Practical Exercise

Harmony was a very old town, by some accounts older than the Academy. A few unmen families had lived in it for thousands of generations, occasionally tearing down an older house and building a newer one on the same site. Before the last ice age, the University Council had systematically torn up all the streets down to a considerable depth, removed vast numbers of inactive water, sewer, and gas pipes, and installed a well-laid-out set of utilities that occasional rejuvenation spells kept in good working order.  The far, south-facing side of town lay on the water, with slips for fishing boats and docks for cargo ships sailing through one of the fixed gates.

Shops were on two long streets, much shorter cross streets, and some distance out in each direction.  At first I saw stores selling souvenirs and student gew-gaws, separated by establishments purveying wine, liquor, tobacco, recreational pharmaceuticals, and the Gods help me aphrodisiacs.  As I walked, the chintzier shops were replaced with clothing stores, suppliers of spell components, and restaurants.   I’d never heard of most of the cuisines on offer.  I could smell them, though.  If I hadn’t eaten recently, I would be strongly tempted to stop.  Breads with yogurt and curries.  Fried fish.  A style I didn’t recognize, in which you dropped things into boiling broth and waited for them to cook.  Bakeries, smells redolent of chocolate, cinnamon, raspberry, and rosehips. Now I reached grocery stores, fishmongers, and of all things cheese and fruit stores.  My jaw dropped when I saw the price of oranges.  At home they are a less-common expensive fruit, much like a mango.  Here they were cheaper than apples. 

The cheese store had a sign: Students! Ten samples for every pound bought.   There were several softer cheeses good for slicing; I bought a pound of one seasoned with garlic, chives, and oregano.   There was also a cheese filled with large bubbles, but so long as I bought by weight that was no issue.  My twenty samples included cheeses from three animals I’d never heard of, creatures that grow in the remote east. I did buy a tub of butter and two loaves of many-grain bread, which with some care fit into the preserver in my carryall.  Days at the Academy are very long, and I could imagine needing a snack late in the evening. 

What I wanted was furniture, which was not to be seen.  I cut over to the other major street.  There were no street signs.  On the street corners, there were no directories.  Apparently you were supposed to know where everything is.  A search down several dead end side streets revealed stores selling used books.  Except that I didn’t have lists of books for my classes, I would have bought texts now.  A clerk pointed me toward furniture makers.  I saw beautiful, ornately-carved pieces of specialty hardwoods at ornate prices.  There were cheap bookshelves so flimsy, made of truly soft woods, that I wondered how they supported their own weight. Finally I found what I wanted, put down more more money than I would have preferred, even though I was getting solid teak, watched the shelves and frame being wrapped, levitated them to a gating point, and got them home.  The unman clerk had politely reminded me to buy a bottle of lime oil and polishing rags; with a little work the shelves shaped up nicely. 

Unlike some people Dad had told me about, I hadn’t packed that much.  By late evening, after a pause for dinner, more or less everything was in the right room.  Emptying boxes could wait until I’d oiled the wall panels.  I was very much ready for a long, deep sleep that lasted until almost sunrise.

General Assembly

The next day was the General Assembly for first year students, held in the Grand Theater.  You attended Assembly and had your ward passage validated, or paid the penalty, which included standing and reading aloud the Chancellor’s welcoming speech, following which you paid an impressively hefty fine.  The theater was a limestone semicircle, rows of backless seats ramping upward toward the rear, the whole being open to the sky.   The wall behind the speaker was spangled with golden stars, each star marking an occasion on which the stairs or seats had worn down and needed to be replaced.  First year students spread across the seats, with well more gaps than people.

About George Phillies

science fiction author -- researcher in polymer dynamics -- collector of board wargames -- President, National Fantasy Fan Federation
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