|"Errors! Errors everywhere! Granthem lifted his wide eyes to the throng of students before him."|
Atis tugged the tight leather collar and squirmed under the leather epaulets, hoping to relax them over his shoulders so they wouldn’t feel so much like tools of torture. Sweat pouring down between skin and leather only made the experience more miserable. The young man glanced over to Barmier, who wore the same leather livery and yet remained as impassive as ever. What sort of man could stand this sort of outfit, one that bound and squeezed and rubbed furiously?
“Hey,” a whisper ahead of him caused Atis to cease his movements; the Black Hand commander, Carsius, was able to make himself heard to the young soldier without compromising appearances. “You’re attracting attention; stop wriggling.”
“Dumb straps are too tight!” Atis complained barely above a whisper.
“Hold still, that’s an order!” the voice snapped, and Atis responded automatically, straightening to attention.
The quintet made their way toward the small Training School—modeled after the Temple-University that crowned the horizon—near the south side of town.
Laurel, at the center, found it was no trouble keeping the appearance of a frail old woman; the successive failures of the morning had drained her energy and left her limbs very weak. With the althraxine fully in her system now, as well, the wyrts latched onto her easily. She fought to keep from shaking the annoying things off her skirts, knowing that their presents only served to reduce the suspicion of the people. The wyrts, of course, would not naturally go anywhere near the four men guarding her, but a bit of glue on the footpads of at least one wyrt each served to maintain appearances.
At last, they arrived at the foot of the stairs leading to the front door of the Training School. Carsius saw Laurel falter slightly, and moved to support her.
“Easy,” he cautioned.
“I’m—“ Laurel’s voice stammered windily, “I’m all—all right.”
They began the ascent. The guards in front of the door only glanced at this richly-garbed woman, not paying the least attention to her escorts, and allowed her entrance.
The doors opened to a cool, shady hallway with many doors and vaulted ceilings.
“Where to, now?” Augustus whispered, even that slight noise echoing off the stones.
“My Lady!” a loud voice cried, as a portly, well-dressed man emerged from one of the doors on the left. “My Lady Miligred! How kind of you to—“
“Yes, that’s all very well, Granthem,” Laurel snapped haughtily, entering into her character with a vigor that surprised everyone including herself. Where had she gotten his name from? Yet it had slipped as easily off her tongue as if she had known him for a very long while. Laurel knew it had to be the wyrt-influence; furthermore, she was aware that this wyrt, in accessing her consciousness, might have also “read” her desire to continue to the highest point in the school. She spoke the request as it came to mind.
“Which is the way to the bell-tower? I wish to meditate there.”
“The bell-tower?” Granthem blinked briefly; his eyes lit up, “Ah! Your usual retreat; it is that stairway right over there.” He pointed to a recess in the wall on the right, twenty paces on. “May I escort—“
“Thank you, Granthem, that will be all,” Laurel passed the blustering man over as if he did not matter in the least.
Granthem bowed to the train of her dress. “Thank you, your Grace.” His wyrt reminded him that he had so many books to read aloud to so many students. Granthem returned to the classroom without a second thought.
Laurel prepared to ascend the steps. She looked at her fellow operatives.
“Here we go again,” she sighed, trying to put on a bold face for their sake.
They knew she was faking it. “Be careful up there, Laurel,” Carsius cautioned her. “Are you sure you don’t want at least one of us to follow you, just to keep an eye on you?”
Laurel shook her head, “I’m fine! Now, the sooner I do this, the sooner I can get out of this beastly dress! You all guard the stairs, make sure no one gets suspicious.” She turned toward the steps.
“Um,” Atis cleared his throat hesitantly, “how will we know if you’ve succeeded?”
Laurel fixed him with a serious stare. “You’ll know,” she answered, and left the men.
She entered the tower. At the center of the room was a large, upright leather chair, similar to the furniture at Sister Miligred’s house, so Laurel understood that perhaps she did visit here regularly to “meditate,” whatever that meant. Half-melted candles, faded books, crumbling scrolls—and a layer of dust over it all. Laurel tried to sit on the chair, but the angle of the back coupled with the layers of fabric and skirt-hoops and bustles underneath her nearly prevented it. Laurel deliberately picked up a wyrt and held it in her palm, concentrating closely.
Almost immediately, her head filled with the droning voice of Granthem, reading the Detailed History of the World and Its Wars. Perfect! She listened as he droned on about how chaos and barbarism was the way of people before the Elitinati, and that it was the successful people who possessed any kind of order, which the Elitinati only capitalized and improved on to bring society to its current state of peace and order.
Laurel pulled out of the way of influence and quickly found the thought that would combat this Elitinati-induced belief. Carefully, constantly, Laurel focused on the wyrt and the teacher with her thought, pushing and prodding against the influence, knowing—hoping—that her actions would attract the attention of the mother-mind, so that they would be able to find it.
Down in the lecture hall, Granthem had the book in front of him, but he had been through it so many times he could drone it verbatim from memory.
“…And so it was that the glorious Elitinati vanquished the oppression that had plagued the nation of Verax. The Elitinati soon established a more perfect form of government, one that kept all control firmly in the hands of specific individuals. Life improved for the Veraxines, and slavery and censorship eliminated the possibility of human error—“
The entire room chorused, “Amen!” automatically in the silence, but Granthem did not continue as he ought have. Something troubled him.
Slavery and censorship? Were they not the forms of oppression Verax had labored under for so long? Suddenly, Granthem found himself no longer droning or memorizing strings of words; he realized that before him lay something that no one had ever noticed before, something no one had ever thought the Elitinati capable of doing—
Granthem saw error.
Error! The Elitinati had erred? Impossible! Elitinati did not err!
And yet…human error.
Did humans err? Was it possible for someone—even those living in the Enlightened City herself, to make even the smallest mistake?
The thought occurred again. Granthem pondered: if humans could err, then quite possibly the humans who wrote these textbooks had been…wrong in their thinking. And if they were wrong about facts of history… could they be wrong about other subjects, too?
Granthem hurriedly closed the history book and pulled out one on science. He began reading.
“Since we know that the sun orbits the earth on a lateral axis, it must follow that the subsequent orbits of the planets occasionally overlap the orbit, creating phenomena like nighttime, the weather, and seasons…. The origin of life on Eillumaeia began with the impact of a meteorite on some latent biological material strewn over the surface of the planet. Depending on the location of the material and the angle of the blast, all creatures came into being from this same material…”
Errors! Errors everywhere! Granthem lifted his wide eyes to the throng of students before him. Their wyrts quivered, and the students themselves held their heads and rocked with the same realization:
Humans had the capacity to err. Not everything one said or read was absolutely true.