246: Passing The Time

on June 26, 2008 in Book 9

In Which History Isn’t Just A Thing Of The Past

Even with the distraction of worrying about Dee, I felt giddy and jittery all afternoon long. During our previous date, Ian and I had still been feeling each other out. Now we were boyfriend and girlfriend… really, truly, and officially.

There’d be no spazzing out over dirty hands, no freaking out over dietary requirements. Just me and my boyfriend… my musician boyfriend… dancing the night away.

With three hours to kill after lunch, I did the rest of the reading Callahan had assigned me, on purpose and without being told. I couldn’t say that it made much of an impression… my eyes kept sliding off the page, and I kept realizing that I’d just read three whole columns of text with nothing in my head but the image of Ian pressed up against me… pressed hard against me… but I did it all the same.

I would try to review it all before class on Thursday, but even if I didn’t, I could still look Callahan in the eye and tell her that I’d read the first five chapters of her stupid book.

Well, I couldn’t tell her it was stupid. I’m pretty sure she would kill me where I stood if I did that.

After I was done with the warrior book, I finished up my logic homework and then double-checked the whole thing.

I took my afternoon bath and was actually kind of disappointed that Feejee wasn’t around for it. I would have liked the distraction of even awkward conversation… and to be honest, I was so keyed up that I probably would have gone back to her room with her if she’d asked. I felt like I needed a release badly.

Finally, three-fifteen came around and then I just had to get through my afternoon classes and dinner. That included the seemingly obligatory pre-logic visit from Sooni. I was referring to the fact that she always came over to talk to me before the start of our logic class, but really, the label “pre-logic” could probably be applied to any interaction with her.

By that point, it seemed like there was nothing Sooni could walk up and say to me that would have shocked me. This time, she clunk-swish-clunk-swished on over to my desk without a word and put a long, flat clothing box on it. She stared down at me, grinning like her head was going to explode from joy, and said nothing.

“Sooni, what the hell is this?” I asked her.

“It’s for Friday,” she said. “Because I know you do not own anything nice enough to wear. Do not open it until you’re getting ready, though. I want it to be a surprise.”

“I’m not wearing something I’ve never seen before,” I said.

“You will see it before you wear it,” she said. “When you open it up to put it on.”

“It’s not a cat outfit, is it?” I asked. “Or a horse one?”

“No,” she said, giving me a withering, how-could-you-be-so-stupid look. “It’s a dress.”

“A grown-up dress?”

“Yes.”

“Without any ears or tails?” I asked.

Yes, without any ears or tails.”

“Will it cover my underwear?”

“The underwear’s in there,” she said.

“Maybe I should have a look at this before I do anything else,” I said.

“No!” Sooni said. She covered the lid of the box with her hands. “You have to promise not to open it until it’s time to wear it!”

“I can promise not to look or I can promise to wear it,” I said. “I can’t promise to wear it if you don’t let me look at it.”

“You promised we could go out,” Sooni said. “They will not let you into the restaurant looking like a dirty lesbian, so therefore, you have already promised to wear it.”

I sighed. If it really was suitable for fine dining, then it should be fine. If it wasn’t… the date would be ruined before it had properly begun, and it wouldn’t even be my fault.

“What if it doesn’t fit?” I asked.

“It will,” Sooni said. “I took your sizes magically, and I measured everything three times.”

“You cast a measurement spell on me three times?”

“No, I mean, when I was making the dress.”

“You made the dress?” I suddenly felt a whole lot less sanguine about the whole thing. The “Baby Kai-Kai” outfits she made were impressive, as far as freaky cosplay things went, but I really didn’t trust Sooni to put together respectable eveningwear.

“Please take your seats, class,” the professor said at that moment, as he’d just entered the room, and that was the end of the conversation. When the class ended, I caught up with Sooni in the hall.

“Sooni, about this dress,” I said. “I think…”

“I know it will be so beautiful on you!” she said. “I can’t wait to see how it looks.”

“How about I try it on first, then?”

“Oh, no,” she said. “I don’t want to see you in it until it’s time for the date. That way, we both have a surprise to look forward to.”

“Sooni, honestly, do you really think it’s something I’d like to wear?”

“No, I think it is something nice,” Sooni said. Then, against all reason, she kissed me on the cheek, giggled, and hurried away, leaving me clutching the box that, in Sooni-land, I had no doubt promised not to open.

I really didn’t have time to run back to Harlowe and get the dress secured in my room before it was time for history class. Well, I probably could have made it, but the risk of taking a spill and revealing and/or damaging Sooni’s dress seemed unacceptably high.

When I wrecked one of Two’s things, I got a chiding lecture. If I ruined Sooni’s surprise, she would probably go firestorm.

“Oh, who’s that for?” Steff asked when I met her in the hall of the history building.

“Me,” I said.

