Quasi-Indefatigable Xenolith



The Convocation Is Introduced

For the record, I have learned over the years that there are some people who simply cannot be reconciled to what society offers as their "fate".

On the island of Firsthome, there are just as many expectations as there is in the society that we are accustomed to. There are places to be for everyone and tasks to do, all meant to serve the needs of a larger culture and to satisfy the base appetites of typical people in the mass. Young women of noble birth, such as the disastrous woman that collected the slave Daavor from his shipwreck, spend the bulk of their time at the Convocation school, learning the ways of the Ladies they might someday become. Men such as Daavor spend their days laboring less than diligently at some vocation or another that serves the purposes of the Convocation of Ladies, which labor seems to include most anything that might break a fingernail or muss a fine hair-do. Regardless of how fulfilling such tasks might be, we are expected to fill the role that our society lays out for us.

My school was interested in introducing me to such things as science and math to prepare me to contribute to some heavily-engineered economy. The Convocation school is introducing its charm-school "misses" to such things as proper poise and poetry to prepare them to be successful in a world that seems to revolve around beauty pageants. Therefore, I am at a terrible disadvantage in that I am writing about a world to which I simply cannot relate. Sometimes, I love my job as a writer, but today is not one of those days.

I speak of beauty pageants because it is toward such an event that I am steering us. It is not a very high-level contest, more like a practice run through which "misses", or Convocation Ladies-to-be, learn the craft that comes with their role in the society of Firsthome. To help you feel the scene better, it is much like how a school play will look beside some Broadway show, though to most of these fifteen-year-old misses, this is as serious as competing for the title of "Miss World". In fact, for one particular girl named Coryn, this and every contest, no matter how insignificant, is approached as if its winning were a matter of life or death.

In the elegant preparation and dressing area, splashed with floral arrangements and curtained bays of dressing tables and padded stools which smell ever so faintly of mint, Coryn slaps away the hand of a plain enough woman that seems to apply her face with foundation a bit too lightly for the teen's tastes. "Can I get some competent women over here?" she calls out to anyone willing to listen, which seems to be no one in particular. Everyone who has spent any time at all with Coryn has a quick understanding of the sort of woman she will be: demanding, slightly crass, violently dismissive of her physical and character flaws, yet enormously proud of what Lady-like attributes she has acquired during her school years. In a shorter description, upon her expected investment at the ripe age of sixteen, she will likely be a very typical Lady. Perhaps she is a bit loathsome to our eyes, but in the world of the Convocation, she will be a goddess from which such behavior is expected and frankly envied by others. If you are catching on at all, you could easily exchange the appellation "Lady" with "Bubble-gum teen idol witch" and all the other details will work themselves out just fine.

The poor make-up woman, some years her senior, is trying desperately to cover over some obvious facial skin blemishes on our little starlet. She is resigned to her place as a servant, unlike myself and many of you attentive readers. She is a dame and I do not choose to attach a name to her, as she is not noteworthy to the Convocation of Ladies as an individual. Like so many, she is a nameless prop upon which more popular people rely. The woman attended the Convocation School in her youth, but was put onto something like the "dame track" when she couldn't handle the pressure of the student contests and failed a key poetry examination. Thereafter, she spent her school days learning various cosmetological techniques in order to serve, in this present case, obnoxious prima-donna Misses. Having lost the chance to be a Lady long ago, this make-up assistant now only hopes to one day serve a more gracious and successful (pageant-wise) Lady, applying rogue to a much finer and less acne-ridden face. However, for now, the toleration of this clientele of posturing and abusive teens seem her lot. Another slap is offered as she attempts to ply her trade. "I cannot believe that I must endure such sorry help!" Coryn looks around with some consternation. "Am I at the right pageant? Or is this some lame-o parade?"

