Interlude 1: Questions
“So, then Speaker Atique got you into the Church?” Gem asked me. The House was relatively fine: embroidered carpets, engraved furniture, and plenty of wall ornaments. Gem and I were on the first floor in a living room. I sat in a velvet armchair in front of a fire place where a single log burned with bright white fire. It would do so for days.
“Yes.” I looked over at Gem who sat on a matching red velvet couch also facing the fire. “You were there for most of my Church years – “
“I want to hear about them from you, Dmitry”
“I don’t believe we’ll have much time here.”
“We’ll create the time,” Gem said firmly, “I want to understand the man I fell in love with.”
Tell her everything, Marcela’s voiced whispered. I can feel Ruah in her.
“Fine, I’ll start with when I arrived, for the testing.”
Chapter 4: Testing
The great building towered above us as two Glren and I passed through the main doors of the antechamber at the center of the church’s three wings. The doors were open to the western wing, which was the main chamber of the church. Through the doors I saw long rows of benches leading up to a raised dias. I itched to go inside to see the massive stain glass windows that decorated the ceiling and walls of the room. However, that was not our destination.
Hari was waiting for us just ahead. He was one of several Speakers. I was one of a dozen boys and girls who waited in the room. I was also probably the youngest. They were huddled in groups as if they had all met before. Many of their clothes made mine, of which I was so proud of, look meager. I guessed that most of them were the children of Lords. Second or third sons and daughters that weren’t likely to inherit or contribute much in marriage.
One boy approached me and held out his hand, “Kevin Larkin, my first time to the city. You look just about as lost as I feel.” He had a broad smile.
I shook his hand, “Demetrius Skagora, I’m from the city, just not where they’re from,” I said gesturing to everyone else.
Kevin laughed. “Aye, so you don’t live in High Town?”
“Aye, never even been up there, it’s on a hill right?” I said with a sarcastic smile.
We both laughed. That’s when I heard Hari’s voice. “Dmitry, you’ll come with me.”
“Looks like you have friends though,” Kevin said still smiling. “Good luck.”
“Thank you, you too,” I said heading after Hari.
Hari was almost through the door into the northeastern wing. I followed him. “Good to see you listened to me for once. You look cleaner than I thought was possible,” Hari said as I fell into step behind him.
I smiled. My nerves began to catch up to me as I realized I was getting closer to my testing. “Am I taking the test now?”
“You get to skip the interview since you already have someone to vouch for you, so it’s straight to the chair for examination.”
“The others will be interviewed by the Speakers individually. If one is willing to stand for them, then they can be tested, but don’t think too hard on it. It doesn’t matter for you.”
“Alright.” I said, as Hari led me up several flights of stairs and down a hallway. Hari opened a door and we came into a large room with a half circle bench and a desk with a chair positioned in the middle of it. Great pane glass windows behind the bench filled the room with light. Five Speakers sat at the bench. There was one empty seat. Hari, without saying a word to me, walked up towards bench and took the empty seat.
“Demetrius Skagora,” The old man at the center of the bench spoke. “Please take a seat.” The old man had a head of messy silver hair and wore a short beard. His eyes were a hard brown and his face was still handsome despite his age. He appeared to be intently critiquing me, his brows furrowed, and his eyes never left me. “Parentage unknown, Sponsor, Speaker of the Ruahden chair and Blood Hunter, Hari Atique. Are we ready?” he said looking over his peers. They all nodded their heads. “Speaker Samuel Tenun, you may go first.”
“The current High Speaker’s name is?” Speaker Samuel Tenun asked with a smile. He was a lanky blond-haired man of early middle years. The others gave him dirty looks.
“High Speaker Mikkel Andrews,” I answered easily. He seemed disappointed.
“Speaker Atique, your turn,” The old speaker said.
“The year Ruahden was founded under its current name?” Hari said with a smile. He earned looks of shock from around the bench.
“Seventy After Kings,” I answered with only a second’s pause. I earned surprised looks from around the bench. Hari seemed satisfied.
“I am Speaker Arlos Goldenend. I’m the head of the Chair in Ruahden. Speak to me a sentence in the Quatane.”
I obliged him. I thought nothing of it but again earned me impressed looks from the Speakers of the Chair. Speaker Goldenend seemed satisfied.
