Adventures in Thargothras

Trial by file

Joysday, Sextar 27th, 924. The Cloister.

The young woman excitedly marched through the white marble halls, just careful enough not to scuff the thick burgundy carpet that seemed to lead him onward. Under her arm, just visible under her over-loose robes, given to her only hours prior by one of the senior staff members, was a scroll case. This was her first task as a new scribe, to deliver this scroll case to the office of Thomasine Marshall, as instructed by none other than Cecily Coke herself. She arrived at the door, which was plainer than she expected, and spent a few seconds more than she meant to deciding how and where to knock, how many times, and whether that was a part of her first impression that would actually matter.

Three short knocks later, a voice from within called "It's open." The young woman squared her shoulders, smiled wide, and entered. The office was dark, with a high ceiling, lit by a single tiny window at least twenty feet above her head. The side and back walls were filled with shelves, and the shelves were filled with leather and wood boxes. Blue boxes, brown boxes, green boxes, and a single red one high up on a shelf, visible above a stack of paper to the right. Dust hung in the air, highlighted in a white shaft of sunlight from the window. Behind a desk, her face obscured by a stack of dusty books, was, one could only hope, Ms Marshall. Her shoulders, graced by long, straight, brown-gold hair, were visible, and she was wearing the traditional red and grey vestments in veneration to Satcotaar as a member of his Exemplars. After an uncomfortable silence, she closed her book and leaned over to peer quizzically at her visitor.

"What's your name? I don't remember meeting you."
"Grace, miss. I'm one of the new scribes this year, and let me just say I am so honored to meet-"
"Grace? Grace!" Thomasine interrupted. Grace stopped talking, visibly startled. "…Thank you, but I don't need the formalities right now. What do you have under your arm that is so urgent?"
"Oh, sorry miss. Miss Coke gave me a file for you and said it had to do with your hobby, miss. I-"
"Please, Grace, we are not at war, I am not your commanding officer, you do not need to say 'miss' in every sentence. We are not so formal at this institution as you have been led to believe."
"Oh, I'm sorry, mi- ahem. I… I was told to give you this file a-and I-"
"Grace." Thomasine interrupted again, this time with a dollop of resignation dressing her voice. "Don't apologize, you're not in trouble, I just want to know if that file is what I think it is and I don't want you wasting your breath calling me 'miss' over and over. Call me Marshall or nothing, the latter preferred and by the gods quit standing there quivering and hand me the damn tube!"
Grace complied before she knew she'd been ordered. 
"Sit, Grace."
Grace obeyed, plopping herself onto the nearest chair, which was off to the side of Ms Marshall's desk and angled to face perpendicular to both the door to the office and the desk Ms Marshall sat behind. The arms of the chair, a fine lacquered pine once polished to a shine, were dusty from disuse. Had Grace been more observant, she might have noticed a book-sized rectangle on the seat cushion that the dust had left untouched.
Thomasine eyed the novice scribe, taking in the oversized robe, the tense smile, the fear in the young woman's eyes, which were pointed straight forward at the shelves on the side wall. Then she turned back to the scroll case, untied the string, popped the end open and reached inside. As she unfurled the pages of this new document, she frowned. "Do you know what this is, Grace?"
"I was told only that it had to do with a hobby of yours."
"Are you nervous, Grace?"
"…Yes, Marshall."
"Don't be nervous. You have much to learn about how we do things here, and the first lesson is this: Formality is for visitors. Satcotaar's beard, there's a naked man walking around here somewhere, and he outranks you even more than I do. Loosen up. The second lesson is that as a scribe you are but a pawn among our office holders until proven otherwise. Better that you here it right away before you start developing delusions of personal agency. For instance, did you think they gave you the wrong robe by accident? They didn't. It's a joke aimed at me, and she'll regret it, because I'm already thinking of a way to get back at her."
"But a man gave me this robe!"
"I'm sure he did, but he doesn't make mistakes, and he knows that following an order without question from her is a good career move. Now take these and put them on the desk behind you." Thomasine handed Grace the documents from the tube. Grace looked at the title page. Blood and Fire, a compilation of songs written of the most villainous Red Reaver. She looked at the desk, and saw that the stacks of paper on top of it were taller than the desk itself. She stifled a gasp, and without thinking, turned to face Thomasine, who was glaring in her direction. Had Grace been more observant, she would have seen that Thomasine was glaring past her at the desk, but instead she was more nervous than before.
"Wait, I've got it." said the Exemplar. "Do you have any other assignments today?"
"I, er, I don't think so." mumbled Grace.
"Well then, congratulations." answered Thomasine, in a tone that was anything but congratulatory. If anything, it should have called to mind the tone of a judge passing sentence after a defendant had accidentally confessed to several crimes in an attempt to profess their innocence of a misdemeanor. "You're getting promoted to my personal assistant. You're not going to be used against me for a very long time, and you can help me with the stuff on that desk. It's all Red Reaver stuff. See that box?" She pointed at the red box Grace had seen before, still visible on the shelf. "That's what I had when I moved in. That's my hobby. The rest is people trying to help. You're going to go through it and separate the unique manuscripts from the duplicates, and place them in two stacks. Here," she said, pushing past her new assistant and pulling two drawers completely out of the desk. "use these until I find some better boxes for you to use. I don't care if this takes you a year and a half to sort and another five to fact-check it all, as long as you keep working, and you keep working for me. And no, this isn't a punishment, it's for your own good, because as long as you stay busy, you're immune to all of our stupid politicking, and trust me, sister, this is not a game you want to start playing until you know all the rules, all the players, and who's on what team. Pull up that chair and sit down. Forget everything you know about the Red Reaver, because you're going to learn more than you ever thought there could be. And it's all very difficult to verify, because most of the knowledge we collect here is about interaction between mortals and the gods, and the gods with each other, and the Red Reaver didn't do a lot of interacting with any god, even Satcotaar or Nerith. I'm only interested in him as a war historian. So, as this project goes on, if you need to check a date, check a fact, anything, you'll have to go down to the archives, or look through the Canon, or even sift through the Apocrypha until you can confirm or refute what you've just read. By the time we're done with this, you'll know this building's libraries better than the overseers themselves. Oh, and it'll be difficult, because there are as many stories about the Red Reaver as there are about ghosts, demons, and brave young knights in shining armor, and since he's older than the Age of Chaos, half of them are next to impossible to disprove. Do what you can, and we'll thank each other later. And -" Thomasine paused to squint at Grace. "…Hold on, have you asked the question yet?"
"What question?"
"The question everybody asks when they start working here. About the old building."
"Oh, um. No, I didn't. What happened to it? Was one of the gods angry about something you wrote?"
"That's a popular story, and it's really easy to see why, but that really wasn't it."
"What was it?" asked Grace, not hiding any curiosity.
Thomasine leaned down, her lips barely an inch from Grace's ear. "What I heard is that the Acorn tried to kick a scribe out of the building for insubordination, but missed and kicked the wall instead, and it cracked the building in half. I believe it, too. The might of the gods, even a fraction of it, is a powerful thing, Grace. Now," she said, straightening her posture. "I recommend you start with the short stack in the corner." she continued, pointing her finger at a foot-thick stack of vellum. "We've a long day ahead of us."

Decades later, as she finished her tenure as Chief Document Age Verifier, Grace still remembered that day as the hardest she'd ever worked in her life.



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