Fiola asked one more time, “Are you sure you won’t want me to stay with Soren, Nana Friga?”
“Go see the city,” was Nana Friga’s reply. “Tomorrow you will spend quite enough time traveling. Soren and I will take the chance to rest today.”
Fiola hurried out of the guest suite to the hallway, where Crystallin and Lily waited. The three girls ran together to the personnel carrier that waited outside. They weren’t the last arrivals. Mica Locke came after them, pushing Sora Waeber by the shoulders.
“Found him,” Linnie’s brother said in exasperation.
“Sora,” said Lily. “Just what were you thinking about this time?”
“The structure of doorknobs,” Sora replied absently. “They’re a little like human souls, in a way.”
Everyone stopped to stare at him, except for Mica. Mica just chuckled. “Yes, I can see how that would happen.” To the rest, he explained, “He was trapped in his room, just standing there with the doorknob in his hand like he had never seen one before. I gave the broken knob to the front desk attendant and told him where it came from,” he finished, for Father Locke’s benefit.
“Really, Sora, there ought to be a limit to how impractical you can be,” said Lily. “Didn’t you try to put the knob back in place, or at least shout for help ?”
“Once,” he replied, “I tried to put it back, but it didn’t fit right. I knew someone would come looking for me soon.”
“In that sense, you were very practical,” Mica noted. “Someone always comes looking for you. Usually me.”
“Sometimes me,” Rusza called out from farther back.
“Settle in, all of you.”
Mica and Sora took their places in the personnel carrier as Father Locke stood up to address the passengers. “Our itinerary today includes something to interest everyone. We begin with a visit to the climatology school, where Ossi Knox works.”
Lily was already half-turned toward the window behind her. “I want to see everything,” she said. “This is such an amazing city!”
This made Crystallin laugh. “You already made up your mind it was, before you saw any of it.”
“Will it snow again today?”
“I hope not,” said Fiola. “It’s too early for that.”
“What do you mean, ‘too early’?” Lily asked. “It snowed yesterday.”
“Barely. Those were just snow flurries. When it really starts snowing, it shuts down just about everything.”
“Really? I kind of want to see that,” admitted Lily.
“Not this early,” was Fiola’s firm reply. “Once it starts for real, it goes on for months. We would be trapped here until almost summer, and that really wouldn’t be good for Sanna. Her sympathy gets harder to control in the winter.”
“Oh.” Lily glanced down the length of the personnel carrier to where Sanna sat between Dr. Rao and Dr. Zuma.
Fiola looked toward Sanna too, but she looked at the young man across the aisle from Sanna just as much. He was older, past twenty, with light brown hair and shrewd blue eyes. His name was Maccani Moor, and he had signed up as one of Sanna’s students. Fiola had made up her mind to speak with him today. There had been no opportunity on the previous day, after the surprise of his determination to enroll in the new Sky-wind school. In addition to opportunity, Fiola had lacked the courage. Moor was exactly the type of person she found the hardest to approach: self-assured, ironical, and sophisticated. It was only for Sanna’s sake that Fiola could force herself to push through her own shyness and start a conversation with this daunting young man.
However, now that she had summoned her courage, the opportunity was still lacking. He seemed always to be talking with someone. They arrived at the climatology school, an old stone tower perched high on the mountain above the city. The wind gusted hard against their faces as everyone trooped off the personnel carrier and across the narrow courtyard to the shelter of the school foyer. Lieutenant Jock’s father waited there to greet them. “Welcome to the North Territory climatology school,” he declared. “Most of our visitors come for the view, so we’ll begin at the top floor. This way,” he beckoned, leading off toward the narrow, twisting stairs at the side of the foyer.
Fiola found herself in the middle of the line, behind Lily and in front of Crystallin. Maccani Moor was farther toward the front, behind Rusza, who was behind Sanna. When they emerged at the top of the stairs, Fiola couldn’t help but gasp at what looked like a sheer drop down the mountainside. The top floor was an observation platform built out from the tower. Its walls were reinforced glass, as was the section of floor that jutted out over the dizzying heights.
“Ooh,” said Lily, “that’s so high!”
“We’re nearly a mile above Cavern here,” said Ossi Knox.
“I’ve never been so high up in my life,” Lily breathed.
Fiola and Crystallin exchanged a look of amusement. Their friend had no love for heights, but she kept inching forward toward the glass deck for another peek down the mountain precipice and then retreating with tremulous excitement.
Their group was not alone on the platform. Two women and a man had been there already at their arrival. Ossi Knox was introducing Sanna to them. Fiola heard him say, “This young lady is the girl from the Sky-wind study, Miss Sanna Taivas.” The conversation immediately turned scientific as the other three strangers started to ask Sanna technical questions about her sympathy.
Crystallin also noticed this. “Look at Rusza,” she whispered. “He has no clue what they’re talking about, but he just doesn’t want to be left out.”
