Skip to main content

The House of Learning

We now resume the telling of the Tale of Kutava, a story of Shliflet

Casa Eruditionis (House of Learning)

(Continued from Part III)

For the third consecutive evening, I sat by the hearth in a log house in Zefelen to listen to the adventures of Melpalêpsen, who was called ‘Kutava’ in his youth. He and his family had been most hospitable, and I was enjoying the tale immensely, as I hope you are as well.

‘Oh traveller,’ said Melpalêpsen this third night, ‘I fear I am wearying thee with this lengthy story. Wilt thou that I continue? or hast thou need of embarking once again on thy journey?’ I assured him I had nowhere to go, and that I very much wished to hear the rest of his tale.

Well then, if thou wouldest remain, I would fain continue. Where did I end the tale last night? Ah, yes, as we were readying ourselves to cross the Great River, Taeĝan and I.

Now this river is very wide, much wider than the streams of this land, and so wide that a man standing on one of its banks cannot see the other. In Nuĝim then, that morning, we crossed the river on a ferry. It was a lovely spring morning; the birds were singing, and as we neared the opposite shore I spied the trees covered with white sweet-smelling blooms. Of course, nothing in Ĝimlu is so bright and wonderful as the indescribable beauty and splendour of this land, but I was cheered, and my heart was glad.

On the other side of the river was a simple dock, where a small group of people awaited the coming of the ferry. When we landed, we and the few who were with us disembarked from the boat and set off down the road which led to the village of Krotil, only a few leagues thence.

Krotil is a small town, fairly far removed from the rest of Kroatelmia. Most of its goods are imported by shipments along the river, although some farming is done around the town. Although situated in the river valley, Krotil is very close to the great mountains in the south which my people call ‘Kutvête.’

As we walked down the road which led through the centre of town, I eagerly took in all the sights and sounds. The streets were lined with houses and other buildings, with space enough between each building for a shade tree or two. These buildings, being built by the Kroats, were made in quite a different fashion than those of the Ĝimluvians; built of some sort of brick, and shaped with corners.

Along the dusty street small children played, dogs barked, and men travelled down the road, some mounted on llamas and some afoot. Neither Taeĝan nor I could speak the Kroats’ language, so we had much difficulty in finding the House of Learning which we sought. Finally, outside a fruit and vegetable shop we found a young lass who knew a bit of Ĝimlugand, who soon directed us to the correct place.

It was a large building, situated near the town centre, having a porch at the front. Above the door hung a sign bearing strange characters written in Krotelmian. Although I could not read them then (I did not even know how to write my native tongue), as I learned Krotelmian and its letters I later found that it read ‘Umaite Ronseteim Eidoik,’ which translated means ‘Knowledge is Life,’ clearly demonstrating the fact that the Kroats put a very high value on education, and took great care to ensure that their boys learned all that was, at that time, deemed necessary, for this reason establishing the houses of learning. The girls, on the other hand, were not sent thither, but instead remained at home where they were taught the skills more needful for daily life. Many, it is true, learnt to read later in life, but none acquired such a knowledge of ancient literature and philosophy as had the men. These customs may seem strange to thee (for I know not how such things are done in thy country), but thus did the Kroats, according to their ancient tradition.
‘Once we had arrived at the House of Learning, the girl who had led us thither promptly returned to her duties, leaving us alone once again without a guide. Taeĝan, being my elder, stepped first through the door and I followed behind.

‘What met our eyes as we entered that edifice was something unfamiliar, though strangely wonderful to our uneducated eyes. Nearly all the walls of that room were lined with shelves and shelves of books! I gazed in ignorant awe, and although I at first knew not what they were, I was soon enlightened as a boy walked into the room and removed one of the books from the shelf. Opening it, he examined its pages—covered with characters strange to me—and satisfied that it was the correct volume, he left the room carrying it under his arm. I then realized what these objects were: they contained words! I had seen scrolls, but never before had I beheld bound books such as these.

