The Silent Witness (Published)

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CHAPTER 10 - THE ACADEMY

Morgan was transfixed with the Academy. It had been almost a year since finishing school and her application as an architect was accepted by the Academy in Støne Fønt. However, her mother and father did everything they could to make sure she could study further, but the family was unable to financially support such a subject. Nevertheless, one of the lecturers of the Academy, Aralin Saarman, was a close friend of Morgan’s father, Antonin Japther, and persuaded the Council of Seven to take her on as a part-time assistant to the facilities keeper. She also volunteered to fetch water from the Thørn River whenever it was needed, and the old groundskeeper was grateful that there was someone young and fit to undertake the task.

Morgan stayed in a small but comfortable room on the grounds within the Academy. She had gained great favour from everyone she encountered. She kept to herself, never entertained gossip and was always pleasant towards those around her. She earned a small income and would send some back home, while the rest she’d save up. It had also been to her advantage in knowing a lot about nearly every subject the lecturers taught and they, in turn, became fascinated with the inquisitive mind she had and were delighted to impart their knowledge onto her.

An absurd story began within the first few months of Morgan’s stay at the Academy. Rumour went around that Morgan was born in secret within the Academy’s vaults underground and brought up as the adopted daughter of Ismińa, taught in the ways of the goddess herself; whose marble and golden statue stood tall and proud at the entrance of the Academy. Morgan thought it was ridiculous that many people would think and believe that this was the case, but she enjoyed it all the same.

She would sit transfixed, listening intently to all sorts of topics that intellects would discuss in the city’s centre, where all traders, scholars and philosophers would meet. She enjoyed hearing the debates and what other intellects would speak about, exchanging ideas and theories whether it was about the gods, the seasons, new methods in the medical fields or of distant lands. However, when it came to the four kings and the opinions of the population of what might happen was of no interest to her.

She wrote to her parents regularly and they, in turn, would write back and send sweets for her and the few friends she made while living in Støne Fønt. One day, while coming back to the Academy with water for her flowers she planted in a little garden she had made, Morgan heard a great commotion concerning a newcomer who was seen within the city and was noted for her charm and beauty, some of the young men even went on to claim she was Samrósa in human form. Not much was known about her. In fact, nobody knew her name. The only concrete information everyone knew about this stranger was that she came from the Pøntam Islands, and many young men were seeking her attention.

* * * * *

Sarita couldn’t help but stare at the buildings in Støne Fønt. It was a completely different lifestyle altogether from what she was accustomed to. She also enjoyed how heads turned when she walked past people in the streets, looking at all the shops and the beautiful statues, not to mention the sort of clothes the people wore. Nothing like this existed on Pøntam Islands. She had been saving for over a year to get here.

She remembered the night of passion with Valin the day before she left. She never told him of her plans until the next day when he walked in on her while she was packing her bags. She told him where she was headed and was going alone. He fell to his knees with tears in his eyes pleading for her to stay and be with him. She looked at him with nothing but disgust. He didn’t want to better himself. All he ever spoke of was his father’s shop that would one day be his. As she walked out of the cottage to go look for passage in the kingdom’s centre, Valin threw one more desperate act her way: he would kill himself if she left. She grew tired of him following her and went to the local magistrate to report that Valin assaulted her. After that, she never knew (or cared) what became of him. All she knew was that he no longer followed her.

It had taken her a few months to get from place to place, but she was finally here. She’d been very careful in speaking much about herself to others. When asked by an elderly lady where she was from, she informed the old lady that she came from the Pøntam Islands and the conversation ended there. People who lived on the mainlands were always cynical of those who lived on islands. That much she had already known throughout her travels.

Unlike her time in Rake Turf, she was careful to keep herself to herself. There was plenty of time for pleasure later.

She decided to walk towards the Academy and have a look around. She stood at the great gates, squinting in the sunlight, looking up at the colossal statue of Ismińa, the patron goddess for those who came to seek knowledge and wisdom. She made a face at the goddess and walked through. She took little interest in what she saw. Marble pillars with intricate details were edged into them. The columns were so meticulously cut and the design so precise that it was hard to see where the columns joined each other.

The Academy was in the city’s centre and surrounding it were houses, libraries, meeting halls and pools with beautiful frescos that decorated the inner walls. While she was taking in the sheer size of the place, she heard footsteps behind her and turning around, a young girl, who looked about the same age as her, was coming up the ramp with a bucket of water that looked much too heavy for her. She stumbled and nearly fell when Sarita caught her, but the damage was done. The water splashed all over Sarita’s clothes and the girl who stumbled into her looked on in horror at what had happened.

“I’m so sorry!” Morgan cried.

“It’s fine! Why are you carrying a bucket that is too heavy for you to carry?” Sarita asked, rinsing the water from her travelling clothes.

Morgan wiped her forehead. “I was trying to get my chores finished as quickly as I can. My family is coming to visit. I’m not from around here and I haven’t seen them in over a year!”

“Where are you from?” asked Sarita.

“I’m from Marpøøn Gantal.” Sarita tried to remember the name. She saw it on a map once when she was on a ship bound for eastern Barathorn.

