The Mistress of Mayanna:
or The Adventure of the Crystal Staff
Lady Carleon Investigates: The Mistress of Mayanna or The adventure of the Crystal Staff. A detective story set in an all-feminine world.
great bell struck the quarter-hour. Fifteen minutes to tea-time.
Annalinde was the name of the bell, although many people assumed it to
be the name of the clock on the tallest spire of Queen Mayanna House.
Dear old Annalinde. Lady Carleon loved her, as she loved every inch of
the beautiful college.
She sat in her deep leather
armchair and watched two Glides (as the Q.M. maidservants were called)
setting out plates of small delicate sandwiches and a fine coffee and
walnut cake. The chrome Art-Neo tea-kettle was placed by the little
chrome flame-boiler and a stone pitcher of water placed by the side of
the table. Lady Carleon herself would make the tea in the traditional
manner. In other parts of Trent the servants might have made the tea,
but this was too near the Novari border for such untraditional behavior.
day at four, when she was residing in College, Lady Carleon had tea. It
was a small tea – not sufficient to spoil dinner – but very charming.
Her lovely eggshell-china cups from Tokoranji; the tea itself, imported
specially from Chen Avitsene; the wonderful bakery items from the little
shop in town run by a baxter-mistress from Ladyton and delivered to her
rooms each day; and above all the splendid conversation, all went to
make Lady Carleon's afternoon teas an event to which an invitation might
have been a coveted honor. But in fact the invitation was completely
open. Any girl in the College was free to wander in at four o’clock and
partake of tea.
In actuality, it was not quite so
simple. So little is in Trent. It was an unwritten rule that a girl
should attend no more than once in a term unless she was invited back.
Lady Carleon, of course, would always say some such thing as “I hope
that you will honor us again with your presence.” Less would have been
ungracious; but this meant no more than that the girl might attend next
term. Something more explicit like “I do hope we may have the pleasure
of seeing you next week” conveyed an invitation to come sooner.
Sometimes a specific day would be mentioned, for Lady Carleon had
“particular days” – days when girls of an especial type or area of
interest were brought together so that the tea would have – not anything
so vulgar as a theme — but a certain tint. Tint seems the proper word
to apply to these gatherings. Dinner in the great paneled Dining Hall
had conversation that was clever and often colorful, but the
conversation of tea-time should be in delicate watercolor shades.
Carleon was not an academic. She was in fact a writer who had published
a few very fine books, and something of a traveller, especially in the
East, and in the far north of Vintesse and Quirinelle, thus terms
sometimes went by when she was not in residence at all. Her position at
the College was that of a scholar, but this term requires a little
further explanation which will be made clearer by an examination of the
nature of the college.
Queen Mayanna House is what is known as a Lay College.
There are many of them in the West, and the main reason for their
existence is the same as the reason for the many Brunettes’ Clubs and in
recent times Blondes’ Clubs too as well as small residential hotels and
pensions. In times past, and still in the East, when a maid was
unmarried (as maids often are in Aristasia since the procreative need is
rather smaller for such a long-lived and harm-resistant people) she
stayed with her extended family or, if she were a magdalin, with the
mistress to whom she was apprenticed. In the West, with the decline –
though by no means death – of the guild- and apprentice-system and with
so many of the more modern type of unmarried girl preferring to place
some distance between themselves and their families, new places grew up
in which such a girl might live.
To take a flat
alone is not unheard of, but it is very rare. Aristasians have been
rather disrespectfully described as pack-animals and it is true that
individualism of the late-schizomorph kind has made little headway in
the Motherland. Even if they move away from some of the more traditional
ways of life, Aristasians require an in-group in which to live and move
and have their being.
The Clubs create one such
group. They often have particular activities associated with them such
as fencing or poetry, and they may meet other like-minded clubs for
contests, exchanges of ideas or joint exhibitions of work. Another is
created by the Lay-Colleges, some of which have filial ties to the great
Universities, others of which are simply small private establishments.
As they are primarily living places, their courses of compulsory study
are often small. Queen Mayanna House simply requires one essay or major
poem per year as a condition of membership: but these essays and poems
have often taken their place among the most admired literature in the
Western World, for the Annual Opus (as it is called) stimulates the best
efforts of some of the finest minds in Trent and Novaria.
Mayanna is a daughter-house of Goldcrest College, Milchford
University, and nearly all its members are Old Goldcrestiennes. This
gives the college a somewhat cosmopolitan character as girls from all
over the Western Empire, and some from the East go up to Milchford, and a
few of them move on afterwards to Queen Mayanna House; so while the
College has a largely South-Trentish and West-Novarian character, it
does contain girls from many different lands. Lady Carleon herself was a
Chelvertonian from Quirinelle who had every intention of moving back
into Leontine Place, the family seat, when she came into her
inheritance, or perhaps even taking up residence in the town-house in
Chelverton before then. For the present, though, Queen Mayanna House
suited her admirably.
A knock came at the door.
Achira opened it. Achira was Lady Carleon's own personal maid: a girl
from Marenkhe, Novaria. She ushered Miss Verice Ayakhani into the room.
Lady Carleon stood up and Miss Ayakhani reverenced deeply. Lady Carleon
made smaller reverence.
“Rayati,” she said. “You honor my poor chambers with the radiance of your youthful presence.”
“Rayati,” Said Miss Ayakhani. “I blush to place my ungainly foot in such a temple of beauty and wisdom.”
Ayakhani was a young daughter of one of the noblest houses in Miralene;
a pure Estrenne who spoke the Westrenne dialect more perfectly than
many Trintitians* and who might one day become the Archduchess of the
Duchy of Miralene.
“Honor me further by taking this chair and drinking some of the poor tea that I shall make.”
have taken your tea before this, my lady, and if I were able to make a
drink one half so perfect, I should consider myself an accomplished
“Your kindness is too great, as is sometimes the way with generous persons.”
Miss Ayakhani partially hid her face with her fan in a traditional gesture of shyness.
will not be many here today,” said Lady Carleon. “It is the High Feast
of Rosa Mundi, and many have gone to be with their people.”
is true,” said Miss Ayakhani, “the poor college is almost deserted, but
how lovely the summer gardens are with only the singing of birds and not
the chatter of maidens. It is a charm that has a wistful loneliness,
but is no less beautiful for that.”
“You think so too?” said Lady Carleon. “We feel so many things alike.”
“This poor child has learned fine taste from a great lady,” said Miss Ayakhani, hiding her face again.
two sat talking and sipping tea from the exquisite cups. Achira knelt
by her mistress’s chair, assisting the ladies, passing the tiny
sandwiches, but never pouring the tea, which was the ritual function of
the hostess. Lady Carleon had invited no one specifically today except
for this delightful Estrenne, she had felt that Miss Ayakhani might be
somewhat lost at the House during the de facto vacation (there
are no official vacations at QMH, but there are times when the College
does become very vacated). She had also been hoping for a chance to know
her better and to enjoy her company alone, for she was a girl who
receded shyly when others were present.