‘As mine imagination took flight and began to soar the breezes of future knowledge to be gained, it was soon brought back down to reality when Taeĝan spake and suggested that we seek the Master of the house. We searched through the building, finally coming into a room where a man sat instructing his pupils with one of the books. I anxiously whispered to Taeĝan, ‘What shall we do now?’ The Master, noticing our presence, began speaking to us, and seemed to become angry when he realised we understood not a word he spake. At the very moment when I reckoned all was lost and he was about to cast us out, a voice cried out among the Krotelmian students, speaking perfect Ĝimlugand. ‘Ĝimlusae ĝevtok! − Ye are Ĝimluvians!’ it said, and Taeĝan answered ‘Yea, and we shall soon be outcasts if we do not become Kroats in a few minutes!’

The boy who had spoken came up to the Master, and said a few words to him in Krotelmian. Turning to us, he then said (in Ĝimluvian) ‘Whence are ye, and why have ye come hither?’ We explained to him how we intended to become students there, and that we had travelled thither all the way from Stalshi for that purpose. ‘I shall tell the Master,’ quoth he, ‘and he should allow you. Meanwhile, perhaps ye should begin to learn our language, for ye will not go far without it!’ While the boy was speaking to us, the Master stared at us, his countenance showing both anger and confusion, and we were glad when all was settled. The boy who had rescued us was named Ferondei, and he was near in age to Taeĝan and I. As many of the Kroats, he had fair coloured hair, and was of average height among Kroats and Ĝimluvians. His countenance was friendly, his eyes bright, and he always wore a purple sash tied round his waist.

I shall not burden thee with an exhaustive account of the time we spent in Krotil, for this would certes detain thee many more days, but I will tell that Ferondei became a good friend to us, and we three—Ferondei, Taeĝan, Kutava—became a regular trio in and around Krotil. At the first Ferondei acted as our translator, but within a few months we Ĝimluvians were able to converse in Krotelmian with ease.

While we dwelt in Krotil, Ferondei’s gracious family gave us a place to sleep at night. We spent our days in the House of Learning, and when our studies were completed we would do various jobs for people in order to earn money for food. Ferondei’s family was not so rich as to support us in this aspect of life, and although our loving mothers back in Stalshi had packed a fortnight’s worth of provisions for the journey, they had not the ability to send us our victuals from so great a distance. Thus, we laboured for our food, and all the time we were in Krotil we were never in want. At times we would join other young people of the village in hunting for small animals in the woods at the mountains’ feet. This endeavour often yielded us a few rabbits which were converted into quite a nice stew for our dinner.

In the House of Learning, letters were taught to the young boys who came there for the first time. In order that we might avoid having to join in this basic instruction, Ferondei himself taught us how to read once we were able to understand the spoken tongue well enough. Once one’s letters had been mastered and one could read and write them, many and various topics were taught in the House of Learning, all from those books we had seen when we first entered. In fact, there was no particular virtue in the Master’s character that was different from that of any other man of the Kroats, besides, perhaps, the fact that he had kept fresh in his mind the knowledge that many had forgotten upon becoming adults.

We studied there such things as the ancient Krotelmian language (and its literature), the proper behaviour of man, religion, and philosophy. When a new subject was to be taught, the Master told all the students in which books it could be found, and then gave them the responsibility of taking the books, reading them, and applying the knowledge or principles found therein. Then every week or so all the students who were studying that particular subject were gathered together and the Master would inquire among them to make certain that they had applied themselves in their studies.

• • • • •

After being in Krotil for nearly three years, and after having studied all these subjects in the House of Learning, I felt a different person. I was almost seventeen years old now, I had grown up, I had new friends, and above all, I had become educated. I thought that I was no longer that small boy who used to play in the forest and dream of dragons all day. In fact, my childhood dream of seeking the zintushe had all but disappeared. I thought I could see my entire future life ahead of me, and I thought I could take on anything life brought before me. I even fancied myself as being more enlightened than the Knowing Ones in the Royal City. However, I was soon to discover that, in reality, I hadn’t changed to the extent that I thought—I was still Kutava, and I was still a Ĝimluvian.

