‘Hey Bethia,’ Dana smiled as Bethia approached the group of girls. ‘This is Geneve, and this is Bryana.’ She pointed at the two other girls, both taller than Bethia with their hair pinned up in a similar style to Dana’s. Bethia assumed this was a popular style here in the city and resolved to figure out how to fix her own hair that way too. Bryana’s hair was a vibrant red colour and her eyes were a striking green, both of which contrasted beautifully with her pale skin. Geneve’s skin was, in comparison, a more sickly colour and made her dark hair and eyes stand out rather alarmingly. Bethia felt herself blush as Geneve gave her a shy smile and she realised she had been staring.
‘I’ll be your guide for the next few weeks as you get used to life in the Abbey,’ Dana continued. ‘I’ll show you where everything is and help you figure out the daily schedule. I know it will all feel overwhelming to begin with, I remember thinking I would never learn it all. But I promise you that you won’t even need me in a couple of weeks. Come on, let’s go back to our rooms and get your chore rotas from Sister Fenella so that I show you were you need to be in the morning.’
Dana began walking and the three new girls followed her quietly. As they walked down corridor after corridor, Bethia began to worry that Dana had too much faith in their ability to find their way around such a huge place. She had already lost track of how many corners they had turned. Even more worrisome was the sheer number of Brothers and Sisters they passed on their way. Each one would smile and bow their head gently in greeting, and Bethia wondered if they were meant to learn the names of every member of the Brethren who lived here.
Finally they reached a small corridor in which several doors were located. Dana stopped at the end of it and turned to look at them.
‘This is where the female Entrants sleep. The first and second years are on this floor, and the third years have rooms upstairs.’
‘Do they have larger rooms?’ Bryana asked. ‘Because my room is tiny, there’s barely enough room for the bed and my desk. Even our servants at home get bigger rooms than these,’ she said, her nose wrinkling in displeasure.
Dana pressed her lips together as if she was trying to stifle a giggle, and before she could reply they heard a new voice come from behind them.
‘Yes, the third years get larger rooms, because they are encouraged to begin focusing on their chosen field in the final year of training, and that often includes building up a collection of tools and resources to help them.’ The girls all turned to look at the Sister who was speaking. She was perhaps in her late fifties, with long, greying hair tied up in a neat bun at the nape of her neck. She had a stern look on her face as she eyed the new girls up and down.
‘But in the first couple of years you are expected to use the Abbey’s equipment as you explore all areas of study. You do not need more than a bed and a desk, and you will soon learn to appreciate that which you have once your lessons begin and you’re tired at the end of another long day.’
Bryana had a scowl on her face as she looked at the Sister, but didn’t seem to feel brave enough to argue with her.
‘This is Sister Fenella,’ Dana said, breaking the awkward silence that had fallen upon the group. ‘She is the Head of Female Entrants, and her room is at the end of this corridor.’
‘My room is larger than yours because I keep supplies of everything you may possibly need during your stay here. I hope that is acceptable to you?’ Sister Fenella seemed to be staring down Bryana, almost daring her to speak up. Bethia felt herself shrinking at the intensity of the situation, and she wasn’t even the focus of attention. Bryana had the sense to drop her gaze and nod her head silently, but the scowl remained on her face.
‘Good,’ Sister Fenella continued. ‘You are members of The Brethren now, and life is going to be very different to what you are used to. I do not expect to hear any complaints about the quality of your accommodation or the tasks you are given, unless there is a real problem.’ She looked at them all one by one, making sure they were listening.
‘You are expected to ensure that you have an adequate supply of parchment and ink, which can be collected from the general stores, and that your robes remain clean and in good condition by taking them to the laundry whenever needed. I am not your mother nor your maid. That being said, I do expect you to come to me if you have a problem. I cannot help you if I do not know what is wrong.’
Bethia wasn’t sure she would ever want to seek out Sister Fenella if she had a problem, the older woman scared her slightly. And looking over at Bryana and Geneve it looked as if the other two girls felt the same hesitancy. Dana, however, had her hand held over her mouth as if she was trying not to laugh again.
‘Now,’ Sister Fenella continued, ‘tell me your names so that I can give you your rotas for daily chores. What’s your name?’ She asked pointing to Bryana.
The girls gave their names one by one to Sister Fenella and were handed a sheet of parchment with a weekly schedule on it. Each Entrant had daily chores to do before Morning Prayers, ranging from helping in the kitchens or laundry to cleaning out the guests rooms and restocking the bath houses.
They spent the rest of the afternoon being guided around the Abbey by Dana, who marked different rooms on the small maps they had been given to help them remember the best routes between each place they needed to be. By the time they reached the dining hall again ready for the evening meal, Bethia was feeling overwhelmed and exhausted. And she didn’t think she was the only one. As she sat down at a table next to Geneve, she turned to the other girl and asked quietly,
‘I don’t mean to sound rude, but… are you okay?’ Bethia had noticed that the other girl’s pale skin had grown even paler as the day went on, and she had developed dark shadows under her eyes.
Geneve smiled slightly, ‘I’m okay, I just get tired very easily. I’ll be alright once I get used to this new routine, but it’s a lot to take in isn’t it?’
‘It really is,’ Bethia agreed, glad that someone else had said it. ‘I was beginning to think I was the only one struggling with it.’
