The secretary looked up from her paperwork to give Noéline a disdainful look over. She was obviously not convinced by what she saw, for she smiled condescendingly. “Mademoiselle Rihour? Please have a seat. The chancellor will receive you shortly.”
Noéline forced herself to smile and bow in thanks. Nobles could not be expected to have manners and to be intelligent enough to understand the danger of insulting everyone around them. Getting indignant would only make her lose energy that would be much better spent on beating them academically.
Still, everything about this place was made to intimidate and impress on visitors their lack of importance, and not even Noéline was immune. The wealth and oppressive silence bore down on her as she took her seat, letting her know she was out of place, out of bounds, despite the invitation letter in her pocket.
The chair creaked and she winced, freezing her body to stop any other noise that could betray her presence in these august halls. Taking her notebook from her dress pocket was out of the question, even if its beaten state alone would not have brought disapproval on her. She had better find another way to occupy herself.
The hall itself did not yield any distraction; the painting of past deans performing acts of high magic were familiar enough from history books, and the sight of delicately curved and gilded pieces of expensive furniture only made her anxiousness rise.
With no better idea and more than a little curiosity, she focused her magic in her sensory organs.
She was immediately hit by the loud scratch of the secretary’s pen. A staccato of heels in one of the upper floors. The low humming and buzzing of the wards system surrounding the building. And a moment later, voices. She hid her smirk.
“—another reason why I have come to meet you today,” someone was saying. Masculine voice, middle age, nobles’ accent... “Disturbing rumours have reached me regarding your interactions with Lydéric d'Amboise. Do not dare give me that sullen look, Joséus! Your uncouth behaviour has humiliated our House, never mind your actual defeat in that duel!"
Well. Look who Noéline got there… Dear Joséus Solange getting a parental tell off! That was Lydéric who would be delighted to hear this…
There was a sound of protest—presumably Joséus—before he was mowed over by his father. “Might I remind you that as soon as all of you will graduate, Lydéric will take the control of his house from his regent and become one of our biggest political rivals? What he lacks in intelligence and skills is more than made up for by the d’Amboise standing! If you already act submissive every time he confronts you, we might as well give up now!”
“That’s not it!” Joséus finally managed to exclaim. “I can easily beat Lydéric—like I’ve always done before! But now he’s got a band of hangers-on constantly following around and interfering—“
“Are you saying that a bunch of poor, traitors, and commoners are a threat to you? I have even heard that the commoner in question has beaten you for the top rank this semester—many at court have taken great pleasure in bringing up that fact in my presence.”
Damn. Noéline lowered her head and fought not to let a huge smile break on her face. That was surely why the dean had invited her today—she had dared hope but…
“She hasn’t beaten me in a fair fight—that’s all Lydéric’s fault! And the professors all take pity on her because of her status and are far too indulgent with her while they all have very high expectations of me and mark me very strictly!”
Sweet. And the Solanges' reactions made her victory even more enjoyable.
“I swear, father, the same circumstances won’t happen again next semester. I won’t—"
A sudden ring startled Noéline. She lost her magical focus and her eyes surged to the secretary.
The woman put her hand on the noisy alarm cube that stood on her desk and it immediately fell silent. She gave another haughty look at Noéline. “The chancellor is ready to receive you. Head upstairs and to the right corridor, then knock on the door at the end.”
Noéline breathed in discreetly before rising, bowing politely at the woman, and following her instruction. Her footsteps were noisy against the marble stairs, but she forced her pace to stay confidently even and unhurried. Appearances were everything among the nobility.
The upstairs corridors were even more richly decorated, everything breathing ancient magic, wealth, and sheer power to intimidate any students summoned here. Noéline certainly was properly cowed.
Just when she was getting ready to knock on the imposing double doors at the end of the corridor, they opened on their own. She sheepishly lowered her hand and fought to suppress any expression from her face. As soon as she stepped in, she bowed deeply.
"Ah, mademoiselle Rihour! Come in, come in!" The chancellor gestured in invitation at the chair in front of the desk at which he sat.
While straightening and stepping forwards to take it, Noéline gave a discreet glance around the room. Its decor fitted well with the rest of the manor but also benefited from the addition of shelves filled with carefully warded magical artefacts of unknown use. She itched to go examine them to figure out their magic but forced herself to act as if priceless mysterious artefacts were an everyday occurrence in her life. Not that anyone would ever believe this, but appearances...
The chancellor smiled magnanimously at her, his face warm and opened and just as charismatic as rumours said. “I have invited you here today to offer you my congratulations for your excellent results this semester. The last exams have just been marked and you are ranked first in your year! Most unexpected too, given your... unfortunate birth."
