27: Living History

on July 10, 2007 in 02: Love In The Time Of Magic

In Which We Meet One And A Half Elves

Elven history was in pretty much a normal sized classroom, as compared to the lecture hall I’d had in the morning and the wide-open combat room I’d been kicked out of earlier that afternoon. Because of that little misadventure, I arrived at the classroom just as the last class was leaving. There was a good fifteen minutes before my class started.

When the last person was out, I headed straight for the front of the room and took a desk on the end. History interested me, but I didn’t want to be front and center.

I was curious enough about my classmates to kind of turn sideways in my seat so I could see them as they came in. The gender mix seemed to be fairly close to even in this class, I noticed with quite a bit of interest. I hadn’t met a lot of guys since coming to MU, though in all fairness, it was only the third full day and the first day of classes. Most of them stayed in the back, though. I’d try to remember that in my next class… except, my next class was actually related to my major, so I’d really want to pay attention in it. Oh, well… if this Professor Einhorn didn’t make up a seating chart like Goldman had done, then maybe I could grab a seat in the back next time.

There was a satyr (thanks to Amaranth, I could now tell them apart from fauns… by looking at their feet, I mean), a mermaid with red-scaled legs, and somewhat surprisingly, a dwarf, but most of the students were human. At least, they looked human, but I guess I of all people should know that looks could be deceiving.

I’d kind of been expecting to see some elves in the room… silly thought, I guess. They already learned all this stuff in their own schools, except there, it was just called “history.” I was a little disappointed, as I’d never seen an elf up close. The occasional half-elf, yeah… and then there was Delia Daella, the dark elf who resided in Harlowe, but no true elf. Even the girls in Puddy’s pin-up posters probably had at least twenty-five percent human blood. The pureblood elves pretty much kept to themselves.

The front row kind of filled in slowly. There were only a couple other empty desks left scattered around the room when a half-elf girl finally took the seat next to me. I realized I’d been staring at the girl as she walked all the way down the aisle, but I had a good reason this time… I was sure that I knew her, or at least that I’d seen her before. I didn’t know how, or from where, but she just looked familiar. My visual memory’s usually kind of good, so it bothered me that I couldn’t place her.

“Oh, hi!” she said. “I thought it might be you.” I wondered what she meant. There was definitely something familiar about her, but… “You signed my petition, didn’t you?”

Then it clicked. I’d seen her at the welcome festival, in passing… but in dark slacks and a loose shirt, it had been impossible for me to discern her gender. Though her build and complexion were very human, she had a very elven-androgynous face… and she had long, platinum hair, but then, I’d never seen a half-elf of either sex with short hair, so that was no help. Today, though, it was a little bit easier as she wore a black and gray plaid pleated skirt and had her hair up in butterfly barrettes, and she was wearing make-up.

“Uh, yeah,” I said. “Hi.”

“I guess that means I should know your name,” she said with a grin. “I’m Steff.”

“Mack… enzie,” I said, only just barely remembering that I didn’t actually like being called “Mack.” I’d just noticed her necklace… it had a toothed wheel, or “gear” as they’re sometimes called. It wasn’t quite the Mecknights insignia, but I wondered if it was from a similar animation, or if maybe she was into fantasy gaming.

“Oh, I just love the name, Mackenz… wait, are you Mack?” she asked excitedly. “The Mack? The one who told off the dean? The one who’s leading the dining hall protest? The… the demon?” Mercifully, she dropped her voice for the last word.

“I am half-human,” I said sullenly.

“Yeah, but… you can really do the fire thing, right?”

“Yeah, I guess,” I said, uneasily. Her voice had risen a bit. “The fire thing” might be enough to get people thinking.

Where had she got all this from? I guess she must have been a Harlowe resident, too, but was I really that big news, that even the other floors knew all about me? I figured I probably had Puddy to thank for my widespread notoriety… I knew she meant well, I knew she was only trying to help me… but I really might have preferred a lower profile.

