"You won't mind teaching?" asks Solran Marten, looking at Teresa as though she were a marvel, as though she were garbed as the Lord's Consort, and not merely one tired woman in dust-stained seraf's clothing. "I send them South every year, to sing, to play, to gather information. And so many never return. If we could teach them the customs better, how to walk and speak and dress--well. It would mean a great deal to me, Serra."
"Teresa," Teresa corrects quietly.
She could have changed before meeting the Master of Senniel College; could have bathed, styled her hair, wrapped herself in a sari. Kallandras had offered her the privacy of his rooms. That she comes here as she does, still garbed for the road, means something: she is not Serra here, will never be again, and it is best for her sake that she begin to remember that now.
"Teresa," Solran Marten agrees. "Teresa of Senniel."
"You do me great honor," Teresa says, dipping her head and lowering her eyes. She is not Serra here, but the motions of a lifetime are difficult to unlearn. "And no, I would not mind teaching. I have done so all my life."
And so she is given rooms near Kallandras's--"Though I fear mine are seldom occupied," he says wryly, and she smiles, and wins from him a promise to call on her on the rare occasions that they are--and a class. Two classes.
The class that Solran had begged her to teach--"The Culture and Customs of Annagar," it says in the records, though the students call it "How to Act Like a Statue" when they think she cannot hear--is easier than she feared. Oh, it is a struggle; she has seen five-year-olds with more decorum, and at times she despairs of her students' ability to open their mouths without giving mortal insult.
But they are adults, for all that she may question it, and they understand that what she teaches may soon be a matter of life and death for them. Some have been to Annagar before; one has watched a companion killed in front of him. He speaks of it, once, stuttering, before the class. It is a gift to her, and one she appreciates; they all listen more intently, after.
She thinks, given four or five years of their time, she might teach them not to disgrace themselves were they serafs. Given six months--well. She will do her best, as she promised Solran, to keep them alive.
It is the other class that gives her difficulty: an introduction to the samisen. Solran had been apologetic to ask it of her, but firm: all instructors were expected to teach more than a single course. It was nothing to Teresa. Where else does she have to be, save for Senniel, what else to do in this strange land she now called home? And she has taught the samisen many times before.
The students in this class are younger, most in their first year at Senniel. If her cultural students seem at times like children play-acting as adults, her samisen students are children. She can think of them as nothing else, for all that they are of age to be married in the Dominion. They talk in class, draw rude noises from their instruments, use the Voice--the few who are so gifted--to whisper secrets across the room that set other students snickering.
The last hurts the most, to see her lost curse, lost gift, used so casually. She does not show it, of course. Her face is schooled and calm, her hands steady, no matter what mayhem her students choose to practice. That training will never leave her. If she speaks sharply, it is because she judges it expedient, not because emotion rules her voice.
"Again," she tells Amala, when the opening notes to the simple children's tune she practices come out wrong. "Again." She raises a hand, stills the rest of the class so she can concentrate, can isolate the error. There is a faint tittering from somewhere in the back of the class; she ignores it.
Amala does not, or perhaps cannot. Flustered, she sets her fingers awry again. Teresa frowns at her, and this time does let disappointment color her voice. "You know better. Again."
Amala's hand strikes the body of the instrument, letting out a dull, hollow thud. "I've played it three times. It sounds fine. What do you expect, that I'll be perfect?"
"Yes," Teresa answers honesty. She has never expected anything less. "Now again, if you would care to?"
"I--I don't care to," Amala says, tears springing to the corner of her eyes. She whips her head to one side, catches the eyes of the other students, who are staring at her. Some are clearly amused to see a classmate so caught out. "I'm not here to be, to be laughed at it." She shoves the samisen away, stands, and stumbles out of the room.
Teresa would never show so gauche an expression as shock--unless it were cultivated, meant to entertain or discomfit. She does not let her gaze track Amala's exit. She keeps a smile fixed to her face and turns to the next student without pause. But inside she is frozen, off-balance. Even the Voyani would not behave such; they show anger, yes, but their pain is private. And she has never had a student reject her authority before, refuse her outright.
She has been teaching all her life--teaching serafs, teaching wives. She has never, save for Na'Dio, taught anyone she did not own.
She goes searching for Amala after the class, but the halls of Senniel are long and twisted, and she does not know them well. Her student is not in the library, in the dormitory, in the hall where bland Northern food is served. There are a thousand other places she might be. It is beneath Teresa's dignity--and beyond her abilities--to search them all.
She has never had to search for someone before, only to call their name and have them answer. She brushes that thought away. That is beneath her, to mourn for the past. Her loss has bought her freedom; she should think on it with gratitude, not regret.
She sets aside her search and goes to the Commons. The market there is one of her great delights: that she can walk through it unhindered, not caught in a palanquin, and look at and touch all its many wonders, not merely judge them through veils and words relayed from her brother's cerdan. There are furs from the far north, ironwork from the Free Towns, even silks and fans from Annagar.
The reminders of her birthplace are often a comfort, a touchstone. Today, their familiarity grates. They are out of place in Essalieyan, garish against the merchants' painted stalls instead of harmonizing with white walls and dark wood floors. They suit the surroundings poorly, like the music of the samisen in Senniel's stone walls. Like her.
A dark-haired woman bends in front of the stall to finger a sari, her movements graceful, and for a moment--only for a moment--Teresa pretends she is in Annagar. But the Commons are raucous with the Essalieyanese tongue, and the woman has no husband, no cerdan guarding her. Teresa cannot hold the illusion in her mind.
Then the woman speaks, and there is no illusion there. Teresa recognizes the voice.