Fiola had noticed this also, but she was more curious to note that Maccani Moor did seem to understand the gist of the questions. Fiola had noticed from the first that Moor possessed human body sympathy, because that was her sympathy too. He talked as if he had some knowledge about how Sanna’s sympathy affected her health, while Rusza stood by in silence, nodding with a show of comprehension that he didn’t actually possess.
After the observation platform, they stopped in the lab one floor down. There the students were introduced to the school director, Dr. Laila Ilmatar, an elderly air sympathist of quiet dignity. It was she who scattered her staff members when they would have mobbed Sanna. “This girl is a guest,” she said, “not a research subject. Go back to your work.” Not once did she raise her voice, but her words had an instant effect. She said to Father Locke, “I apologize for their exuberance, Everard. It was one of our more fascinating studies, but that doesn’t excuse bad manners. Please forgive them, Miss Taivas.”
Sanna bowed slightly. “Of course, Dr. Ilmatar.”
For three quarters of an hour, Dr. Ilmatar delivered a lecture on the importance of the work done at the climatology school. She spoke of the overriding significance of the weather to North Territory, where a sudden storm could incapacitate the whole region overnight. “We have a close relationship with our sister schools in Leeward and in Sawtooth Ridge,” she said once, “to gain a broader view of the weather patterns of the northlands. We do not merely warn Cavern and its satellite villages when threatening weather develops. We contact our sister schools for more information and issue travelers’ warnings to the capital.”
By the end of the lecture, Fiola felt as if her head had filled to capacity. She was entirely in agreement with Rusza when he said, “I didn’t get half of that.”
Several of the students laughed at this. Anion Cooper said, “I didn’t know you can predict the Decay’s movements by the weather.”
“That is especially true of North Territory,” replied Father Locke, “where the Decay can only manifest freely during a few months of the year, when the temperatures rise to within a specific range. It hibernates during the extreme cold of winter, which is why disposal teams go out in sometimes dangerous weather conditions to locate manifestations and take measures to destroy the Decay while it’s dormant. The work of the climatology school is of paramount value to those disposal companies.”
The personnel carrier brought them back down the mountainside to the city. Their next destination was the Lithology Museum of Cavern, situated in the depths of the vast cavern that gave the city its name. The streets were lit as if it were nighttime and were lined by warehouses and other industrial-type buildings instead of houses. The museum itself was built into the rear wall of the cavern.
Mother Locke was the first one to disembark at this stop. “I haven’t been here in years,” Fiola heard her exclaim.
Close at Mother Locke’s heels, Gretta Warhite asked, “What is a lithology museum, Mother Coralie?”
“It deals with the materials of the northern mountains, their component minerals and the uses that early settlers found for those minerals. It gives a wonderful view into another era,” Mother Locke said. She led the way through the double-door entrance and consulted the map in the foyer. “They’ve added two new exhibits since I was here last time. It’s self-guided, so we can go straight through.”
Crystallin edged closer to her mother in the crowd, leaving Fiola with Lily. Mother Locke was a clear enthusiast for all things stone. She gave a ten-minute encomium on the quartz veins running through the granite in a large sample on display just past the foyer. Rusza was wandering around, looking at the nearby displays and obviously not listening, as if well accustomed to this behavior on Mother Locke’s part. Gretta Warhite, by contrast, kept close beside Mother Locke, making encouraging sounds and watching the older woman closely.
Sanna and Maccani Moor followed after Mother Locke and Gretta Warhite. Moor occasionally made remarks, mainly aimed at Gretta Warhite, such as, “What do you like best about quartz, Gretta?”
“He’s so terrible,” Lily whispered.
“Who?” Fiola asked.
“Maccani. He knows she’s bored to death by all this, and he’s just goading her.”
“Doesn’t she have mineral sympathy too?”
“She does. I guess not all mineral sympathists are as fascinated by rocks as Mother Locke is.”
“Why is he goading her?”
“I’m not really sure,” whispered Lily, “except he thinks it’s funny that she’s bored and pretending not to be.”
“But that’s just politeness, isn’t it? Why would that be funny? I don’t understand him.”
“She’s only pretending interest to get Mother Locke to—”
From behind them, Dr. Zuma’s whisper broke in. “If you intend to talk about other people, girls, you ought to be more careful about your surroundings.” Fiola and Lily whipped around to face the counselor, who regarded them sternly. She beckoned for the pair to follow her into an adjoining room. Hand on her hip, Dr. Zuma looked from one to the other several times. “I know you have been warned before, Lily Allen, about what you say about others. I understand your dislike of Gretta, but that doesn’t justify gossip. And you, Fiola Tuovali-Guslin, know very well how Sanna feels about gossip. What would she say to you right now?”
“She would say, ‘Your likes and dislikes are your own, little Fiola, but no feeling of dislike in the world makes it right to speak ill of someone behind her back.'” Fiola bowed her head.
