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A COLLEGE OF MAGICS
Volume OneThe Structure of the World1Greenlaw CollegeFaris Nallaneen arrived at the gates of Greenlaw on the same day winter did. It was late afternoon, just as gray daylight began to fade into blue twilight. Behind her brougham, hired in Pontorson to bear her on the last stage of her journey, the causeway stretched back to the coast, a spine of paved road amid the sands of low tide. Before the carriage and pair was the wooden gate of Greenlaw, and in it the gatekeeper's grille with its little green shutter, tightly latched.As Faris watched from the carriage window, Gavren got stiffly down from the box to knock at the green shutter. Gavren was not an old man, not yet, but there was gray brindled in his hair, and the marks of a long journey were plain in his bearing.The offshore wind blew steadily, an edge of frost in it. The coach horses shifted in harness, heads down against the cold. Daylight was failing fast. Soon the green shutter would lose its color and fade into the grays of sea, sky, and stone.Gavren grimaced at the chill and knocked again. As he dropped his hand, the shutter snapped open and a face appearedat the grille. It was a round face, chapped red, its owner grim at the call out into the weather."Who goes there?" the gatekeeper demanded."The duchess of Galazon and her escort," replied Gavren.The gatekeeper regarded Gavren for a moment, then looked past him at the well-worn brougham and its tired horses. He eyed Reed, the weary driver, who had remained on the box, and sneered at Faris, the only passenger. He glanced at the sky. There was at least a chance of sleet. His face folded into satisfaction. "We have no use for titles here." He closed the shutter.Gavren let out a long slow breath and knocked again.No answer.Faris opened the carriage door. "Let me.""We must put up the horses and I suppose we'll have to beg our way in to do it. But try to maintain some decorum. If you give in to them at once, you'll have no mercy from them," Gavren said. "Stay there and let me handle things."Bunching her creased black skirts, Faris sprang down from the brougham and joined Gavren at the gate."You may be forbidden to use your title once you are a student, but don't abandon it before you've even seen the place. Don't sacrifice it before you make it do you some good."Faris nodded at Gavren, her pale blue eyes serious, her brows knitted. Although she was eighteen, the black serge traveling suit she wore, twenty years out of fashion, in a style twenty years too old for her, made her look like atwelve-year-old playing dress up, in clothes nearly too small for her. Her red hair sprang untidily from beneath the brim of her uncompromising hat, and her bony wrists showed distinctly in the gap between frayed cuffs and worn leather gloves."Don't worry. They'll have no mercy from me." She smiled crookedly at Gavren. Her bitter smile revealed uneven, almost pointed teeth, and made her long nose look even longer. She glanced up at Reed, who was watching from the box, smiled again to herself, and knocked briskly on the shutter.After a moment, the shutter snapped open. "Well?"Faris put a hand against the gate to lean close to the grille. "It will be a cold night. My companions and I require lodging. We can pay well."The gatekeeper studied her and sneered again. "Your name and business?""Both too trivial to concern you. I am but a humble acolyte, come to apply for a place at Greenlaw College. My uncle Brinker thinks I will prove an apt student."The gatekeeper regarded her with loathing for an instant, then clapped the shutter closed. There was a hasty scrape and the wooden gate swung open.Faris Nallaneen, duchess of Galazon, nodded again to Gavren. He rolled his eyes as he took her elbow, helped her back into the brougham, and took the seat beside her. Reed drove the carriage through the gates of Greenlaw.Once on the other side, Faris put her hand on Gavren's sleeve. His rap on the ceiling called Reed to a halt. Thegatekeeper closed the gate and barred it, then turned to the brougham with an expectant air as Faris opened her door and leaned inelegantly out."So this is Greenlaw." Faris looked about her at the courtyard and the narrow street before her, winding steeply up the stone mount. "And these are the gates, the visible built of oak, the invisible built of the Dean's will. But both guarded by the same man."She gave the gatekeeper a faint smile of apology. "It's the custom to tip heavily, isn't it? I'm so sorry I can't oblige you. It would look as though I tried to bribe my way in. Absurd, don't you agree? But I can't risk it." She closed the carriage door and settled back into her seat.From the box, Reed tossed the gatekeeper a coin. "See you do a better job keeping her in than you did keeping us out." He managed reins and whip and the carriage moved on."We're to stay at the White Fleece," Gavren told Faris. "Send word to us when you are accepted and Reed and I will go back to tell your uncle the news. If Reed can get this barge all the way up the street, we'll leave you at the door of the college. If not, we will escort you on foot."Faris craned her neck to see what she could of the closely built street. "Which one is the White Fleece?""On our right, just ahead.""Excellent." Faris