Excerpt: Academy chapel

Today’s post is another excerpt from one of my works-in-progress, An Internal Conflict. This follows directly after the last excerpt.

The premise is that (to use the phrasing with which I introduced the previous excerpt) “after watching her home fall into disaster because of her inaction, Persephone Royal is granted a rare boon and allowed to live the critical period of her life over again in light of those memories. Much of this most important time is her years at the Imperial Academy.” Previously, Persephone had her first meeting with her tutor.

Her math course went much as it had the first time around: the instructor called the roll, and then they dove into the first axioms and proofs from the history of mathematics. Even with the habits and skills to improve memory that all mages mastered in their first year of training, she remembered essentially nothing of the content of the particular lessons, but with her memories of the last time around driving her to increased focus and dedication she helped lead the class farther than she suspected the instructor intended.

Once the class ended, with a reminder to bring a compass and straight-edge to their next session ringing in her ears, Persephone made her way downstairs to the first floor of the building, out into the bright sunshine, and across the grounds to the chapel building. She saw many students and instructors mingling outside in the warm air, and stopped to greet her friends.

“What have you had so far?” she asked Penelope.

“An hour of physical training, an hour of history, and an hour of rhetoric. You?”

“Meeting with my tutor, then two hours of mathematics. How did your classes go?”

“An hour of physical exertion certainly woke me up,” Penelope said with a wry smile. “It’s a good thing I had it first, and then rhetoric, rather than the other way around; I wouldn’t have a chance of keeping up with the Headmistress otherwise.”

“Hmm?” Persephone made a questioning noise.

“I knew her before we came here,” Penelope said. “She was a brilliant but demanding teacher then, but somehow in the intervening decades she’s become even more so. Not that she could ever be too much for a student here, but she keeps me on my toes. I wouldn’t want to face her when I was half-asleep.”

“Ah. I have rhetoric in the second hour after lunch; would you recommend I try to take her section?”

“Take her or one of her proteges; they might be better if you want a more specialized course, or a smaller one, since her classes are always very popular. But she’s the best. How did your morning go?”

“I didn’t expect to be assigned a paper in my first hour of my first day, but I have no complaints on that front. And in maths we’re following the standard Academy pattern of beginning at the beginning with first principles and working our way forward. I think we got a little farther than the instructor anticipated, which is a good sign for the term.”

“So that’s why my history class just dove right in rather than doing any sort of course overview!”

“Well, that and the principle that classes move at whatever pace is best for the students, which makes planning a more traditional course rather difficult. I wasn’t all that surprised by any of this, given what I’ve heard from my siblings.” Persephone turned to pull her brother into the conversation, then noted how the crowd was streaming rapidly into the chapel building and moved that way herself.

The sound of conversation continued around her as she walked through the narthex, the room immediately within the chapel doors, but once she passed into the main room all was nearly silent except for the soft music of the organ and string musicians coming from the far side of the room. Persephone let Silas draw her through the throng to a place close to the central platform, though she made sure to pause to pick up a copy of the printed liturgy from a basket by the doorway on her way in.

After a few moments, the music ended with a soft cadence, then began again, somewhat louder and simpler, introducing the day’s opening hymn. When the strings dropped out after the introduction, Persephone joined everyone around her in singing. She took the melody, but heard her brother’s voice taking the bass gently and the other parts more faintly from others scattered throughout the room.

After the last verse, with someone’s voice across the aisle soaring into the descant with a shimmering, carrying quality that for once wasn’t a screech, the room went utterly silent for a long moment, and then the liturgist stepped forward with his hands raised.

“The Lord be with you.”

“And also with you.” Persephone could hardly hear her own voice in the wave of sound from the rest of the congregation.

As the service proceeded, Persephone was surprised to hear the liturgist read an utterly different pair of texts—the anointing of David and the first half of the fifth chapter of the Epistle to the Ephesians, rather than the story of the bronze serpent from Numbers and the commentary on it in the Gospel of John that she had remembered—from the lectern, and then to see the Dean of the Chapel rather than the Academy chaplain step up to the platform to give the sermon. He unfolded the sheaf of notes he carried, then laid it aside and began to speak, starting from the end of the Ephesians text, “… making the most of every opportunity, for the days are evil.”

The Dean was an old man, Persephone knew, at nearly the end of his first century, but in this sermon his voice was clear and steady even as his vocabulary and phrasing were even more archaic than his usual. But she scarcely noticed as she sat forward and the words sank into her mind and heart.

He spoke for some time about the need to work diligently, at whatever stage of education or life the members of the congregation now stood, because a moment might quickly pass away. A sudden quotation from the eleventh chapter of Matthew, that “the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it,” struck her as odd, but he explained it as an example of this principle applying especially in Jesus’ day. And then he turned abruptly aside from that thread, to an explanation that while they were not likely to see anything nearly as bad as the tribulation under which the earliest Christians suffered, perilous times were coming.

Persephone looked up, startled at his line of reasoning, and saw him standing somewhat stiffly, with only a loose grip on the edge of the lectern beside him and his eyes staring up at—no, past, she realized—the stained-glass window at the back of the chapel.

She nudged Silas, who had been looking with unfocused eyes at his copy of the liturgy as he listened. He looked at her, then at the Dean, then back at her.

“Father needs to know about this,” she breathed into his ear, then turned back to listen.

After a few more minutes, the old man drew his sermon to a conclusion, repeating his text, then adding a few other similar exhortations from elsewhere in the New Testament, finally closing with Paul’s instruction to Timothy to “fight the good fight of faith”—but that last, Persephone realized after a moment, had been for some reason in the original Greek.

In the silence that followed, the Dean of the Chapel staggered worryingly as he seemed to come back to himself, but he gripped the lectern to steady himself, then gathered his papers and stepped carefully down into the crowd.

As always, your feedback—any comments, questions, etc.—would be greatly appreciated.

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