Discussions on parallax had so inspired Prudence that when we returned to the calefactory, she found a stack of paper left over from the cathedral decorations, a lump of charcoal, and immediately sat to give Celeste a drawing lesson.
“Draw what you see,” she explained to Celeste, gesturing to a small block of wood on the table. “Don’t draw what you expect to see. What angle do the lines on the side of the block appear to make as they go into the distance?”
Celeste adjusted her spectacles and leaned forward as she examined the wood block. Prudence demonstrated by slowly and deliberately sketching the block on her own paper, making lines with long, elegant strokes, and then deftly filling in the shadows.
I had drawn the cube on my own paper- it was a passable representation, as most of my drawings were, but it possessed none of the subtle depth Prudence had demonstrated in her simple still life.
I pulled out a fresh sheet of paper and began another sketch.
“If I get very good at drawing, I will make some nice ones and give them as Chaosmas presents for everyone,” Celeste said. “Grandmaman had presents and dinner on Chaos night, so it all blended together with my birthday. Will we do my birthday and Chaosmas separately, again?”
“It will be difficult to separate them entirely,” Prudence said. “There is a long service on Chaos night at the cathedral, and the Pilgrims will perform a pageant to mark the final battle of the Ancient War. Then, on Chaosmas, there is a feast in the pilgrim’s quarters. Even so, I promise we will do something special for your birthday.”
I had been sketching the airship from memory. As stark as it had appeared over the horizon, it was almost as simple an object as the block I’d drawn before. I drew the ropes and the ship’s frame, adding complexity to evoke the surprise I’d felt on first viewing the alien object. But within my drawing the airship seemed to have a natural home on the plain- like a ship on the sea. When I placed Prudence in the foreground, looking up at the ship, she took prominence in the scene.
I sat back to examine her likeness, and let out a sigh of frustration. I had drawn a woman with a round face and wide smile, who otherwise bore very little resemblance to Prudence. I was not able to properly convey the merry crinkles about her eyes, instead creating an effect that made her look fatigued. I was completely unable to express the brilliance of her complexion in the sunlight using nothing but charcoal. I took out another sheet and began again.
“Are you sure that we will be able to celebrate my birthday if the sisters are all so busy?” Celeste was saying in a skeptical voice.
“I’m quite certain,” Prudence said with a knowing smile. “But on Chaosmas day, you will have double lessons to make up for the day of study you missed.”
“Oh! You wouldn’t,” Prudence looked at me, distraught.
“Of course not, Celeste- your mother is teasing, but I do have some bad news. I promise that I will be here to celebrate your birthday, but I will be away on Chaosmas day.”
Prudence put down her charcoal and looked up in surprise.
“Lady Grace- why? Everyone says it will be such fun,” Celeste said.
“There is a very kind woman named Dare who guards the shrine where my mother is buried,” I explained. “Because she is a slave she cannot leave- even to come to the cathedral. She will be alone on Chaosmas unless I go to visit.”
“How sad!” Celeste said. She put down her charcoal and came to put her arms around my neck. “In that case, I’m glad that you are going. Please give Dare and your mother my love.”
“I will,” I promised, glad I needn’t explain further. In truth, I could no longer bear to celebrate the end of the Ancient War, which heralded the slaughter and enslavement of my mother’s people.
“Why must some people be slaves?” Celeste asked as she returned to her seat.
Prudence and I sat in silence for some time, stunned by the sudden question. Then Prudence spoke.
“It is the will of Order,” she said.
“But- why does he will it? It doesn’t seem fair,” Celeste said.
“I don’t know,” Prudence said softly.
“I’m going to pray to Order,” Celeste said resolutely. “I will tell him how nice Trusty and Dare are. If he knows, he might decide to free them.”
“I hope-” I hesitated and took a deep breath. “I hope he hears your prayers.”
