Rafe walked with slow steps, gazing around like a foreign sightseer. He felt . . . well, not happy, but far more at peace than he had for ages.
The University district was displayed to nostalgic perfection. High haze, waning moon, and a slight touch of fog turned the night pearly grey with diffused light, and every building from the Great Hall to Felman’s Bookshop was coyly mysterious with new shadows and strange illumination. Pale gold beams spread from the hearts of streetlamps to pool on cobblestones, their cones of light possessing the blurred geometric beauty of an artist’s angelic visitation. Pale golden halos surrounded the various windows of steam-filled cookshops, dilapidated student digs, weathered but respectable masters’ lodgings, and the always busy, always noisy taverns.
I’m not even drunk yet and I’m maudlin for my old University days.
Here the seed of the idea of his school had been planted, and now he was returning in search of partners and colleagues to nurture that idea to full growth and reality. He loved the University in all its messy, complicated, political, mercenary glory—and he wanted others to love it too. Most of all, he wanted it to be better. Genius could be found anywhere, not only among the ambitious youth of the Middle City, but among the lawless denizens of Riverside, the lazy Hill nobility . . . even country rustics counting cows proved to have their surprises. He looked fondly to his left, where Micah walked beside him, dressed like a boy in her student robe once more. He had begged Micah to come with him, but in truth she hadn’t needed much persuasion. The University was not ready for her, but his school was, and those who would not join for Rafe might join for Micah and her peculiar brand of genius.
On his right, Florian sighed an exaggerated sigh of ennui. He had no particular attachment to the University environs, and for a moment Rafe regretted bringing him along. He had said he wanted to know more about Rafe’s school, but that had probably been flirting rather than genuine interest, and Rafe had enough experience that he should have known the difference. No matter. If Florian was patient, Rafe would make it up to him in one of the alleyways afterwards. Rafe had good memories of some of those alleyways.
“Ah! Here we are!” Rafe stood before the entry of the Ink Pot, arms outstretched as if to embrace the entire tavern. “Home sweet home, am I right, Micah?”
Micah pushed past him and went in, no doubt eager to get into the warmth. “No, Rafe. You never lived here and I never lived here, so why are you calling it home?”
Rafe followed her with enthusiasm undimmed. “Quite right, Micah. I should say ‘second home, sweet second home.’ Look, there are Larry, Thaddeus, and Tim at cards. There’s Matthew—”
“There’s Joshua,” Micah interrupted. “I shall buy him a drink and tell him congratulations.” And she abruptly left Rafe’s side without even asking whether he wanted something to drink.
“Is Micah annoyed with you?” Florian asked, interested at last. “Maybe he thought it would just be the two of you attending this reunion?”
Rafe shook his head even as he felt a twinge of doubt. “Micah doesn’t fuss about things like that.”
Florian glanced at the table where Joshua and Matthew were looking over Thaddeus’s shoulder and laughing at his hand while he swore at them and tried to hide his cards. His eyes widened, flicked back to Micah, and he smiled very slightly. “Why don’t I go get us some beer, since Micah and his friend are taken care of?”
Rafe frowned. Something was . . . off, but before he could dwell on it his friends had seen him and were calling him over in loud welcome. Tim, Larry, and Thaddeus paused in their game to greet him warmly, Matthew and Joshua located an extra table to add to their growing group, and just as they were getting settled again, Micah returned, followed by a server bearing a tray with a bottle of actually good wine, and the cacophony of greetings began all over...