The professors’ reading room in the University hadn’t changed one whit, war, fall of Empire, sack, fire and wool-hair Imperators imposing the vote notwithstanding.
Ailadas settled into the leather overstuffed chair with a contented sigh and nodded at the servant, who raised the flame on the burner to freshly boil the water for his kaf. The kaf service was a Kulurianan style more than a hundred years old, the gold leaf along the edges faintly worn by generations of scholastic lip.
The room was redolent of the ghosts of long burned katzeriks and hand pipes, the fragrant dried mix of smoking blends, the leather of the old chairs, the paper and the peculiar aroma of ancient, well-cared for books. I missed this, Ailadas thought. This is truly home.
The servant set the cup at his elbow and handed him a newly cleaned ceramic mouthpiece for the antique water-pipe in the centre of the table. He nodded his thanks as Trurenas, the Methodical Sagas of Innovation Peer, over by the glassed-in bookcases slammed his Pages copy down on the table and raised his voice.
“Fabrications! Tawdry and scandalous perversions passed off as if they were authoritative and verified truths. This nonsense is worse than the most depraved and formulaic of knuckle-biter fiction, since at least there one might not know the story's final outcome!”
He got up to pace before the cold fireplace, gloves clenched at his back, as he ranted. “In an era of new leadership, new flags, new allegiances, it is no surprise that some would come forth with whitewash and muck!”
No wonder your students sleep through your classes, Buren.
“Attempting to paint over the facade of history with a new lath and finish that does nothing but obscure and degrade the illustrious past for the benefit of a momentary gain in the present!”
“Buren,” Ailadas said mildly. “What are you on about?”
“Minakas Akam’s new article, that’s what! He’s writing some stuff about the Imperium again!
“And he’s incorrect?”
“He’s publishing in the Pages! That’s the problem. It’s hardly a peer reviewed journal, Koren. I would have thought you would be at least mildly upset! These lies about the Imperial diet causing madness! It would not surprise me in the least if these scrawlings were in fact the construction of some deluded, bitter, and over-educated lower caste, seeking to sully a respect for the cornerstones - no, the entire foundation of our culture - in some spiteful and malicious act of stirring up discontent and fomenting rebellion against anything done today as it was done yesterday! With no sense or sensibility in considering the consequences!” Minis not consider consequences? Hah. Pompous windbag. “There is a weakness to such an assault that hints at the nature of the unseen author -- skulking through the corridors of the archives unseen... a scurrying and probing nature almost incomprehensible to the rational mind, but more suited to a sneak attack by one too weak by nature to debate in public!
Ailadas hid his smile in his kaf cup. “You can't deny, he writes some interesting stuff...”
“THAT'S THE PROBLEM, THAT'S WHY THAT STUPID HIGH EDITOR BUYS IT, BECAUSE IT'S INTERESTING! Interest should hardly be the intellectual standard by which Arkans knowledge is judged worthy to disseminate!” And not boring like you, Buren?
“Trurenas, you’re just upset that none of your students dug that out of the archives, or dared to present the theory to you as a doctoral paper. You’d never allow such stuff to go into the University Review.” Anything that Minis writes would not be published in that stuffy rag you edit. He drew in a fragrant lung full of arkanherb and after letting it settle smoothly deep blew a languid smoke-ring as Trurenas turned purple.
“This author… this fessas,” he spat the caste out as if it were a worm in his kaf. “…the source of our commentary is someone as deformed in shape as in outlook -- a feeble creature, unempowered and somehow trained to mimic in the style of the venerables so vastly superior in both accuracy and moral outlook!”
You are hardly going to put me to sleep like your students Trurenas. “So it’s because he’s not an Aitzas that bothers you? Or because he’s not your student?”
“Koren… This sick outlook is hardly something that I have imposed! Some disease prods this unseen hand to press the twisted thoughts to the written page, and even the fools who publish it know it to be lies, but even knowing it to be a lie they can prosper from by passing it before those sufficiently uneducated to recognize it for the commode-cleaner and fish-wrap that it is!”
“What are you ranting about Buren?” Edas Laetonas settled into a chair next to Ailadas and accepted the mouthpiece offered him by the servant.
“This… this… Minakas Akam, fessas!” Buren glared at Ailadas. “Certain untenured academics have found amusement with the coincidental filaments that bind claims to a threadbare fragment of documentable truth, but these are most likely to be dismissed as blatant inaccuracies, or a malicious case of interpreted wish-fulfillment!”
Laetonas leaned on one elbow, grinning. “Untenured? That’s a fighting word, Trurenas.”
Ailadas accepted a refill from the servant who, having worked in the reading room for decades, could express volumes with a single raised eyebrow, suppressed a smirk. Ailadas sipped his second cup of kaf and smiled, a little tightly, at Trurenas but addressed his friend Edas. “It seems that our esteemed colleague has paid attention to ‘upstart, would-be academics’ in the Pages and his own ‘Review’ rather than the University Pages-of-the-Lip.”
“Truly? Is his erudite information out of date?”
“Yes. By the way, this article he’s been holding forth on… what do you think?”
Buren sputtered a bit. “What do you mean, my information is out of date?”
Laetonas smiled beautifically at him. “Oh, you didn’t hear? Koren was named as a Peer of the University, and to the History chair for the Fittam period. Just this past eight day.” Not that I have any idea how I actually achieved that, considering I’ve not been publishing regularly.
Trurenas sniffed. “An upstart seat.” He stalked to the door. “I shall have to write a stiff letter to the mis-guided Editor of the Pages.” With that, he sniffed again, raised his nose into the air and exited grandly.
The katzerik and leather and kaf scented room was quiet for a moment until both Ailadas and Edas let their lung-fulls of arkanherb billow out into the air on gusts of laughter.
There were no ships heading immediately from Emelayina to Asinanai. We would have to wait several days. If I had not felt so free I would have been frustrated, but I had nowhere to be other than with Gannara and Ili. I didn’t care so long as I was with them.
Gannara said that there was a good beach for swimming and since were were talking about so many things we had never talked about before, it might be a good place to do it. Ili could swim, we could run or swim or work out… whatever we needed to do, until we said all the things we needed to say to each other.
“It’s not Haiu Menshir, but they do a lot of work on their beaches I hear.”
“Yeha. Let’s go.”