The argument had been made, that one could run down the entirety of the Concent of Saunt Lora with an axe in hand, swinging it indiscriminately, and the whole thing would barely shake and remain just as stable as it was before.
When I proposed testing that experimentally, Suur Eida looked particularly horrified, but the theorics they showed me were pretty solid. The great network of mathic cocoons that bridged the Lorian Valley may not have seemed stable, but it would not be there if it was not. Because so many of the knots were redundant, and because the structure was so interconnected as to justify the claim that it had no "load bearing knots" so to speak (or that all knots were such, and thus the born loads were not that stressful), one could in theory run down the whole of the concent, madly swinging that axe, and only cause temporary damage to the structure itself. It would be easy to fix, she told me, much like the world of the avout was easy to fix, because (and not in spite of) its very precarious construction. The avout knew that the whole of their knowledge rested on a house of cards, and so they built particularly sturdy cards and they only put down a new card when they were certain they could do it without issue.
This was the first lecture Suur Eida gave in the first week of my second year in the concent, just after Apert. She was particularly adamant about this because she knew, from speaking with the new members of the Unarian math, that fears about the concent were becoming more prevalent extramuros (or, as they say in Saunt Lora's, ‘extratelas’).
You can imagine my surprise, then, when Fraa Akwinas showed up to the chalk hall, axe in tow, brandishing it wildly and prompting the oldest of the avout in the room (if the enormous cocoons that make up the concent could be called that) to cling to the walls as his knees gave out from under him. Suur Eida was the first to regain her bearings.
"Fraa Akwinas," she said, with the voice of someone about to sentence us to penance. "Have you lost your mind?"
The enthusiasm with which he had mock-threatened the room's members leaked out of Akwinas much in the same way juice leaked out of a rotten fruit when squeezed. It was unpleasant to see, and I imagine twice over to experience. He tried to force his grin to remain, only for it to turn to a grimace.
"Suur Eida, earlier today--"
"I asked you a question, Fraa Akwinas," she interrupted, her hands behind her back, and her gaze bereft of anything whimsical or lenient.
"I... I have not lost my mind, Suur Eida" Akwinas said. His arm dropped as the last drops of his excitement leaked out, and the head of the axe threatened the floor’s threads.
"Oh. Good. Then could you please explain your entrance?"
"Earlier today, you said that a madman with an axe--"
"I am well aware of what I said. I also told Suur Elith that empirically testing that hypothesis would be most unwise, if only because the low risk would be catastrophic and if we are right, we have simply earned ourselves several months' worth of cleanup work."
I looked everywhere possible but Suur Eida’s face at that moment.
"Yes, but I realized there was a problem!" Fraa Akwinas said, reabsorbing the excitement that had pooled about his feet.
"And what would that be?" Suur Eida asked, suddenly at least minimally curious.
"The angle of the axe!"
Suur Eida found herself relaxing at this. "What of it? One axis, the length of the shaft..." She shrugged.
"It is three axes! And that lends it a curved motion!"
By now the older avout had all recovered their bearings, and the fraa that had before nearly collapsed was frowning in confusion.
"Demonstrate, if you please, Fraa Akwinas."
Akwinas swung the axe, now more slowly, and the avout around him nodded in understanding. The wrist, elbow, and shoulder all functioned as axes. They could see now that the math had to account for the curved nature of the motion. The wrist and the elbow conspired so that a "swing" of an axe did not only move across one direction in a sphere, but created a curve that did not track longitudinally or latitudinally along it. Two older fraas stroked their chins in archetypal contemplation.
"But surely the limitations of the arm would affect the speed and number of swings," provided Fraa Tancred, an older fellow with greying hair.
"It would!" Akwinas said, "I ran the numbers again to account for that as well!"
"And?" Suur Eida asked, seeming to have forgotten Akwinas' horrifying entrance.
