The Threshold Child

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Chapter Nine: Education, Old and New

Adesina rose long before the morning dawned. She reviewed the papers she had already memorized, careful to make sure that she was not forgetting any small details. Ravi watched impassively as Adesina created a strange sort of morning routine. She grouped together a series of exercises that would keep her physically up to Shimat standards, which were done silently and thoroughly. Adesina also practiced her weaponry, but she wasn’t sure how helpful it would be without a partner to challenge her.

When the morning sky began to lighten, Adesina hid away all traces of her other life and began preparing for the day. She washed her face and then confronted the arduous task of figuring out her new High City clothing.

There was no clear way to get into the simple brown dress. Every seam was stitched up tight, and there was no sign of buttons or ties. Adesina stood in her underclothing, staring at the dress like a frustrating puzzle.

A soft knock sounded at the door and Jelana appeared. “Adrie, it is time to awake…oh! You are an early riser. That is good.”

Adesina’s irritation must have shown on her face, because Jelana gave her a sympathetic smile and walked over to the bed. Ravi flicked his tail out of the way just in time to save it from being trodden upon.

Jelana picked up the dress and showed her how to put it on. Adesina also allowed her to assist with the matching apron.

“This apron will be worn as long as you are in school. On the days you apprentice with Hass, however, you need not wear it. On those days you will wear the apprentice sash.”

The young woman nodded and shifted her feet experimentally. She felt a bit stiff wearing so many layers of clothing.

Jelana touched Adesina’s hair with a wistful look in her eyes. “I do not wish to tell you how to arrange your hair, but in the High City it is only appropriate for young girls to leave their hair down. A simple knot is most common among women, but at your age a braid is still acceptable.”

Her hostess smiled again and turned to walk out of the room. “Hurry down to breakfast. You do not want to be late on your first day.”

Adesina plaited her long silver hair into a basic braid and then twisted it into a knot at the nape of her neck, where she pinned it in place. She sat on the trunk and pulled on her new boots. “Ravi, what are you going to do while I am at school?”

“I will follow you. Do you expect me to stay here all day?”

She pursed her lips in exasperation. “I am not accustomed to being followed by a giant invisible cat. How am I supposed to know the protocol?”

He snorted mildly. “I am not a cat. I am Rashad.”

Adesina rolled her eyes. “You look like a cat to me.”

Ravi was completely unruffled by this intended jab. “Cats do not talk. Now go down to breakfast. I will meet you on the street.”

She scowled in annoyance and walked out of the room with a sharp step. Breakfast was a silent affair, as all meals seemed to be. Fia was dressed exactly like Adesina, with her honey hair neatly braided. She smiled shyly at the young woman and was thrilled to get a smile in return.

Hass wished the two girls a good day as Jelana handed each of them a lunch pail and shooed them out the door. As promised, Ravi was waiting for them at the end of the walkway. Adesina wondered how he had gotten from her room to the street without her notice.

These thoughts were interrupted when Fia looked up at Adesina with imploring eyes. “Adrie, are you to be my sister?”

She stared at this open devotion in bewilderment. “I…no, I am not your sister.”

The girl’s brown eyes opened even wider. “Oh, I know that, but can I say that you are my sister?”

The bemused Shimat was spared the necessity of answering by the approach of Gainor, Deasa, and Rina.

Gainor was talking at full speed before the proper greetings were over. “Oh, Adrie, I am so excited for today. I do hope that you like our school. I do not know what kind of schooling to which you are accustomed, but my father says that ours is the best system he has ever seen.”

They began walking down the street in the opposite direction of the Square. Gainor linked arms with Adesina and led the group. Ravi walked at Adesina’s side as soundless as a ghost. Rina followed close behind, but Deasa hung back, taking Fia’s hand with a warm smile.

Adesina focused her attention on Gainor. “Does your father run the school?”

She laughed and tossed her head. “Goodness, no! My father is one of the three Governors of the High City. In fact, he is the youngest Governor to take office in a hundred years.”