Another knock came at the door. Lady Carleon sighed inwardly. Today was not to be that opportunity.
opened the door and Lady Carleon and Miss Ayakhani stood. The visitor
was an unexpected one. It was Dr. Catrin Meldonshire, the Mistress of
Queen Mayanna House. Both girls reverenced very deeply. Achira fell to
her knees and touched her forehead to the floor. At just under forty
years of age, Lady Carleon was still a girl in Aristasian terms, and
naturally had the appearance of a Tellurian girl in her early twenties.
Before the 130-year-old head of the college, both felt very young and
“Rayati, ma’am,” they said in unison. Many things are said
in unison in Aristasia. Things that are the only thing that can or
should be said.
“Rayati, children,” said Dr. Meldonshire. “Please forgive this intrusion upon your charming company.”
presence overwhelms us,” said Lady Carleon. “Such an honor is unknown.”
This was almost true. It was more than rare for the Mistress of the
College to visit a scholar in her room. “Please have a seat, Ma’am, and
please allow me to make fresh tea.”
“Pray do not discompose yourself. I shall drink what is in the pot.”
“No, ma’am. It is bitter now. I must make more.”
“Make more! Make more!” Demanded a high voice. “Tea, tea, tea, tea, teeeeeea!”
“Oh dear,” cried Dr Meldonshire. “Reep-reep has come with me. I am sorry.”
“Please do not apologize, ma’am,” said Lady Carleon. “Reep-reep is most welcome to take tea with us.”
was a chenkireet – a creature something like a long-haired rabbit
walking on its hind-legs with little monkey-like hands. She could talk,
as most domesticated chenkireets could, though her understanding of the
language was somewhere between that of a parrot and that of a small
The Reep-reep incursion had somehow relieved the tension of
surprise. Dr. Meldonshire was seated, Achira resumed her place kneeling
by her mistress’s chair, Miss Ayakhani was ushered to a new chair (Dr
Meldonshire now taking the seat of honor) and Reep-reep knelt by her mistress’s chair in imitation of Achira.
forgive me if I come directly to the point,” said Dr Meldonshire, who
was little influenced by Estrenne ways. “Honored Founders’ Day – the
great Queen Mayanna Festival – as you know, will begin our new term.”
“I look forward to it, ma’am,” said Lady Carleon. It will be my first.
“You know that the Crystal Staff of Queen Mayanna is central to the ceremony?”
ma’am – the great Constructive Staff with which Honored Queen Mayanna
herself is said to have raised the very rocks on which the College
stands into the great central towers.”
“That is certainly true.
Those towers have no foundations in the ordinary sense. They grow as if
organically from the rocks below. Though of course the Staff has no such
constructive powers in this late age – certainly not so far west. But
it is still regarded as one of the High Treasures of Trintitia.”
had the honor of seeing it earlier this year, ma’am, when it was on
loan to the Centennial Exhibition at Trintitiana. It is truly a
beautiful thing – a spiral-patterned staff of pure crystal that seems at
times to have a subtle light from within. I have been looking forward
to seeing it again at the Queen Mayanna Festival”
“I fear you may not do so, my lady. The Crystal Staff has been stolen.”
“Stolen – but how can that be, ma’am?”
I do not know. The Staff rests always on its pedestal, in its special
chamber, across the hall from my own room. That chamber has no windows
and only one door, which is locked at all times, except on the few
occasions when the Staff is taken out for ceremonial purposes.”
“A lock can be picked, ma’am.”
but this door is sealed with the seal of Queen Mayanna, presented to
the College at its foundation, and also with my own personal seal.
Neither was broken when we opened it this morning.”
“How remarkable, ma’am.”
“I thought you might find it so. The question is, can you solve the problem, my lady?”
“But of course. It is well known that you have solved several celebrated mysteries.”
I just happened to be in the right places at the right times and to
have had a few inexplicable intuitions. There is nothing really
systematic about it, ma’am.”
“You are in the right place at the
right time now, my lady. Without the help of one of your inexplicable
intuitions, I fear we may have to celebrate Honored Founders’ Day
without the Staff, and there will be no Staff for the Townspeople at the
Great Queen Mayanna Festival. A tradition of some eight hundred years’
standing will be broken for the first time.”
“I shall do my best, ma’am. I only hope it will be enough.”
“Thank you so much, my lady. I cannot ask more of you than that.”
“Perhaps you would be so kind as to allow me to examine the room in which the staff was housed, ma’am.”
“By all means. Would you care to come now? Miss Ayakhani, you are most welcome to accompany us if that pleases you.”
“I should be thrilled, ma’am,” said Miss Ayakhani.
walked down the long oak-paneled corridor and out into the quad. The
midsummer heat felt like a solid thing as they left the house, for these
Southren houses are built to stay relatively cool. The College had an
air of desertion. Many who had not left for their homelands were
extending their zitronels – the afternoon sleep that is common
especially over the border in Novaria. The extended zitronel at this
time of year was often accompanied by a very late night. The College
would spring into a very limited version of its usual life at
dinner-time and the conversations, word-games, pool-bathing and other
diversions would continue long into the night. It was a habit of which
the somewhat strait-laced Westrenne College-Mistress had never fully
come to approve, and yet she has to agree that it made the best use of
the cooler (though still sultry) night-hours.
The white stone of
the College glittered in the sunlight; the barley-twist towers, echoes
of the Crystal Staff which was said to have fashioned them, soared high
into the azure sky “as the soul ascends, like the lark, directly to
Dea.” The College was founded at midsummer and was replete with the
symbolism of the season of Fire and Rose. It was beautiful at all times
of year, but at Midsummer it was at its very best, lit, as it seemed,
not only from without by the light in which it was raised from the
depths of the earth but from within by the light of its native spirit.
door opened, and a figure issued into silent quad which enhanced yet
further its atmosphere of white, sun-sanctified purity; a figure robed
in white from veiled head to white-sandaled feet. It was Matri
Carmaline, the College Chaplain.All three made deep reverence to the
Matri who signed her blessing upon them.
“Has the Staff been found, College-mistress?” she asked.
“I regret to say, Matri, that it has not,” replied Dr Meldonshire.
“Have you done as I advised and lit three candles to Sai Mati?”
“Not as yet, Matri.”
“You should do so, my child. Do not underestimate such simple traditions.”
with respect, if all who supplicated the Angels in the traditional
manner received the boons they asked, there would be but little
unhappiness in the whole of the East. None would ever lose a loved one
or lack for anything she wanted.” The College-mistress, though devout in
her Westrenne way, was the closest thing to a sceptic about the old
traditions that one finds in Aristasia.
The old priestess smiled.
She was a blonde who was near to her two-hundredth year, yet her face
had the childlike clarity of a Votary. Like many of these unworldly
old-style Haiela she would doubtless sail serenely into her third
century even though few worldly people lived so long.
