Jokulle Knox watched as the clerk straightened and said, “And that is the last signature we need from you, Miss Taivas. Do you have any questions?”
“Several,” replied Private Taivas. “I’m unclear how it works, operating a school when I’ll be transferred so frequently in the army. Are there any other schools that have similar issues?”
“Most schools are established in a permanent location,” the clerk said, “but there are some itinerant schools. I can put you in contact with a few of them, if you want to ask for advice.” She jotted down a few names on the back of a business card. “The difficulty, of course, is finding some of them, since they travel wherever the need arises. The first two on the list should be in or around Cavern at this time of year. Someone at the addresses I noted should be able to get in touch with them.”
From Jock’s right, Trainee Moor said, “I have a question: how do I sign up officially as a student of the Sky-wind school?”
“That will be your next stop,” the clerk answered. “Your master may establish her own registry procedures, but she must then report all registrants to the Military and Paramilitary Education Department. A fighting school, in order to maintain its tax-exempt status, must have a minimum of two tuition-paying students and participate in a minimum of one hundred hours of cooperative service with an army company each year.”
“Tuition-paying…” Fiola Tuovali-Guslin murmured the words in dismay.
But this soft murmur bypassed the clerk altogether. She, all kind-hearted efficiency, was already standing to direct Private Taivas and her party to the next office.
The clerk in the MPED office was a grandfatherly man with a ready smile. He listened attentively to his colleague’s introduction. “Eero Kelby, at your service. I am pleased to meet you, Miss Taivas. I’ve heard of you, certainly. I take it that you’ve come to register your students?”
“Yes,” said Private Taivas in slight confusion. “How is it that you’ve heard of me, Mr. Kelby?”
“Miss Taivas, there’s no one connected to the fighting schools of North Territory who has not heard of you and your duel against Stolle Guslin.”
Axel Taivas spoke up from behind Jock. “You’ve been busy with your duties, Sanna, so you haven’t been paying attention to the news. Stolle Guslin’s trial and sentencing has been front-page news here for the past month.”
“And his defeat at your hands was instrumental in showing him for what he truly is,” added Kelby. “Hence your current celebrity.”
“Is that so,” the girl mused. She forced her attention to the business that had brought her. “I have… three…” She glanced at Moor as if appealing to him for confirmation. “Three students to register. I understand that I may keep my own registry as I see fit, as long as I notify your office about any changes, but how do other schools deal with registering students? Is there a document, or a ledger, or some kind of… artifact that is in common usage?”
Kelby smiled. “I have noticed— I can hardly help noticing, in my position— that many school masters keep their working registry in a two-column ledger book. They’re fairly cheap at the Co-op. Nice little hardcover notebooks, come in black or green. Names in one column, annual tuition amount in another. There’s usually another book, kept by whoever handles the school finances, kept in a five-column ledger. Names in one column, quarterly tuition recorded in each of the other four columns after it’s received.”
“Thank you. That gives me some idea of where to start. This may be a delicate question, but what is the usual tuition charge?”
This made the clerk smile again. “It varies according to the school. New schools charge less than established schools in order to attract students, and boarding schools charge more than day schools; it all depends on a combination of factors. What will it cost you to teach a student? Will you be providing housing and meals, or will you provide only lessons? Those are the primary considerations.”
Private Taivas sank into her thoughts for several seconds. Jock could see that she was weighing what the clerk told her against what she already had in her thoughts. “Thank you,” she said eventually. “That clarifies matters.”
“Then let’s move on to registration. Who will be your first student registered? Usually, the first student is the one intended to inherit the school.”
“Soren Tuovali-Guslin,” she said, glancing at the child’s sister with that same unspoken appeal for confirmation. She spelled the hyphenated surname for the clerk.
“Age of student?”
“Five years old.”
The clerk made a notation in his ledger. “And you said two others?”
The sister came forward. “Fiola Tuovali-Guslin. Fourteen years old.”
The clerk made another notation.
“Maccani Moor,” said Moor as he stepped forward next to the girl. “Twenty-two years old.”
After a last notation, Kelby looked up from his ledger. “Well, that should take care of the formalities. One last piece of information for the record: contact information, should any prospective students want to apply.”
This time, Private Taivas looked at Jock. He took the cue and said, “All applications should be sent through army mail, care of Mother Coralie Locke’s office.”
“That’s all of it. Congratulations, Miss Taivas. I look forward to seeing how your little school develops.”
She thanked him politely. On the way out of the Government Center, she asked, “Lieutenant Knox, do we have time to stop at the Co-op?”