rapped smartly on the ceiling of the carriage. Reed drew rein. Grateful to stop, the horses halted a few yards from the White Fleece."I will see the proctors when I'm ready," said Faris, beforeGavren could protest, or Reed enliven the coach horses. She opened the carriage door and sprang down into the street. "Just now I'm cold and hungry and I smell of horse. All three of us will put up at the White Fleece or I go not a yard farther. When I've had a hot bath, a decent meal, and a full night's sleep, I will consider the proctors."Gavren let out a breath of slow control. "Very well. There is no need to make a scene in the street about it."Faris smiled. "Great need. They must take me for a shrew, not a mouse. And see you don't forget to 'your grace' me.""You put no stock in such things," Reed said. He looked at Gavren. "Does she?""They have no use for titles here, so if I don't use mine, they'll think I'm meek.""God forbid," said Reed. As Faris looked down her long, red-tipped nose at him, he added hastily, "your grace." Since he dressed with the same severity as Gavren, he seemed far older than Faris, though the difference in their ages was barely five years.Gavren folded his arms and sighed. "Then command us, your grace. Must we keep these nags standing much longer in the street, your grace? If they freeze in their tracks, doubtless the hostler at Pontorson will demand damages. Your grace.""Stable them, by all means. If they freeze in their tracks, they'll make very evil-looking statuary and the rest of the street is pleasantly gothic. It would be a pity to spoil it with hired horses."
At the White Fleece, though titles were of no use, money secured them rooms and a large meal, served at one of the well-scrubbed tables in the common room.Faris sat between her companions, oblivious of the stares of the other diners in the room. Gloves pulled off and crumpled in her lap, the cuffs of her suit halfway to her elbows, she was too hungry to worry about her appearance. She took up her spoon with exaggerated care, but after the first taste of soup she discarded her affected manners and devoted herself to the meal with enthusiasm.When the bowls were cleared and the plates were empty, the innkeeper paused to ask them if they cared for a sweet or a savory to finish."Your grace?" asked Gavren, with heavy emphasis.Faris put her mug down and nodded graciously at the innkeeper. "Yes, please.""Which, your grace?" asked Reed, patiently."Both, please."The innkeeper went away without acknowledging Gavren's signal to replenish their glasses."Greedy, aren't you?" Reed said to Faris. He turned to Gavren. "Was she born this way, or was she raised to it?""She was raised to know better, though she doesn't always behave the way she knows she should. Perhaps she'll learn better here."Serenely, Faris began to butter a morsel of bread. "If the proctors accept me, this could be my last decent meal for years. If they don't, we'll have a long trip back to Galazon, and a longer explanation to make when we get there.""The proctors will accept you." Gavren's voice was heavy and cold. "It's all been arranged.""Of course it has. I don't know why I need to be involved at all. Everything's been arranged. Did you know, Reed, we have a spell at home in Galazon far more powerful than any I can possibly learn here? I used it to open the gates. Didn't you hear me? Just those three words--my uncle Brinker." She swirled the ale left in her mug and looked thoughtful. "I wonder how much the proctors of Greenlaw College cost him? I wonder how much bad behavior he was able to afford to pay them to overlook."Gavren banged his mug on the table. "You put that right out of your mind, young madam. You're going to Greenlaw College and you are not, most certainly not, going to get yourself expelled." He gestured emphatically for more ale. When the mugs had been refilled, he turned back to Faris. "Do you think that failing here will get your uncle out of the wardship of Galazon? Do you think antagonizing the proctors will accomplish anything? What are you planning? Do you think you can fail your admission? If you expect us to wet-nurse you back to Galazon so we can be torn into strips by your uncle's observations, I suggest you think again--your grace."The innkeeper returned with a flat dish of flan, creamy under a glaze of burnt sugar, and a reed basket lined with seaweed and heaped high with clams and snails and mussels, steamed in their gleaming shells. With the shellfish came a bowl of garlic butter and a handful of sharp implements of arcane design."I know you aren't overjoyed to be here," Gavren continued,"but it's more than I can do to figure out why not. There are those who would give a great deal to be in your place. Oh, you'll miss Galazon, I suppose, but it's for your own good. Behave yourself and you will do well here. At least you'll learn something besides when to plant oats and how to shoe a horse. And you and your uncle are spared the sight of each other for three years. That ought to be worth something to you."Faris selected a mussel and probed it savagely. "If I don't like it here, I can always go home--I'm sure Uncle will let me, once he's squeezed every penny he can out of the land.""If you don't like it," said Reed, "why don't you learn what you need to learn