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I passed the class! I passed the test! I am now officially a Novice Illustrator. It will look so good on my transcript when I apply for Fourth Form.
The funny thing is that the test included a live sketch of two songbirds from the Rainbow Rainforest. They were so cute, and so fast! I had no trouble sketching them, though. The proctor asked me why, and I explained that I practice on my mice all the time, so I'm used to drawing small fast critters.
Then what does she do, but buy a quartet of mice from me for future tests! Three flats (white, black, fawn) and one Squiggle (white). So that license totally paid for itself, with some left over. The Squiggle Mice are still not cheap, but she wanted one for the texture difference. I pity the novices who have to try sketching that for the first time! It took me a long time to learn how.
My schedule is such a mess this year. I talked with some people I know at the Domestic Animals Guild and arranged special dispensation to take "Genetics for Breeders" at their Guildhall. Technically that is a Trade class, not a Science class, because it focuses on the practical applications. But I convinced my science teacher and my academic advisor that this class fits perfectly into my study plan for Science: Genetics -- and of course they know about my Squiggle Mice. I already know a fair bit about genetics and animal breeding, but this class should expand on that and give me the transcript credit. It's still going to be hard fitting in a trip to the Guildhall in the middle of the day. All my other classes are crammed into the very beginning or very end of the schoolday.
This year's art class is "Intermediate Watercolors." The whole class focuses on watercolors -- working on dry paper, and wet paper, and so forth. Third trimester covers fancy tricks like sprinkling salt into wet paint to make spots. (The book says this is the best way to make rose-moles on trout. I read ahead.) This will be the first time I've devoted an entire class to just one medium. The materials are expensive again. Thank goodness I know Vloroshaal -- he has promised me an intermediate set of Rainforest Glory paints for wholesale cost plus shipping.
More golden Squiggle Mice have arrived! There were three in the new litter, but one of them died after a few days. Dissection revealed a heart defect. At least, I think it did. Even under my strongest magnifying glass (I'm really grateful for that field illustration class, now) the bits are so tiny that it's difficult to be certain about anything.
Sraffi commiserated with me. We expected this would happen, sooner or later, because of the inbreeding. All the Squiggle Mice ultimately descend from Jiju. Setting the squiggle coat and setting the new colors all require inbreeding. So it's no surprise that a defect showed up. I've lost plenty of mice before, but this is the first time I lost a really valuable one to a birth defect. It's disappointing.
My new set of intermediate watercolor paints arrived from Vloroshaal. In addition to the basic colors, this one has several in-between colors plus pink and white. My favorite of the new colors is orchid -- sort of a deep purple that can lean pinkish or bluish depending on how I handle it. The blue-green is kind of murky, though. Vloroshaal says that there isn't a truly superior pigment for that shade. I may just stick with mixing my own.
So far I've only painted from memory. I want to take the kit out and paint some flowers or birds in the park. Then I should get a better feel for what these can really do. I love the way Rainforest Glory paint flows from my brush, though. It never clumps up like the cheaper paints do, and it catches the light more. The advanced set has twenty-four colors ... I'm not sure what I'd even do with that many paints!
For my birthday we all went to the town center, then walked up and down the shopping streets until we got tired and caught a cablecar home. I like riding the cablecar with my family because each time it turns, the centrifugal force pushes everyone together.
I really like my gifts. Mom crocheted a vest for me; it's dark green with tan wheat growing up all around the bottom edge. Dad bought me a set of fancy watercolor brushes. Egram bought me a hole mouse finger puppet made from real fur. Inaleir gave me a tiny little knife for carving garnishes out of vegetables. I think I'll volunteer to cook supper soon, so I can try making garnishes.
Sraffi stopped by today and told me that a customer asked to buy four of the fawn Squiggle mice for the pet show circuit. Apparently he wants to test their popularity. Sraffi only had two in stock so she came to see if I could spare two more. I said yes; the publicity benefits us if they win ribbons. This will set back my breeding program a bit, but I could really use the extra money too.
Well, I sold the mice and hired an assistant mousekeeper. Sronald is Sraffi's nephew. He likes all kinds of pets, although his specialty is breeding snakes. He wants to learn how to raise mice for ... well, snake food, presumably. I made very clear to him that these are fancy pets and not feeder mice. He seems to like the mice, though, so I think this should work out just fine.
My classmate Laadren asked me to a dance today. I turned him down. Boys are loud and pushy. (I am not attracted to girls. I just think it will be a while before the boys grow up enough to interest me. Besides I am busy with school, which is far more important than dating.) I don't have anything to wear to a fancy dance anyway. Where would I ever go that I'd need a dress? So I don't own any dresses.
