Class With Collins (TSWL Ch.15)

Tomas awoke the next morning to Kari finishing her stretches, a grey morning filtering through the window.  Yawning, he swung his legs off the bed to sit up.  From there, he could see a piece of paper sitting on the desk, unfolded.

“We got a note?”

“Good morning!  Yeah, Alo’s gonna meet with us to figure out who to send back Home,” Kari said without turning or shifting her pose.

“Oh, okay.  Any word from Collins?”

She shook her head.

Yawning, Tomas hopped off the bed and wandered over to the desk, picking up the note.  Written in rough but legible hand, it said precisely what Kari had told him.  Sometimes, Kari streamlined messages she relayed, but apparently Alo thought as concisely as she did.

Kari was still facing away from him, so he quickly changed out of his bedclothes.  He was changed just before she finished her final movements, so as she turned, he gestured to the door, a question in his eyes.

She nodded, smiling faintly, as she pulled a longsleeve shirt over her bare shoulders and tight-fitting undershirt.  Tomas opened the door, then locked it behind them, and they were off to breakfast.

Before they’d even fully entered the cafeteria, they could make out Collins’ jovial laughter carrying through the expansive stone room, even above the breakfast-time drone of chatter.  At the balcony, they could see that he sat at a table pushed against another, and every seat around the larger area was occupied.  Some were much older than Kari and Tomas, some weren’t; some had cloaks like Collins’, others didn’t; some had skin more like Alo’s, some like Collins, many were in between.  He had sat himself so that he’d have a clear view of the line for food, so Tomas knew it was inevitable that he’d see them as they took up their trays.  Tomas saw his eyes light up, though he waited for the young woman talking to the group to finish before prompting another at the table to respond to her, then making an excuse and getting up.

He didn’t get into line with them, rather he stood just outside the rope partition and followed their progress.  “A good morning to you both!  How was the rest of your night?”

[Tomas often writes about this type of moment being when he’d realize how much he relied on his tea to wake him in the morning.  At this question, he realized he hadn’t noticed how his night had been, and couldn’t think of a way to tell Collins this.  Luckily, he was saved from his muddled contemplation.]

“Pretty good, actually,” Kari said.

“Ah, excellent.”  Collins said, turning to her.  “I’m seeing to my last class for the foreseeable future right this moment.  I understand you’ve heard from Alo?”

Tomas nodded.  “He’s sending people North of the Mountains?”

“We decided it would be the quickest way to beginning to help your people.  Alo will give you the specifics, but suffice for now to say that we already have a team outlined; we simply need to hammer out specifics.  In any event, I need to get back to my class.  You’ll come join us once you have your food?”

Tomas looked at Kari, who shrugged.  “Sure,” he said.

“Wonderful,” Collins said with a smile before hurrying back to the large table.

“All I’m saying is that—whether I play my part or not—They will see Their plan to fruition.”  A light-haired, fair-skinned young man was saying as they sat down.  He bore a verdant green cloak, though it was draped over the back of his chair.

“I don’t dispute that, but if I eat bad mushrooms for breakfast, I will spend that day in bed—even if I have a crucial part to play in Walinzi’s armies that day.”  A young, dark-skinned woman said.  Her hair hung in a cloud of curls about her head.

“Do you dispute His victory?”

She shrugged elaborately.  “The battle isn’t fought.  Are we not taught to accept and trust either outcome?”

“We are,” Collins interjected, “but here you dodge the question, Bria.  Does your ill-fated fungal breakfast lose Trium the battle?  Or if you had fought, would you have won?”

She hesitated. 

Her opponent smirked.  “See?”

“Now, Anton,” Collins said.  “Your actions matter more than you’ve represented here.  Choices do have consequences, and the world does work as Trium designed it to.  Let’s all think about this—” suddenly, he laughed, almost guiltily.  “I almost said for next time.  If you want to bring this up with my replacement, then do, by all means.  I cannot promise, however that they won’t decide to proctor debates on their own topics.  We all do this our own way, so to speak.”

Nobody at the table was still eating, so people began to quickly disperse.  Collins said goodbye to almost everyone individually as they dispersed.

“What’s the answer?” Tomas asked once the table was empty save for them.

“There are a great many,” Collins said absently, turning to him.  “Which do you seek?”