“The will of
the Angels is unsearchable, my child,” she replied. “If it is ordained
that the Staff be lost then it shall be lost. If it is ordained that it
be found, it shall be found. Yet for all that we do not cease to take
action. You will seek the Staff and believe your seeking may have
effect. Why, then, not pray for the Staff and believe your praying will
have effect? For I tell you that praying and seeking are both nothing;
and yet they are both everything.”
“These ancient riddles were
made for wiser heads than mine, honored Matri,” said the
College-Mistress. It was a polite dismissal of the priestess’s words,
yet a dismissal nonetheless.
“Then pray to Sai Mati and let your
head become wiser,” said Matri Carmaline. Only a priestess could have
issued such a rebuke to the College-Mistress. It was a neat one, for Sai
Mati, who, on a simple folk-level is regarded as the finder of lost
things, is also the very Angel of Wisdom herself.
Dr. Meldonshire reverenced, accepting the rebuke. “I should do so, Matri. I shall do so – some day.”
“No day shines fairer on the soul than this day, my child,” said the priestess, her ancient-yet-childlike eyes smiling kindly.
College-mistress reverenced again and, giving her Rayati, passed on.
Her small party (including Reep-reep) made deep reverence to the
priestess, gave Rayati and passed on also.
They entered the main
house and made their way to the High Corridors where the academic staff
lived. These people were lay-academics who had a far lighter schedule
than the full-time academics at a full University, yet most were engaged
in their own research projects. Each could have been – or had been – a
full member of the staff of Goldcrest and each was an expert in some
particular field of study; Lady Carleon had learned many things on
subjects ranging from nether-Estrenne dialects to the history of the
child-votaries at the nearby Temple of Sai Candrë at the lectures given
in the College’s Great Hall and on the occasions when she had had the
honor of being invited to dine as a guest at High Table and take part in
the conversation of the Elder Sisters of the College.
to a door that looked no different from any of the other large oak
doors. Dr Meldonshire unlocked and opened it. Unlike the other rooms,
the walls were still bare white rock as they had been on the day the
building was raised. The floor was covered in wooden parquetry and in
the centre of the room rose a pedestal of the same white rock as the
walls, which looked like an organic part of the room.
“The room has not been changed since 2489,” said Dr. Meldonshire.
many centuries,” said Lady Carleon almost to herself. She felt somehow
trivial and out of place in her black-and-white triangular-collared
art-neo jacket and black skirt with white-lined long-triangular darts.
Dr Meldonshire, in her classically-styled Trintitiana suit never felt
out of place anywhere. To her the ways of the modern West were the
perfect redaction of the primordial tradition.
Lady Carleon walked quietly into the room, looking carefully at all the walls.
“A room is essentially a cube, ma’am,” she mused. “If entry has been made it must have been made through one of its six sides.”
“As you see, my lady,” said the College-Mistress, the walls are fashioned from the solid rock.”
“Yes. And the ceiling too, ma’am?”
“The ceiling too.”
see, ma’am. I had wondered if someone might find her way through
lath-and-plaster, but hardly through the living rock. And beneath this
“I thought so, ma’am. No chance of any secret passages or false walls, I suppose.”
it likely, child, that when a great queen raises towers from the solid
rock, she will be incorporating secret passages or false walls?”
unlikely, ma’am, and since that time the living rock and this room in
particular were regarded as near-sacred. No one is remotely likely to
have tampered with them.”
“That is so.”
“There is a slightly musty smell in here. Is that usual, ma’am?”
“Why, you are right my lady. And I do not think it is usual.”
Miss Ayakhani spoke up shyly. “Musty smells are sometimes associated with ghosts and certain sprites, they say, ma’am.”
repeated Dr Meldonshire. “Really that is not something—and yet this
disappearance does seem beyond the power of human agency.”
“Has Reep-reep ever shown an aversion to this room, or an excitement about it, ma’am?”
“Not that I am aware of.”
“Has she at any time in recent weeks shown unusual excitement or agitation with no apparent cause?”
at all. Her moods can be extreme, but they have always been quite
normal for a Chenkireet. She has behaved recently just as she always
“What about these white stains on the floor?”
are very slight – I had hardly noticed them. You could ask Vayashti if
you think them important. She is the maidservant with special
responsibility for the Staff. She always takes it out and puts it back,
polishes it and prepares the room. Normally she would have cleaned any
stains in the room, but I suppose she was rather taken aback by this
turn of events.”
“A hereditary post I suppose, ma’am?”
“That is correct. The Vayashti are a paxit family. They have been Staff-Wards, I believe, since the beginning.”
“Splendid, ma’am. Are there any other families associated with the staff?”
the Maybridge family, of course. They were hereditary Mistresses of the
College until relatively recently and were the Keepers of the Staff.
None of them still lives in Maybridge County now though.”
“Even though they are Countesses of Maybridge?”
“I blush to say that I am not much au fait
with the local history. As you know my specialization is in Modern
Letters. You should ask Professor Calvers if you consider any of this
relevant to your enquiry. She is an encyclopaedia of local tradition.”
“One never knows, ma’am. One more question and I shall cease to trouble you for now. What is directly above this room?”
“Curiously enough, Professor Calvers herself occupies the rooms above here.”
“I wonder if I might be possible to speak to her, ma’am.”
is a shade unorthodox, but in the circumstances you might visit her
rooms.” Dr Meldonshire produced one of her own cards, scribbled a few
words on the back and gave it to Lady Carleon. “Present this to her. She
is certainly in residence and she may well be in her rooms now.”
are more than kind, ma’am,” said Lady Carleon, making reverence. “Oh,
and just one final tiny point occurs to me. I take it that Vayashti put
the Staff back on its pedestal after it returned from Trintitiana.”
“And you watched her do it.”
“Certainly I did. Then I locked and sealed the door.”
“I take it she wore gloves to handle the staff, ma’am.”
course. It is highly polished. It is necessary to avoid getting
finger-marks on it. If I may ask, my lady,” said the College-Mistress,
“how do you plan to proceed?”
“I shall have a few words with
Professor Calvers, ma’am, just to get a little background information –
and then I think I shall light three candles at the shrine of Sai Mati.”
short time later, Lady Carleon knocked respectfully at Professor
Calvers’s door and presented the card with deep reverence.The Professor
was a delightful lady of a hundred and fifty, though she looked not a
day older than a hundred. She wore a fine embroidered silk house-robe of
“Lady Carleon,” said the professor, returning
reverence. “You asked some extremely interesting questions at my recent
lecture-course, I seem to recall.”
“Thank you, professor; I found them fascinating.”
“You are more than kind, my lady, and to what do I owe the honor of this visit?”
“The College-Mistress flatters me with the suggestion that I may be of some help in the matter of the Crystal Staff.”
“It is a distressing affair, my lady. And utterly perplexing.”
“It does seem so, ma’am. Would you humor my childish curiosity by answering a few questions?”
“By all means, child. Your questions are always most intelligent, and your reputation as a detective is not unknown to me.”