My sister wants to kill me. I found some bottles of salt in the kitchen, three different kinds, and I wanted to see if they would perform differently when sprinkled over wet watercolor paper. (They do. Oh, the sunset I made with the red salt!) It turns out those were for Inaleir's class project. She's taking a class in cooking this year and her project details the effects of fancy salts on meat dishes. But now she can't finish her project today because I used up her salts.
I feel so bad. I will write a note to Inaleir's teacher explaining what happened, and send the sunset painting with it, so she can get an extension. I've also promised to let Inaleir borrow my good watercolors for her illustrations. I hope she forgives me. Then again, I eventually forgave her for letting out my mouse the night before the big exhibit, so I figure we're even. What are sisters for, eh?
So there's this stupid dance at school, and now my parents found out about it somehow, and they both want me to go. They've nagged me all day. I say that boys are annoying and dances are boring and I've got heaping cartons of homewriting, and they insist that every girl goes to her ... whatever-it-is dance thingy. Sometimes, I think I hate my family.
With the door closed, I can hardly hear them shouting. I should have a good twenty ticks or so before they build up enough steam to burst into my room. That's enough to time to finish the notes for my "Genetics for Breeders" paper.
Today I received a letter from Imoshavi about her baby boy. She says that he is the cutest thing ever and she is happy to have him. The husband hasn't worked out so well; he still does not have a job. I think Imoshavi is trying to be cheerful but it's not very convincing. She warned me to be extra careful with my contraceptive tea.
I think I will just skip sex until after I finish my education. It doesn't sound like I'm missing much anyway.
My parents are still nagging me to attend the dance. Finally I said that if they wanted me to go so badly, they could pay for the licenses and the dress AND something else to make it worth my while. Mom said that would be just fine. Then I asked for a female golden mouse, unrelated to any of my current mice, to speed up my breeding program. Mom kind of squeaked because that is not a cheap gift, especially on top of the presumably expensive dress, but she agreed. I figure, it's more money than I could possibly make in the two hours I'd be at the dance, so I come out ahead.
Of course, then Dad had to barge in and say that the after-party is the most important part of this experience. I pointed out that I don't like parties except occasionally for networking purposes, and there wouldn't be anyone new at this party, just schoolmates. So Dad did that thing where he rolls his eyes and lifts his hands to the sky. I did a quick calculation and made my bid. So now I am also getting a medium-size block of Rainforest Glory watercolor paper.
I guess boys are good for something after all.
* * *
The dance turned out to be a great idea. Mom bought me a sky-blue dress with a sash of some gauzy golden stuff. Laadren behaved more or less like a gentleman, even during the after-party. And that's when it got interesting after all: the after-party took place at a student's house (not someone I know) where I met Professor Dartorralen. He teaches border safety techniques to scientists and travels around to different universities giving lectures. We talked for hours about his youthful adventures doing fieldwork, and then he showed me his collection of taxidermied beasts -- these are fake models of mythical creatures pieced together from different animal parts. He leaves his collection and other stuff with his relatives here, and visits whenever his travels bring him close enough.
When I got home, I apologized to my parents for resisting their attempts to send me to the dance, and told them I had a wonderful time. I just didn't go into detail explaining why.
Well, this year is turning into another case of "Whoops, where did that month go?" I suppose that makes sense. This is my last year of Third Form. I have to decide which regional schools I'd like to attend, and submit my applications to them. My best choices are Affamarg or Affayasilith. With family already in Affamarg it might be easier to get a travel license for there. I could try Affaminar (too far away, not as prestigious) or Faajaffug (more prestigious, and Vloroshaal's home, but even farther away and densely populated). I probably couldn't get approval to move that far for Fourth Form, when there are closer schools that could take me. Anyway, my scores are good enough that I qualify for early enrollment.
I'm taking another elective at the Domestic Animals Guildhall, "Associations for Breeders and Fanciers." This is a bit farther from my Science goals (and doesn't count toward them) but should connect me with a lot of people interested in animal genetics. Associations can host events or field trips for their members, making it easier to get a travel license. Plus I already have my practical seal of approval with the Squiggle Mice, so I expect to do well in that class. Ending where it all began ... I've decided to do my year-end project on Squiggle Mice. This time I will lay out the whole history of the breed and how it developed, in conjunction with my Associations class. This also lays the foundation for a Squiggle Mouse Fanciers Association someday, if we want to start one later.
Art this time is "Introduction to Technical Illustration." That means drawing things like experiments, buildings, or skeletons for scientific publications. I'm not looking forward to that second trimester on architecture, but I need the third one on animal skeletons. The tools include technical pencils, special nib pens, and a drafting kit that I still have to buy. I'm also taking a biology class and an anatomy class in my Science track, among others.