Celeste put a finger to her face in thought, smudging her cheek with charcoal. “It makes me wonder- if Order doesn’t listen to my prayer, and if Reverence and Chastity don’t help, should I still pray to them? I stopped talking to Uncle- to Brother Lux because he isn’t helping Uncle Hope. But Brother Lux is working for Order, just like the people who took Mother away. It makes more sense that Order is really at fault.”
Celeste sighed. “Abbess Joy works for Order, though, and she helps people. She told me that the people who arrest and enslave others aren’t listening to Order properly- that Order just wants everyone to work together for everyone’s happiness. Am I being terribly wicked when I ask questions about the Gods?”
“Never stop asking questions- no matter the subject,” Prudence said. “Sometimes it’s best to ask quietly, because bad people will imprison others just for thinking. If you stop asking questions, though, these same people may take advantage of you and tell you lies.”
“I see,” Celeste said. She turned to me, “what do you think, Lady Grace?”
“I do not know the Gods, like Abbess Joy,” I said. “But I know it’s better for people to cooperate than to be forced to work. I will never condone slavery.”
The calefactory doors opened, and I hid Prudence’s portrait under some other papers.
“I am sick of morning prayers,” Innocence said as she entered the room, followed closely by Miss Taris. “I think I shall skip it with you from now on.”
Miss Taris sat down without a word and picked up a basket of needlework, and the rest of us followed suit- working or drawing quietly until the door opened again. Sister Love burst in on the quiet scene with a merry laugh, bearing a very large crate in her arms. Mercy followed soon after with a smaller crate, which she placed on the floor next to the first.
“What’s all this?” Prudence asked.
“We have an anonymous benefactor,” Sister Love said. “Someone left us a very large donation. Not only did it cover the Abbey’s end -of-year expenses, but there was enough leftover to provide for some of the poor families who live nearby and for the pilgrims who are most in need. We are arranging baskets for them now with medicine, preserves, and small pouches of money.”
“There’s some yellow paper left over from the decorations. May I make terra flowers to put in the baskets?”
“Of course,” Sister Love replied. “Thank you, Miss Celeste.”
“I wonder who the benefactor was,” Prudence said, peeking into the largest crate. “They must have been quite wealthy, to have given so much. Why wouldn’t they say who they are, and gain credit to their name?”
“There was a note with the donation,” Sister Love said. She leaned over and began to unload the largest crate. “But all it said was ‘thank you for everything,’ and there was no signature. Sister Blessing is convinced that the hand is feminine.”
“There was a gentlewoman who came here a few months ago,” Prudence said. “The doctors in Verdant city could do nothing for her infant, but Abbess Joy was able to cure him. Perhaps the gentlewoman is the one who made the donation.”
“That seems likely,” Sister Love agreed. Then she opened the smaller crate, doled out baskets, and we all set to work.
I spent the rest of the day assisting Sister Love as usual, and retired soon after dinner. Miss Taris followed me, and sat reading in her room with the door open once more. I poured the potion Brother Lux had given me into a cup of tea, and then settled in to work on my treatise.
Brother Lux had been correct about the effects of the potion; I remained awake and alert the whole night. In fact, I felt even more focused than usual, and I easily finished plotting the movements of both Lystra and Miriam. The night grew old, but my eyes remained fresh and clear enough to check my fork for errors.
At four o’clock I put my treatise away and extinguished my lamp. I peeked out into the hallway, where it was dark and silent. Miss Taris’s door was still open, but her lamp was extinguished, and when I leaned close enough I could hear her steady, rhythmic breathing. I crept past her door and made my way through the hall and out the dormitory doors.
Outside, the night was still a clear, velvety black. Lystra, which had seemed merely theoretical moments before, shone clear and bright as it hung low in the east, heralding the coming dawn. I took just a moment to admire the stars, and then turned away and rushed to the tower.
The tower was unlit when I arrived, and I was certain that I would be alone. However, when I entered and the lights turned on, I could hear voices above. A few moments later, Honest appeared on the spiral staircase.
