Scribble faster, Baron Isaac von Asimuff
Oram shook his head at Professor Deadnut’s query. ”I just got a large set of is books on the flora and fauna of Scalvoris as a gift,” he said, ”and I also got a book of legends about Enri von Smooglenuff, but I only just got them the beginning of Cylus and haven’t had much time to read them yet.” He had skimmed both the legends and the volume on fauna on Scalvoris island, but that was it. Even with his magically-enhanced ability to read, he found the process both time-consuming and mentally exhausting. Not to mention hard on the eyes, especially in the perpetual gloom of the season.
The professor seemed mildly surprised. ”That’s quite a gift,” he said. ”Someone must really appreciate you. But the point I wished to make was that the Baron wrote quite a number of books, almost all about these islands. Some involve legends and stories, as he apparently collected stories told on Cassion’s Trial. Some books involve actual political or economic history. Others involve the natural features of Scalvoris, as you are already aware: animal, vegetable, mineral, geographical, it all interested the Baron.”
Professor Deadnut got an almost dreamy look in his eyes and was silent for a moment. Then his brow knitted once more in serious concentration, during which he was silent for another moment. ”There was something remarkable about the Baron’s scholarship,” he said at last, weighing his words carefully as if he were concerned that Oram might not follow. ”He didn’t just write encyclopedically about a range of topics, he wrote with a view to synthesizing it all.”
He paused and watched the traveler expectantly for a few trills. Noting the nonplussed expression, he sighed and continued. ”What I mean is: he didn’t just write about animals as if they were one isolated thing, climate as if it were another, economics as if it were another, legends as if they were a different matter altogether. He sought connections among all of them. As if they were all systems of a larger Scalvoris organism that all interconnected, and which he sought to understand in its altogetherness. Synthesis. Does that make any sense to you, Mr. Or- er, Mednix?”
Oram scratched his beard thoughtfully for a moment. Some of the words and expressions the professor was using weren’t entirely familiar, but he thought he could make out a pattern in what he was saying. ”I can see how politics or the kind of weather the island has could affect the stories people tell, I guess,” he tried uncertainly. ”And I can definitely see how understanding the volcano could help with understanding what sorts of plants and animals can live on the islands. And if you could somehow understand how the volcano worked, you could understand something about how all the stuff it affected worked.” He looked up a the professor hopefully. ”Something like that?”
Deadnut nodded indulgently. He seemed satisfied with Oram’s response, if not all that impressed. ”Something like that, but more,” he said. ”He thought that through it all, through all the different things there was to know about Scalvoris, there was a common thread, a common secret that pulled it *all* together.”
Oram thought he understood, perhaps, and returned the nod. ”I can see why that would be big,” he offered. ”Do you think he was right?” Oram himself was skeptical of that.
The professor gave a weary smile, threw up his hands a bit. ”I couldn’t tell you. Nobody’s really pieced together completely what the Baron thought that thread might be. Hard to tell if a thesis is right if there isn’t a complete, definitive statement of it. But I have no question he was *onto* something, and that a good interdisciplinary survey of his work would have much to offer.”
Oram frowned. ”So what do you want me to do? I’m not really any sort of inter-whatever…”
Deadnut waved his hands quickly to dismiss that notion. ”You don’t worry about stuff like that. What I want you to do is research his details. Did he get the stories right?”
Just then, the hunter recalled something the Baron had told him the first time they had met: ”But I thought stories weren’t simple texts, that…”
The professor nodded impatiently, then stopped. ”Well, yes, you’re right. What I meant was: How do his details compare to the details you get when you look at the same things. A better feel for his methods, his ticks and biases in drawing conclusions…” Deadnut stopped, as if something had just occurred to him. ”Wait here…” he said, and rose quickly to walk out of the room.
Puzzled, though not annoyed, Oram waited there. What was Deadnut doing? Looking around the room, there wasn’t much besides chairs and the podium. The large slate on the wall behind the rostrum was blank, and the only other small details of note were the papers the professor had on his writing desk up on the dais. Oram suspected it might be rude to look at those, and at any rate, if there were anything relevant to what they were talking about in those papers, why would Deadnut need to leave the room?
He didn’t have too long to ponder these things before the professor returned with a book under his arm, which he brought up to the desk, opened, and started to leaf through slowly. After a few trills he stopped and beckoned for Oram to come up onto the dais so that he could get a look at the book. Guessing that he was about to be asked to read something, Oram fished out his spectacles and put them on before peering at the pages the professor had opened to. Deadnut tapped a finger on a point on the page. ”See that? He mentions that there are ‘many legends’ concerning the rare gold sands found in some places near the Scalvoris mountains, but he only goes on to give one example with a source: he says a pirate lord recounted one of the legends to his friends. Sometimes Smooglenuff mentions his source, sometimes he does not. Sometimes it is a source we can verify, sometimes it is not.”
Oram gazed at the professor through the magic glass. ”Am I collecting stories or verifying sources for ones we already have? Or comparing them to the version we already have.”
The professor chuckled drily. ”Why, all of the above, of course.” He paused, examining Oram’s face for the effect his words were having. ”It can be a bit overwhelming, I know. Maybe for now just read the legends Smooglenuff outlines here. Then go out in the field and collect your own. We can come back and discuss what to do next after that.”
Oram thought a breath, then nodded. ”Okay, I can do that.”
The professor seemed relieved. He closed the book and pushed it towards Oram. On its cover in gold-stitched lettering was the title: The Colored Sands of Scalvoris: Facts, Folklore, and Original Observations. ”It’s valuable, but I think you already know that if you have others of his books.” Deadnut next rifled through a short stack of notebooks, flipping through them until he found one that had only one written leaf, which he tore out cautiously so as not to rip it before handing the notebook to Oram. ”I hope you don’t mind.”
Doubtless there were some people who would be offended at being offered a used notebook with torn pages. Oram was not one of those people; he shook his head. The professor seemed relieved. ”Good!” He sat back and looked Oram up and down. ”In a way,” he observed, ”I’m glad I’m not giving this to a scholar. A student might try to do too much, not stay focused on a task.” The hunter smirked. There was no danger of him doing too much research. ”Do you have any questions for me, Mr. Mednix?”
Oram thought, then shook his head again. ”Only this for now: when I do have questions, will I be able to find you?”
The professor nodded. ”I’ll leave instructions that you are assisting me, and that you are one of those who can see me without appointment if I’m in.”
Oram smiled. ”Alright, then, professor, I’ll start on this.” He hefted the book. It was hefty. He wondered how long it would be before he had loads of questions for Dudley Deadnut. ”See you later.”
To be continued...