Perditalog is not a language. It is a cartel racketeering words from its terrified neighbors and shanking them full of extra accent marks.
-Gioviena Rizhesa, A Beginner's Guide to Perditalog
I've never been one of those people who is overly reliant on sleep. Even as young child, I generally slept no more than seven hours a night. I was the sort of child parents dread - the sort of child who, even if she stayed up until eleven o'clock, would be bright eyed, ready to go, and jumping on your bed at six in the morning. Even when I 'overslept' on my first morning as a Scamp and didn't wake until the nascent sunrise began to illuminate our bunk, it was still an hour before the official wake-up bell (or reveille, as the Collegium calls it). Only a few other Scamps were starting to stir. I stretched out the soreness borne from sleeping on, essentially, a big plank of wood that night, and began my morning.
On my way to the privy, I noticed that our bunk had a little library nook - two worn bookshelves of equally-worn books, some of them slightly water-damaged, but books nonetheless! They were mostly children's books, but there was also a Perditalog language workbook in there… an old workbook that still referred to the High King of Mouldevica, who'd been assassinated in the year before I was born. Most of the blank spots in the book were already filled in, but that was fine - I was frustrated by my inability to speak the native language and wanted every advantage I could get.
I sat cross-legged on the bare board of my bunk and had worked my way up through Perditalog Exercise #3 ('Going For a Walk') when the midmorning (eight o'clock) bell rang and my fellow Scamps started stirring. The blonde-haired girl on the bunk next to mine rolled to a sit and made eye contact with me, grinning mischievously.
"Orsmilu riu dat a mellifa skorsh 'av!" she said.
I wanted to be on good terms with my bunkmates, so I replied with a sunny smile and perfect Gionian: "Sorry, I don't speak much Perditalog, but I'm learning!" I waved the little workbook so she could see it.
"She say 'what a pretty dress a little rich girl has'," the boy on the bunk above hers remarked in heavily-accented Gionian.
"…Oh," I said with a frown, picking at the work brown fabric of my dress. I pondered why a strange girl that I didn't even know might be teasing me first thing in the morning, and I could only conclude that she'd seen me arrive the day before in a brand-new dress and that I no longer had. Certainly, we'd attracted enough watchers as Rose escorted us up to the residence halls. Had this girl been complicit in the theft of my dress? I had no way to know - certainly, she wasn't wearing it now. It probably wouldn't even fit her, given that she was visibly larger than me, and probably a bit older. Eventually, I met the boy's cocky grin with a weak smile. "I'm… tell your friend that I'm not a rich girl. Tell her Duke Orso took my whole family, stole our stuff, and sent them off to be slaves in Turia. Tell her I'm the only one who got away…"
"Tell her yourself," the boy said.
I waved the Perditalog workbook in his face. "I'm working on it! I'm going to get so good at Perditalog, and maybe we can all be friends?"
"We not friends with little rich girls," the boy guffawed. Hadn't he heard anything I'd just said?
Around us, the Scamps roused for the morning, and the more practiced students - a few of whom had been at the Collegium for three whole months already, assembled we three newcomers to help with breakfast preparations. We were met by a Sneak on work duty, whose job it was to make sure nobody burned or butchered themselves too horribly in the kitchen. Thankfully, I wasn't a complete stranger to work in the kitchen. Even before I learned to make fish cakes at Rook's, I'd delighted in helping in the kitchen at home. I think I mildly scandalized my mother when I ventured into the kitchen to 'help' our cook some mornings - ladies were to know about fine cuisine, but were not to toil in a kitchen to make it. I knew a bit about cooking, but I was unprepared for the scale of making breakfasts for nearly a hundred very hungry children.
The great metal grills, each the size of a privy door, sat in the middle of the room so they could be worked on from all sides. They had been artificed to heat up with a pulse of undirected thaum, so they didn't require any wood… just kids with a lot more thaum than kids really ought to have. Most of the Scamps could manage it, which I didn't find remarkable at the time. In reality, perhaps one in a thousand children can direct their thaum at such an early age. There was a traditional cast-iron oven, too, built into the bricks of the back wall and fueled by a bottom-fed wood furnace.
"Remember how clean this place looks," the Sneak in charge said in Gionian. "It's your job to make sure it's this clean when breakfast is all done. Pay close attention to your classmates so you can cook next time if you need to."
"Hey, don't worry," Nate whispered to me - he, but not Zev, was on that day's breakfast crew. "Just watch me real carefully and you'll be able to make this stuff in no time!"
