Chapter One "Blessingham School"
Genevieve's tower was slender and tall, an architectural conceit added at the last moment to the otherwise undistinguished structure of Blessingham School. Gaining access to this afterthought could not be accomplished on the way to or from anywhere in particular. Climbing the hundred steps to the single room at the top was both inconvenient and arduous. Despite the nuisance, Genevieve had chosen the tower room. For the quiet, she said. For the view. For the brightness of the stars at night.
Though these were at best only half reasons, they satisfied Mrs. Blessingham better than the real reason would have done -- a reason which had to do with the billowing foliage of the surrounding forest, the isolation of the starsplashed night, the silence of the sky. On stormy nights the boughs surged and heaved darkly as a midnight sea, and on such nights Genevieve would throw the casements wide and lean into the wind, the white curtains blowing like flung spray as she imagined herself carried jubilantly through enormous silken waves toward an unknown shore.
The imagined sea, the waves, the inexorable movement of the waters were implicit in the instructions her mother had given her. The jubilance, an emotion she had touched rarely, and only at the edges, was an interpolation of her own which, she feared, might be shaming if anyone knew of it but herself.
As Mrs. Blessingham would have observed: the towerwas nowhere near the sea; Genevieve had never seen thesea since she had been no farther from Langmarsh Housethan a single trip to Evermire; Genevieve, like other nobledaughters, would not have been allowed to swim. As Genevieve did not wish to explain: hersea was not a planetarywetness, exactly. It was inside her as much as it was outthere in the night, and though she wasn't quite sure whather instructions amounted to vis-a-vis swimming or sailingor floating, they meant more than simply disporting herselfin the water.
Every evening Genevieve submitted patiently as her hair was braided by the lady's maid trainee -- who took twice the time Genevieve would have taken to do it herself. Each evening she was courteous as she was helped into her nightgown, though she was perfectly capable of getting into a nightgown without assistance. She waited calmly, without fidgeting, as the bed was turned down, and she smiled her thanks when the trainee departed with a curtsey, shutting the door behind her. The moment the latch clicked, however, Genevieve slipped from her chair and put her ear to the door, hearing the retreating clatter of hard soled shoes down steep stone stairs. Only when that sound had faded did she open the window and lean out into the night to evoke the ocean feeling, the inner quiet that dissolved daytime stiffness and propriety in a fluidity of water and wind, a thrust and swell of restless power.
Though by now, her twentieth year, she did this habitually, even earnestly, it had begun as a requirement. The ritual was among those her mother had taught her, and every night, whether in storm or calm, Genevieve did as she had been taught to do. Standing in the window with closed eyes, she focused outward, cataloging and shutting out all ordinary sounds: rustle of the trees, shut out; murmur of voices from the kitchen wing, shut out; clack ofwhen the watchman's heels on the paving of the cloisters, out; whisper of song from thesiren-lizards on the roof-tiles, out; bleat of goat in the dairy, out; each day-to-day distraction removed to leave the inner silence that allowed her to listen.
The listening could not be merely passive. Practitioners, so Genevieve's mother had emphasized, must visualize themselves as spiders spinning lines of sticky hearkening outward in the night, past time, past distance or direction, toward something that floated in the far, waiting to be heard. Sometimes she spun and spun, remaining in the window for an hour or more, and nothing happened. Sometimes she heard a murmur, as though some immense far-off thing had swiveled an ear and asked, "Where?" or "Who?" or even, once or twice, frighteningly, "Genevieve?"
And once in a great while the web trembled as though the roots of the mountains and the chasms of the sea were resounding with song. At such times, her body reverberated to the harmonics as she retreated to her bed, and sometimes the singing continued during the night, or so she assumed, for her body still ached with it when she woke in the morning.
Senior girls had their pick of rooms in order of their achievement scores in DDR: discipline, dedication, and religion. Genevieve, ranking first, had chosen the tower room.
"Rapunzel, Rapunzel," her friend Glorieta teased, quoting from a yore-lore fairy tale.
"Let down your hair," whooped her twin, Carlotta.
"Better let down her nose," said snide Barbara, a resentful and distant runner-up. "It's longer."
Silence, then a spate of talk to cover embarrassment.
"Your nose is your misfortune," Mrs. Blessingham had said on more than one occasion. "But your talents make up for it."
It was a hawkish nose, one that ran, sosaid the wags, in Genevieve's family. As for the talents, no one knew of them but Genevieve -- and Mrs. Blessingham, who was one too many.
"The nose would look better on the Marshal than it does on you," Glorieta had admitted, referring to Genevieve's father. "Pity it had to be on the female side, though even on you it has distinction."
Genevieve often daydreamed herself away from Haven, to a place where her nose was quite normal, even beautiful. In her dream world, the singing she listened for with such effort was simply part of the environment, a song she herself could produce without anyone telling her to hush. The fantasy was pervasive. On occasion Genevieve would come to herself in the middle of a meal, unable for a moment to remember where she was because she had been in a place more vivid than reality...
Sheri S. Tepper is the author of several resoundingly acclaimed novels, including The Margarets, The Companions, The Visitor, The Fresco, Singer from the Sea, Six Moon Dance, The Family Tree, Gibbon's Decline and Fall, Shadow's End, A Plague of Angels, Sideshow, and Beauty, which was voted Best Fantasy Novel of the Year by readers of Locus magazine. Tepper lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.