“You are too kind, ma’am. To begin with, can you think of any possible motive for anyone’s stealing the Staff?”
fear not. Apart from the rather obvious matter of physical
impossibility, that is the most perplexing aspect of the affair. The
Staff is far too famous to have monetary value. It simply could not be
sold. There are many people with a great affection and even fascination
for the Staff, of course. Some travel here to the Queen Mayanna Festival
each year in order to see it, but I cannot think that any of them would
wish to remove it from its proper place. After all, its setting in the
Great Tower here is an essential part of its value.”
“Could you tell me a little of the history of the Staff? Dr Meldonshire seemed a little reticent on the subject.”
the professor laughed, a charming silvery laugh that rather surprised
Lady Carleon. “Ignorant you mean! Oh, pray forgive me. That was very ad
lib*. But really – how a renowned scholar like Dr Meldonshire can be
Mistress of this College and care so little for its history is beyond my
reasoning, it truly is.
“But the history. You know, of course,
how honored Queen Mayanna raised up the towers by means of the power of
the staff. That was not so very unusual in those days as you will be
aware, but few of these artifacts remain to us this far west.
Towers were originally a Votary-House devoted to Sai Mati and the Rose
of the World. As well as raising the House, honored Queen Mayanna
endowed it very richly. The House was devoted to the Path of Light: pure
contemplation as well as study of ancient texts. Over the centuries,
the work of the Order took on a more academic coloring, though not to
the exclusion of contemplation. Then, about the time when the border was
drawn between Trent and Novaria, leaving Maybridge on the Trintitian
side, some of the more contemplative Sisters left for a sister-house in
Novaria, while some of the sisters from that house came here. The
reasoning was that the academic and contemplative aspects had gradually
grown further apart and that one House would now specialize in each
aspect. Within another hundred years, the Order of Sai Mati at Queen
Mayanna House began to accept non-votaries as scholars and eventually
even as College-Mistresses.
“As you know, the Order was much
involved with the founding of Goldcrest College and there had always
been ties between the two. Eventually this College became a
daughter-house of Goldcrest and ultimately a lay-College as it is now.”
“And what of the Maybridge family, ma’am?”
Maybridges were originally part of the western branch of the Vixen
Clan. They founded the town here, and when it was renamed Maybridge, in
honor of Queen Mayanna, they became the Maybridge family. They were
benefactresses of the College and the family had all its daughters
educated here. The sisters taught them and the children of a few other
prominent local families. The first non-Votary mistresses here were
Maybridges and eventually Eglantine Maybridge became the first
non-Votary – and therefore, of course, the first Raihira – Mistress of
the College. Before long the post became an hereditary one, always held
by a Maybridge.”
“So the Maybridges were both Mistresses of the College and Countesses of Maybridge County.”
Occasionally the two roles were combined in the same person. Eglantine,
the seventh Countess, was perhaps the most famous Mistress we have ever
“Were they all called Eglantine, ma’am?”
at least one Eglantine in each generation and she often became either
Mistress or Countess depending on her aptitude.”
“Yet now, ma’am, they are neither Mistresses nor Countesses here.”
is so. The family became much reduced. Fewer children for several
generations. In the last century young Eglantine left the country and
became involved in what they called the ‘wild life’ of Vintesse. When
she came into her inheritance she began selling off assets to support
her extravagances. The estate was hopelessly mismanaged. She refused her
administrative duties because she did not wish to return to what she
considered the dull life of Maybridge. A sweet but very incompetent
sister became Countess and the government was, in practice, in the hands
of an old Goldcrest friend of hers. Ultimately, with her permission,
and that of Lady Eglantine – who really did not care and apparently
received some financial consideration – the friend, Melestrine Eveston,
became Countess and the Evestons have been Countesses since. They are
splendid people who have brought many improvements to Maybridge while
remaining wholly sensitive to its traditions.”
“What about the Maybridges, ma’am?”
Maybridge was Mistress of the College when Lady Eveston became
Countess. She was a true devotee of Sai Mati – a throwback to the old
half-Haiela days and a close friend of our present Chaplain. She lived
to a very great age. She had no children and was the last Maybridge of
any consequence to live in the County. When she went to the Jeweled
Island, the post of Mistress was offered to a very clever young academic
at Goldcrest, Catrin Meldonshire.”
“Are there any surviving Maybridges?”
the direct Countess-line is now in Vintesse. The current Eglantine is a
birthright-Countess – that is to say, she is not Countess of
Maybridge, just Countess Maybridge. She is an academic and a very clever
one too. She went up to Milchford, but she attended Sai Mati College,
not Goldcrest. An interesting choice don’t you think? A tribute to the
family filiation to Sai Mati, but not the family College. I wonder why.
Perhaps because she could not afford to keep up with the social life of
“When she came down from Milchford there was a
movement in this College to invite her here as an academic. She was
unable to pay the rather steep residency fees. It was suggested – I
should be frank and say that I suggested, though I was certainly not
alone in the view – that the fees should be waived in view of her family
connexion with the College. With her ability, she would quickly have
become a Senior and not subject to fees in any case; why not anticipate
that? Dr Meldonshire – also not alone – opposed the idea and it was
dropped.”“Where is Lady Maybridge now, ma’am?”
“She founded a College called Nimwë Hall in Southwind, Vintesse. Another lay-College .”
“Like this one?”
“Not at all. A little place for working-girls apparently.”
“It all seems a little unfortunate for the family, ma’am.”
is. Most unfortunate. Many families suffer a ‘bad generation’, but
usually, if a better generation follows, it can begin restoring things.
Sadly, too much was lost during the lapse for that to be possible for
“And, if I may ask, ma’am, who is the true
Guardian of the Staff?” The question was asked in Lady Carleon’s polite,
diffident manner but it had its impact on the professor.
“A deft question, if I may say so, my lady.”
“Oh, not deft, ma’am. I just need to consider every aspect of the situation.”
Calvers smiled and shook her head slightly. There are those –
especially in the Town – who hold that the Maybridges are the true
Guardians of the Staff. It is even said that if The Maybridge (as they
call the head of the Clan) were to call the Staff, it would come to her
wherever she was.
“That would account for its uncanny disappearance from a sealed room, wouldn’t it, ma’am?”
“I suppose it would.”
“But the idea had not occurred to you, ma’am?”
am not a disbeliever in legends, my lady, and the power the Staff once
held is indisputable. Nevertheless the explanation seems unlikely to
“There was a musty smell in the room, ma’am, which is apparently sometimes associated with ghosts and the like.”
“But not with High Magic, my lady.”
“Are these rooms normally damp or musty, ma’am?”
you know, the atmosphere here is warm and dry most of the year. If
there were any damp it would certainly not be in this season. The rock
of this tower is like an impermeable vault. I really do not see how it
would become damp.”
“And yet you do not believe that the Staff was, shall we say, spirited away?”
