My concerns about my position being 'too idyllic' dissipated to more appropriate proportions once I had been introduced to the students who would be under my tutelage. There were nine of them, all eleven-year-old girls, and most of them proved to be perfect darlings.
Clara and Bella, sisters only eleven months apart in age, were both nothing short of angelic, in my opinion. Their soft golden hair and bright blue eyes only added to that impression. Rinnah, a brunette with a face and figure that promised to make her a great beauty someday, possessed a temperament of equal beauty and vivacity. Ilnin, a slim child with pale skin, black hair, and gray eyes, was somewhat shy and distant in her personality, but sweet and obliging all the same. Aliness, a green-eyed girl with auburn hair, apparently held herself as leader-by-right of the others, but was nonetheless submissive to my authority as teacher. Jayna, Brenlyn, and Silvia were cousins, Jayna and Silvia boarding with Brenlyn's family while attending school. The three tended to argue among themselves, but caused no trouble once it occured to me to seat them at desks away from each other.
Miss Devorah Erren, on the other hand, proved to be one of those charming persons who would have, I was sure, submitted a formal complaint about the condition of the planet she was born onto, had their been an office to which such a complaint could be submitted.
On the whole, my class provided me with a variety of character traits and challenges, all of which I would have to learn to deal with in order to accomplish the goals set for me by the school's board of directors. It was a challenge I relished.
I spent the first day getting to know my students and letting them get to know me. I found them to be lively (with one exception in Devorah), eager to learn (with the same exception), and generally delightful (etcetera).
By the time Uncle Oruc came to retrieve me I was thoroughly tired, but confident that I could indeed accomplish something with my students. I could meet the board's goals, and I would make my parents proud.
The next day was the last day of the school week, so after only two days with my class I was free for the weekend. It seemed rather ridiculous to me, to start school in the middle of the week. Such things were never done in Castlebrook, and I said so to Aunt Monria. She explained to me that in large cities such as Havenwing, the schools started in the middle of the week so that the first few days could be spent familiarizing the students with their classes, their teachers, and each other. Then the first full week could be started right off with no time lost. In my opinion the two days before classes 'officially' began served only as a false start, bound to confuse everybody. But no one had asked my opinion, so I set out to enjoy my weekend, regardless.
On my first day off I spent the morning writing letters to my parents and siblings, letting them know that I was well and enjoying myself. With that done, I requested permission to borrow a horse from Uncle Oruc's stables and take it out riding in the fields outside the city. I was used to riding nearly every day in Castlebrook, and I did not wish to get out of practice.
The horse procured, and a lunch and a novel tucked into a leather bag on my back, I followed a wide street out of the city and into the farm country. The autumn sun was warm and bright, but the breeze carried a chill edge, a magical hint at the season of of frost and shimmer that was coming. The horse I rode seemed as enthralled with the day's beauty as I was.
Before I realized it I was several miles outside of the city, riding over gently rolling fields of grain stubble. I could see a ridge just up ahead of me. Just to that ridge, I thought, and then back towards town. My horse took the hill eagerly, and with only a few long strides we were at the top.
My heart went strangely still as I looked down the slope in front of me. Where the crest of the ridge ended, the ground dropped steeply away, in many places washed out by rains, and then levelled into a grassy open area... that ran only a hundred paces or so to the edge of the woods.
A half-frightened feeling fluttered in my stomach as I stared at the ranks of trees moving and tossing restlessly--ominously--in the wind, much like waves on a dark sea. They almost seemed... alive. I tugged back on the horse's reins, but the trees--or something in the trees--had caught his attention and he stood rooted to the spot, unwilling to turn away from whatever he saw. I pulled back harder, silently berating myself for being so foolish as to come this far out alone. I hadn't intended to, I just hadn't been paying attention. But that didn't make a difference now. I was here, and I had to get away.
I managed to finally turn my horse's head and we headed south along the ridgeline. I kept my eyes on the trees as we went, trying to stay alert for any danger that might be approaching.
The ridge sloped downwards as my horse followed it south. The ground we were on now was nearly level with the ground at the edge of the forest. Suddenly I remembered something that I had wondered in the carriage the night I first came to Havenwing: what would the wind in the trees sound like? That thought had first been harbored in a moment of rash curiosity, but now--in an equally rash moment--I actually had the chance to find out.
I stopped my horse, hardly able to belive that I was doing such a thing, closed my eyes, and listened.
The sound was not at all like the wind in the grain fields, as I had imagined it would be. It was a deeper, fuller sound; more alive and moving, as though the forest itself had a pulse and breath. I opened my eyes and saw thick branches bending and swaying under the influence of the wind. They looked like they would be so rigid, and it struck me as a wonder that they didn't break. But they didn't. They moved and rocked in repeated motions, gracefully like some giant creatures dancing to slow, ancient music only they could hear.
And somehow... strangely... it was beautiful.
I jumped and snapped out of my reverie. My sudden herk startled my horse, who stamped and pulled at his bit, wanting to return to his stall and the meal he knew would be waiting there for him.
Lythia, you should listen to the horse, I told myself sarcastically. He has more sense than you.
I glanced back at the woods one more time, the fanciful nonsense about ancient music and a forest with a pulse and breath sufficiently eradicated from my mind. There was no graceful rhythm of dance about the wind in the branches, that was only my imagination. I had wanted to know what the sound was like, and now I knew: it was a rustling, papery sound, not so very different than the sound of the breeze in grain fields or garden shrubs.
That was that, and I was riding back to the city. Perhaps there I could keep my wits close enough at hand to keep myself out of trouble.