An Unwelcome Guest

You are reading: Skyfish

Written by Eilidhan on 04 Jun 2017 12:09.

Though there was no sun to rise nor a fish to swim over the horizon, dawn still managed to make Aurelia feel more tired than when she'd gone to bed.

The lamps that lined the streets - tiny replicas of the town's main fish lamp - had brightened, changing from the silver colour that denoted night time to a copper-ish colour for morning.

Not long before the bells would ring the dawn, she thought, and with some great effort of willpower dragged herself out of bed onto the floor.

She stood up. The air in her room was mild, but still colder than she liked. She couldn't find her slippers anywhere, and spotted them across the room set neatly next to her boots. Between the small rug where she stood and the shoes was two feet or so of very cold stone flagged floor, which she knew from experience felt like ice in the morning and little better any other time.

Socks. Where were her socks? She rummaged through the bedclothes until she found them, hiding in the folds of the many blankets.

Pulling the socks on, she retrieved the slippers and put those on as well. Boots were for later. She didn't need to go outside yet, thankfully.

Speaking of outside…

Aurelia woke up slightly, and had a vague feeling she had something to do. She knew she had a letter about it. Letters she kept in the drawer of her desk. She looked at it, the old leather topped writing desk which had belonged to at least five others before her - a fact she knew because they had deigned to scratch or scorch their names in the underside. It had four drawers, two large, two smaller, and she had tried to maintain some semblance of a filing system by keeping paper documents (letters included) in the larger left hand drawer.

She pulled it open and wished she wasn't so bad at organising. Paper spilled onto the floor, crumpled and in no sort of order at all.

It took her ten minutes to find the letter she wanted, along with several old results papers that she definitely did not want to see again. She screwed those up and threw them at the wall. She'd keep them for kindling.

She read the letter, and it told her that she had, today, a meeting with the head tutors of the Knights' Academy about her final assessment. The one thing standing between her and a knighthood, and the freedom she so wanted.

She knew more or less what it would be. A situation trial of some kind. When there was some reason for travel, such as a trading party or some other convoy, a knight might be assigned to part of the guard for that. Obviously not alone: the guard would always be made up of very competent knights who could handle any theoretical problems already without help In these situations. Sometimes it was just a set up, though these were by no means considered the easy option. The tutors would not hold anything back in preparing these, and fairly serious injuries were, while uncommon, not unheard of.

But as far as she knew, no trading was planned, no political matters needed attending to, so it seemed more than likely she'd have a set up assessment.

She re-read the letter. The meeting was at midday in the general administrative building, the one part of the academy that was not in the same place as everything else but right across town, next to the town hall.

Aurelia grimaced. It seemed that she couldn't avoid going outside after all.

She bent down down to pick up some of the papers left on the floor, when all of a sudden the bells rang to mark the start of the day. Aurelia, lost in thought, jumped, and hit her head on the drawer.

As the loud ringing faded, it was replaced by someone knocking repeatedly on the door. They apparently had no concept of knocking a few times and waiting, which as far as Aurelia was concerned was an incredibly rude and irritating way to go about things. Combined with the throbbing pain on her head, she felt distinctly inclined not to answer the door, or at least take a very long time about it.

"Hang on!" she shouted, rubbing the lump that was rising right on the top of her head.

"Aurelia! Open this door!" came the unmistakably self-centred voice of Aurelia's aunt.

Aurelia groaned. Her aunt was possibly the last person she wanted to see right now, especially in the middle of the academy. She always treated her niece like a child, or so it seemed like to Aurelia, and acted as if she was always right and would accept no other opinion. The mere suggestion that she was being awkward or simply incorrect would be met with a cold glare that could freeze your voice right where it was.

The knocking resumed. "Aurelia!"

"Alright, I said hang on!" replied the now completely frustrated knight-in-training. She strode angrily to the door, a small pile of papers crumpled in her hand, pulled back the bold and yanked open the door.

A tall woman of about sixty-something years old with bright white hair and severe expression almost pushed her out of the way as she entered, characteristically before being invited in. Aurelia made faces at her back, and didn't manage to stop in time when the lady turned sharply on her heel to stare her down.

"Well? Shut the door, girl!"

Aurelia shut the door with a deliberateness that was completely lost on her aunt, who simply removed a pair of trousers from Aurelia's chair and sat down.

The silence in the room was colder than the air itself.

Aurelia realised that she was going to have to speak first, if she wanted to get out of here in time to get to the meeting.

