The Portals Of Hell – Snippet 10


At the university, a tall and willowy upperclassman met him at the front gate — another perquisite of a famous father. Bidding Belo farewell, Davin shouldered his pack, and trudged after his guide onto the campus without looking back. They passed to the left of the Iglesa d’ L’s Hermanes, the grandest and most stately cathedral for hundreds of kilometers, its lustrous pink granite walls shining in the sun, then across a broad quadrangle toward the dormitory for first and second classmen.

Being on the university grounds reminded Davin that he still had no idea of his status as a student. Despite two separate interviews with the priests who would be his teachers, he still had not been told how much credit he would be granted for his nearly two years of Academy classes. As far as he could tell, he might be a first-year beginner just as he had started out two years ago as a freshman Cadet.

The dormitory was an ancient building with well-worn oak doors, the central hallway deserted. They proceeded up two flights of stairs, and along a narrower hall. Wishing Davin a quiet welcome, his guide opened the door of Davin’s assigned room and left.

Now alone, Davin entered and saw that the room, barely five strides in length and maybe four wide, was divided in half, a cot, table, and small bureau on either side. The cot near the door held clothing and the table several books, so Davin had a roommate — this tiny room was only half his. Tossing his travel bag on the bed and his boots under it, Davin sat on the bed, staring disconsolately at his pack.

The door opened and a young man entered, even shorter than Davin and dark-skinned, his black hair naming him Chanche without Davin having so much as to ask. Oddly, his eyes were blue, wide-spaced and intelligent, his bare arms muscled, his body compact and powerful.

“Oh, hello,” he said in the Nortes language, his accent distinct, though the words were clear. “I was told I would have a roommate, and now you’re here. You are supposed to be Nortes, but you don’t look it to me. You look Sudo. You’re nearly as dark as me, even if your eyes are blue like mine.”

Davin could not help smiling as he sat up. A Chanche roommate was something he had never expected, and a talkative one at that. Davin had little experience with Chanches, except Pe, but he had assumed that they were very reserved. Pe rarely spoke to him, and he had known her for most of his twenty-one years. He held out his hand, replying not in Nortes, but in Plains Sudo.

“Hello. I’m Davin Blackthorn. And you . . . ?”

The young man smiled, showing white, even teeth. He replied in kind, switching to Davin’s native tongue. “I’m Quito. Sorry, I always talk a lot when I’m nervous. I don’t know many Nortes, or Sudos for that matter. I have been here only ten days.”

Quito turned his attention to clothing that was spread on the cot, consisting of two woolen shirts, two pairs of woolen trousers, and a small stack of body linens.

“I did some washing today, as it was warm enough to dry things in the sun.” He began to fold the clothing and store it in the small bureau at the end of his table. He did not appear to have any shoes other than those on his feet — a sort of sandal.

Glancing around for the first time, Davin saw that the room itself was nondescript, walls a faded plaster that had once been a cream or off-white. Beams crisscrossed the ceiling, stained either by the builders long ago or by the tincture of time. High on the back wall was a small window. The narrow door held a slim glass panel that let in light from the hall lamp adjacent to the door and allowed priests to check on the behavior of students, Davin felt sure. One corner held a small iron stove, its tin exhaust exiting through the outer wall to the left of the window. Well-worn tan tiles covered the floor, their glossy sheen eroded by countless footsteps.

Turning back from his folding, Quito said, “Do you Nortes speak the language of the plains a great deal?”

“I’m really only half-Nortes. My mother was Sudo, though my father was born in San Luis.” Davin found it odd that he was explaining his ancestry to a Chanche, someone who, he had been told all his life, was merely an ignorant savage. “Why are you here? I didn’t know that Chanches ever came to The University.”

Quito’s eyes widened, and their corners wrinkled, showing irritation, maybe, or discomfort. But then he grinned and answered. “Only a few. We can talk about that later.”

With a sigh, Davin opened his satchel and began to unpack clothing. At the back of the room, underneath the tiny window, was a clothes rack which his roommate had apparently not needed. Davin arranged his clothing on the rack, except for the linens, which went into the small bureau. His belongings appeared sumptuous in the spare surroundings, testimony to the presence of the spoiled son of a rich man. An incorrect impression; he had never been spoiled.

Quito watched with great interest as Davin unpacked and stored his large variety of clothing. “Your clothing is very fine. You must be very wealthy.”

Davin shook his head, bemused by the sophistication of his new friend’s speech. “I am not wealthy at all, Quito, but my father is. If I fail here, I will probably be disowned, so I will be very poor.” He grinned back at Quito.

Truly, Quito already felt like a friend. He was animated and amiable at once, his eyes darting around the room and back. Finished putting away the meager set of clothing, he settled onto his bed and slipped a cloth bag from a pocket in his trousers.

Opening the pouch he carried, he explained. “Food. I tire of the University fare. I slipped out to the nearest inn in town to bring back a late snack.”

Davin was shocked, as Quito grinned again. “Slipped out?” Davin asked. “How? The outer wall is granite, topped with iron spikes, and students are not supposed to leave the grounds without permission.”

Quito began to explore the pouch, evidently looking for a particular item. “Chanches are used to climbing, so I went over the wall. Near the back, where the oaks and cedars are thick, and no one notices. The overhanging tree branches let me avoid the spikes at the top. I have no classes yet, and when my testing was through today, I skipped lunch and slipped over the wall near the big building at the very northwest corner.” He finally extracted a pepper stuffed with cheese.

