Son Of The Black Sword – Snippet 33

Chapter 16

Rada was happiest at times like this. The Presiding Judge had sent out a detailed information request. Such an assignment would send her into the oldest, dustiest, quietest parts of the legal archive for literally weeks on end. She could read and research, moving from one book or scroll to another, coming out only to sleep and eat — when she occasionally remembered to — and then back to the archives. She’d read all day, and then make notes all night by lantern light until the eye strain made her head throb, and then she’d do it again the next day. Once all of the possible legal questions were exhausted, only then would she write her report.

It was wonderful.

This particular report was about the ramifications of the proposed destruction of the casteless. Having lived her entire life in the glorious Capitol and being obligated to the prestigious central library most of that time, Archivist Rada had never actually met a casteless, so it was difficult to comprehend the idea of killing all of them. She’d seen the filthy non-people mucking out the storm drains on her way to the library a few times, but for the most part the casteless who lived in the greatest city in the world remained invisible. She’d pulled the latest reports from Census and Taxation for the judges, so she was aware of how many of them there actually were, but understanding numbers on a ledger was different than picturing them as living things. It was a good thing Rada was an academic, because she only had to report on what was actually written in the Law, and didn’t have to delve into the difficult things like interpreting or enforcing those laws.

This was a rather confusing issue, and one that the legal library had not worked on for quite some time. There had been many regulations pertaining to the casteless passed over the last few hundred years, and those laws were based upon prior laws. So she’d pulled those, and found that they were based on even earlier laws, and those were reworked versions of even older laws. In fact, it turned out there had been a group of people regulated to be untouchables since the Age of Law had begun over eight hundred years ago. This was all rather exciting to Rada, because ancient history was a controlled topic, and could only be reviewed under certain circumstances with approval from the Order of Historians, and they were a tiny, secretive bunch. The only order more tightly controlled than the Historians was probably the Astronomers.

This case was giving her an excuse to read all sorts of interesting things!

“Here are the works you requested, Archivist.” One of her assistants entered the room, grunting beneath the weight of a stack of old books. Thoom. He dropped the books on the library table in front of her, which raised a great cloud of dust.

Rada took off her now dust-speckled reading glasses and wiped them on her sleeve. Glass of this quality was expensive, even by her family’s standards. Satisfied the precious lenses were clean, she put them back on, glanced over the stack and took in all the titles at once. “There are only nineteen here…Where’s Ingragdra’s First Volume of Historical Proceedings? Where’s Melati’s Testimony of the Prior Age?”

“I’m really sorry but I couldn’t pull those.” The assistant was a little scared of her. “The Lord Archivist declared there’s no reason for us to look at the early histories on this subject.”

“What? That’s asinine. My assigned topic clearly relates!”

“General access to information about the prior age is prohibited. You’ll have to take it up with the superiors.”

Rada sighed. She’d hoped to do this without trading favors. “Tell me something I don’t know.”

“The books you’re requesting are in a section I’m not allowed into. My apologies, my lady, but you’ll need written permission to enter.”

She thought about yelling at her assistant, but that wouldn’t accomplish anything. It wasn’t like some low-status librarian was going to fight with the Lord Archivist. That’s my job. She needed to talk to him about this fascinating but troubling assignment anyway. Her investigation had found a few irregularities, and librarians hated irregularities. Since she only needed her glasses to read, she put them back in their case. It was better not to risk such expensive things on a hike through the library. “Fine. I’ll get permission. You stay here and…dust…or something.”

It took Rada twenty minutes to get to the Lord Archivist’s office. She walked fast, but the Central Library was just that big, and it wasn’t laid out in a very convenient fashion. In a nation based upon laws, they all had to be collected somewhere, and after hundreds of years of additions to make room for all of the new regulations, decrees, and studies, the library was probably the biggest building in the world. Despite the library’s vast size, she only passed a handful of people on her journey. Because information was valuable, access to it had to be strictly controlled for everyone’s safety. Her Order was kept small, and approved visitors were rare.

Once she got to the Lord Archivist’s office, she didn’t wait for the secretary to announce her, but rather just barged right in. The secretary was used to that and didn’t even try to slow Rada down. The head of her Order was sitting at his desk, smoking a pipe, reading a letter, and seeming rather annoyed. “What is it now?” He looked up. “Oh. Hello, Rada. What brings you up from your warren to the sunlight of the top floor, my dear?”

“I’ve come to yell at you.”

“Ah, excellent. I should have my underlings thwart you more often, as that’s the only time you care enough to visit your poor, lonely old father.” He put his pipe down and placed his hands on top of his desk, as if preparing himself for important news. “So what has provoked your outrage this time, daughter? Ink that is slightly too blue? Lantern oil that creates too much smoke?”

“Your cheap oil may have shaved fewer notes from your precious budget, but it caused a premature yellowing of valuable papers, and the Law mandates black ink for inventory forms,” Rada stated.

Her father grinned. “And such fanatical attention to detail is why you will someday be the one sitting in this chair, listening to junior librarians complain about paper cuts. Your mother and I are very proud of your accomplishments, Rada. If you bothered to dine with your family occasionally you’d probably hear that once in a while. Come outside for once, child. We miss you. The library has been here for five hundred years. It will probably still be here tomorrow.”

Outside meant people, and Rada didn’t like people. Books were much easier to deal with. “This is serious.”

“And so is finding you a husband. I tell other families that I have another daughter of marriageable age and they don’t believe me, because no one outside of the library ever sees you. It is said that spotting Radamantha Nems dar Harban is like witnessing a mythical creature, like a unicorn or a whale.”

“The legends say that whales were fat.” She really didn’t want to talk to her family, but she was willing to make sacrifices for her duty. “Fine. I’ll come to dinner.”

“Excellent. We’ll see you tonight.”

“I’m very busy, I was thinking perhaps tomorrow –”

“Tonight, it is. So what can I do for you, Senior Archivist?”

“My section has been assigned an important duty by a special committee of judges and I require access to the restricted collection to continue my research.”

“Hmmm…” Her father scratched at his beard. There were crumbs in it. “Those books are controlled for important reasons. The Age of Kings was a time of madness.”

“I’ll file an official request if I have to. It’s very important.”

“The foundations of the Law were laid during a very turbulent era. Sadly, when you get that far back into the writings, even those from the early part of this age, reason and science were intermingled with religious fervor, and we all know no good can come of works polluted with lies.”

“What good are books that no one is ever allowed to read?”

“Talk like that can cause trouble. The Inquisition burned anything they thought was too dangerous long ago. We were lucky they allowed any questionable writings from that time to survive at all, so it is best not to even remind them that part of the library exists. But you do raise a wonderful philosophical question. Let’s save it for dinner. In the meantime it would still be best if you limited your research to more contemporary writings.”