Title: Gloria Thogsdaughter's School Days
Author: H. Savinien
Disclaimer: Sir Pterry's world and characters! GNU Terry Pratchett.
Author's Note: ineptshieldmaid said - “Talk to me about Gloria Thogsdaughter, who went to the Quirm College with Susan. On a doylist level I think Pterry hadn’t committed to agender dwarfs at that point… but?” I replied - “Some kids assert their gender early and hard, even if it’s socially unacceptable.)” Luckily, Gloria has understanding parents and finds a place where she can be herself.
Summary: Gloria's making her own place in the world, and the Quirm College for Young Ladies is the avenue she's chosen to do it in.
Glorin Thogsson waved goodbye to her parents from the back of the slow coach to Quirm, then turned and introduced herself to the human sitting next to her as “Gloria. I’m off to school in Quirm. Would you like a sandwich? It’s only beef and mustard, but I’ve got lots.”
The old woman looked her up and down, then nodded. “Don’t mind if I do. Call me Nonna Luze, dear. Lovely ribbons you’ve got in your beard.” She held out a paper bag. “Have a biscuit.” They were little and powdery-white with sugar.
Leaving home to take up a trade or seek your fortune was properly dwarfish, and her parents had agreed eventually that attending a school broadly fit into that category. They had sent her off with a bag of gold, as was appropriate for the offspring of a king, and, with that, her carpetbag (including all those little necessities for a young lady, like a selection of small axes and the gold-washed chain mail for special occasions), and a large packet of sandwiches, Gloria was on her way.
Nonna Luze was, as Gloria had guessed from the black clothes and pointy hat, a witch. They knew witches at home and were always respectful to and as far away as possible from any who might be in the neighborhood. Nonna Luze seemed to be one of the more easygoing ones, though, and kept showing Gloria iconographs of her children and grandchildren. She even gave Gloria the address for the shop of one of her daughters who still lived in Quirm and was a milliner, “In case you ever decide to try something a bit less iron-y in the way of hats, dear.” Nonna was a Quirm native on her way home and happy to tell Gloria all about her trip around Sto Lat visiting relatives and generally checking up on things.
“Not as many witches out here on the plains, not like you get up in the mountains. There's mostly me when I have time to look round, and my niece Ilona, and there's a girl over in Big Cabbage who has a way with cows you wouldn't credit. Plenty in Quirm, though,” she added. “No end of witches if you know where to look. We keep ourselves to ourselves, and don't step on one another's toes, stay out of each other's neighborhoods. I imagine dwarfs are similar. Don't delve too near someone elses's workings and so on.”
Gloria nodded. “Mostly. There's...disagreements sometimes.”
Nonna chuckled. “Oh, witches has those too. Generally we try to avoid it. Bad for everyone's nerves.” She patted Gloria's hand. “Now never mind me, you just enjoy the view,” Nonna directed. She then leaned back and promptly fell asleep.
Gloria inspected the scenery. It was mostly cabbages. She pulled out the much-creased letter from her carpetbag instead. It read:
“Quirm College for Young
Ladies [which she had carefully marked out before presenting it to her parents and put in 'People of Good Family' instead to make it easier for everyone.]
21 Three Roses Park, Quirm
Headmistress: Eulalie Butts
(B. Arts, M. Edu., by Special Appt. of the Duke)
To his Majesty, King Thog Gorinsson,
I am pleased to welcome your child to the Quirm College for our next term, and thank you for considering our humble school the appropriate venue for higher education for such a notable family. As you know, we pride ourselves in preparing our students to take their place in society. Please find enclosed a list of all necessary books and equipment.
Term begins on 1 Spune, but students should arrive during the final week of August to have time to properly settle into the dormitories and acclimate to the school and city.
Gloria grinned. She was going to learn maths beyond the practicalities of physics and accounting. She would learn how to speak Brindisi and Troll and Klatchian. And...she wasn't sure what else really. Dancing and fancy manners? Riding? (She hoped that wasn't compulsory. Horses were ridiculously large and she didn't quite know what to make of them if they weren't pulling a cart or coach.) History would be strange, seen from a human perspective.
Several hours of cabbages, Nonna Luze's snoring, and two sandwiches later, Gloria pulled out a pencil and a piece of paper to start writing her parents. She was already the farthest away from home she'd ever been, after all.
Dear Mum and Dad,
How are you and everyone? I am fine and the journey is going well. There are a lot of cabbages, more than you would expect, but apparently you can make beer with them so I suppose that makes sense. The weather is fine. I will post this when I arrive in Quirm which will be a while yet but I'm sure the coach will arrive safe and I will add a PS so you know for sure.
All my love,
Quirm was very full of people. Gloria was no stranger to crowds, she lived in a mine populated by several hundred other dwarfs, but she wasn't used to so many people several feet taller than her and, frankly, she wasn't used to being overlooked. The child of a king (even where king meant something along the lines of “Chief Mining Engineer”) generally isn't.
