Imsdyn 13, 1014
The first day of classes had only just ended. And Delyth’s head was already spinning.
“Cherry?” she murmured, nudging her best friend with her foot.
“Hmm?” Cherry asked. She turned the page and continued to follow the text with the line of her finger.
“Why didn’t you warn me that it was going to be this hard?”
Cherry looked up, one eyebrow arching expressively. “Would it have made any difference in you deciding to come?”
“… Well … no …”
“There you have it, then,” Cherry said, turning her gaze back to her book. “Besides, it only seems hard now. Give it a few days. You’ll get used to the work.”
Delyth looked over the book she held in her hand, one of many that wasn’t allowed to leave the library, where she and Cherry and Dilys and Ravenna were working. In her required hagiography class, she had learned that everybody would be required to write a report on the life of a saint — in essence, a hagiography. So Delyth had decided to look through Jacques Coyote’s Acts and Monuments, the best collection of hagiographies there was, to get ideas. It was always good to get an early start on these big projects, right? Surely that was what Dindrane and her parents would say (she could safely discount Lamorak and Aglovale’s opinions, she thought).
But as she read, she had a feeling she was missing something. “Cherry?” Delyth asked again.
“Have you taken hagiography yet?”
“Lord, no,” Cherry snorted. “I plan to avoid that forever, if possible. I took a course on the philosophy of the early Church fathers for my first religion course.”
“… That sounds hard.”
“Well, it was challenging, but …” Cherry looked up and saw the look on Delyth’s face. “Oh. Right. You just want to get this out of the way. What’s the problem you’re having?”
“This — this life isn’t making sense,” she said. “It’s talking about how St. Darren took a hard line against witches and wizards in the Bachelor lands, but …”
“Didn’t Brother Galahad tell us that magic wasn’t declared anathema until one hundred years after St. Darren? And I always thought St. Darren was a mellow saint. Chasing after witches and wizards doesn’t seem his style.”
Cherry’s nose wrinkled. “What are you reading?” she asked. Delyth held up the book without a word. “Oh–that’s why. You’re reading Coyote.”
“… What’s that got to do with anything?”
“He wrote his Acts and Monuments when the Pascallians were first advancing the theory of magic as inborn,” Cherry replied. “Guess which side of the debate he was on.”
Delyth blinked. “You mean–you mean he–he made things up about the saints to — to score some points in a Church debate?”
“Well, he’d say he wasn’t making things up,” Cherry shrugged. “He’d say he was just telling … a different truth.”
“That’s ridiculous!” Delyth hissed. “There’s only one truth! If — if something didn’t happen, then saying it did isn’t true!”
“My mother says,” Cherry turned the page of her book and didn’t look up, “that everyone, when you come right down to it, has their own truth — and the truth is a lot stretchier than you would guess at first glance.”
Delyth looked at her book. She looked at Cherry. She looked at the book again.
She looked at Dilys and Ravenna, off doing assignments at a different table — there wasn’t room for Cherry’s books, Delyth’s books, and Dilys and Ravenna’s assignments at the same table — and wondered if they were having as hard a time as she was.
She wished one of them was in the hagiography class — it would be nice to have a built-in friend. Well, as much as Ravenna could be called a friend … she certainly wasn’t an enemy, and she was nice enough, but she was more Dilys’s friend than she was Delyth’s. The two of them understood each other better, had little in-jokes, enjoyed the same types of things. Which was fine; it wasn’t as if Delyth didn’t do the same thing with Cherry. Delyth didn’t mind that at all.
But there was also the awkwardness that came from Ravenna courting George … whenever Ravenna accidentally brought his name up, she would blush and looked guiltily at Delyth. Why would she do that? Delyth and George had ended things over a year ago — and Ravenna and George hadn’t started courting until a while after that!
Besides … Delyth would never say it out loud, but she thought that Ravenna and George looked rather adorable together. Their dark hair and eyes made them a well-matched couple, and Delyth had seen them once already in the dormitory’s gardens. She didn’t know what they had been doing: they had both been on a bench, George had had his arm around Ravenna, and both had their backs to her. But even though Delyth had only gotten a glance … well, maybe more than a glance … she had to admit there was an ease, a contentment there that she certainly couldn’t remember from when she had been with George.
But good luck getting Ravenna to see that.
Still — all the same, she still wished that either Ravenna or Dilys was in the class with her. But Ravenna and George were taking their religion class together, called “Orthopraxy in Action,” which was rumored to be the easiest one on campus as well as one of the most dull. It was all about how to act as a Servant of Wright, and according to popular rumor, didn’t get much beyond the basics of being a nice person and going to services and receiving the sacraments. There were no interesting debates; barely any ideas were discussed. When Delyth had expressed surprise to Dilys that Ravenna would take such a bland class, Dilys had laughed and blurted out without thinking that half the reason Ravenna was in that class was to keep George out of trouble.
The sad thing was, knowing George as she did … Delyth could believe that even in the most staid and safe religious class at the university, a class that almost seemed designed for witches and wizards to attend and keep them out of trouble in other religion classes, George could still find a way to get into trouble if someone wasn’t keeping an eye on him.
