Jane snuggled in close to her mother on the ancient sofa, feeling wonderfully warm. Her new dress was red velvet. She liked the way it felt against her skin, fuzzy and comforting. In front of them, a log burned in the fireplace. If she stared at the flames long enough, she could see shapes dancing in them: gold somersaulting over red, red spiraling around gold.
Her mother lay a kiss on her forehead. "You are turning out to be such a lovely young lady," she said, her voice soft and bit wistful. "Soon you'll be all grown up and married."
She looked up at her mother gracefully, or tried to. Really, it was more of a squirm. "Suppose I don't want to get married?" The fire jumped up higher, but she wasn't watching it.
Laughing gently, her mother said, "Oh, you will, Jane. You're only ten now, but you'll not wish to spend all your time with Euclid in the future." She stroked her hair gently. "You'll marry well and be a fine lady."
Glancing back down at the fireplace again, now burning more yellow, Jane thought of the Golden Mean and wasn't so sure.
2. Ten Leagues
Last day of term before classes broke for the winter vacation and there was a rare snow outside. Jane had been curled up with a new three-volume novel and a pot of Darjeeling, but Charlotte called her out of the number five study with a vallakyrie cry of "Snowball fight!" No choice then but to skip out into the garden to find Nathalie and Faris were already at it, scooping up the thin layers of snow on the sodden ground and flinging them at each other.
Faris looked up when she saw Jane and sang out: "With a knight of ghosts and shadows, I summoned am to tourney," before breaking off in giggles. Faris's aim was superb; Jane soon had snow in her hair and down her gown.
But Jane had fine aim herself, courtesy of her brother Robert - affectionately called Robin - and long dull summer afternoons in the apple orchard. She hit Faris direct in chest and the other girl pretended to swoon, done in by her mortal wound. Charlotte and Nathalie were mourning extravagantly over the "corpse", who kept blinking one eye open and then the other.
Almost undone by hilarity, Jane helped Faris up, singing "Ten leagues beyond the wide world's end; Methinks it is no journey."
Jane was uneasy in Aravis, though she took pains not to show it, especially to Faris, who had enough concerns of her own to be asked to touch upon Jane's rather inconsequential ones. It wasn't just the weather, which was warm even compared to Greenlaw, or the political situation, though all her English sensibility told her that were a number of plots afoot. No, instead Jane rather fancied that it was being so close to the rift that was unbalancing her.
Jane's magic was based on mathematical theory, on geometric shapes that grew ever more complex, forming her constructions and illusions, beating against her head when they either got too complicated or collapsed entirely. The rift was like a huge unsolved equation, one that refused to balance properly: X + 2Y does not equal 180. Jane was sick of reflexively attempting to figure out a solution. Her curiosity threatened to go too far this time, for all that she knew that she didn't have the intuition or the magic required, but that imbalance in the world called to her more and more the longer she spent in Aravis.
Jane's magic was mathematical; Eve-Marie's was based on linguistics. Neither of them would ever have Faris's instincts for the art nor the way these instincts rose up in her, as easy as sneezing was or as natural as Faris found riding what passed for horses in Galazon. Yet Jane was not truly envious. She only felt a bit wistful, for the solutions she would never find.
Jane threw the rest of her tea in the fire and stood up, smoothing out her skirts. Enough was enough. Jane had the fancy dress ball to prepare for; more importantly, she had a warden to watch out for. That was responsibility enough for anyone in this lifetime, surely.
4. Journey Over Water
Jane, as Dame Brailsford of Greenlaw College, wrote the last of her comments on her student Catherine's plane geometry paper. Putting her pen down, she rubbed her temples with her fingers and sighed. Thank goodness that was the last one for this term, she thought to herself. Jane placed it on the pile to be returned in the last tutorials before the break.
Last student paper until January, and her own researches were not urgent. Both the anchors of Greenlaw and the wardships of the wider world were secure. Faris had contacted her last week to assure her of that fact and to invite her to meet in Aravis for the holiday. Jane had refused and promised her Whitsuntide instead. There wasn't even a family crisis or two, looming over the horizon. For the first time in a long while, Jane was gloriously, if temporarily, free of responsibilities.
She looked down at the letter she had yet to finish composing:
If your magical education has not already left you with a distaste for journeys over water, even short ones, then I would indeed like you to come for a brief visit. You should see Greenlaw, if only to properly compare it with Geencastle. As it happens, I have very few distraction this Yuletide, with the inexplicable lack of aeroplanes around Greenlaw, although my new motorcar does make the same kind of noises...
Jane sat staring at the page for a little while, her fingers tapping against the white paper. Then she quirked up her lips in a smile, shaking her head at herself. Picking up her pen again, she resolved to finish it and send it that very day.