The Eyes Have It
by Will Greenway
Eyes, Bayhrn loved eyes, brown, violet, and even red, but the most fascinating looked like pieces of a starry sky–black. Even more intriguing was the secretive gold-skinned girl with indigo hair to whom those eyes belonged. Leaned against the academy’s burbling water-clock in the foyer-du-majik, Bayhrn watched her sway up the steps. Soon, she would stop being the ‘black-eyed beauty’, today he would learn her name.
Bayhrn had chosen this corner in the broad expanse of the school entry because it commanded the best view of the people coming in. The fresco-covered walls depicting the various gods of wisdom and learning resonated with the footfalls of the stream of academy students filing in for first session.
Bayhrn focused on ‘beauty’ as she came closer. Children from all-over the thirty-nine worlds of the magocratic realms attended the Kel’Ishtauri Academy. Four summers ago at the age of twelve, Bayhrn entered on a scholarship. Since that time, he’d met all kinds of students: elves, dwarves, dracs, vamps, and weres. Out of all those exotic beings, he found Beauty to be the most striking. She didn’t have the haughty untouchable grace of the elf girls, or the i-dare-you aggressive strut of the vamps, she had a different quality–a special kind of serenity.
Medium height, a shade too round to claim a beauty crown, but carrying herself with dignity and bounce. He studied her solid legs swishing in the dark blue academy dress. Her ochre-gold skin gleamed like polished metal.
She looked up, black eyes meeting his. Bayhrn felt his heart thud and his throat tighten. There it was–that difference. Her eyes didn’t just have a black color–both what should be white and the iris was an unbroken shine of star-dotted darkness. She tilted her head, a red gem on her forehead flashed, her full cheeks dimpled as she smiled.
Bayhrn started to say something but the words caught in his throat. He tried to wave, but his arm froze. In that instant, she turned down the side corridor joining with the stream of other students.
Brilliant eloquence there. Nice snappy delivery. The lingual adroitness of a stone. Bah!
She had looked him in the eye and still seemed interested. Bayhrn knew he was no paragon, but he wasn’t some spectacle-wearing twig either. The red-haired son of an alchemist and a ship-wright, he grew up strong lugging timbers for his father. His mother emphasized learning and books. A lucky turn of events and some hard study helped him pass the Kel’Ishtauri scholarship exam. Living here in Malan far from his home in Ivaneth was lonely, but he’d made friends.
A heavy hand clapped on his shoulder, causing Bayhrn to lurch sideways in surprise. “Bay ole boy, how goes it?”
Startled, Bayhrn recovered his wits. “Ogier! Sorry.” Ogier was the vice-captain of the school jousting team. Ogier exemplified the handsome knight persona; long hair, blue eyes, rugged-chin and the straight white teeth. While gifted physically, Ogier was no mental giant. Seeing the athlete struggling in class, Bayhrn had offered help and over time they became friends. It became a trade of strengths, academic for athletic, math and history for martial and chivalric skills. Keeping company with Ogier and the jousting team toughs had saved Bayhrn many hassles.
“Apology accepted,” Ogier said with grin. “What has thee so twitchy? Laying in wait for your fair-maiden again?”
He sighed. “Aye.”
Ogier’s brow furrowed and he loomed over Bayhrn. “And?”
He winced. “No, I didn’t say hello.”
“Zounds man, it’s just one word. Need me to say it for ye?”
“No!” He burst out. “I don’t even know her name. There’s no records. Nobody knows her. It’s like she’s a ghost!”
“Bah,” Ogier waved away his objection. “She’s probably from a high family, they often keep their children’s records sealed.” He looked around the tiled entry hall. He adjusted the blue school jacket and tabard. “Hie us to class while we speak of this.” He pulled Bayhrn into motion, joining the flow of other students heading to their study hallls. “The point is man,” Ogier said as they went. “She’s a mystery to everyone. Which is why you should be the first to learn about her! Twill be like finding a treasure!”
Bayhrn puffed out his cheeks. “Indeed.” The mystery of the black-eyed girl went beyond her name. He’d been stymied in even learning the most basic details about her. He found it both frustrating and fascinating. He even failed at discovering which direction she lived in. He’d alternately watched all three school exits. She never came out.
