Dear Mam, Da , Gwarren, Stelp, Dennet and Little Walker
(So odd to see all those names, spelled out in letters)
I know it will be some time before you hear what I have written in this letter, because I am sure Master Grelft is busy as ever and his services do cost.
But I thought that after all these months I should write to you about my progress in the Acumenary. Things happen with such alacrity compared to at home with just the sheep and the seasons and I’ll probably be an entirely different person by the end of this year.
The catering is exemplary – there are four different varieties of dinner and on Alignment Days, three different varieties of meat and a pudding which is even sweeter than kindling berries. The beds here are scrupulously clean and the walls are uncannily dry (Although we only use fires on special days, it’s usually warm) and there are very few drafts.
There are an abundance of lamps which are not hot and burn all the time — even during daytime. This means that even after Sunout we have the capacity to read and write. And they don’t smell of lamb when they burn, either.
The Acumenary is really impressive when you see it from below the cliffside — it’s a really large collection of buildings, all joined together and mostly made of wood, with a sort of tower thing in the middle, made of a sort of stone. Inside, there’s lots of corridors so you can get from one room to another and the animals live in their own buildings quite a long way off from the people.
The rooms are really big and always light because of the lamps and the place is even bigger than it looks because there are rooms underneath too, which we call the Lowers. I don’t know much about them because we only go down as far as the Library but everyone says the Lowers are at least as big as the Acumenary above. The Edjustor and some of the Tutors live down there and Farix says they were built a long time ago in a war.
The stairwells have a wind that always goes up from the Lowers and there’s this noise that you can hear at night which I didn’t used to like so much but now I’m used to it and it helps me sleep, like the blurting of goats. I think the Lowers must be very warm and full of good things.
Reading and writing is pivotal to the life of the Acumenary, just as Procurer Jangett said. Every day I read or write something new and there is a huge room full of books in the Lowers that we call the Library.
If you have a handsash from your Tutor you can get your own books out. The Librarians call me ‘Scrun’ because I use up so many books and a scrun is an insect, which consumes paper. I have helped kill a nest of scrun already, so I have been awarded a special handsash that shows that I can take out anything from the ‘infirmary’ section. This is the section where damaged books are stored. These are often books which are rarely read and no-one’s repaired or rewritten but I find some of them fascinating as they’re often very different from the main texts and some have interesting diagrams.
(Diagrams are like pictures, which tell you how things work.)
There are also special ‘Reading lamps’. These show their own words and pictures but we only get to see these for special lessons as they are even more valuable than the books.
Gwarren will be asking about fight training. Tutor Gashem (Who smells of some sort of salty meat) says there’s no need to learn about fighting as a Acumenary can always afford guards but Tutor Jesh (Who is called ‘The stormgong’ because of his high voice) is always saying “To think you must move” and that some of us might have to go out on a Quest some time so learning how to defend ourselves is mandatory.
Every day, we do a long walk round the hills with packs (YES Gwarren, in the rain and snow TOO), and we have to learn quarterstaff and play a stupid game with a bladder which is “for reflexes”. This is a stupid waste of our valuable time and often very cold and muddy and is the only really bad thing about Acumenary. (By the way, Gwarren my ear is fine now and I forgive you because you didn’t understand).
The other boys aren’t all bad but they all come from from rich houses. This is why you had to sell the Yellow Flock for Procurer Jangett to send me here.
But I worry about the payments for next year.
This is the mud news, Da. I remember our talk about Gwarren’s inheritance and me making back the cost of Yellow Flock and I solemnly promise by the Limitless Belly of Shvanett that I will. Everything I accomplish every day is for Yellow Flock and to acquire them back.
I’ve got more embroidered patches than anyone else in my year. I enclose a list and some notes on what all the words mean. Every patch is another step towards a new Yellow Flock.
But – and I didn’t want to write this, but it’s true, Da and Mam, and you’d beat me if I lied.
Procurer Jangett lied.
He may have not intended to. He may have just wanted to give you good news or to look good himself because he’d found a boy for the Acumenary, but he didn’t tell you all the truth. I believe he may have even broken a law and should be reported. I don’t know why he still has his job but sometimes I have seen him here.
