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The Fortress

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“Well done, Gauvain.” Cimourdain smiled as he passed back the assignment, a few notes in the margins where Gauvain had been incorrect. By and large, however, the translations were accurate. “Keep up the good work, and you'll outpace even Suidas, here.” He nodded at the bust on the wall; the scholar's marble face overlooked them both. Hair spread out behind him, his sharp eyes would have gazed with curiosity into La Tourgue's library, had he been alive.

Gauvain blushed. “I could never.”

“You don't know for sure!”

“Oh, I'll learn more French, and whatever else you think I'm ready for!” Gauvain placed the assignment aside. “But not ancient Greek. Suidas is inspiring, but he's not a very good conversationalist. I don't have any companions to speak Greek to.”

“Medieval Greek, not ancient. It's your own fault for learning so fast, I need to set you another challenge,” said Cimourdain, before rattling off a quip Gauvain didn't catch.

“Come again?”

“Dutch! You haven't learned Dutch yet, have you? Once you master German and English, it will be no problem—”

I changed my mind. Teach me the ancient—sorry, medieval—Greek way to say 'Suidas here has a silly nose'.”

Cimourdain was mouthing a translation under his breath before breaking off and staring at the statue. “I think it's quite reasonable.”

“For seven hundred years ago? Maybe.”

“We don't know what Suidas looked like, anything about him. We don't even know whether he existed, at all.”

Gauvain blinked. “Who's the statue of, then?”

“I would suspect some respected patron, one of your Lantenac or Gauvain ancestors, hired the sculptor to portray him as a scholar. There's a bit of a family resemblance, don't you think?”

“Me? Never.”

“Your father, then.”

Gauvain appraised the bust once more, considering it. Cimourdain felt an uneasy pang of regret—it was not fair, perhaps, to mention the child's father in this context, unjust that the son had so few memories of his father. A trifling injustice, he knew, considering all the other families split apart by the ravages of disease, with far fewer resources to their name than the Gauvains. But all the same...

“Or you, perhaps,” he amended quickly, “once you've grown up.”

“I shan't grow into that sort of pose.”

“Well, you have many options ahead of you.”

Gauvain nodded absentmindedly, then faced him as if in challenge, as if expecting his options to be shot down. Instead, he glanced up at the bust again. “But he must have been real. Suidas, I mean. He wrote a book, didn't he?”

“To the best of my knowledge.”

“You haven't seen it.”

“I've seen it cited, in reliable sources.”

“Could I read it?”

“Maybe. If you learn Greek.”

A sigh. “How about Italian?”

“Italian is useful.”

“Great-Uncle thinks English is useful.”

“English is useful too. Why Italian?”

“I don't know. You said you had some books on architecture, in Italian...”

“I don't have them.”

“You know where to find them.”

“That's as may be.”

Gauvain pursed his lips, flipping the completed assignment over. “So if we don't know who he was, and you haven't read his book, and you don't even think he exists—”

“I never said that.”

You implied it.”

“I see you've mastered rhetoric, too. Perhaps another course in geometry.”

Gauvain shuddered. “What did he write?”

“Little original. But his book is important, because it quotes other works—even older texts, that have been lost in full. It provides some small way to preserve those fragments, even if they're mostly disappeared. Whoever wrote it had an understanding of literary history relying on what came before; he did the future a great service.”

“Or she.”

“Come again?”

“You said you don't know who wrote it. So it wouldn't have to be a he, would it? It could be a she.”

“It could not have been a she.”

“Why not?”

“Women in tenth-century Byzantium would not have been writing encyclopedias.”

“Really?”

“I think.”

“Is Suidas a boy's name, then?”

I don't believe it's a name at all.” At Gauvain's aghast expression, Cimourdain felt compelled to justify his skepticism. “That is to say, I think it's a commentator's mistake. It might not have been 'by Suidas,' it could just be Souda—the fortress. The stronghold.”

“Huh.” Gauvain's gaze flickered up to the statue one last time, then locked in on his tutor. “Where did you read that?”

“Correspondence with some other scholars. Provides a good way to keep in touch with outside ideas. Even from somewhere as...remote...as here.”

“I'm not learning Greek just to write letters.”

“You could find some other language. In fact, if you learn Dutch...”

“Yes?”

“You could write to one of my friends at a publishing-house. He sent me a very curious letter the other day; you could read it for yourself.”

“What's it say?”

“Do you want to wait and see?”

“I think you want to tell me about it.”

Cimourdain laughed. “Very well. He tells me that there's a sizable trade in books, around Amsterdam, and that he's recently sold a copy of the Gospel of Saint Bartholomew .”

Gauvain looked over at the gilded folio in the corner of the room. “But Great-Uncle says ours is the only one!”

He thinks that, does he? Your great uncle...might like to believe that his library is particularly special. But beyond y-our corner of France, the trade in books goes on. There were many copies printed, even more than the Apostol in Russia. Which, now that I think of it—”

Master, I am not learning Russian!”

“...The alphabet does come from Greek.”

“You don't even know Russian.”

“It would be an inspiring challenge for us to face together. No doubt you'd surpass me quickly.”

“Amsterdam?” Gauvain blushed.

“With their Dutch.”

Maybe next...you could teach me a language that I could really speak. Not just conjugate verbs in. And then, when I grow up, I could visit Amsterdam and speak it. And see all the books.”

Cimourdain smiled. “Maybe we can visit together, someday.”