Toria: Chapter 1, Episode 3.4 – The Near Horizon

Toria embraces the traditions of Healer Hall…

Toria woke up in the same bed, in the same dorm, at the same Hall as the day before, yet something had changed.

As she walked to class, she looked upon the ornate architecture of the Hall, suddenly comprehending how much money and labor had been spent to build it.

The Hall had great prestige and power. It’s Masters commanded respect. Achieving rank at the Hall unlocked lifelong freedom. One in ten vassals received training directly from a Master and fewer still attended a Hall. The chance Toria had been given was precious and rare.

What choices would she have if she failed? Would her future still be in her own hands?

She wondered how much of the stress grinding down her fellow dorm mates was caused by their studies. If Bevina didn’t return to Hazel Hill as a skilled Healer, could her family die of illness? How badly did Shearwater need Roshena as a midwife? Was outspoken Keeva becoming a Senior Journeyman to escape an arranged marriage? What past tragedy forced Nabella to sleep with a glow? Only Madi seemed truly comfortable with her situation and she came from a wealthy family.

Toria’s own family had built a cothold. It seemed like a wonderful life to an active, inquisitive child. She roamed the countryside and spent her free time as she wished. During the winter, she visited with other children at neighboring cotholds.

If her parents didn’t like their rooms or furnishings, they could rebuild and redecorate. They divided up the farming chores as they pleased. There was no Steward or Headwoman to dictate terms.  As long as they sent proper tithe, they were respected and valued members of the Hold.

They would survive on their strength, diligence, and traditions passed down for generations.

Or they would not.

Someday, Jurant and Mielle would be too old for heavy labor. They would need their children, fosters, and laborers to tithe. If they failed, Toria’s home would be abandoned and her family would be placed in the service of someone else.

It was a chilling thought.

Toria’s second Turn of study at Healer Hall was nearing its end. It was difficult to concentrate on final exams. New admissions were arriving from across Pern to move into their dormitories. Students were cramming for final exams and dreaming of spring break. Toria was often forced to find a quiet nook that wasn’t already claimed.

Toria’s letters to Master Valora had become peppered with Healer slang. Dorm mates were seeing snakes when they worried too much. The elderly were people of dizzy age. Women going into false labor were whiny primies. Annoying rivals were given a dose of S.F.U. and overwrought hypochondriacs were listed as ‘Status: Dramaticus‘. She also shared a tale of the latest peek-and-shriek when something unexpected and alarming was discovered during a procedure.

Her social and political revelations spurred her on and she passed her exams with flying colors. Friends were beginning to wonder which Master would take her under their wing.  She could chose from several areas of specialization.  Some had more opportunity for travel than others.

The last morning of the semester started early with cleaning and mending. After lunch, Toria shared tearful farewells with friends who hadn’t made the grade and would be returning home in the next sevenday. By afternoon, there was quite a bit of gossip about the formal commencement dinner. Thanks to the Marks she earned during breaks and her careful haggling at the last Gather, Toria had a beautiful new dress and sandals to wear.

Rank was a matter of public pride. Seating in the sprawling living cavern was organized by rank, so all Junior Apprentices sat farthest from the hearths and the Master’s high table. The entire Hall watched as students “walked the tables” when they were promoted. It was the best part of commencement and Toria was finally a candidate for promotion.

On the way to the main hall, Toria honored the tradition of stopping on the threshold to quietly chant, “Ariana, Apolla, Calestan, Elivand, Jansen, Molina, Nestorr, Pelegan, Sabelas.” Though educated Pernese didn’t believe in ghosts, a tiny bit of superstition persisted. Reciting the names of the Hall’s founders might bring favor and luck.

The dinner began with a lovely performance by a group of musicians from Harper Hall. The mood was high and the conversation was enjoyable. Headwoman Marion and her talented cooks had outdone themselves. Even the most finicky eaters were loading their plates with savory meat and spiced vegetables.

When the other girls were distracted, Keeva leaned over to give Toria some unexpected news.  She was leaving Healer Hall.  She planned to travel to Beastmasterhold with a recommendation letter in hand.  She loved healing but decided that animal medicine was her true calling.  “Please tell me about Ista and Keroon before I leave,” she begged.

As the meal drew to a close and the plates were cleared, a respectful hush fell over the room. Masterhealer Folant stood and all eyes turned toward the high table.

MUSIC: Walk The Tables

“We are from all paths of life,” he began.  “We are different in appearance, in age, in prosperity, and in our life’s pursuits, but here today we are all of one Hall.  We are Healers.”

The room was gripped by an overwhelming sense of pride.  “Together, we work to mend wounds and cure ills.  We provide counseling for life’s most profound events.  But we also work toward the future,” Folant continued.  “We expand the knowledge of our craft.  We post Journeymen and Masters to new Holds, provide scholarships to candidates, and supply all of Pern with the best medicines available.”

“No matter how lofty or humble your rank, you serve with honor and enrich your community.  Today, some of you will graduate and leave this revered Hall to begin a life of noble service.  Others will rise one step closer to that goal,” he said as he accepted a sheet of parchment from the Master on his right.

Toria could feel her heart pounding in her chest.

The Masterhealer began slowly reading a list of names, starting with postings to major and minor Holds.  A round of sincere applause accompanied each name.  Next, he promoted Junior Journeymen to Senior rank — several students rose from their tables and walked to the next with pride.  Over a dozen Senior Apprentices became enthusiastic Journeymen, some of them not much older than Toria.

At last, Folant reached the final names on the list, the Junior Apprentices who had proven themselves over two Turns of challenging work and intense study.  The girls sitting near Toria were nearly squirming with anticipation and some of the boys had balled their hands into fists under the table.

Roshena was called first and squealed slightly at the sound of her name.  She stopped to hug her closest friends before leaving them behind.  Madigan was next.  She took a deep breath and walked as calmly as she could, taking a seat next to Sersha at her new table.  Bevina broke into happy tears when her name was called and she looked almost guilty as she regarded those still waiting.

“Toria of Pelagas dormitory,” the Masterhealer announced.

It was Toria’s turn to walk.

Her friends broke into applause and showered her with heartfelt congratulations.  Only two of her dorm mates were passed over.

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