Section I: Episode 40
June 11, 2015
After his shower, Galavar got dressed and put on his new robe over his clothes. It fit flawlessly, with just enough extra snugness from the clothes underneath and just the tiniest bit of extra length in the torso and limbs for that small bit of growing he still had yet to do. Miatysacis had gotten the details perfect.
Wearing a robe to breakfast was one of those little things he'd always dreamed about doing as a grown-up, and today he would taste his fantasy for the first time. It was such a small thing, in a sense…just a single, nonessential piece of clothing, but as he strode into the Heliclator he felt twice as tall. He'd never had a real robe, not like this. The closest he'd come had been the occasional longshirt wrap, and the old oversized jacket he once had. But this…this was something else. More than just a robe, this was a portent—one of several lately—proclaiming that Galavar stood on the cusp of adulthood, at last.
For breakfast he didn't go down to the refectory. Instead he made for the Kettle Club, a special occasions restaurant and lounge elsewhere in the Academy. Only Elder School students and adults could even get in. Seats required reservation well in advance, and the cuisines didn't come cheap. To Galavar it was one of the most sophisticated places he'd ever seen, with dark carpets and wood-paneled walls, dim little lamps and wax candles in glass holders, and gourmet food the likes of which couldn't be had anywhere else in the Academy—rivaling anything even in Ieik itself.
The tables were made of old wood, shiny from varnish, and sat low and heavy, and bigger than economy strictly required—a testament to the village's acknowledgment that sometimes it was necessary to go a little beyond the necessities of life. Galavar felt decadent eating on them, and was mindful of the expense that it took to do so, yet he liked the sensation of it, the occasion of it, as a rare contrast to his practical day-to-day life.
The windows were glass, a special glass that turned amber in the brightest sunlight of the afternoon. This morning, though, it would be dark on the western side of the Academy. Beyond those big windows the Kettle Club even had a view of Mirus Pond—still a bit raw in everyone's mind, but also still as pretty as it ever was—as well as a sprawling view of western Ieik beyond, and the view was designed in such a way, by showing off the several gardens around the pond, that Ieik looked much more verdant than it truly was. Like the morning gloaming could almost pass for an overcast sky, Galavar could look out those windows and almost imagine that he was in another place, somewhere out in the world. He loved that.
Galavar walked through those special double doors and said to the garcon, "Galavar," and with a flourish, a wave, and a birthday felicitation he was admitted into splendor.
The gang was waiting for him, sitting at what had become "their" table—even though the tradition was less than a year old—but it was not the gang he expected. Agram was there, but instead of Miatysacis and Boon were Javelin and Ornithate. Missing his dearer friends, Galavar frowned for just an inkling of an instant before remembering his manners and putting on a big smile, and as it spread out across his face he realized he hardly had to force it. Even the air in this place felt like magic to him, and it was his special day. He couldn't help but be happy.
Agram hopped up from the table and met Galavar halfway, wearing the biggest smile Galavar had seen on him since Dawn's Eve. The bustle and clattering silverware of a packed house all around them, and Galavar felt like he belonged in this place.
"Well hey there, handsome," said Agram, and slapping Galavar on the shoulder. "That's a main fine garment you've got."
"Isn't it awesome?"
They turned back toward the table.
"It's nice to see you in good cheer."
"I've been too stressed out over those bicking books," Agram said. "I need to take it a little easier."
"Found anything interesting?"
"Lots! But let's save it for another time. We have guests!"
They got to the table, and Javelin and Orni stood up to greet him. They were all smiles—even Ornithate, whom Galavar had thought wasn't interested in being his friend, despite the special bond they shared.
"Good sele," she said.
"And Javelin! I was just thinking about you. The sculpture in my room…you made that?"
"Maybe I did. Maybe I've been working on it all year."
"It's beautiful. Thank you!"
"Yes it is! It's my pleasure."
They hugged, and everyone sat down in the big booth around their table. At once, morning beverages were served, with Galavar pouring tiny bowls of dark, sweet wine for everyone: the quintessential celebratory aperitif.
"I hope you don't mind my showing up here," Javelin continued as Galavar poured. "We checked a couple of days ago and there weren't any extra seats available, so Boon gave me his, since he hasn't been feeling well."
"I didn't know you knew Boon."
"We run in different circles, but sure! I know everyone. He sends his regrets, by the way."
"Aye," Galavar said, taking his seat of honor at the table. "I miss him this morning."
"We'll drop in on him later," said Agram.
"That we will!"
"And what about Saysh?" Galavar looked at Ornithate. "I assume you're standing in for her?"
"She told me I should."
"Yeah, and it's a shame she's not here." Ornithate looked around. "This is a nice place. My first time here. If I had known we'd be sitting in a booth, I'd have insisted that five people would fit just fine. I'm small!"