“What about Reep-reep?”
ma’am. I had thought of that. Chenkireets react very strongly to
anything supernatural. That certainly poses a problem for any such
theory.” “I am sorry not to have been of more assistance, my lady.”“On
the contrary, ma’am, I have found this interview not merely a great
pleasure and a profound honor, but also every bit as useful as I had
True to her word, Lady Carleon lit three candles at the
shrine of Sai Mati in the Great College Chapel, which was also the
Temple-Cardinal of Maybridge District. She knelt quietly in the coolth
of the high-vaulted place of worship formed from the living rock,
thinking over what she had learned and praying for guidance. Ideas moved
in her mind and came slowly into place. She was certain of nothing yet,
but at least she began to know where to look next.
She went to
her rooms and changed, and rang a bell which caused her red convertible
Sepharilla to be driven into the main driveway, polished to a glitter in
the sunflood, fueled and ready to go. She drove into town and visited
the main taxi office and the railway station. She came home and had
dinner and then she went to the Paxit-Chambers and asked for Vayashti,
Vayashti occupied a room high in the Main Tower,
small but very charming with leather armchairs and a curtained-off bed.
There were several family photographs and two paintings made long ago of
former Staff-Wards. There was a charming shrine to the Mother and
another smaller one with a curious fox-like statue.
Vayashti reverenced deeply. “You honor me greatly, my lady.”
“The honor is mine, Staff-Ward. I fancy your family is more ancient than my own.”
The Staff-Ward invited her in and gave her a traditional Southren wine.
“My family has warded the Staff since the foundation of this great House, my lady.”
“Before the Maybridge Mistresses, then.”
my lady. We were paxit to The High Vixens, who became the Maybridges.
The first Maybridge assigned us as Staff-Ward to the Sisterhood of Mati
that then ruled this House. When the Maybridge Mistresses began, we
returned to the family, uniting service to the Maybridge and to the
“And now both are departed.”
“So it would seem, my lady.”
“You must be distressed.”
“I am so, my lady, but I keep faith.”
Carleon made deep reverence to the Vixen-shrine. “A shrine to
Shearwind, the fox-yerthing of Sai Nimwë. That is not a thing one sees
often these days, or so far west.”
“It has been in my family these long years, my lady.”
“And Sai Nimwë guards you, I am sure. May she guard you ever and bring your barque safe to shore in this time of trouble.”
Vayashti reverenced very deeply.
Lady Carleon admired the portraits of Vayashti’s Ancestress Staff-Wards and also a fine vixen-statuette on the mantel-shelf.
“This is honored Shearwind also, I think.”
“Yes, my lady. My lady will know the old hazel tree that grows in the Front Courtyard.”
“Indeed. It is said to be as old as the College itself and sacred to Sai Mati.”
one of the great storms that we have here, a large branch was torn off.
I cut a section from that branch, my lady, and carved this likeness of
“It is a very fine piece of work. The great Wind,
from whom you are named cut down a branch from Sai Mati’s tree and you
have fashioned it into her yerthing.”
“Indeed, my lady. It is pleasant to talk to one who understands these things.”
“Tell me, I pray you, what do you think of this story that the Staff might return of its own will to The Maybridge?”
“I do not countenance it, my lady.”
“It would explain much that seems otherwise inexplicable.”
Staff has no will in these days, my lady. I am her keeper and may say
that. Such things could happen in the old days, but not, I think,
“Tell me what you know of the white stains on the floor of the Staff-chamber.”
“I should have cleaned them before the Staff returned.”
“But how did they come there?”
I cannot say, my lady. It is a peculiarity of that room that certain
white stains appear from time to time on the wooden floor. They are
easily removed, but whether their cause is worldly or other-worldly,
that I cannot say. I have never been able to explain them.”
“How very curious.”
“It is that, my lady. But there are many strange things in this place.”
As she was leaving the Paxit-Chambers, Lady Carleon was accosted by an elderly servant.
“Your pardon, my lady,” she said, making deep reverence.
Lady Carleon acknowledged her.
“You are looking into the matter of the staff, my lady. Is that not so?”
“It is so,” said Lady Carleon.
I must tell you of a queer thing that occurred three weeks back. A lady
came here and asked to see the Staff. She was a Raihira lady, ma’am,
but she came here to the Paxit-Chambers. I told her the staff was sealed
in its chamber and she asked to see the chamber. I took her there – I
hope did right, ma’am – and she examined the seals, then she gave me a
crown and went away.
“Well, that was a bit queer, wasn’t it,
ma’am? But the queerest thing was, I knew there was something odd about
that lady, ma’am. I knew I had seen her before somewhere. So I looked at
the portraits in the Great hall and I saw her. She was Eglantine the
fourth Countess. She was in modern clothes, ma’am, quite
northern-looking, but she looked just like Eglantine the fourth
“I don’t know if that is helpful to you, ma’am. I hope it is. She gave me a crown, she did.”
Lady Carleon gave her informant another crown since she was so obviously hoping for one. She made deep reverence.
“That is very helpful,” said Lady Carleon. “Very helpful indeed.”
Carleon went to bed that night not in her lovely high-ceilinged bedroom
overlooking the gardens, but in a small stateroom of an international
airliner. She could have had more spacious accommodations by taking the
zeppelin, but she considered that the case should be concluded quickly,
and the Araminta – the ship she was now on – would be in Vintesse by
She sat up in bed reviewing some correspondence on her
ordinator and chatting idly to her blonde sister, Lady Susan, who was
giggling over some nonsensical episode that had happened at Leontine
Place that morning
“I don’t know how you can buzz about on these aeros,” said Susan, “aren’t they fearfully uncomfortable?”
Carleon looked about the tiny room. It was very neat, compact and
orderly; not luxurious, certainly, but Lady Carleon rather admired the
way everything necessary was compacted into a small space with a spare
but pleasing Art-Neo aesthetic. She found it charming, but she knew that
her sister, who had rarely spent a night away from Leontine and was
passionately attached to all her ‘pretties’ would probably have
considered such sparse accommodations barbarous.
The stewardess came in with the night-time drink Lady Carleon had ordered.
“I hope it is to your liking my lady,” she said with deep reverence.
delightful,” said Lady Carleon. She admired the girl’s neat uniform.
She savored the drink. Life was so full of delightful things if one knew
how to appreciate each thing at its own level. She felt a little sorry
for Susan, which was silly. Susan was happy enough. Each to her own and
She closed the ordie and lay down, planning to go over
the case in her mind; but her head had hardly touched the pillow before
she was fast asleep.
in Vintesse. Cooler than Maybridge, though still very warm and summery.
People were brisker and brighter here. Tradition sat on them like a
light, fluttering cape rather than a full-length velvet cloak. That was
rather good, thought Lady Carleon. She made a note of it in her little
commonplace book. She might well use it in her Annual Opus.
Carleon?” shouted a brunette loudly from the seat of a white Sepharilla
convertible that had just pulled up. She got out and shouted again at
the top of her voice: “Lady Carlee-on!” The lack of ceremony would have seemed shocking even in Chelverton.