Noéline hid her anger and answered his smile. "Thank you, sir. Of course, I undoubtedly owe a lot to Claret's excellent teachers."
"Oh, there is no need to pacify me! I assure you that after an entire career at Claret I have seen everything, and I am well aware of the talents that commoners can sometimes exhibit! We always have a few of you that manage to drag themselves to the top rankings, and I always summon all of you over for a chat to get to know you. Whatever blood you have, you now represent the best that Claret has to offer to the kingdom!"
Yeah, right. She would believe all this equality when she would see it. Especially with how people like Joséus Solange were coddled despite their serious transgressions. Still, Noéline bowed slightly. "I would be honoured to answer any of your questions, sir."
"Let us start with your family. You took the entrance exams in the North. Were you schooled there?"
"Yes, sir. My family is from Rannie and I got my first diploma in calculations from the Royal university there."
"Ah! That would explain how you managed to pass our entrance exams! The northern royal university is small but has high-quality professors known for their generosity. And calculations! Your professors at Claret have a lot of good things to say about your work in that field. Is that where you wish to specialise?"
"Indeed sir, although I'm hoping to continue with my double major in technologies. I intend to set up an enchanting business once I graduate, and I want to be able to produce my own innovating designs rather than just use the same old ones as all master enchanters."
"Ambitious! As befitting one of Claret's students! Is this perhaps something you inherited from your family?" he added eagerly. "Do you have any notable siblings or relatives?"
Noéline grimaced self-deprecatingly. "I'm afraid no, sir. All of them have career goals that are better achieved at the royal university, where they can network with the local elite."
Even Régilde did not have the same ambitious—and recklessness—as her. He also did not have the power level required to get admitted to Claret, nor the magical sensitivity she had used to fool the examinators.
The chancellor gave her a pitying look and she struggled not to bristle. "What about your parents?" he insisted. "Have I heard of them? I dare say they must be very proud of having a student at Claret, and they had to have supported you a lot for you to get so far."
"They're ward masters in Rannie, sir. Their last notable work has been their participation in the upgrading of the city wards." So unlikely that the chancellor knew anything about them. "And indeed, I would not have been as successful without their encouragement." And their very generous purse, given the outrageous fees of Claret's entrance exams, let alone the tuition fee.
The chancellor grimaced a smile and nodded with a now clearly faked enthusiasm. "Great! Great! Of course, your background means that I cannot ask you to represent Claret at court like we have our top-ranked student do. Still, not to worry, Solange will be able to pick up the slack from you."
"This is reassuring to hear, sir."
Given Solange and Lydéric's constant humiliating spats, the chancellor would come to regret his decision. Noéline had 3 years to convince him...
But that was a stupid impulse. Never mind the insult, she was more intelligent than to succumb to the temptation. Standing out academically was one thing, getting mixed into politics was quite another. The risk of getting dragged into honour duels—and so of her lack of power getting exposed—was far too important.
"Well, I believe this is all, mademoiselle Rihour." His magical aura darkened, and Noéline stiffened at the sudden threat. "I expect to continue to see great things from you during your time at Claret."
"Of course, sir. I will not disappoint you." She rose and bowed deeply before moving towards the door.
Just as her hand closed on the handle, the chancellor called back, "Oh, and mademoiselle, please do make more efforts to curb your friends' riotousness. I am sure d'Amboise does not need a scandal to tarnish his upcoming arrival at court, and he seems to value your opinions, judging by the decrease in vulgar behaviours we have seen since he has made your acquaintance..."
Noéline by AmélieIS
Who is Noéline?
Background & goal Noéline has lived a comfortable life so far, with her parents having a good job, money, and status in their local community. She could have an easy life handed out to her.
But Noéline is ambitious. She wants knowledge and the respect that comes with the status of being one of the premier scholars in the country. And she has decided that she is not going to let something like her lack of raw magical power limit her.
Character Noéline is a very curious person who is passionate about learning absolutely everything. She has an amiable if slightly shy disposition, which hides a big arrogance and a devouring ambition.
She is scornful of people who do not take advantage of the education opportunities given to them and of people who think themselves cleverer than they are and who dare to look down on others—or at least those who do so without good justifications.
Time at uni After the success of her little plot to gain admittance to the best university in the country despite not having the level of magical power normally required, Noéline is determined to enjoy her time there, learn as much as possible, and to not stand out—beyond her awesome academic skills, of course.
A shame that she was "forced" to befriend some of the most unruly students on campus and is now getting dragged into their petty rivalries...
University courses: Majors: calculations & technologies
Minors: materials & arts