Which is about Yona’s trial and commencement

The passage of a year might mean very little to a fully-grown Manya (or to a fully-grown human, for that matter), but what an eventful year it turned out to be: for better or worse, Pamela could hardly recall a time before there was Yona and her rambunctious pranks. The orphanage would have been entirely too quiet and ordinary without her.

Of course, when the average lifespan of a species is three hundred years, one year of growth rarely makes any visible difference: Yona was still the same pint-sized little girl with ears too big for her head that she was a year ago, on the night of June 10th, when she was found. She did not know her own birthday, so it was decided this would be her day of celebration going forward.

But speaking of species and their lifespans, you may have pondered what all this talk of Manyas is really all about, and just what kind of creature they might be. Truth be told, for all their posturing about what a unique and magical tribe they are, they are not too dissimilar from any other walking and talking critter that exists. One might compare their appearance to rabbits, or cats, or dogs, or seals, depending on which particular region they hail from, for they come in varieties like anything else. They walk on their hind legs and have long ears, tails, paws, and some even have whiskers—which is either the pride or shame of a Manya, depending on who you ask.

One thing about Manyas is that they undergo commencements once they reach a certain level of maturity. There is no fixed age for this event, instead being decided by a parent or caretaker, but it is preceded by a challenge which determines whether or not the Manya is worthy of earning their hat. Hats are all but a sacred symbol in Manya culture, something like a badge of honor, or more thematically, the pointed caps worn by witches. Unless you are from East Majonia (where the sun beats down relentlessly) or are terribly rebellious and new-fashioned, if you are a Manya past a certain age, you wear a hat. That is simply the tradition.

Now that I have waxed poetic about hats and a species which does not exist on Earth, let us return to the point of this chapter: it was time for Yona to undergo her trial and commencement.

The headmasters had chattered between themselves for some time in hushed tones about what exactly Yona’s trial should be. She was still needing to be disciplined on a regular basis and might, in fact, not even be ready for such a challenge just yet. But Manyas were undergoing the rite of passage younger and younger, and if she were to be enrolled in a proper school any time soon (being that she was now a permanent fixture in their lives, it seemed), Pamela’s hope was that Yona’s hat would indicate to others, if her behavior failed to, that she was a well-mannered and capable child.

* * *

“What’ll I have to do?”

Pamela and Lonissa both sat facing Yona from the other end of the long dinner table, trying their best not to seem too threatening, but finding themselves in the inevitable position of looking so anyway. “We decided,” they both started, then stopped, Lonissa urging Pamela to say it instead. “We both decided the best trial for you, would be for you to be responsible for helping the others with their schooling for a week straight. Lonissa and I will still be the teachers, of course, but you must accompany everyone with their after studies. Their homework.”

The air held a dull silence.

“That’s it?” was all Yona could say.

The pair of headmasters exchanged uneasy glances, wondering if they had made a misstep. “Young lady, I think you will find this is no small task,” Pamela asserted. “As of right now, there are ten other children here—“ before Lonissa nudged her again, reminding her of the lovely couple who came to adopt Julie the previous week. “Nine. Nine children. And you will be surveying all of their homework and grading their tests for an entire week. It will be a big load off of my and Lonissa’s shoulders, you know, so it would be a very good thing for all of us, if you are up for the challenge.”

Yona contemplated this a while, envisioning just how much work lie ahead of her, her little tongue hanging off to the side as it often did when she was deep in thought (before being told to put it back in her mouth where it belonged). Was there an easy way out of this? Julie was the smart kid—now she wasn’t here to help.

“It’s a deal, I guess,” she shrugged. Deep down, she’d been hoping for something daring and exciting, like the little Manya boy on television the other week whose parents ordered him to cross a South Majonia swamp all on his own. This seemed terribly practical and boring by comparison. “Will I at least get to pick out my hat?”

“Your hat’s already been made,” Lonissa smiled. “I went ahead and took your head measurements while you were sleeping. I have full confidence you can do this, so I sewed it in advance.” Pamela wished she had possessed the same level of blind faith.