Nonna Luze was borne away by a crowd of chattering relatives with a backwards wave and a cheerful, “Goodbye, pop round for tea when you've got an afternoon's holiday,” and Gloria was on her own. She had to elbow some men quite sharply in the thigh to get her carpetbag down from the coach. Then she shoved her way over to a corner of the yard to check her map. Her parents had got it off a traveling salesman and carefully marked the route from the coachyard to the school in pencil.
She added a quick P.S. to her letter re: her safe arrival and handed it off to at the coach house with the money to ensure prompt and safe delivery. Then Gloria hitched her carpetbag over her shoulder and set off for Quirm College, map in hand.
Her arrival was greeted with polite fluster by the college servants, who apparently hadn't quite expected students to arrive on foot by themselves at eleven at night. Gloria waited politely while they woke the dorm Matron, then presented herself and her letter for inspection.
“Oh, Your Highness, beg pardon for our lack of preparation. We hadn't realized you'd be coming by coach tonight or we would of course have sent the school buggy to collect you.”
“Er...dwarfs don't really do the 'Highness' title,” Gloria said. “And it's no bother, it can't have been more than a couple of miles.”
“Miss Thogsdaughter, then,” Matron said. “If you say so. We shall put you in the guest room tonight, then you may meet your dorm mates tomorrow morning and shift in to a less-temporary living situation after breakfast, I think.”
Gloria acquiesced cheerfully enough. She was a bit tired after the long coach-ride.
The room they put her in was, unpleasantly, on the second floor above ground. Gloria shifted the bedding to the floor, which helped. She tucked her carpetbag between herself and the wall for safe-keeping and, cuddled around it, went to sleep.
The next morning was, apart from being unconscionably bright and sunny, fairly pleasant. While there wasn't a full Morporkian breakfast (with rat and ketchup), they did have porridge thick and sludgy enough to remind her of home. The other students were nearly all human, in various shades of pinkish and brownish, though only a few more dark-skinned than Gloria herself.
One small, very pale girl wasn't quite human, but Gloria wasn't sure what else she'd got mixed in. Not elf, definitely, but something a bit occult. Her hair poofed out from her head in a cloud, mostly pale yellow, with one streak of black through it like onyx set in white gold. The other one was a troll, which Gloria hadn't expected. She was dark green (like some of the agates they'd found in number 3 seam) and moving slowly in the warm morning, but seemed almost cheerful for a troll. Not-an-elf picked sleepily at eggs, while Troll was munching mica flakes at a glacial pace. Gloria applied herself to her porridge. No sense facing the day without a comfortable weight in her stomach. She'd meet the rest of them soon enough.
The humans, once she was introduced, varied between inoffensive and outwardly scornful, except Not-an-elf, who turned out to be Lady Susan Sto Helit and mostly seemed interested. The troll was Princess Jade of Mount Oolskunrahod and was more polite than Gloria expected. She returned the courtesy. No need to make enemies.
Susan, once she was properly awake, traded vague interest for intense scrutiny.
“How come you've got an ax? I didn't think we were allowed weapons outside of fencing class. Have you tried fencing before? It's boring. Too much about who's stepped forward first and so on.”
“Never tried fencing,” Gloria said. “Dwarfs carry axes. It's cultural.”
“Hm.” Susan frowned for a moment, then shook her head. “I suppose. How old are you? I'm nine. What class will you be in? You're starting later than most people do. I'm in Class Five. I think I should be in Lower Sixth, they're starting algebra this year.”
“Sixty-seven. Miss Butts said First Form to start, then re-evaluation after a month to see if I should be placed somewhere else.”
Susan stopped short. “Sixty-seven? My Granddad is only sixty-eight.”
“Well, he's human, isn't he. Humans grow quicker than dwarfs.”
Susan considered that. She seemed to think deliberately and loudly, as if she didn't trust other people were doing it right. “I see. I'll have to ask Jade how old she is.” She smiled, and the smile seemed nearly as deliberate as the thinking. “I'd better do it soon. If I wait 'til I'm older, people will stop thinking I'm charming and start calling it impertinence.”
Gloria soon found that Susan was best taken in small doses. It wasn't that she was cruel on purpose – which was better than some of the girls – or particularly speciesist. She was just so certain of her own cleverness and rightness and the importance of her own opinions that it was rather wearing.
The discussion of dwarf opera after a particularly dire class in literature about “Other Traditions” (that Gloria had been positive Susan had skived off until she started complaining about it over supper) was a good example. Gloria had been reminiscing fondly about hearing “The Lay of Thrim” performed by an opera company out of Überwald on a touring trip through the mountains.
“Ugghh,” Susan declared flatly. “Opera's just singing bad poetry and romanticized, inaccurate history.”
Gloria's hearing blanked out in a flash of white-hot outrage. After a moment of fork-bending, tooth-grinding offense, she pulled herself together enough to growl, “Dwarf opera's our culture. It's telling the stories of how dwarfs are dwarfs. Just because it doesn't mean anything to you doesn't mean it's not important.”