“I’ve been looking for a chance to meet you ever since Amaranth first told me about you,” Steff went on. “Of course, I didn’t realize that I’d already met you…”

“Amaranth?” I asked, a little surprised. As far as I knew, Amaranth had spent most of the past weekend either with me or on the boys’ side. The two halves of the dorm weren’t completely closed to the opposite sex… not during the day, anyway… but I don’t know that anybody else who was visiting would find much opportunity for conversation with the nymphs.

“Oh, she just wouldn’t shut up about you… well, until Viktor shoved his dick down her throat, I mean,” Steff said. She thought about it a little, then added, “Though, I think even then she might have still been talking. It was just hard to tell what about.”

Okay, so she apparently had got sociable with Amaranth when she was… working. Then, it occurred to me: Steff had been heading up the prism pride table at the welcome festival. I’m sure they had some straight members, but it seemed the more natural assumption that Steff preferred girls.

“So, you, um… had sex with Amaranth?” I asked. My mouth felt kind of dry. The idea bothered me, for some reason… far more than the image of some guy named “Viktor” sticking his thing into her mouth. Well, no. Less than that image… ew, no, gross… but more than the idea of it. If I could get rid of the image.

“Um… we had sex together, you might say,” Steff said. “As in, in the same place at the same time… we didn’t have that much direct contact. It might have been fun, I’m sure, but… there was kind of a lot going on. A lot to… take in, you might say.” She giggled.

“Oh, I see,” I said, though I really didn’t. She was bisexual? She seemed to be saying she liked guys (at least, that’s what I thought the “take in” comment must mean) as well as girls… I would have figured that meant “bisexual”, but Barley had implied there was a difference somehow.

It seemed like the more I found out about sex, the more confused I was. More so than ever, I wanted to find a nice guy who just wanted to date.

…and not want to stick his thing anywhere that… well, not anywhere. We would just date. At first, I mean. It was still considered normal for people to see each other for a while before they fell into bed together, right?

“Oh, I see Amaranth was right about you,” Steff said.

“What?” I asked.

“She said sex talk makes your brain go fizzle-fizzle-pop.”

“I… what? No!” I said, embarrassed. “I’m just… I… is there anything wrong with just being normal?”

I clapped my hand over my mouth as soon as I’d said it. I hadn’t meant it to be insulting, but I was sure that it sounded that way.

Steff laughed.

“Amaranth said that about you, too,” she said.


“That you had ‘issues’ with your sexuality,” she said.

“My issues aren’t with my sexuality,” I said. “I just… I would have known if I was a lesbian, right? I mean, at some point, didn’t you just become aware that you were…” I fumbled for a broadly descriptive word that I was sure wouldn’t be a slur, and couldn’t find one. “Um, are you a lesbian?”

“I don’t think those kinds of labels quite apply to me,” Steff said. “I’m just… me. Maybe you should consider trying that yourself?”

“Being you?” I asked.

“Being you,” Steff said.

I’m not sure what I would have said if the instructor hadn’t entered then. I don’t know why it hadn’t occurred to me to think that the professor of an elven history class might be an elf. Professor A. Einhorn… didn’t sound elvish, did it? I guess I wouldn’t know.

There was no mistaking it, though… not when you saw her. She was wraith-thin and only about my height or slightly shorter, but with a… sense of physical presence, somehow. Her hair was so silvery-white it made Steff’s look yellow by comparison. She wore a flowing gown of some gauzy substance, made of long diamond-shaped segments of white and pale purple. Her face was both angular and delicate-looking. Then, there were the ears… tiny and pointed. When you see drawings of elves, they usually make the ears too big… even the “elven” models in Puddy’s pictures had (or appeared to have) larger than normal ears.

I’m not sure why that is, unless it’s because “pointy ears” are what everybody thinks of when they hear “elf”… but the fact is, there’d be no mistaking a true elf even if he or she had no ears at all.

