Blood Ladders, Book 1
“You’re late,” Radburn whispered.
I choked back frustration and shame as I slid into the seat next to his. “I know. Did I miss anything?”
“Just Bandy going on about his adventures at Steadfast,” Radburn murmured, shaking a red lock out of his eye. As usual, he was in a state of mild disarray, with ink bottle unwisely perched on several sheets of creased paper, his vest buttoned unevenly and of course, the untidy hair; he existed in a perpetual state of such disorder, prompting much speculation and teasing on how he managed ever to find anything or arrive anywhere on time. “Such as they were.”
I settled low in the seat, stretching my legs gingerly in front of me. My knees still weren’t cooperating but at least they’d gotten me here. “What’s the pool at now?”
“Twenty broke crowns that he’s making it whole from dew and woolmice,” Radburn said. “Guy’s on the investigation.”
I glanced across the auditorium until I found Guy sprawled on his seat, one lank arm draped over the back, the very picture of indolence. The severe queue he’d knotted his blond mane into left his bored expression patently revealed. He loved learning, Guy, but he seemed determined not to let anyone know it. “No surprise there. Why did Chester give up?”
“I’ll let him tell you after class,” Radburn murmured. “You are coming to chocolate…?”
“Yes,” I said: more a rebuke to my dictatorial body than a reply. I’d already had my vomiting for the day. I was determined to do no more. I untied my folio and peeled the soft leather cover back from the sheets.
“Here,” Radburn murmured, nudging his ink bottle my way and off, I noted with relief, the precarious perch he’d set it on originally. I nodded to him and trimmed the edge on my quill with a cursory glance at his notes–he had none. Bandy hadn’t even gotten past his self-congratulatory reminiscing and into discussion of the actual topic of the seminar, the ten-year period following the revolutionary war that scholars were beginning to call the Red Prince Years. It was recent enough history that Bandy might actually have seen the devastation in the former imperial capital had he been there. None of us believed he had been. The lecture was interminable, but once he stumbled past his professorial aggrandizement and into the topic the class settled. Pungent ink flowed; quills scratched on vellum. I set aside my glasses to write. Radburn and I shared the bottle and a calm descended to replace the frisson of anxiety that had carried me breathlessly to class.
Only two things seemed to claim any power at all over my vicious and mysterious malady. One did not bear consideration. The other I found here, in the peace of the studio, in the vibrancy of discourse, in the halls of intellect where the frailties of a human body mattered not at all.
Thank God for the university.
“Well, that’s over,” Radburn said, stretching. “I can’t imagine how he can make post-revolutionary history so dreadful.”
I replaced my glasses and cleaned the edge on my quill. Two hours of Bandy’s quiet drone had unraveled the snarls in my muscles, and since he never used one word where twenty would do one could take notes at a leisurely pace. “History is never boring.”
“Easily said for you,” Radburn said with a huff. “You’re in love with dust and memories.”
I laughed. “Better to be in love with something than to dally here, there, everywhere and never settle.”
“I beg to differ!” Radburn said, grinning at me.
“You can differ all you want,” I said, checking the last of my notes for dryness before shutting the folio. “But begging’s all you’ll be doing when it’s the end stretch and you’re casting about for any dissertation topic at all.”
I stood immediately, turned. At the door peeked a heart-shaped face, one curl swinging in front of tea-brown eyes. Ivy wiggled her slim fingers at me. “Coming to chocolate?” she said as other students drifted past her into the hall.
“Of course,” I said, and to her it was a promise.
She grinned and vanished into the hall.
Radburn laughed behind me. “Pole-axed, chap. You always look so pole-axed.”
I snorted. “And you so experienced.”
“Well, compared to you,” Radburn said with another laugh. He packed his notes with little regard for neatness, catching some of the pages on the cords. “Let’s go. Hey, Guy! Chocolate?”
“I’ll be there.”
We departed. I kept Radburn’s pace, and though I’d rested it still cost me. I refused to let anyone see my weakness, though. I was one of them here. I wouldn’t surrender that comfort for anything, particularly given how little sympathy society allotted to those with physical… impediments. At the lope he called a walk we were swiftly quit of the white-washed halls and gained the path hugging the brown brick facade outside. Spring had arrived in force only a week ago, blowing back winter as if it had never been, and the yellow sunlight was like a warm lance. I felt it in every joint like a prayer of redemption. Cold and humidity exacerbated my condition nearly to turning me invalid.
The university perched on manicured grounds at the edge of the affluent section of Evertrue. Its three buildings barely cast a shadow on the land it had appropriated for its gardens and fields; Mother relayed to me the frequent complaints of the city’s councilors, who wondered whether the university staff planned to grow its own food against the possibility of siege. I thought it beautiful, when I did not despair of how far it meant I had to walk to leave it. Fortunately Radburn, bless his lazy bones, never went far before hailing a carriage.
“You’re going to run to fat before you’re thirty,” I said, to cover my relief at being able to sit.
“I’ll worry about that then,” he said, grinning. “To the chocolate parlor, good driver!”
A warm afternoon with a sweet wind, blowing off the clean fields of Leigh’s campus; the jingle of a harness and the chuff and clop of a horse; rows of thin and well-kept houses with herb gardens to lend a hint of spice to the air; the low murmur of conversations caught on the wind as we passed those out strolling… on days like this I could almost forget how much I hated life.
What’s this! A new serial! Yes, it is! We are beginning Morgan’s book. So help me with schedule; I am planning one installment per week free, and up to two for tips, as usual. Should I do Monday-Wednesday-Friday or Tuesday-Thursday-Saturday?
Oh, and the button, of course. Subscription buttons will be forthcoming.