“You’ve escaped!” he said eagerly when he saw me. “Come upstairs quickly- I wish to show you my experiment.”
He beckoned me to follow, and I ran upstairs to keep up. When I arrived in the laboratory, I saw that the table where Prudence usually worked was covered in new equipment. Various glass tubes were lined up on one side of the table, and at the head of the table was another box, where a glass tube had been placed in the center. Across from the box with the glass tube, at the foot of the table, there was a metal box with a slit on one end and a round opening on the other end. Prudence sat on a stool at the back of the room, balancing a notebook on her knees.
“This,” Honest said, proudly gesturing to the metal box, “is my spectroscope. There is a slit here, for the light to enter, and a prism , which splits the light into its component colors.”
“A rainbow-maker,” I said.
“Exactly. It’s my third spectroscope- I’ve had to refine the model several times to get the fine detail my work requires. My first one was built two years ago, and this is what I saw when I viewed sunlight through it.”
He rifled through some papers that sat next to the spectroscope and retrieved a drawing, which he handed to me. I examined the drawing, which showed a strip of watercolors arranged in the familiar pattern of a rainbow, scratched through here and there with dark pencil lines.
“I had never examined the solar spectrum in such detail before, and wondered what in the world the dark lines could be. When I mentioned the phenomena to Mr Filius, I remarked that it seemed a mystery forever beyond my ken.”
“I’d wager that remark irritated him,” Prudence remarked.
“It did. He gave me a dressing down worse than any he’d given me before. I hadn’t even made an attempt to examine the phenomena, not even for ten minutes, and I’d already decided it was impossible.”
“Mr. Filius never went so far as to dress me down, I’ve said much more foolish things,” Prudence laughed. “He’s a gentleman at heart- much kinder to his female apprentices.”
“I would never seek to make the comparison,” Honest protested. “As far as I know, neither of you have made this particular error.”
“My errors are worse,” I said, “because I can’t see them. My mind simply ignores what it considers impossible, and I never mention it- even in passing. By calling the question infinitely beyond your ken, you at least imagined reaching for it.”
“Perhaps you are right,” Honest said, ducking his head. “In any case, I had no idea how to begin exploring the phenomenon, so I simply tried everything. I observed the solar spectrum at different times of day, with and without diffusion, in autumn, spring, summer, and winter. When I found no clues in observing only sunlight, I observed firelight and lamplight, and I burned different substances to see if anything would alter.
“I still had no clues, only more confusing observations. In desperation, I tried viewing light filtered through different mediums- plain glass, colored filters, and finally, containers of various gases. Here I got my first clue- the lines appeared once more, in different, extremely subtle patterns. Then, when studying with Sir Silas one day, he showed me a remarkable contraption- a beautiful colored light created by heating gas with electricity- like the lights above. When I viewed the spectrum of the gas discharge light, here is what I saw.”
He took a glass tube and exchanged it for the one that had been in the box. Then Prudence slipped from her stool and went to extinguish the lights. For a moment we sat in darkness, and then there was a buzz followed by a low hum, and the glass tube started to glow, emitting a soft, yellow light.
“Here- look through the spectroscope.”
I bent to look through the eyepiece on the box, expecting to see the usual gradient of color in a rainbow. What I saw instead were a few bright bands of color against a background of black.
Honest switched off the box, and the yellow light vanished, replaced by the overhead lights. I blinked a few times, readjusting to the brightness as Honest flipped excitedly through a stack of papers beside the apparatus. Then he handed me a paper with a series of colored bars scribbled on the front.
“Here- these are the lines you saw just now- the colors emitted by heated helium.”
“That is the gas Trusty is using to inflate his airship,” Prudence explained.
“And here-” Honest thrust another paper in my hand, “are the dark lines that cross the continuous spectrum when you view light filtered through helium. You see? They correspond.”
I sat down heavily, examining the papers. “So light itself is altered by the substances through which it filters- not just bent or shaped.”