Carleon walked to the car and threw her little overnight bag into the
back seat. The driver made reverence in a rather jaunty manner and
handed Lady Carleon a card and a small ink-pad. She printed the card
with the seal-ring on her finger and wiped the ring with the little
alcohol-saturated cloth which the driver had taken out of its sachet for
“Travel in safety, my lady,” said the driver, making
reverence again in speeded-up-kinnie time, and left her with the car.
Lady Carleon watched her trotting back to her depot, or wherever she was
going, long-legged, short-skirted, swinging her outsize string of cheap
beads. She supposed one must get used to Vintesse manners if one lived
here long enough.
Lady Carleon slipped into the driver’s seat. She
adored Sepharillas, but could never quite decide whether she liked them
best in red or white. She had a red one, so she always hired a white
one when she was traveling.
It was a long journey, lightened
considerably by the music of the Dinky-Doos and other Vintesse musicians
on the car’s wireless. She could have plugged in her own music-module,
but she generally preferred to listen to the local wireless when she was
traveling. It helped one to get the feel of the place.
before lunchtime she came to the town of Claremont, a busy commercial
centre in mid-Vintesse. By sheer luck, as it seemed, she came quickly
upon a house bearing a sign saying:
Founding House of Nimwë College
It was a tall, gaunt building in a row of old houses. She parked the
car and walked up the stone steps to the front door. It seemed at first a
little like a cheap hotel. There was a reception desk and Lady Carleon
She made a little reverence and asked the girl: “May I see Lady Maybridge?”
girl giggled and reverenced. “I don’t think you’ll find her here, miss.
I can ask. You can wait in the Common Room if you like.”
Common Room was surprisingly airy and well appointed. Jinky music was
playing on the gramophone and a number of girls were chattering; some
eating sandwiches – evidently having dropped in for lunchtime from their
places of work.
“Hello,” said one of the girls. “You new here?”
she made a tiny reverence with her head only. Lady Carleon mused that
the famous Vintesse Bob did not only refer to hair.
“This is my first time here,” said Lady Carleon.
“Are you going to join the College?”
“Actually I have a College already.”
shouldn’t want to encourage you to be disloyal, but really, Nimwë Hall
is by far the best College in Claremont. We have such marvelous times
here, and it is getting bigger practically by the day.”
absotively! I love it so much I even pop back for lunch. Lots of the
girls do. They do serve proper lunch, but I just come in here for a
sandiepoo and a chat. Save the proper meal for dinner I say. Dinner is the event here. You know, you’ll learn so much here and do so many things. I’d drop the other College, truly I should!”
“I really think I must be loyal,” said Lady Carleon, “though it does sound very tempting.”
Nimwë till the day we die!”
Shouted several of the girls spontaneously.
The receptionist came in. “Lady Maybridge is at the main House, miss, but I doubt if she will see you without an appointment.”
“I thought this was the main House,” said Lady Carleon.
miss. This is the founding-house. The one first established by Lady
Maybridge. The College has opened several Houses since then, all over
town. The main one is Rose House – that big place just outside town on
the Hazeldene road.“Could you give me directions? I am new in town.”
“Well I can, miss, but I really don’t think you’ll get to see the Mistress without an appointment.”
“I’ll just tootle over and see,” said Lady Carleon. “No harm in that, what-what?”
House was a much bigger affair than the Founding House. Clearly the
College was growing rapidly. Lady Carleon drove the car in and walked up
to the main building. Unlike Queen Mayanna Hall at this time of year it
seemed quite busy. Girls were playing tennis, walking arm in arm,
sitting under trees and reading. It certainly had not the air of a
working-girls’ lay-College, quite apart from the fact that nobody looked
as if she were working.
Two girls carrying tennis racquets
approached her. “Rayati. Who are you?” asked one of them, making the
most respectable reverence she had seen thus far in Vintesse.
“Rayati,” said Lady Carleon returning reverence. “I was just taking a look at this lovely House.”
“It is fine, isn’t it?” said the girl. “But you can’t just wander in here, you know, it’s private.”
Carleon reverenced deeply. “Please forgive my enormity,” she said. “It
is so beautiful that I was attracted like a poor moth to a radiant
light. I beg you to forgive me.”
Even in Vintesse, a formal and traditional apology is understood and calls forth both courtesy and generosity.
are so kind to our little College,” said the girl, making reverence.
“Pray do not think me officious. I am a prefect here and must maintain
proper order. But let me show you about.”
“You are more than generous. And a prefect, no less. I thought this was a lay-College.”
things are not unheard of. In any case, our Mistress has her own ways
of doing things. She has built this great College from nothing in a few
short years. These are the tennis courts.”
“She must be a most remarkable person.”
“Oh yes, she is. The formal gardens are over there. One day they will be the finest in Vintesse.”
“I had thought Nimwë was a working-girls’ College.”
began that way. The Houses in town still are. But this House attracts
Raihiralan* girls. It is becoming quite a centre of culture. The
Mistress will never desert the working-girls’ Houses though. Their
members can come for summer-schools and things here. They are given free
tickets to our theatrical performances, and sometimes get up shows of
their own that are put on here. The Mistress is making a new type of
College. Something that could only exist here in the North, she says.”
“How very fascinating.”
A great cheer rose from a little way off. Several voices in unison:
Nimwë till the day we die!”
“Our longsword fighters are having a tourney,” explained the prefect. “We shall take on Sai Mati next term.”
“Sai Mati College, Milchford?”
“They have the best longswordsmaids in the west.”
“Wait till next term and see if you can till say that.”
“I like your spirit, I must say. Whom should I see to arrange to meet Lady Maybridge?”
The prefect laughed gently “One doesn’t see the Mistress just like that.”
“I think she may see me. Would you know how to get her a message?”
“Is it important?”
“Yes, it is rather.”
“What is the message?”
she could be told that Lady Carleon is here from Queen Mayanna House. I
have come about a Staff. I think she will understand.”
The prefect reverenced deeply. “My lady I am sorry; I did not realize –”
is I who should apologize,” said Lady Carleon. “I have been slightly
deceptive, but had I not been so I should not have had your charming
company, and I assure you that I have valued it greatly.”
The prefect made reverence again. “Thank you, my lady. Please sit in the rose garden here. I shall come and fetch you shortly.”
Lady Carleon made a little reverence. “Thank you,” she said.
rose garden was truly charming. The shouts and laughter of girls
floated on the summer breeze. The College was very different from Queen
Mayanna House but it had a life and vibrancy that was quite palpable. It
seemed young and energetic, like Vintesse itself.
After a time a
tall lady approached the little wrought-iron bench on which Lady Carleon
was sitting. She was wearing an academic gown and a long frock, in
contrast to the short skirts that Lady Carleon had almost ceased to be
shocked by, which were seen everywhere in Vintesse. The lady was elegant
and yet slightly aggressive in her movements; she had an air of
command, and she looked exactly like the portrait of the fourth Countess
Lady Carleon rose to her feet and made reverence.
“Rayati, my lady. I am Lady Maybridge.”
“Rayati. You do me great honor, my lady. I was not expecting you to join me out here.”
