BY SCHISM RENT ASUNDER – snippet 51:
July, Year of God 892
City of Tellesberg,
Kingdom of Charis
Rahzhyr Mahklyn squinted at the sheet of paper on his desktop. Despite the best lenses the opticians could grind, his nearsightedness was growing steadily worse, and the lighting didn't help. The oil lamps were filled with the finest first-grade kraken oil, and the reflectors behind them had been burnished to mirror brightness, but it was still a dim substitute for natural sunlight.
Of course, if I'd just go home at a reasonable hour, I could work on this during daylight and not have to worry about lamps, couldn't I?
His lips twitched at the thought, especially given the fact that he knew every one of his colleagues would have said exactly the same thing to him, although probably somewhat more acerbically than he just had. Still, the nascent smile faded, it wasn't as if there were anything waiting for him at home since his wife's death. Ysbet had been his constant companion, fellow scholar, collaborator, and best friend, as well as his wife, for over thirty years, and if he was going to be honest, her death was one of the main reasons he didn't go home when the rest of the Royal College of Charis shut down for the night.
He sighed and sat back, pushing his wireframe glasses up onto his forehead and massaging the bridge of his nose wearily. The new system of "Arabic numerals" Merlin Athrawes had introduced to the kingdom had been an incredible boon to Charis' merchant houses and manufactories. In some ways, the "abacus" had been an even greater boon, yet Mahklyn was virtually certain no one outside the Royal College had yet begun to grasp all of the other things they made possible. There were even a handful of statements in the Holy Writ and The Testimonies which were beginning to make sense to him for the first time, with their hints of mathematical operations he'd never been able to make work using the old, cumbersome system of notations. The possibilities were literally dazzling, although he suspected that only a batch of old fogies like himself and his College colleagues could appreciate the vistas he saw opening before him.
Yet, at least. Unless he was very mistaken, that was about to change radically.
Just the ability to keep accurate records and actually understand what the numbers mean, how they change over time, is going to completely change the way kings and emperors think. In fact, I wonder if even Cayleb and Ironhill appreciate the advantage for his clerks and his quartermasters, far less the Treasury!
Well, if anyone would, it would be Cayleb. For all of his own lack of interest in pure scholarship, he was his father's son in so many ways it was almost frightening, and he'd already made his continued commitment to the Royal College abundantly clear. In fact, he'd offered to move the entire College out of its tall, narrow, shabby, teetering converted waterfront counting house and its attached warehouse and into luxurious new quarters in Tellesberg Palace.
To be honest, Mahklyn thought, puffing out his cheeks and then dropping his glasses back onto the bridge of his nose, the offer was tempting. If nothing else it would keep him from climbing all those stairs every morning! But the Royal College had been in the same buildings ever since Cayleb's grandfather first founded it. By now, Mahklyn and his fellows knew every cranny, exactly where every record was filed or tucked away. Besides, despite the Crown's patronage, and despite its very name, Haarahld VI had insisted when he first endowed it that it must be independent of the royal government. That it was not to become a mere adjunct or tool of the House of Ahrmahk, but rather serve the kingdom as a whole. Mahklyn wasn't afraid Cayleb wanted to change that, but he was afraid that such close proximity to the throne would inevitably lead to a greater degree of dependence upon it.
Still, does it really matter all that much? he asked himself. There's so much happening now, so many things that have broken loose in the last couple of years. I doubt half a dozen people in the entire Kingdom, outside the College itself, even begin to suspect all that's about to break loose, either. Or, thank God, how much of that we owe to Seijin Merlin. If any of those "Temple Loyalist" idiots knew about him, there'd be Hell to pay, and no mistake. But with so much happening, so much coming together, I doubt we'd have time to become "subservient" to the Crown!
He chuckled dryly at the thought and bent over his desk once more, frowning as he contemplated the formula he'd been playing with for the last several hours. He tapped his teeth gently with the end of his pen holder, then dipped the nib and started writing slowly once again.
He never quite identified the sound which pulled him out of his reverie an hour or so later. It hadn't been very loud, whatever it was. Probably, he decided later, it had been the sound of breaking glass.
At the time, all he knew was that he'd heard something which wasn't part of the old building's normal nighttime creaks and groans. Space near the harbor was always at a premium in Tellesberg, which helped explain why the city had so many tall buildings. Some of them were even taller than the College, in fact, and many of them were even older structures. But some of the builders had been a little less than scrupulous in their building practices. Certainly the College was constantly showing new cracks in its walls and emitting nocturnal sounds which could be downright alarming. In this case, however, and even though it didn't sound especially threatening (whatever it was), it wasn't supposed to be there, and Rahzhyr Mahklyn was a naturally curious man.
operations previously too difficult to consider?
Slopes? Continued fractions? Square roots?
Perhaps even the arcane art of long division? (Writing as part of the extreme minority whose grade school training in Roman numerals included how to do math using them, multiplication being challenging and long division being, well, a bit arcane. The real Romans had it easier, in that they wrote 40 as XXXX and not XL.)
Once upon a time, Isaac Asimov had a short story, which as I recall greatly preceded the invention of the pocket calculator, in which computers had rendered humanity innumerate. The hero of the piece reinvented paper arithmetic, with great attendant advantage to his spaceship fleet. At the time he perished, he had made a major breakthrough in the square root problem. Why do I hear echoes here?