I waited for Silasas and his Uncle in my own library. He’d arrived a few days ago and had rested from his journey at the family’s townhouse. It was after dinner but not too late. I had the kaf service set up next to the brazier because it was still stone cold in the Marble Palace this early in the spring, at night.
I had a stack of books next to me that I intended to read soon. I’d finally found Ilesias’s ‘Under the War Banner’ mis-filed, of all things. I’d just laid it down on top of my pile and was trying to puzzle out the archaic Arkan of the next title over… something about teaching fish but I wasn’t sure.
“Spark of the Sun’s Ray?” I jumped and blushed. I’d almost forgotten I was waiting to meet someone and here I’d gotten myself messy sitting on the floor surrounded by books. I scrambled to my feet and knocked some of the dust off my kilt.
“Silasas! And… your Uncle? Welcome! I’m so glad you could come to the city to visit your nephew, General.”
He was an unfashionably lean man and younger than I thought he would be. His older brother, now the unfortunate Governor of Haiu Menshir… not yet re-named… was a thicker, heavier man. His hair was neatly clipped back, not going so far as to affect a fighting braid, and he wore four gold pips on his high collar. Otherwise he appeared slightly crumpled somehow giving the impression of unbrushed crumbs, even with no crumbs apparent. His shirt and kilt were brown and dark blue, very conservative. He wore only a single long gold and sapphire earring. No rings at all on his gloves. The embroidery on his gloves was only around the cuff edge and in an older style.
I saw his eyes flicker over the stack of books then settle quietly on me. “This lowly one thanks the Spark for his gracious welcome. This one has been away from the city too long… And this one is, of course, only a General by courtesy. This one’s last command was a considerable time ago.”
The stack of books was almost awkward but I scooped them up and led the way to the little seating area. “I had the servants bring kaf... shall I pour?”
“It would be like nectar, Exalted. Might this one enquire what the Spark deigns to read in such copious quantity?”
“Under the War Banner, General. I’ve been studying our past era generals. They made the Empire great, did they not?”
He looked thoughtful as Silasas poured three cups for us, and picked one for his Uncle and one for himself. “Indeed. I know many who have picked up "Under the War Banner"and found it too much of a burden all of itself. What do you accompany with such a powerful tome?”
“Um.” I blushed as I stammered. “Irelenas's “Economics of the Arkan Rejin”, and Filaras's “Information”. But Filaras's writing is uneven and I think he has some things very wrong.”
“Some things wrong, Spark of the Sun's Ray? This one is curious, if it is permitted to be, as to your opinion.” He seemed honestly interested rather than just humouring me. In that way he reminded me strongly of Chevenga.
“Wrong might have been too strong... Filaras just assumes a certain level of intelligence in his opponents.”
The General sipped at his black kaf and then accepted pieces of sugar from his nephew and then cream. “Well, this one must concur with the Spark of the Sun’s Ray. Underestimating the intelligence of the enemy is a very dangerous thing indeed.”
I nibbled on a cream bun. I found myself liking him, even as reserved as he was. He spoke to me honestly enough and as intelligently as my tutor, without all the ‘ahems’. “General, do you consider anyone not Arkan, by necessity, is of lesser intelligence, even if they are not enemies?”
He speared a bite of bun on his own fork and lifted it to his mouth and brushed at a miniscule crumb on one glove. “That’s been a question of some dispute, over history. Our tendency is to regard all but Arkans as barbarians... and it is true that they tend to hold to many barbaric practices and customs. But – perhaps it needs a definition of “intelligence” to arrive at a true answer.”
Oh that was a skilful evasion, I thought. No direct answer there. “If by intelligence, one means, erudition, then we have it above primitive peoples who are not even literate.” I was disappointed. That was the standard answer. But he continued. “But one might say we are less intelligent, in that case, than peoples who ensure that every one of their citizens is literate, as a sacred trust.” He was specifically talking about the Yeolis. Was that deliberate?
“That makes perfect sense,” I interjected.