Yona felt a little disappointed, but chose to trust Lonissa’s taste. After all, she had sewn some of her favorite outfits, proving herself a more than capable seamstress on account of both style and craftsmanship. “I guess it starts tomorrow, then?”

“Yes, tomorrow. You’ll each get through your schooling as always, and help everyone with homework and grading in the evening before supper. And Lonissa and I will still be around if there’s anything you don’t understand.” Yona tentatively nodded.

And so, the trial had begun.

* * *

It wasn’t terribly difficult at first, Yona thought. Checking both homework and test answers simply meant glancing between what the student had written down and what was printed in the key book, comparing numbers and words, although things got a little more difficult when it came to creative writing exercises. There were no examples given in the key books for what to do with those. She scratched her head and figured, If I think it’s boring I’ll mark it as good, and if I think it’s really interesting I’ll mark it as great.

She breezed through the first day’s assignments with relative ease in the upstairs school room, all to herself in abundant peace and quiet. It didn’t take anywhere near as long as she had expected! Before she knew it, she was off to the swings in the backyard to enjoy the final traces of Monday’s hazy warm daylight. Nothing could compete with the feeling of a job well done, she found.

Evening supper was served: Kipulo, a local dish made from crushed seashells and gravy, and a rather bitter spice that tasted of a cross between paprika and lemon rind. About half the children of the orphanage loved it and asked for seconds, while the rest did their best to fake tummy-aches or explain why they were too full to finish after a few unenthused bites.

As the others got up and cleared their plates, Yona remained seated, predicting that the headmasters would like to hear how she fared on her first day. She looked up at them expectantly.

“How did you find assisting everyone today?” Pamela asked.

“Oh, it was really easy,” answered Yona confidently. “Most of them did good, and I marked off anything that was wrong.”

“Did you have the chance to go over their mistakes with them?”

“Yeah, I showed the parts that they got wrong.”

“But did you explain why they were wrong?” Pamela inquired, peering down at Yona through her sizable eyeglasses.

“Oh. I didn’t know I’d have to do that.”

“There’s not much purpose in showing them their mistakes if they can’t recognize how they made them to begin with, is there?” Pamela said. “Emerol and Lune, like you, have gotten to basic division and fractions. Are you able to show them not just the answers but the proper way to do it, should they make an error?”

Yona felt a little befuddled. It made sense, thinking on it, but it seemed such a cumbersome extra step, especially when she couldn’t guarantee she understood all these concepts herself. She dumbly nodded and said nothing. Lonissa said nothing as well.

“I’ll go over the work you checked with Lonissa,” Pamela said, a little stern but not grim. “Please continue to give this your best effort. Thank you.”

* * *

From the moment she was awoken bright and early that Tuesday morning, Yona was already feeling sluggish and unprepared for the day’s events. How could this have become so tedious so quickly? Going over formulas and diagramming sentences was going to shave at least another hour off her precious day. The weekend could not come soon enough.

She and the others got through breakfast, she finished her own schooling, and then it was time to grade homework. At least there were no tests this time, she thought. But the incessant wandering her mind was doing turned a single assignment into the most arduous, miserably dull thing imaginable to trudge through: she wanted to think about Wizard Glick, about the vivid and exciting adventures she and the other, real magic users went on in her dreams every night, soaring over canyons and cliffs and valleys filled with nesting Qulos and orchards and bustling villages. But instead, she was sitting here in a stuffy old room in the orphanage, struggling to remember how division by fractions worked. The key surely gave her the right answer—but how to arrive at it?

Then something strange dawned in her. She felt a familiar stirring inside her chest, an odd little tug that made all of her senses like finely sharpened blades, and she knew this was her magic. The grading pen slipped out of her paw and into the air, clicking itself twice, and shifted its ink from blue to a sort of shimmering iridescent color. Promptly it began writing the full answers with explanations, flawlessly emulating her own coarse handwriting. What a joyous sight to behold! She did not even have to point to it, did not have to maintain her grip on it, it simply did the work for her while she watched with gleaming eyes. Half the day’s work was finished, in a sliver of the time it would have taken on her own. After the ink had dried, it settled back into the inconspicuous shade of blue it began as. She kissed the pen in gratitude.

