Son Of The Black Sword – Snippet 34
Rada appreciated his concern, but it was her nature to continue pushing. “That’s the problem. The newer records are incomplete.”
“Incomplete?” Those were fighting words to the Lord Archivist. “Impossible.”
“Some of the items on the catalog are missing.”
“More than likely they’re just shelved in the wrong place.”
That was insulting. That had to be the sort of thing that the warrior caste got into duels over. “Nothing in my section is ever shelved in the wrong place. I’ve checked and rechecked. They’re gone. Minutes of debates, prior studies on this topic, disappeared. And I’m afraid a few booksâ€¦” she leaned forward conspiratorially, “have been defaced.”
“Saltwater!” It was rare to hear profanity out of her father, but books were her family’s life. “What kind of vile scum would harm a book?”
“Several pages were torn out of each one. I can’t say when this happened. It’s been decades since these were last inventoried, but each time the pages that were taken were related to the same topic. The only reason I found them at all was because of this assignment.”
Her father was obviously concerned. Damaging library books was a serious crime, punishable by death. “And what is this research topic of yours?”
“I’m to find if there are any potential legal ramifications for eradicating all the casteless non-people.”
It was odd. Unlike most in their Order, her father was of such high status that he actually had windows, so he had the darkest skin of any librarian Rada knew. During the summer he could almost pass for a worker. She’d never seen him turn pale before. Father looked as if he was going to be ill, and for a moment, the hands on his desk were actually being used to steady himself rather than for show.
“Are you all right?”
“I’m fine, Rada,” he lied. He was clearly not. “I didn’t know you were working on that project. I thought that was assigned to Senior Archivist Gurman?”
“Gurman’s an imbecile. He’s a political obligation because his family donated enough money to add a wing to the library. I’m not entirely convinced he’s even literate. I traded assignments with him. He’s lazy, so it was easy to convince him to swap.”
Her father took several deep breaths to compose himself. “You shouldn’t have done that.”
“I thought you’d be proud. While Gurman’s section is researching legislation pertaining to irrigation and soil erosion for some minor house court, my section is helping the presiding judge. It’s obvious which one is the more important job.”
“And on some subjects, doing a thorough job results in punishment rather than a reward,” he muttered. Agitated, he drummed his fingers against a desk. “This isn’t good, Rada, not good at all. There are plenty of scribes working on this issue. It will be enough without delving into ancient history. For your report just use what you already have. Pay no mind to the rest. It is of no concern.”
“I can’t –”
“No concern!” he shouted.
Rada flinched. Her father hadn’t raised his voice to her since she’d been a child. “Why are you yelling at me?”
“I’m sorry. Justâ€¦Finish your report. I’ll take care of noting the damage on the inventory. Stay away from the restricted collection. If the committee cares so much, they can ask the Historians.”
“But my report would be incomplete. There seems to be something dating back to the founding of the Law concerning the casteless that’s missing. As it stands, the Law mandates their continued existence, but why it requires this is confusing. I’m supposed to provide a historical context. I can’t turn in a flawed report to the judges. It’ll bring dishonor to the library.”
“That’s on my head, not yours. I’ll sign off on it.”
“That would be dishonest!” Leaving out information was the same as lying. She’d learned to be a scholar from her father, and academic honesty always trumped all other concerns, so this was a very troubling conversation. “Do you know what was on those missing pages?”
“Of course not. It was probably vandalism, nothing moreâ€¦”
“It seems too much of a coincidence for it not to be sabotage.”
“You know what? On second thought, forget the report. You’re done.” Her father was extremely agitated. Normally he was a very calm and rational man. “This was Gurman’s assignment, not yours, and you were wrong to take it. I’m giving it back to him.”
“That’s final. Go do your report on watering plants or whatever it is. I’ll hear no further argument.”
“Fine!” She stood up and stormed away, planning on giving his office door a good slamming. And then she noticed something on the wallâ€¦
“Come back here!” Her father turned to his writing desk, and rummaged about for supplies, until he found a scrap of paper. Using a fine glass pen he scribbled a quick note. Rada became nervous. She’d never been officially reprimanded before. Her record was spotless. He passed it over but she couldn’t even read it without her glasses. “Give this reprimand to Gurman for shirking his duty, and count yourself lucky that you’re not getting one yourself. If everyone in the government did whatever they felt like instead of what they were told, the Capitol would descend into madness.”
“I’m sorry, Father.”
The Lord Archivist got up and went around his desk to her, trying to act like he wasn’t upset, but she’d never seen him so flushed and nervous before. “Now back to work, silly girl. I’ll tell your mother to expect you for dinner.”
She accepted his awkward hug, then hurried out of the office, hoping that he wouldn’t notice she’d stolen a spare ring of keys from its peg on the wall.
* * *
Rada missed family dinner that evening because she was too busy sneaking into the library’s restricted collection.
She’d thought about putting the keys back and doing as her father had instructed, but she was curious to see what all the fuss was about. All her life her father had lectured about the importance of their order putting integrity above all other concerns. Archivists took no side. The Capitol depended on their honesty and thoroughness. Good law couldn’t be built upon a foundation of bad information. So what was it about this casteless problem that could cause her father to ignore such a fundamental philosophy?
Rada working late wasn’t remarkable to anyone, especially as she often lost track of time, fell asleep between the stacks, and was found there in the morning. So she’d waited until all of the other librarians and archivists had left for the evening before going down to the lowest level. Just in case anyone else was working, she kept her lantern hood down so that it would only illuminate the steps right in front of her. As a Senior Archivist, she could go almost anywhere she wanted in the library, but it was better to avoid questions.
Hardly anyone ever descended into this section. This was part of the original building that had been added onto for hundreds of years. It was solid, but ugly, and lacked any of the fancy ornamentation now common to government buildings. She’d been told that they had once stored statues from the prior ages down here, but the Inquisition had taken them all away back when her grandfather had been nothing but a junior archivist. The only statue that was left had been too heavy to move easily, so the Inquisitors had smashed it with hammers until it was unrecognizable. But if Rada squinted just right, she could imagine the shape of the smiling fat man grandfather had spoken of.
There was a desk for a watchman, but there was no one posted there at night. The warrior caste had obligated a single old cripple to the library to serve as a guard during the day, but on the rare occasions that Rada had walked through this section, he’d been taking a nap. She put her glasses on long enough to read the visitor log at the guard post. No wonder the old soldier with one arm was usually asleep. It had been months since the last librarian had been let into the restricted section, and five years since the last outsider had signed in. Lord Protector Ratulâ€¦Never heard of him.
Rada paused at the entrance. Going past this point meant she would be breaking a rule. She didn’t think of herself as a rule breaker. If she was caught nosing around in here, she might even be questioned by the Inquisition, and frankly, those masked bullies terrified her. Rada almost turned back before she decided that she was being stupid. Nobody would know, and damn it, she was curious. She had to try a half a dozen keys from the ring before finding the one that opened the heavy lock.