As this horrid girl and I allude to, there are Misses and then, there are Misses. With her obviously false elitism of calling other Misses "lame-o", the young woman's view of any contest "beneath" her as some carnival parade, and her slapping about of those of a lower caste, Coryn demonstrates for all of us the kind of overt behavior that you and I wish to have been schooled out of her a few years back. Disconcertingly, a Lady can look down upon and mistreat whomever she pleases, but a far better Lady has hopefully learned to keep such contempt private and wear her "pageant face" and attendant manners as often as possible. As we can see, Coryn lacks this reserve and doesn't seem compelled to develop such a thing at this point. "One would expect a better level of service for senior competitions!"

Just at this point, another woman approaches Coryn's preparation bay. She is somewhat older than the despised dame and, by her dress and demeanor, of a higher status. "Is there a problem, Miss?" This is the Matron of this pageant and as such, can actually have more direct interaction with the contestants. Though the Matron acts cordial, it is obvious to see that she has an aloof aire concerning this pubescent monster.

"I want this...," the flustered Miss could not seem to find titles contemptible enough to describe her serving dame, so she just motioned toward the offender. "I want this replaced immediately!"

I know that this is a distracting place to mention something, but as your semi-omniscient author, I know things that will take on a larger meaning later in the story. This particular Matron is not the one typically assigned to manage this particular contest. The regular Matron has suddenly fallen ill under somewhat suspicious circumstances and her superior has chosen to take her place. It will be important to know that this highly placed Matron is named Symantha. She will figure prominently in events that will play out soon enough.

The Matron eyed the situation coolly and curtsied a little too sharply. "As you wish." The older woman whispered in the dame's ear to step aside and, with a gesture, called another dame to take the place of the first.

As another distraction, I must reveal that the first dame was a better make-up artist than her replacement, but Coryn felt compelled to lump it after she declared, "Finally! I get a little decent service!" Even in a place like Firsthome, there can be some twisted flavor of justice.

The rejected dame was instructed to move to another bay and another Miss, both far different from the one we have already observed. Where Coryn was surrounded by numberless beauty products and a fleet of dames fussing over hair, fingers, toes, and face, the Miss in the bay adjacent had only a single dame brushing out her long black hair. This wholly different sort of Miss is named Mullicynda. Because she is a large character in this story, larger even than Coryn, who would have been infuriated at the notion. I will often refer to the her as Mulls, which is far easier to type and happens to be the name she is called by her familiars. "Watch out, Mulls!" Coryn calls out from the other side of the privacy curtain between their bays. "That one's likely to make a mess of you!"

Mulls pursed her lips, which seemed to need hardly any lipstick at all. "I will be vigilant," she replied back. The arriving dame kept her eyes averted from Mulls, as she was taught to do. She simply opened her make-up kit and reached for the traditional foundation. Observing this, Mulls took the dame's hands into her own, a breach of protocol which made the older woman noticeably nervous. "Let's just freshen me up a little. Nothing heavy if you please." The dame shivered at being directly addressed by a miss. Although this was all terribly wrong, the woman found herself with a tiny smile and she breathed in gratefully, kneaded her shaking hands into calmness, and set to following Mull's gentle instructions.

The Matron Symantha observed all of this from her place in the periphery of things. She has been watching Mulls for several years now and for some private reason that I choose not to discuss right now. It is enough to mention that she is watching things happen and making notes, as you readers might wisely do.

As I said before, Ladies can behave pretty much as they please. I would not be wrong in revealing that most upper-crust women interpret their status as a license to be obnoxious and haughty. One could almost say that there was a unwritten rule that Ladies were cruel and dictatorial in private to their servants and models of graciousness in public, especially on the pageant stage and at various "red-carpet" functions. To craft a term, Ladies were assumed to be professionally hypocritical.