“Oh, Fiola, it isn’t your fault,” said Lily hurriedly. “You didn’t say anything wrong! I didn’t mean to get you in trouble. Don’t feel bad.”
“Lily.” Dr. Zuma set her hand on the older girl’s shoulder. “You see, it isn’t just your feelings, your opinions, or your words. Whoever gets drawn into gossip shares in the guilt.” She smiled gently at both girls. “I’ll help you understand what Maccani Moor is doing, though. He feels toward Gretta very much like you do, Lily, but he takes an active approach to countering her behavior. He is calling her out on her insincerity. And because of that, Sanna is trying to counter him by mitigating the effects of his goading speech. She is trying to make peace between them, as she has tried to make peace between you and Gretta all this time, Lily. You haven’t made it easy for her.”
“She tries hard to do what she thinks is right. I hope that perhaps you might take away something from that example.”
Both girls nodded. They rejoined the group, and Fiola made a concerted attempt to pay attention to the exhibits. She admired the stone tools and the single-room stone hovel that had been one of the first homes built in the area by explorers, long before North Territory was established as a political entity. “Imagine living in one of these,” Mother Locke said. “Whole families squeezed into one of these huts, sometimes with what livestock they had too.”
“It must have been a hard life,” Sanna observed as she crouched down to peer into the gloomy hovel.
“It was stone that kept them alive in those first years,” Mother Locke said. “Many of the early explorers were mineral sympathists, drawn to the mountains. They had to make much of what they needed out of what they found here, and wood was precious, so most of what they made was stone.”
“How long ago was this?” asked Maccani Moor.
“Two hundred… two hundred and fifty years, maybe?”
“There are Outsider settlements in the mountains here that date much earlier than that,” added Father Locke. “But none of them preserved the artifacts of that period, as Cavern has. This territory has a strong sense of history.”
“Not like South Territory,” Lily added suddenly, “where we never name our main city the same thing twice.”
“There is a sense of history even in that practice,” Father Locke said. “Each reincarnation of the territorial center has been very different, so your forebears wanted to distinguish between them. I find that South Territory has a surprisingly long memory about what truly matters to its people.”
They wandered the museum, talking of human and natural history, for another half hour before Father Locke started to steer his wife toward the exit. “You have had your hour. We have other sights to see yet.”
On the way out, Fiola found herself close to Maccani Moor, but in the press and chaos of everyone boarding the personnel carrier, she had no chance to speak to him, beyond a hasty apology for treading on his boot when she was pushed backward by Elfric Tarbengar’s sudden reversal. The scrimmage ahead cleared, everyone claimed a seat, and the carrier was off toward their next destination.
As they pulled up in front of a towering edifice of stone, Father Locke said, “Cavern has more public meeting houses per capita than any city or town in Haazak, with the exception of Fortress in West Territory. Most are small, with only two or three prayer rooms to their credit. This is the main house, used chiefly for city-wide assemblies and national holidays.”
It was a marvelous old-fashioned building, tall and narrow with two rows of alternating arches and pillars lining a central aisle. Through alternate archways, open doorways lead to smaller side chambers on both sides. The roof soared upward with room beneath it for two balcony levels overlooking the main level. Fiola stood in the middle of the central aisle, gazing upward, and felt even smaller than usual. Father Locke’s voice echoed like rolling thunder as he began to describe the historic features of architecture that they could see.
Within a few minutes, three men entered the long hall from the doors at the far end. Two of them wore uniforms. The one wearing civilian garb outpaced his companions and made a straight line to Father Locke, who halted his dissertation on architecture. “Father Everard, good to see you!” The civilian grasped Father Locke’s hand and pumped it up and down with vigor. “I heard that you might be stopping here today, so I took a chance that our paths would cross.”
“Elder Vannhin,” said Father Locke, “this is my current group of students and guests. You know Cora, of course.”
“Mother Locke, welcome back to Cavern. Have you been to the museum yet?”
Mother Locke smiled. “Oh, yes.”
“Good!” Elder Vannhin looked toward the rest of the group in expectation.
Father Locke began the long list of introductions. “This is my guest, Dr. Chinara Zuma of Leeward. Dr. Zuma, Elder Isha Vannhin.”
“I’ve heard your name often,” Dr. Zuma said as she grasped the elder’s hand.
“And I, yours. What brings you to Cavern?”
Father Locke said, “She is accompanying one of my students. Private Sanna Taivas, originally of Sky-wind Village. We head there tomorrow.”
Rather than shake Sanna’s gloved hand, the elder grasped it in both his hands. “Have you been back to visit the graves since it happened, or is this your first time back?”
“First time, sir.”
“I’ve heard a great deal about you, Sanna Taivas.”
She turned her face slightly away. “Unfortunately, sir, it seems everyone has.”