The mention of testing brought up Davin’s head. “Testing? For the Gift? What was it like?”

Quito smiled, finishing a mouthful of the pepper. “Oh no, the testing for God’s Power, as you call it, that was days ago. As your college professors know nothing of my land or its schools, I must take tests in language, mathematics, and other areas, to convince them that I am a suitable student. It is very boring. Either our schools are superior or they must think I am very ignorant. The tests are easy.”

Davin laughed, both at the reply and at the difficulty of getting a word in when Quito began get wound up. He finally managed to interrupt.

“The test for God’s Power. What was it like?”

“It’s a simple test. Someone with the Gift sits with you and another professor. They use a metal thing to help measure you, and the professor can sense the Gift, if you have it. So they say. I felt nothing except a slight vibration, but they say I have the Gift. No surprise, I knew that already.”

Davin’s jaw dropped. “You knew? How?”

Quito’s grin became a little more superior. “You flatlanders think you are the only ones that understand the Regale d’ Deos? The Gift? We have many who are trained to sense the Gift in anyone, even a newborn. I was brought up to know what I have. When I reached the age of attainment, twenty summers among our people, I was sent here for special training.” He frowned at first, then the smile crept back. “A few of our Gifted are sent here — it is an agreement between your church and our elders.”

Davin shook his head in wonder. He had never heard a word about Chanche Gifted training at the University. “Do our Gifted train with your Elders?” he finally asked.

Quito grinned. “No. I think your people do not believe that our training is adequate.”

“Then why do they want Chanche Gifted to come here at all?”

“Simple. They want to see the quality of Chanche gifted, and so we oblige. Though I am not sure exactly what they learn, since we mainly send our younger Gifted, like me, that have not yet mastered all the intricacies of their Gifts.

“Anyway, your people are very insistent about this exchange,” Quito went on. “We do not send a great number of students, usually two or three a year, although I am the only one this year. Your professors poke and pry at us, trying to see how Chanche Gifts are different from those of Sudos or Nortes.”

Davin frowned, puzzled. “Why?”

Quito shrugged. “Who knows? We do seem to have more specific Gifts, especially Talents, than you Nortes and Sudos. For instance, I can sense weather changes before they occur. To my knowledge, few of your people can do that.”

Davin shook his head. “I had no idea that your people came here. But then, the General always said that university life would give me much new knowledge and understanding.”

“The general? Are you in the army here?”

Davin laughed. “No. He’s my father. He . . . he’s a rather imposing person. He was born a leader, I think, probably giving orders to his wet nurse an hour after he was birthed. Anyway, everyone calls him the General, even me sometimes. He’s hard to call ‘Father.’ If you ever meet him, you’ll understand.”

Quito was staring at Davin with a combination of fascination and horror. Finally he said, “My father is the head of one of the People’s Letos. It’s an extended neighborhood, what you might call a tribe, although community is probably a closer definition. He was a mighty fighter as a young man, so great a warrior that stories are told that he once killed a dibleo, a malito to you, with only a belt knife. I would never call him Khet, unless in a ceremony or when addressing him in his official capacity as leader. I would always be his son first.”

Davin’s face had fallen as Quito spoke. “You are lucky,” was all he could say.

For a moment they were both silent. Finally, Davin said, “Someone told me that the Chanches had a group of, I guess we would say sages, or teachers, that know even more about the Power of Deos than our leaders here. Is that true?”

Still energetic, Quito stood and paced. “Your priests excel at training those with basic Gifts such as healing, or so my elders have told me. We have the ability to find Gifts more easily. I am told that sometimes Gifted are not discovered in your land until they have twenty or more years.”

Davin almost shivered — that tied in all too well with Donaia’s words. He pushed on. “What will you learn here?”

Quito sat on his bed again. “I am really not certain. Perhaps techniques in healing, although I am not terribly Talented in that area, and the arts of manipulating the Power. They will examine my weather sense and try to understand it. My weather ability is very rare, even among my own people.”

“What do you learn at home of the Gifts?”

Quito remained silent for a moment, then said, “Of that, we do not speak.”

Apparently there were things that Quito would or could not share, after all. “I’m sorry, I did not mean to pry.”

Quito cut him off. “Do not be sorry. Generally with outsiders, with you Nortes and Sudos, we are not allowed to discuss many things related to the Power.”

“I understand.” Really, he did not. “One last thing. Would your people help an — outsider — who came to you seeking help?”

The question seemed to startle Quito. He considered. “Why, I think such a thing has never happened — except maybe once. Why should it? Most in the plains believe that your University provides the best training in the whole world. Besides, we do not allow most travelers free access to our land.”

Davin nodded. “I know, but what if such a thing did happen? What then? Would they put him out or kill him?”

Quito looked vexed. “What do you think, that we are all wild men who kill strangers who come among us? We are a peaceful people! We learn to fight to protect . . .” He shook his head, as though he had said something that he should have avoided. “I cannot blame you. You know even less about us than we know about you. Of course, you would not be harmed.”

Davin put up his hands. “Not me. I was just curious.”

Quito sprang up, seeming to be incapable of staying still more than a minute or so. “Of course it’s you. Come on, I’ll show you a way to sneak out for food in the town nearby.”

Davin begged off, promising to go in the future. With a smile and a wave, Quito bounded out the door.

. . . you have a great gift, Davin.

. . . of course it’s you.

Angrily, Davin kicked a boot across the room, then he threw himself on his cot and sought refuge in a restless slumber.