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By Schism Rent Asunder: Section Twenty Nine

       Last updated: Friday, March 28, 2008 07:52 EDT



Tellesberg Palace,
City of Tellesberg,
Kingdom of Charis

    "Is this going to meet your needs, Doctor?"

    Rahzhyr Mahklyn turned from the window to face Father Clyfyrd Laimhyn, King Cayleb's personal secretary. Over the years, Mahklyn had found himself facing many a priest who seemed less than . . . fully enthusiastic over the Royal College's work. Father Clyfyrd, however, seemed gratifyingly free of any reservations. Not surprisingly, probably, in someone who had been personally recommended to the king by Archbishop Maikel. Now, Laimhyn stood waiting attentively for Mahklyn to consider his question.

    Not that there really ought to have been that much "considering" to do, Mahklyn reflected, glancing back out the tower window. King Cayleb's Tower — built by the present monarch's great-grandfather — stood on the side of the palace farthest from the harbor. The window offered a view across the southern third or so of Tellesberg and the vista of woodland, farms, and distant mountains beyond. It was certainly far better than the view from his old office, down by the waterfront, and the tower itself offered at least half again as much floor space. True, he was going to have to climb even more stairs to reach his present vantage point, but if he cared to ascend one more flight, he would reach the tower's flat roof, open to sunlight and wind. There was already a comfortable group of wicker chairs with padded seat cushions waiting up there under a sun canopy, and Mahklyn's imagination was fully up to the task of envisioning the sinful pleasure of sitting back in one of those chairs, notepad in lap, feet propped on a convenient stool, with a cold drink at his elbow — chilled by ice harvested from those same distant mountains and stored in the icehouse buried deep under the palace — and servants available to refresh it at need.

    I think that's part of the problem, he thought sardonically. Somehow, "pure scholarship" isn't supposed to be quite that much fun!

    Actually, as he knew perfectly well, his lingering reservations owed themselves to nothing of the sort. They represented his stubborn allegiance to the principle that the College was supposed to be officially (and as visibly as possible) independent of the Crown. Which was silly of him, since the present King Cayleb had made it abundantly clear he was going to change that relationship. For that matter, in the five-days since the fiery destruction of the College's original building, Mahklyn had come to realize that the king's decision was the right one. Unfortunately, he continued to have something he could only describe as conscience pangs whenever he thought about it.

    Stop being such a twit and answer the man, Rahzhyr, he told himself firmly.

    "I think the tower will do just fine, Father," he said, returning his attention to Cayleb's secretary. "I could wish we had a little more record storage space, but that, unfortunately, isn't something we're going to have to worry about for a while, at least."

    He smiled, but it was an exceedingly sour smile as he once again reflected upon all of the priceless records and documents which had been destroyed. And he'd come to the conclusion that Captain Athrawes had been right from the outset about how and why that fire had been started . . . and by whom.

    "If you're certain, Doctor," Laimhyn said, "I'm supposed to tell you that His Majesty would like to move you, your daughter and son-in-law, and your grandchildren into the old family section of the Palace."

    Mahklyn opened his mouth in automatic refusal of the offer, but Laimhyn continued speaking before he could object to the size, luxury, and comfort of the proposed housing.

    "That section of the Palace has stood virtually unused for the better part of twenty years, Doctor. In fact, we're going to have to do a little roof repair before it will be anything His Majesty would consider truly habitable. And, while I realize you and your family may feel you're rattling around like seeds in a gourd, I assure you that you won't for long. His Majesty intends to have one of the royal bed chambers converted into a working office for you, and it's highly probable that at least two or three of your senior colleagues will also be moving in. If King Cayleb's Tower will be a suitable home for the official College, the fact that it's directly across Prince Edvarhd's Court from the old family section would undoubtedly be convenient for all of you."

