ACT III, Scene 1

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It wasn't until Lady Paulina shoved the torn, wrinkled sack that was the Sheepherder's costume into my hands that I realized the dirty trick I'd played on myself.

Lady Paulina was the Artistic Appreciation & Practice teacher and the slightest woman I had ever seen. Shorter than me by half, with twigs and sticks for limbs, her wispy hair shot out from her head like she'd been touched by lightning.

Her classes took place in the carriage house just beyond the main building, next to the horse stalls. The Academy once owned horses for grooming and side-saddle training but they sat empty now.

"Heard that in the dead of one night, someone unlatched the stall gate and set 'em all free," Beadie said.

"Lady Mac never sought to replace them?"

"Oh, she did. Two weeks later, pffft - those ones were let out as well."

"Did they ever catch the culprit?"

"Dunno. Before my time. Makes me laugh thinking of Lady Mac getting so furious over it. Can you imagine her stink face, watching 'em running up and down the hillside, free as birds. HA!"

"You'd think domestic horses would stick close to their source of food and warmth," I said.

"Ai, but you can't ever know what's going on inside a creature," Beadie shrugged, "Maybe just the one went running and the others followed thinking it was what they were supposed to do."

That's basically how Desdemona convinced us to seek major parts in the play. She was, by all accounts, obsessed with Lady Paulina. Des was the first to volunteer for Choral solos while Beadie and I concentrated on fading into the background as passable altos. I was quite sure Viola only mouthed along with the words and never actually made a sound.

Des was also so adept at Dance that Lady Paulina made her a teaching assistant of sorts. Des would go around adjusting arm position, correcting footwork and tapping out the beat on her wrist.

"Eyes up, Miss Viola. Skyward!" Des barked, poking a firm finger under Viola's chin to lift it.

"She does that again, I'll bite it off," Viola muttered. V and I often danced together. When Lady Paulina called for partners, she was always quick to pull on my arm. We both did our best to avoid the hurt that clouded Beadie's face every time.

It wasn't nice of us to leave Beadie stranded, forced to partner with perfectionist Des or some other Middle yip. However, it was self-preservation as Beadie was truly terrible at Dance. The first time we partnered, she'd crunched down on my foot hard enough to split a toenail. She tripped and bumped into every person or piece of furniture in the vicinity. One class, she simply disappeared and left me to 'dance' with an invisible partner like a complete fool.

She popped up at the end of that particular class and casually asked if she missed anything.

"What have been you doing all this time?"

"Business."

"Business?"

Beadie smiled. I sighed. It didn't take much convincing to get Viola to partner with me from there on, though I suspected her reasons for avoiding Beadie were quite different from mine.

As the blue-grey skies of October gave way to darkening November, Choral and Dance became distant memories. All of Lady Paulina's classes were newly focused on 'The Birth of Christ' play.

Middle Year classes performed the play every Christmas for the Earlys and Laters. However this year, Lady Paulina announced that a list of distinguished guests would be invited to attend as well. A literal gasp went up amongst the class. A reaction I did not immediately understand.

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