here so you can come back and do as you please, even if your uncle does wish you elsewhere?"Gavren put down his mug with such violence that ale splashed on the table. "Mind your tongue, Drayton Reed. Talk like that is folly--talk like that before the duchess is worse. Who pays us? Lord Brinker Nallaneen is head of the clan."Faris regarded Gavren with the same crooked smile she'd displayed at the gate. "Brinker Nallaneen is head of the family until I reach my majority," she said. "What then?"Gavren frowned at her. "That isn't for years yet.""Two years, twenty-three days," agreed Faris. "No, I'm wrong. Next year is a leap year. Make it twenty-four days. What then?""In two years, and however many days it is," Gavrenreplied, "you will have learned that there's more to running Galazon than the legal right to try it."Faris nodded. "Yes, but would you side with my uncle against me?"Disapproval and suspicion were evenly mixed in Gavren's expression. "First I'd have to see how three years at Greenlaw Collage sat with you. Now don't you go pestering Reed to answer the same stupid question.""I don't need to ask him. I already know what he'd say.""Oh, you do, do you? I'd like to hear it."Faris picked up a snail and set to work with the winkle pin. "You'd follow me against my uncle this minute, though it cost you your head.""Why, you vain little baggage. Side with a carrot-haired gawk like you against the wiliest man in Galazon? I'd be a fool to consider it."Faris kept her attention on the winkle pin. "Leave my hair out of it. If Gavren should follow me, it would be because I have the right. But when you follow me, it will be because you hate my uncle. Don't trouble to deny it. Those with the same ailment recognize the symptoms." She looked up and her calmness stilled his protest before it was uttered. "Don't rebel against him yet. I have a lot to learn before my name is as potent a spell as his. Three years worth, perhaps more." Faris discarded the empty snail shell and poked at the seaweed pensively. "It's a pity, though. I'll be homesick for Galazon the whole time."
The following afternoon, Faris Nallaneen arrived at the door of Greenlaw College. The night before and most ofthe morning, it had snowed. Faris had to step carefully to keep the worst of the dampness out of her worn shoes. Just inside the door, at the bottom of a flight of stone steps, lay a pool of water. Faris skipped across the snow melt in an unladylike fashion and deduced she was not the first visitor the proctors had for the day. Nor, probably, was she in the first one hundred.At the top of the stairs, Faris found a great hall, furnished only with the simplicity of its design and the fine gray stone of its construction, illuminated only by a large window at either end.Mindful of the tales of Greenlaw College, Faris did not try to find another door, nor to leave the room. Scholarship at Greenlaw concerned not only natural philosophy and social ingenuity, but the workings of magic. It didn't seem wise to meddle beyond the precincts the proctors opened to her willingly.An hour passed. It was not unusual for Uncle Brinker to keep her waiting for an hour. She passed the time by pacing. Twenty-five steps forth and twenty-five steps back, in and out of the pallid shafts of light slanting through the great windows. On the tiled floor her steps were silent. The only sound she made was the rustle of petticoats.Another hour passed. Faris kept pacing. Despite her activity, the room seemed as cold as if the floor had been carved of ice. When she had memorized the pattern of the tiled floor, she turned her attention to the carved beams of the ceiling. They were strap and garter work, picked out in gilt and polychrome, the details difficult to appreciate in the fading daylight.The late afternoon light was just on the point of fading all colors into gray when the outer door opened and a young woman of about her own age climbed the stairs to join her.Faris paused in her pacing to inspect the newcomer, who returned her scrutiny with interest."You aren't a proctor, are you?" asked the newcomer.Even in the failing light, Faris could see the young woman was barefoot and wore a shabby dress, soaked at the hem with melted snow. She was very thin. Her black hair was pulled back and tied at the nape of her neck. Her hands, though the knuckles were chapped red, were long and narrow. At her wrists blue veins showed through milk pale skin. Despite her apparent poverty, she bore herself with straight-backed grace, head high and gaze direct.Faris met the barefooted girl's fearless look and felt an instant, irrational rush of inferiority. "No, I'm Faris.""I'm Odile. Are you a student here?""No. Are you?""Not yet." Odile came toward her across the stone flags. She left bare footprints from the puddle but seemed untouched by cold. "I hope to be." She looked around at the great room, filled with blue twilight. "I was to come this summer but harvest delayed me. I couldn't leave until the crops were in. I hope the proctors understand that.""They should. Crops are important. Did you have to travel far?""All the way from Sarlat. I walked.""Oh." Faris felt renewed inferiority. She had come almost fifteen hundred miles, by riverboat, train, and carriage.There didn't seem to be much virtue in that, certainly no