Teresa of Senniel College does not run, no more than would Serra Teresa. She slips through the crowd delicately, like one grain of sand trickling down a dune, leaving no wake in her passage. Nor does she interrupt the woman in her negotiations; she waits to extend her bow until the woman has completed her purchase and turned away.
"Serra Teresa?" Lissa en'Caveras gasps, and the sari she has just purchased slips out of her hands and into the dust.
Teresa finds herself strangely untroubled by this lack of grace. "It is only Teresa, now, Na'lis," she says as she stoops to retrieve the garment. Lissa's hands are still fluttering with surprise. It should be a discredit to Teresa, who had schooled Lissa. But she had never taught Lissa to dissemble: an indulgence of her middle years.
"I--of course." Lissa takes a deep breath, accepts the folded silk that Teresa holds out to her. "Will you join me for tea, Ser--Teresa? My husband is in the Dominion, still, but I can offer you some hospitality. Or do you need--" Lissa stops, looking confused. As well she might. She does not know why Teresa is in Essalieyan.
"I am well-provided for, Na'lis," Teresa says gently, as though she did not at times wonder the same question Lissa has left unasked. "But I will accept your hospitality."
Lissa en'Caveras's home is spacious, its walls painted white to mimic the paper screens of Annagar. It feels empty, echoing, with only two women there: there are no serafs, of course, no other wives. No students, and Teresa had not realized how much she had accustomed herself to their presence, how much they made Essalieyan's stone walls feel less cold and stern.
Lissa herself lights the fire, pours the tea.
"I spoke to your husband, in the Dominion," Teresa says quietly. "After the battle at Russo."
Lissa looks up sharply. "He is well? I've had letters, but men--they do not always like to admit to weakness."
It is a foolish concern for a healer's wife to cling to. No injury could touch Laonis di'Caveras for long. But Lissa has always been good-hearted, not wise. "Very well, when last I saw him, Na'lis. The Tyr'agar holds his talent in great esteem, and protects him accordingly. Will you be traveling to him soon?"
"I--no. He will be returning here. He has business with his clan to tend to, only."
That surprises her. "I had thought the Tyr'agar would ask him to stay." And what damage to his reputation Laonis's marriage has done, the obvious interest of the Tyr'agar can undo. These are uncertain times in the Dominion. Laonis's clan will set aside their distaste for him easily enough, were they to see him as a clear path to maintaining power.
"Oh. Yes. He did. But my husband," Lissa goes on, as though a request for the Tyr'agar could be a request, could be ignored, "is happy here. We are happy here."
Not for Laonis, Teresa translates, the grudging acceptance of a clan won only through expediency. He had always been a proud man. But Lissa--
"Are you, Na'lis?" Teresa asks, quietly.
"Yes," Lissa says, eyes bright, and then blushes. "Or I will be, when my husband is home." She waves a hand expansively, letting tea slosh against the side of the cup. "I never knew--Serra, the world is so big. I could sit in the Commons for hours and watch it pass by. I don't, of course," she adds, laughing. "I have my husband's house to tend to. And the children. They're in school, now. Na'aya is the eldest. She never lets Na'domi forget that."
Teresa smiles and nods, lets Lissa's bright chatter about her children and their prospects wash over her. Once she thought her indulgence of Lissa's lack of decorum a disservice to Lissa. It made her unsuited to any power, in the Dominion; unsuited to be the wife of a man of power, though she was.
She is coming to see it is also a gift, one that has made Lissa suited to life in Essalieyan in a way that Teresa perhaps may never be. She will always be surprised by the easy laughter she hears, the unconsidered gestures, the unthinkingly granted trust. She will always be surprised, and she will always hide that surprise. It does not matter that she styles herself Teresa of Senniel; the Serra Teresa will always lie in her heart.
But the Serra Teresa loved Lissa's openness, once. She thinks Teresa of Senniel can come to love it in others, even if she never embraces it for her own.
It is the Lady's hour when Amala finds Teresa in her rooms at Senniel. It is just as well, though Teresa is tired and ready to seek her bed; whatever her realization earlier, she does not think she could have held this conversation beneath the Lord's open eye.
"Master Teresa," Amala says formally, or as formally as she knows how, and then stutters to a halt. She does not press her forehead to the stones, does not even bow. Her contrition is in her voice, not in her actions; a thing of nature, not artifice.
Teresa chooses to accept it. "It is very late, Amala." She makes her voice gentle. "But if you wished to practice, I will listen. Listen," she says, when she sees a flash of terror on Amala's untutored face, "not instruct."
"I--no." Amala gulps a breath. "I wanted to apologize. That's all."
It is in everything Teresa has ever learned that she should not accept this apology. That she should demand more, to restore the authority Amala has challenged. A public apology, if nothing more--but Amala is shaking, and if Teresa demands this of her, she realizes, she will not see her student again.
She thinks of Lissa, bright-eyed, unconstrained. She thinks, for a moment, of Alora, who had never accepted authority, had turned her back on power and forced, for a time, Sendari to turn with her.
"It is accepted," she tells Amala gravely. "I will see you in class tomorrow, then?"
"Yes, Master Teresa." The shaking has stopped. Amala offers her a hesitant smile. "And I will practice. I promise. Until--until I'm perfect."
She will never be perfect. Teresa knows this, knows that Amala lacks the dedication perfection demands. The North always has. They have too many choices, see too many open paths to have the strength to follow one to its end.
She returns Amala's smile regardless. "Until tomorrow, then." The door is heavy beneath her hand, and she cannot hear Amala's footsteps move away once it closes.
Teresa followed her path to its end, and she cannot regret where it took her: to Alora, to Diora. To the clan Leonne, restored. She has chosen a new one, now, and in that, if nothing else, she is of the North: to speak of choice, not duty.
She is ready to see where it will lead.