“Yes. It’s on the way.” He climbed into the driver’s seat of the staff car loaned to them by the Cavern army base. After all his passengers were safely settled in, he pulled away from the curb and merged smoothly into the desultory traffic. As he had noted, the Co-op was situated only three blocks north of the Government Center, en route to his family home. As a concession to little Soren, Jock parked the staff car so that they could all enter the massive cooperative store.
The child clung to Private Taivas’ hand with his head tilted back as far as it would go, staring in awe and fascination at the three stories of merchandise arrayed at the perimeter of a large open main floor. His sister seemed hardly less amazed, though she was nine years his elder.
Trainee Moor whistled softly between his teeth. “What a place,” he remarked. “I knew Cavern was a big city, bigger than Leeward by far, but I’ve never seen a store this size even in the capital.”
“Because of land shortages in the city,” Jock explained, “several vendors decided to band together to make the best use of space. They established this cooperative store as a joint venture, owned and controlled by those who provide the goods. I believe forty-two or forty-three vendors are represented here.”
Private Taivas had already found a shop attendant to ask where to find the bound ledgers. Axel Taivas had gone off on his own in another direction, leaving Jock with Fiola Tuovali-Guslin and Maccani Moor. “Is there anything you two would like to purchase?” he asked them.
“I don’t need anything,” the girl said.
Moor said, “I wouldn’t know where to start. Just from what I can see here, they sell just about everything here.”
“That’s their boast,” Jock agreed. “It makes finding one specific item difficult, but the fascination of exploration makes up for the inconvenience.”
Within a few minutes, Axel Taivas returned with a bundle of cloth bound up in string. He headed for the cashier’s counter and entered into conversation with one of the young attendants, resulting in a successful transaction. When Private Taivas came back into view, her uncle beckoned to her from the cashier’s counter. She joined the conversation in progress. The attendant greeted her and listened as Axel told her something fairly involved.
“It looks as though they’ve finished their shopping,” Jock noted. He led the other two toward the cashier’s counter.
They arrived just after a rush of other shop attendants. The first one was shaking Private Taivas’ hand, saying, “I wouldn’t have believed that someone famous would come shopping here today!”
Another girl said, “You’re really Sanna Taivas? May I shake your hand too?”
Jock stepped forward. “Private Taivas, if you have everything you came to buy, then we should be on our way.”
“Yes, sir.” She picked up her two ledgers, ready to follow him out.
“Maybe,” said Moor as they piled into the staff car behind Jock, “we should have somebody else run your errands for you while we’re in Cavern, Master Sanna.” His tone was only faintly teasing.
“Are you really planning on calling me that?” Private Taivas asked. Her face in the rearview mirror was honestly pained.
“I won’t, if it bothers you,” Moor laughed, “but you’ve got to get used to it eventually. You’re the head of a fighting school. That’s the proper form of address for your status. Am I right, Lieutenant Knox?”
“He is right, Private.”
“Oh, dear,” she sighed. “I don’t know what I’m doing.”
Axel spoke into the ensuing silence. “Doc knew. Just remember what he did, and that should get you started.”
The rest of the drive was brief. None of Jock’s passengers spoke again until the car stopped. Then, it was Private Taivas who said, “A private house?”
“My family home,” Jock explained. “My parents enjoy hosting a dinner for Father and his students whenever we come to town. It looks like we’re the last to arrive.” He led his party to the front door and let himself in. “If you want to leave your coats here…” Jock gestured to the alcove lined with coat hooks at various heights.
Everyone did as he suggested, except for Private Taivas. She helped her little cousin out of his coat but left hers on.
Ietta came to meet them there in the foyer. Jock asked quietly, “Have you told them?”
“Without you here? My darling Jock, it isn’t done like that.” She seized his arm and steered him to the family room.
There, Father Everard and Mother Coralie were already ensconced in the best seats, alongside Dr. Rao and Elder Friga Rohkin. Jock’s own parents were hovering around the students. His mother, Mikka, was kneeling down beside Tarbengar’s cub, examining it and saying, “Oh, he’s a fine young cub. We don’t see many black bears in North Territory…”
His father Ossi noticed the newest arrivals first. “Jock, you’re looking well, my boy. And this must be Sanna Taivas.”
Moor chuckled, and even Fiola hid a giggle behind her hand. Jock explained, “That’s nearly the only topic we heard all while we were out on our errands. Variations on the theme, of course, but her celebrity is undeniable.”
“She got mobbed at the Co-op,” Moor added. “All the employees wanted to shake her hand.”