Elder Vannhin laughed. “Well, of course they have, but I had my information years ago, from Suvi Guslin.”
“You knew Doc?”
“For a short while, and against advice,” said the elder dryly, “I was a student of the Guslin school. He and I were close in age, so we came to be friends. He used to write to me regularly after he moved to Sky-wind.”
Sanna raised her free hand to her mouth. “You’re Fanny?”
Elder Vannhin threw back his head and laughed heartily until the meeting house resounded with his voice. “I never thought to hear anyone call me that again,” he exclaimed, trying to get his laughter under control. “That’s the nickname he had for me when we were boys.”
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I didn’t mean to call you— it was just, once a week like clockwork, Doc used to shut himself in their house, saying he had to write a letter to Fanny, and I always wondered who that was.” Sanna motioned for Fiola to come to her. “This is Doc and Nilma’s daughter Fiola.”
Elder Vannhin took Fiola by the hand. His laughter subsided, but his gray eyes gleamed with pleasure. “So this is little Fiola. You know, my dear, I feel I already know you. I always thought it the strangest, the funniest thing, that that foul-mouthed rebel Suvi should turn into such a doting father and a pillar of his community. Nobody would have ever expected it, not if they knew him when I knew him, but I knew why. The first letter he wrote me after you were born told me all I needed to know about the change he went through. He was so proud of you, and so confused by you. He said you were the cleverest little thing, which was strange to him because his side of the family had no brains at all, he said, and his wife’s side was hardly any better. I mean no insult to your mother’s family,” he said hastily.
“No, not at all,” Fiola said. “The Tuovali family never made any pretense of brains. They always charged headfirst into everything and left it to others to sort out the whys and wherefores.”
Uncle Axel added from behind them, “That’s the truth.” He spoke with feeling.
“This is my uncle, Axel Taivas,” Sanna explained hastily.
“Axel Taivas! I’ve heard a great deal about you too,” the elder said with a grin.
“No, it’s all to the good. Suvi thought very highly of you. He referred to you as his brother Axel. He never even called his biological brother ‘brother,’” Elder Vannhin explained, “so it means a great deal that he called you that. I bet he never said it to your face, though.”
Uncle Axel shook his head. “No.”
“He was never very skilled at expressing himself— without obscenity, that is,” Elder Vannhin said as an aside, “and he could be terribly sly when he didn’t want to admit to something.”
“That’s true,” Uncle Axel agreed.
“Elder Vannhin,” Fiola ventured, “do you still have any of his letters?”
The elder nodded. “I kept them all. They were such entertaining reading to start with, and then, afterwards…” He paused. “But little Fiola, I’m not sure you should read them. Your dad, I said just now he wasn’t skilled at expressing himself without bad language… his letters can be salty, I won’t lie.”
“I know, Elder,” she assured him. “I doubt there could be anything in those letters I haven’t heard in person.”
“That’s very true,” Uncle Axel agreed. “He tried to avoid it, but old habits die hard. I think the only person he never swore around was Sanna.”
“Why is that?” Sanna asked.
“I asked him that,” said Uncle Axel. “Doc said the first and only time he did, you gave him such a look that he never wanted to do it again.”
“I don’t remember that.”
“You were still small. I’m not sure how old you were, but probably no older than four. I know it was before your sympathy first manifested. And as for Fiola reading those letters… I’m sure she knows every bad word he knew, so I don’t think it will do any harm. I’d like to read them myself one day,” he admitted. “I miss sitting with him in the morning, just talking, while Nilma and Marinen took you two girls out for a run.”
“I’ll bring you copies,” the elder promised, “though what they’ll think at the G. C. if they see the contents of some of them, I don’t know. Is Soren with you? I’d like to see Soren too.”
“He’s at the army hostel with Elder Friga Rohkin,” Uncle Axel answered. “Come tonight, if you can.”
“I’ll do that.”
Father Locke, who had waited through this exchange patiently, resumed his introductions as if there had been no interruption. “This is another of my students, Maccani Moor.”
“One of the Leeward Moors?” asked Elder Vannhin.
“Originally, but my dad moved to the capital when he got married. I grew up there.”
“And this is Gretta Warhite, a candidate for Cora’s staff.”
Elder Vannhin shook hands with Gretta. “A pleasure to meet you, Miss Warhite.”
And on down the line Father Locke went: “Rusza Tate… Anion Cooper… Sora Waeber… Elfric Tarbengar… my eldest son, Mica.”
This last made Elder Vannhin pause during the handshake. “You’re Mica. I’m glad to meet you. I was put forward as elder after you stopped traveling with your parents, so I’ve met all your siblings but not you.”
After a long, assessing gaze, Elder Vannhin said, “I’m going to make a guess: you take after your mother, don’t you?”
“So I’m told,” said Mica. “Why do you say that?”