“Oh,” she said. She sounded a little disappointed. “Who’s it from?”

“Sooni,” I said.

Oh,” she said, more than a little ticked off.

“Sorry,” I said. “I guess it’s something she wants me to wear.”

“It’s okay,” she said. “I just saw it and… I shouldn’t have assumed, really.” She smiled, and it didn’t seem too forced. “It’s not like I don’t have nice things of my own.”

“Do you know what you’re going to wear tomorrow?” I asked her.

She shook her head.

“Do you?” she asked.

“I have some idea,” I said, thinking of the spiderweb shirt and the skirt that Steff herself had picked out for me. That probably wouldn’t fly in the sort of place Sooni was thinking of, but there had to be places we could have a nice sit-down meal without being too dressy.

I just had to figure out where they were, before tomorrow night.

“How fancy should I go for?” Steff asked.

I thought about how to answer that, when I didn’t know where we were going or the first thing about fashion.

“Trust your instincts,” I said, finally. “They’re way better than mine… anything you come up with is going to be fine.”

“Okay,” she said. “I’m looking forward to looking nice for you. I dress for myself, most of the time. Viktor’s not very particular about clothes. Most of the time that we’re together-together, we’re both completely naked.”

“Yeah, I’ve noticed that he and Gwynedd both seem pretty clothing optional,” I said.

“Oh, Gwynedd said the sexiest thing about you today!” Steff said. “Oh, but, you probably wouldn’t find it sexy.”

“What?” I asked.

“Never mind,” Steff said. “Forget I mentioned it.”

“What did she say?”

“You know, class is going to start. We should get inside.”

I didn’t really have a defense against that tactic, since I was usually the one who was insistent on being present for class. We went in and took our seats, only a little bit before Professor Hart arrived and kicked off the class.

“On Monday, we left off with a brief discussion of Magisterion I’s letters to Diocles the Fair and the early relationship between the First Republican Senate and the elves of the eastern woodlands. Trade with the elves was as important as the military support of the dwarves, though securing one endangered the other. Ironically, this actually strengthened our standing with both races, because it necessitated the signing of additional treaties and declarations of non-aggression to reassure both sides that we were not looking to screw them over with the other one. This lead directly to the council of what… Ms. Mackenzie?”

“Leibenstein,” I said, putting my hand down.

“So, you did get the notes,” he said. Whoops. I hoped my guilt didn’t show on my face, but the only person I actually knew in the class was Steff, and she’d been there for less of the class than I had. “Good. Aside from being the first face-to-face meeting between representatives of all three races on this continent, this was the meeting where the Diocletian Treaty was ratified. This treaty said what, Miss Steff?”

“That… the elves and dwarves… wouldn’t fight each other?” Steff said.

“Ms. La Belle?”

“That they wouldn’t make war with each other?” she said.

“And I wondered where my thesaurus had gone to,” Hart said. “Anybody? This is review, people. We went over this Monday. Open your notes, people. Ms. Mackenzie, put your hand down.”

Even without notes, I knew from high school and my own reading that the Diocletian Treaty had actually made the newly declared human republic hostage to the behavior of both sides in the elven-dwarven conflict, by levying huge penalties if either race attacked the other. General Magisterion had pushed the senate to accept it, though, because the material aid both races were supplying was essential, and because he’d correctly gambled that the Unnamable One would see their support of his revolution as an act of war, thus giving them a common enemy to worry about.

He went over that more or less point by point when nobody managed to come up with it from their notes.

“Now, Magisterion is generally credited as being the one most responsible for the ratification of the Diocletian Treaty, but one of the other patricians is strongly associated with diplomacy to the elves, undertaking several missions to the elven forests during the time leading up to council. I’m talking, of course, about Richard Baxtry-Marthen, the fifth Lord Marthen.

“Lord Marthen’s supposed rapport with the elven peoples led to rumors that he himself had elven blood… rumors which he denied quite vehemently. Whatever the truth of the matter was, he was so respected by the elves that he served as ambassador to them for the first seventy years of the Imperial Republic. Let’s talk about Lord Marthen. Question, Ms. La Belle?”

I jumped a bit at the repetition of her name. For some reason, it had triggered an association in my mind… or at least it triggered the feeling that it should have done so. I couldn’t for the life of me place it, though.

“They let elfbloods in the government then?” she asked.

“They did not,” he said. “This would be why Mr. Baxtry-Marthen denied the rumors.”

“But… you said he was an ambassador for seventy years after the war,” the La Belle girl said.

She really caught on quickly, it seemed. It had been blatantly obvious where the professor had been going when she’d jumped in.

“Yes,” Hart said, with a visible eye-roll. “Then, at the age of one hundred and fifteen, he was made a minister without portfolio and essentially retired, living among his elven friends until his death in the year 113.”

“How did they not know he was an elfblood?”

“There was no proof that he was,” Hart said.