“Good afternoon class,” the professor said smoothly. Her voice was like a whisper that sounded just loud enough in my ear to be understood. I wondered how it sounded to the people in the back of the room… just the same, I imagined. “I am Professor Ariadne Einhorn. You may please address me as Professor Ariadne. In answer to your question, I follow the naming conventions of my own people though I legally took the surname of my human husband some centuries ago… but that’s not what we are here to discuss. The subject of this course is elven history, not current events.”

Steff giggled beside me. It was only then that I realized Professor Ei… Ariadne had made a joke, of sorts.

She took roll out loud, from the back of the room forward. It looked like she was finding our names on a sheet as we said them, but made no marks or notes. I jumped in surprise when Delia Daella D’wyr said her own name… I hadn’t noticed the dark elf coming in. Steff gave her name as Steffain Johnson. I was guessing “Johnson” was from her human side.

“That will suffice,” she said to the class at large after the last of us–that being me–had spoken. “We will not need to repeat this exercise. In the future, you may sit where you please. You will find that I have an excellent memory.”

She then demonstrated this by launching straight into the opening lines of one of the elven cultural epics, the Athanasiad. She recited flawlessly, breathlessly, breaking every few stanzas to throw out a pointed aside or to ask a question of a random student, by name.

“Mr. Silver, what do you suppose is the significance of the acorn?” she asked a rather bewildered-looking human. “And why is it… silver?”

Then, a bit later, she addressed the mermaid, who had only given one name during roll, “Miss Iona… when the poet refers to the forests as islands, what do you suppose he means?”

“Mr. Karl,” she said to the dwarf, Karl, son of Krieg, of clan Ironholt… many humans would have made the faux pas of calling him “Mr. Ironholt”, but of course, that was his clan name, not a surname. “Your people are no strangers to defensive warfare. How does the reaction of the townsfolk strike you?”

The dwarven saying was that the dwarf belonged to the clan, not the other way around. Pretty much every non-human race was addressed by a given name or use-name when moving through human society, but every once in a while you ran into a misguided person who thought that smacked of paternalism.

“…Steffain,” she said, to Steff. The lack of any honorific at all shocked me so much I didn’t even register the question that she asked. Did she have something against half-elves?

I guess I must have been as good at concealing my feelings as ever, because she turned to me and cut off Steff’s explanation about how she thought the development of archery had changed the state of warfare in the hilly terrain around Athanasia.

“Do you have a question, Miss Mackenzie?” she asked me.

“Ms. Blaise… if you please,” I mumbled, almost unable to believe I was correcting the first person who’d called me Mackenzie.

Professor Ariadne looked at me for several seconds, then said, “My apologies. There was an asterisk by your name on my class roster. That is usually indicative of non-human heritage.”

“I… was… raised human,” I said, forcing the words out. Having Professor Ariadne look at me felt made me feel a little bit like when Amaranth looked over the tops of her glasses at me.

“I see,” she said. “Did you have something to say?”

“I don’t remember,” I said, which was actually true.

“Ah, yes, well… the thing that the more intelligent of you will be wondering right now is, why are we having a discussion of literature in a history course?” Professor Ariadne said. “You would be right to ask. The answer is that among the elves, there is no distinction between the two. As children, we make up tales to amuse each other, but fiction is regarded as the province of the very young. You will not find an elf much over three centuries of age who gives any serious thought to flights of complete fancy. Instead, as we come into the age of maturity and reason, we turn our art and skill with words towards pointing out the beauty and the poetry of real life. The golden age of Athanasia was over two hundred thousand years ago, but through the words of the Athanasiad, the essential character of that age is kept alive to this day.”

After that, Professor Ariadne really got going… her pace had seemed relentless before, but now she was brutal. She no longer called on individual students but merely called out thought-provoking questions to the class without breaking her stride. Her soft, silvery voice was poured over the class… or at least over me. I have no idea how much the rest of the class was taken in, but I was spellbound. I’d read translations of the Athanasiad before, but the professor’s version was much more vivid. Her rhetorical questions and asides did nothing to diminish the beauty and power of the ancient tale of love and warfare, but made me think about it on levels and in ways I’d never before considered.

