Reading Is An Act of Rebellion
by Minis Aan
At first I did not consider reading to be anything but tedious lessons, though my first tutor and nurse both read to me, extensively. I learned to read to be able to 'do it myself', at a young age. Perhaps, even then, I realized that it was dangerous for them to be so close to me, since my nurse always read to me with me on her lap, and my tutor would put his arm around me when we were reading difficult passages.
My late father, Sixteenth Kurkas, was always leery of anyone touching me, as he was leery of anyone touching him. He could touch, grab, pinch... but no one dared touch him without express command. So, in my early life, reading was associated with touch and connection, however illicit.
And it was the year I turned seven, during Jitzmitthra, that I took the notion to see what the Portals of Propriety were hiding from me.
If the readers of this piece are not Arkan, let me explain. First of all, though we have the technology to print hundreds and thousands of books, the information in them used to be very carefully controlled. The Pages had an Office of the Censor, though it was not always filled or, as in the time of my father was a perquisite for one of my father's friends who would most often sleep and let the Pages Editor carefully decide what was safe to print. There was also an Office of the Censor in the Marble Palace that vetted every printed thing that came into the City and sent it to its place in the libraries.
General consumption was everything that anyone could read, could they even read in the first place. Then there came the Portals of Propriety. The first Portal was the barrier to any male under age seven. (Females were not allowed to read, on pain of flogging, though many men taught their wives and daughters in secret. Or the girls learned by themselves sitting in on their brother's lessons, often while doing womanly things like embroidery.)
After that was the Second Portal, barred to boys under the second Threshold, or age fourteen. Third Portal is for grown men older than twenty-one. There are seven other Portals, depending on Status and Political clearance not available to the Public, for a total of ten. The last Portal, or Tenth, were Decrees of Imperium, or the Declarations of the Imperator.
When I was seven, as I said, on impulse, decided to flout all custom and good comportment and see what was behind the Portals forbidden me.
Even on Jitzmitthra there was a guard, but not the regular librarian who sat at the desk. He, of course, had the holiday and his job was given over to one of the Marble Palace guard, who included it in their regular patrols. All I had to do is hide behind one of the statues nearby, Ninian the Feckless Mounting to the Heights, as I recall, because his horse's tail provided the perfect cover for me, and there wait till the guard had passed by.
I admit to a certain amount of breathless fear entering because what marvels would I find, tiptoeing in. And was disappointed! This? A book of fairy tales that showed an uncovered house donkey on the cover? Really?
It wasn't until I got to the adult sections that I found what I thought was 'the good stuff'. Haian medical books that showed everything, male and female. Gasp. Yeoli language books with naked hands waving. Tor Enchian horse breeding books. It was the explicit pictures that had hidden them here behind the locked gates. Oh, yes, I had to steal the keys from the Head Librarian's desk to get in.
Then there were the political texts that were subversive. Some written by Imperators before my father whose ideas had fallen out of fashion as they had less power than my father did. He saw them as weak and had all their ideals locked away out of public view.
They were all lumped together in a bin actually, at the back of the political section, with foreign policy texts and a dozen copies of the Fingers of God by the Naked Prophet.
I believe this is where I began to understand that my father controlled books and despised reading and learning in general, because some of the political texts actually supported his position, but they were chucked together with the radical texts because he obviously didn't know or care. If he didn't, then his librarians didn't bother with them. As long as they were locked away they didn't have to think about the dangerous ideas contained inside their covers.
I chose a stack of books... actually more than I could carry, but put them all on a trolly to wheel down to the Silver Stacks which was my personal library. I instructed a servant to have another book shelf set up, with doors that I had the key to so they could not be seen. I had to protect myself and had someone reported me to my father that I was reading out of age and above my security clearance – because there were things there that even I was not supposed to see or know – he would probably have made me burn the lot of them.
I commanded my nurse to not touch my reading materials and then began maintaining a stack of books on the headboard of the bed... shoved in apparently haphazardly so most of the spines or titles did not show, with several knuckle suckers visible, some of my assigned texts, and my personal Holy Book of the Ten, the one bound in silver, prominently on top. It was a heavy book and my father was unlikely to touch or move it on his visits into my rooms.
First of all my father wasn't interested in books at all. Secondly, none of my companions would touch them. They had their own and we had our Dekinas instructor for Holy teachings who had his own copy of the Book. It was as safe as I could make them.
I also had several hiding places that only I knew where they were. That was where I kept the Haian medical texts, the most subversive of the political books (that were well written and my favourites).
Around that stack I had several innocuous copies of the Pages that would be regularly cleaned away by the staff, so everyone got used to my always having a stack of books to hand and very few people thought anything of it.
I kept the Warmaster's books in the locked cabinet, and the Great General's Series. One of my teachers in General craft gave me guidance as to what books were worthwhile to keep and re-read.
That bookcase was my horde of ideas, as I called them. They glistened in my mind sometimes, like gemstones, and it became a yearly trek, a yearly book-hunt to add to my philosophies. One of the things that hurt me most during the years of my exile, was the lack of anything to read but what was approved my 2nd Amitzas |Mahid, which was the Holy Book and the texts that Ailadas, my tutor, could carry.
During that time, one of the Mahid was sent to buy books to continue my Imperial Education and it was as though they'd given me a birthday gift, solstice gift and name-day gift all at once. He had brought candles to read by and books that I had not yet read.
You see, ideas take root in your mind if they are good ideas, and they develop what some Haians call 'book-hunger' since it is a kind of addiction. It is an addiction to freedom and free thinking.
Censors are there to try and kill this expansive way of thinking and feeling. They are there to make ideas dull and small and boring. If they can bore you, they can make you blind to beautiful thoughts.
Tyrants, Slavemasters, Owners of all kinds do not want their chattel to read. If people want to read, if they want to write, they become what all kinds of Despots fear and hate. They think, so they become 'unruly' and ask questions.
Dyers, as an Arkan subculture, are the embodiment of free thinking, poetry, and rebellion. They first read and then they began declaiming what they read at the tops of their lungs.
Those who would own people, first try to own their minds and their thoughts. If they can stop them reading, they will get a mob that can be swayed by rhetoric and spoon-fed lies. Readers vote and vote well.
Read. And be prepared to speak if necessary, because rebellion is necessary when tyranny raises its ugly head.
Better to have people who read and think who ask questions than dull, mindless people who accept shen as their proper food.