“But he must have been like a hundred and fifty when he died,” she said.

I was a little impressed that she’d managed to do a simple estimate in her head, assuming that she hadn’t just said “like a hundred and fifty” while really meaning “really very old.” Of course, she hadn’t grasped what he’d just said: it wasn’t that they hadn’t known, but there was no proof.

“By which point it was a bit late to do anything about it,” Hart said. “Lord Marthen was a very wealthy man. He was instrumental in rallying support among the noble classes, and then there was his work with the elves. To put it in very simple terms, he was too important and too useful a man for him to be allowed to be an elfblood. It would have been disastrous for the war effort if he had been.”

“Are you saying he wasn’t one, now?” La Belle asked.

“For purposes of your test, Ms. La Belle, the answer is ‘never proven’,” Hart said, with an air of strained patience. I sympathized with him, and really hoped she’d accept that and let him get on. This was interesting stuff. “For purposes of this discussion, maybe you should sit back and let other people talk for a while.”

“It just seems like, if Magisterion wanted his help, he could have just changed the rules instead of having some big lie about him being human,” La Belle said.

“First, I’ll point out that, whatever else he might have been, there’s no question that Baxtry-Marthen was human,” Hart said. “He identified as human. We know his father, the previous Lord Marthen, was fully human. We don’t know the exact ancestry of his mother, Diana Baxtry, but we have to assume that she was half-human, at least. If she had been pure elf, no pretense could have been possible.”

“But after Magisterion became emperor, he had supreme power,” La Belle said. “He could have said…”

“The Unnamable Emperor also had wielded supreme power over the law,” Professor Hart said. “And in him, Emperor Magisterion I had a rather vivid example of what happens when supreme power is used towards an end which the people find to be intolerable.”

“But how would that be intolerable? Elves are good.”

“Good? Good?” Hart repeated. “Ms. La Belle, elves aren’t ‘good’… they are better. These people can run twice as fast as you can without making a sound. They can see to the farthest horizon on a starless night and they can hear the heart beat of a mouse. They don’t sweat. If they fart, you’ll never hear about it. They can go into a human town and fuck everybody’s wives, sons, and daughters for fifteen hours straight, they are going to live forever… and can you imagine what would happen if the brand-new emperor had stood before his people and said, ‘Hey, these are the people who are going to be in charge of you.’ Do you think the people who had just thrown off one tyrant would have just rolled over and accepted that?”

Looking around the room, it seemed like a lot of people were genuinely stunned… and not just because Teacher had said a Dirty Word. Probably most of them had been abstractly aware that elves had once been widely discriminated against, but I doubted many of them had ever thought about the “why” behind it before Hart put it in perspective for them.

This was why I liked his class. Even if he was acerbic, Hart took the time to highlight things… like Lord Marthen’s contributions to Magisterion’s diplomatic coup at the Council of Leibeinstein… that otherwise tended to get glossed over, and he framed things in interesting terms to get people to think.

Of course, some people were more resistant to his techniques than others.

“Fifteen hours?” was La Belle’s only response to his diatribe.

“Ms. La Belle… grown ups are talking,” he said. “As an interesting side note to the rest of you, this anti-elven sentiment persisted long after the time period with which our class is concerned. Elves were frequently discriminated against in hiring, out of a perception that they had unfair advantages and that allowing them to take a job removed it from the marketplace indefinitely. Human beings die. They retire. They have children and train them in their trades. Not that elves don’t do all of these things including the first, but they do so on their schedules, not ours.”

“Also… they’re a bunch of fags,” a boy near the back said. This touched off a lot of snickering and a high-five from the guy next to him. The word grated on me, and I’m sure it must have grated on Steff even worse. I could feel her going tense beside me.

“That’s actually a very salient point, Mr. Geoffs,” Hart said. “Not only are they a race of ageless immortals, they are a race of ageless immortal faggots. Can you imagine anything that would have been more terrifying to the land-owning, temple-going ruling class than…”

“But when we were a republic, there wasn’t a ruling class,” La Belle said.

“Ms. La Belle, please be quiet,” Hart said. “The upshot of all this is, whatever advantages elven blood could have given to Lord Marthen, it would have been a disastrous political liability.”

The word still bugged me, but it seemed like Hart was using it to make a point, to point out the intolerance rather than condone it. He wasn’t exactly going out of his way to condemn it, but then, he was teaching a history class, not leading a parade. I bit my tongue. I’d already made an idiot out of myself in his class once this week.

No, I’d just sit back and keep my thoughts to myself, waiting out the end of the class.

“Ms. Mackenzie, you look like you’ve got something to say,” Hart said.

Crap.

“Um… no, sir,” I said. “Not really.”

“You don’t have anything to add to a discussion about a race, perceived as more powerful or otherwise advantaged, being made the subject of fear and discrimination?” he asked.

