Dear readers, tonight we speak with an historian freshly returned from a frankly astounding field study. He is here to tell us a little about his findings and a little bit about himself. Some parts have been redacted for our safety.
We’ve read that you’ve achieved the station of Third Rank Historian at the Grand University at the young age of nineteen! Did you come from a family of scholars?
The youngest ever to achieve that rank, don’t forget! I’m not one to cry my own news, as they say, but I did make history by attaining such a high level of scholarship so young — even though my role is to study history!
[summarised for brevity: he goes on for some time about the difficulty of being so intelligent and underappreciated before we steer him back to the question.]
Ah, yes! I was just about to get to that. Though it may seem hard to believe, I wasn’t raised in a very scholarly home. As the third child of a lowly house seventh removed from the throne — we’re distantly descended from common knights, you see, though my mother likes me to keep that hushed up — I was faced with much hardship. Often excluded from events of import as my older sister or older sibling would get the invitations before I. Always the recipient of hand-me-down clothes, if you’ll believe it, so often the Antherian silk would be fraying at the seams! Always of the least import, and the Regent hardly knows who I am.
But! And I’m jolly proud of this — I turned my misfortune into an advantage. I threw myself into my education, though my tutors were barely adequate and had a reputation for serving merchant families, if you’ll believe it. It quickly became clear that I had a gift for research and the kind of passion for history that money can’t buy. So mother sent the Grand University a modest donation and within a few months I was accepted into the University on full scholarship!
I consider this a testament to the rewards of hard work and scholarly fervour — even the humblest among us can make history! When you think about all I’ve been through —
Moving on — did you have any favourite toys as a child? Any cherished memories?
Well, I suppose you’ll consider this twee, but when I was six I read about the bodies preserved in peat under the Elakkat marsh and I went out into the grounds with my little silver bucket and trowel to exhume a body myself.
Of course, I didn’t find anything — our grounds span a modest 260 acres and nobody of interest has ever been buried there — but my tutors were so enamoured of my behaviour that they implored my mother to have a sandpit dug for me.
They used to hide little dolls for me in there which I would have to dig up ever so carefully so as not to damage them. I like to think that’s where my passion for the history of burial rites first began.
[Interviewer’s Note: we were written by one Usther the Acolyte and threatened with black magic should we reveal Mr Smythe’s current whereabouts. Parts of the rest of the interview are therefore redacted for our own safety.]
Where have your studies taken you?
Why, very far indeed! It must be said that for years I wasn’t cleared for field work — jealousy is an ugly thing among scholars — but showing the same resolve and self-starting mindset that got me into the Grand University in the first place, I took matters into my own hands!
This took me all the way to [redacted] — and yes, it may be hard to believe that a secret community of [redacted] exists — on the bones of [redacted] no less! Truthfully, I hadn’t intended to leave it for some time, but when word reached me of your journalistic prowess, I simply had to meet you and have you tell my story.
This seems more adventurous than one might expect from a burial historian. Could you tell us about your latest adventure?
Oh, I wouldn’t say that. Though my colleagues might seem like fussy, old-fashioned blow-hards doomed by their own lack of vision, I’m sure they occasionally manage a field study of note.
As for my most recent adventure, I’m sure I just mentioned the existence of [redacted]? Well, as you might imagine that complicates the study of the dead and I got into quite the pickle on first arriving — I encountered [redacted] and was cursed almost unto death! But I had help from the most charming young lady and her abrasive [redacted] friend, and they even saw fit to request my aid in their own research! Yes, even people as far-removed from society as [redacted] immediately recognised my scholarly prowess.
[Summary: he speaks for some time of his adventure, but none of it seems safe to share.]
What did you first think when you encountered [redacted]?
Well, obviously I was quite stunned! There are some reports of [redacted] occurring in isolation — a village graveyard, perhaps, or a particularly extensive temple catacombs — but those are largely anecdotal and seem to be very small scale. Only one or two fellows up and wandering around, nothing on the scale of [redacted].
But then I suppose [redacted] has a far higher concentration of bodies than any known site — not to mention all the [redacted] and their magic flying around!
But as the first [redacted] I encountered was Wandering Larry — yes that’s what they call him. Quaint, isn’t it? As I was saying, as the first [redacted] I encountered was Larry, I wasn’t at all frightened. Not for a moment. He’s a rather silly old chap and I had my iron sarakat on me just in case. He did try to bite me a few times — you can hardly blame him, he is [redacted] afterall — but he hasn’t many teeth left so it wasn’t a hardship. And of course Ree was there. It’s somehow rather difficult to be frightened when Ree is there — even when I first met her.
What is the worst thing about living in [redacted]?
Well, almost everyone tried to kill me. The [redacted] of course are extremely hungry — can hardly blame them for that, it’s their nature — but the [redacted] considered me a dangerous outsider which I thought was rather unfair. They thought I’d spill all their secrets, if you’ll believe it! Of course, I’m very circumspect about whom I tell about [redacted].
And I haven’t told anyone about [redacted].
[He taps his nose and winks at us.]
What is the best thing about it?
Apart from the incredible historical significance and scholarly opportunity of it all? The libraries! You’d hardly believe that a [redacted] full of [redacted] and made up of multiple [redacted] from various cultures and eras would have such a rich collection of literature, but it’s true! The libraries there rival even the Grand University in terms of both extent and age — although it is rather lacking in more modern additions. There’s such an abundance of scholarly texts that one can lose hours in study and go down some fascinating rabbit holes. There’s so much to learn from the cultures of the past, and my fluency in both Old Antherian and iyad-anar has much improved since my time there.
Best of all, Ree — have I mentioned Ree? — is the apprentice Archivist there and knows all the best reading spots, as well as showing me to some very niche libraries that are secret from most of the denizens of [redacted]. She makes a most excellent study partner, too. So insightful, and quite the visionary when it comes to restorative study. I feel even the High Scholars of the University would quail before her intellect!
You’ve spoken at length about Ree [much of it redacted for our safety. Sorry, readers!]. Any romantic involvement?
[His cheeks flush.] No, none. You know, I’m sure neither of us think of each other that way. Not that I don’t think she’s — of course she’s incredible. Beautiful and intelligent and just so competent, you can’t help but feel reassured by her presence. But, you know we — it’s just never come up. And as I said, I don’t think she thinks of me that way. We don’t think of each other that way. And, you know, I — is this quite relevant?
What’s your favourite drink, colour, and relaxing pastime?
[He visibly relaxes.] Oh. Well, I’m rather fond of Iyadi spiced cordial — you know, the one with the flowers. And I’m quite partial to rose-gold. It’s been an age since I was able to wear any jewelry. It doesn’t hold up well in my line of work, you know. Much too mucky. And as for a pastime — this will sound rather devious of me, I suppose, but I love reading other people’s books. Perusing their bookshelves. I feel you can learn so much about a person from that — and I end up reading things I would never normally pickup. Fiction, sometimes, if you’ll believe it! [He laughs.]
Thank you for your time, Mr Smythe.
Thank you for having me! I hope you’ll send me a copy of the interview?
And maybe send one to the Grand University as well. For their records, you know.
Victoria Corva writes things and reads things and reads things out loud, and sometimes she gets paid for that, which is nice because it means she can feed her cat. She lives in Wiltshire with her partner and her furry familiar and as many books as she could fit in her small flat. She is anxious and autistic and doing just fine.
You can find Smythe on the pages of Books & Bone.
Join us on Friday to meet priest back from a war, who found another right on his doorstep. Please follow the site by email (bottom-right) to be notified when the next interview is posted.