responses regarding the class material, occasionally, his eyes lingered for an instant, bearing slowly into hers before they moved on, which was maddening. She had marched immediately to the Registrar’s office on her first day of classes in hopes of finding another instructor, but not only did he find her request juvenile but informed her haughtily that Master Barcik was one of their finest instructors and the only instructor for her class. Had she had - at another mark, she might have been able to switch instructors, but she was unable to, and thus she was quite stuck in his classes, and ostensibly she would continue to be, as he taught many of the upper level classes. So she had little alternative, it seemed, but to suck it up.
Seas. And now she had no idea what he was asking her. Not that it mattered. She would ace any basic objectives of the class but as for actually sitting in it, she refused to participate.
“I’m sorry, I don’t recall,” she replied coolly, hoping he hadn’t asked for an opinion.
Barcik said, “I see,” but shook his head almost imperceptibly, as if he were disappointed. Mentally, Fiorra snorted. That would make two of them, then. She would be glad to leave the class; the effort of keeping up her shields so that he couldn’t get past them was exhausting and left her with a tension headache by the end of each class. She had felt his mind brush against hers a few times but he had only been able to skate across her shields, for which she was exceptionally grateful. No rule existed claiming students must be open to their instructors, after all.
Finally, at the end of the class, she rose to leave and assumed her swift retreat with her giggling classmates, but Barcik called out, “Reandra, Fiorra, Larred, see me in my office please.”
Karess whispered, “Oh, how lucky!”
“Shall we wait for you?” Sessla wanted to know, a mixture of concern and envy on her face.
Fiorra stifled a scowl and shook her head. “I’ll meet up with you in the food hall.” She took a deep breath but as she walked downstairs to Barcik’s office, she found that her eyes had narrowed and her lip had curled again. This is ridiculous, she thought, and boldly strode in, schooling her features to a calm expression of nonchalance. Larred strode in behind her.
Barcik’s office was as disorganized as she remembered it the first day she’d met him, though that first glimpse about had not afforded her many details. Today, she took in the small room as he shuffled through his papers.
“Yes, Master Barcik?” asked Reandra breathlessly. Next to Fiorra, Reandra seemed overwhelmed at his personal attention. She answered often in class, though not always correctly, giggled and whispered with her friends, followed Barcik’s every move about the room, and had a wealth of shimmering red hair that, like Karess, she swung about in attempts to be alluring. Fiorra stifled the impulse to roll her eyes and found herself clenching her jaw instead.
“I’ve looked at the – theory – you’ve written. Your suppositions are grounded in logic, but I think perhaps you may want to research your subject a bit more in the future before taking the time to write it out. I’ve left notes for you.” He handed her a collection of parchments and nodded at her dismissively.
“Oh, thank you, Master Barcik, thank you, for taking the time to look at it, I know how busy you are -” Reandra gushed.
“Fiorra,” Barcik cut her off, leaving her crestfallen. Fiorra’s amusement at his cutting Reandra off so shortly was short-lived by the fact that she was next, and in company of classmates as well. She had done nothing she was aware of to be called into an instructor’s office.
“It is my understanding that you have been placed ahead of earlier Cycles without having Academy experience, is this correct?”
Fiorra strove mightily to maintain a calm demeanor, for she knew her classmates were listening, particularly Reandra, even on her way out the door. Inwardly, however Fiorra was raging at his almost supercilious tone. “It is,” she replied evenly.
“Then it is my recommendation that you study your texts, for if you cannot keep up with students in this Cycle, you will be placed in the Cycle preceding it, or dismissed.”
Fiorra stared at him. His remote words hung in the air tangibly. It was surreal….
“That will be all.”
Fiorra blinked, still in an uncomprehending daze. And then a furious rage washed over her. How dare he! He knew she knew this material, knew she knew it and had practiced it and – she was so angry her mind was mentally spluttering.
“Now then, Larred. I believe your family is out of Giverny, is that correct?”
Fiorra gathered her dignity and walked out of his office with her head in the air. Study her texts! Hmph!
The next day she had class, she slid into her usual seat with Karess and Sessla.
“What did Master Barcik want to see you about? We never saw you again.” Karess scolded.
“Where were you last night?” Sessla asked. “We were supposed to study last night, don’t you remember? And you really need to study,” she noted with concern.
Fiorra smothered a tiny smile as she apologized for missing their study date. She hadn’t disclosed to her friends that she knew a good portion of their material already, at least in some of their classes.
“So where were you?” Sessla pressed curiously, but Fiorra was spared from having to reveal that she had been working her frustrations out down in the weaponry rings, for the class quieted as Master Barcik strode into the room, his Master’s robes rippling about him.