“The battle,” Tomas prompted.  “And the mushrooms.

“Ah, Bria’s ill-fated breakfast.  There’s no way to know.  Since the Maktaba was formed, we’ve been arguing about this exact thing.  Is our will ours?  We can’t decide.

“But I’ll tell you the answer, as I understand.  If Bria should have known better than to eat the bad mushrooms and she did anyway, win or lose, she had a job to do.  And if she didn’t do that job, she has explaining to do.”

“To you?”

Collins laughed at that.  “Heavens, no!  I’d be in damage control mode, keeping morale up and helping to plan our next move.  No, in this case she answers directly to Trium.”

“They talk to her?”  This time, it was Kari who spoke up.

Collins smiled fondly.  “They speak to us all.  Learning to listen is a lifelong pursuit.  Come, I’ll see you to Alo’s office.”

“First, I’ll need to know what other things you already farm up there.”  They were back in Alo’s office from the previous day, the dark-skinned man running through a checklist he’d written in a well-worn notebook.

Kari and Tomas exchanged a worried glance.

Alo understood before either could speak.  “Yes, I was afraid of that.  Livestock?”

“Not everybody, but yes.  And our hunters tend to find plenty of success in the Mountains.”

“Ah, excellent; I was wondering where your leather and such came from.”

“There’s still not exactly a ton to go around,” Tomas said.

Kari rolled her eyes.

Alo either didn’t notice or care to inquire; he simply kept running down his list.  “You have the Lake and the river for drinking water, so we don’t need to worry about that, particularly with the climate disturbed.”

Tomas fidgeted uncomfortably in his chair.  Kari took a deep, quiet breath.

Alo looked up from his list.  “Is there much fishing up there?”

Tomas swallowed past the lump in his throat and nodded.  “Brin usually fishes more than us, but they’ve been helping us lately.”

“Oh, good!  We’ll send up some infrastructure for that too.  All in all, this isn’t going to take as much of our resources as I feared it would.  I need to clear the expenses with the Mabwana first, of course, but I don’t think you need to worry.  I know your people can hold off the monkeys until the dogs come home.”

Kari and Tomas shared a look.  “Um, thank you?” he said.

“Oh, of course.  You don’t have monkeys up here, do you?  I promise, that’s much catchier in my people’s language.  I mean simply to say that they can care for themselves until our help arrives.”  Here, he closed his notebook and arranged some of the many loose papers atop the desk in a neat stack with his notebook.  “Speaking of which, would you like to meet one of the people I’m sending up?”

Alo quietly led Kari and Tomas through the stacks, in a direction they hadn’t yet gone.  Tomas judged it to be deeper into the Maktaba, though in such a confusing room [and building, honestly,] it was hard to tell.  They wove through shelves upon shelves of stored information, recorded in a myriad of forms.  [The books bound in manners to which Tomas was accustomed captivated his imagination most, but he could see it was the vials and flasks and little glass bottles that held Kari’s gaze the longest.]  He smiled to himself as she absently rubbed her hands together.

“So how much of this have you read?”  Tomas asked Alo.

“Oh, very little of it.  Much of it is in languages from this region, and I simply haven’t had time to learn any of them.  There are copies of things I’ve studied here, though.  I actually brought several copies of Feeding a People by Bogan Ndoza  when I was originally sent up here.  The title…also sounds better in my language.  What we call “Iyekureta” gets translated to merely ‘feed,’ where in Zanvyan it means things more like “we provide” or “we care for,” rather than simply providing food.”  He shook his head.  “Languages build almost as many walls as humans, sometimes.”

Alo led them down a straight, narrow flight of stairs.  “How many languages have you learned?” Tomas asked, slightly wide-eyed.

Catching up to walk next to him, Tomas saw the slightest hint of a smile on Alo’s preoccupied face.  “I only speak the two: this one and Zanvyan.  Though, I’ve learned and forgotten four or five distinct local languages I learned to do some translation work along the way.”

[This on its own made the world far, far bigger than Tomas had ever considered it to be.  Daunted, he let himself trail behind Alo to mull on just how much world there was out there.]  The stacks ended eventually, and Alo led them down a seemingly very narrow hallway which terminated in a doorway.