topic for conversation. Faris stood silent, angry at her own embarrassment.After all, what was there to be awkward about? This girl wanted to attend Greenlaw. Faris did not. The proctors could hardly honor an agreement with Brinker if she didn't give them a chance to do so. All she had to do was leave and let Odile have her place at college. If Gavren insisted, she could return the next day when Odile was safely accepted. There was not an unlimited supply of openings for applicants.Faris eyed the stairs. As she did, the outer door opened again. This time the newcomer had an attendant, who bore a lighted lantern. A word at the threshold and the door closed. Alone, the newcomer climbed the steps, lantern in hand.With a sweep of velvet the color of the sky outside the great windows, a golden-haired girl of their own age joined Faris and Odile. She wore slippers of the same deep velvet and ignored the puddle that had ruined them. She ignored Faris and Odile too, and walked straight across the great hall to an open door, where firelight shone against the failing of the day.Faris and Odile exchanged stares."Was that door there a moment ago?" asked Odile."It's probably been there all along," said Faris glumly.They followed the girl in the velvet gown.In the next room was warmth and golden light, age-faded tapestries, and a marquetry table with a chair behind it. Inthe chair sat a plump woman with mouse-gray hair and tired eyes."You're the proctor," said the girl in the velvet gown. Her voice was melodious but her intonation made the words an accusation. She put out the lantern and placed it on the floor in front of the table. "I'm Menary Paganell."Faris's eyes narrowed. Her mouth set in a hard line.The proctor put her chin in her hand and gestured at Faris to close the door. "Stand over there, all three of you. That's better. Winter's just here and I'm already sick to death of drafts."Unwillingly, Menary fell back to stand between Faris and Odile. Next to Menary's elegance, Odile's poverty was manifest, but she did not appear to notice it. She stood with the same proud carriage Menary displayed. Beside them, Faris knew herself to be graceless. More, she knew that next to Menary's determination and Odile's dedication, her presence was a sham.The proctor sighed. "You know there's only one opening left, don't you? Officially, admission closed at Martinmas.""I was afraid I was too late," said Menary, relieved. "We had ill wind for the voyage and a storm delayed us. We didn't put in to St. Malo until this morning."The proctor opened her eyes a little wider and Menary fell silent. "I said we had only one opening." Her tone was polite but her weary gaze rested on Menary without interest. "You can count, can't you?""My family arranged for me to attend Greenlaw when I was four years old," stated Menary.Faris recognized the intonation of the words "my family." It was similar to her own when it became necessary to mention her uncle Brinker. She regarded the proctor with pleased expectation. If there was only one opening, there was the certainty that someone's prestige would be insufficient, either her uncle's or the family Paganell. Either prospect promised entertainment."Then if I were to ask you to recommend someone for this single opening," said the proctor, "you would choose yourself.""Well, of course." Menary glanced at Odile, then at Faris, then back to the proctor. Her beautiful gray eyes, the exact shade of her velvet gown, narrowed. "Unless it's a trick question."The proctor stifled a sigh and turned her attention to Odile. "And you, Odile Passerieux?"Odile's eyes widened. "How did you know my name?""We've been expecting you for some time."Odile's eyes fell. She clasped her hands before her and twisted her fingers. "I know I'm late. I couldn't help it. My family needed me."The proctor inclined her head graciously. "One opening, Odile. How would you have us fill it?"Odile's eyes held the proctor's. "Choose me." Her voice was soft but ardent. "Oh, please. Choose me."Faris altered her stance so that the toe of her left shoe was visible beneath the hem of her dress. She studied it for a long moment, until the quality of silence in the room told her the proctor had finished staring at Odile and had started staring at her."Well, Faris Nallaneen?" The proctor sounded very tired. "What have you to say?""Good afternoon. I didn't get your name."The proctor sniffed. "We have one opening. How would you have us fill it?"Faris took a deep breath. "Choose Menary Paganell. Let Odile stay on and scrub floors or something until Menary loses interest and goes home to marry someone better dressed than she is. Then let Odile take the vacancy." She let out what was left of her breath and looked at the toe of her shoe again."And what will you do, Faris?""I will go home." Faris was still inspecting the toe of her scuffed shoe. "And plant oats.""Wild oats?"Something in the proctor's tone brought Faris's head up swiftly. "All kinds. The one thing I could do here, I can do just as well at home in Galazon--get older."The proctor laughed at Faris."I won't stay here, no matter what he's paid you to accept me.""It seems he ought to have paid you." The proctor sobered slightly."He's tried," spat Faris.The proctor made no effort to conceal her amusement. "Menary shall have