“Just a hunch.” Elder Vannhin introduced the two army chaplains who had waited in patient silence all this time. “Noll Arne, senior chaplain for the Cavern army base, and his son Raimo Arne, also a chaplain.”
Noll Arne was a stout, bearded man in his late fifties or early sixties. His son was almost an exact copy of him, less forty pounds and about thirty years. They both had stood at attention during the preceding conversation and now relaxed only when Father Locke bid them stand at ease. “Welcome back, sir, ma’am,” barked Noll as he bowed toward Father Locke and then toward Mother Locke.
“How are you, Noll?” Mother Locke asked.
“Well, ma’am. The better for having my boy back home,” he added.
“Raimo Arne,” said Father Locke, “are you free this evening to stop and see me?”
“Yes, sir!” The younger Arne had a higher voice than his gruff father.
“Good. Let’s set the time at 1900.”
Elder Vannhin excused himself and hurried away for a meeting, leaving the group with the pair of chaplains. Fiola found Lily at her side again, tugging at her sleeve. “What?” Fiola asked quietly.
“Don’t you think he’s handsome?” Lily whispered in her ear.
Fiola looked ahead at the two soldiers. She dismissed the possibility that Lily was talking of the elder Arne, so she studied the younger one for a few seconds. He seemed average to her, and she told Lily as much. But her friend hushed her, not listening to a word. Chaplain Noll Arne had started talking about the colored glass light fixtures and how they were used in holiday observances. Lily seemed fascinated by the descriptions.
So distracted was Fiola by the talk with Elder Vannhin about her father that she completely neglected to look for a chance to speak to Maccani Moor until their group had returned to the personnel carrier. It was nearly lunchtime, and Father Locke announced their next stop as the Army Stores. Fiola considered the possibility of drawing Moor aside while everyone else perused the goods at the store.
But the Army Stores was not what she had imagined. There was a shop attached to it, but the main part was given over to military supply. Mother was well-known there. From the moment she set foot inside the foyer, she was besieged by clerks with clipboards. Father led the group behind her in silence, letting the hubbub speak for itself.
Mother Locke took each question as it came. Her answers were calm and patient, although not always what a questioner wanted to hear. She denied a request for additional raw wool with the explanation that West Territory sheep farmers had had a poor year due to an outbreak of sheep pox. With her next breath, she approved a double order of salted cod from Northeast Territory, giving the clerk two contact names straight from memory. The fact that she did all this without consulting any documents impressed Fiola, who edged forward to breathe in Crystallin’s ear, “Your mom is pretty amazing at this.”
Crystallin whispered back, “The really amazing part is the studying she does the night beforehand, just to be ready for whatever they might ask.”
After they had followed Mother Locke through this gauntlet of clerks, they arrived at a spacious two-story cafeteria. “Choose your meals and regroup on the upper level,” Father Locke directed them.
Maccani Moor strode off toward the grill counter, followed by the rest of the boys. Sanna beckoned for Fiola to stay close with her and Uncle Axel. “You both will use my account,” she said firmly. When Uncle Axel seemed ready to protest, Sanna added, “I get an army discount here. Use my account, Uncle.”
They went together to the hot food counter. Beyond it, Fiola was surprised to find a separate room with small, round tables. A server at the counter took their orders and asked if they wanted to add a small fondue course to enjoy while they waited. That was the purpose of the small tables. Fiola, Sanna, and their uncle took a seat and received a tiny hotpot of mountain-style cheese and a plate of dipping foods. It was exactly enough to keep them agreeably occupied until their orders came out of the kitchen.
“A good idea, that,” Uncle Axel observed.
“Are you ready for more stairs,” Sanna asked, “or would you rather take the elevator?”
“With a tray, definitely the elevator,” Uncle Axel replied.
When they reached the table Father Locke had chosen, they were the last to arrive. Most of the boys had even wolfed down their food already. Rusza Tate gazed at Sanna’s tray with hungry interest. “What did you get?”
“Shepherd’s pie,” she replied.
“May I try some?”
“If you have a clean spoon,” she allowed.
Rusza took up his unused spoon and scooped up a huge bite of shepherd’s pie. “Hot, hot,” he breathed, sucking in air to cool his mouth. After a few seconds, he swallowed and made a comfortable noise. “Where do they have that?”
Sanna explained to him about the hot counter. “You’ll need to wait a while for it,” she warned.
“It’s worth it,” he replied as he left the table.
“Is he in another growth spurt?” Mother Locke asked aloud.
Father Locke stared after Rusza. “It’s possible.”
“He’s going to be a giant before he’s finished growing,” grumbled Anion Cooper. He stood. “I could go for some of those pastries I saw downstairs. What about you, Tarbengar?”
The big West Territorial boy nodded and rose to accompany him. Maccani Moor said, “I’m good, no thanks,” when Anion Cooper urged him to come. Cooper had better luck persuading Sora Waeber and Mica Locke to check out the desserts.