Dilys wasn’t even taking her religion class yet. There were a few offerings that had interested her, but they had all filled up with upperclassmen. So she was plunging headlong into her planned major of Geometry, studying points and angles and, eventually, color and form. She thought it would help her with her painting, and Delyth hoped she was right.
But in the meantime, that left Delyth quite, quite alone in her class.
She sighed, put Coyote’s book down, and chose another one from the stack. “I can’t believe,” she muttered to Cherry, “that Mother Julian said that was the best of them.”
“Huh?” asked Cherry.
“Coyote,” Delyth tapped the closed book. “Mother Julian used to practically swear by him! She would only let one of us handle the book if we had special permission, remember?”
“Well … Coyote is the best,” Cherry shrugged.
“You just said that he made things up!” Delyth hissed.
“But he’s the most comprehensive, he actually got to handle some of the original documents, and besides … all hagiographies do that,” Cherry shrugged.
“What?” Delyth shouted — or shouted as best she could while not speaking above a whisper.
“How can you say that? You–your faith is a lot stronger than mine is!”
“Well, it’s true, for one — ask Brother Galahad if you don’t believe me. And …” Cherry lifted an eyebrow. “What’s the purpose of hagiography?”
Delyth wanted to protest that she had only started the class today, that she could hardly be expected to know the purpose already. But that wouldn’t cut it with Cherry. Delyth sighed. “To … to know how good Sims lived in the past, so we can study their lives and apply their lessons to today.”
“And you wonder why the saints always seem to end up on the same side as their author of whatever debate is raging at the moment,” Cherry teased.
Delyth cast a quick glance around the room, then, spying the coast to be clear, stuck out her tongue at Cherry.
“Thanks, honey, I try.”
Delyth sighed, closed her book, reached again for the Coyote — then glanced enviously at Ravenna. “I wonder if there’s still room in the Orthopraxy class …”
“Oh, come on, Delyth.” Cherry elbowed her. “You have to want more of a challenge than that.”
“It’s plenty of challenge for Ravenna and George.”
“That’s different — and don’t you dare make me explain why,” said Cherry with a mock-glare.
“Still …” It was just a required class. Why shouldn’t she take the easiest one on offer? It wasn’t like pointing out how the hagiographies tended to have more to say on the issues of the day in which they were written than the time period of their subject would be an observation that would be particularly encouraged — or so Delyth thought. Her professor seemed an exceptionally dour type, and a particularly … faithful one. She wished that she could treat it for the virtue that it was, but not in this professor.
Why couldn’t all professors be like Brother Galahad? He was plenty faithful, but he was always more interested in what was really true than merely what the Camford examiners wanted to hear. At first, when Delyth had started learning under him, she had been annoyed by that — how was she supposed to know what she should learn, and what she would have to unlearn as soon as Mother Julian swooped into the classroom to do damage control? Couldn’t he just stick to what they would need to know?
But now …
I guess I learned more from him than I thought, mused Delyth.
She stared down at the Coyote, realizing that she had been staring at this same page for the past five minutes and had yet to read a word. But … why should she look at St. Darren, anyway? So maybe Delyth would have to deal with the axe he was grinding — at least she could look at a saint who lived in a time period where that axe-grinding would make sense. She could keep her professor happy that way and not have to say anything that she doubted was true.
She started flipping through the book to find St. Ophelia of Nigmos. She, at least, had been a known witch-hunter, helping to bring down her murderous aunt, Olive the Specter. And all the accounts Delyth had read or even heard of insisted that Olive had been bad news, so the takedown had probably not been unwarranted.
Perhaps she had been the Lady Morgause of her day …
“Cherry?” came a whisper from Delyth’s left. “Delyth?”
Delyth glanced up to see Ravenna looking at them. Her assignment had been put away, and Dilys was in the process of doing the same with hers. “Want to go?” she asked.
Delyth looked at Coyote … then shut him with a thud that reverberated through the library. The report wouldn’t be due until the end of the term — why worry about it now?
Guiltily, she glanced at Cherry — Cherry was usually much better about school and scholarly things than she — but Cherry, too, was closing her books and piling them up to bring back to the librarian’s desk. Maybe Cherry, too, understood that it was the only the first day, and there was no sense in overdoing it. Or so Delyth would tell herself.
She nodded to the other girls. “Let’s go!”
And once they brought all their books back, they left the library.
It was a gorgeous, perfect early-summer day, so they took their time about the walk back to the dormitory. It was best to enjoy this while it would last — too soon, they would be sweltering whenever they stepped outside.
“I don’t understand,” remarked Delyth as they were almost back to the dormitory, “why they don’t just let us live with you, Cherry. So what if it’s a sorority? It’s for everyone from Albion, isn’t it?”
“I think they’re afraid that the worldly sophomores and seniors will corrupt you poor, unwitting freshmen,” Cherry replied. “And you’ll be able to move in in Hybel anyway.”
“Ugh. Moving,” sighed Ravenna.