“Oh yes,” she said slowly. “That’s a city with a king and queen. Right?”

“You’re obviously not from around here, are you?” Morgan asked curiously.

“No, actually, I’m not. I’m from the Pøntam Islands.” Sarita was preparing herself for the overused snub she got every time she mentioned she came from an island. Morgan thought for a while until understanding sank in.

“Oh! You must be the new person everyone’s been talking about! Well, to be very honest, the men are talking about you! Welcome! My name is Morgan Japther.”

Sarita was strangely touched that this person didn’t walk away and pretend to not notice her.

“Pleasure to meet you, Morgan. My name is Sarita Pradin. Well, if you want, I can help you get more water so you can get ready for your family’s arrival?”

Morgan gave her an appreciative smile. “I’ll be incredibly grateful! The Thørn River is not far from here. Let me get another bucket and we can go together.” Sarita nodded and Morgan ran off to the storehouse. When she came back, the two started towards the river.

Sarita found Morgan a bit annoying with all the questions, asking about the places she’s been to and the island where she came from. At length, Morgan apologised for all the questions.

“I’m sorry, Sarita,” Morgan said. “It’s just that I have never been west. In fact, I’ve never even seen the sea before.”

Sarita stopped in her tracks. “You’ve never seen the sea before?”

Morgan gave her a sheepish look. “I come from a kingdom that’s not near the sea. Marpøøn Gantal is surrounded by mountains, rivers and forests. The town of Pømel Tarq lies to the north of my homeland. Whenever the king and queen wish to travel west, Pømel Tarq is the closest town with an impressive harbour. They were once on good terms with the Que Summøns Islands until they wanted to become a pirate haven again, and no one is fond of islanders to begin with.”

Morgan winced. “I’m sorry Sarita, I didn’t mean anything bad by what I said.” Sarita raised her hand to stop Morgan from apologising even further.

“No need. We live in a world where the past tends to rise now and then and leave people with contempt and prejudice towards strangers.” Morgan pondered on what Sarita said.

“You’re right. What you say is true. Your words were as if they came out of Ismińa ’s mouth herself!”

Sarita scowled. “I’m not into the gods. My words are my own.”

Morgan looked as if she had been slapped in the face. “You sound like Fenn,” she muttered.

“Who’s Fenn?” Sarita asked.

“He’s my brother, who’s also not much into the gods himself.” They walked in silence towards the river and as they were filling their buckets, Sarita casually asked, “Will your brother also be coming with the rest of your family?”

“Oh yes! Along with my mother and father, who’ll be arriving this evening. My grandmothers will be coming by carriage the day after tomorrow. You must meet them. Do you have a place to stay?”

Sarita shook her head. She’d been sleeping in barns and tried to keep a low profile, but from what Morgan had said, her presence was already been made public.

Morgan thought for a moment. “I’ll speak to Aralin. He’s the head of the Academy and a good friend of my father’s. He took me in when I had nothing to offer.”

Sarita looked at her. “I thought you were a student of the Academy?”

“Oh, well, my family is rather well-to-do, but I wish to become an architect, and it’s a subject that’s rather very costly. Through contacts of my father, I’ve been working here at the Academy for a salary, food and lodging, while saving my wages to pay the amount to study further. It’s been great! I’ve learned so much. Many great minds have passed through these gates and I love hearing what they have to say. My studies for Architecture will begin in the coming spring!” Morgan sounded excited. Sarita wished she could roll her eyes, but Morgan was looking intently at her with a wide smile and all she could do was smile back and congratulate her that all her obvious hard work seemed to have paid off.

“My father hasn’t seen Aralin in four years, so they have some catching up to do. Wait until you meet my grandmothers!” Morgan continued. “The two could never be more different! My grandmother from my mother’s side is - in so many ways - the Matriarch of the family, while my father’s mother is gentle, kind and pious. They’re as different as the sun and moon!”

They were now walking back to the Academy, all the while Morgan talking of things that went over Sarita’s head. The one topic that came up constantly was Morgan’s brother. She found herself wanting to meet him as Morgan spoke so highly of him. He was a subject she could at least relate to.

After much discussion, Aralin allowed Sarita to stay in Morgan’s quarters until she found a permanent place to stay.

* * * * *

For Morgan, it was the best two days she’d ever had in a long time. She was once again united with her beloved family and found a new friend in Sarita. She spoke so much that her mother, Francin Japther, eventually told her to stop talking or she’ll wear out her vocal cords. Aralin and Antonin were enjoying a cup of wine together, talking in the corner of the room, while the rest of the family were sitting in the Academy’s guest quarters, courtesy of Aralin.

Antonin’s mother, Hespa Japther, drank in all that Morgan would tell her. She was a kindly old soul and loved her family with the kind of love only a mother could give. Francin was very happy to see her daughter had settled in so well and was proud of what she’d accomplished in a short time. She was particularly grateful that she found a friend in Sarita. Morgan lived in her own little world and hardly allowed others to enter, so for her to have this person in her life was quite something. The two became firm friends these past two days and it seemed as if they had known each other all their lives.

