Addergoole Castle was huge, Rosmarina quickly learned, far bigger than it looked from the outside, and it was a maze of rooms, some tiny and some giant. In order to get to the dormitory where she’d be staying, they ended up going up three floors, down two, across a bridge between sections of the school, and then up another floor. By the time we were there, Rosmarina was pretty sure she wouldn’t ever be able to find it again.
Then Pontius opened the door to her room, and she decided it didn’t matter, because she was never leaving. The room was twice the size of the one she shared at home with both her brothers, and there was only one big bed, one dresser, and one desk. “Is this…” she was afraid to ask, so she whispered it. “Is this all for me?”
Pontius didn’t laugh at her. “It’s a lot, isn’t it? I was used to living in a single bunk in a ship, before I went to Addergoole – and then afterwards, until I got the job here. Yeah. It’s all yours. Don’t invite people in you don’t trust, of course, and someone will stop by once a day if you don’t come out of your room to go to classes. But it’s all for you. Get settled a little, if you want. There are nine other rooms on this floor, this section. Half of them are already here.”
“How many… altogether? If there’s another school…”
“The whole school has thirty students right now. We’re still small, but getting bigger every year.” He patted her shoulder. “I’ll leave you to it.”
Thirty students wasn’t small, Rosmarina thought, not compared to the little town school where she and Quirin and Vahan had gone. That was okay. Maybe Pontius was used to bigger schools? “Thank you.” She didn’t have much to get settled, not with all her luggage still with her family. Since Pontius expected her to do something, though, she paced around the room, looking at the windows – they had a view of the ocean that filled almost the whole view – and wandering out onto the broad balcony.
Someone had left two pots with plants in them growing on the balcony. She recognized a small rowan tree on one side, and an even smaller apple tree on the other. They seemed to be doing all right, so she left them for the time being.
The bed was huge enough to share with two or three other people, soft, comfortable, and even the sheets were soft and smooth. The comforters piled high, like they were afraid she’d get cold. Rosmarina nestled underneath for a moment, just to feel it all, before popping back out.
The closet was almost the size of a room. Who had that many clothes? And next to that was…
Rosmarina had heard of bathrooms like this, with running water and a flush toilet, but only the mayor had one in their village. She spent a few minutes flushing the toilet and watching the water spiral downward, before decided guiltily that it was probably wasteful to do that just for fun.
She walked around the room again. Bed, dresser, a wide desk with a selection of pens and pencils, paper and two notebooks. What was this place?
A knock at her door made Rosmarina jump. She shouted “it’s open” and hurried over.
Nobody had come in, so she swung the door open, wondering who wouldn’t accept that as an invitation.
Three kids her own age were gathered on the other side, two boys and a girl. They were all wearing nicer clothes than Rosmarina, but they were all wearing almost the same thing, too: long pants with wide cuffs, broad at the ankle, a long-sleeved shirt or some sort of fine-knit sweater, over another one that looked very similar, and a lack of shoes.
“I told you she wouldn’t have the uniform yet.”
“Are you kidding, it doesn’t even look like she has her luggage yet.”
“I mean, some people don’t come with luggage, you know.”
“You, you mean, you didn’t come with clothes.”
They bounced back and forth – the girl was the one who hadn’t come with clothes; the taller boy, who was a head and a half taller than Rosmarina, was the one who knew Rosmarina wouldn’t have a uniform, and the short boy with blonde-red hair was the jerk. None of them seemed to need Rosmarina to input anything into their conversation.
“And so what if I didn’t? It’s not like their are, what’s the word, boutiques, out there,” the girl countered. She was tan-brown with big wide eyes that were the color of spring leaves and short curly black hair; she was almost exactly the same height as Rosmarina, and she hadn’t smiled yet. “So I had what I had on my back. Besides, we were running. Were you running?”
It took Rosmarina a moment to realize the girl had actually aimed a question at her, and once she did realize, she wasn’t sure how to answer.
The girl repeated herself. “Were you running? You speak English, right? Not everyone does. Étiez-vous… what is it? …fuyez?”
Rosmarina cleared her throat. “Sort of?” she offered weakly. As a first impression sort of sentence, it wasn’t great. “Once we’ve left, we can’t go back, if that’s what you mean, and we had to sneak out.”
“Oooh, one of those places. No, my mother and I, we were actually on the run.” The girl grinned broadly. “I’m Naia, by the way. This is Gil and this is Fred. We’re, in order, second-year, third-year, and second-year again.”
Gil was the taller boy. “I just hang around with them because they attract the fun sort of trouble,” he confided. He was so brown as to be almost black in color, and his eyes were bluer than the ocean. He wore his hair in braids down to the nape of his neck, and his smile was infectious.
“My brother’s like that,” Rosmarina answered without thinking. “He’s a trouble magnet, my mother says.”
“That’s these two. Welcome to Aqua-Addergoole, the water school. You just got here, right?”
“Yeah, my, uh, my parents are down by the water.”
“My mother wouldn’t leave the ocean for a week,” Gil confided. “And I still can’t get her out of it most days. That’s the thing about here – it’s all people who are drawn to the water, or, I mean, they’re guessing we will be, because our parents all are. So we’re here on the water, and there’s a big pool down in one of the wings, and every dorm room faces the ocean… it means classrooms don’t, which is kind of the pits, but that’s all right, because I’d never focus at all if we were all looking at the water the whole time.”
Rosmarina thought about the way her mother had been leaning towards the sea. “So I’m here because… my parents like the water?”
“Well, it’s a little more complicated than that, but it’ll all get explained pretty quickly. So, you came from a really restrictive place?”
“I guess? I never really thought about it; we’ve been there since I was seven.”
“Seven, hunh? You’re the oldest?” Naia leaned forward. “That’s interesting. Do you remember Addergoole?”
“Sometimes it seems like I do. My parents would talk about it, sometimes, talk around it, and sometimes I think I can picture something. There was a warm room with no windows, and three other kids my age, and sometimes other people would hold me…” She trailed off and ducked her head. “That’s about it. We lived on a farm by a lake until I was seven, and then…” She winced. “Something happened.”
She wasn’t supposed to talk about it. She shrugged uncomfortably. “Anyway, then we moved into this place called the People’s Lands. It seemed really nice, at first, but then we started noticing how they wanted to know everything about you, and then they started telling us things like what we could wear or not, and then, well, then the letter from Addergoole came.”
She was skipping over a lot. She thought that was fine; she’d already said way too much. “But anyway, here I am.”
Naia looked curious; Fred looked bored. Gil smiled at her. “Well, welcome. Let us give you a quick tour? Not the whole place.” He laughed shortly. “I’ve been here two years and I still haven’t figured that all out. But we can hit a few highlights.”
“LIke the food,” Gil put in, “and the pool.”
“The main pool,” Naia clarified.
“…Wow. Sure.” She didn’t have any luggage yet and she had nothing to worry about in her room. “Let’s go.”