As soon as he took an inventory of the class’s attendance, he questioned them on the previous night’s reading. Fiorra raised her hand each time, answering boldly with as much insolence as she dared. She hadn’t read the text since the summer, but felt quite confident in answering most any question he might ask.
When Barcik noted her hand raised in the air, he met her challenging gaze and the tiniest of smiles hovered at the corner of his mouth.
Finally, he moved on to the subject of the day’s lesson. Before he completed discussing ardock, which was an herb whose leaves were often stewed and added to tea or wine to treat a number of illnesses such as leprosy and other skin conditions, immediately, she raised her hand to hearken his attention.
Looking somewhat irritated, Barcik paused pointedly. “Fiorra?”
“I don’t understand. While that works, it’s only a minor treatment. In my region, the roots are much more potent, for they grow longer – they are pounded and added to a tincture to treat skin and bacterial infections and minor wounds.” She trailed off, lifting her eyebrows, letting the question hang palpably in the room. Karess cast a swift glance over her shoulder that bespoke her amazement at Fiorra’s brazenness….
“What are you doing!” Sessla hissed next to her.
A muscle clenched once in Barcik’s jaw, but he concealed his exasperation with her by replying quite pleasantly, “A veritable observation, and indeed, it is a most providential turn of events that we have you to enlighten us upon your experiences –" Fiorra did not miss the dry tone his voice took on – “however, before we may begin learning of tinctures and their applications, we must initially study the plant and its properties. We must first learn to walk before we learn to run, wouldn’t you agree?”
She found it a very good time to hold her silence and demurred by bowing her head to his mild rebuke, though her narrowed eyes never left his. He smiled artlessly and returned to the introduction of ardock, but she did not miss the warning look he shot at her over the other students’ heads. Though fleeting, it was accompanied by not so much a query against her shields but a warning against them as well.
She resolved not to glower, for she did not want him to know that this imbroglio distressed her as much as it did. Sessla kicked her ankle under the scarred wooden table. Flicking a surreptitious glance at her roommate revealed a bewildered expression. Fiorra’s brow wrinkled stubbornly as her roommate shook her head slightly. The last thing she was about to do was disclose that she had carnal knowledge of their instructor. Well, and technically, she didn’t… that was just it. She was so confused!
She sucked in her breath in shock. Where was she? She’d fallen asleep – ah, she was still here by the butterfly garden. She squinted into the sun, who had that been….
Immediately, she rose to her feet and brushed her robes off. Assuming an implacable expression, she said with as much respect as she could muster, “Ker?”
“You can dispense with that,” Barcik said gruffly, sounding painfully like the man she’d met over the summer. His Master’s robes were even open, showing a regular white linen shirt and trousers.
“I’m sorry, Ker?” she persisted.
“I’m sorry, Ker?” she asked, maintaining her level tone, her jaw jammed together tightly.
“Cut it out, it’s just you and me.”
“I beg your pardon, Ker –“ Fiorra began, but an infuriated --Stop! Enough with this charade. -- ripped into her mind, past her shields that she had forgotten to refortify again when she’d awakened. How dare he, she fumed! -- You’re one to speak of charades! -- she retorted furiously and slammed up her shields again.
“You know, it’s taking quite a toll on you if you’re falling asleep outside like this.” He scanned the countryside, the cool wind ruffling his hair a bit before he glanced down at her.
She glared but said nothing, wishing he would go away, wondering what he was talking about.
Her eyes narrowed, but his tone demanded that she look at him. Rather than dignify him with a response, she merely lifted an eyebrow slightly to evince that she had heard him.
“You’re taking too much upon yourself.” Barcik’s tone was quiet as he looked at her. When she did not reply, he continued. “Studying for an extra load of classes will not overtax you. But –"and he paused, seeming for once to be unsure of how to proceed. “Constantly endeavoring to keep up unnaturally thick shields at the same time will.” Barcik held her gaze with his steady blue one before allowing her to look away. A steady flush crept up her neck and stained her cheeks. How did he know…. While she was wondering if there was a deep, dark hole into which she could crawl and hide, he took a few steps forward and looked out over the lake, his robes billowing in the chill autumn breeze. “Even that, though, won’t sap your strength, not entirely. However.” He cleared his throat and turned back to her, rubbing his chin almost uncomfortably. “Trying to hold up your shields while you’re asleep will.”
Barcik’s eyes finally met hers, insistent upon her attention. For a moment, he stared into her eyes, and then he stalked off, his robes billowing briskly behind him.