“I like to do the unexpected. Very un-Maybridge-like, no doubt. But then I am disinherited and I do as I please.”
“You have done something very wonderful, if I may say so, my lady,” said Lady Carleon looking about her at the College.
am supposed to say that the College is but a poor place and I am
embarrassed to entertain you here, not so? Well, I am proud of it.
Thanks to my dear scholars, it is a fine place.”
Lady Carleon was
slightly shocked at the bitterness of Lady Maybridge’s words.
Considering all that she had achieved and was achieving, Lady Carleon
had expected her to be more confident, more independent of the blows
that fate had dealt her family. Still, a thousand years of tradition is
not easily replaced, and the very presence of a visitor from Queen
Mayanna House may have touched a raw spot.
“Forgive me,” said Lady
Maybridge, reverencing stiffly. “I am a Northren barbarian as you see. I
was born here, you know. Please tell me how I may serve you.”
“Very simply, my lady, by giving me the Crystal Staff of Queen Mayanna.”
“What makes you imagine that I possess the staff?”
do not imagine, my lady: I know. And I understand why you believe it is
right to keep it. I know that you came to Queen Mayanna House and
examined the seals on the door of the Staff-Chamber—”
“And I suppose you think I was preparing to steal it.”
the contrary my lady. I know that you could not have taken the Staff
from the Chamber on that day, because it was already gone from the
Chamber by that day. It was precisely that action that made me certain
you were honorable.”
“So – if the staff were here – you would know how it came here.”
“I do indeed, my lady.”
“You know that nobody could either have forged those seals nor gained entrance to the room without breaking them.”
“And if the Staff returned through a sealed door across a thousand and more miles to the True Guardian —”
so, then whatever the law says it would be not only the right but the
duty of the True Guardian to retain it. I think even a court would
uphold that – at least in the South. That is why you examined those
seals, isn’t it, my lady? To make sure that the Staff came to you by no
natural means and that you had the right to retain it.”
“It is an interesting theory, my lady,” said Lady Maybridge.
suppose I could demonstrate how the Staff really came to be here, and
that it happened by perfectly natural – though misguided – human agency.
Would you not then be bound in honor to return it?”
“I am intrigued,” said Lady Maybridge. “Pray continue.”
“I took your advice, Matri” said Dr. Meldonshire. “I did light three candles to Sai Mati.”
girl,” said Matri Carmaline. “And how soon afterward did Lady Carleon
telephone to say that the mystery is solved?” The two were sitting in
Dr. Meldonshire’s austere but supremely tasteful drawing room.
“As a matter of fact, it was within the hour. But do you really think
Lady Carleon’s wits would have been less sharp if I had not made that
“It is never that simple, College-Mistress: but if this
whole matter resolves itself well, do not imagine your prayer played no
part. Harmony in the heart becomes harmony in the world, my child.”
There was a knock at the door.
“Our visitor, I believe,” said the priestess.
Lady Maybridge entered and made deep reverence. A servant, following her, placed a large, leather-covered case on the table.
The College-Mistress made deep reverence.
“Lady Maybridge, you honor us. As a poor interloper I am humbled in the presence of the True Maybridge.”
Did Lady Maybridge raise a cynical eyebrow? She nevertheless remembered her manners. She reverenced again.
ages pass, and old things give place to new. I am more than fortunate
that one so gifted and so renowned continues the work of my poor
“My lady, if a little misfortune were
sufficient to disgrace a family, mine were long-since annihilated.
Seeing you here, in this tower, I know that I am but a barbarian before
Lady Carleon felt that she heard a certain ease in Lady
Maybridge’s voice as she replied. Perhaps for the first time in many
long years, Eglantine Maybridge was realizing that words such as these
are not mere empty forms but rituals that can, at certain times, bring a
degree of healing. Dr Meldonshire was speaking again.
“A thousand thanks for restoring the Staff to its resting-place. May I be so forward as to ask how it came to be so far away?”
my traveling companion Lady Carleon had best answer that, madam. It was
she who unwove the tangled skein of this mystery.”
All eyes turned on Lady Carleon.
“How did you do it, my lady?” asked the College-Mistress.
Carleon tried not to shuffle and look childlike. Surrounded by these
great ladies in conclave, she did feel rather childlike.
just one of those random intuitions really. No, I suppose that isn’t
true. It was mostly a matter of logic. I think we all agreed that the
seals on the Staff-Chamber could not have been tampered with and that a
supernatural disappearance was somewhat unlikely.”
“We had, my lady,” agreed the College-Mistress.
I had to consider the problem: setting aside the supernatural, what
other explanation could there be? Clearly there was no means by which
the Staff could have been removed once the seals were applied, so the
logical conclusion is perfectly obvious. It was never there in the first
“But,” said Dr Meldonshire, “I saw it placed there with my own eyes, just seconds before I locked the room and sealed it.”
respect, ma’am, you did not. What you saw placed in the room was a
likeness, a simulacrum: something that resembled the Staff sufficiently
to satisfy you that it was in the Chamber.”
“But when I removed
the seals and unlocked the Chamber this – this simulacrum as you call it
– was no longer there. With respect, my lady, does that not leave us
where we started, with an impossible mystery? Are we not back to the
“We are not, ma’am. You see, the simulacrum was
still in the Chamber. It had simply changed its form to one you did not
“Magically, my lady?”
“No, ma’am, perfectly
naturally. The only perceptible traces of that simulacrum by the time we
entered the room were a slightly musty smell and some faint white
stains on the floor. You see, the staff that was placed in the chamber
by Vayashti was carved from ice. Left locked in that room in summer, it
naturally melted and became a puddle on the floor. Then the puddle
evaporated, leaving only a few stains. The room smelt musty, because, as
I was told, those rooms are like sealed vaults. Any damp in there
remained trapped in the warm southren atmosphere of the Chamber until
the door was opened.”
“But how did you know all this?”
the first place because, leaving aside the supernatural, it was the only
possible explanation of what had happened. Secondly because each small
bit of evidence we had pointed to the solution – the white stains, the
unaccountable damp in atmosphere, the fact that Vayashti is an excellent
“Yet, this sort of cunning,” said the priestess, “this is not usually characteristic of the Paccia Estate.”
Carleon reverenced. “That is true Matri. It is a subtle objection to my
thesis, but actually the best one. I thought about that too. But have
you considered the tutelary genia of the Vayashti?”
course! How foolish of me!” cried Matri Carmaline. “Shearwind the Vixen.
The trickster aspect of Sai Nimwë the Enchantress! The spirit of
honored Shearwind guided the hand of the Staff-Ward in what she believed
to be a noble act of trickery.”
“Exactly, Matri. And that answers
the other difficulty. Surely a true and hereditary paxit like Vayashti
would never betray her mistress. But Vayashti did not see Dr Meldonshire
as her true mistress. Her hereditary loyalty is to two things: The
Staff and the Maybridge. Her duty, as she saw it, was to reunite the
two. That was not possible whilst the Maybridge seemed aberrant, but
when she learned that Lady Maybridge was now Mistress of a fine College
“But,” said Dr. Meldonshire and her eyes seemed just
a little tearful, “if she had no loyalty to me, had she none either to
Queen Mayanna House?”