    Mahklyn closed his mouth again. Laimhyn had placed a slight but unmistakable emphasis on his final three words, which strongly suggested to Mahklyn that they'd come from either the king himself, or from Captain Athrawes. It had the hallmarks of their despicable cunning, at any rate. He didn't know who those "senior colleagues" might be, but he had his suspicions, and at least two of them were as creaky in the joints as he'd become. Which made the convenience argument considerably harder for him to reject than it would have been if it had been only his own knees he had to worry about.

    Besides, Tairys will kill me if I turn down an offer like this!

    "Very well, Father Clyfyrd," he said finally. "Please inform His Majesty that he's exceedingly generous, but that I gratefully and gladly accept his generosity."

    "I'm certain His Majesty will be delighted to hear it," Laimhyn murmured, with scarcely a flicker of triumph.

    "Now," he continued more briskly, "about that clerical assistance. His Majesty was thinking –"



    "Oh, stop grousing, Father!" Tairys Kahnklyn said with an affectionate smile as she set the salad bowl down in the center of the dinner table. "You'd think the King had offered you a cell down in the dungeons!"

    "It's just the principle of the thing," Mahklyn objected gamely. "We're supposed to be independent and critical-minded, not bribed and subverted by promises of sinful luxury!"

    "Personally, I'm completely in favor of sinful luxury, myself," Aizak Kahnklyn put in as he picked up the wooden tongs and began serving the salad.

    Mahklyn's son-in-law was a sturdy, stocky man of average height. He had a heavy, fast-growing beard, bushy eyebrows, and powerful shoulders and upper arms, and his dark eyes looked out of cavernous sockets. People often thought that he looked as if he would have been right at home as a longshoremen down on the docks, or behind a plow on a farm somewhere. In fact, there was a sparkle of lively curiosity in those deep-set eyes, and he was one of the more intelligent and well-read men of Mahklyn's acquaintance. He and Tairys were also the College's official librarians, and if anyone had been more devastated than Mahklyn himself by the destruction of the College's records, it had to have been his daughter and his son-in-law.

    "Me, too. Me, too! I love sinful luxury!" Eydyth Kahnklyn, Tairys and Aizak's younger daughter announced, almost bouncing in her chair. Her twin brother, Zhoel, rolled his eyes. He did a lot of that when Eydyth's thirteen-year-old enthusiasm got the better of her. Still, Mahklyn didn't hear him raising any protest, either, and he looked at Aidryn, his oldest grandchild.

    "Should I assume you support your parents and your somewhat vociferous sibling in this case?" he asked her.

    "Grandpapa," the twenty-year-old replied with a smile, "if you really want to live and work in a drafty, creaky old tenement, with four flights of stairs to climb just to reach your office, and windows any nasty-minded person can chuck lit lanterns through, then you go right ahead. The rest of us will just have to make do here in the Palace."

    "Hedonists, the lot of you," Mahklyn growled.

    "If you really think that, then call us that without smiling, Father," Tairys said. Mahklyn ignored her challenge with the dignity appropriate to a patriarch of his advanced years. Especially since he knew perfectly well he couldn't meet it, anyway.

    "Has anyone discussed it with Uncle Tohmys?" Erayk asked. At seventeen, he was the second eldest of Mahklyn's grandchildren. He favored his mother more than his father, with a tall, slender build, and he was definitely the family's worrier.

    "My little brother can take care of himself, thank you very much, Erayk," his mother said now, with a smile. "He's been doing it for years, after all. And I'm quite sure that when he gets home, he'll be in favor of 'dropping the hook' here instead of our old spare bedroom."

    Most of the people around the table chuckled. Tohmys Mahklyn had never married — yet, at least; he was only thirty-six, Mahklyn reminded himself — mostly because he claimed a wife and a captain's berth didn't go together. As the master of one of Edwyrd Howsmyn's galleons, Tohmys was away from Tellesberg much more often than he was at home, however, and Mahklyn suspected that he had quite a few lady-loves scattered about the oceans of Safehold. Unlike his sister, Tohmys had never been attracted to the scholar's life. He was much too busy pursuing more . . . lively goals, and he had no objection at all to enjoying the finer things in life.

    "I'm afraid you're mother's right about that much, at least," Mahklyn told his grandson.

