As I proceeded down the stairs into the school’s grand lobby, embarrassed from my encounter with the elder students, I noticed that quite a few people had entered the side parlor to chat. I decided to take a look at what event might be going on. My feet quietly slapped the brown stone floor and echoed across the impossibly tall ceiling and elaborately decorated walls. The sconces flickered as I whisked past. A figure stood outside the parlor as I approached, and I was surprised to find him coming towards me.
“Sean,” I cried! I smiled as he came up to engage me in a fantastic bear hug. I was glad he recognized me even though he and I had never actually met. His Scottish accent rang out loudly (enough for the older students to hear) as he said my name in happiness – he was very excited to see me and said he wanted to show me something. He took my hand and led me into the back of the parlor past several tables and couches populated by various people I’d never seen before. We got to the back to a table in the corner where two ladies had sat themselves looking very very serious.
Their table had been littered with various bric a brac, oddly lacking the usual drink I was used to seeing on similar tables in the parlor. Each of them had in their hands a small purse dangling with beads of crystal and stones, and ribbons of silk and velvet. The woman on the left held a purse with a long zipper along one side, while the other’s purse opened via a clasp at the top. Regardless of the banter in the room, I could hear the baubles on each of the bags click and clink as the ladies clung to them, seemingly their greatest possessions.
Sean wasn’t done greeting me, of course, and I was excited to find out about his recent goings on, but I couldn’t take my eyes off the ladies at this table and couldn’t help but wonder what they were up to. It turns out that Sean was there to do a bit of a job, and, as he turned to the table to get on with things, he said as much. It was to be a competition of sorts and he was to judge their answers. When Sean spoke to them in greeting, a gentleman who I’d not seen before answered in acknowledgement with a curt and simple nod. He was dwarfed and middle-aged, standing over all of us on a ledge that ran the length of the room just inside the parlor’s windows. I can’t remember all his words, but he then spoke with such weight as I’ve never heard, to announce the beginning of the trial.
There was a slight hush in the room as the people sitting closest took notice of the announcement. Sean quickly explained to me in whispers that there would be a question asked. Each lady had a chance to answer it. If a question came up that they couldn’t answer, they could avoid penalty by snapping their purse shut. To answer a question, they needed to display a slip of paper from their purse that they thought most proper. Sean would have explained in more detail, but was interrupted by the first question, which I sadly do not recall. The woman on my right with her back to the swirled, velvet paisley wallpaper had quickly snapped her purse shut. I’d not even seen her close it; she must have done it quickly before the question had come completely out of the short man’s mouth. She looked startled and stressed. The other, younger woman had pulled out a laced white card, somewhat wider and curved on one end than the other, and waved it quietly in the air in front of her, mesmerized by its movement. We all then looked at Sean who solemnly stitched his eyebrows examining the delicate card.
The younger lady, suddenly looking anxious, hastily put the card back in her purse and zipped it shut. She tried to reopen the purse, I supposed to pull out a different card for display, but she couldn’t get it open. At first I thought the zipper had stuck itself, but I finally noticed that the zipper had changed. It had somehow become too short. Frantically, she turned the purse over in the palms of her hands finding different zipper pulls, but all were too short offering no entry to the cards within.
And then I awoke.