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Old Prejudices

Writers: Estelle, Francesca
Date Posted: 10th April 2019

Characters: Jayala, Unana
Description: Jayala finds an apprentice hiding in a practice room.
Location: Harper Hall
Date: month 10, day 10 of Turn 9


Jayala was returning to her room after a rehearsal with one of her
journeymen's chamber groups when she noticed that there was a light in
one of the small practice rooms, but no sound of music coming from
within. With an click of her tongue, she turned down the corridor,
wondering who had been careless enough to leave without turning out the
light. It was most untidy, and wasteful.

She rapped on the door, waited a moment, then turned the handle and
pushed it open - but, to her surprise, the room wasn't empty.

Unana hadn't heard the knock, and she gave a start when the door
opened. Quickly swiping her hands across her face, in the hopes of
removing any trace of tears, she jumped up and, realizing who was in
the doorway, gave an awkward curtsy. Relief that those boys hadn't
found her combined with dread at having been discovered at all. "Sorry
Master Jayala. I probably shouldn't be here. I can just make my way to
my bed." The words were quick, almost frantic. Her eyes darted past
the Master as a rush of adrenaline made her seriously consider
slipping by the woman and running away.

"Wait a moment...Apprentice Unana, isn't it?" Jayala came into the room
and closed the door behind her. She had been dealing with apprentices
long enough to know when something wasn't right, and she softened her
tone. "You're not doing anything wrong, being here. Anyone is allowed to
use the practice rooms in their free time. Although it is a little late."

Unana calmed down slightly at Jayala's words, although she didn't like
that the closed door suggested that the other woman wanted to have a
real conversation. "I was just studying," she said vaguely, gesturing
towards some hides.

"I see." Jayala didn't look too closely at the hides. Instead, she drew
up a chair and sat down across from the girl. "Please - sit. May I ask
how long you've been at the Hall now, Unana?"

The apprentice sat, her back straight and her body angled slightly
towards the door. "Just over two months now." There were moments when
she felt like she had been there for Turns, but usually she still felt
like an outsider.

"So, you've had a little time to settle in." It didn't take the
perception of a master harper to tell that the girl was anything but
settled - and if she wanted to understand why, Jayala knew she would
first have to gain the apprentice's trust. "Are you enjoying your
studies? Maybe there's a class you particularly like?"

Not letting herself think of _those_ boys, a small smile came to Unana's
face. "Vocal music is my favorite," she said, "and I'm starting to learn
to play the gitar." Those moments either singing or playing were what
kept her from any serious thoughts of abandoning her studies.

"The gitar was the first instrument I learned to play - the first I
studied properly. I learned it from my grandmother." There was a warmth
in Jayala's voice as she remembered that time. "Women weren't allowed to
practice a craft in those days, but fortunately, she had studied before
the ban was brought in, and she passed her skills on to me. Now we can
train girls as apprentices. It's not always easy, nothing is at first.
But that's not something you should have to worry about yet." She
studied the girl's expression. "Your main concern right now is your
studies. If there's anything that's getting in the way of that, then I'm
here to help."

Unana wondered what it had been like, before the craft ban. Had women
really all been considered just as capable as men? She realized Jayala
had probably faced many obstacles and yet, there she was, a Master. She
didn't want to rat anyone out, but couldn't help saying softly, "There
are just... some people who don't think girls are good at doing all the
tasks harpers do."

"Here in the Hall?" Jayala frowned. She suspected some of the Masters
held such views, although no-one dared to openly challenge the
Hallmaster's policy. Was it was too much to hope that the old prejudices
would have disappeared among the younger generation by now? "Perhaps
it's time I gave the junior apprentices a lecture on what is and isn't
acceptable here." She could do that without naming Unana, which might be
the easiest way to deal with the problem if it was only minor. But if it
wasn't... "If you want to tell me anything, I promise that it will be in
confidence, and we can find a solution together."

Unana was skeptical. She didn't trust that her tormentors wouldn't
immediately see the connection between the lecture and their treatment
of her. "Oh no, that's not necessary," she said, trying not to sound too
much like she was begging. "Besides, maybe they're right. I'm terrible
at composition, and I don't know how I'm ever going to craft any
instrument." She forced herself to stop talking, suddenly more worried
about being kicked out of the Hall for her lack of ability than some
annoying boys.

Jayala listened carefully. It sounded to her as though this was more
than just thoughtless teasing, and she had to hide her anger that anyone
would treat a young girl that way. She'd been older, at least, when she
left home for the first time, and equipped with the inner confidence in
her ability that her grandmother had instilled in her. She hoped she
could do the same for Unana.

"Those are often the most difficult to begin with," she said. "Many of
our new apprentices will have learned to sing and play a little as
children, but not all of our teaching harpers have the resources to show
how an instrument is made." She also knew that those skills in
particular were rarely taught to girls outside the Hall. Parents, and
some journeymen, considered them unladylike or beyond a woman's ability.

"You've only been here two months. There's time to learn, and there are
teachers to help, if you need it. I could go over some of the basics
with you...or perhaps one of the journeymen or senior apprentices. But
if you were sent here, Unana, it was because someone saw a talent in
you," she went on. "I trust that person's judgement. I know you can
learn the skills you need to be a harper. And..." She smiled. "I think
I'm better qualified to decide who is and isn't a good harper than some
boy apprentice."

Unana couldn't help but return the Master's smile with a small one of
her own. While she didn't have much confidence in her own abilities, she
had no doubts about Master Jayala's qualifications. And so, even if she
wasn't quite able to reconcile how she viewed herself with the Master's
words, it was a good feeling to know that someone believed she belonged
there. "I'll make sure to reach out if I need help," she said earnestly.
She remembered how proud her parents had been to have a harper in the
family, and how excited she had felt her first days at the Harper Hall.
She would try not to let any boys keep her from studying and doing her best.

Jayala nodded, approving. "Good. I'm glad we had this conversation,
Unana. If you ever need to - to talk through a difficulty you're facing,
then I hope you'll remember that my door is always open. Apprentices are
the future of our craft, and that is always my first priority." She
intended to have a word with the Master of Apprentices the next day on
that very subject. Bullying, especially of their small number of girls,
could not be tolerated in the Hall.

She got to her feet. "Well, I'll leave you to your studies. Don't stay
up too late. I don't want to hear that you've been yawning through your
morning classes."

Unana nodded, looking down at the hides. Maybe she would finish up some
work before heading to bed. "I won't. Thank you, Master Jayala." It felt
good to know someone was on her side.

Last updated on the April 12th 2019

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