The rest of the evening seemed to pass by in the gentle haze of a dream, possibly because exerting so much magic power caused Yona to fall into one of the deepest slumbers of her young life. No one was any the wiser, because they all assumed she was still hard at work—fulfilling a task she was meant to do with her own two paws.

When it came time for Pamela and Lonissa to assess what she’d accomplished, Lonissa did her best to stifle a laugh, for she recognized Yona’s little trick all too well from her own turbulent days as a schoolgirl: imperceptible to the untrained eye, but could be spotted a mile away by a seasoned magic veteran of a similar disposition. When it came to someone as forthright about education as Pamela, such a trick went unnoticed. Should I tell her? The younger headmaster was at a rather amusing war with herself, but ultimately decided the time was not yet right.

But on and on, Yona’s little trick persisted. On Wednesday, it still felt great. On Thursday, it felt a little strange. Come Friday, her stomach was swirling from the hollow dishonesty of it all, wondering how she was ever going to face Pamela and Lonissa when she knew very well she’d done nothing to earn their praise. It transcended the fear of getting caught: it was the fear of not being who she hoped they saw her as, which had only begun to matter more and more as she became better acquainted with her caretakers. The hat Lonissa sewed for her would have to grow cobwebs in the attic at this rate. There was no pleasure to be had in swinging from a swingset, or in drawing pictures or rereading her magazine when she knew, deep down, she had deceived the very people who trusted her.

Saturday arrived and the absence of her cheerful countenance did not go unnoticed. The headmasters were seated at one end of the long dining table again, ready to congratulate Yona for undergoing her trial successfully, while she simply looked down at chips in the table wood and fiddled with the buttons on her shirt.

“You’ve reached the end of your trial, Yona, and I’m really very proud of you. Have you anything to say about it?” Proud of her, Pamela really and truly proud of her—it only made Yona’s conscience sting all the worse.

“Well, I’m really glad it’s over with,” she said reluctantly. Yona suddenly was overcome with the sensation of her eyes burning, before being struck with the hot shame of weeping, openly weeping right before the headmasters. Lonissa’s expression was unwavering.

“My goodness, whatever’s the matter with you? What happened?” the elder headmaster questioned.

But no words were formed.

Yona started, “I—“ but could not bring herself to continue. She was really making a scene of things now, and as no one at Hearts and Diamonds orphanage had ever seen her shed so much as a single tear, it was a truly baffling sight.

“I couldn’t—I couldn’t do it without magic,” came the confession. “I used magic to do it all. I’m sorry. I lied to you.” Lonissa gave a shallow nod of acknowledgement, while Pamela stood with her mouth agape. Finally, she sank dejectedly back into her seat with a weary exhale.

“I should have known,” she muttered, shaking her head. “Should have known you’d been finishing much too early.”

Finally Lonissa admitted, “I knew.” At once, what little air was left seemed to get sucked out of the humid dining room. “Lonissa, how could you have kept this knowledge from me? How did you know?” Pamela fumed.

“Because I pulled off the same trick when I was her age, older even,” Lonissa said with an unaffected coolness. “And Yona, just because I understand why you did it does not make it okay. People who use magic as a way of taking the easy way out end up with all sorts of problems later on in life.” By now she had moved to the other side of the table to give the child some physical consolation, as the experience was all too familiar in Lonissa’s eyes. A prick of genuine remorse was briefly visible on her furrowed brow, not that Yona could have detected it. “Believe me…I should know.”

“What do we do,” Pamela said, more to herself than anyone else amidst the quiet sobs from across the table. “What do we do about this? Constant supervision? A magic muzzle?”

“Heavens no, not a magic muzzle,” said Lonissa with sobering sharpness. “We restart the trial, right from the beginning. This time, the three of us, together.”

“But why should we—“

“The three of us, all together, will participate in this trial, and Yona will learn the meaning of honest hard work, even if she needs help getting there.” Yona sniffled, still feeling the crushing shame of the situation bearing down on her small shoulders, but nodded in understanding.

Monday would be another chance.

To next chapter

To previous chapter

Click here to return to the table of contents.