“Exactly,” Honest’s wide lips stretched into a generous smile. “I’ve been compiling as much data as I can- recording the patterns of as many different gases as I can obtain. I already have my answer with regards to sunlight, though.” He handed me a sheet of paper with the prominent title The Solar Spectrum. Underneath he had intricately recorded the entire rainbow of color, with every subtle shift in color shaded with care. He had drawn brackets on top and bottom, labeling the patterns of black lines that broke through.
“You see- here is helium,” he said, pointing.
“Incredible,” I breathed. I continued to stare, recalling the time I had jokingly wondered what secrets the rainbow might hold as I bathed in a brook. I had laughed, then, considering it nothing more than a happy dream, but now I held one of the secrets in my very hands.
“This is incredible,” I repeated. “You’ve passed your test twice over; not only did you uncover a secret of light, but you’ve found a way to examine what gases surround our sun.”
“Your discovery was just as impressive,” Honest said quickly. “Mr. Filius told me that your current treatise is more complete than Sir Boromir’s was by far- that you have placed the planets on elliptical courses, and are beginning to describe their motion.”
“I am only building on Sir Boromir’s work,” I said. “Everyone in the guild already knew our earth is a planet that goes around the sun.”
Honest sat on a stool across from me, leaning forward as seriously as if we were engaged in a debate. “Everyone already knows the secret I’ve uncovered, as well. I’m certain that Mr. Filius has given me clues along the way.”
“Still- consider the further implications of your work,” I countered. “For instance- how much light does your instrument require? Might we view the spectrum of a very bright star, perhaps when viewed through a telescope with a large aperture?”
“I don’t know- I’ve never tried it on something so dim,” he leaned back again and placed his finder on his chin in thought.
“If you could- we might see if the stars are like our own Sun, or something different. We might even be able to see if the other planets- Lystra and Tigris are the brightest- have air surrounding them like our earth- I mean Terra.”
“Do you think we may find a stable way to mount my spectroscope?” Honest wondered. “We will need to hold it very steady to get a clear view of something so dim.”
“Perhaps we can mount it to an unwanted eyepiece- though it is so heavy that we might need a way to brace it. I’m sure we can contrive something.”
Honest and I stood to climb the observatory steps and Prudence sighed.
“Yes- go do something useful . I’m sick of listening to you two sit around and praise each other.”
“You must come with us,” I said, unable to suppress my grin as I turned back to Prudence. “Abbess Joy will never forgive you if you let us go unsupervised and we damage her instrument.”
Whole, diffuse- not golden, but white.
Enough to illuminate the world. Enough to illuminate many worlds.
My whole body still tingled with energy as I emerged from the tower into the morning light. I was so filled with energy I could not concentrate on my morning forms. But Terra continued to turn, and soon Mercy’s lesson was over and it was time to begin Celeste’s lessons.Time did not pause for me to wonder at the new discovery; instead it forced me to press forward with my duties.
“I had forgotten how good discovery could feel,” I admitted to Prudence as we walked to the calefactory together with Celeste. “I had resigned myself to unpleasant truth.”
“Discovery is wonderful,” Celeste called over her shoulder as she skipped ahead. “Did I tell you- the sea and the Red Moon are working together, just as you said. I’m glad I can see it for myself.”
“I hope you continue to observe such wonderful things,” Prudence called. Then she turned her veiled face to me and spoke in a lower voice.
“I’m glad you’ve found fresh inspiration, Grace. I’d rather see you run toward adventure than flee danger.”
“I wish you would run with me,” I said.
Prudence paused for a moment and turned away from me. She took a deep breath and threw her head back as though she longed to toss the veil from her face.
“I’ve decided- I will run with you,” she said. “Perhaps it’s the longer days and the abundance of sunlight, or maybe it’s the early scent of green, growing things in the air, but I can feel spring creeping into my veins, and I long to stretch my limbs. It occurs to me that you and I will do much better if, instead of trying to keep up with our enemies, we strive to surpass them. Do you think the stars will be far enough?”