Likewise her appearances at school proved to be a similar puzzle. She came up to the school steps from five different paths. However, no matter which path he watched, she came in a different way. At first he thought she must be avoiding him, but when he waited in the foyer she walked by without appearing to notice him–at least until this morning. He had yet to spot her at noon meal, she either didn’t eat nunch, or had some secret hideaway. After a score-day of failure, he was about to give up.
He must find her today. Third session was free study, he’d use that time to search the classrooms until he located her. With her gold skin, she wouldn’t be that hard to pick out.
He sat through history, but everything said was little more than a haze. His side was sore from Ogier’s repeated elbows to the ribs to keep him focused.
“Bit and bridle, Man,” Ogier said clapping him on the back as they filed out. “Make that girl’s acquaintance forthwith! Your brain will avail naught until you do.” He leaned close. “Both our grades suffer in the nonce, yes?”
“Yes,” Bayhrn answered. “I’ll find her during third session.”
“Huzzah, my friend,” Ogier said. “Huzzah. A stout heart and a sincere smile are a certain path to the good graces of a lady.” He looked around at the throng of students moving toward their next class. “Beware, have not air in thy head in Lady Degaba’s enchantments class. Your maiden would show little favor if you end up changed into a swine.”
“Done.” He thumped Ogier on the shoulder and the young knight swaggered off into the stream of students.
Bayhrn set off through the crowded halls to class, still thinking of ways to get to know Beauty. In his enchantment studies class, it was easy to stay focused. The teacher, archmage Dorian Degaba, was constantly changing her shape. Half through the semester and nobody yet knew what she truly looked like or even what age she might be.
When the bell for third session rang, Bayhrn bounded up the steps and out the exit. Heart beating fast, he rushed to Foundation Hall where the many coats of arms belonging to school’s patron families were displayed on polished marble walls. Standing in the corner below the oak and crossed swords of the Duchy of D’tarin he watched the students filling through the area.
He scrutinized the girls that walked by. A couple long breaths passed, he did not spy the gold-skinned girl. It would have been a great stroke of luck to manage to intercept her between classes.
The flow of students slowed to a trickle. He needed to get moving. It would take all of free period to check every classroom.
Bayhrn started to move from his corner.
A raspy feminine voice echoed in the hall. “You arrogant witch, answer me when I talk to you!”
He oriented in time to see Beauty toppling forward with a double armful of school materials. The gold-skinned girl made no sound, not even a groan as she slammed onto her stomach and slid across the floor scattering books and papers. From her grimace, it must have hurt.
Her attacker, a giant blue-eyed girl with short-cropped orange hair loomed behind her with folded arms. Bayhrn recognized Rinne Xerces, a feminine brute who lorded over a gender-superiority gang.
Rinne’s normal accomplices, reedy blonde Vyaa, and bulky dark-haired Paylar took up flanking positions behind her. Together those three had beat down half the jousting team just to prove they could do it.
Only Ogier had been skilled enough to make Rinne back off. This would hurt, but no way would he let some touched-in-the-head gender-confused bruiser hurt Beauty!
Throat tight and heart beating fast, he launched out of the corner, and slid to a stop between Rinne and Beauty. Keeping an eye on the big girl he extended a hand to Beauty. “Are you hurt?”
Rinne scowled at him. “Get lost Woodpecker!”
Gads, he thought that evil nickname long forgotten!
Beauty took his hand. Her skin felt hot. When she pulled to regain her feet it took all his strength to stay up. She didn’t look that heavy.
The girl remained quiet. His whole body grew hot as she gazed at him with those entrancing eyes. She held his arm with both hands.
“I’ll have an apology from that witch!” Rinne snarled.
At his shoulder Beauty glared at Rinne.
He coughed. “Rinne, you pushed her…”
“Aye,” the red-haired girl said. “She–”
“Miss Xerces,” a powerful female voice rattled the hall. “More thuggary? What has it been, a whole day?”
