A/N: Hi guys! This is my current project for NaNoWriMo. There will be mistakes. It will be rushed. It has not had critique from beta readers applied. If you're interested in being a beta reader, please let me know!
Once, a traveling bard had told a story at a Harrah holiday dinner about spirits who could see auras. As Minori looked at her instructor, Scholar Tithian, trying to focus on what he was saying, she wondered what his aura would look like. A boring color, like gray, she was sure. Gray like the hair that surrounded part of his head. Gray like the robes he wore. She wondered if he actually knew all of this information about the locations of different stars and planets in his head, had soaked it all up like a sponge.
To her left, Katrina Baylor was taking diligent notes with a stylus on her tablet. Leave it to Katrina to be the perfect student, no matter the subject matter. All her life, Katrina's mother had been making known her high expectations for her only daughter. Katrina's family was one of the top families in the Textiles Guild, and Katrina was set to inherit all of their responsibilities. She had already started her Apprenticeship, though her education wasn't yet complete.
Katrina's straight blonde hair hung down past her face, blocking Minori's view of her friend, but she could imagine her lips pursed in a tight line of concentration, her normally arched brows furrowed, making wrinkles on the bridge of her nose. It was a look Minori knew well.
On her right was a stark difference. Uta Harrah, his own darker blonde hair cropped short enough that it looked almost brown, was younger than the rest of the students in the class by two years, but had advanced past his own classmates. It had been an attempt to keep him from getting bored. It hadn't worked.
Uta was laid back in his seat, his arms and legs splayed before him. He tapped his stylus on his tablet, leaving haphazard markings all over the screen, and sighed loudly.
Scholar Tithian cleared his throat from the front of the classroom, where he wrote on a large screen mounted on the wall.
"Is there a problem, young Master Harrah?" Scholar Tithian asked. His voice was higher now than when he had been lecturing, light it was being pulled taut.
"Well," Uta drawled. "You see, I just have a question."
"By all means, young Master Harrah. I am but your humble servant." Though this wasn't exactly untrue, Scholar Tithian's voice betrayed him. It was clear he would rather eat nails than be at Uta's service.
"When exactly am I going to need to know how many moons Raynar has? When am I ever going to need to leave Tara?"
To be fair, Minori had been wondering quite the same thing. She couldn't deny that the idea of actually going out there and exploring the moons of Raynar sounded thrilling to her, but Scholar Tithian had a way of making it sound like a week day afternoon minding the shop for the Harrahs.
And as thrilling as jumping on a ship to Raynar would be, that was never something in her future. Minori's future was firmly in the Jewelers Guild, where her mother had earned her an Apprenticeship that she would be starting soon. There wasn't likely to be anything to ever call her off planet.
"Raynar is where many of our precious gemstones from, young Master Harrah," said Scholar Tithian. He went on to explain why this was important to the Jewelers Guild, but precious gemstones reminded Minori of something else.
Bright light filtered through the front windows of the Harrahs' shop. Minori sat behind the counter, and her betrothed, Deacon Lackey, was across from her.
"I just don't know why you won't wear the ring, Minori!" he had yelled at her. She could hardly blame him for yelling. She had yelled at him first.
"It's not time!" Beams from the afternoon sun caught the ring in Deacon's hand, hard for Minori to ignore. She turned her her back to them both. "We won't be getting married until at least a year into my Apprenticeship, and that's not due to start yet. So I think we can wait for this!" Her face was red. "Now go!" Tears were in her eyes.
"I'm only leaving because you're at work. But we're not done, Minori."
Minori felt something on her arm and turned to see Katrina looking at her.
"Miss Kallas, please, could you answer the question?" Scholar Tithian was asking.
"Oh...ah...yes. That is..."
"Yes, that's what I thought," Scholar Tithian said. "You'll see me after class, Miss Kallas."
'After class' didn't go well. Not a minute into the lecture, Minori had lost her temper. Although she truly appreciated the education she felt lucky to receive, she hadn't remembered that at all as she yelled at Scholar Tithian that he was useless, pitiful, and alone.