He raised one pale, thin eyebrow. “So, if the Spark would give me the correct definition of intelligence, this one will tell the Spark of the Sun’s Ray what this one thinks.” Perfect answer that is not an answer. It was a classic ‘tell me what you want to hear’ answer. “If the Spark is thinking of it in the strategic sense as Filaras was writing about... is that what the exalted one was considering?”
I got the feeling I should be careful of my words. I felt tested. If I just wanted to talk about just theory, just what was in the books I could... “I think... I need to learn about a whole range of possible types of intelligence... and must think of widom separately.” I put my kaf cup down with a click, shook my head at Sil when he went to pour me another. I was starting to jitter from having too much kaf.
“Wisdom, Spark, is intelligence applied to experience. So it is this one’s view, at any rate, and any number of philosophers have held similar opinion. But when speaking in the practical sense, that is to say, about intelligence in the strategic sense... this one thinks some foreigners are less intelligent than we, and some equally.”
Unspoken, unsaid, was “and some more so.” I looked at the fleeting sour expression on his face and wondered if he was echoing my thought that Chevenga had begun handing Arko its collective ass once he’d gotten safe home.
“Is it possible that someone could be more intelligent strategically?” I just had to ask.
The expression was gone under bland facade just as quickly as it had showed itself. “Someone? Just as we have our geniuses, who stand far above the commone run of men... they have theirs. Triadas Teleken might be counted a genius, rest he in Selestialis.”
I echoed the sentiment. “Rest he in Selestialis.”
“But such a foreign man... a barbaric genius... might be a greater strategist than most Arkans, at least.” He is talking about Chevenga.
I picked up a truffle and bit into it to see the flakes of gold leaf. “Please, try these. They’re good.”
“This one is honoured.” He took one onto his plate. Sil ate two, enthusiastically. They are his favourites.
“Isn’t it interesting, General that my learning materials are, of necessity, out of date?”
“This one is uncertain as to what the Spark of the Sun’s Ray means.”
“Hmmm. I am concerned... it seems...” I raised my cup to Sil who poured me a new cup. I put several chips of sugar, a double spoonful of clotted cream in and a sprinkle of chocolate spice over the top. Mostly to gain time to think... I felt like I could say more to this quiet man but I dared not.
I’d put it as generally as I could. “...there is unrest and slaughter in Kurkania... the... um.. possession of a certain group of islands, making Arko unpopular on the face of the whole world –“ I could see him take in the oblique reference to Haiu Menshir, where his brother was the unfortunate Governor “—ship disappearances, the Yeoli war, northern and north-western raids... it seems like a lot of rejins over a huge area... but then... I’m just a boy and tend to think things are more significant than they are.”
He thought about that for a bit, the gentle sound of his spoon against the side of his cup a soft sound in the quiet library. “This one thinks the Spark need, perhaps not fear, but instead study these situations.”
“Is the exalted one speaking specifically of the Yeola-e campaign? There are no texts on that as of yet, that this one knows of.”
I pulled the tip of my spoon through the cream, making hash marks in the sprinkled spice. “It might not be a good idea to try and get information on more recent campaigns anyway. Someone –“ like Father, I thought. “—might take it wrongly. As something more than just learning.”
“Indeed. Discretion is the soul of virtue. One cannot be too cautious, in these times.”
I could hope that the good General might be persuaded to extend his unofficial visit to the city. I felt very comfortable with him. And he’d given nothing away of his position as befitted a General of his reputation, at least to a person with something to think with. He’d given me a few hints.
I looked over to Sil who smirked. The discretion quote was one of Uncle Dafidas’s favourite sayings. The General saw the look pass between the two of us. I grinned. “Silasas has been a good companion to me, a credit to your family.”
Dafidas smiled back at me. “Ah, thank you Spark of the Sun’s Ray. He’s a fine boy, very dear to my heart.” Just as if Sil wasn’t sitting right there, blushing and squirming to hear such direct praise. “Come now, lad, don’t be bashful; I can’t believe the Spark of the Sun’s Ray speaks anything less than the unvarnished truth!”