“Speaker Larissa Saving, your turn,” Speaker Goldenend said.
The brown-haired middle-aged women leaned forward on the bench with a mischievous smile. In her younger years she’d probably been pretty. “The Speaker who first asked you a question, what is his name?”
That caught me off guard, I thought for a second and said. “Speaker Samuel Tenun.” The women next to Speaker Saving was shaking her head.
Speaker Goldenend continued, “Speaker Christina Artell, your question.”
Christina Artell was a middle-aged woman with honey blond hair that was absent of grey, to have called her merely pretty would have been an insult. “Why is a homeless orphan from Coastown in front of us right now, answering questions in order to be trained as a Speaker?”
The question was more surprising than the previous one. I answered it as honestly as I dared, “Well Har… Speaker Hari found me, and began to teach me. I want to find a home with the Church. I’m here because Speaker Hari Atique believes I’m smart enough and talented enough to be given a chance to become a Speaker,” Then more firmly, “A chance I plan to make good on.”
Speaker Christina Artell nodded and leaned back on her chair. Speaker Goldenend spoke. “Well then, now that all that has been dealt with – Speaker Tenun from the top.”
This would continue for the better part of an hour, until Speaker Goldenend seemed content. I wasn’t entirely satisfied with my performance, I hadn’t gotten everything right. Yet, I did perform exceptionally, as I would later learn. “Well done, Demetrius,” Speaker Goldenend said at the end of the session. “You may take your leave, you will be escorted by the Glren outside to take you to the Havens where you’ll be fed and roomed. We have many of these to go through today. The results will be given tomorrow.”
“Thank you.” I was feeling rather confident that I’d done well enough to get in.
After the test I headed down the white stone path towards the Havens. The sky was getting cloudier and the wind colder. I arrived holding my cloak tightly around myself. A young female speaker was waiting at the entry to the main courtyard in the center of the mess of buildings that were the Havens. She smiled brightly as I arrived.
“You’re the first one done today!” She was rather enthusiastic.
I just smiled back.
“If you follow me, I can show to where you’ll be staying tonight!”
I nodded, “Alright.” Her enthusiasm was almost comical.
She led me down the road that went into the northern part of the Havens for about two hundred yards, past two rather large three-story buildings that rose on either side of us. She turned right and walked up to a smaller two-story building which was still impressive. She held the door open for me as I caught up to her.
I entered the building. Fine polished wooden walls and floors were lined ny richly embroidered carpets. The place was well lit from windows and small exceptionally bright candles that hung from chandeliers. The common room was empty except for one stout older man who was polishing tables. We didn’t stay long in the common room. She led me up a flight of stairs on the opposite side of the building. When we reached the top we entered a wide hallway that went all the way to the far side of the structure. Another hallway crossed through it at about the center of the second floor.
“There are rooms down these hallways,” She explained. “The keys are in the doors, you get first pick! I’m sorry but I have to wait for the next person to finish.”
“Thank you,” I said as she turned to leave.
With the Speaker gone, I ventured down the hallways. On a whim I took a right into the other hallway and walked down it, opening and closing doors as I went. Two had single bunk beds. Another was bigger but had two bunk beds. When I reached the end, I opened the door on my left. It was smaller than the others but only had a single bed. It was the end room and had three walls that faced outside with windows along eath. Without much more thought, I took out the key from the door, shut it tight and dropped myself onto the bed.
It was soft and I was amazed by how comfortable it was. It had been four years since I’d used a proper bed. Sitting up I took off my boots and swung my feet over the side. I let my feet sink into the plush and ornate green carpet. I’d never experienced anything like this luxury. Lying back in the bed, I almost fell asleep.
Several hours passed and I had grown comfortable with my room. My cloak was draped over the side of my bed and I lounged looking out over the field. A dusting of snow fell gently over the grounds. It had been somewhere around four hours since I had finished the Examination when I get a knock on the door. It came again louder, and with someone violently testing the handle. I swung out of bed, and cautiously undid the lock letting the door swing open. Two boys waited in the entrance and walked in the moment the door opened. Both were older than me by at least two years. One was tall with dark blond hair and stone blue eyes. Girls would call him handsome. I would call him many things a bit more negative in my life time. The other was a bit shorter but thicker in his shoulders than the blond boy. His brown hair was close cut, his eyes were brown, and he might have been called handsome too.