Fiola gathered herself to make an approach toward Moor, but as soon as the other boys had gone, he scooted down to the other end of the table to chat with Father Locke. Fiola relaxed on the bench in disappointment and focused on her own meal.
The boys returned with a variety of desserts on two platters. Mica explained, “You looked interested in the pastries, Mom, so I assumed it would be safer to bring them up to you than risk having you get mobbed again by going downstairs.” He glanced toward Fiola’s family. “Everyone is welcome to take what they like.”
The boys settled into their original places. Moor also returned to his spot across from Uncle Axel, but they immediately started talking about the pastries, leaving Fiola no opening.
Mica appeared behind Moor and bent down to say a few words in his ear. Moor listened but only responded with the word, “Interesting.”
Then Rusza returned with his shepherd’s pie, and the conversation turned to his appetite and the possibility of another growth spurt. “The last time,” Rusza said around a mouthful, “my legs hurt like crazy all the time. They’re fine right now.”
“Maybe the rest of you is catching up with your long legs at last,” Moor quipped.
“We can have them check at our next stop,” Father Locke said. “We’re visiting the army hospital next. Don’t complain, Rusza. If you’re heading into another growth spurt, we need to know before it destabilizes your sympathy.”
So it happened that they walked across the street and one block east, entering through an unmarked side door into a five-story building. Their parade drew no attention in the busy corridor as Father Locke led them to a door marked DOCTORS ONLY. He tapped lightly and waited.
The door opened after half a minute to reveal a young man in blue scrubs and a shabby white cardigan. His eyes widened as he saw Father Locke. “Sir!” He stiffened to attention.
“Majini, are you available to do a quick exam?”
“Yes, sir.” The young doctor’s attention wandered to the lineup behind Father Locke. “How many?”
Father Locke coughed. “Just one. Rusza!” He held up his hand and beckoned for Rusza to stand next to him. “I need to know if this one is growing again. His records are in the main database.”
“Rusza Tate of Earth District in the capital.”
Dr. Majini studied Rusza more attentively. “Any relation to Dr. Archet Tate, the pharmaceutical man?”
“That’s my dad,” Rusza answered.
“Really! This way, Tate.” The doctor and Rusza disappeared down the hall, chatting.
Fiola noticed her uncle shifting restlessly. “Do you need to sit?” she asked softly.
“No, I’m fine, thanks. It’s just… that man’s voice sounds so familiar, like I should know him. I can’t place him, though, and it’s maddening not to know why.”
“I can tell you why. He’s the doctor who treated you when the disposal team brought you here, after you lost your leg.”
Uncle Axel stared at her wide-eyed. Then he shook his head as if to clear it. “Is that so,” he said at last. “Funny thing, I always assumed I went straight to the central hospital. I don’t remember being here at all.”
Sanna was listening also. She concurred, “I went straight to the capital after I left the village, and you were there before me, so I assumed the same.”
“We only stayed here less than two days. They couldn’t stabilize you, Uncle, so they packed us all up and transported us through the night without stopping.”
Maccani Moor spoke from behind her. “That must have been scary for you. How old were you?”
“Eleven. But they were very kind here. They put together a bag of diapers and baby food for Soren, because we didn’t have anything for him. Dr. Majini bought lunch for Nana Friga and me both days.”
As if called forth by the mention of his name, the doctor returned with Rusza in tow. “Since his most recent weigh-in last month, he has grown three-quarters of an inch and lost six pounds. I advise feeding him more high-calorie foods. He’s significantly underweight for his height.”
“Thank you, Doctor. While I have you here,” Father Locke said, “I understand that you are somewhat acquainted with two of my guests. Axel Taivas of Sky-wind village and his niece Fiola Tuovali-Guslin.”
The doctor stopped and went still as he gazed at Fiola and her uncle without really seeing them. Then he raised a hand to squeeze the bridge of his nose. “Sorry. Hearing that name was a shock,” he admitted. “Mr. Taivas, I can’t explain how relieved I am to see you standing in front of me today. You wouldn’t know who I am, but I could never forget you.”
“Actually,” Uncle Axel said, “I couldn’t understand why I recognized your voice, but Fiola tells me you took care of me when I lost my leg.”
“You remembered my voice?” Dr. Majini seemed shaken. But he collected himself to present a professional demeanor. “How are you?”
“I’m doing better, Doctor. The craftsmen in Leeward made a new leg for me. I can even get along now without a cane.”
“May I see?” Dr. Majini knelt and pulled up the pants leg that covered Uncle Axel’s prosthesis. “How is the pain?”
“Better. Not altogether gone, but much less than it was when I first got the leg.”
Dr. Majini smoothed the pants leg down and stood up. “That’s good to hear. I feel I need to apologize to you, Mr. Taivas.”
“Whatever for?” Uncle Axel was blatantly astonished.