Bayhrn knew that echoing tone–mistress Ariok. The tall woman clacked around the corner, wearing her customary black leather weskit, johdpurs, and high-heeled riding boots. Crop over her shoulder, she studied the five of them with gleaming gold eyes. Glossy dark hair, pale skin, and full lips stained the color of plum, she was breath-taking both in appearance and her ability to inspire terror. The woman sighed, fangs flashing for an instant.
“Miss Woodrose, Miss Sternhelm,” the mistress said tapping the dreaded crop on her shoulder. “Class?”
Eyes wide, the two girls blubbered quick apologies and scrambled away. Rinne jerked, obviously startled at being abandoned so suddenly. After an instant, she turned to leave.
The lady vampire intercepted her in two steps, grabbing her shoulder. “You stay,” she snapped.
Rinne gulped, face now the color of milk.
The mistress’ gaze flicked to Beauty. The girl’s grip on his arm tightened until it hurt. She made a nervous nod as though responding to something Bayhrn didn’t hear.
“Miss Xerces,” the mistress gestured to the ground. “The books and papers.”
Rinne scowled. “I–” The girl’s complaint was interrupted by the crack of the mistress’ crop on her buttocks. Rinne yelped and spun around in pain.
“Child, I am in no mood for sass,” Mistress Ariok smacked the crop against her boot. “Now, move!”
Rubbing her bottom, Rinne started gathering up the materials.
The mistress’ eyes fixed on Bayhrn and he felt an icy chill. “Mister Stormwright, you are a bystander in this, yes?”
“Your desire to assist was commendable. I have matters in hand now. Be on your way.”
Beauty seemed to remember the crushing grip she was applying to his wrist. Black-black eyes wide, her gaze rose to fix on his face. She flinched and stepped back, her gold cheeks turned an orange hue.
“I–” He cleared his throat. “I-I’m glad you’re okay.”
Beauty smiled and gave him a meek nod.
The mistress accepted the books from Rinne and put them under her arm. “Mister Stormwright, you are dismissed. You two,” she pointed. “My office.”
Not wanting to rile the mistress, he headed toward north corridor. He glanced back to watch Beauty trudge out of the hall followed by Rinne.
At the exit, he paused to get one last look at her. Beauty hesitated and peeked back at him, then vanished from view.
A jolt of realization went through him. The name, you cretin, you didn’t ask her name!
He slammed his back against the wall in frustration. Idiot! Damn the frelled up luck! The bloody mistress knew everyone by name and didn’t address Beauty even one damn time! She was right there. He remembered the heat of her skin against his. Why didn’t she say anything? Not even a grunt when she hit the floor?
Well, no question of where to find Beauty now. For such a quiet girl to get attacked, there must be a problem. That he might be able to help with. The deal with Ogier had saved him pummeling, perhaps something similar might assist her.
He needed to seize the moment. He wouldn’t get a better chance to approach her. Mistress Ariok might punish him, but he had to risk it. He headed toward the mistress’ office.
He edged up to the scale-wood door with the gold plaque with the mistress’ name. An archway opposite looked out into a statuary garden dedicated to the elemental gods. Fire flower, air vine, stone blossom, and water bloom decorated the four cardinal points around a circle of benches. Positioning himself so he could watch the door, Bayhrn leaned up against a column and sniffed the soothing scents. Only a few students on various errands passed by. He felt so conspicuous.
He focused back on his reason for being here; helping Beauty. He rubbed his arm, remembering the feel of her skin. So warm. He listened to the clunking of the water clock gurgling in the adjacent hall. A breeze hummed through the inner yard.
Footsteps approached from the foyer. Trying not to be noticed, Bayhrn kept his head down. The sound stopped close by.
“Here to see Miss Ariok?” a bright female voice asked.
He looked up and caught his breath. A curvy red-haired woman nodded to him. She had green eyes and pale narrow face dotted with freckles. She wore a white lace-up buccaneer blouse tucked into hip hugging breeches. Her thigh-high boots and gloves looked for protection, not appearance. There was no question the sword on her hip was implement of war.
“No Milady,” he answered, dipping his head in respect. “I’m waiting for someone.”
She flashed him a brilliant white smile. No doubt she had melted more than one heart with such radiance. “Ah.” She clasped her hands behind her back and bounced on her toes.