The Sneak brought in a cart overflowing with breakfast items, and our fellow Scamps wasted no time in swarming the cart and going about their tasks as efficiently as any restaurant kitchen, making a breakfast with no direction whatsoever from the Sneak. They grilled up long strings of sausages (I use the term 'sausage' loosely - they were maybe one third actual meat), eggs by the dozen, and tomatoes sliced and sprinkled with oil and pepper. There were great, gelatinous cylinders of breakfast porridge, which were cut into thumb-thick cakes and sent hissing onto the grease-glinting surface of the grills. It took two kids just to carry the cylinders and a third to slice the cakes out with a length of wire as the other two held it in place. The only thing the stove was used for was the bread, which arrived in great balls of uncooked dough, which were then shoved into the oven atop big flat firing boards and left for exactly thirteen minutes.
I could tell that some of the other Scamps weren't enthused about having breakfast duty, and I couldn't blame them. Even though they finished cooking breakfast in twenty minutes flat, that time could have been spent reading, chatting, or catching extra winks…
There's exactly seventy minutes between reveille and the beginning of class. If the one third of the bunkroom on breakfast duty takes ten minutes to drag themselves out of bed and into the kitchen, that leaves them twenty minutes to get breakfast out into the bunkroom. This leaves the work crew about twenty minutes to cram as much food into themselves as possible for their only school-provided meal of the day, since it also takes another twenty to clean everything in the kitchen back to acceptable cleanliness. Yet, somehow, the Collegium Scamps manage with somewhat less grumbling and dragging of feet than you might expect. Our breakfast crew finished loading the food into big rectangular tureens and onto a series of squeaky-wheeled carts.
"Alright, fires off!" the supervising Sneak called off. With a wave of his hand, he extinguished the fire in the oven and then disinvigorated the three grills in rapid succession. "See you kids tomorrow."
With the meal cooked, we carted the food out and, almost immediately, they were descended upon by the ravenous swarm of Scamps. It wasn't until the fourth and final carts rolled out that the feeding frenzy abated and us kitchen workers were able to eat.
"The trick is to put all of the choicest stuff on the last cart," Nate said with a wink.
As far as I could tell, the eggs were eggs, the bread was bread, the breakfast porridge was greasy and almost suspiciously uniform, and the tomatoes were all slightly mushy but quite edible after being grill-seared. I suppose the sausage might have varied in quality, but you'd have to cut into it to find out whether you got more meat than oat. To be honest, most Scamps only treated breakfast as their only guaranteed calories of the day and it showed. On that morning, I was also famished enough to eat just about anything that was set in front of me.
"That's good to know!" I said anyway, and I loaded my wooden plate high with everything, poured myself some milk, and returned to my bunk area to eat - we didn't have a separate dining spot.
We cleaned everything up in the kitchen (not particularly well, mind you) and had everything done about one minute before a tall young man strutted into our bunk hall and announced: "Bunks up! You've got five minutes until class! I know we've got a few new Scamps in here, so listen up! If your Perditalog & Composition class is listed as tier one or two, you'll go into bunk room one over there…" he pointed to his left. "If you're tier three, you'll stay here in bunk two! If you're tier four or five, you'll go to bunk three over there…" he pointed to his right. "All right - morning's over and I want to see those bunks up!"
Of course, he said it all in Perditalog, so we needed Nate to translate for us, which he did a reasonably assiduous job of.
"Wait… what's tiers?" Mailyn asked him.
"Um… so you lot will all be in tier one in Perditalog. Basically, tier three, which Zev and me are both in, is the biggest group, so it's got its own room. If you're pretty good at a class, you'll be in tier three like us…"
"We started out in tier two, which is for kids who aren't quite as good. I'm from Wexland, but anybody who lives in Eastriver Downs like me picks up a bit of Perditalog, so I didn't start out with nothing like you lot, and I picked it up pretty well, I guess…"
"You picked up Gionian, too," I added.
"Hey, yeah. Guess I'm quick with languages?"
"So I'm guessing tiers four and five are if you're real sharp?" Aldo asked.
"Pretty much. I'm tier four in arithmetic, religion, and language… you got to be really good for tier five. So… you reckon you can figure out what to do?"
"Reckon…" I started, but corrected myself. I cast suspicious looks to Nate and then Mailyn. I was not going to pick up bad language habits from my friends. "I imagine so," I said primly, and I pulled Nate into a hug… which made his ears go red. "Thank you!"
"Hey, it was nothing," he mumbled.
It what seemed like much less than five minutes, a jangling bell sounded off, and it was time for my very first class at the Perdita Free Collegium.
The Collegium has been refining its practices for centuries and prides itself on not letting those practices ossify. The practice of dividing students into tiers had been going on for about a century and was straightforward enough - each bunkhouse houses kids around the same age, but those kids are at different levels of competence in different subjects. Rather than lump kids who can't even speak Perditalog with fluent speakers, and rather than lumping average speakers with those writing poetry or translating Volino, they're separated into classes where everybody's on close to the same page and kids are encouraged to succeed… and one of the main drivers that the school administrators have found to motivate Scamps is promoting or demoting them to different tiers depending on their progress. Nobody wants to face the ridicule of being bumped down a tier, and the tier four and five teachers tend to have more passion for teaching and more interesting curriculum.