“Only two,” Private Taivas demurred. “I’m honored to meet you, sir. Training under your son’s guidance has been an excellent experience for me.”
“And I am honored to meet you,” said Ossi. “If you don’t object, I would like to shake your hand without the glove.” Seeing the unspoken question in her face, he continued, “I work at the climatology school here in town. I was part of the study that determined your role in the temperature change up north. Ever since, I have been very curious. May I?”
Taivas slowly peeled off her insulated glove and held out her hand.
Ossi held her hand between his. “Interesting. Just by removing one glove, you’ve definitely changed the ambient temperature in this area.”
Dr. Rao stood up. “Sanna, do you need me?”
“Thank you, Dr. Rao,” the girl said, replacing her glove, “but it’s just the usual. When the weather turns cold, my sympathy gets stronger.” Even so, she submitted as Dr. Rao laid a hand across her forehead under the brim of the knit cap she wore.
Rusza Tate was already at Taivas’ elbow. He said, “If we sit next to each other, we’ll probably balance each other out.” He made a theatrical display out of offering her his arm.
Taivas shot an unreadable look at the boy before accepting.
At that moment, Moor distracted Jock from the scene by murmuring in his ear, “May I offer my congratulations, Lieutenant?” The trainee returned Jock’s sharp glance with a grin.
Jock’s father had sharper ears than expected. “Why would you say that, young man?”
“Why would he say what, dear?” Jock’s mother asked.
“This is Maccani Moor,” Ietta said, “one of Father Everard’s students. He has human body sympathy, just like I do, so he noticed before we said anything.”
“Noticed?” Ossi looked from Jock to Ietta and back again.
Ietta laughed. “We’re going to have a baby.”
Mikki uttered a rising, “Oooh!” and ran to hug Ietta.
Jock found himself surrounded by people. Father Everard was close at his shoulder in the crowd. “Congratulations. You’ll find this a highly educational experience, Jock,” he said.
“Oh, most assuredly. From this point onward, you’ll learn more about yourself than you ever knew before.”
“That’s the truth,” said Ossi with feeling. He left off hugging Jock only to begin hugging Ietta and Mikki together, all three of them laughing.
Moor said, “They’re excitable, for northerners.”
“This is nothing,” replied Father Locke. “When he announced his engagement to Ietta, they both cried for nearly a quarter of an hour. Apparently, they were so convinced that their only child would spend his whole life alone due to his sympathy that they had given up hope of a daughter-in-law. I have never seen two people as shocked as they were when they met Ietta.”
“I would’ve worried that they disapproved of me,” Ietta added from inside the hug, “except that Mikki-mom wouldn’t let go of me the whole time she cried.”
“Why should they have disapproved of you?” Jock asked.
“Well, I didn’t know about you back then,” his wife retorted. “My prospective in-laws wept to hear I was going to marry you. It was one possible interpretation.”
Mikki wiped her eyes. “Oh, you’ve gotten so good at that, Ietta. Such a clear explanation. Come, sit by me at the table. If you had told me ahead of time, I’d have made a special effort!”
“And so we didn’t tell you ahead of time,” reasoned Jock. “No one goes to excess like you, Mom.”
They filed through to the dining room. Elder Rohkin said, “I see what the lieutenant meant,” as soon as she saw the table. “What an abundance!”
Jock’s gaze swept around the table. “Too many chairs,” he noted.
Father Everard said, “Those are for Lyra Puoltamo and her sisters. I invited them to join us when Lyra expressed a wish to meet Sanna Taivas.”
Moor choked back a laugh, making it almost a snort.
“But there’s no telling when they will show up,” Mother Coralie added. “She takes after her mother in that way.”
Jock’s mother said, “It’s a family trait. Why, it was her grandmother, Nina Puoltamo, who caused the annual tournament board to amend the rules, turning anything more than a fifteen-minute late arrival into a forfeit. She was always so late.”
The dinner passed in lively conversation and was nearly finished when a brisk tap against the front door marked the arrival of Lyra Puoltamo and her sisters. Ossi went to welcome them in. Lyra Puoltamo strode into the dining room, nodding her greetings as she grabbed one of the empty chairs and dragged it close to Private Taivas. “Do you mind me wedging myself in here?” she asked Rusza belatedly. Without waiting for a reply, she turned to say, “You must be Sanna Taivas. I’m Lyra Puoltamo.”
“It’s an honor to be sought out by you,” Taivas replied politely.
“Lots of people are going to be seeking you out, Miss Taivas, for a while at least. I’m going to be openly nosy and ask what happened to bring about that duel with Stolle Guslin.”