On the other hand, Mulls is a very different miss and therefore interpreted her societal role differently as well. Where the typical Lady acts graceful when the situation demands it, Mulls simply is graceful. Where the typical Lady looks beautiful after hours of cosmetic "surgery", Mull wakes up in the morning looking beautiful. Every virtue a Lady was advertised to have was embodied in this quiet and unassuming girl, without the "excess baggage" of having to work at it. A Lady can behave as she pleases and Mullicynda seems pleased to actually be a genuinely kind and generous young woman, as opposed to just, as we might say, "playing one on TV".

So, as this fifteen-year-old senior Miss of the Convocation School leans back in her make-up chair, her attending dames happily go about what little effort is needed to prepare her for this latest practice beauty pageant. The dames would have served other girls as assigned, even the rude Coryn, as that is their role in society, but the time is spent so much more pleasantly in the service of a kindly young woman like Mulls. Perhaps they would find some appropriate way to bind themselves to her service permanently. Frankly, Mulls has always had a line of dames begging to serve her, a fact which you diligent readers, the observant Symantha, and I dutifully note.

There is some clatter and vociferous angst coming from Coryn's bay, as seems increasingly typical. Make-up is running because the contestant is sweating. I will offer that the contestant is sweating because she is afraid she is not going to win this pageant. She is obviously not going to win the pageant because she competes against Mullicynda and the truth is that Mulls almost always wins. The sweat, and Coryn underneath it, knows this truth all too well and hates the circumstance into which both sweat and girl has been thrust. She has always been able to manipulate contest rosters so as to avoid facing her "best friend" on the stage, pitting herself against obviously inferior stock and racking up an impressive and also so-far uninterrupted string of pageant crowns. Coryn had even commissioned a special display case for all of her tiaras that now stands as the prominent fixture in the dormitory room that she and Mulls share. What exactly will she do after today if her manipulated winning streak ends? "Mulls?" she calls out from her chair.

"Yes, Coryn?"

The first girl swallows hard which makes her sweat even more. "Break a leg!" she manages in the most sugary and manufactured voice she has ever attempted.

Mulls lays a hand on the arm of the dame who was touching up her face, gently interrupting her. "Thank you!" she calls out over the screen between herself and her friend. "Best of luck to you!"

Of course, Coryn scowls at the genuine sentiment of her roommate. Make-up is getting into her ears and she is being completely honest for one of the few times in her life. She really wishes desperately that Mullicynda would suddenly break her leg and drop out of the competition.

All of this has been hawkishly recorded from a discrete distance, not just by me for the entertainment of you fine readers, but by the Matron Symantha who is likely far more knowledgeable and interested in this little exchange than I have likely allowed you kindly readers to be.

I am now going to jerk everyone into a tangential description that I hope will be revealing.

Firsthome is a beautiful island, from my current vantage point. It is that perfume-smelling, flower-garden, nary-an-unsightly-weed sort of beautiful, like some fairy-tale theme-park. You can imagine lithesome maidens in finely-tailored dresses skipping about in their bare feet while deer and kittens frolic about on a manicured lawn that stretches forever. You can imagine a muscular knight riding over a scenic ridge, bedecked in shining silver armor, dropping to a knee before a gracious young beauty with a dainty crown on her perfect brow. The knight will surely let forth with a sonnet of absolute devotion and then break into a poem concerning his next crusade to slay some dragon or another to prove his undying love for said maiden. I suppose if you have ever been to, say, the Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria and spread that picture onto a green Scottish island without all the wind, the result would be Firsthome.

It is all real enough. There really are manicured lawns and turretted castles into eternity. Well, there are no deer and the Ladies of the Convocation seem to prefer lapdogs to kittens, but those are just details. The girls are not quite as lithesome as they look on our television, but they are quite ravishing in a fine ballroom dress. There really are muscular guys in tights rather than armor that bow courteously and vie for a Lady's affections with sugary words, but no one needs to sing about slaying dragons because there are simply none to be found. These men seem more the romantic troubadour sort, suitably handsome and seemingly designed just to take a Lady's hand and complete her social ensemble. This is really as it seems: a fairy princess land plucked from every pre-pubescent girl's fondest dreams.