“Why are you here?” The blond boy asked me bluntly.
“I finished the testing first,” I answered honestly.
The brown haired one rolled his eyes and spoke, “Just leave; get out of the room. Andre wants it.”
“Why? The lady said I could take whatever room I wanted,” I said.
“She’ll change her mind if Andre asks her to,” the brown-haired boy responded.
Andre gave me a look of calm certainty that was riddled with arrogance. We stared each other down for a moment or two as I tried to understand my situation. I had no idea who these two were, but I understood when I was being threatened.
“Who are you?” Andre asked.
“Demetrius Skagora,” I answered.
“I do not believe I know that name at all. What are you the son of some poor Lord or merchant?”
“My mother was Diane Skagora.” I wanted to say my father was High Speaker Mikkel Andrews, but I followed Hari’s advice. “And I don’t know who my father is.”
“Oh, so are you a bastard then? Is your father anonymously funding your venture here? Is your mother some whore then, did her tits pay for that jerkin and those pants?” He said with a smile.
I swung at him. I knew a thing or two about fighting from living in Coastown and one thing I knew for certain was, If you’re going to fight someone bigger than you, you better swing first and hard. I caught Andre on the cheek and turned his head, causing him to stumble. His brown haired friend was on me in a second. I swung at him but he deflected my arm. He then followed through with an upper cut into my gut, then a cuff to my temple causing me to fall gagging to my knees. Struggling with consciousness I saw the two standing looking over me.
“Bloody whore spawn, do you know who you just hit?” the brown haired boy said. “I just saved your life. That is the second son of High Lord Wallace Artell, of the East. He sits in court with the King!”
Andre Artell loomed over me. “Thank you, Devin, I can handle him from here.” I barely had time to lift my hands to deflect a knee meant for my face. The strike knocked me to my side. “Stand up, take your things and leave.” I struggled to my feet. I met Andre’s eyes for a couple seconds. However, I’m not stupid, I knew I was beaten. I slid on my boots, snagged my cloak and left with a taste in my mouth I long to be rid of. I reminded myself, I had gotten much worst from muggers before, and I was able to walk away from this with all my possessions intact.
Once in the hallway I noticed that a couple students were aware of the confrontation. One I recognized as Kevin Larkin.
“You okay?” He asked as I reached him.
“You can stay with us. We still got an extra bed. I’m saving two for a couple other kids I met this morning.”
“That guy’s a prick, but there’s not much that can be done about it. His dad’s the next most powerful man in Ruaheon behind the High Speaker and the King.”
“Who’s that other kid? Devin was what Andre called him.” I walked into the room and slumped onto one of the lower bunks rubbing my temple.
“Devin Soar, third son of Lord Bolin Soar of Spear Hall Keep on the west coast. They both squired together here in Ruahden under Prince Calin. Now they will both be attending the Church.”
I snorted. “Are you a Lord’s son, too?” I asked.
“Yes, I’m the second son of Lord Andrew Larkin of Dew Vale.”
“Dew Vale?” I thought I was good at geography, but I couldn’t place it.
“Don’t worry about it, it’s along the Storm Wall. We do have a silver mine though.” He looked at me carefully, “I’m sorry, but I overheard what you said about your parentage. Is it really true?”
“Yeah,” I nodded.
“How did you get in? And first?”
“Speaker Hari has been teaching me for the past two years.”
“Damn, how did that happen?”
“He found me, in Coastown.”
“Well you’re probably talented if you’re here.” he held his hand out for me to shake. I took it. “Just leave Andre and Devin alone and you’ll be fine.”
Over the next few hours the last two of Kevin’s and my roommates filtered in. There was Daniel Crossing the son of a merchant, and Evan Saving the nephew of Chair Speaker Larissa Saving. Daniel did a lot of talking and Evan filled up whatever silence he allowed. Kevin seemed to know them already and they introduced themselves to me. They were friendly, but I was happy when the room was finally quiet enough to sleep.
The next morning, I woke early to the smell of frying food from the common area. I was the only one moving, so I slowly got dressed and descended the stairs. I appeared to be the only perspective student awake. A serving girl showed me to a seat and asked if she could get me anything.