“You were my first infection case. I had only qualified for my license three weeks before you came in. If I had known then what I know now, I could have spared you considerable suffering. At the least, they wouldn’t have had to do the second amputation. I’m sorry.”
“If you were at fault in any way,” said Uncle Axel slowly, giving thought to his response even as he gave it, “then I certainly forgive you. But you helped me, Doctor, and you helped my family when I was helpless. I’m grateful for all you did.” He offered Dr. Majini his hand.
Dr. Majini accepted. “Now that you’ve been through the full recovery treatment, do you plan to settle down here in Cavern?”
“No, we’re just passing through. My niece Sanna is in the army, training to become a disposal specialist, and she has a rotating assignment to different territories for her training. Our next stop is Northwest.”
“Ah, yes,” said the doctor, “I’ve heard of her.”
Sanna covered her face with her hands while several members of their group chuckled.
“This is the niece in question, I take it,” Dr. Majini said with a smile. He extended a hand to Sanna. “I won’t fuss over you, Miss Taivas. I’m just glad to meet you and see that you came out of that terrible night uninjured.”
“Yes, Doctor. And I am glad to meet you, after the many kindnesses you showed my family when they were here.”
“It was little enough that I could do.”
“I don’t know if there is anything I can ever do for you,” Sanna said, “but if there is, I hope you won’t hesitate to tell me.”
“And the same for you from me,” the doctor replied.
Father Locke said, “We originally planned to visit the hospital for the benefit of another of my students. This is Maccani Moor, one of the Leeward Moors but raised in the capital. He has been through the capital’s basic course for medics, so I want him to get an idea of what army medics do here in Cavern.”
“Pleased to meet you, Moor,” said the doctor. “If it’s a tour you’re after, I think we have just the man for the job.” He pivoted and strode up the corridor to an alcove several yards away. After exchanging a few words with someone inside the alcove, Dr. Majini returned to Father Locke’s group. Overhead, a disembodied voice announced, “Private Kanen, please report to the doctors’ lounge; Private Ruuti Kanen, please report to the doctors’ lounge.” Dr. Majini looked pleased. “This won’t take long,” he assured them.
Indeed, the clomp of boots echoed down the hallway only a minute or so later, announcing the arrival of a smiling, lanky blond boy with one eye patched over. He wore the uniform of a private in the army, but it hung on him as if he needed two sizes smaller. “Was it you who called for me, Dr. Majini?” he asked.
“None other,” the doctor replied. “This is Father Everard Locke, Mother Coralie Locke, and their current group of students. They need a tour of the hospital.”
“Yes, doctor.” Private Kanen presented the group with a serious face. “Where would you like us to begin, sir?”
“Triage,” Father Locke replied. “This is Trainee Maccani Moor, an aspiring medic.”
“Welcome to Cavern Army Hospital, Trainee Moor,” said the boy.
Maccani Moor fell into step beside him. His inquisitive, prowling step made a marked contrast to the forthright clomp of Kanen’s boots. His first remark to their guide was, “What happened to your eye?”
“Shrapnel,” said Kanen. “Extremist attack. They brought me here to try to save my eye, but nothing worked. That was six… no, nearly seven years ago. When I came of age, I signed up to work here. Not much I can do yet, except clean up and show people around, but I’m learning. Good people here. Really good people.”
“That’s what I gathered,” Moor said.
Their tour began in the triage staging area, which was quiet when they arrived but suddenly burst into activity when three ambulances arrived one after the other. “Nature of incident?” one of the medics called out to the first field medics.
“Apartment fire,” the field medic replied. “Overflow from Downtown. They’re swamped.”
“Civilians,” said the house medic, marking swiftly on an electronic clipboard. Then he leaned into his desk and started to speak in clipped, clear syllables that made no sense at all to Fiola.
In response to this impenetrable jargon, other medical staff started congregating. Father Locke bunched his students and guests into a corner, out of the way, so they could watch the triage process. He had his eye on the time. When the last patient had been whisked to another part of the hospital, he said, “Three minutes, twenty seconds from arrival to distribution for treatment.”
Private Kanen beamed, as proud as if the accomplishment were his own. “They don’t waste time here. Every second is precious.” He led them through to the preparation area, where the prior patients had already passed onward to the treatment. “Burn patients go down that hallway,” Kanen pointed, “but we can’t tour there because it’s a sterile area. I’d have to have you shower and put on scrubs and all that.”
Fiola said, “That’s where they take infection victims too.”
Kanen nodded. “That’s right, little miss. They don’t stay down there once they’re cleaned up, but that’s the first stop for them too.”
He led them through or past every ward in the hospital. By the end of the tour, when he brought them down to the foyer, he said, “Good luck, Trainee Moor, wherever you get assigned. There’s never too many good medics, at home or in the field. And a good journey to you, Father Locke, Mother Locke, all.”
