We spend one more day hiking through the forested foothills, and even then, it’s not a full day. By early afternoon, we’ve reached our destination.
A tall stone building sits amongst the trees. It’s not as large as Burnham Castle, and it lacks turrets, but it’s far more detailed. It was designed by one of the finest architects of the Avafia era. There are carved stone griffins standing guard on either side of the entrance. There’s a beautiful garden to the east with more statuary and fountains. Up above there are balconies and walkways.
There are a handful of wooden buildings scattered throughout the trees in addition to gazebos with canvas sides that can be opened and closed as needed. They’re very similar to the structures we saw in elvirian towns.
The University is the only place on Linea where elvira and mellowmira live together in harmony. It was built before there was significant conflict between the two subspecies. It is the only institution of higher education on Linea.
I take you inside for a tour. The main floor consists of a foyer. To the right is a kitchen and dining room. To the left is a handful of washrooms. Straight ahead is the main room. It consists of a massive stone fireplace and numerous wooden tables. A few scholars work on projects and experiments. There are lots of large windows that let in plenty of light.
The majority of the second floor is dedicated to the largest library you’ve seen since leaving Earth. For some of you, it’s still the largest one you’ve ever seen. There are rows upon rows of bookshelves filled with tomes, documents, and various records. There are tables and chairs scattered throughout the room, some of which house researchers.
The rest of the building is comprised of bedrooms of various sizes. The long-term scholars, those who run the University, get the larger, grander rooms with balconies and other amenities. The smaller rooms go to the newer students who are still working their way up the ranks.
While we have permission to be in this place of learning, we are not to disturb anyone. Several of the scholars prefer to work late into the night, so in order to avoid them, we have to set up camp in the courtyard. We gather around the fire, and I tell you the story of one of the University’s scholars.
* * * * *
Mila walked up the path to the University. She had been hiking for weeks. Her hometown of Reza was far to the southeast, but the journey was worth it. In her cloak pocket she had a roll of parchment signed by her teacher. It was a recommendation that she study at the University. Students couldn’t get in without one. Mila had protected it at all costs as she travelled.
She was nervous being so close to the border. The University was right on the border, so neither the elvira nor the mellowmira could claim it as their own. Not that that was a problem amongst the scholars there. They were more concerned with their studies and research than the centuries-long conflict between the two races.
Having lived so far south her whole life, Mila was unaccustomed to the conflict. She had heard stories, of course, of fires, fighting, and casualties. She knew the University was on protected ground and therefore couldn’t be involved in the war without violating agreements. But she wasn’t at the University yet. She was alone on the open road, vulnerable to attack.
Mila was more skilled at academics and magic than any sort of combat skill. That’s why she was going to study at the University rather than joining the army like most of her friends. She tried not to think about how much danger her friends were in. Thanks to magic, elvirian casualties tended to be lower than mellowmiran, but her people still perished.
Mila followed a curve in the path, and a large stone building loomed before her. She stopped. This was it. This was the University. She had spent the past ten years working toward this moment. She took a deep breath and walked up to the door.
There were stone griffins on either side of the entry, and the door knocker was also in the shape of a griffin’s head. Mila hesitated. What if her recommendation wasn’t good enough? What if they turned her away? She was being silly. No one with a good recommendation got turned away. She had heard stories of people forging recommendations. Their deceits were always discovered eventually. Hers was genuine, so she had nothing to worry about.
Mila knocked. For a long while all she could hear was the sound of birds chirping in the trees. The forest here was different from the forests she was accustomed to. All of the trees near Reza had leaves rather than needles, but here the latter was more common.
The door opened, and a blonde-haired woman stood inside the entrance. Mila stepped toward her and marveled at the size of the foyer. She had never seen a stone building before, and she certainly hadn’t seen a building this large before. Mila was used to being outside all the time. Would she have to do all her work inside?
“Are you a new student?” the woman asked.
Mila nodded and pulled out the parchment.
The woman unrolled and read it. “Ah, Master Hanley. I remember her well.” She returned the paper to Mila. “Welcome to the University, scholar. I am Master Baylea. Let me guide you to your room, so you can get settled before the evening meal.”
Mila followed Baylea to the second floor of the building. Baylea opened a door, and Mila stepped inside. “This is where you will live until you graduate from liravan to master. The dining hall is in the hall below this one. Join us there in one hour, and I’ll introduce you to everyone.” Baylea left Mila alone with her new room.
