Klane Kalonia and the Great Burning (18) by DMFW ()
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“I need to teach you something”, Zandra began. “The Riders think that they are all that is important to the culture of the Earth in these times. It is instilled in them from birth and the Conclave tells them it is so. Their birth right is to wander the plains, to camp where they will, to feed themselves from the land and to enjoy an innocence free of history and free of the evil of the old ways that finally led to the Vow of Earth. When they think about it (which is seldom) they must also acknowledge that they need the settled dwellings to sustain them in the life style they relish. It is only because there are towns like Ironhope that they can shoe their horses, enjoy farmed crops, good baking, cloth for their clothes, ale to drink and honey for their bread. These things which they value in their ‘innocence’ do not come for free from the land or from hunting and gathering alone. It takes work and skill to make them and the time to nurture them in one place. And how are we rewarded? Because of the Vow of Earth and because History must never return, our houses are raised to the ground every second generation and our patient work must start again.”
Klane was silent, aware of the undercurrent of bitterness in her words despite the mild manner of her speech.
“How do you think we folk of the towns sustain this culture of Earth when we are so often scattered into new lands? It is not as simple as the Riders so often believe to become a skilled miller, a tailor, a baker, a blacksmith or a farmer.”
“You have apprentices of course”, Klane muttered, replying with the obvious answer but he was beginning to deduce where this was going.
“Yes, we have apprentices. And parents try to pass their trades to their sons and daughters. But it is not enough! The ceaseless round of Great Burnings may stop History but it also breaks the flow of the ordinary knowledge we need to make this life worth living. Each Great Burning is a set back for more than just the goods and services the town has provided. It also threatens the continuity of learning that enables the crafts to continue to thrive. That is why the Order of the Silent Word was established. We keep knowledge in books and we teach reading to our members. Then we pass between the towns and help to spread the wisdom of previous generations lest it be lost forever. The skills of the doctor, the skills of the vet, and the skills of all these others are in these books. And Ironhope is our main library.”
“Do the Conclave know of this?”, Klane ventured in the momentary silence.
Zandra gave a sharp smile, acknowledging the perspicacity of his question. “We are almost certain that they do. And we believe it is because they know it to be necessary that they do not openly expose us. Yet they do not acknowledge our work or help us in any save the most subtle ways. No! To the Conclave only the Riders matter. The Order of the Silent Word must remain secret lest the Riders confuse our books with the return of History. But there are some that know of us and help us - some such as Ethan and a few of his tribe who are also our friends. It is to them we called when our need became desperate.”
It was a lot to take in and Klane had many questions.
“You knew this Great Burning must come”, he said, “and as it has happened many times before, surely you must have planned to remove the library. What went wrong?”
“You’re right”, Zandra answered, “of course we know what a Great Burning means and always before we have dispersed our books and our knowledge safely until it can be gathered for copying and study in a new library. But many unfortunate events have counted against us this time. Coincidences maybe, or maybe something else. Perhaps the Conclave no longer chooses to tolerate us. The leader of our Order died in strange circumstances at just the wrong time. The Southern Pralannians have taken weapons. Our couriers have been intercepted and some killed for the possession of books. Then this Great Burning was decreed by the Conclave in great haste and caught us unprepared. Now we find ourselves only a few days away from fire taking the town and under the close watch of a horde of superstitious Riders who would not understand the purpose of the Order and would as like put us to death if they knew of this library. And somehow we must get the books out. We had a last desperate plan (and not such a good one, I fear). But that plan needed Ethan and his friends to be fit for the games.”
“What are we to do now?”