I ordered Ham and eggs and enjoyed the amazing meal till the other kids ventured down the stairs.
Evan was the first up and joined me at my table. “Good morning!” Evan said brightly. “You already ate?”
“Wow you get up early.” The conversation flowed much as it had the night before.
It was around noon the same female Speaker from the day before came calling for us. It turned out her name was Speaker Elisabeth Doyle, Head of Student Affairs. And she loved her job! She explained to us today’s proceedings with the same perky enthusiasm that she’d showed me to the dorm with. We would be hearing the results in the next hour. We headed out to the Church where we would be seated in the Chamber of Ruah: the massive eastern wing.
More perspective students must have arrived after I’d gone in to be tested. There’d been eleven other boys in our dorm, and it looked like a similar number of girls had been in the other dorm. That’s when I realized how much longer my test must have been compared to theirs, since they’d managed to fit them all in the day before. Hari had said mine would be harder, but mine had to of been twice as long as any other.
My mood quickly changed as we reached the church. There were Speakers and Glren everywhere, some were directing students, some were just watching. We joined the procession of students and made our way into the Church. Passing through the antechamber, we were ushered into the Chamber of Ruah. My eyes instantly went up as I beheld the massive stain glass windows. The early afternoon light covered the room in a majestic array of warm colors. I was so busy looking out them that I almost didn’t notice the elderly attendant waving me into a row of seats.
We quickly moved to the end and sat down. It wasn’t long till all the front rows, except for the most front, were taken up with perspective students. On the raised dais the five Speakers of the Chair in Ruahden sat with the podium in front of them. When the room went quiet, Speaker Goldenend stood and walked up to the podium.
“Welcome perspective students,” Goldenend spoke. His voice was low, but it carried throughout the room. “Thank you for offering yourselves to the Church of Ruah, however we will not be able to take all of you today.” He paused to take a breath, “My fellow Speakers of the Ruahden Chair have deliberated and come to a decision as to which of you will be taken into the New Year’s class. I will now read the names of the fifteen of you whom we’ve accepted…” I heard Adre’s and Devon’s names called. Then I heard Kevin’s, and finally, “Demetrius Skagora.” I stood smiling and made my way to the front row. I was the last name called.
“Those are all we will be taking this year. Thank you for your time but the rest of you may now take your leave.” The dozen kids who didn’t make the cut stood and left. Some looked upset, others not even seem bothered. I would have been devastated if I hadn’t been called.
“The rest of you,” Goldenend addressed those of us that remained, “Would you follow Speaker Doyle. She will go over your schedule for the next week. Then she will have you select your classes for the first term.”
The New Year’s celebration would begin the next day and we, the new students, played an important role. There would be a Church procession on New Year’s Day that would go through Low Town, High Town, and onto Palace grounds where the King himself would give a speech and induct us into the Church. A rumor quickly spread through us that the King’s youngest daughter would be studying at the church over the next year.
The rest of the week was a mess of appearances that we would have to make around the city. The week would end with a feast in the Palace of Ruahden once again hosted by the King. In terms of classes, my primary interest was the Quatane. However, I was informed that there were other classes I would be required to take if I wanted to graduate in the four years that was average. I also had to take four classes a term. So my first term consisted of, Foundations of the Quatane, Morning Prayer, Early History of Ruaheon, and Execution of the Quatane.
We were also given rooms in different dorms and were given roommates. Kevin suggested we room together. We got a room in the large western most dorm which we had passed getting to the ones we had stayed in the night before. We each had a bed in separate corners of the room. We had a large empty space in the middle that looked out a large western facing window.
“What do you think we should get to fill this up?” Kevin said gesturing at the large empty space.
“I don’t know,” I answered lying back in my bed. I rubbed my fingers against the room’s dark wooden walls.
“We at least need a carpet; the room is really dark.” The room was dark. Age blackened cider walls and ceiling.
“I really don’t have any money, so it’s up to you.”
Kevin nodded. “A sofa too. ”
Being broke was really not that big of a deal anymore. Now that I was a member of the Church they would take the responsibility of feeding and clothing me. I stared at the dark wooden ceiling of our room. I had made it. I was officially a member of the Church of Ruah.
Tyler W. Golec