Toria: Chapter 1, Episode 2.4 – The Hindmost Falls Between

As Toria adapts to her new life, a close friend struggles to keep up…

Toria’s Firstday was aptly named. It was, indeed, a day of firsts.

In some ways, it was easier than she expected. Many new students were moving in, learning their way around the Hall, and beginning classes. The first sevenday was spent on orientation, gathering materials, and building a collection of the necessary study books.  She needed a backpack to carry her heavy load of supplies.  The instructor was patient but firm.  Toria simply had to follow instructions to succeed.

The first month of classes were called “lectures”.  Dozens of Junior Apprentices sat in a large room with a sloping floor, listening to a Master while reviewing their books.  In essence, it was the same as class at Katz Field, except at a much faster pace.  Instead of two hours of class every day, Toria had hour-long classes spread throughout the week adding up to twenty hours.  She spent another twenty to thirty hours studying.

The amount of memorization required was overwhelming.  Toria was lucky enough to meet a reliable study partner, Senior Apprentice Sylvie of Riverbend hold.  She was a plain-looking girl, completely unremarkable with shoulder-length brown hair and dark brown eyes. Sylvie was seventeen, much older than the other students, and she struggled to keep up.  She was also jealous of pretty girls and the attention the boys paid them.

Gradually, Toria became accustomed to the thinner, mountain air.  By the end of summer, she didn’t feel winded walking up stairs or get headaches from the dry weather.

After orientation and introductory lectures, Toria attended classes on basic science, anatomy, diseases, medicines, and ethics.

The study of medicines was part herbalism and part cooking.  Toria had to learn the difference between teas, decoctions, syrups, oils, ointments, tinctures, elixirs, infusions, brews, liniments, salves, and compresses.  Meanwhile, she had to memorize plants from all over Pern, not just her little corner of Ista.

Anatomy was the most difficult subject for Toria’s fellow Apprentices, as many had no stomach for the sight of blood, let alone internal organs laid bare.  Three students dropped out and went home.  Two others transferred to study basic healing under Masters at far-flung holds.

Ethics was far more complicated than anything Toria had studied.  When she became a Junior Apprentice, she would have thought, “Well of course you heal them!”  While it was a noble and kind attitude, it was completely unsuitable for a Healer.  She had to learn when not to heal, how much time and effort to exhaust on treatment, how to prioritize patients, and when to administer the ‘final draught’.

There were constant quizzes and the other students were competitive.  According to rumors, the workload would lessen in the second semester but become even more challenging.  Something called ‘objective structured clinical exams’ were looming in springtime.  Students who fell behind in “OSCE” could be sent home.

Rank was a matter of public pride.  Most of the time, students and staff took meals at the Commons, a sprawling living cavern.  Seating was strictly by rank, so Toria had to sit at the Junior Apprentice table.  It was farthest from the hearth and the Master’s table.  At the end of the semester, the Master’s would call out the names of exceptional students, promoting them to the next rank.  They would “walk the tables”, proudly joining a different group of students in front of the entire Hall.

Time went by quickly for Toria.  Her life became a blur.

Autumn was a thing of astounding beauty.  The leaves on the trees turned red, orange, and gold.  The sunsets were slower and brighter.  Migrating avians traversed the sky in neat rows.  Istan lands were brilliant in springtime, but the rocky Fort terrain seemed to celebrate the coming of Winter.

Each day, the wind blew a little colder and harder.  Toria and the other students could rarely study in the scenic courtyard in bright sunlight.  They were forced to cram by the warm, fuzzy light of glows.

As the semester rolled into its last sevenday, the Hall became a tense and restless place.  Final exams were about to begin.  Stress was visible on the face of every student.  Eyes were baggy and bloodshot, hands shook, and tempers were short.  Klah flowed freely.  Dorm delegates had to remind students to bathe.  Once in awhile, a Journeyman would throw up in a water room or fall asleep at a dining table.

One evening, Toria woke up at a small table with her face pressed into a book.  It took her a moment to realize that she was in a tiny study room, and another to remember that she was supposed to meet Sylvie.  It wasn’t like her study partner to run late.

After an hour of searching, Toria found Sylvie hiding in a water room deep within a lower level, one that was rarely used.  She had obviously been crying.

“I just can’t get the math,” she sobbed, slumping forward on a bench in exhaustion.  “Memorizing all those medicines, the doses, how much, how often… I can’t do it.  I just can’t…”  She took a shuddering breath and looked into Toria’s eyes.  “I should ship out to a hold while I still can.  My family will be so ashamed but… I could be a midwife.  I could do that…”

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