This attractive woman did not look old enough to have an academy age child. She had red hair. Could this be Rinne’s mother? He found it hard to imagine this fine lady being dam to that dour behemoth of a girl.
“Is your daughter in trouble?” he asked in a tentative tone.
“I prefer ‘tribulated’,” she answered with a grin. She had a strong melodious voice. If not for the sword, he could imagine her as a singer. “Recently, tribulations have abounded.” She glanced to mistress Ariok’s door. “It’s a new school, it’s tough adapting with so many students here being mind-deaf.”
New? She couldn’t be Rinne’s mother then. She’d been attending as long as he had. “Mind-deaf, Milady? I’m unfamiliar.”
She lifted a finger. “Exactly.”
Bayhrn frowned. “But…” He didn’t get to finish because Beauty came out the office door with mistress Ariok at her back. He felt his heart lurch as the gold-skinned girl rushed over and hugged the woman he’d been speaking with.
Even though he’d put it together in his head, there’d been doubt. They didn’t look alike. Well, maybe their faces… but the rest. That gorgeous lady was her mother.
Hands on hips, Mistress Ariok glared at him.
Stroking her daughter’s hair, the woman looked at him with a raised eyebrow then her gaze flicked to the vampire lady. The two focused on each other for perhaps a heartbeat. The mistress rolled her eyes and went back in her office.
After the mistress was gone, the lady gestured to the benches in the garden. “Come, let’s sit.”
Bayhrn felt a warning shiver, but complied. He settled on a bench and the woman and her daughter sat opposite him in the circle. She put her arm around Beauty and trained penetrating green eyes on him. “First, have you been stalking my daughter?”
It was good thing he was sitting down. He almost fell off the bench. Panic hit him like a punch in the chest. All of the words in his head jumbled up like a log jam. “U-uh–yes–I mean no! I m-mean, I-I’m not a s-stalker.”
Beauty raised her black-black eyes to look at him. She rubbed her cheek against her mother’s shoulder. They looked more like sisters than parent and child.
The mother eyed him. “Who were you waiting for then?”
Frell. He puffed out his cheeks. “I just wanted to help.”
She leaned back and pressed a finger to her forehead. “Sooo,” she drew the word out. “Exactly how do you lend assistance from the cover of a bush? That’s been you laying in wait out in front of the school, yes?”
Icy fingers gripped his insides. While he was watching for beauty, someone had spied on him! The picture it painted of him was getting more and more horrible. “Yes,” he said wincing. “I just wanted to get some idea of where she lived.”
The lady bored in. “Why?”
“Someone living nearby might know details about the family,” he answered. “Nobody at school knows her. I just–I wanted to k-know her name before I tried speaking with her. That’s all. I-I-I’m…”
“Shy? Lack confidence…or a spine perhaps?”
It felt like his head was going to explode. So, now he was either an idiot, a pervert, or a coward. Dagda’s torque, could this get any worse?
Beauty stared at her mother with an unhappy expression.
The woman sighed. “I swear, the moaning about your name.” The girl started pulling on her mother’s arm, her face showing embarrassment and alarm. The lady puffed out her cheeks and shook her head. “I’ve been in five act plays that were smaller productions!” She paused. “You need to pay closer attention. Sometimes the person you’re looking for is following you. It seems all your friends are mind-deaf. Lords forbid actually resorting to a note. That’s far too troublesome and impersonal!”
“Wait, my name?” He couldn’t be hearing this right. She was trying to find out his name? Behind him? He missed something. “Milady, stop.” He leaned forward. He looked into Beauty’s dark-dark eyes. “Note? Why would she need a note?”
Beauty closed her eyes and looked down as though ashamed. She laced her fingers.
“Haven’t you been listening? Most people can’t hear her.”
“Milady, I’ve never seen her talk.”
“Nor will anyone,” she answered in level tone. She reached up with a gentle and hand and brushed a few strands of hair off Beauty’s forehead. “She was born without a voice.”
He stiffened and his throat tightened. His gaze fixed on Beauty. The girl looked up with a sad face. She sighed and nodded.
“If she has no voice, how–?”
Beauty’s mother tapped her temple. “Ever hear of mind-speak? It’s more common th