Happy New Year, everyone! As promised, here's the next scene from chapter eight.
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They didn’t make it before the new month as Balfrith had hoped, but it was only the fourth day of the World-Tree, Wodinsday, when they finally crossed the ancient stone bridge that marked the entrance to the University of the Arts, on the southern outskirts of Hightower.
The university was much larger than Balfrith had expected. He’d only heard a few stories about the place and its history, and with no frame of reference, he just assumed it was a single large building. Instead, what they saw was an entire campus of buildings of various architectural styles from the past few hundred years. The grounds were well kept, with a comfortable green sward covering most of the area and trees scattered about to provide some shade.
Small crowds of young men and women, most of them about Balfrith’s age, rushed from building to building, hurrying to get to whatever destinations. A few older folk walked at a more leisurely pace, and it was one of these that Balfrith and Eldamir approached, a matronly woman with long gray hair tied up in a bun, wearing a simple brown dress and carrying a heavy leather-bound book close to her breast.
Balfrith called out to her as they were catching up, “Excuse me, good woman, may I have a word with you?”
She turned, her brow furrowed, and said, “If you must, you may walk alongside and ask your questions. But please don’t delay me, as I have an important errand for professor Hoodwink.”
Balfrith said, “It’s just a simple question, really. My companion and I have journeyed here from Illithëon, bade by our lord to complete a certain task. Our purpose here is related to it, in that we were recommended to come and speak with the university provost, who we were told might be able to help us.”
Clearly not believing his story, the woman sarcastically replied, “Oh, is that all? Well then, young goodmen, might I suggest you seek the provost and speak with him? Now if you will excuse me, I must be about my duties.”
Eldamir removed the hood of his cloak and spoke up, saying, “Good woman, please let me introduce myself - I am master Eldamir,” emphasizing the title. “And my young friend here is master Balfrith. All we need to know is, where can we find the provost?”
The woman’s face went through several transformations, from irritation at being interrupted, to embarrassment at assuming they were of a lower station than her and discovering she was wrong, and finally to shock at the realization that Eldamir was not, in fact, a Man. “M-my apologies, young masters,” she stammered. “Provost Colman can most likely be found in his office, in that large building over there,” she pointed to an older, classically-styled structure that stood at the head of a long mall, with trees lining its sides like the columns in an arcade.
Eldamir nodded and said, “You have our thanks, good woman, and we will be sure to mention your name to provost Colman as having been most helpful in our errand. Can you answer one other question for me? I understand that he is undoubtedly a very busy man, but our errand is truly of some urgency, and we would not be unduly delayed. What is the best way for us to arrange a meeting with him?”
She thought a moment, truly trying to help them now, and finally said, “Find his secretary, Liliwin, a small man who wears black and red robes with the cowl thrown back. He can arrange an appointment for you - and if you mention the lovely red color of his robes, you’re likely to get on his good side. And my name is Everild.” She said the last with an impish little smile, and her cheeks dimpled like a little girl.
Eldamir grinned back and bowed slightly, saying, “Thank you again, good woman Everild - a lovely name, for a lovely lady.”
Her eyes widened slightly, and she smiled more genuinely. “Thank you, good masters, and I hope your errand proves successful.” She bowed then, took one step backward, then turned and strode away on her own errand once again.
Balfrith stood and stared at his friend for a moment, then asked, “How do you do that?”
“Do what?” asked Eldamir, innocently.
Balfrith said impatiently, “What do you think? Get people to do what you want like that? I asked the woman a simple question and all I got was a sarcastic response that didn’t help us at all. Then you step in, and she becomes all sweet and helpful.”
Eldamir smiled and said, “It’s more than just one thing, Balfrith. It’s a skill I’ve practiced for years, and while I can certainly teach you the basics, it will take you some practice as well before you see results like this. And I have to admit, she surprised even me with her quick change of attitude. I don’t always get such results.”
Balfrith said, “Well, just about anything would be better than the response she gave to me. And since we’ll be journeying together for some time, perhaps you can teach me those basics as we go.”
Eldamir nodded his agreement. “I will give you one piece of advice right now, but the rest can wait until after we depart. For now, just focus on this: dress to the quality due your station, but act more humbly than people expect. It will get them off their guard, leaving them open to your overtures.”
Balfrith looked confused a moment, and said, “But we’re both dressed the same, for travel. You aren’t wearing any lordly garments, so why should I?”
“Well, I have a different advantage. People do not expect to meet an Elefdar in these days, especially one traveling alone with Man. When they see my face, especially my eyes and ears, it is almost the same as if they suddenly realized they were in the presence of a duke - or a duke’s son.” He grinned, looking pointedly at Balfrith.
Balfrith, taken aback, had nothing to say. Of course it made perfect sense, for he could immediately recall how Eldamir had removed his hood before addressing himself to the woman Everild, and how her face had registered the recognition: she wasn’t speaking with common-born students or travelers, she was speaking with a noble Elf! It almost made Balfrith laugh, thinking about it. He knew, of course, that the Elefdar had similar social stations to those of Men, though they were perhaps a bit more flexible in allowing people to improve their station over time. But not all Elefdar were of the nobility, even though Men seemed to assume it was so. And perhaps for most Men, any encounter with an Elefdar was in fact with someone of a higher station, given that so few Elefdar traveled outside of their forest borders. It was almost too much to think about, but it certainly opened Balfrith’s eyes to the power of perception, and left him with little to say as they walked toward the building at the head of the mall.