“No,” I said. “I really don’t.”

When he put it that way, I definitely didn’t. People didn’t hate and fear demons because they thought demons would put them out of their jobs. They did it because they… we… fed on them. Demonic strength and invulnerability only made the already existing threat even worse. It sucked for me personally that I was the subject of fear and loathing, but there was no comparison between that and what elves and elfbloods had once faced.

He stared at me, though, and for several seconds it seemed like he wasn’t going to accept this answer.

“Well, alright then,” he said abruptly. “Moving back to Richard Baxtry-Marthen, then…”

He went on to explain, over Ms. La Belle’s slightly diminished interjections, the circumstances of Lord Marthen’s life and the probable facts of his parentage… she never quite seemed to grasp the difference, historically, between “everybody knows” and “anybody can prove”, though that distinction had been crucial for the diplomat.

Marthen was a genuinely interesting figure, probably one of the most important ones in the republic’s founding who’d never held a leadership post. The fact that he was rewarded for his service with a sinecure instead of being outed and exiled or imprisoned when he was no longer needed was probably more a testament to his personal charm than to any spirit of equality in the early Imperial Republic.

We didn’t spend the whole hour on him, though it sounded like Hart would have liked to. The main focus of the day was on the elves’ and dwarves’ entrance into the war, and how that changed the course of the fighting.

In any event, I was relieved that I managed to avoid Hart’s attention until the hour had passed. I thought about volunteering some answers once the topic had shifted from racial politics, but decided to keep my head down.

“I want you all to look over chapter seven before Friday, because we’re getting into the heavy fighting and there’s going to be a lot of places and dates to remember,” Hart said at the end of class. “Mr. Geoffs, please stick around.”

Okay, so it seemed as though maybe he wasn’t going to just let it go. That made me feel a little better.


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9 Responses to “246: Passing The Time”

  1. MadnessMaiden says:

    I gotta say, I like Professor Hart. He’s the right amount of blunt and brash. One definitely wouldn’t see him teaching high school, that’s for sure.

    Current score: 9
    • Maesenko says:

      Between Hart, Goldmann, and Bohd (and a bit of the Logic prof and the Enchantments prof), I am loving these class sessions so freaking much.

      Plus, chapters like this one get me to think in more detail about my own world/setting’s history, physics, etc.

      Current score: 7
  2. Arakano says:

    I’d love to be allowed to teach like Hart, I KNOW I could do it, but we teachers are not supposed to lecture, but to let pupils do the learning on their own, with us just gently guiding them… maybe I should try to go into university education after all.

    Current score: 1
    • Rendia says:

      Teaching in university is frustrating. So many students still have the high school mentality and are REALLY not mature enough mentally or even academically. It’s depressing. I teach too, and was a graduate assistant for one semester. That was enough for me. Give me middle school kids any day. At least they’re supposed to be acting like kids still.

      Current score: 1
      • Hoopla says:

        Wow, you two sure know how emphasize the potential disappointments I’ll have once I become a teacher. Thanks for crushing my dreams of an emotionally fulfiling career. Jk, I have been aware of the difficulties for far to long to be put off now! Professorship, here I come!

        Current score: 2
  3. Cadnawes says:

    Guys, don’t forget the beurocracy. I can cope with the Ms. LaBelles of the world if I don’t have to deal with administration. I once had to teach high school art history but it was mandated by the principal that I couldn’t show anything religious, violent, or sexual. Well there goes all art since ever. I tried to explain this to no avail. I hated to do it but the Sister Wendy videos were in the library, and if it is in the library, it’s allowed. I didn’t want to let Sister Wendy teach my class for me, but I kinda had to, except for a unit on surrealism.

    Basically it seems like teaching is a field where those in authority make it so much harder than it has to be. Which tells me Hart has tenure. 😀

    Current score: 1
  4. Grant says:

    I think I just realised something. La Belle. MISS La Belle. Mislabel? Is the somewhat stereotypical airhead named mislabel?! And is it a comment on her character, or an observation of what her character suffers?

    There are just so many subtle (and other not so subtle) references all throughout the writing, it’s fun to play with them.

    Current score: 1
    • Jechtael says:

      When an auditory distinction is made between Miss and Ms., Ms. is generally pronounced “Miz”. Maybe you’re right and I’m missing something. I’m DEFINITELY missing what word Mackenzie was taking note of (“elven”? “Blood”? “Liability”?), unless it was La Belle’s name again, and if it WAS the name I haven’t caught on to why it caught her attention.

      Current score: 0
      • Pyxidis says:

        Wasn’t Puddy’s last name revealed to be La Belle in the newspaper article? And didn’t Mackenzie describe the class La Belle as having the same/similar strawberry blonde colored hair as Puddy?

        Also, I believe Mackenzie was reacting to the second time Hart said “faggot”.

        Current score: 0