"Aunt, what are you-" she began, but her aunt cut her off immediately.

"Don't call me aunt, Aurelia. I don't call you 'niece'. We have names for a reason, and familial relation is no reason to forego them."

Aurelia sighed and tried to suppress the rising urge to throw something across the room.

"Ellis, what are you doing here?"

But Ellis was not listening. She was in fact scanning every visible inch of Aurelia's room with a generally disdainful look.

"Your room," she said, knowingly oblivious to the unprecedented rage she was inspiring in her niece, "is not what I would generally consider fit for guests." She was eyeing in particular the trousers lying in a crumpled heap on the floor by her feet (which had been folded, albeit not neatly, on the chair until she had displaced them) and the open drawer that was bulging with paper, the few letters that Aurelia had been trying to tidy up still sitting on the floor.

"I didn't know you were coming," said Aurelia.

Ellis sniffed. "One should always expect visitors."

Aurelia closed her eyes and focused on breathing. She didn't consider herself a particularly angrier person than most, but her aunt could be one of the most infuriating people under the ocean-sky when she was intent on doing something that no one else wanted her to do. Efficiency, efficacy - she could call it what she liked. It made Aurelia want to scream.

She crushed the paper she was holding, and tried once again to get an answer from her aunt.

"What are you doing here?"

Her aunt didn't even look round. "I was passing."

Aurelia abandoned politeness. It rarely worked, but at least now she couldn't be accused of not having tried.

"No, Aunt, what are you doing here? This building isn't open to the public without written permission from a resident. How did you get in here? Why are you even here in the first place?"

"Isn't one allowed to visit one's family?" Ellis said, as if travelling halfway across the country and somehow gaining access to a private academic residence to visit your estranged sister's daughter was a perfectly usual and reasonable thing to do on a whim.

Aurelia knew better. Ellis never did anything on whim. She was, despite her infuriating disinclination follow anyone's line of conversation but her own, a business-woman to the core, and a very sharp one at that. She would not have made the long, expensive and dangerous journey without a very good reason, and Aurelia had a horrible feeling that she was going to be dragged into it whether she liked it or not.

"Anyway," Ellis continued, "as the one funding your studies, I am contractually obliged to be somewhat responsible for you as long as you are studying here. Hence I do not legally need any sort of permission from you, written or otherwise, to access your rooms."

Aurelia changed tack. "Ellis, do you need anything from me?"

"Why should I need anything from you?"

"Well," Aurelia said hopefully, "I do have other things to do, so if you don't need anything, could you… uh, leave, so I can go?"

"Leave? Why? Where are you going to?" Ellis snapped, clearly not happy with her niece's plans.

"I have a meeting. A private meeting,"

"Private? With whom is this 'private meeting?'"

That was it.

"It's none of your business!" the young knight-in-training snapped. "Now please, leave my room so I can get dressed and go!"

Ellis stood up and glared, tight-lipped.

"How dare you speak to me in such a fashion, girl? I am your benefactor and elder! Show some respect!"

Aurelia was just angry now. Of course she was glad that her aunt had paid for the academy, but she would rather face the pitch-black wastelands alone than let her aunt think that she owed her anything.

"Respect? You haven't earned my respect! No one ever asked you to pay for anything, you did that by yourself!" she shouted, no longer caring if her neighbours heard. And then she thought of something that would really get under her skin.

"I can see why mum won't talk to you!"

It was a childish thing to say, and a very low blow, but it never-the-less had the effect Aurelia had hoped it would. Ellis looked momentarily as if she might explode with fury, then turned and stalked out of the room, slamming the door behind her.

Though she was still very angry, Aurelia breathed a sigh of relief at finally having got rid of her aunt. She didn't realise until much later that Ellis had completely avoided answering any of her questions, and didn't, until it was too late, wonder why.

But with her aunt finally not occupying her chair, Aurelia collapsed into it herself. The crumpled letter fell from her hand, and she didn't bother to pick it up. She had time enough to take a minute after that palaver.

Why today of all days, she thought? Her aunt had certainly never had the best timing in the world, but it was as if she'd calculated the most inconvenient moment to appear this time. Aurelia's calm such as it had been was totally dissipated now, and she couldn't remember what her train of thought had been before-hand.

The meeting. She needed to remember the meeting. That was the most urgent, if not the most important, thing she had to do, and if there was anything else she had forgotten - well, she would deal with it as and when she remembered about it.

She slid forwards out of the chair and grudgingly picked up her trousers.

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