“Well, we’ll only have to do it the once …” Dilys murmured.
“And what are you complaining about, eh?” Delyth asked, nudging Ravenna. “You’ve got — your servants to help you, if you know what I mean!”
Ravenna flushed, and Delyth almost regretted saying that. But luckily they had rounded the corner to the dormitory, and they all saw something to distract them.
“A carriage?” asked Delyth. “Wonder who has a visitor?”
“I think …” said Dilys. Delyth craned her neck to look at her twin.
“You think what?”
“Isn’t that one of Master Wesleyan’s carriages?” Dilys asked, biting her lip.
Delyth looked. Well, it might have been. And in a way, it made sense. This dormitory only had four rooms, and three of them were occupied by Albionese. Maybe it would be stranger if it wasn’t one of Master Wesleyan’s carriages.
But that still left the question: what was it doing here?
Maybe it’s Aglovale and Babette’s baby! Delyth thought, her footsteps coming quicker. It could have come early — or right on time, really, knowing Babette. She had her share of strong suits, but counting wasn’t one of them. Delyth climbed the stairs to the dormitory door quickly. After all, there was nothing better than a new niece or nephew — especially when somebody else would be woken up when it cried!
Somehow, though, Ravenna was quicker than Delyth and managed to get the door opened first. Delyth looked over her shoulder — to a glowering Aglovale.
… Probably not the baby, then.
“Where the hell have you BEEN?” shouted Aglovale.
Definitely not the baby!
He threw his arms in the air. “I’ve been waiting here for hours! And nobody knew where you were!”
Hey! “So?” Delyth snapped. She strode forward as the other girls piled inside behind her. “I didn’t think we had to report our every action to somebody!”
“Are you mad? You’re noblewomen! Someone has to be keeping an eye on you–lot!” Aglovale spat.
“We’re also adults, in case you didn’t notice! Wright, Aglovale, you can be so — so — ugh! Do you think Dindrane told people her every movement when she went out?”
“I bet you anything she didn’t go out at all hours, not telling anyone where she would be–”
“All hours? It’s the middle of the afternoon! It’s not even suppertime yet!”
“It’ll be dark soon enough–before–” Aglovale winced and pressed both hands to his face. “Wright damn it, Delyth! Would it have killed you — killed you — to be responsible for once?”
“He’s lecturing us about being responsible?” Delyth snapped to Dilys. “Oh, he’s one to talk, isn’t he? Considering what he –”
“Delyth! Now is not the time for that!” Aglovale shouted — shooting uncertain glances at Ravenna and Cherry. Ravenna, Delyth knew for a fact, already knew the whole story — and Cherry? Oh, she wished she could have turned around and seen Cherry’s face! She was probably looking at Aglovale now like he was scum on the bottom of her boot!
“Aglovale! Delyth! Stop!” Dilys cried. She put a restraining hand against Delyth. “Aglovale, we were at class. And then we went to library, to study.” She bit her lip. “We’re sorry that we didn’t tell anyone where we were going, but … well, we’re sorry. We’ll be more careful next time.” From the corner of her eye, Dilys shot Delyth a Don’t argue look. Then she looked again at Aglovale. “What … what is it that brings you here?”
And then Delyth’s stomach dropped. Because it probably couldn’t be the baby — Aglovale wouldn’t have come here if it was the baby, whether it was good news or ill. Which meant …
Aglovale sent a stricken look between the two of them. Then he addressed Delyth. “It’s … it’s Father. You two need to come home.”
Delyth couldn’t speak. She could only hear Dilys gasp. “P-Papa? What–”
“Pack. Put some things in a bag, and come,” Aglovale snapped. “I’ll explain on the way.”
“Is he–” started Delyth.
“Will he–” interrupted Dilys.
“Have you sent for my mother?” challenged Ravenna.
All eyes swiveled to her.
Ravenna swallowed, but she stood straight, eyes ablaze — she looked like Garnet in that moment. “He’s–ill, isn’t he?” Ravenna asked. “And my mother is the best healer in the kingdom.”
Aglovale closed his eyes. “Yes. We sent for her when he first got ill, two days ago.”
“And?” Ravenna asked.
“If she’d been bloody useful, do you think I’d be standing here now?” Aglovale roared.
That seemed to be when it hit Dilys strongest. She gasped and stumbled backward — Ravenna had to grab her arm, else she might have fallen.
And Delyth? Delyth felt she was watching this from a long, long away away. Because this could not be happening. Her father had been hale and hearty when he and her mother had dropped Dilys and Delyth off barely a fortnight ago. He had lectured both of them quite seriously on the need to study and take advantage of this chance — but then, when the time for leave-taking came, his eyes had misted over and he’d hugged them both at once, like he hadn’t done since they were both small enough to easily fit in his arms, and called them his littlest women …
He couldn’t be … but Aglovale wouldn’t be here if he wasn’t …
“Oh, c-c-come on, Delyth!” Dilys grabbed Delyth’s elbow and half-dragged her down the hall. “We need to pack!”
And Delyth went.
Because at the end of the day, it was easier to go than to think.