And so a new school year begins. I got back to campus a couple of days ago, since I wanted to spend at least one night outside before the beginning of February. I ended up managing two--both extraordinarily cold, but fortunately no precipitation. I sleep in a hammock, so it doesn't matter to me whether there is snow on the ground, except that I have to be careful not to drop anything. There's eighteen inches in places, and I wouldn't want to have to dig for some small piece of gear.
I had wanted to talk to some of the graduating students, especially Ebony and Rick, but except for a brief conversation with Ebony when I first got back (she told me about her plans to appear sighted for graduation), I haven't seen them. I've noticed graduating students often go missing in January. I assume they're finishing up last-minute requirements or, I don't know, partying together somewhere or something. There were plenty of people on campus to talk with otherwise, though--everyone else got back the same time I did, and the Great Hall seems very crowded. The masters were back, too, but I hardly saw any of them until the ceremony.
I did get to give two new students their tours--I happened to be in the office when they came in so Sharon asked me. I still haven't been asked to be anyone's buddy--a long-term new student guide--and I still don't understand how that works. Should I have volunteered? When? Was there any special training involved? I guess I didn't want to be a buddy badly enough to find out.
So on the evening of Brigit, I entered the Chapel along with everyone else and found a seat between Kayla and Steve Bees. Eddie sat on Kayla's other side. I don't know where Nora was.
"Where's Aidan?" I asked.
"With a baby-sitter in the Mansion. He's three, he can't sit still for this long."
"That's right, it's his birthday."
"We'll have a party for him later. Not having him here is my present to him."
"I kinda miss him being here."
"You wouldn't if he were here and decided to pitch a fit."
"Aren't the terrible twos supposed to be over now?"
"My son is never terrible. But he has his moments."
Actually, Aidan is a pretty well-behaved kid, but taking care of him is still a full-time job for whoever is watching him. I guess Kayla wanted to be able to focus on being at the ceremony. It's still weird to think that four years ago she wasn't here because she was busy giving birth in the basement alone.
"I'm excited," said Steve, who doesn't know Kayla's story, I don't think. "Last year Brigid was just a blur, I'm looking forward to seeing what it's really like."
"It's always blurry," put in Eddie. "That's deliberate. They put something in the air. Can't you smell it?"
It took Steve a couple of seconds to realize Eddie was joking. He smirked and rolled his eyes. And then the ceremony began.
The ding! ding! ding! of tiny, silver-sounding, seemingly endless bells, on and on, mind-numbing, and then the rustling and squeaking chairs as we all turned around in our seats to watch the masters file in. They are all, really, ordinary people--brilliant and generous, but ordinary too. Human. But that's not how they look processing in, the hoods of their brown robes drawn up, the honey-colored gloom of candle-light half hiding, half illuminating them, the air full of the mixed scents of snow, of beeswax, of wet wool and cold buildings, and the ceiling of the Chapel lost in shadow above so it might as well have been the clear sky....
I wasn't sitting on the end of a row, so I didn't get to light anyone's candle, but I saw the room brighten perceptibly. The fourteen masters took the stage together, set their candles in holders, and sat down. Seven empty chairs sat beside them on the stage, space for the candidates graduating this year.
Kit, the current Head of the Masters' Group called everyone to order, but her voice was noticeably hoarse. She seemed to have a cold. She got through introducing the new students, but then, as she moved into the graduation part of the ceremony, she touched her throat and winced and Allen said something to her. I couldn't hear him but she nodded and they switched places. And so, when Ebony crossed the stage it was Allen who waited for her. She did, indeed, look like she was sighted--the illusion worked. I'm sure the new students didn't understand why she gave a little jump of surprise when she heard Allen's voice, but of course until he spoke she would have thought it was Kit standing there.
The ritual worked just as well with him, of course, ad the illusion was maintained. In the candlelight I could see Ebony's face, but as usual she was almost expressionless. I could not see Allen's. After he handed her the diploma they hugged and held each other for a long time.
When the graduates come out they're wearing their black student cloaks and you can't see what they have on underneath until they take the ropes off. The newly revealed outfit is supposed to symbolize the next phase of their lives. Usually some of the outfits are outlandish and often someone is naked. I had kind of expected Rick to be the naked one but he wasn't. He was wearing a suit and looking quite uncomfortable in it, symbolic, I suppose, of having to live and work among humans for a while. I should have known--he'd know better than to be naked in a room no warmer than 40 degrees.
Instead, the naked one was Raven F.
The graduation of the candidates took a long time because there were seven of them. Usually there are three or four. This is not what you'd call a big school. But finally the ceremony was over, the masters processed away, and we had the first of the evening's many receptions. Raven, still naked (you can't put your cloak back on once you take it off, something Raven seemed to have forgotten), was very cold. We teased her a bit for that before someone gave her something to wrap up in.
It's good to be back among the familiar, mystical wackiness of school. I've seen this ceremony four times, now--the only thing is that sometime during the ceremony I realized that I'm what outsiders call a senior now. I have sat in this audience as a novice for the last time.