"And... it's still the case that a madman couldn't destroy it by swinging randomly," he said. "But it gets dicey." Like many young Unarians, Akwinas had a tendency to use Fluccish phrases and replace each word with one in Orth. The result was one that everyone could understand, but no one would deem “proper” Orth.
"Very well," Suur Eida said, with an air of magnanimity. "Since you are so concerned with the possibility of mad axe-men destroying the concent, I believe it only fair that I allow you to work on restoring the southern entrance. It is, after all, quite vulnerable."
Fraa Akwinas' posture dropped further, to the point of threatening Fraa Tancred’s heart as the head of the axe nearly fell upon the ground. He had thought, upon seeing Suur Eida's curiosity, that he had bypassed the potential penance for frightening the elderly avout. Sadly, Suur Eida could think of many things at the same time, and she was very good at it. That is why so many of us feared her. Hoping that Akwinas had taken the brunt of the focus, I began a simple comment that I have come to regret since.
"See, Suur Eida? Empirical proofs will always highlight--"
"And Suur Elith shall accompany you in this affair, Fraa Akwinas," she added, giving me a glance as though to say “go on, get to it, I don't mean ‘sometime this week’, you know?”
We hurried off to the southern entrance, knowing we could spend at least three days on the hinges alone. Maintaining the concent was a rather involved endeavour. Unless you were a tenner, you would probably not be allowed to cut anything, and so it was often just a matter of adding more and more lines to more and more parts. Because doing so from within necessarily makes the room smaller, the tradition was to maintain the concent by adding support from without. This usually involved creating a new anchor from rock outside, and then climbing out and spending hours at a time hanging from different threads until the job was done, or something else needed doing. The threads used for the concent were of a special kind of New Mater, but they wouldn't explain the details to me unless I entered the decenarian math. The southern entrance led there, curiously enough.
Sometimes, I stared upon the path that led to the decenarians' math and wondered how hard it really was.
Regardless, the point of this meandering account is to illustrate as clearly as possible that, were it not for Fraa Akwinas' excited madness with that axe, I would not have been hanging by a thread, some two hundred metres above ground, trying to anchor one section of the gate to a crevice in the rock. Fraa Akwinas, for his part, had assured me that I was best suited for that job, because I had the lighter frame. I suspect he did a swift cost-benefit analysis and ruled in favour of cowardice, but he assured me that he would do the greater labour, as I needed only act the part of a spider. He could make the necessary knots once the structure was in place. That knowledge did not reassure me in the least as my chord dangled from my waist and my bolt flapped in the wind. It was all very safe, of course, in theory. The avout of Saunt Lora were as reliable as any others with their theorics, putting aside little mistakes with the curve of the swing of an axe.
Surely, I was safe in my dangling; but people’s brains were not developed in an environment where dangling from a string on a cliff was considered safe, and thus while I knew perfectly well that a failure on my part would just involve a little bounce and Fraa Akwinas pulling me back, my every glance downward drained my blood from my face as I saw the violent river so far below us, and the many houses that filled the bottom of the valley.
After locating the crevice, placing the anchor in, and looping-in the thread, I found myself moving back with the grace and speed of a chameleon with a broken leg. A gust of wind caught me, and I fell screaming until my chord grew tight.
The system worked. As Akwinas pulled me to him, I noticed that the centenarian math was easy to see from the decenarian gate. Strange lights were blinking within its large, bubbled cocoon. Under other circumstances, I would have brought this up with Suur Eida and possibly with a few of the fraas, but since it was the last Year of the Reconstitution before their apert--and since I knew already that I would simply be told not to pay that much attention to the centenarians and whatever they did--I decided to shift my attention back to the task at hand as the centenarian math faded behind the unarian and Akwinas pulled me the last of the way back to my starting point.
"Are you hurt?" he asked, and I frowned in surprise at his sudden concern.
"What?" I asked, and he nearly collapsed with relief, so much that I had to cling reflexively to the thread I had just placed because he stopped pulling to keep me up. It took all of two seconds before his energy returned in force, an angry glare replacing his worried pallor.