    "Of course he is," Aizak said cheerfully. "Aside from that peculiar taste of his for saltwater, he's one of the sanest men I know. Do you really think your uncle would turn up his nose at quarters here in the Palace, Erayk?"

    "Not Uncle Tohmys, that's for sure!" Eydyth put in with a huge grin.

    "Exactly," Aizak said as he passed Mahklyn's filled salad plate to him. "And that doesn't even consider all the other advantages," he added, just a bit more quietly as he met his father-in-law's eyes across the table.

    No, it doesn't, Aizak, Mahklyn agreed silently. They'll find it harder than hell to throw any lit lanterns around here, won't they?

    "All right," he said. "All right! I'll stop complaining, buckle down, and suffer the imposition of all this sinful luxury in noble silence."



    "Your Majesty!"

    Mahklyn started to spring to his feet — or as close to it as someone his age, with his knees, could manage, at least — but King Cayleb waved him back into his chair.

    "Oh, stay put, Rahzhyr!" the youthful monarch scolded. "We've known each other for years, you're old enough to be my father, and this is your domain, not mine."

    It had, Mahklyn reflected, been tactful, if not precisely accurate, of the king to say "father," and not "grandfather."

    "Your Majesty is most kind," he said, settling back into the luxuriously padded chair Cayleb had provided for him.

    "My Majesty is nothing of the sort," Cayleb said tartly as Merlin Athrawes followed him through the door into Mahklyn's office carrying a leather, accordion-pleated document folder. "My Majesty is a calculating, cynically self-serving sort of Majesty. Seeing to it that you and your colleagues have everything you need to function smoothly and efficiently — and without worrying about smoke inhalation — is entirely in my own best interests."

    "Of course it is, Your Majesty."

    Mahklyn smiled, and the king smiled back. But then his expression turned rather more serious, and Mahklyn's eyebrows rose as Captain Athrawes closed the office door behind him.

    "As a matter of fact, there's quite a lot of truth in what I just said, Dr. Mahklyn," Cayleb said. "More, in fact, than I think you know."

    "I beg your pardon, Your Majesty?"

    "Let me begin this way," Cayleb said, settling into one of the other chairs in the large, sunny office. "I imagine it's safe for me to assume that you've observed a few. . . minor peculiarities about Seijin Merlin here?"

    He paused, head cocked, and Mahklyn's eyes narrowed.

    "As a matter of fact, Your Majesty," he said slowly, "I have."

    "Well, as it happens, that's because he's a rather peculiar sort of fellow," Cayleb said with a tight smile. "And the reason for my unannounced little visit this afternoon is to tell you about some of those peculiarities of his and why they — and you — are so important to what's happening not just here in Charis, but for all of Safehold.

    "I wasn't fully aware of the seijin's oddities myself until fairly recently," he continued. "Not until the day he and Archbishop Maikel walked in to tell me about a little history most people aren't aware of. You see, Doctor, it would appear that several centuries ago –"



    Just over three hours later, Cayleb leaned back in his chair and raised both hands, palms uppermost.

    "So that's the truth, Doctor," he said quietly. "I know it's a lot to take in, and I know it flies in the face of everything the Church has ever taught us, but it's true. I've asked Archbishop Maikel, and he tells me he's more than willing to confirm everything I've told you. For that matter, the Brethren would be most happy to make the original documents available to you, for your own examination, at Saint Zherneau's."

    "That . . . won't be necessary, Your Majesty," Mahklyn said slowly. His eyes were huge, glowing with an intense, blazing curiosity as he gazed not at the king, but at Merlin. "Oh, I'll certainly take His Eminence up on that offer — what historian could possibly not take it?! But I don't need to see it to believe every word you've just told me, and not simply because I've never known you to tell a lie, either. I won't pretend that I ever even suspected what you've just told me, but it explains a great many other things I have wondered about, over the course of my life."

    "If you'll pardon my saying so, Dr. Mahklyn, you're the sort of person who always wonders about something," Merlin observed with a twinkle.