You see, Da, it isn’t enough just to be ‘gifted’ and study hard or Apply Yourself You have to pay too. This is why the Acumenary only has sons of rich people. The Overseers who run the Acumenary don’t care so much about the work we do – it’s not really so hard and they’ll always find a job for you somewhere even if it’s just calibrating the relics.
The important thing is that they can pay – they call it the Boy Harvest because their families Benefaction goes to pay for the Acumenary and all the work on the Sanctum.
This means I stand out even more because I have a Natural Aptitude to the Facility and have great Application. I think some of the Acolytes are just here to get them out of the way.
Most of the Tutors are angry that the boys aren’t able to learn the more complex rituals but they aren’t in charge – it’s the Quest Office that decides on Acumenary Policy and the Quest Office is financially determined . Sometimes, Tutor Brenek says we will betray posterity by our parochial economic concerns.
The Benefaction from Yellow Flock will only last for this year. I asked Tutor Brenek if this means I have to leave but he says I am now tied into a Contract so I have to stay but they’ll have to take appropriate compensation. I’ve asked Tutor Brenek what would pay for me to be here the full four years and he says the likelihood is that it will be Long Field. I know you can get rid of Long Field if you use Slope Cut for the crop. If the weather’s good and Dennet doesn’t get married for another four years you should be fine if you’re careful I should think.
Next year we shall be trained in remote activation techniques for sacred objects. You wouldn’t understand this, but it’s a Central Aptitude of the Facility. For this, we each have to possess a Remote Impeller – a sort of crook for the control of sacred relics. You won’t know what I’m talking about but this will be expensive but I promise I will pay it all back – every coin!
Also, Farix pays me to do some of his tasks, which I don’t mind as I get more Library credits with the money.
I used to want to be assigned to the Sanctuary or one of the Exoteric Ministries to learn all I could of the Facility but now I realize that I must try to direct my energies towards a more appropriate goal. What I need to do is to find a position related to the Quest Office – not on Quests themselves, obviously. I am considering something related to Diffusion Research.
You won’t understand, but the Quest Office is inextricably linked with finance and an adept of the Facility can be invaluable in Research. I think this is what Tutor Brenek is training me for.
By the way, I’ve seen a Minister of the Questing Office! He sometimes visits the Edjustor and arrives in a big carriage but always during lessons so we never get a good look and he must spend his time in the Lowers with the Edjustor. There are some rumours about the Minister but it might just be that he wears odd shaped clothes and is very old because he’s carried about on this chair thing.
There’s one more piece of news. I have changed my name. This is part of The Process, according to Tutor Brenek and he chose my name for me. I think he brought this forward, though, to stop people laughing whenever he asked me a question.
It doesn’t mean I’m denying who I am. It’s just while I’m here. My new name is ‘Beloc’, which is from old Lishaarn and means ‘Resurgence’ or the turning point of a battle. Next time you see me, you can still call me Meith.
When I first arrived here, it smelled odd but I don’t notice it now. Yesterday, there was a storm and a herder had to bring his sheep into the Acumenary to escape the storm and I smelled sheep again and thought of when I rescued Stelp from being trampled when he fell into the stone counting-pens.
Sometimes, after breakfast, I sit on the steps of the Acumenary Entrance and watch the sun coming out, high above, with that weak light for first flock-count and I think of you, Da, taking Gwarren and me on herd duty and I try to catch the smell of the sheep. Don’t think I’m not glad to be here – I really am. I just miss things sometimes.
I don’t know how I’m going to send you this letter. While I was cleaning the stables for Farix, the sheep herder said he will be delivering wool next month. Perhaps he can take the letter to the Communications Guild. I won’t ask the Tutors because they don’t like us writing home and they might not like what I’ve written.
I’ll probably just keep it hidden and deliver it to you by hand when I come home and bring you a whole new flock of sheep for Yellow Flock and the money to buy back Long Field and money for Dennet and pay Gwarren back for his inheritance and a new coat for Stelp and books for Little Walker to learn to read then I’ll take out this letter and I’ll be able to read it all out to you so you know why all this has happened and how I’ve made it all right.
Until then, I’ll always be grateful.
Your hand in storm: Meith Walker