I want to study time crystals too, because they have to do with the boundaries. That's all advanced stuff, though, Fourth Form or higher. The only classes about time crystals here are things like appliance selection and repair.
Umini sent me a letter explaining that the man who owns Ludoiver's Luxury Companions in Affamarg wants to import a breeding population of Squiggle Mice for the fancy pet trade there. Sraffi and I are picking out the right stock -- including both white and fawn -- while the paperwork processes. Transport licenses, travel licenses, it all adds up. But I'm glad there will be Squiggle Mice in Affamarg by the time I move there!
We held a big house party for my eighteenth birthday this year, since it's probably my last in Tifirf. Lots of my friends and our neighbors showed up. Most of the gifts were tokens, or tiny portable things since people know I plan to leave for university. The most interesting gift came from Tifijimi, a pair of beach glass and wire combs to hold my hair out of my face. I don't normally wear jewelry but these are lovely and do something useful. I can't figure out who sent them, though -- someone left the box on the gift table without a card.
I'll miss my family next year. Maybe I'll celebrate my birthday with Umini and her folks instead.
As preparation for my year-end project, I visited the Faibatiya Scientific Library today. It features an excellent collection of books on botany and zoology. I needed to look up some background material on mouse populations in the Empire and the development of pet mice.
Now I know why so many shows have categories for Mouse (White) and Mouse (Other) in them! The original breed of domestic mouse, both for pet and laboratory purposes, was white. That distinguished them from the wild mice, which are gray (in cities) or brown with white bellies (in woods or fields), plus of course the hole mice (various shades including lilac). Later on, the other colors and patterns emerged. I always wondered about this but never made time to investigate it before. I guess even in your own area of expertise, you can always learn something new.
Tomorrow I plan to visit the Domestic Animals Guildhall. They have a smaller archive there that focuses on pets and livestock rather than wildlife.
The Fall Horse Fair has started! I attended a lecture on equine genetics, presented by a panel from the Painted Horse Fanciers Association. That earns me extra credit for my class. The panel talked about different types of marking that count as "paint" -- apparently those produce distinct patterns. Most make large patches but there is one, appaloosa, which can make little dots instead.
At the lecture, I met a horse farmer, Ebemas, and his son Tosh. I thought Tosh was older -- he is tall, with broad shoulders and plenty of muscle -- but apparently he is just 15. He stayed quiet until the end of the lecture, when we got to talking about genetics ourselves. Then he lit up and told me all about this white filly on their farm, with gray spots in what he called a "square-paint" pattern. That reminded me of my old sketches and notes about the strange horse I saw one year, Hexball her name was. So I mentioned that, which excited him even more. I promised to show him the pictures. Then I told them all about my Squiggle Mice, and we spent a while speculating about the similarities between mice and horses in genetics.
Finally Tosh and I decided to become letter-friends and exchanged addresses. If the boys I knew were this quiet, I'd probably like them more. Ebemas said that's because of the horses -- you can't wave your arms and shout around them, or they'll spook. So that made sense.
Sraffi and I have been showing Squiggle Mice at some pre-fair events and there's another show later this tenday. Maybe Tosh will get to see them. Some reporter from the broadsheet company wants to interview me about developing a new breed of mouse. Apparently readers like "Local Girl Does Good" stories.
Today I volunteered at the Art Guild booth. My license for field illustration basically connects me to the Guild enough that I can do simple stuff for them like wrapping purchased pictures for customers -- and they never have enough hands during a festival. Also, I heard that Vloroshaal signed one of our local artists for a small show at his gallery. How exciting!
Tosh dropped by and I showed him my painting and sketches of the one square-paint horse I saw at the fair a while back. He really wanted that painting, but I said no; I want to keep it. Tosh says he liked the broadsheet about me. I think it turned out a bit silly ... but I did save some copies to send to Vloroshaal, Imoshavi, and my relatives in Affamarg. I wonder if Fourth Form offers anything like "Publicity for Scientists" ...? I could use some tips on keeping an interview sensible instead of sensational.
I'm bored with technical illustration. I know it's useful for science, but this is not my idea of fun art, and art for me is more hobby than job. So today I took my kit to the Judge's Oak. I spent most of the day there. First I just wandered around and doodled the scene from different angles until I found one that I liked. It shows the granite marker with its Ancient inscription in front of the tree. Next I did a nice sketch of that on my watercolor paper. Then I inked it with waterproof black ink.
