A Cold Morning at the College

The city was waking. A wagon creaked past, wood complaining of the chill like an old man. Servants called to each other, spreading the morning’s news as they delivered packages. The air was scented with wood-smoke from a hundred chimneys and stoves.

These sounds and scents slipped into the room through the window, finding cracks in the shutters meant to protect against the cold breeze. They combined, losing individual meaning but creating something else – the background presence of living humanity. It settled in, filling those spaces not already occupied by shelves, books and papers.

Neither of the room’s occupants paid attention to the city’s rising presence, but both felt it without realizing. The young woman sat up straighter. Her quill danced across the parchment just a bit faster. The turbaned man raised his voice slightly, unconsciously speaking above the murmurs.

“With the inventory complete, I will be preparing a report to the Rulership. What do you think they will focus on?”

Sarah responded quickly, “I think they will want to know what you’re doing with the rare books, and which ones you’re going to get next!”

Azzam nodded. “Likely. The first matter is simple – demand is not yet overwhelming, so the priority distribution system should continue to work for some time. The latter, of course, will be more difficult. How would you plan the library expansion for the next two seasons?”

This kind of conversation was already familiar. Azzam would query his apprentice constantly as she worked, and Sarah would answer – sometimes eagerly, sometimes hesitantly. The master scholar favored open-ended questions, and never admonished her for a “wrong” answer. Sometimes, though, it was clear that he thought an answer was particularly insightful or well said – and other times he pressed her for greater detail, or challenged a claim.

On this occasion, she had a longer answer ready at once. “I would want more Exoterics. The Fundaments series we talked about last week – I would have it expanded. And books on languages, and some histories. I would write some myself and also ask merchants about purchases from Melandir.”

Azzam gestured for her to continue. “And why these things?” As he listened, he glanced down occasionally at the work in front of him. Records lay on the desk, half-sorted. He selected a few, absently continuing the sorting as he focused on his apprentice’s answer.

“Well, the fortress-monastery is going to be done soon, right? And you want to get started on research right away, and a broad base of Exoterics is important for that. And the archaeologists will want histories to better understand the ruins they find.”

Azzam nodded, but raised a finger. “All good points. Now, what of battle?”

“Battle?” The question caught Sarah by surprise for a moment, but the quick-witted youth recovered easily. “You mean books about it?”

“Indeed. Come, look.” Azzam rose with a slight wince. He stepped over to the window and swung the shutter open. Both of them shivered against the sudden cold air. Sarah half-skipped up to the window, dancing around boxes, and peered out. Azzam pointed across the street – past the elegant walls of the nearby estate, and to the row of collapsed buildings just beyond.

“We must never forget that this city is a place of danger. Even within the walls, who knows what awaits us below? And when it might decide to rise to the surface?” Azzam’s tone was serious, but not fearful. “Our rulers, knights and warriors must prepare against threats internal and external. It is our duty to support them in this as well. The vizier must be ready to advise on matters of both peace and war.”

Sarah pulled her shawl closer, her demeanor temporarily dampened by the more solemn topic, but nodded. Azzam continued, gesturing to the staff leaned against the wall.

“We ourselves are not warriors, so we cannot teach from our own experience. Thus, in a sense, tomes on martial subjects may be more valuable – for they fill a gap in our own capability. We can educate directly on matters such as mathematics and philosophy, and perhaps even on the theory of tactics and battle, but not in the practical applications. Always be aware of such gaps. When you serve, know how to fill them. This does not mean you must become a savant of the blade as well as the quill; but draw upon those who are such savants.”

“It is also why I hold the Knightly orders such as the White Ravens in high esteem. There are few such orders, who learn both the blade and the quill. Despite their small numbers, they produce the majority of the great treatises on combat within the Throne. In Sha’ra, the monks of the Temple have a similar dual training, along with magi’tariq of certain traditions. These few sources must be respected and valued.”

Azzam glanced back at his apprentice. He noticed that she had opened her personal diary, taking quick notes as she listened. He smiled, approving of her studiousness. –She would have done well at any madrasa. This land has fertile soil for the seeds of education, and the saplings already grow strong. Is this how my teachers felt, I wonder?–

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