"I've been shouting at you! I thought you'd gone deaf or broken your neck or something!"
"Sorry. I'm fine."
"Right. Well, you've done your part, so unless you want to loop back over..."
"You know... I think I do."
Akwinas seemed two steps away from simply throwing me down to the infirmary. I know because he glanced directly at the cave where the infirmary was to be found, a good swing to my left.
"Fantastic. Do it, then," he said, and I passed one end of my thread through a couple of loops on the outside of the door in a small, tight version of a dropper loop before climbing up to the thread and falling down it to the anchor again for another loop-through. I thinned it briefly then let it revert to normal and made my way back up. This time, I did not fall or scream, but I did spend an unseemly amount of time looking at the centenarian math. The lights had stopped.
I threaded my previous loop upon arrival and Akwinas stared at me.
"The looming thread is out, now it's your turn."
"I thought you were going to do all of the anchors," he said.
"And you'll do all of the rest?" I asked.
He nodded, and I sighed. I headed over to the middle of the opening with another anchor, and pulled a solid Saunt Cartas Hitch before dropping down until I was close to the valley wall. After carefully swinging myself toward it, I found a hole in need of repair that we could use for anchoring. I placed it in, and much like the first it blended into the rock and filled the hole perfectly. I looped through the eye, and now had to climb my way up in the string like a worm. I glanced back at the centenarians once more. The lights had started again.
"Well," Akwinas began as I finally made it back. "What do you keep staring at?"
"The centenarians are doing... something," I said, trying to see a pattern or form to the lights. They were not very colourful, but they left a kind of coloured after-image in my eyes.
"Aren't they always?"
"Not this... visibly."
He rolled his eyes and took the thread from me. "Right. Whatever. I'll do the rest."
I busied myself unlocking my bolt from the thread while he locked his own in order to begin the greater part of the structure. Akwinas was tall and round, and so he looked much like a short spider as he went about the work, spinning, turning and occasionally tying the knots. I watched him for a few minutes, and then got bored and laid back, thinking about the lights. What would centenarians be using light for?
I woke up without noticing that I had fallen asleep. It was much like blinking, but with the sun moving far enough in the sky to inform me I had been unconscious for a while. Fraa Akwinas was nearly done the second layer of the structure, so it was now reasonably easy to climb, and I could see Suur Eida's frame approaching.
She stood there, watching, and for a while we were silent. Akwinas made his way to us panting.
"Good work, Fraa Akwinas," Suur Eida said. "At this rate, it will only take you two weeks to finish."
He nodded, too tired to resent her. The skeleton done, we would have to make a couple more. and then lend it further structure after that, which would only take two or three days. The real work was filling in all of the gaps (a spiderweb for a home would not do for the avout). Every polygon required hand-knit patterns that would have to tie back to other polygons, to ensure the so-called truth that, in the Concent of Saunt Lora, no load-bearing threads could be found. Everything had to tie back to everything else.
That night we had a lecture on Fraa Erasmas and Suur Uthentine. They developed a kind of complex Protism in the fourteenth century that involved a lot of very boring ideas about truth and existence. While I would have likely found it convincing in my first year, now it felt out of turn and old somehow. I had come to that point in my understanding wherein an old proof loses its beauty sometimes, after a dozen different methods have been explored.
There were no separate sleeping quarters in the concent. Chalk halls, meeting rooms, hallways and the like were all more or less equally likely to double as bedrooms, though certain areas were reserved for the hierarchs. There was simply a large container of hammocks, available on a first-come first-serve basis. This lead to a cluster of avout within a two-or-three-minute range of the container hanging from various points in the cocoon. After that, the density of sleeping or soon-to-sleep avout reduced exponentially.
I made my way down to the bottom floor, which was the quietest, hung my hammock and clung to the wall through it, slowly shifting knots around until I had made for myself a very small window aimed exactly at the centenarians. The lights shone on. I stared at them until I blinked myself awake, not having noticed as slumber snuck upon me.