We fast forward 18 years and we find that Tonii and her father have grown their business and now have four boats in their fishing fleet. Tonii has an education that is reserved more for those families that could afford to send their children to the best academies within Lollashire and those select few that have made the trip beyond the ‘shires and been able to travel abroad. Her father oversaw her education, teaching her all that he knew and by the time she was nine he knew that she needed more than what he was able to provide having exhausted his knowledge base the year before and was now learning as he taught her.
He made an appeal to the council that oversaw such matters within the ‘shire and they agreed to have Tonii tested. None among the council believed that a girl coming from such a background would ever be able to pass such rigorous exams but her father was well respected among his peers and among those, some of whom were on the council, that purchased the fish that he caught. He was known to be honest and just with his customers, helpful to those in need, and it was evident that he had some kind of rudimentary education.
Tonii’s father brought her before the council 12 days before her tenth year and walked with her to the massive wood and iron doors of the council’s chambers. He knew he would have to leave her but he also knew that she was more than ready. He grabbed the oversized iron forged rings and opened the heavy doors and as they swung outward he stepped to the side, leaving Tonii standing alone in the entrance. This is how it was done, a ritual of sorts. She had to stand in the entrance and then be called on to enter into the chamber. She stood looking into the depths of the chamber realizing that it had one continuous wall. There weren't any corners within. It was just a large circular room with a ceiling that seemed to go on to the heavens. She let her eyes drift upwards careful not to move her head. She didn't want to appear nervous or in awe of such a room. As her gaze shifted upward she realized that she couldn't actually see where the ceiling or roof ended. It was so high that there was just a dim point of light, a skylight of some sort perhaps, to give it an end. The members of the council were seated inside. A man’s voice shrouded in ages of wisdom called out to her to enter into the chamber and to stand before them.
The five members of the council all wore blood red robes with the crest of Lollashire emblazoned across the shapeless fronts of the robes and they were seated in a semi-circle with a lone chair known as the Intwistatien set out from them at a distance of about 10 feet. Tonii made her way into the chamber and stood in front of the chair, facing the council. She was asked her name and her age and what kind of schooling she had. She answered and then was instructed to sit in the chair for the questions that would determine whether or not she would gain admittance into one of the academies. She answered them correctly and as quickly as they were asked until the oldest member of the council, an old crone known as “Re” leaned her red robed body forward and focused her ancient yellowed eyes on Tonii and asked in a halting voice that was a cross between a screech and a whisper, “What is the true nature of the Loch?”
Tonii was taken aback by the unexpected question. Up until this point all of the questions were based on numbers, letters, general knowledge of the known world, the history of the Islands, but this was something that she didn't know the answer to and as she sat there for what seemed an eternity but really was but a few seconds she wondered if this was one of the questions her father had warned might be asked. He called it a Kehraeic question, one which didn't have an answer. There was no right or wrong response other than not to respond at all and she thought that might be what she was going to have to do. She slowly drew in a breath as she looked slowly from one wizened face to another and then back to Re whom she saw had a bit of a thin crooked smile stretched across her age cracked face.
She lowered her head just a bit. A test, everything is a test; her father had told her often enough and surely this was a test as well. Not the question but how she responded to the question that had no answer.
She quickly flashed to a mental image that she had of the mother she never knew. It was made up from descriptions that she had elicited from her father over the years. She could see her, the mother that never held her in her arms, never sang her to sleep while rocking her gently, an image that was so clear she felt as if she was real. In the few brief seconds that had seemingly stretched to several lifetimes she had an answer for Re and the council.
She brought her eyes level with theirs, sat up a little straighter and said in a clear, melodic voice, “The true nature of the Loch is something that cannot be seen or touched. It must be felt with your heart for the true nature of the Loch is what we are, what we have been, what we will be and what the Loch will be is because of what we do now.”
The council gasped collectively and they all looked stunned except for Re. She sat there staring at Tonii, nodding her head and mouthed silently to her “Yes”
Tonii had not only answered all their questions correctly but she also provided an answer to the last question, a question that had been asked of every potential student and to date there had only been a handful that had dared answer, the last being Seejay Keeves. She was however the first girl to ever put forth an answer to the council’s query.
Her admittance was approved and she entered the Academie Valan vo’ Du. The head of the academy was Re. Re turned out to be much kinder than she looked in person and personally oversaw Tonii’s first year at the school. With Re overseeing her first year Tonii progressed quickly with her studies and by the start of her third year at the academy the council had to meet to decide on Re’s request to have Tonii advanced a couple of academic levels. There was little debate as the council knew that Tonii had more than proven herself in the short time she had been at the school and her advancement was readily approved.
The school was just a few hours walk from the fishing village so Tonii was able to come home often to see and work with her father on his boat. He worried that she was spending too much time with him when she should be making friends and spending time with children her own age. It’s not that she was without friends for she had become quite popular at the academy despite being something of a curiosity with her background. She was with children who came from a life she couldn't possibly imagine but she thought to herself they could never imagine the wonderment and beauty of her life either.
She missed her father and she knew that he missed her as he had no one else in his life. He always seemed to be working or in motion, a non-stop blur of energy. If he wasn't out on the water catching fish he was cleaning the ones he did catch to take to market, or mending the sails, or doing much needed repairs and upkeep to the Holt. The only time he ever slowed was when she came home from school to visit. He would make them something to eat and ask her questions about the things she was learning. He would sit and listen in awe, realizing that his little girl was growing up right before his eyes. He could swear he could see her change as she spoke. He knew that her course was set and was going to have a good life ahead of her.
If he really knew what her future held he wouldn't have ever let her leave.
To be continued…..