While waiting for the ink to dry, I went to lunch. A little stand near the Judge's Oak sells meat pastries and fruit pies. Afterwards I set up my watercolors and spent a few hours putting down as much detail as I could. The orchid paint really brought out the colors of amaranthine oak leaves in autumn. The painting is not quite finished, but I can do the rest of it at home.
I'm really satisfied with how this turned out. The Judge's Oak is one of Tifirf's most famous landmarks. Most people who come here stop to see it. This painting truly captures the sense of majesty and history in that old tree. I'm going to send this one to Vloroshaal. Then he'll always have a little bit of Tifirf to enjoy.
My acceptance letter from the University of Affamarg came today, pending sufficiently high scores on my year-end tests. I also have a contingency letter from Affayasilith in case Affamarg wouldn't take me, but I'd rather go to Affamarg anyway.
So, I sold all my mice to Sraffi, with arrangements to borrow the ones I need to display for my final project. I hate to do it, but I really can't take them with me and she is the person I trust most to carry on our breeding program. At least I'll still get the royalties on Squiggle Mouse sales. Also, by next year the golden Squiggle Mice should be ready for public display and sale. I'll have to read about it in letters, though.
Then I took my brother and sister shopping in a luxury district. I bought a new bicycle for Egram, since he helped me so much with the mice over the years. I bought a box of spices for Inaleir, imported from Faraar across the inland sea. She laughed and said I could stop apologizing for stealing her salt that one time. I bought myself a Hell Mouse. It's based on a crazy myth about hole mice. So this is a taxidermied hole mouse with exaggerated fangs and claws (I think those came from a housecat) and little silver wires to represent the "lightning" striking out from its fur. Inaleir says it looks gross but I think it's cute ... in a gross sort of way.
Imoshavi wrote me a letter saying that she failed to complete everything needed for her last year of Third Form. I'm so sorry to hear that, but again, not surprised. However, her family situation has improved slightly, in a direction I never expected! Imoshavi's husband never did find a job, so her parents made him stay home with the baby. I bet he hates that. He deserves it, though, the lazy oaf.
Imoshavi wound up working at a family services establishment. It includes an orphanage and a health clinic and so forth. The orphanages especially never seem to have enough hands, and you only need a Scribe level education to work there. Plus they know that Imoshavi did complete part of Third Form -- including the parenting class -- so they are getting a bargain because she has more training than someone straight out of Second Form. Her job involves working with women who face an unplanned pregnancy; the service tries to hire staff there with personal experience in that area. They also offer further training, so Imoshavi wants to learn how to lead the presentations in Second Form that teach about birth control and family awareness.
My letter-friend Tosh sent me a lengthy copy of his notes on the square-paint pattern in horses. He reminds me of myself as a novice mouse-breeder! He also gave me a book, A Horse of Every Color: Coats and Markings for the Equine Fancier as an early year-end present. The illustrations alone make it worth owning, quite a lovely example of horse pictures, aside from the fascinating discussion of color types. It barely touches on genetics but does list horse breeds.
So, yes, I sent him the original painting of Hexball after all. He'll probably enjoy it more than I will anyhow.
Sraffi came over today to help me and Egram work on my year-end project. Sraffi and I spent hours assembling all the award ribbons, breeding records, license copies, the broadsheet interview, and other supporting materials that go with my written report. I almost wish that I'd named the breed something more sophisticated, like Spiral Mouse, because Squiggle Mouse sounds a bit childish. (Thank goodness I didn't use Egram's early suggestion of "Hairdo Mouse" though!) Then again, these mice have been with me throughout my childhood, so a little reminder of that is all right.
Egram put the finishing touches on the display hutch for the mice: flat white, flat fawn, white Squiggle, and fawn Squiggle this time. The hutch has some very nice woodwork, with fancy metal grilles that Sraffi helped us find though a pet supplier. Egram kept working even after smashing his thumb with a hammer.
Then Mom brought out the old backboard with my frassy artwork and the notebook from my First Form project that I did on Squiggle Mice. I almost cried. Mom just hugged me and said, "It was your first year-end project. Of course I saved it."
I love my family.
Sweet seal of approval! He framed it.
Vloroshaal sent me a letter thanking me for the watercolor of the Judge's Oak. He framed it and hung it in his parlor at home. I wasn't expecting that! I'm flattered that he liked it so much. Vloroshaal also gave me a box of scraps and sample sheets of all different art papers. I look forward to experimenting with those.
It's official: I passed Third Form in the top 5% of my class. I have a few days to pack and say goodbye to everyone. Then I need to board the railcar for Affamarg so I can settle into the dormitory at the university before my Fourth Form classes start in Balimev.
Hold on to your Answer Hat now, Affamarg -- here I come!