Deasa spoke with a smirk in her voice. “Well, he is certainly not the most influential Governor in a hundred years.”

Gainor’s mouth tightened, and she seemed to be biting her tongue against angry words. Adesina had a feeling that only Deasa could get away with saying such things to her. Gainor sniffed derisively and raised her chin a bit higher.

“Actually, he has done quite a lot for the High City. He keeps his mind on our city, where it should be. The other two Governors are up to their necks in foreign intrigue. Mama says the direction our government has taken is a perfect scandal.”

Adesina shot her companion a sideways glance. “Foreign intrigue?”

“Oh, yes.”

She tried to appear only superficially interested. “What do you mean?”

Gainor was more than happy to be urged to talk about something on which she considered herself to be an authority. “There is a great deal of tension between the northern lands and the southern lands. The High City is supposedly neutral, but all of us have taken sides in the silent war. The only reason we stay neutral is because we are so evenly divided. Each of the other Governors has taken sides against each other, and they are both trying to get Father to side with them. Mama says that he should just sit back and wait to see which side has a better chance of winning.”

“Gainor,” Deasa began in a warning tone, but Gainor overrode her, acting as if she hadn’t spoken.

Her tone was dripping with enjoyment as she lowered her voice for dramatic effect. “Mama says that the politics of the High City are thick with all sorts of corruption.”

“Gainor,” Deasa’s voice was sharp with reproach. “You should not speak of gossip as if it were truth.”

She looked pleased at the reaction she had caused. “I am only being honest.”

Deasa glared at her friend. “Hardly.”

Gainor’s whisper to Adesina was loud enough to be heard by the entire group. “Deasa is just angry because the merchants play a large part in the city’s politics.”

A flush colored Deasa’s dusky complexion, but she said nothing. Gainor, reveling in her victory, moved on to lighter topics.

Adesina barely listened to the new flow of conversation as she processed the information she had just received. Perhaps this was part of the reason she was here in the High City—to sway the citizens in favor of the south. She wondered how important the High City really was in the scheme of things. It was obvious that the citizens thought themselves important indeed, but how much truth was in this belief?

They passed through several residential areas, dotted occasionally by orderly little parks. The farther they walked, the more children they saw leaving their houses and hurrying along the streets. Everyone they passed stared at Adesina with undisguised curiosity, and a few brave souls called out a greeting to her companions.

Gainor chattered nonstop until they arrived at the school. It was a large white building that was surrounded by a picket fence. It was four stories high with many windows, and the yard was barely big enough for the children to run around. Adesina looked at the school in doubt of its adequacy. Where would they do their physical training?

A matronly woman was standing just outside the doorway ringing a large bell. All of the children ran from the yard and into the school. Fia waved goodbye to Adesina and ran to join her classmates. Gainor grabbed Adesina’s hand and tugged, urging her to walk faster.

“Quickly! We cannot be late!”

The woman with the bell eyed Adesina suspiciously, but said nothing as they passed. They climbed three flights of stairs and walked down a long hall to their classroom. Adesina watched Ravi weave through the crowd while miraculously avoiding physical contact with anyone.

The classroom they entered was filled with desks, most of which were occupied with students their age. At the head of the room stood a man that looked quite similar to Hass. Gainor nudged Adesina forward and then moved to sit at her desk.

The man spotted her and gave her a warm smile. “Ah, you must be the girl my brother is hosting. I am Master Nabil, and I will be your teacher this year.” He pointed to a nice-looking young man standing next to him. “This is my apprentice, Colis, and you must not be afraid to ask either him or myself any questions you may have. Entering a school halfway through the year is a hard thing, and I do not wish for you to feel overwhelmed. Now, what is your name, young lady?”

All of this was said as if to a half-wit. Adesina couldn’t decide if her intelligence was being insulted merely because she was an Outsider, or if that was just how Master Nabil treated students.

She gave him a forced smile. “Adrie.”