Fenn was enjoying the attention Sarita was giving him and Morgan toyed with the thought of her new best friend being Fenn’s girlfriend. A new addition to her family! To her surprise, Sarita found the Japther family very loving, kind and giving; something she was not used to at all. She could tell that Morgan worshipped her family, especially her grandmothers. Antonin enquired of his daughter’s progress at the Academy and Aralin assured the family that all was well.

“She has a keen mind and excels in remembering many things!” Aralin said.

Antonin smiled and jokingly said, “Yes. She has a graphic memory, so do be careful what you say to her, as she’ll never let you forget!” Aralin laughed at this. He too hailed from Marpøøn Gantal and was Antonin’s friend since childhood. He spent more time at Hespa’s house than in his own home and considered her as a second mother to him and always sent gifts, food, wine, and clothes whenever merchants came from the west to introduce ’the latest trend’.

Aralin lowered his voice and gestured to Antonin that they walk in the garden to converse in private.

“In truth, I’m sorry your daughter won’t be studying this spring. It’s too high a risk. She mustn’t know the real reason why you came here in the first place.” Antonin looked at his family through the window for a while, then sighed heavily.

“She’ll know what’s been going on when we get home. But let her enjoy the evening before all is made known to her in the days to come.” Aralin nodded and poured another cup of wine for them both.

Francin’s mother, Lyellen Smyth, was not much of a talker as she was an observer. She was listening to everyone around her, but as she sipped her wine, her gaze fell on Sarita, who was laughing at something Fenn had said and it felt as though a cold, dark shadow had fallen over her entire being. What she saw in Sarita (and for reasons she couldn’t justify) was a boil that needed to be lanced, less it spread and take hold.

* * * * *

It took some convincing, but Lyellen allowed Sarita to stay at her home when they all journeyed back to Marpøøn Gantal for the winter. Lyellen had a cottage in the back that Sarita could reside in, provided she found work and paid for food and lodging, much to Morgan’s embarrassment.

“No one in life eats and lives for free,” was the lesson Lyellen had instilled into her children and grandchildren. Her only son, Tuss, died childless from a long-term illness and no matter how many times she visited and offered sacrifices to Zethër, the god of healing, he succumbed to his illness and died a few months later. That had been eighteen years ago and even though her prayers weren’t answered, she remained staunch in her faith.

Hespa herself was a devout follower of the Evertheenians and made sure her children, Antonin and Jydan did too.

Jydan never married and was the favourite aunt of Morgan’s. Jydan was the first person Morgan went to see as soon as she arrived in Marpøøn Gantal. They spoke for hours and Jydan was delighted to see that her niece’s life was turning out the way she had wanted it to.

“I wish your brother would get himself right,” she said, one evening. “He’s infatuated with Sarita - which is alright with me to be sure - but he needs to find a decent trade. I know this because it’s all I hear from both your mother and grandmothers, though my mother is a bit more lenient on the matter. But I know it comes from the heart and we all want to see him settled in life, just like your father.”

Morgan said nothing, as this was something she heard daily. She was tired of hearing the same things over and over again. Eventually, she asked her aunt for news that was not family-related.

“Well, King Hepharis and his wife, Queen Isarin, will be arriving in a month to meet with King Gunner and Queen Shafis.”

Morgan’s eyes widened. “What? Why? Are they going to war?”

Jydan laughed. “No! You’ve been away too long to know that this meeting is a matter of diplomacy.”

Morgan thought for a while, and then said, “But we’re on good terms with Rake Turf? What else could there be?”

“I heard in the market the other day that King Gunner wishes to create a permanent alliance with King Hepharis. Queen Shafis isn’t thrilled to have her only daughter married off, but if it’s for the sake of a permanent alliance and peace, then so be it.”

Morgan shuddered. “If Prince Joshen is as grim and unpleasant as his father, then poor Princess Ysha will be a very unhappy future queen of Rake Turf.

Jydan laughed. “Not at all! I believe he’s one of the most handsome men in all of Barathorn. But yes, she will probably be an unhappy wife to Joshen.”

“Why?”

“Everyone knows the princess has a romantic mind and heard how handsome King Alkan is, and if the tales are true, then he’s indeed a match in looks to Joshen. But all he cares about is conquest.”

Morgan heard the horrid tales of the war between Caper Løck and Waters Field. The slaughter was fierce, but what made Morgan’s skin crawl was the apparent sacrifices Alkan was making in the name of Verontó.

“Surely the gods won’t favour Alkan? I heard he offers human sacrifices to them. I thought that was an abomination to the Evertheenians? Wasn’t that what made them so angry with the First Age of Man?”

“So the stories say,” Jydan replied. “But whatever he’s doing, he’s doing it rather well. Wherever he goes, people follow. They seem to not get enough of him.”

Morgan sat still, rather frightened at the thought. Everyone knew that King Alkan’s eyes were now on Støne Fønt. Aralin said as much in his conversations with Antonin. After the fall of Waters Field, Antonin was determined to bring his daughter home. It wasn’t just because of the winter season. It was due to an army busy being recruited to march east from Caper Løck in the coming spring and the only city in its path was Støne Fønt.

Morgan knew with certainty her studies were going to be put on hold for much longer than she’d thought.

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