Escartine Library, College of Errensea 3057.6.29
That was Holander’s considered opinion. Statement made, he continued on his way with Seama skipping to keep up.
“That’s what I said. Nothing more than that.”
“This is Haslem we’re talking about, you know.”
“Yes, yes, you’re right, I’m sorry: senile tommy-rot and no style.”
Seama could not quite work out whether Holander was being serious or not. Of course, anyone might read The Song of Ages and count it as tommy-rot very easily. Over the course of the last few weeks, in-between sessions with the healers, Seama had set himself the task of reading and re-reading every page, half-page or scrap Grek managed to recover. After drying, most of the sheets had been too brittle to hold and so Grek had her scribes indexing and copying till their heads ached and their wrists were sore. Grek would eventually have done as much for any damaged text in her precious library, but Seama’s obsession inspired her. Luckily for the scribes, of what was once a mighty volume less than one hundred pages remained. Seama carried a copy with him now, clutched to his chest with his bandaged left arm.
Struggling through a great deal of pain, the wizard had found his chosen task tremendously frustrating. With the conclusion and biggest part of the argument gone what he had left to work with seemed confused and nonsensical. The main body of the text left to them was in the form of a narrative history but clearly owed more to myth and legend than recorded fact. Taken at face value the words he read told the story of a Constant War, the curse of mankind, as it was in the beginning and how it progressed through time. The most recent events described were remote and strange and unknown. There were peoples, races and civilisations with names Seama had never heard. He was not completely sure the events described had occurred on this world he knew. He was not completely sure that this was anything more than a tale written to amuse the author and confuse the reader. And it failed to delight. The structure was ungainly, the prose unremittingly dull. If the Book had not called to him so insistently, Haslem the Great or no, Seama would have left it to the ministrations of Grek and her students.
The only part that had any impact was the introduction. For all its confusion something in the words held him. Little of the discussion was specific. It spoke of old gods, of good and evil, of the never-ending strife between the two; it talked about The Ages of the Earth as though there were more than just the one; it pointed out key events of each of these Ages but in such a haphazard fashion it was difficult to be sure what came before and what came after. And yet there was something in it. There were names given that made him feel uneasy; there was a truth implied he could not quite grasp.
Holander couldn’t see it at all, he couldn’t feel it.
“Not only bonkers,” he continued gleefully, as he pushed past a knot of students, congregating inconveniently as students will, in this case at the rear exit to the Great Hall, “but dull as last year’s accounts. Honestly, Haslem could be writing about mayhem, murder and the end of the world and I’d still rather boil my head than read him. In fact, according to you, he is talking about the end of the world and how it already happened! I must have been busy or something and missed it.” Holander shook his head in utter denial. “And you wonder I think it’s rubbish!”
Seama found it difficult to argue with Holander on either point. The dullness was indisputable – mostly based in the confusion - and the complex jumble of themes and facts was maddening. But it couldn’t have been tommy-rot or anything like it. Haslem was the greatest scholar and wizard Asteranor had ever known: powerful, dedicated, astute and unfailingly serious. Well, according to his biographers anyway, but then they were a dour bunch themselves. And it was a thousand years ago at that. Fashion, style and literature had moved on. The biographers close to the events of his life, contemporaries or near-contemporaries, were themselves now lost in the past, with only their words about Haslem remaining to prove they had ever drawn breath. And they were clearly men who knew their place, respectful and careful, mindful of their duty to conserve and glorify the Great Wizard’s achievements, to record his legacy for the generations to come. Not very likely then to have concentrated on Haslem the man: on his drinking, his jokes, his womanizing. If, in fact, he ever indulged in any of those habits.
“Can you see Haslem as a boozer, Hol?”
“What are you talking about?”
“You know: “just as human as the rest of us”, prone to bad jokes and heavy nights.”
“What, you mean like you?”
Seama laughed. “Bang on the nail! No, I could never be like that but I know plenty who can. Take my friend Angren...”
“I’d rather not. Anyway, the answer is no. I suspect Haslem was a lot like you really are – and that’s not flattery by the way.”
“Hm. That’s probably what I think too. So the thing is: do you think I would write down anything you would call “senile tommy-rot.”
“Well, no; but you’re not senile yet.”
“I don’t think Haslem ever became senile. I think this little book here might well be the worst piece he ever put together but that’s only because his subject is incredibly complicated. Trust me, Hol, he was deadly serious; I just wish I could understand what he was getting at. After you.”
With his good arm Seama pushed open the swing door leading off the first landing of the main stair. They had come down to the Upper Stack, a mezzanine floor installed several hundred years back, between the Lower Stack and the Great Floor of the Escartine Library. That was one of things Seama liked about libraries: they could not help but grow and grow and that meant learning went on and on and there was no ending to it. An invigorating thought. But this continued accretion, accumulation, aggregation of the academic bricks and mortar of the College was hard to control and difficult to house. Even now there were plans in hand to build out behind the library back towards The Quays, using up a portion of the land given over to the lists – another cause of dispute between Fox Garner and the Master.
“I hate this floor.”
“Is that why you always keep to your Crypt?”
“Could be, Seama. But then again, I don’t like it groaning away over my head either. When I’m up here I always think I’m going to fall through the boards, and when I’m down there I keep expecting the whole lot to come crashing down on me.” Holander eyed the aisle ahead mistrustfully. The mezzanine quivered before them. It would be impossible to advance without the whole suspended edifice moaning a protest, creaking a complaint. “I’ll be glad when we can move the collection and rebuild the whole thing.”
“Don’t hold your breath, Hol. I think Waldin’s got other things on his mind just at the minute.”
Holander’s head snapped round. “What makes you say that?”
Seama tried to hide his surprise at Holander’s reaction.
“Oh, nothing specific. I saw him this morning looking as though the whole College was falling apart. Muttered something about the drains, I think.”
“Oh. Yes. There’s always something. You coming through or are you just going to stand there?”
“Well, fine, yes.” Seama stepped through the doorway, letting the heavy door swing shut behind him, but then stopped, realizing he didn’t know where to go next. “Holander, you won’t mind my asking but what are we doing here?”
“Ah now, seeing as you’re so determined to have me think there’s something in this damn book, I thought it about time we found ourselves some proof. And I figured that if Haslem’s discovered some hidden history of the world, that we’ve somehow forgotten about, then probably someone else discovered it before him; perhaps even lots of people. He’ll need to have found the information somewhere. And so, Seama, my lad, we’re off to the antiquities and you’re going to be doing an awful lot of reading. How’s your Ancient Medean?”
Seama pulled a face. His Ancient Medean was rusty to say the least.
“Are you punishing me for something, Hol?”
“Not at all, Seama – I’m trying to cure you.”
“By locking me up with the Classics? Well if it doesn’t cure me at least it’ll bore me to death and that’ll be an end to it. Couldn’t we get a few students down here instead?”
“Would you trust them to find what we need?”
“And what do we need exactly?”
“You make it sound like a crime’s been committed.”
“Now then, Seama, we’ve already spoken about the style...”
Wilf Kelleher Jones
A Song of Ages
12/5/2012 wkj fantasy
for fast navigation click site map on Home page