He then turned to the class, all of which were seated by now. “Quiet now, students. This is Adrie. She has come to stay with Master Hass and his family. Please make her feel welcome.”

Master Nabil spoke to the others in the same way that he had spoken to her, but Adesina found that this did not make her feel any better. She just hoped that the subjects studied would be interesting.

The only desk open was next to the window, a fact for which Adesina was grateful. Seated next to her was a boy with chestnut hair and brown eyes framed in long dark lashes. He glanced around the room with a triumphant expression on his face, as if he had planned to be placed next to the Outsider. Glimpses of disappointment reflected in the faces of the less fortunate students. They would have to think of different ways to become known to this novelty.

As Adesina sat down, the boy flashed her an overconfident grin. “Hello, I am Norshel. I believe that you already know my brother, Nordin. He was guarding the gate the day you entered the High City.”

She gave him an acknowledging half-smile, but chose not to speak. Master Nabil had already begun class in his infuriatingly patronizing tone. As Adesina turned her mind to the instruction being given, she felt a wave of dismay. These were lessons she had learned when she was seven years old.

The hours passed like an eternity.

Adesina contributed very little, not wanting to give away the degree of her former education. Master Nabil, thinking he was being kind, asked little of her. Norshel kept whispering little hints, trying to be helpful. Colis also fixed a watchful eye on her, making sure that she did not fall behind. Adesina met all of this unwanted attention with a level gaze. Perhaps it would be necessary to show them how little she needed their help.

Ravi merely sat by her side, gazing around the room or out the window. Occasionally a look of amusement would drift across his face, but he said nothing. When the noon bell rang, all the students rose and hurried out the door to enjoy what time they could outside. Adesina gathered her lunch pail with a quiet sigh and followed them.

Gainor, Deasa, and Rina were waiting for her at the door of their classroom. They walked down the stairs and out of the building to a small shaded area of the schoolyard. There they sat down to eat their lunch.

“Well?” Gainor gushed, “What do you think? Do you not think that our teacher’s apprentice is absolutely divine? Did you see him looking at me?”

Adesina found her thoughts drifting towards Kendan. Yes, there had been a number of handsome young men in the High City, but they all seemed to pale when compared to her former Shar. They lacked the spark and intensity that radiated from Kendan’s dark eyes.

Deasa smiled patiently at Gainor’s comment, but refused to be drawn in to that line of speculation. “How did you find your lessons?”

This brought Adesina’s thoughts quickly back to the present. She hesitated over her answer long enough that Deasa went on.

“No one would think less of you if it took you a while to get caught up.”

She debated whether she should risk being exposed by showing her advanced education. Still, she figured being advanced a single year would not be suspicious. Then, even if she was still ahead of her classmates, she would not be patronized by Master Nabil.

She shook her head. “No, that is not the problem. The problem is that these are lessons I already know.”

This was met with some surprise. Adesina’s friends looked uncertain how to respond. They had never seen this happen before.

The young Shimat gently nudged the conversation. “Do you think they would consider advancing me to another year?”

Such an idea was obviously new to them. Deasa pursed her lips. “Hmmmm…perhaps. I do not think it would be viewed as appropriate for a young woman, though.”

Gainor looked mildly horrified. “Then you would not be in our class. We would practically never see each other. How can I show you the ways of the High City if we are not in the same class?”

Adesina had the feeling that Gainor’s own social standing would suffer by not being intimate friends with the new Outsider. She did not voice this conjecture, but she guessed that Gainor viewed it as a more pressing issue than the one named.

Deasa, still looking doubtful, slowly shook her head. “I would not ask, if I were you. The school director might think that you consider yourself above your classmates. He would not treat you kindly.”

They were interrupted by a teasing, masculine voice. “What? Strangers in our school?”

Adesina looked up recognized the guard called Nordin. He held a lunch pail loosely in one hand and his bow in the other. He was on the opposite side of the fence that surrounded the school, leaning against it casually.