“Thank you, Private Kanen,” said Mother Locke. “I can tell that you really love this hospital.”
“I do. They did a lot for me,” he said, his smile shining through his assumed seriousness.
Outside, Father Locke said, “What did you think of it, Moor?”
“First class,” said Maccani Moor. “It’s different from the hospital I trained at. More intense.” His blue eyes glittered. His step had gone from an inquisitive prowl to an excited spring.
“If you’re looking for intensity, Moor, wait until you visit any of the army hospitals in South Territory,” replied Father Locke.
“I look forward to it.”
They followed that street until it brought them to another large Army building, the training center. Here Fiola had even less of a chance to catch Moor on his own, because even she was pulled into the sample training menu experience. After the training center, they stopped at another public meeting house, this one so small that only three or four people could fit inside. It was all of carved wood, the only wooden structure Fiola had seen so far, and its inner walls were plaster, adorned with brilliant murals. She, Crystallin, and Lily went in together and spent several minutes in silence, just gazing at the walls. Moor went in later with Rusza Tate and Sora Waeber.
Their city tour ended at supper, when Father Locke brought them to a place he called the “market eatery.” It was an enormous open-air market with a core of permanent shops surrounded by lanes of booths. “Here,” Father Locke announced, “you can buy any food item available in North Territory, along with many signature products from Northeast and Northwest Territories. Not only can you buy the raw ingredients, but you can also ask the vendors to cook the ingredients while you wait. I’ll give you twenty minutes to find your meal and regroup here at the tables.”
Maccani Moor announced, “I’ll reserve a table for us. Tate, whatever you decide to eat, get me the same, but half as much.” He handed some money to Rusza Tate.
Seeing her opportunity at last, Fiola said, “I’m not very hungry. Sanna, do you mind if I just sit at the table?”
“Are you sure you don’t want anything?” Sanna asked. “Not even something light?”
“Maybe something light, but not much.” She watched her cousin and her uncle head off into the market with everyone else. Then she turned resolutely toward the one remaining group member.
Maccani Moor seated himself on one side of the nearest trestle table, in the middle of the bench. “Have a seat, Miss Fiola,” he said. “You’re probably tired. That often has an adverse effect on the appetite.” He patted the table top, indicating the place opposite him. “Let’s chat. What shall we talk about?” His blue eyes twinkled in a knowing manner.
“Did you know I wanted to talk to you?”
“I didn’t, until Mica Locke told me you did. Sorry it took so long. There weren’t many good chances today, were there? So what’s on your mind?”
Fiola took a deep breath. Then, on a burst of nervous energy, she said, “I wanted to know if you’re serious enough about being Sanna’s student to consider paying tuition fees.” Once the first words were out, she felt more certain of her ground. “I think Sanna doesn’t believe her instruction is worth charging students money for it, but I do.”
“I agree completely,” said Moor. “In fact…” He brought out a small notepad from his pocket. “I’ve been working with the figures, and this is what I came up with. Quarterly, of course.” He slid the notebook across the table for her perusal. “At present, I’m still dependent on my dad’s support while I’m in training, and he’s willing to put up the fees until I start earning wages enough to support myself.”
Fiola gazed from the penciled numbers to Moor’s face. “That’s… more than I expected,” she confessed.
“Like I said, I agree completely about Sanna’s teaching being worth the investment. When I was training in the capital, I saw a lot of different needs. Most of what the hospital I was at dealt with was dependent care: spouses and kids of soldiers, just in for their regular care or for emergencies. The really interesting cases all came from the territories, the ones the territorial hospitals couldn’t treat due to lack of resources. But it’s hard to get a place in any of the territorial medic squads when you’re from the capital, because they know you don’t have the training to defend yourself out in the field. So when I found out Sanna was a fighter whose style specialized in body mechanics, which is perfect for human body sympathists, as I’m sure you know, I saw my opportunity to get that training. Then,” he added, “I found out she was the inheritor of a fighting school, an itinerant fighting school. I started putting two and two together. She plans to work as a disposal specialist. As the head of the school, that means she’ll be taking her students out on the front lines. As one of her students, I automatically have a place in a squad that’s going just where I want to go— and best of all, I’m one of the first to sign up, which means when I’m fully trained as a medic, I get seniority over any other medics that might join the squad later on.” Moor tapped the notebook with his fingertip. “It’s worth that much and more to me.”
Fiola studied him pensively for a few seconds. “You’re sure more students will sign up.”
“I’m sure of it,” he affirmed. “And you can count on me, little Miss Fiola, to have this conversation with any future students. I’m investing in this school for my own reasons. I want Sky-wind school to succeed. If anyone wants to join without paying, I’ll talk to them. By the time I’m done with them, they’ll want to pay the fees.” He gave Fiola a knowing grin.
She couldn’t help smiling a little in return, although much of that smile came from the relief of knowing that this young man was not as daunting as she had first thought.