“I do not know the answer to that, ma’am,
but I fancy she would believe that with the Staff and the Maybridge
reunited, they would not be long in returning to their rightful place in
“Perhaps I am an interloper,” said Dr Meldonshire quietly. The priestess smiled.
no means, ma’am,” said Lady Maybridge. “My family left their post
untenanted. I am more than grateful to you for taking our place and
doing the duty we have so shamefully neglected. I confess that I might
once have thought otherwise, but I see with clearer eyes this day.”
“And now—”said Dr Meldonshire, her voice faltering in a way that the priestess had never heard it falter before.
I have been given my vocation in the high lands of Vintesse. My work
there is hard, but it is deeply rewarding, and I know it is the work I
was born for. I confess that my false self* is sorry to relinquish the
Staff, for it has brought great blessings on my work.”
“Is that so?” asked the priestess.
Maybridge reverenced deeply. “Indeed Matri. My work went well before,
but when the Staff came to me it was as if a new spirit entered me. I
prayed each day to Sai Mati in my gratitude. Everything seemed to work
as it had never worked before, and the weight that had long lain on me
seemed somehow lifted.”
“Perhaps your prayers had as much to do with that as the Staff,” said the priestess.
“Perhaps, Matri,” said lady Maybridge with a small sigh.
“But how did the Staff come to Vintesse?” asked Dr Meldonshire.
that was a very mundane matter,” said Lady Carleon. “The disappearance
of the Staff was, I fancy, a work of sheer Vixen-genius. That must have
been planned long and carefully. The conveyance of the Staff to Vintesse
was, by contrast, a rather clumsy affair. Vayashti simply took it by
train. Not only that, but she booked a ticket all the way from here to
the little station at Hazeldene – the nearest one to Rose House. It is
cheaper to book the full ticket, of course, but she really should have
thought of buying several separate tickets at stations along the way.
The transaction was still on the ordinator at Maybridge Station. The
famed economy of the Paxit Estate, I suppose.
“It didn’t really
tell me anything I did not already know, but I fancy it helped to
convince my Lady Maybridge of the truth of my theory. After all, a
train-booking all the way from Maybridge Station to Hazeldene Station –
how many of those are there in a decade? One on the very day that the
Staff ‘appeared’ in Lady Maybridge’s rooms at Rose House was really
“What shall we do with Vayashti?” asked Dr
Meldonshire sadly. “I understand that she meant well, but it is clear
that she is not loyal to me or to the House. Perhaps my Lady Maybridge
would care to take her.”
“May I make a suggestion, College-Mistress?” asked the priestess.
“By all means,” said Dr Meldonshire.
is the Staff-Ward. She should not be separated from the Staff. The
Staff belongs here at Queen Mayanna House. The True Guardian of the
Staff is, I firmly believe, Lady Maybridge. There was no supernatural
demonstration of the fact, but I ask you, College-Mistress, now that you
have seen her, can you doubt it?”
“I cannot, Matri.”
suggestion is, then, that Lady Maybridge be appointed Guardian of the
Staff. It will be a ritual rather than an operative position. She has
her work in Vintesse, but she will perhaps honor us by being present on
those formal occasions when the Staff is removed from the Chamber. If
this is done, College-Mistress, I assure you that both you and Lady
Mayanna House will have the absolute loyalty of Vayashti.”
“It certainly makes sense, doesn’t it?” said Dr. Meldonshire.
“It makes something higher than sense, College-Mistress.”
Meldonshire made reverence first to the priestess and then to Lady
Maybridge. “Would you honor us by accepting this post?” she asked.
Lady Maybridge made deep reverence. “The honor would be mine,” she said.
am thinking, my lady,” said Dr Meldonshire, “that I should like to come
and see Nimwë College. Perhaps we should be thinking about sister-ties
between the two Houses.”
The priestess turned to Lady Carleon.
“Shall we let the College Mistresses discuss their business, my lady?
Perhaps you would care to walk me back to my rooms.”
Out into the
blazing southren sunshine stepped the priestess, escorted by Lady
Carleon as she might escort any blonde. Her calling aside, thought Lady
Carleon without a trace of irreverence, the two-centuried priestess was
also a very fine blonde.“You know,” said Matri Carmaline, “Dr
Meldonshire could not see how her prayers to Mati might have any bearing
on the solution to this mystery. She is so terribly Westrenne
sometimes. The word ‘solution’ took on a very narrow meaning in her
mind. Now you are a detective – an amateur* one I hasten to add – and
one from Quirinelle at that. But I think you understand a little more
“Solve et coagula, Matri,” said Lady Carleon.
“Solve et coagula,” repeated the priestess.
Trintitia is the older, and still more formal, name of Trent. Trintitiana is the Capital City of Trent.
lib = "Not in the script" - unexpected, and therefore impolite. The
expression is based on the understanding that what is said is to some
extent ritual in nature and that rudeness consists in departing from the
set ritual "form".
A yerthing means a
coming-to-earth, usually of an Angelic influence. The concept is akin
to the Hindu avatar, but holds less importance, since the earthly
incarnation of such influences is not central to Aristasian thealogy.
Shearwind the Vixen is a legendary form taken by Nimwë the Enchantress,
who in turn is a lesser form of Sai Mati.
Vaya = wind, and especially the Wind of the Spirit. It is associated with Sai Mati and with inspiration.
Ray’ and hay’, short for raya and haya, are in this context used as cheer-words. Both rhyme to “die”.
nearest equivalent to the word Raihiralan (used in this sense) in
Telluria is perhaps “gentlemanly”. People described in the West as
Raihiralan constitute something like an upper and upper-middle class,
consisting of people of Raihira, Haiela and high-Magdala Estate. In more
traditional areas, such as Maybridge, they would be known by their
Estates, but here the Estate system is considerably weakened. The
raihiralan girls at this College are likely to belong to that group
which is neither wealthy nor aristocratic and does not usually attend
the prestigious Milchford Colleges or their equivalent, but nonetheless
is often leisured and considers itself part of the great Raihiralan
class. [Note that Raihiralan is also the colloquial name of the dialect
spoken in parts of Novaria and the hither-East.].
schools of Aristasian psychology or Thealogy (the two are not
distinguished as wholly separate sciences but are properly continuous
one from another) speak of a True Self and a false self. The latter is
the passional and worldly self, the former is sometimes thought of as
one’s “better self” but ultimately it is much more than that: it is the
supreme Self or Atma, the Self in each of us that is identical with the
Amateur = one who does
something “for love”. For a Raihira of independent means to be
“professional” would be considered demeaning, at least in more
traditional circles. While “amateur” has become a term of derogation in
the commercially-oriented world of late-Telluria, in Aristasia its
associations are with high estate rather than ineptitude.
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