‘Oh no, not at all’ Geneve said, shaking her head quickly. She leaned closer to Bethia and dropped her voice to a whisper. ‘I’ve already had a couple of moments where I’ve wondered if I’m really up for this. If today is this hard, what is tomorrow going to be like?’ She looked at Bethia, her dark eyes wide as she shared something so vulnerable with someone she had only just met.
‘Me too,’ Bethia reassured her. ‘I thought that even as we drove through the city this morning. It’s all so different from where I come from.’
‘And where’s that?’ Bryana piped up, smiling across the table at Bethia in a way that looked sweet but made her feel deeply uncomfortable.
‘A little village called Terran, near the Western Pass.’
‘Gosh, it must have taken you a long time to get here,’ Dana said, taking a piece of her bread roll and dipping it into her soup.
‘Three days,’ Bethia agreed, causing all three of her dining companions to gasp.
‘I thought I had travelled a long way last year, but it only took us a day and a half,’ Dana said.
‘Oh, where you do come from?’ Bethia asked, intrigued.
‘Glassenby, it’s a market town along the main trading route between Tremayne and the cities of the North.’
‘What about you?’ Bethia asked Geneve.
‘My family lives at Port Braeden, about half a day’s ride south of the city. My father travels into the city regularly for work and has friends who live here, so we came up a few days ago to spend some time with them before my Dedication. He wanted me to get to know them so I had someone to visit if I had free time.’ Geneve suddenly started, ‘I guess that’s not a possibility for you, is it?’
‘No,’ Bethia said, feeling tears prickling the back of her eyes. ‘My Pa can’t afford to make the journey across country just to come for a visit, and we don’t know anybody in the city.’
‘I’m sorry,’ Geneve said, seeming genuinely sad. ‘I didn’t mean to rub it in.’
‘You didn’t,’ Bethia replied, touching her arm briefly to reassure her, even though her eyes still stung with unshed tears.
‘What about you, Bryana?’ Dana asked, attempting to move the conversation on. ‘Where do you come from?’
‘Oh, my family lives right here in the city,’ Bryana said, beaming with pride. ‘My father works at the palace.’
So that explains why she was so shocked by the rooms Bethia thought to herself, she must be used to a lot of luxury.
After dinner, Dana explained that they would usually go to their Evening Lessons with their Guardians, but they had tonight off to settle into their rooms. This was the first opportunity Bethia had had to even see her room, and was expecting it to be tiny based on the description Bryana had given earlier. So she was pleasantly surprised to find that actually there was not only a decent amount of space between her bed and the desk, but the room also contained a small bedside table and a corner cupboard where she could store her clothes and any other items she may need such as books and writing supplies. She even found a small pile of parchment, a couple of bottles of ink, and a few quills on her desk, along with a cloth bag that she assumed was meant for carrying these things between lessons.
The room had a window almost directly opposite the door, which looked out onto a little courtyard filled with a variety of bushes and flowers. She opened the window slightly and heard the evening song of the birds as they settled down for the night. It was a sound that she had heard ever since childhood and it made her feel calm for the first time since she had set foot in the Abbey this morning. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath to calm her nerves, before unpacking her bag and placing the few items she had brought from home around her room. There was the crocheted shawl that had once belonged to her mother and had been a comfort to her through many a challenging time, and the notebook she had made when Brother Howell had first taught her about the different herbs he grew.
And there was a small painting of her home which her friend Logan had made for her before they both set off on their journeys to different Abbeys. Bethia and Logan had been friends for years, ever since they both decided they wanted to join the Brethren. They had always assumed they would be sent to either the same Abbey or ones near to each other, but had actually ended up miles apart. Logan was currently up at Tinne Abbey, on the Northern Border, which was several days’ ride from both their home in Terran and Bethia’s new home in Tremayne. She wondered if Logan was feeling as overwhelmed as she was, and decided she’d write to him in a few days’ time to let him know how she was getting on. She didn’t expect to hear from him if she didn’t write, Logan may be a good artist but he hated writing. But he had promised to write to her whenever she wrote to him, as long as she promised not to write more than once a month. They had even shaken hands on it, and she chuckled at the memory.
Just then she heard a bell ringing, and realised it must be time for Evening Prayers. Throughout the day she had heard several bells ringing and Dana had explained that this was so that everybody knew when to move on to the next task of the day.
‘Too often,’ Dana had said with a giggle, ‘members of The Brethren get so caught up in what they’re doing that they wouldn’t even notice the sun going down. This way nobody misses anything important.’
Bethia turned and opened her door, walking into the corridor and looking to see if she could find Dana or Geneve. There were so many Entrants coming out of all the rooms that it was hard to see, but she heard Dana calling her and waving her hand to catch her attention at last. She trotted over to her and met up with Geneve.
‘Where’s Bryana?’ Bethia asked.
‘Oh, she’s decided to go with one of the other girls from your year, someone called Orla,’ Dana said. ‘Apparently they already know each other, so it’s just the three of us tonight.’
Bethia didn’t want to admit it, but she was actually quite relieved. She hadn’t really felt that comfortable around Bryana, whereas Dana and Geneve seemed so friendly in comparison. She followed them both as Dana directed them towards the Chapel once more for Evening Prayers.