For what it is worth, I’ll be snippeting three times a week until Sept 19th.
Midst Toil And Tribulation – Snippet 40
City of Tellesberg,
Kingdom of Old Charis,
Empire of Charis.
It was strange how alike and yet un-alike Manchyr and the city of Tellesberg were, she thought, standing on the balcony and looking out across the Charisian capital. Tellesberg was cooler, without the fiercer heat of the city of her birth, but it was also twice as far from the equator. The flowers and trees were very different here, as well, yet equally bright, and Lady Hanth was a botanist. She’d spent much of her time here, especially since her marriage, cataloging the countless differences between Chisholm’s northern plant life and her new home’s. She’d been making that knowledge available to Irys and enthusiastically expanding her own store of knowledge by adding everything Irys could tell her about Corisandian botany to it. And the two of them had made several visits to Emperor Cayleb’s Royal College, to discuss the subject with Doctor Fyl Brahnsyn, the College’s senior botanist.
Irys’ hands tightened on the balcony railing as she thought about those visits. She remembered her father’s comments on the College, the way he’d recognized — and envied — the advantages it bestowed upon King Haarahld and yet simultaneously seen it as one of Haarahld’s great vulnerabilities. He’d been right about both those points, she thought now. He usually had been right about things like that, and she knew he’d been tempted to emulate the Charisian king. But in the end, he’d decided the advantages the College had given to Charis had been outweighed by the vulnerability it created. Instead of copying Haarahld, he’d been careful to avoid any policies which might have suggested to Mother Church that he was tempted to follow in Charisian footsteps where questionable knowledge was concerned. And he’d been equally careful — and invested enormous bribes — when it came to pointing out to the Inquisition just how “questionable” the Royal College of Charis’ knowledge truly was. In fact, she admitted, he and Phylyp Ahzgood had been quite . . . creative when it came to carefully crafted rumors about the way in which the College was secretly transgressing against the Proscriptions, despite all its public professions to the contrary.
Actually, she thought, they hadn’t been so much creative as inventive. She rolled the word over her mental tongue, tasting its implications, for it represented the biggest single difference between Manchyr and Tellesberg. In Corisande, “inventive” remained the pejorative it had always been under Mother Church; in Charis, the same word had become a proudly worn badge of men — and women — who deliberately and aggressively probed the limits of what man might and might not properly know.
It made her skin crawl, sometimes, to realize how hard and how far people like Rahzhyr Mahklyn and his colleagues were pushing those limits. The proof of her father’s appreciation of the College’s value to the House of Ahrmahk was all around her, in the forest of sails and rigging she saw in the harbor, the huge, sleek, low slung warships lying to anchor or heading out into Howell Bay, the enormous stacks of crates, boxes, and barrels waiting to be swayed aboard merchant ships and ferried off to every corner of Safehold. It was that same “inventiveness” which had allowed those warships to defeat every foe who’d sailed against Charis, and in many ways, it was also that inventiveness which was allowing Safehold’s newest empire to blunt the starvation the “Sword of Schueler’s” fanatics had wreaked upon the Republic of Siddarmark. Yet, what if that butcher Clyntahn was right? Not about his bloody persecutions, or his amoral policies of assassination and terror, or his gluttonous, sensual lifestyle, but about the taint which clung to all this Charisian innovation? What if the Royal College of Charis truly was Shan-wei’s foothold in the world God and the Archangels had made?
And why did the possibility he was right bother her so much? Fill her with such a confusing mix of trepidation, apprehension, foreboding, and . . . regret.
you want it, too, she told herself now, finally admitting the point, remembering the hours she’d spent talking to Brahnsyn, the gleam of delight in his eyes as he’d jotted down note after note from her recollection of Corisande’s botany. The questions he’d asked had elicited more details than she would have dreamed she could have provided, too. He’d known exactly which to ask, actually assembled the information he’d already gotten from her in ways that let him shape and focus his follow-on questions almost as if he’d physically examined the plants she could describe to him only in frustratingly incomplete ways. The sheer depth of his knowledge had been astonishing, yet he’d been only one of the scholars she’d spoken with, all of whom had willingly taken time from their own studies to answer her questions and ask questions of their own.
She hadn’t understood a great deal of what Doctor Mahklyn had had to say about the new mathematics. She’d been forced to acknowledge that after the first five minutes — or, perhaps she’d actually managed to stay in shouting distance for the first nine minutes, although she was certain she’d been completely lost by the time he got to ten. But even the limited amount she’d been able to follow had filled her with wonder and a sense of half-terrified delight. There’d been nothing in what he’d said that actually violated any aspect of the Proscriptions, so far as she could tell, yet the implications of his new “calculus” and the other, frankly brilliant, mathematical operations and theories he’d proclaimed, would affect everything. She knew very little about scholarship in general, compared to the minds assembled in the College, but she knew enough to recognize the way in which Mahklyn’s new math must provide those minds with new, immensely potent tools. She’d seen proof of that already in the pages of diagrams Doctor Dahnel Vyrnyr, another of those scholars had enthusiastically displayed to her.
Vyrnyr was the College’s leading expert in the field of pressures, which wasn’t something Irys would have thought of as a field of study in its own right. The Writ explained why the Archangel Truscott had arranged for the boiling point of water to increase in a tightly sealed vessel, after all, and taught mankind how to construct pressure cookers to take advantage of his foresight in seeing to it that it was so. The benefits for food preparation and preservation were well known to anyone who’d read the Book of Truscott and the Book of Pasquale, yet Vyrnyr wanted to understand how the Holy Truscott had arranged for it to work, and she’d been using her own observations and Mahklyn’s new mathematical tools to pursue that understanding. She’d shared some of what she’d discovered with Irys on one of the princess’ visits to the College with Lady Hanth, and the scholar’s eyes had glowed with pleasure as she displayed the elegant rules and processes Truscott had imposed on the seemingly simple act of lighting a fire under a sealed pressure cooker.
There was a beauty to those rules, those processes, Irys thought now, leaning on the balcony rail, gazing out over the sun-soaked roofs of Tellesberg, listening to the voice of the city that never slept, seeing the new construction sweeping up over the hills around the city as the Charisian Empire’s southern capital grew yet larger and watching gulls and sea wyverns of every description and hue swirling in raucous crowds above the flotsam-rich harbor. The meticulous way in which the Archangels had fitted the universe together had never been more obvious than when Doctor Vyrnyr explained about pressures, or Doctor Mahklyn attempted to explain the magnificent inevitability of mathematics, or Doctor Lywys demonstrated the ways in which separate, dissimilar materials combined into new and unique compounds, or Doctor Hahlcahm talked about his efforts in conjunction with Doctor Vyrnyr’s studies of heat and pressure to determine how Pasqualization purified milk and food. Surely God couldn’t object to His children trying to understand and appreciate the majestic beauty and intricate detail with which His and His Archangels’ gifts had imbued His universe?
Yet there’d been another side to Doctor Vyrnyr’s studies and revelations, for it was obvious they provided a basis for the systematic expansion and improvement of processes which already pressed far too closely for the Inquisition’s taste on the bounds of the Proscriptions. The College had even proposed new names for the practical applications of Vyrnyr’s studies. “Hydraulic” and “pneumatic” fell strangely on Irys’ ear, and the fact that the College had seen a need to coin those words — indeed, had set up a committee chaired by Doctor Mahklyn himself, for the express purpose of naming new fields of study — was a chilling reflection on how its faculty’s determination to expand and quantify human knowledge drove them inevitably towards the Proscriptions’ limits.