I awoke an hour earlier than necessary the next morning, and my nerves prevented me going back to sleep even for a few minutes, so I rose and began getting myself ready. The wardrobe was my first order of business. I had thought out a dozen possible outfits while lying awake the night before, but still had not managed to decide on one that merited the occasion.
My murrey silk with black lace was by far my finest dress, but far too fine for merely meeting the school directors and my new students. My dark green muslin with the blue ribbon trim was lovely, but too... too countrified. I rifled through my wardrobe's contents for a third time, finally deciding on a lovely dress of royal blue, with a high collar and elbow-length sleeves. It was elegant and distinguished, grown-up and professional. It would do nicely.
The maid came in to stir up the fire, in time to help me fasten the back of my dress. I then pulled my hair up into a tight knot at the back of my head, the way I had always seen teachers do it. I brushed just a hint of color on my eyelids; at seventeen, I was young for a teacher anyway, but most people who surmised my age based on looks alone guessed me to be even younger. The eye shadow might help me look older, I reasoned.
The matter of jewelry selection proved to be another time-consuming affair. It was quite unthinkable to wear no jewelry at all, but an innapropriate choice could sent an entirely wrong impression. I eventually chose teardrop pearl earrings and my grandmother's cameo necklace.
I was just giving myself a looking-over in the mirror when a soft knock sounded on my door and Aunt Monria stepped in.
"Oh, Lythia," she said, smiling, "you look positively elegant! Your parents would be proud if they could see you now."
I smiled back, somewhat shyly. "I want to make them proud of me. I want to be a good teacher."
Aunt Monria walked closer and put her hand on my cheek. "Then be a good one," she said. Then she paused, the smile gone from her face as she looked me over again. "But... don't forget that although you are a teacher--a Havenwing teacher, no less--you are still a girl, and you are still Lythia Marcoval." She pulled a strand of my hair loose from the knot on the back of my head, letting it fall into a soft curl against my neck. Then she did the same thing along the sides of my face. It apparently satisfied her, because she smiled. "Don't lose sight of that," she said.
I wasn't sure I understood everything she meant, but I smiled anyway. "I miss my mother," I said, "but I'm so very glad to have you here!"
Aunt Monria hugged me. "And I am glad to have you here, my dear. I cannot tell you the happiness it gives me."
I hugged back, wishing it would somehow rid me of my nervousness.
"Well, come downstairs now and eat some breakfast," Aunt Monria said, taking my hand. "We need not delay the lovely new Havenwing teacher!"
As the carriage stopped in front of the school, the building suddenly looked far more intimidating than it had from down the street. The nervous tension in my stomach worsened as Uncle Oruc jumped down and lifted me down from my seat next to him. I craned my neck up at the towering walls of beige stone, the high arched windows, and the massive clock mounted in the center. What had I gotten myself into? This couldn't be possible--I was to be a teacher here?
I jumped, realizing from the tone of Uncle Oruc's voice that it was probably not the first time he had called my name.
He smiled, bending forward so that his eyes were level with mine. "There's no need to be afraid," he said. "You've impressed them already with your exams; that's why they offered you the position. There's no reason at all they won't be impressed when they meet you in person."
He was right, I knew... though it made me feel oddly vain to acknowledge it.
He straightened and offered me his arm. "Shall we, MIss Marcoval?"
I had to admit, at least to myself, that I felt quite proud walking up the wide stone steps of the school, escorted by my tall, handsome uncle--a magistrate of Havenwing--to be introduced to my new position as a teacher at one of Evenlear's finest schools. And at only seventeen years old, too. What girl in my place could help being proud?
Inside, a valet took my capelet and gloves, and my uncle conducted me down the corridor to a set of double doors. Another valet stood outside the doors; he nodded to us and opened the door into a large, richly furnished office. A gray-haired man sat at the desk, and he stood when we entered.
"Lythia, this is Dr. Aldron Wyhs, president of the school," Uncle Oruc said. "Dr. Wyhs, may I present my niece, Lythia Marcoval?"
Dr. Wyhs bowed over his desk, and I curtsied in return. "Miss Marcoval, we are delighted to have--so promising a young lady as one of our teachers," he said. His smile was warm and gentlemanly, and did a great deal to ease my anxiety. "And now, as I'm sure your uncle has other demands on his time, I'll ust--show you around myself." He glanced at Uncle Oruc, who nodded.
"I'll come for you this evening, Lythia," he said, bowing to both me and Dr. Wyhs. "I'll show myself out."
My nervousness came back a little as he left, but Dr. Wyhs's charming manner helped to keep it at bay. He showed me around the school--at least, all the places I would ever need to go, introducing me to any teachers, professors, and other staff we happened to meet along the way. I was introduced to the principal, a Mr. Edlan Ross, and then shown to the classroom that was to be mine.
Unlike the other enormous classrooms I had seen on my brief tour, mine was comfortably small, though certainly roomy enough for the nine students I was to have. Dark wood paneling covered the bottom half of the walls, and a glossy ivory paint covered the upper half. I would have preferred a more colorful wallpaper, but the paint was more classroom appropriate, I supposed. The desks were arranged in a half-circle across the room rather than in rigid rows, and they all faced a larger desk: my desk. Behind my desk, on the far side of the room, stood a chest-high case of shelves housing the few books I would need, a small framed map, and various school supplies for my students. At the end of the room nearest me stood a table, which I would use for teaching etiquette, tea serving, and so forth.
It was perfect.
I stood gazing in awe, wondering if it was really possible that this--this!--was to be my classroom, where I was to preside as teacher. It seemed far too idyllic to stand any chance of being true.
"We were a bit concerned..." Dr. Wyhs crossed the room to my desk. "... that the chair provided for you would be an incorrect size. Your uncle..." He circled to the back of the desk. "... was unsure of your height. Perhaps--you would tell me if it is suitable?"
Trying to keep from grinning like a ninny, I joined Dr. Wyhs at my desk and allowed him to pull the chair out for me. It was beautiful, leather upholstered, and must have cost a small fortune. But then, if any school could afford such luxuries, Havenwing could.
I sat down and felt the firm cushion relax comfortably under my weight. The chair's proportions were perfectly matched to mine, as if it had been tailored to me.
Dr. Wyhs cleared his throat. "Will it do, Miss Marcoval?"
I smiled up at him. "Yes, Dr. Wyhs, I believe it will be just perfect. Thank you."
"Excellent. I hope you will find the other aspects of your position to be--equally satisfactory."
"Thank you, Dr. Wyhs," I said. "I'm sure I will."