At this point, his aide would hand him the book. They’d have gone through a dozen books before choosing that one. It is the only one with nothing in it anyone could object to. Nothing in it of substance, nothing, his people thought, that the still-free press could cut him with. There is a goat in the book. A goat having adventures. It is written by a Constitutionalist, an outspoken supporter of coronation and expansion.
He realizes, mildly surprised, that he has already gotten used to the smell of dirty kids (he has none of his own) and mildewed classroom. (Ossuary. Ossuary. It sounds like a combination of “osprey” and “sanctuary”.) Realizes that for those who attend the school they experience it differently from him, their minds editing out a lot of sensory perceptions he’s still receiving. The mess. The depressed quality of the infrastructure. But what if you couldn’t edit it out? And what if the stakes were much, much higher?
So then they would sit him down at a ridiculously small chair, almost as small as the ones used by the students, but somehow he will feel smaller in it despite that, as if he is back in school, surrounded by people both smarter and more dedicated than him, just not as high-born, as if he is posing and being told he’s not as good: an imposter.
But it’s just a children’s book, after all, and at least there’s air conditioning now, and the children really seem to want him to read the book, as if they haven’t heard it a thousand times before, and the look in their eyes–the President of the United States and the Britains is reading to us–and so he begins to read.
And he will find that he enjoys reading from the book, because nothing he does with the book can hurt him, nothing about it has weight. The only problem is, as he reads, his mind drifts again and he cannot stop the secret room from entering into his thoughts.
Ossuary. Ossuary. The pale face of the tortured adept staring up at him. The Russian Problem. The Chinese Problem. All of it–he has to disguise all of it from them as he reads.
And it’s September, and something terrible is going to happen, and he doesn’t know what it is.
That’s when his aide interrupts his reading. Comes up to him with a fake smile and a serious look on his face, and whispers in his ear.
Whispers in his ear and the sound is like a buzzing, and the buzzing is numinous and all-encompassing. The breath on his ear is like a tiny curse, an infernal itch. A sudden rush of blood to his brain as he hears the words, and he can hardly move; is frozen. Is seeing light where there isn’t light. The words drop into his ear as if they have weight, because they have weight.