"This is what we get for allowing just anyone to be educated with our Guilds' children!" Scholar Tithian had exclaimed to the Dean after marching her to his office. "I demand something be done about this impudence!"
The Dean leaned forward on her desk. Her brown hair, almost as dark as Minori's, was tied back in a bun. Her sleeves hung loosely about her arms as she put her elbows on her desk and placed her hands on her chin in an almost girlish pose.
"Minori, this isn't the first time you've said something like this to an instructor," the Dean said to her. "Last time I gave you a warning. This time I have to do something."
Minori stared down at her feet, trying not to say anything. She should have known better. The Dean had been more than kind to let her get away with nothing but a warning last time. Disrespect was a harsh offense at the school. Uta could get away with it, as the Harrah family was at the head of the Jewelers Guild. Minori, on the other hand, was hardly their ward.
"You'll be on lunch duty for the rest of the month, and you're lucky that's it." A breath Minori didn't know she was holding escaped her. That wasn't so bad, really.
"Yes, Dean Harald."
"You'll also write a 500 word apology to Scholar Tithian for your behavior."
That was going to be painful, but was doable.
"Yes, Dean Harald."
"You may go home."
Grateful that at least it was the end of the day and of the week, Minori scurried out of the door, letting her black curls fall in front of her face so that no one could see how red her face was. Determined only to get home to her mother, she headed towards the exit of the College, but she was stopped.
"Minori, we need to talk." Deacon's voice stopped her from behind. She didn't face him.
"Now isn't the time, Deacon. Really. Later, I promise. Just not now."
His hand was on her shoulder before she could take more than a few steps. She stopped.
"I came here to meet you. I deserve your time. I'm your fiancé, Minori."
"And what if you weren't?" She asked, not even regretting it as she said it.
"Why, Minori? What did I do?" Minori turned to face him. He was taller than her, which was saying something, so she had to look up at her. The dying sun made his auburn hair gleam especially red, and it shone fully on him. He was illuminated beautifully. Any girl would be breathless to have his full attention.
Any girl but Minori.
"You didn't do anything. That's not it, Deacon. I just...I need some space."
"I can give you space," he told her. "But don't completely push me away." He raised his hand to the hair that hung by her face, stopped, changed his mind. He put both hands on her shoulders.
"Until I start my Apprenticeship, at least. Give me until then." She knew he wouldn't give her that. It was too much to ask. He was too young, too eligible. His family wouldn't let him give her that.
"Give you what, though?" he asked, plaintively. "Can I see you? Can I talk to you? You won't wear the ring, okay." She shook her head and put her hands on his, gently grabbing them and moving them off of her.
"I think it would be better if we didn't talk. You could even...talk to other people." She tried to smile at him. "Other girls. Maybe you'll find a highborn girl that your family will like."
"They've already made this arrangement, and it works, Minori. Wouldn't it be better if we made an effort to get along? And shouldn't we let it show that we're together?"
Though the sun was behind her and not in her eyes, she narrowed them at him. "'Let it show?' For whom?" she asked.
Here, he smiled a little sheepishly.
"Look, I'll be clear with you, Minori. You deserve that much." He leaned in a little closer. "The highborn girls in the Jewelers Guild, they're vapid and annoying. They're cloying. I can't take them. Do you understand?"
Arching her brow, Minori crossed her arms. "Oh, I think I understand. You just want me to get those girls off your back, is that it?"
His smile turned a little less sheepish.
"You're a smart girl, Minori. You'll be a successful woman after your Apprenticeship. I think we'll get along well enough, if you give me a chance. What more can someone ask for in one of these arranged marriages?"
Taking a step back and looking down, Minori considered. She was going to have to settle down. Did it have to be alone?
But there were certain...expectations in a relationship. Expectations that Minori wasn't ready to face. Maybe wouldn't ever be ready to face.
"I can't make any decisions right now. I'm just...I'm upset. It's not you, I had a run-in with Scholar Tithian. Just leave me alone for now. I'll...I'll get back to you."
Without another glance at him, Minori turned and walked determinedly away. She was a little surprised when he let her.