Private Taivas looked steadily at Lyra Puoltamo for several seconds. Then, as straightforwardly as she had been asked, she related the matter of Soren’s custody. “Because he made it a matter of what style Soren ought to learn, I decided the best way to resolve the dispute was as the heads of two different styles, two different schools,” Taivas ended.
“Your style,” Lyra emphasized. “Is it of your own invention?”
“No, it was developed by…” Taivas hesitated. “By Stolle Guslin’s estranged son Suvi and by Suvi’s wife Nilma, my uncle’s sister-in-law.”
“What are your main principles?”
“First principle: Fight in such a way that the Only One is honored. Second principle: fight with your unique sympathy at the core of your strategy. Third principle: use only the minimum required force to subdue your opponent.”
Lyra Puoltamo made a thoughtful noise. Then she remarked, “I can hear a lot of history in those three principles. So it’s a mixed style, is it? Foundations in body mechanics fighting and…?”
A sudden smile lighted Taivas’ face. “My father would have said brawling, but technically, it’s Tuovali-style wrestling.”
“Tuovali? Then brawling might be a good word for it,” Lyra said with a grin. “So this was Nilma Tuovali who was one of your founders, was it? I’d like to see it myself. The Tuovali terrors were known even in the territorial center.” Her grin faded away. “So that also means you have connections to Sky-wind?”
“Yes, I grew up there. I had to leave because…” Taivas touched the armband she wore. “No one in my village knew how to deal with thermal energy sympathy. I certainly didn’t. Things went very badly, and a number of people were hurt.”
Lyra Puoltamo gripped Taivas by the shoulder. “I see. Yes, I see. Do you have any family left?”
“My uncle.” Taivas gestured toward him. “And Nilma’s daughter Fiola and son Soren. And one of our retired elders, Nana Friga. They’re my whole family now.”
“It’s all clear to me now. I couldn’t work out how a girl your age could possibly end up in a masters’ duel with Stolle Guslin, of all people, and win, but if your master was Stolle’s runaway son, then it makes sense. I remember him vaguely.”
“Most people do,” said Axel Taivas from across the room.
“Especially after he married Nilma,” Elder Rohkin added.
“Invisible husband?” asked Lyra, grinning again. “I see. So, Sanna Taivas, what do you plan to do with this Sky-wind style of yours? It’s a hard world for new, small schools, but you’ve done wonders in advertising already, without meaning to. Are you going to establish yourself and collect students?”
“I’ve registered as an official school,” Taivas admitted. “I want to do something with the style that Doc and Nilma made. The trouble is, because of my sympathy, I can’t stay in one place for very long. The people at the Government Center said that it’s possible to make the school an itinerant one. They gave me a few names of people I might ask for advice.” She drew the business card from her pocket as an example.
“Itinerant? Then one of those names must be Karle Dallen.” Lyra Puoltamo laughed at Taivas’ surprise. “The world of the northern fighting school is a small one, Sanna Taivas. Most of us grew up meeting each other at the annual tournaments and at smaller competitions. Astred, go get Karle and bring him here.” As her sister hurried from the room, Lyra said, “Karle and Astred have a long-standing agreement that never quite gets agreed upon, since he has his own school and Astred won’t think of leaving our school. They wanted to be married years ago, but neither will give in on that one matter. He’s always in town this time of year, resupplying and letting his people get some rest.” She went on to talk about some of the other itinerant school leaders, until the front door opened and shut again.
Her sister Astred entered with a man in tow. “See,” she said to him, “that’s Sanna Taivas.”
Karle Dallen was a short, stocky man with a face reddened by exposure to sun and wind. The moment he laid eyes on Private Taivas, he uttered a sharp cry and the words, “It is you!”
Taivas herself seemed beyond words. She rose to her feet, staring at the man. Then, recovering, she bowed. “Thank you. I’ve wanted so many times to thank you, but I had to leave, and there was no time…”
“They told me. How is your uncle?”
Taivas pointed to Axel. “He’s here. He’s well.”
“I thought, when I heard the name, it could have been the same,” Dallen said in amazement. “I had heard that you went to the capital. Are you returning to the north now?”
“Not returning, not as such,” she replied. “We’re passing through on our way to Sawtooth Ridge. I’m full army now.”
“Karle,” Astred said, “I know you’re excited, but don’t forget your manners entirely. You’re ignoring everyone else in the room.”
Dallen looked around in surprise. His surprise increased when he saw Father Everard and Mother Coralie. “You said,” he said to Astred in an accusing tone, “you only said you had Sanna Taivas here. Why did you say nothing of Father and Mother, and all these other guests? I apologize, Father Locke, Mother Locke.”