"Looks like we got Perditalog first," Mailyn said.
"Think they'll make us read?" Aldo asked, an edge of uncertainty in his voice.
"I hope so!" I said, oblivious to his concern. I skipped toward the bunkroom our proctor had indicated. "Come on!"
At some point in the last century, one of the Collegium's pedagogues observed that young children cannot handle a full slate of academic classes - sure, you can force them into a classroom for six classes a day, but even the exceptionally bright ones won't retain as much after the first three classes. In the modern era, Scamps only receive three classes a day.
Each student takes six classes in total, and for each student it's the same three classes. They alternate three classes apiece on even and odd days with Saintsdays off. Each class is divided into five tiers of competence and, since the students within a bunk hall all enter within months of one another, the classes advance as they do. The classes are as follows:
Odd Days - Perditalog & Composition, Culture & History, and Memorization
Even Days - Arithmetic, Religion, and Languages
You may notice a glaring lacuna in the school's curriculum for young students: nowhere do they cultivate the talent for magic that we were, presumably, recruited for, and neither are we taught anything about combat or seamanship. All I'll say at the moment is that this is not entirely correct - but more on that later.
As the proctor threw the window shutters open, Mailyn, Aldo, and I separated from Nate and Zev and made our way to the left, over to bunk room one. While close to a hundred kids had been sleeping there just an hour and change earlier, the room had been transformed into a well-lit open area partitioned in the middle with a grid of smoke gray cinderblock barriers that made up the bunk units. Instead, they'd been converted into semi-open classrooms.
"New students come you here! New students be here!" a woman shouted in halting Gionian from one side of the room. Spotting my head as it perked up, she gesticulated toward us and we joined the woman and about a dozen other students near the far end of the bunk.
With class sizes ranging between fifteen and twenty, if you do the math, there are around eighty teachers for each of the six subjects, with just over a hundred fifty Scamp teachers in all, since almost all of the teachers teach several classes. At any given time, six or seven are in each bunk room giving class. Our tier one Perditalog 'classroom' was toward the back of the hall, and so we had to shuffle past all of the tier two and most of the tier one students to arrive at a cluster of Scamps gathered around a bespectacled woman and a blackboard with big blocky lettering at the top: PERDYTILIGAS! - PERDITALOG!
"I hear you are speak Gionian," the woman smiled. She was a bookish, middle-aged native Perditan, her skin the same golden brown as mine but with frizzy brown hair going to gray in streaks. "Sorry… Gionian not so good. You know Perditalog?"
"Parli riu," I said: Speak little.
"Besse!" she replied - Good! "I Mrs. Vijro… we work from book. What exercise, class? Kel aktivischi?"
"Kish, Vijro Matso!" one of the boys shouted back - Six, Mrs. Vijro!
"Besse!" Mrs. Vijro pointed to a stack of books next to her big green slateboard - the same Perditalog exercise book I'd found in our library nook earlier that morning and worked up through exercise three. I guessed I'd come back to it later in the day to finish exercises four and five to catch up.
Fortunately, nobody in the tier one Perditalog class was a fluent speaker, and so I was able to catch right up. Over the course of class, I just about doubled my Perditalog vocabulary, though I was still a long way from using anything other than halting phrases.
Our Perditalog class was followed by Culture & History, followed by Memorization, with five minutes between classes to get to the right place. And, honestly, I got very little out of Culture & History in my first week, let alone the first day, because I didn't know the bloody language the class was taught in. Fortunately, the Collegium has two centuries of experience to cater to its largely-foreign student body (I've heard it estimated that only forty percent of Collegium students are local - which is vastly disproportionate, given Perdita's small population, but still the minority). The Collegium knew what it was doing and the classes were designed to accommodate smart kids ready to soak up a foreign language - in my first day of Memorization, for example, Mr. Inglone had the three of us memorize fifty common Perditalog words.
After Memorization class, we were given twenty-five minutes to study or relax before the noontime bell tolled and we were all corralled up by the proctor and his assistants, who pushed us out into the street until the evening. The three of us met up with Zev and Nate outside and made our way toward the Step Wharf with about ten other kids, whose names I committed to memory using Mrs. Varizelli's technique…
Mrs. Varizelli, my old tutor for several subjects back in Portogarra. I'd pit her approach over Mr. Inglone's any day of the week - but tier one teachers are known more for their patience than their expertise.
As we made our way to the river, I ran my fingers along the hem of my rough-spun dress. I sure hoped it wouldn't get stolen today…