She was in the corner of the first floor in the timber-frame part of the building. It was one of the many common rooms in the building with chairs and couches grouped around low tables. Tapestries lined the walls and there was a magnificent fireplace set right in the middle of the room like a bizarre and almighty column. The hearth was separated from the wooden floor by a circular pattern of tiles, from which four columns rose and intertwined to take the smoke up through the building. The surround was made from white marble and featured the same snakelike dragons as the main hall. The whole effect was quite pleasing.
The youth she had seen with Esa the night she enrolled was sleeping on one of the couches in the corner, and nearby a tired but familiar face was pouring through a sheaf of papers scribbling little notes and biting at her nails. The stressed out woman was blonde and fairly short. She was also Morris' newest and closest friend in all the western lands.
Morris approached softly, and took the adjacent seat "You are still filling in forms?"
"Yes and no. This is all smokescreen for those who claim to have magical skill. Takes forever." Valia sank in the chair and let her head roll back. She was dressed very differently from the day they first met. She was wearing a simple blue tunic with a dragon embroidered in white near the collar. Elizan tunics were long so Morris assumed she was wearing shorts of some kind, because her legs were naked from mid thigh to shoe.
"The Witch Hunters are sweeping through the southern provinces getting the mob stirred up. So we're making sure that our notes are all encoded, although I don't know how many lives it's going to save," Valia picked up the nearest form and waved it absently "Arald has been enrolling everyone as a 'butcher'."
"The guild of sausage makers?"
"Well quite possibly if we don't make sure to hide everyone properly." Valia closed her eyes and frowned "Sorry that was in poor taste."
"They burn them in Zargosa too."
"Yes I'd heard that. Still they're safe here if we can hide them." Valia sat forward again, although she did not return to making notes. The youth rolled over on his couch so that his face was hidden. He had stopped making sleeping noises.
"And this... is your day?" Morris raised an eyebrow as she gazed at the various piles of paper across the table. It was the only one in the room at a decent enough height for writing and it was covered in forms, quills, and inkwells.
"No, I also have to sit in on the warrior testing this evening and make a note of how the people sent to the medic were injured so that the blood letters can do their exam properly."
Morris folded her arms and fixed the blonde with a stare "Why am I not being tested?"
Valia faltered for a second "Well you've come all the way here from Irmir, right through Zargosan territory not only alive but unrobbed and unscathed. We don't need to test you."
Morris narrowed her eyes and adopted a wry smile "It has nothing to do Esa brushing me past your brother."
"Well there is also that." Valia grinned and looked over to her friend.
"I wish to be treated like others."
Valia raised an eyebrow "Really? The warrior's exam is pretty brutal."
"Yes. It is the reason I came all this way. To be equal."
"Well if you insist..." A penny dropped behind Valia's eyes, and she bit her lip "Sorry this is a sidetrack but, how come your Elizan is so good?"
Morris frowned slightly "So good? I make mistakes."
"Well here and there, but it's better than most Elizans... could..." Valia lent forward with her elbows on the table and looked unsure about how to finish her question.
"Could you maybe teach me Aori?"
"Is there a boy?" Morris raised an eyebrow, Valia looked away and blushed "There is a boy!" The blonde nodded, her hand covering a childish grin "Is he being tested?"
"No he's already in the guild. Has been for years."
"Aori?" Morris unfolded her arms as Valia nodded "I do not blame you, Aori men are beautiful."
"So are your women. It must be nice to live in a place where everyone is just so..." She looked around the room to see who else was there, after a moment's pause to make sure that Esa's youth didn't appear to be listening she turned back "Are there no ugly people in Irmir?"
"Oh no. We drown the ugly ones at birth" Morris watched the blonde's expression drop and began to laugh "... I am kidding."
"Oh -I, uh."
"To your eyes we are beautiful but we see our kind every day. To us you also live surrounded by impossible creatures, with your bright hair and blue eyes... although, I do not understand why you have redheads?" At this the blonde began to laugh "Or even call them so when they are more... orange."
"Nobody knows, but redheads aren't so bad. They get teased a lot so they tend to be angrier than most but if you can get past that they are generally pretty sweet, actually."
"And do they... match?"
"Most usually. You'd have to ask my brother."
"So is Aori hard?"
"It depends, which Sultanate is he from?" Morris was fast getting used to seeing a blank expression when it came to discussing the Aori. Much as people here claimed to know about these things, their 'facts' were often mostly assumed. "What kind of gypsy is he?"
"Oh... uhm, I am not sure, but he has little pictures of mountains on his clothes and polished stones attached to his belt"
"Then is Vehenya not Aori, and no our language is not difficult. Vehenya less so."
"They speak a lot with their hands. It's all in the gesture," Morris balled her fists and made a jagged motion in-front of her chest "Very macho."
"Yes that! He does that even when he speaks Elizan, and with one hand usually in his waistband."
"Because he is man! Very manly!" Morris sat back in her chair "So if I teach you how to woo your Vehenyai, you will enter me for tests?"
Valia grinned "Shrewd move. But if you insist."
"Then we shake our accord."
Another teenage boy appeared in the door, he looked at the sleeping form of Aluredus with an odd expression before taking a few steps into the room and addressing the blonde "Masa de Neir, we are ready now."
"Whelp! Time to go and watch some horrific injuries." Valia began to gather her effects as the teenager hovered nearby awkwardly. She handed him the ink and quills. "I am glad you came here, Morris."
"I am glad too. Verheni Alin."
Valia paused for a moment and bit her lip "Goodbye?" Morris nodded. "Then, Verheni Alin." With that Valia left the room with the teenager tottering nervously at her side. The Imirran stretched and looked around the room, once again free as a bird with little to do.
(I am starting to get back into this now! Comments are still very welcome.)