I stood looking down at the candidate’s chair, which was obviously going to be quite uncomfortable. The chair was too short for me and put my knees up high. No doubt if I were broader in form, a more slender chair with firm armrests would have been left in its stead. This would not be an occasion to find anything resembling comfort. Ailadas said that this was intentional. No one would have an easy time of it while facing the tenured professors. It still seemed petty, really.
The hall on the outside of the carved, wooden, screened-in box, was lined with panels of darkrose wood, rubbed by hand over the centuries, with beeswax. They breathed out sweetness in the warmth of the afternoon. The table was black ironwood and the high, carved chairs for the professors had green silk cushions upon them. Windows high above cast dust-filled rays of light down to the parquet floor. Everything seemed muffled and overlaid with generations of the terror of the student and the argument.
The interior of the booth, unlit, was closed in and made me catch my breath, feeling enclosed. The herald's string ran through the wall so that the candidate could pull on his sleeve to either draw his ear closer or to interrupt should he repeat words incorrectly. The door shut me in and left me to sit in the uncomfortable chair and lean forward to regard the hall through the dense screen.
The rubbed walls were full of more than just beeswax. They were full of the glittering clash of words, of competing truths, which had sunk their fangs into the bones of the building and yet there was the distant whiff of well brewed kaf and elegant Arkan-herb waterpipes. No doubt also the aroma of deep-fried pastries for the after-the-presentation, post-battle bun-fight where the victors and the vanquished would gather to eat and drink and smoke and chat politely over the bleeding corpse of the thesis, as was proper in the hallowed halls of academia.
I sat down and tried to remind myself that it was entirely likely that these professors would not appreciate the documents I was presenting to them. Many had been raised in an environ where the archives were considered as close to pristine and absolute knowledge as was attainable. By displaying these were in effect flawed, it reflected, or distorted, all the knowledge derived from them - with an unknown number of accredited ideas now brought into doubt. With that doubt, the research of centuries of academics came into question -- including, perhaps, those very members of the Board of Peers reviewing my submission.
I wondered if it was so physical... like the Mezem... anyone who left the sand unscathed would perforce be considered a colleague. At least the gladiators fought only a single opponent, or at least faced enemies judged as worthy to defend or endure the exercises. My reviewers were under no regulation save their own instrumentalities to decide what would be considered as included within the domain of History.
Ailadas had warned me that I would likely not win my review. Since my thesis was in history and would likely challenge their established world-view. I took a deep breath. This was it. I would likely not win the first of the ten laurels... the leaves that made up an Arkan professor's formal crown. My gut was in a knot. My presentation would actually be three leaves worth, if I was granted it.
“Your submission cites one hundred fourteen references which have, only until recently, been unavailable to the Board for review.” That was Professor Emeritus Tirinas, a man revered in the schooldays of Ailadas as a man ‘centuries beyond his time’ -- to our great misfortune. His work involving the intricate details and contents of sealing waxes as a means of verifying the dating of surviving messages was considered the high point of his career, a good three decades ago. Any work that shook the reference of the ages of established documents imperiled his life’s work, and he would be to me what he had been to Ailadas in his journeyman’s age... a splendid obstruction.
“By drawing on these published references from unaccredited journals, you have, in effect, popularized and publicized what would prove to be material which is not only inaccurate, but potentially hazardous to more experienced and professional researchers!”
I leaned over to whisper to the herald to have him repeat my answer for the review board's hearing. “Professor. I beg to differ that information given to the popular journal is compromised. It is the same information. It is still available in the same file folders as originally discovered. The Imperial Concervancy is both precise and delicate in their preservation of historic documents.”
“There are, in some cases, the documents that refer to the modifications of the Imperial Ledger’s archives? Or have these specific manuscripts passed your singular and lofty standards as being reliably unmodified as to be considered suitable for public dissemination?”
This query came with less venom behind it -- Master Borenas was, as Ailadas warned me, “the sort who tests the edges with a pinprick, rather than slice through to the bone.” I was uncertain how he would assay my comments, but I could hope for more compassionate rendering than from some.
Ailadas scoffed when I found he was one of the judges one the Review Board, and I used the word ‘compassionate’ in his company. He claimed compassion was something unfamiliar with the Board in ANY of the fields of study, and went on at length about the ‘noble hopelessness’ of my endeavor.
“Your work is revolutionary, fresh, and essential to prevent stagnation. If this were any of the Sciences, it could be absorbed as just another hypothesis. If it were in Mathematics, it would be just another glittering toy in an endless pile of abstracts. If it were even in Literature, well, they’d deny you the laurel, wait until you starved or drank yourself to death, and then declare you a genius in absentia.”
“But you have opened the catacomb of History...and since everyone has walked down that road for some length, most think they have an opinion on the subject worth reckoning with. At this point, you’ve been one of the few who’s walked the path from the Imperial Archives, and until there are hundreds, maybe thousands submitting their citations along parallel paths, those who have walked that path will have worn some serious ruts in the road, and it’ll be a bumpy ride.”
“Ahem, the more positive a reception your work gets, the sooner that material will get someone to risk their reputation defending it anew. I’d say if you were unilaterally rejected by all the Judges, that might not happen for quite some time... I’d bet you a decent bottle of nakiti you’ll get no less than one positive assay... but if you obtained three, I’d worry about the Chancellor’s Fund being suddenly credited with a significant donation. No matter how the records tally...History involves people, and with people anything, is not only possible, it’s almost inevitable.”
“No, one thing is seldom possible... immediate recognition. Too many rags-to-riches stories fail to emphasize the amount of rags that need to be gone through in the procedure. You’ve had a distinct lack of rags in your past, and I’d not be surprised if that were held by some as a black mark against your success. Too many people may be uncertain if you are better than they are, but while they can be certain they can thwart you from proving you might be, they will take the opportunity to do so.”
Ailadas reminded me of the difficulty in research; one of his pupils tried corroborating his work on merchant shipping trade routes by examining the procedures used in repairing ships, and what style of hulls could be traced to which ports for how long. When no word on the reseach ever appeared, Ailadas managed, with surprisingly little effort, to locate his former pupil, now working as a prosperous shipwright on the Stonegate Route. What the Ivory Tower had lost, the mastheads and manifests had gained.
The voice of the third judge returned me from my mental musings.
If I had a measure of hope on my side of the scale it was the youngest member of the Board, Professor Faitzikran known for both his extremes of unorthodox study, and of embracing social and political concepts from other cultures and ages. His physique was hardly one with enough stamina to turn the pages as he voraciously devoured them - he used a palanquin to move about town, and had, in fact, as enough adepts became available with experience in Faib skating, and flew through the boulevards to whatever talk suited his fancy.
“Candidate.” I could see his hands fluttering like gloved butterflies on the table. “You contend that the massacre was called for by people protesting a salt tax. This does not require an additional complication of this so-called ‘Ordeal’, why do you include this?”
Because it’s the core of my presentation, you ten-leaf crowned moron. I did not say this. I leaned again to whisper to the herald. It was going to be a long afternoon.
My thanks to Wayne Borean and Kevin Duane for input on l'academie!