    "One tries, Seijin Merlin." Mahklyn shook his head. "On the other hand, looking at you and the knowledge and capabilities your very existence represents, it's obvious I'm not going to finish wondering about all the things I ought to be wondering about before I run out of time."

    "Are you going to be comfortable about this, now that you know, Doctor?" Cayleb asked quietly.

    "A scholar isn't supposed to be too comfortable, Your Majesty."

    "That wasn't precisely what I meant," Cayleb said dryly.

    "I know that, Your Majesty." Mahklyn looked back at the king with a contrite expression. "At the same time, though, my answer wasn't completely flippant. Seijin Merlin and all the history you've just summarized for me is the sort of thing scholars live for. Or that we're supposed to live for, at any rate. I'm sure I'm going to discover aspects of that history which will be disturbing, and attempting to assimilate all of this in the face of what the Church has always taught is bound to cause the odd moment of anxiety. Compared to the fascination quotient, though –"

    He shrugged, and Cayleb's shoulders seemed to relax ever so slightly, as if some previously imperceptible tension had just flowed out of him.

    "I'm also beginning to understand just where Seijin Merlin's odd little caches of knowledge come from," Mahklyn continued.

    "I don't believe I've ever actually lied about that, Doctor."

    "No, I don't believe you have, either." Mahklyn chuckled. "As a matter of fact,I've just been running my memory back over your prefatory remarks each time you unveiled some new, useful technique or invention. You've always been very careful about the way you presented them, haven't you?"

    "I've certainly tried to be," Merlin said soberly, "and largely because I've always known moments like this one have to come. There may be things I've been unable to tell you, or others, but I decided at the very beginning that it was important that I not hold back that information in a way which would undercut my credibility when I finally was able to share it."

    "And if you think he's done some skillful dancing where you're concerned, Doctor, you should have seen him talking to Father Paityr," Cayleb put in feelingly.

    "I rather think I would have liked to have seen that." Mahklyn shook his head with another chuckle. "It must have been . . . diverting."

    "Oh, you have no idea, Doctor," Merlin assured him.

    "Probably not," Mahklyn agreed. Then he sat upright in his own chair, leaning forward and folding his hands on the desk in front of him. "On the other hand, Your Majesty, I'm beginning to understand what you said when you first walked in. Should I assume Seijin Merlin has some additional kernels of knowledge to share with — and through — the College?"

    "Actually, yes," Cayleb agreed. "And we'd also like you to consider additional nominees for the 'inner circle.' Obviously, you know your fellow members of the College better than either of us do. Which ones to you think would be . . . flexible enough to accept the truth?"

    "I'll have to give that some thought, Your Majesty," Mahklyn said cautiously, and Cayleb snorted.

    "If you didn't have to 'give it some thought,' I'd have you committed, Doctor! And remember, the final decision isn't solely up to you or to me. Nonetheless, it definitely would be extremely useful to have additional members of the College who could work with us on this."

    "I understand, Your Majesty," Mahklyn assured him.

    "Good. And now, Merlin, I believe you had something for the good doctor?"

    "I do indeed, Your Majesty," Merlin said with a half-bow. Then he reached into the folder he'd carried into the office and extracted a sheaf of paper. "I had this converted into manuscript form, Doctor," he said. "I thought it would probably raise fewer questions than a properly printed, hardbound copy with a publication fate from before the Day of Creation, should someone else happen to see it. Here."

    He handed it across, and Mahklyn accepted it just a bit gingerly. He opened it, then twitched in surprise.

    "This is my handwriting!" he blurted, looking back up at Merlin.

    "Actually, it's Owl's," Merlin said with a smile. "He's quite a capable forger, and I slipped him a sample of your handwriting before he produced this. I felt it would be best all around."

    "But what is it?" Mahklyn asked.

    "This, Dr. Mahklyn, is something that was written long ago, on Old Earth, by a man called Sir Isaac Newton. I've had it updated slightly — the original English was close to two thousand years old — but I think you'll find it interesting."

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