Father Everard coughed gently. “I take it you and Private Taivas are already acquainted?”
“My school was part of the disposal company that was first to respond to the Sky-wind crisis,” Dallen explained. “We met then, but we were never introduced formally. I knew she belonged to the Taivas family— nothing more.”
“And I never heard your family name,” Taivas said. “Your squad only called you ‘Master Karle.’”
Father Everard said, “Private Taivas is taking part of my leadership course while my adjuster helps her learn to better control her sympathy. She has registered today to establish her fighting style as a formal school, but because of her circumstances, that school must be itinerant. That is why the Puoltamos called for you.”
“Advice, is it? I can give you plenty of that.” Dallen held out a hand to her. “It’s good to meet you officially, Sanna Taivas. Now what are you planning on doing with the Guslin school, now you have authority over it?”
Lyra burst out laughing. “I was saving that one to the last, Karle, but now that you’ve said it, I’m curious to know as well.”
“I don’t particularly want to do anything with it,” Taivas replied cautiously. “My intention was to protect my cousin, and I accomplished that. Am I required to do anything?”
“No, not required,” said Lyra. “Most in your position would find it hard not to do something, but since your reasons are what they are…” Her voice tapered off, giving way to silent consideration of the question.
“I would say, leave them to themselves,” said Astred. “It was never much of a school. Let it fall to ruin.”
“Ruin?” Taivas echoed in dismay. “What do you mean?”
“You have been out of town, haven’t you?” Lyra spoke as the thoughts occurred to her. “So you wouldn’t know. Of course you wouldn’t. After the head of the school was exiled, the school fell apart. Everyone knows that you have the authority over it, and the young head never did hold much respect among his grandfather’s students, so students began to leave the school immediately upon Guslin’s arrest.”
“Kass has gone back to her family.” This came from the third Puoltamo sister, Helvi, the laconic one.
Karle whistled softly. “Has she? And what reason do they give for that?”
“None,” said Helvi. “They haven’t made it public yet.”
“Who is Kass?” Taivas asked.
“The young head’s wife. There was some speculation, back when the two married, that she was coerced into the marriage by Matt’s grandfather. There was always something between Stolle and Kass’s father that I never understood,” said Lyra. “The coercion rumor was always believable. Now it seems more than believable.”
Taivas was frowning in thought. “I’ve never liked rumors,” she said eventually. “Gossip so often does more harm than good. But I feel I must ask: is it known whether Stolle Guslin’s remaining family is in serious need?”
The four guests stared at her in momentary astonishment. Then Lyra said, “No. Guslin has always been a miser. They have enough money. But they will never get that school back on a paying basis, not with a reputation like theirs. Matt will just have to go out and find a job.”
“Then, if they’re able to fend for themselves financially,” Taivas mused, “I believe it would be best to leave the matter of the Guslin school as it is. They cannot be trusted.”
“You’re a sensible girl, Sanna Taivas,” said Lyra. “I look forward to meeting you in the annual tournament next year.”
Hearing this as a signal of the conference’s end, Father Everard said to Ossi, “Were you able to get the information I asked of you at such short notice?”
“Oh, it was simple,” Jock’s father replied. “The bus goes twice a week. The next one goes the day after tomorrow. You could certainly drive up in your own transport…” Ossi looked to Father Everard but received no response. He went on, “It leaves at half past five in the morning, so it’s an early start, and it returns at half past ten in the evening. They like to give the visitors plenty of time.”
“Good. We simply need to fill the time tomorrow. I have some ideas on that point. Is the Sky-wind bus crowded usually?”
“It is around the anniversary, but this time of year it shouldn’t be.”
“Stops along the way?”
“Two,” said Ossi. “One just for stretching and such, one to pick up the guide who shows new visitors around the site.”
Having listened to this, Karle Dallen said to Private Taivas, “Are you going back? Some of my people still can’t bring themselves to revisit Sky-wind.”
“I don’t doubt that it will be hard.” Taivas spoke in a flat, subdued tone. “But there’s a time for everything. I will go back. It will be a long time before another opportunity arises.”
“What will we do tomorrow?” Mother Coralie asked.
“I thought it would be a good idea to familiarize the students with some of Cavern’s noteworthy features,” replied Father Everard.
Mother Coralie brightened. “Like the Lithology Museum?”
Father Everard coughed again. A faint smile came to his mouth. “I wouldn’t think of keeping you away from it, Cora.”