"Heh, you are. But why did Saysh send you?"
She gestured at his new robe. "Well, that."
"You did this?"
"You act surprised! She and I worked on it together. It was her idea, and she ordered all the materials and told me how to put it together aesthetically, but I'm the one who actually crafted it."
He looked down at the robe again. "You did an extraordinary job, Orni. This is world-class. I figured that Saysh had imported the whole thing, finished, from the Empire."
"Nope. All the stitching, the tanning, the fullering, all the work besides creating the materials—I did it. Though the materials are nearly all Imperial."
"It's wonderful." Galavar was impressed, and very surprised. "And it must have been ages in the planning."
"How did Saysh think to ask your help?"
"Oh, we have a mutual friend, Kalder. He figured out by chance that Saysh needed a knitter, and he knows that I like knitting."
"This is more than just knitting."
"Well, I do more than just knitting."
"Forgive me," said Galavar. "I just had no idea. And…well…ever since we talked during Dawn's Eve…you told me that you don't much like me. Now here I learn that you've been working on a robe for me all year."
"More than all year. And like I tried to say, I don't mean it badly. We're not friends, but we're not enemies either. We're teammates, schoolmates, agemates—we're fond acquaintances. We just have our different lives, that's all." She smiled. "And your birthday gave me an excuse to work on the most ambitious tailoring project I've ever undertaken."
"Well, thank you! Saysh wanted me to know that, didn't she? That you were so instrumental. That's why she sent you in her stead."
"Well, Orni, you're in for a treat here at the Kettle Club. The meal's on me. Get whatever you like. They'll be around to recite the menu shortly, though I already know what I'm having."
"Tickled semmaback," said Agram.
"You know it. Best fish in the bicking world. It was luck that they had it on the menu that day, but I didn't want to leave it to luck this time. Never leave it to luck! I ordered some when I made the reservation, and there's been time for two return merchants since then." He chuckled. "You know, if Boon were here, he'd joke that it's wasteful to send a frozen fish on a block of numeneered ice a quarter of the way across the world."
"That's deliciously wasteful!" cried Javelin, gesturing gleefully for Galavar to pour her more wine. "How beautiful! I knew it. You're always so proper and ruly on the outside, but I knew better, and it brightens my spark to finally see that deep down you're a dilettante and a wastrel."
"Do they really tickle it?" Orni asked.
"Oh, you mean the fish?" said Agram. "Apparently they do, when it's still alive. It makes it taste better or something."
"I suppose the Empire is the sort of place where there's a person who makes their whole living tickling fish."
"That's the specialization of labor," said Galavar. "We learned about it in economy."
"So, tell me about this tradition of yours," Javelin asked. "Your Galabear is tonight, right? So what's this? Why the Kettle Club by morning?"
"This is just an hour for me to be the mate I want to be. Galas are such social occasions. This is more of a personal indulgence."
"Why the Kettle Club?" asked Ornithate.
"My mentors Mae and Bent took me here for my birthday last year as a surprise. It was the first day I could lawfully set foot in here. They ordered for me, and we talked the good talk. Art, philosophy, ambition, the future."
Agram added, "And so later on that night he comes and tells us at his Galabear that he's found the 'Hidden Jewel' of the Academy, and that we absolutely had to go here for our birthdays."
"Except it wasn't until this past winter that the four of us finally got in," explained Galavar, "because my birthday is the first. Then Boon, then Saysh, then finally Agram."
"Today is only my second time here," Agram admitted. "But I'm liking it as much as I did before."
Their waiter arrived and recited foods to delight the imagination and tempt every sense in the body. Agram and Ornithate ordered to their best fancy, and sure enough Galavar's tickled semmaback was ready and waiting. Ieik barely grew any foods of its own, given the climate, and relied almost exclusively on Sourran providence. What variety existed beyond that came only from imports or personal gardening and ranching. Occasions like these were a great opportunity to try new or beloved gustatory rarities.
Javelin, however, ordered fishcakes, something she could have gotten virtually anywhere in the village.
"Why?" he asked.
"I hear this place is so good. I know fishcakes, so I want a standard of comparison."
"You're sure it's not just that you're scared of exotic foods?" jested Ornithate.
"Absolutely not! The Great Javelin fears nothing."
The waiter came around again, this time with a pot of bippring, and Galavar tapped his knife against the side of it as he had seen people do to gather everyone's attention.
"Mates," Galavar said, "I want to wish you all a happy birthday, and above all a safe and prosperous year."
"Speech!" said Agram.
"No! No speech!" said Javelin.
"Galabear's prerogative," chided Galavar. "And now for my much-anticipated speech!"
"Does this at least mean we won't have to sit through one tonight?"
"Nope. I've written two."
O day and night, but this is wondrous strange!