While Master Hanley had told Mila the scholars lived more like mellowmira than elvira, Mila hadn’t truly understood what that meant until now. She had a bed inside a stone room rather than a hammock in the trees. The room was small and claustrophobic. One wall was dominated by a fireplace. Mila knew it got much colder here, which is why she had purchased a cloak when travelling north. The only other things were a bedside table and a small dresser.
Mila unslung her pack and put away her clothes. She had brought a few of her favorite books, which she placed next to her bed, though she was careful to keep them away from the candle. Mila thought it was rather stuffy inside, so she opened the window to let the breeze carry fresh air inside. She hoped the air circulation and the smells from outside would help her feel more at home.
Mila sat on her bed. Was this really happening? She was officially a liravan now. She would get to study under the masters now.
* * * * *
When Mila went to dinner, there were several others who were already seated. Mila tried not to stare, but she was around mellowmira for the first time in her life. She tried not to see them as the enemy, but it was hard. Her people did nothing but villainize them. Their pale skin seemed so unnatural to her. Most of the people in Reza had dark skin, and even those who were lighter weren’t quite as pale as the mellowmira.
Baylea entered the room then. “May I have your attention, masters and liravans? This is Mila. She’s joining us on the recommendation of Master Hanley.” Baylea proceeded to introduce Mila to five masters and seven other liravans. She said there were a few more, but they tended to eat at unusual hours.
Mila sat next to Baylea, and they were served their food by the University’s cook. Baylea explained there were only a handful of staff at the University. They kept it maintained and well-stocked and did the chores, so the scholars could focus on their research. Mila wouldn’t have to do chores anymore. That was a foreign concept to her, as she had been doing chores since she was a young girl.
“Do you know what subject you want to study?” Master Donovan asked. He was an older mellowmiran.
Mila shook her head. “I like many subjects, so it’s hard to choose just one.”
Master Donovan nodded. “Some of our scholars find a broader education more appealing. You are welcome to choose that path should it interest you. Report to me after our morning meal, and I’ll help you put together an exploratory curriculum to help you decide.”
“Thank you, Master Donovan,” Mila said.
* * * * *
The next morning, Mila met with Master Donovan. There were twelve different subjects she could specialize in: math, astronomy, geology, biology, healing, anthropology, history, politics, economics, literature, records, and magic. Master Donovan taught politics and economics. The other two mellowmiran masters were Master Keniv and Master Sanim, whom Mila had met the night before. Master Keniv specialized in history, and Master Sanim specialized in math. Master Baylea was the astronomy instructor. Mila had met Master Lena who was the biology and healing specialist and Master Ralf who studied geology. Master Fenris was in charge of records and literature. Master Donovan swore the ancient scholar never left the library. He had all his meals delivered to him. The magic instructor was an early riser and ate her meals a few hours earlier than everyone else. Her name was Master Tiella.
“Who’s the anthropology instructor?” Mila asked.
Master Donovan sighed. “The mellowmira and elvira are so concerned with the war, they’re not particularly interested in foreign affairs. Master Keniv, Master Lena, and I do our best to teach the subject. We haven’t had a true anthropology scholar since Master Mori left us a few years ago. My understanding is he’s studying on Nakivi now. He’s our only foreign scholar, having come to us all the way from Raeya.”
Mila had heard stories of a saraki visitor on Linea. She hadn’t realized he had come to study at the University.
“Since record-keeping is an important part of research, we require all liravans to work with Master Fenris during their first year,” Master Donovan said. “Otherwise, you have the liberty to choose your curriculum. Would you like to partake in lessons with all the masters, or would you like to narrow it down?”
Mila felt overwhelmed by all the choices. She knew she wanted to go broad, but she didn’t want to do all twelve subjects at once. “May I start with a few subjects and change to a different set of subjects at a later date?”
“Then I’d like to work with Master Keniv, Master Tiella, and you.”
Master Donovan smiled. “For the past fifty years, I’ve had to persuade liravans to study under me. Most have given up on politics. I see you haven’t.”
Mila looked down at her feet. “That’s not exactly why I want to study under you. Having grown up so far away from the border, I know almost nothing about the facts behind the war. I want to understand why there’s so much conflict between our two nations, and I want to know more about the mellowmira. My people tell stories that make you out to be monsters, but I can see from meeting you and the other masters that you’re not. I want to replace fiction with truth.”
“You have no idea how happy that makes me.”
* * * * *
Mila went on to study all of the subjects, including some anthropology. But her choice to work with Master Donovan was life-changing, and she ended up specializing in politics. Most liravans took decades if not a century or longer to graduate. Mila worked hard to make a breakthrough in her field, so she could graduate to the position of master. But, she still had a lot of learning to do before that could happen.