Susan startled back at the unaccustomed challenge, then bridled. “It's fluffy nonsense and people singing long speeches while bleeding omphhhgf-”
Jade patted Susan gently on the back with the hand that wasn't covering her face. “I tink maybe you go away and tink about not insulting odder people's cultures dat you do not find interesting, Susan. My mum always say it would be a funny old world if we were all de same. Maybe you tink about dat.”
Susan squirmed out of Jade's hold and stalked off, cheeks red.
Gloria stared at Jade, the heat of her anger dissipating like little sparkly fireworks at the unexpected support. “Thanks.”
Jade shrugged. “Outsiders got to stick togedder. She'll be sorry once she tinks about it. Susan very young, and need some extra time to work tings t'rough. We older, even if not grown by dwarf or troll measure.”
Gloria smiled. “Yeah. But...thanks, still.”
The next day, she left a nice piece of pyrite-studded quartz outside Jade's door.
Lessons weren't too bad, usually. Gloria was good at maths and physics, and algebra was a joyous struggle. History was sometimes laughably human-centred, but just as interesting as she'd expected for all that. Literature Mistress approved of Gloria's penchant for epic, but was deeply disappointed in her attempts at metaphor and simile when they got to the more pastoral bits of Poetry. The pristine countryside just wasn't something that dwarfs had much to do with before the sheep turned into mutton and wool and the fields of grain made into beer.1 Logic Mistress occasionally had difficulties with dwarfish practicalities, but Gloria generally agreed with her conclusions once they were explained2.
“D'you want to go out and visit a hatshop with me?” Gloria asked.
Jade cocked her head. “You need a new hat?”
“Not really. I met a witch on the way to school at start of term and it's her daughter's shop. She said I should stop by some time.”
“You don't want to cross one of dem, no,” Jade agreed. She shrugged, accidentally upsetting the paint. “Drat.”
Gloria grabbed the paint tin and managed to get it upright again before it had done more than splotch Jade's leg. They were repainting Jade's school colors, as trolls weren't much for clothes, but Miss Butts wanted everyone to match. Granted, Gloria and Jade weren't ever going to be mistaken for any of the other students, but they did at least clearly Belong.
“I'll just make your legs striped then, how about that?”
Gloria blocked out more stripes to match and set to work. “Anyway, she said I should come to tea sometime and she only gave me that address. You want to come?”
“Half-holiday on Sunday.”
So they went. Nonna Luze turned out to live next door to the shop and had a parlor big enough to comfortably fit Jade. “Lots of family, girls,” she explained.
“You should have told me you were coming,” she scolded Gloria. “And bringing a friend. I'd have got fresh pumice in and not have had to feed you what I could scrounge around the house,” she assured Jade.
“Sorry,” Gloria. “I've got the address now, so I'll write ahead next time.”
“Oh, don't look so dejected, dear, I only want to make sure I've got something nice for you both.”
“Dis is lovely, Nonna,” Jade assured her. “Really nice slate, just der right amount of weathering.”
“Oh, it's nothing, it's nothing,” Nonna Luze demurred. “Only the roof tiles we replaced last summer.”
Gloria asked about Nonna's grandchildren and neither she nor Jade had to worry about anything but nodding, chewing, and “ooohing” politely at iconographs for the next hour.
“Thanks for coming with me,” Gloria said as they were walking home.
Jade burped quietly into her fist. “It was nice to get out and see tings. And der meal was good too.”
Spending time with a troll was odd, but it seemed to be working out for them. Neither of them had much luck with the things humans valued aside from academics. Sport was out after Gloria was removed from the basketball team. They both tried cheer for a few days, but Jade had trouble with the speed of the chants and Music Mistress, who was in charge, wouldn't let Gloria wear her boots. The horse-y girls went into fits whenever they went anywhere near the stables. Literature Mistress kept casting Gloria as a servant or a tree and Jade as a boulder in Theatre, even when Gloria thought they'd read well for the speaking roles. Sneaking out3 to walk to the shops was fun, but Jade tended to get caught, so everybody but Gloria wanted to leave her behind. The two of them went after dusk instead and only for special occasions.
Sometimes that occasion was “Gloria really really wants rat and chips and Jade wants to peek in the troll bar on Gneiss Road to see if she recognizes anyone.” They didn't talk about how much fun it was to explore an alien city, just the two of them, with Jade parting the crowds as majestically as a ship in full sail and Gloria strolling unhurried in her wake.
It worked for them.
1. Jade had even less luck there, as she had difficulties telling one bit of oograh from another and once wrote – in earnest though off-mark dedication – a thousand-word celebration of the sublime beauty of the parsnip.
2. E.g. No, not an actual tortoise, more sort of the idea of a constant advance, surely nobody would be foolish enough to expect an actual tortoise to outrun an arrow.
3. Besides school-sanctioned half-day visits to Nonna Luze or one of her wide network of friends and relations.