I was just barely aware of Steff scratching furiously away in a notebook beside me… I wondered vaguely what tests in this class would be like, but I wasn’t much of a note taker. I don’t think I could have recited an elven epic from memory, but I was confident I could get all the main details right.

There were no timepieces in the classroom, but eventually, Professor Ariadne came to a stopping point some time after the rise of the elven city-states but before the first unification.

“For homework,” she said, raising her voice for the first time since she’d entered the classroom. She paused dramatically, drawing herself up… had I really thought she might be shorter than me? She may have grown a bit… I definitely shrank. Finally, she simply said one word: “Think.”

“Wow,” Steff said after Professor Ariadne gave a little bow and then swept from the room. “That was a bit like a bottle of really good wine and a really good lay… not a lot like it, but a bit. You know?”

“I really don’t,” I said.

“It was a fine beginning,” Delia Daella said in my ear. I jumped. She’d been several rows back last time I’d checked. “But I’ll be very interested in her take on the Great Betrayal.”

“You mean the Elven Civil War?” I asked.

“I mean the Great Betrayal,” she said.

“Yeah, yeah, ‘The dark shall rise again,’ and all that,” Steff said dismissively. “You done with classes for the day, Mack?”

“Um, I’ve got one more,” I said.

“Oh,” Steff said. Her face fell a bit. “I was hoping to walk back to Harlowe with you. I’d love a chance to talk some more… and you could introduce me to the rest of your floor. I’ve got to meet that Puddy girl.”

“She is a violent and vulgar creature,” the dark elf said. “I’m sure you would get along quite well.”

She strode away, the heavy, all-concealing cloak she wore out in the daytime flapping behind her.

Steff just snorted.

“Dark elves… everybody’s beneath them, you know?” she said.

“Yeah,” I said, but I felt oddly numb. Did Delia Daella know something about Puddy and how she’d… how we’d argued? Did anybody else? I thought Puddy would probably be justifiably upset if that got around. I had no reason to believe we couldn’t just leave it behind us, but not if people were talking about it all over the place.

“Well, I’m gonna head back,” Steff said. “You’ve probably got to get to class, right?”

“Uh, yeah,” I said.

“Maybe I’ll see you back at Harlowe,” Steff said. “I might just hang around your lounge for a while this evening, at least while it’s still light out.”

“Okay,” I said. I paused. Steff was being friendly enough, without trying to crawl inside my pants. I’d made another friend… and the first one who I wasn’t simply thrown into a dorm section with. I wasn’t quite the confident, self-assured social butterfly I’d wanted to transform myself into when I got away from my home town, my high school, and my grandmother’s house… but I was doing pretty good. Could I push myself a little further? “Well… bye.”

Apparently not.

“Bye,” Steff said and started to head away.

“Um…” I said.

She stopped.

“You could come to the dining hall,” I said. “With us. I mean, with Puddy and Amaranth and me. At dinner?” At dinner? That didn’t sound quite right. It would have to do. I wasn’t going to risk opening my mouth again.

“Okay, yeah, maybe,” she said, smiling. “That could be fun… it was nice meeting you, Mack.”

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2 Responses to “27: Living History”

  1. pedestrian says:

    I have had relatives who insisted on calling the American Civil War, the War of Northern Aggression. Though to clarify, my side of that paternal line actually fought both the Union and the Confederacy. But we never have to waste breath bragging about how smart we are.

    Current score: 1
  2. Psi-Ko says:

    For a civil war, it’s common for the side that was initially attacked to think of it as a betrayal. How else would you describe being shot by your own brother or sister?

    The defensive nature that the Dark elf has about her naming of the civil war indicates, no, outright states that she is of the personal opinion that the attack was unjustified, or wasn’t justified enough to warrant a civil war.

    Aaaaaand now I’m stating the obvious! Must be time for bed…

    Current score: 0