However, I must say that Firsthome doesn't really work for Mullicynda. For her, it is just too frivolous a place. She feels compelled to be more than just a beauty queen, though I have to honestly say that there is no such role upon Firsthome for a graduate of the Convocation School, as far as we can see presently.

I think I am done with my little tangent now. I thank you marvelous readers for your indulgence.

Coryn did very well in all the various phases of the pageant, probably better she ever had before. In the talent portion of the competition, she depended upon her "ol' reliable", a poetry reading that she has worked on constantly since she was five years old and still running about the nursery as the plucky girl that wanted nothing less than living in the royal palace and having a hundred personal servants. It was work honed over those ten years and she was now really intensely good with it and somehow, in spite of her fear of competing against Mulls, she had managed a flawless execution.

There was a new dietary program put into action a few weeks back as Mulls was a bit more buxom than her roommate and research showed that the judges for this contest liked to see a bit more meat on the bones. Coryn had a strategy board that she kept in a secret place away from her roommate that had biographies of each competition's judges and their scoring records going back years, allowing her to plan each step of her performance and look to appeal to each judge she had to impress at one point or another. Like I have said before, this girl didn't like to lose.

Mullicynda was just Mulls, as always. She thought it would be fun to try a formal dance for the talent competition and had picked a gawky-enough wallflower of a young man for her partner because she felt like he needed a confidence boost. What passed as her preparation seemed to be reading from old books that she hid away from the prying eyes of the dorm Matron. She had only casually met two of the judges from previous competitions and spent only a brief time meeting the ones that she didn't know at a reception before this pageant began, nothing much more than a handshake. I think it is safe to say that the young Miss didn't give much thought to currying favor, at least not nearly as much as Coryn.

Mulls' performances were, as was typical, also flawless. However, as she wanted her friend Coryn's record of back-to-back contest wins to remain untarnished, the slightly younger girl feigned a stumble in her dance routine. Her poor partner, who was mortified that he may have caused the point loss, was difficult to console, but Mulls took the extra effort backstage to convince him that she had made the mistake and that he had done a marvelous job after only four practice sessions. From the look in his eyes, I can tell that the boy loved Mulls, as most every decent person did, and that her attentions to his feelings stoked that love into near-worship.

From the shadows, the substitute Matron of the pageant made some notes on a small clipboard after her observations of these events. All I can report of her reaction is a slightly raised eyebrow and just a hint of the curled lip of a smile.

So, Coryn won her tiara with much satisfaction, trying to be gracious while loving the feeling of rubbing Mulls' face in her rare loss. "It is a terrible shame that you picked your dance partner so poorly, Mulls. I know the best dancer on the island and could have introduced you to him." Coryn is back at her preparation bay, getting make-up stripped off her face so as to protect her delicate and somewhat spotty complexion.

Mullicynda is also back at her place, removing her own slight make-up job, having already gently dismissed her dames with much thanks for their time. "Oh, he was a very nice boy. Perhaps I will dance with him again, just for fun."

The older girl harrumphed. "No wonder you lost," she seemed to say under her breath, but also loud enough that her conquered roommate could hear. For Coryn, winning contests was a total commitment and "fun" was something that losers and future dames engaged in.

The younger girl was characteristically graceful about the whole matter, knowing her friend well enough and also knowing that Coryn needed to do these things to protect her ego. As for herself, Mullicynda had all the honors she needed from the quiet gratitude that was borne of the kindness she had rendered to her attending dames, her clumsy dance partner, and a whole string of others that played parts in this scene that were so small that I didn't bother mentioning them. It was easy to let Coryn have the glory she craved: her roommate's joy in victory was payment enough.

Symantha walked around the corners of these things and although she seemed busy about the closing up of this contest, she had viewed it all and, like Mulls, felt well-rewarded for her time.

Next Chapter...

Copyright, Jason Nemrow. All rights reserved.