Dr. Francis Makes Progress
The Court Library was a magnificent white structure with a dramatic long flight of stairs that covered the width of the building. Aspiring scholars, impatient children, aloof professors, even a few moogles, littered the bleached stone. But no Terrans were in sight.
An hour of perusing the premises passed before she wound up back at the entrance and asked the greeter if there was a Dr. Francis that had signed in to the library.
“Yes,” he flipped back a number of pages before his placed his finger on the name. “I recall he went upstairs to speak with the board. That was hours ago…?” He looked up at her through his thick lenses.
“You don’t recall him leaving?”
“Perhaps. I was gone for lunch. We are closing within the hour, you know.”
“I am aware.” She thanked him and went back upstairs. She hadn’t pressed beyond the public access rooms up here, but hoping that the doctor hadn’t left the premises, she opened a door marked “private” and proceeded down the hallway. Empty reading and sitting rooms lay behind each open door. Towards the end of the hall, she began to hear voices that sounded as if they were arguing. Could it be?
She opened the last door and peered inside, and there around a long table sat thirteen mostly white-haired men in a heated debate. And Dr. Francis sat at the head of the table with his arms folded and a mute smile upon his face. He glanced at her and his smile widened. The others ignored her, perhaps they didn’t even notice her amid their apparent frustration. Something about the sorcerers of Gizamaluke and the witches of the Ice Cavern.
Freya stole over to crouch beside Dr. Francis.
“Did you find out anything?”
“Say what? Heh?”
She frowned. “Why are you in the middle of–”
He interrupted her as he leaned forward toward a man at the far end of the table and shook his fist. “Sir Peya had absolutely no idea, I say no idea, that Madam Tershah even existed! Haven’t ye read the Annals of Ancient Burme?”
“Easy for ye to say!” Dr. Francis roared back. “Tell me where Brume ever mentions her name!”
“That’s why these annals must be interpreted again! The translations are weak at best, we have so much more knowledge of the old language today. There’s proof of her rebuttals in–”
“Bah!” Dr. Francis waved his hand and the man continued his argument with the person beside him.
Freya stared at Dr. Francis in exasperation. “You’re arguing over something that happened six hundred years ago? Can I speak to you in private?”
He shook his head. “Can’t ye see I’m in the middle of an argument?”
She blinked slowly. “Did you find out anything?”
Her throat tightened. “About the book or about Dr. Bani?”
“Oh, that lunatic.” He rubbed his hand over his face. “No.”
“Did you even ask?”
He stared at her and shook his head.
She stared back at him.
She and everyone at the table jumped when he slammed both his hands on the table.
All twelve men stared back at him.
“This is all good and fun, my dear gentlemen, but I have a pressing question today that has completely skipped my mind.”
They all nodded and voiced their understanding and sympathy. Freya inwardly smiled and shook her head.
“I’ve just had two members of my library throw themselves off a cliff in the name of Terra. Now what could this possibly be about?”
“Are you blaming us about that?” “Why would they do that?” And a variety of other murmurs rose up, but no one said anything in firm response.
Dr. Francis waited a minute before continuing. “Has anyone heard of a recently completed tome called ‘An Assessment of Terra?’”
Shrugs and more murmurs.
Freya felt her small hopes dashing against the bleached stones.
An old man managed to squeak out above the rest: “What about Terra?”
“A book about Terra, written by a Dr. Bani,” Freya asserted. The twelve men suddenly looked up at her as if she had just materialized out of thin air. Those nearest her leaned back in surprise. She ignored them. “Has anyone here heard of Dr. Bani?”
“He’s ah, uh, he’s something of a recluse,” the man near her offered.
“He wrote this book and then killed himself, in the name of Terra and a higher calling. And then someone stole the book about Terra he had just completed and has disappeared with it. Has anyone any knowledge whatsoever of this book or anything involving the return of Terra?”
“Terra’s returning?” “I thought Terra was dead.” “It’s those damn Terrans.” “What do the Terrans have to do with this?” “Dr. Bani’s always been insane.” The murmurings were louder and more varied now.
One man finally spoke up. “Nothing but rumors, dragon knight.” He hit the table to silence the ensuing murmurs. “You must be Freya?”
“I am,” she bowed her head and looked back at him. “I am on a mission to stop what appears to be a new religion calling for the return of Terra, and I wish to ensure that Terra is in fact dead.”
“Ye are?” Dr. Francis turned up to her in surprise.
She frowned at him.
“Making sure that Terra is dead?”
“I see that as an inevitability.”
“Ah,” Dr. Francis nodded and turned back to face the twelve gentlemen.
“This is respectable,” the other man continued. “But I, and if I may speak for the rest of us here, have no knowledge of this ‘Assessment of Terra’ manuscript. We know of Dr. Bani, but he has left us a very long time ago. Our opinions may vary but most of us can agree that he was not altogether together in the head. We are sorry for his passing. It seems he has succumbed to his budding madness.”