Rina spoke up in Adesina’s defense. “She is not a stranger. Master Hass and his family are hosting her. She is from the Northern Tribes.”

He raised an eyebrow. “Really?”

Adesina couldn’t figure out why everybody felt the need to specify that she was from the Northern Tribes. Every time she was introduced it was brought up, almost as if it was meant to reassure whomever she was meeting.

Gainor, who had been trying to appear demure, could keep quiet no longer. “How are you, Nordin?”

He shrugged in an exaggerated, offhand manner. “Fine. Just protecting the city from intruders.”

Nordin smiled at Adesina, but her returning look was bordering cold. She was beginning to really dislike the presumptuous and impertinent way she was being treated by the majority of the males she had encountered. They acted as if she were both inferior and in need of their favor. She was fighting the desire to return their condescending smiles while giving an impressive display of her Shimat skill.

Gainor gave a coy little sigh. “You are so brave to risk your life to protect us.”

Deasa turned to Adesina and rolled her eyes, and Rina giggled softly.

Nordin, not noticing these reactions, puffed out his chest a little and grinned. “Well, I am not risking my life right now. My little brother forgot his lunch and my mother asked me to deliver it to him.” He held up the pail.

As if summoned, Norshel appeared and jogged up to his brother. They spoke in low voices for a few minutes, occasionally casting glances at Adesina and her companions. Gainor made a show of smoothing her skirt and placing her hands on her lap.

Deasa made an impatient noise and began gathering her things. “Shall we take a stroll around the school yard?”

Gainor was obviously against this plan, but had no choice but to follow her friends when they all got to their feet. As they walked, Adesina watched the games of the children. Their play seemed rather strange to her eyes. All games played by the Shi children had some sort of training application. The games played by these High City children didn’t seem to have any sort of purpose. They laughed and yelled and ran around, but there was no structure.

Her attention was diverted when a young man bumped into her as he ran past. She kept her balance easily, but he stopped to steady her anyway.

“I am so sorry.”

Adesina turned to face him and saw his eyes widen in surprise. His age was hard to guess, due to his rather boyish features, but Adesina estimated he was perhaps a year older than she. He had curly brown hair and a striking smile. His nose was a bit long, but there was something rather pleasing in his countenance. Adesina felt a bit uneasy looking into his expressive brown eyes.

“No harm done,” she said dismissively.

He nodded, still staring in wonder. After a moment he realized that he was still holding on to her and quickly dropped his hands. He made an attempt to hitch his smile back up and jogged off.

The bell rang for them to return to class and Adesina hastened her step to keep up with the other girls.

“Who was that?”

Gainor, whose eyes were still directed towards the fence, gave her an exasperated look. “Nordin, of course.”

“No. The boy who bumped into me.”

She shrugged. “I was not paying attention.”

Deasa sighed at her friend’s absentmindedness. “His name is Aleron. He is an apprentice to his mother, Mistress Breena. She is one of our most prominent healers.”

Adesina considered this information for a moment and then put it out of her mind. Her classmates were already motioning for her to hurry up. She did her best to endure the remainder of the school day. It was a great trial of her patience, but she reminded herself that such trials would benefit her in the long run.

Ravi gazed lazily around the room and out the window, not bothered by the tedium that agonized the young woman. The ending bell finally rang, and Adesina suppressed a sigh that was half relieved and half exasperated. She gathered her things quietly and followed her friends out of the monotonous little school.

In the schoolyard they were met by several people. Fia was waiting with a girl that looked perhaps a year her junior. The small girl was the exact image of Deasa, only ten years younger. She had the same dusky complexion, the same curly dark hair, and the same intelligent expression. Behind the girl stood two young men who obviously belonged to the same family. Adesina had never seen identical twins before, and therefore studied them with interest. They both had mischievous eyes and rather rakish smiles. They both wore green sashes, marking them as merchant apprentices.

Deasa gave her brothers a suspicious look. “What are you two doing here?”