A courtyard lay beyond it, set up for all manner of martial training.  A row of archery targets were being fired upon off to the right, and in the open space diagonally across from them, the larger area, a small crowd was gathered.  As they approached, Tomas could see a large pair of dark-skinned arms stretched up toward the exposed sky.  Alo got them to the front of the group with little difficulty, and from there the rest of the man came into view. 

He wore no insulated clothing, despite the Winter air—indeed even his pants were cut off at the knees.  He clearly stood at least as tall as Cal, [the blacksmith from back Home,] though he was noticeably younger, and his skin was darker even than Alo’s.  Every aspect of his body seemed both large and firm to Tomas, who was amazed mostly by his contrast to his apparent opponent. 

She was older than either Kari or Tomas’ parents, and stood shorter even than Tomas.  She was pale for a Villesavian, as though much of her time was spent in darkness, and despite her age, her body seemed to be [wound tightly as a new watch.]  She wore clothing that did not hang off her body, though it did come to her wrists and ankles, and seemed to provide some warmth, and her short dark hair hung loose.  As her hair swung ever so slightly, he saw it had speckles of grey.  The movement reminded Tomas of the wind in the Wheat, betraying the snow shimmering beneath.

“Are they going to fight?” Kari asked Alo, who nodded.

“Striking out into the wilderness or more…uncivilized lands is a part of our operation, so we need people who can handle themselves in many situations.”

Apparently finished preparing, the big man and small woman walked to the center of the loose circle and shook hands.  They were smiling, like friends meeting on the street.  Then, they turned their backs on each other, took three big steps, then turned and bowed.

When they straightened up, their smiles were gone.  The man took a huge step forward; the woman held her ground.  Her knees were bent, eyes alert.  She was ready to move but stayed put, as the man took another, more shuffling step toward her.  She made eye contact with him and raised her eyebrows, a mirthful question on her face.

The man feinted to his right then lunged to his left, but the woman had already moved to duck under the original motion, planting a solid punch on the man’s lower left side, just above his hip.  Already off-balance, his right shoulder hit the dusty ground, but he managed to turn the motion into a roll.  He was back on his feet before Tomas had registered the punch, rubbing his side and circling around the woman.

“Yow, that was a good one!” he said, smiling wide, though he didn’t blink.

Her eyebrows flashed, but she said nothing.  Then she made the next move, darting past the big man.  His arm opposite her swung out, and she leapt onto his back.  Before he could grab her, she had her arms locked around his neck.  He shook his shoulders hard, and her legs swung around, but she didn’t go anywhere.  The man dropped to his knees and tapped her arm twice with his palm, then fell still.

After a moment, the small woman released him, settling back onto the ground.  She patted him on the back, smiling warmly.  “A true enemy almost certainly would’ve feinted there.  It was clever for you to plan for it.  Such is the power of deception, I suppose.  One day, I’m sure you’ll best me, Lio.”

He stood up.  “I thought today would be that day, but you’re just too quick for me,” he said, smiling.

They continued to talk, but the dispersing crowd began to drown them out.  As the circle dissolved, Alo walked directly into the empty space.

“What’d you think of that?” Tomas asked Kari as they followed Alo.

She just shrugged.

“…glad to see you’re sharp as ever, Lio.  Think you’re up for a bit of a trip?  I know of some people who could use your and Kiva’s help,” Alo was saying.

Lio was actually toweling sweat off himself.  “She’s been itching to hit the road again, so I’d say we’ll be game.  Where’re we headed?”

“North,” Alo said, his voice thick with implication.

Lio’s eyes widened just a bit.  “Brin…? I didn’t think…”

Here Alo grabbed Tomas by the wrist, towing him gently toward Lio.  The big man gently shook his hand.  “Meet Tomas, and Kari behind him.  They hail from North of the Mountains.  Their Home…needs attention, we’ll say.  Interested?”

“Very,” Lio said, tossing his towel into a basket.

“Excellent,” Alo said, “why don’t you gather Kiva and meet me in office 2-E after lunch?  The three of us can get you up to speed.”

“Sounds good to me,” Lio said.

Next Chapter →

Thank you for reading; I hope you enjoyed it!  If you did, I humbly ask you to consider tipping me or checking out my social media.  Thank you again, and I hope you enjoy the next one!


One thought on “Class With Collins (TSWL Ch.15)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s