“I knew Dr. Bani, and while he was a peculiar man, he gave no sense of madness,” someone countered.
“Except when he jumped off a cliff?” The man raised an eyebrow.
“You may mock me, sir, but I cannot ignore two suicides within the span of a day.”
“Indeed,” Dr. Francis interjected. “I left that place in a hurry because I say there is madness in that book. And I don’t want to be there when some fanatic comes looking for that book.”
“Who would look for that book? We’ve never even heard of it.”
“Well,” Dr. Francis turned to Freya. “I dare say that that book is not here.”
I can gather that myself, she glowered in silence. At least not to their knowledge. This must be some cult then that’s after that book. “There hasn’t been any talk of the return of Terra then?”
“There’s always talk about that! If you would so kindly go and make sure it’s dead, that would silence all the pro-Terra zealots,” the man nodded. He looked sincere and hopeful that she would double-check for them.
“Any rumors that could possibly point to a religion, or a cult?”
Murmurs, but she didn’t hear anything but the usual wishy-washy inquisitive wondering.
Dr. Francis leaned toward her and whispered, “I’d take that as a no.”
She nodded and turned back to the table. “And what of the anti-Terrans?”
“There’s always rivalries,” another piped up. “We’re divided as it is, so this is nothing new. In fact, we discussed the pros and cons of their existence among us last week. And we concluded that there are none. They may as well not exist.”
She was dumbfounded, but then a moment later realized that that wasn’t a very surprising conclusion for these men.
And they immediately began discussing highlights and lowlights of that discussion. She silently groaned and turned to Dr. Francis.
“Would you like to come and meet a Terran with me?”
“Eh?” His eyes left the conversation and looked at hers.
“The library will be closing soon anyway, and we still have to find a place for the night.”
“Ye haven’t found a place yet?”
“I will share my acquisitions with you later, but will you stay here or come with me?”
“Eh,” he cast one more glance at the group in front of him. Suddenly he stood up and raised his hands. “I must take leave of ye all for today. Until we meet again,” he bowed and everyone chimed their good-byes and farewells.
She sighed as they continued their dramatics.
Dr. Francis scoffed at Zidane’s offers but was quite curious about the anti-Terran sentiment of Sieem. Freya still hadn’t seen any Terrans in the city and she began to question the credibility of Sieem. Of course, he was just one disgruntled denizen out of hundreds, maybe thousands. But it still didn’t change the fact that he had managed to plant some seeds of confusion in her mind.
Isoto lived in the Southern District, according to Zidane’s directions. It was an upscale neighborhood, and Sieem’s words continued to haunt her. As much as she wanted to take her friend’s side, she couldn’t deny the words from the streets. She had made it this far with the latter, but she also couldn’t have made it here today without the former. So she paid attention as best she could to Dr. Francis’ ramblings of how his group of professors were still arguing over the same topics, how nothing had been accomplished since he had been here last over twenty years ago, and the utterly dismal state of scholarly affairs the world was in, and the ranting continued.
It was a welcome distraction, for once.
She checked the address again and they were quite close to her home. He wrote that it was the cobblestone house with the red flowers. That’s strangely reminiscent of Terra’s red crystal. Or is that purely coincidental? She shook her head to try and eliminate the doubts that kept surfacing in her mind.
And there was the house. It was very quaint, similar to its surrounding two and a half story homes in the neighborhood, with a short wooden fence that enclosed its premises. A porch wrapped around the home and red flowers lined its foundation. She stopped in front of the home as Dr. Francis stumbled into her rear.
“Well isn’t this a fine house?”
“Yes, it is.”
“Ah, queen of the obvious are we?”
She waved his comment aside, opened the little gate and they made their way to the entrance and knocked on the door.
After a short while, a young lady cracked open the door. She wasn’t a Terran.
“Can I help you?”
“Yes, is this the residence of Isoto?”
“It is, who is calling?”
“I am Freya, and this is Dr. Francis. We were hoping to find her here–”
“And what business do you have with her?”
“Ah, excuse me miss,” Dr. Francis butted in. “We just want to speak with her, an old professor and his assistant. I should like to talk to her of some things which don’t concern ye.”
The lady looked taken aback by Dr. Francis’ unabashed demand but nodded and opened the door. “She should be home shortly then, please come this way.”
She led them into a sitting room with a few comfortable armchairs and a wood stove and offered a liquid refreshment for them. Dr. Francis immediately complied, along with a demand for a generous helping of h’ordeurves. Her eyes widened again, but she acquiesced and disappeared.
Freya sighed and turned to him. Before she could exhale a statement on his behavior, he interrupted.
“Don’t get in the way of an old man and his vittles, young lady.”
“We are guests, Dr. Francis. I wish not to tread on anyone’s toes.”
“And that’s why ye’r miserable.” He settled into the armchair and looked confidently around the room.
She shrugged and joined him in admiring the affluent interior decor. The lady hadn’t returned yet when Freya heard the front door open.
“Mara!” A voice called out from the front door.
The Terran voice was unmistakable.