It came about—if I remember correctly—in the last year of the reign of Vetakishli Lata, that news reached us that Ovêjat had died, the King’s sister and wife of Shalakit, an eminent Kroat. This news was received with indifference on my part, but the fact is that at that moment, the last barrier between the Kroats and their going to war against Ĝimlu had been removed. Although the Kroats had long disliked the power exerted upon them by Vetakishli, until now all had remained peaceful out of respect for Shalakit’s wife, for he was a highly esteemed man among the Kroats, and their former leader. However, once Ovêjat was dead, it was only a matter of time before open war would be declared—and every Kroat in Krotil knew it.

Soon thereafter I noticed a clear change in the people’s countenance, and although Ferondei and our other Krotelmian friends were still kind to us, all the other Kroats looked upon us with prejudice and hate wherever we went. Sadly, they often looked askance even at Ferondei, for associating with us Ĝimluvians.

Although I began to feel insecure and slightly fearful due to the people’s change of attitude, I never spoke to Ferondei about it, remembering the words of the traveller whom we had met on the highway when we were going to Krotil: ‘Whatever ye do, mention not the king nor his laws, if at all possible.’ However, I soon found Ferondei to be a trustworthy friend. One evening he took Taeĝan and I aside and spake thus: ‘See ye not that we are no longer safe here in this village, ye for being Ĝimluvians, and I for being with Ĝimluvians? Listen, I have heard today that one Raheem, in the village of Finklei, hath arisen a leader of rebellion in Kroatelmia. He is gathering his troops, and hath bidden all able-bodied young men of the Kroats to join his army. No doubt many in this town will join them, and those who remain will seek to harm us! Do ye not see the danger we are in?’

‘Verily,’ said I, ‘I have noticed a change among the villagers, yet I was reluctant to mention it to thee. But what then shall we do? Flee across the river and back to Stalshi?’

‘That would hardly be advisable,’ quoth he, ‘as Raheem and his army shall certainly attack the people there, and throughout the land.’ Both Taeĝan and I shuddered as we thought of our families back at home.
‘Wherefore then do we not sail down the river, and escape to the Svôsivik?’ quoth Taeĝan.

‘And whither then?’ said Ferondei. ‘Nay, I say our best chance of escape lieth in the mountains. If we find a place of refuge there, we might hide while the storm rages, for surely the armies will not search the Kutvête.’

So it was settled. We were to find a secluded spot in the mountains—a cave perhaps—and remain there till the war was over.

The next day, by Ferondei’s advice, Taeĝan and I remained at his house while he went out to buy provisions for our journey. The whole town that day was talking of the war, and the young men were preparing themselves to march the very next day. Granted, tears were shed, but by far most of the villagers were glad to see a force going out to ‘punish that evil Ĝimluvian king.’ Ferondei tried to avoid those shopkeepers who knew him and would ask questions, although he did stop at the fruit and vegetable shop where he spoke to the maiden with whom we had become acquainted the first day we came to Krotil. She was a friend of his, and knew us too, and so was glad to supply him with all the produce we might need for the journey. Apparently they arranged some manner of paying for it (I know not how) and then Ferondei resumed his errands.

As he was returning to the house, despite his efforts to go unnoticed, he was overtaken by two boys whom he knew from the House of Learning. With difficulty they managed to extract from him the reason why he was carrying so much food, and upon hearing of the journey, they begged him that they might go as well.

‘We have no quarrel with the King,’ they said, ‘and ‘twould be positively dreadful to have to go and fight!’

Now these two boys were really only trying to escape being sent off to battle, but since Ferondei was (and still is) not one to refuse anyone anything, he told them that they might go if they brought their own provisions, and that we would meet them at a certain place outside the city. That night Ferondei told us of the day’s events, and we reviewed our plans once again as we prepared for the journey.

At that time both Ferondei and Taeĝan seemed to me to be very brave, and even excited about the upcoming adventure. I, on the other hand, am ashamed to admit that I was utterly afeared at the prospect. All my future hopes and plans were dashed! My time at the House of Learning had ended! How could I be happy, now that we were going into exile? I could only hope that we would remain safe as two countries clashed—both of which I loved.

Continue reading: Part V

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.