The one closest to the little girl placed a hand on her shoulder. “We came to walk Aletta home.”

Deasa raised an eyebrow. “Very well, then walk Aletta home.”

The other brother hedged around Deasa’s comment. “Where are your manners, little sister? Are you not going to introduce us to your friends?”

“You know my friends.”

“Not all of them.” His eyes flickered to Adesina.

The young Shimat muttered so quietly that only Ravi’s sharp hearing caught her words, “You would think that no one in this city has ever seen an Outsider.”

The large feline chuckled. “Most of them have not.”

Deasa heaved an irritated sigh and turned to Adesina. “This is Adrie of the Northern Tribes. Adrie, these are my older brothers, Felman and Matias.”

The little girl gently tugged on Deasa’s apron. She smiled. “And this is my little sister, Aletta.”

Adesina nodded to each of them. Fia walked over to her side and hesitantly took her hand. She was surprised by this, but did not pull away.

Fia’s smile widened, “Would you like to go see Papa’s shop?”

This seemed to be as good a plan as any, so Adesina nodded. She bid the others goodbye and allowed Fia to lead her away.

They walked along a new path that Adesina had not yet seen. Ravi followed silently, keeping slightly back. The dignified bustle of the city seemed to be at its height during this time of day. Fia led Adesina to the far end of the Square, further than Jelana had taken her the day before.

Hass’s shop was tucked in between some sort of healer’s clinic and a lumber shop. Fia walked through the open door without hesitation, as did Ravi, to Adesina’s surprise. The shop was filled with the evidence of Hass’s trade: cabinets, tables and chairs, bed posts, and so forth. The pleasant smell of freshly carved wood met her nose as she stepped through the door. The back of the room held a workbench that was covered with tools and shavings. It looked as though Hass had been in the midst of making a rocking chair.

Hass, however, was standing in the center of the room talking to a tall lean man dressed in an olive green uniform with a dull yellow sash. The man had bushy, bright red hair and an equally bushy beard. His complexion was more than fair—he had a pale, wasted look to his face. Although he was well-muscled, his figure still bordered on thin.

The man turned slightly at their entrance. Adesina met his light brown eyes and was arrested by what she saw. There was a vigilant and highly intelligent expression that was both shrewd and deceptively benign. Adesina instinctively felt that she would need to be wary when near this man, but she seemed to be the only one who felt anything was amiss. Ravi looked merely thoughtful as he studied the shop and the people in it. Hass’s body language spoke of complete ease and Fia waved to him with a friendly smile on her face. The man smiled back at Fia, and Hass motioned for them to come closer.

“Adrie, I am glad that you came to the shop today. This is Master Termell. He is the assistant to Master Chatham, the man from whom I purchase all of my lumber.”

Adesina gave him a polite nod and tried to ignore the fact that he was studying her with interest. The introductions were interrupted by the entrance of a middle-aged man dressed in the same uniform as Termell. He was bald, except for a fringe of brownish hair, and had a long grizzled beard. Hass hailed him as a friend.

“Ah, Chatham. We were just talking about you. This is Adrie, my new apprentice. Adrie, this is Master Chatham.”

When the man clapped his eyes on Adesina, he froze in place. A look of distrust and something that bordered anger shone on his face. The tension in the room was palpable and Chatham seemed to be the only one who knew the reason why. Termell cleared his throat and Chatham started from whatever abstraction of thought he had been in. He gave Adesina a curt acknowledging nod and turned to his assistant.

“The boy is back. I need your help at once.”

Chatham had the presence of mind to raise his hand in farewell to Hass before hurrying out of the shop. Termell nodded in response to these instructions, bid Hass goodbye and followed his employer.

Hass frowned in confusion at this strange behavior, then gave a slight shrug. He proceeded to show Adesina around the shop. She was told what days she was to come in and work, where all tools and supplies could be found, what kind of work would be expected of her, and so forth.

This recital only ended when Fia reminded her father of the time, and the three of them hurried home.

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