the opening, what do you say to that?"Faris's eyes widened as her thoughts raced. If Gavren could be persuaded to believe in her failure without consulting the proctors himself, she could leave in the morning. She could be home before the turn of the year. She lookedfrom the proctor to Menary, who was triumphant, then to Odile, whose knotted fingers were the only sign of her distress."Will you take my advice about Odile?" she asked the proctor. "Even scrubbing floors is better than walking home barefoot in the winter. If you let her go, they'll only keep her home for lambing season, or some other chore. Let her have the next vacancy.""What do you say to that advice, Odile?" asked the proctor.Odile unclasped her hands and took a step closer to the marquetry table. "A fine idea. But what matters is what you say. Is Faris accepted?"The proctor sniffed again. "Despite her uncle's best efforts, she is.""Wait--" Faris looked from Odile to the proctor and back. "I'm accepted? What about you?""What about me?" Menary gave Faris a look of pure dislike."Oh, fear not," said the proctor. "You're both accepted. Along with the students who came on time. Allow me to introduce you again to Odile Passerieux. She is in her third year here.""I'm glad that's settled," said Menary.Faris fixed Odile with a cold stare and spaced her words deliberately. "Oh, please. Choose me.""Contemptible, isn't it?" Odile replied affably. "I did walk here though, two years ago.""Did they make you scrub floors?""They made me wear shoes." She pulled the ribbon fromher hair, shook her head and let her black hair go free around her shoulders. "I humored them. You can humor them too.""Do they make you relive your dramatic past for every applicant?"Odile shook her head. "I volunteered. Your uncle's efforts to assure your admission made you sound fairly odious. And then your arrival confirmed the impression--your grace.""I thought that might rankle.""It made you seem like an ass."Menary looked bored.Faris said darkly, "My uncle is going to be very pleased about this.""He should be," said the proctor. "He's rid himself of a minor nuisance for three years.""If he gets a major nuisance back, will he still be pleased?" Odile asked."I wonder." Faris turned to the proctor. "I'd like to send word to my traveling companions. I don't have much baggage but I need to collect it from them before they return to Galazon.""Your bodyguards will be notified," said the proctor. "They can communicate the news to your uncle for us. Perhaps they can also convey your uncle's letter of credit safely back to Galazon.""Oh, the bribe--" Faris shook her head. "Don't do that."The proctor's brows lifted. "Aren't they trustworthy?""Gavren and Reed are entirely trustworthy. My uncle isn't. You'd better keep the money.""Hardly," exclaimed the proctor. "Greenlaw College would be perceived as having taken a bribe."Faris smiled bitterly. "The damage is done. You've accepted me. No one will think for an instant that I got in on merit alone. This way, when my uncle is late paying school fees, Greenlaw needn't be inconvenienced.""We could hold it in escrow, I suppose." The proctor looked amused. "Merely a formality, of course.""Of course." It was a small thing, an inconvenience Brinker might not even notice, but it cheered Faris."Your escort will be notified and your baggage brought here at once. Menary, we have made arrangements for you, as well. In the meantime, Odile, will you show them both to their quarters?""Certainly. If we hurry, we will make it to the dining hall in time for dinner. It's the only meal of the day worth eating."
By the time Odile gave them a cursory tour of the college and showed them their places in the dormitory, Faris's single trunk had been delivered, along with a message that Gavren and Reed were on their way back to Galazon. Menary left them at the earliest opportunity, ostensibly to supervise the arrival of her luggage.Her head spinning with long corridors and dimly lit stairs and the infinite jumble of gray stone buildings stacked nearly to the sky, Faris set off with Odile in search of the dining hall and dinner."Was all that playacting the exception or the rule? Dothe proctors test everyone who applies for admission that way? Or am I a special case?"Odile did not slacken her stride. "Why should you think you're special? It isn't usual to interview two applicants at a time, I admit. But you were both late and I suppose the proctors felt you and Menary were similar cases.""What do you mean, similar?""You're from the same part of the world. You're from the same sort of background. Not like me. I'm as plain as a potato. At my interview, the proctor made me promise faithfully to keep my shoes on and to stay no matter how desperately homesick I feel. And that was that. I was accepted.""Are you homesick?"Odile smiled. "Not really. It's too flat here and they have the wrong kind of trees and not enough of them. But I'm not desperate."Faris sighed.Odile regarded her closely. "You aren't either, you know. There's no excuse for being homesick yet. You have far too much to do these first few weeks. After the novelty wears off, you might be on your guard. But for now, don't think about trees. Think about Greenlaw."Copyright © 1994 by Caroline Stevermer Reader's Guide copyright © 2005 by Tor Books