The Long-Tailed Star
“Yes, Master, but what is it?” The student held his reed pen tightly over the papyrus, watching the lecturer expectantly.
The man at the front of the room looked up from his notes, pausing in the middle of his speech. A tiny bead of sweat rolled down the back of his neck. I’m not meant for this, he thought. I’m a tutor, I’ve never done a seminar before!
“Well, beyond what I’ve already covered, we...” he looked at the rest of the students, about twenty in all. “We don’t know. An unsatisfactory answer, yes, but one a scholar mustn’t be afraid to admit.”
“Why don’t we know? Did Yongit never tell us?”
The lecturer disliked this kid more and more. “No, unfortunately. If God did import the truth of the comet to us, that information was lost. All we can say is that which can be observed: that it has returned exactly one thousand years later, down to the day, that its trail is comprised of colors not found in any other stars, and that it moves miles each day across the sky, likely to depart in a few days.” Most of the students nodded, some scribbling down notes. However, some, including the previous questioner, appeared dissatisfied. He raised his pen again, speaking before the lecturer acknowledged him.
“Is there nothing at all in the writings of Yongit that mention the comet?”
“What? Well…” He began shuffling through his notes, thumbs fumbling between the thick sheets of parchment. “Surely, of course…” The deepness does this kid want? I’m not a Courtly theologist, I’m an astronomer!
“Yes, Yongit mentions the comet several times,” came a new voice from the doorway. An older woman, dressed in plain white qaftan and headdress, she was shorter than average, but smiled at the assembled students. She walked in and stepped up next to the lecturer. “Though never in any serious significance, so if you hope to find some holy meaning in this funny star in the sky, I’m afraid to say you’ll be disappointed.” A few students laughed.
“Thank you, Jakh Yangatiyye,” the lecturer said. He gestured to the smiling woman. “Students, the Master of the Library herself, Tajani OnMaqibn.” He immediately kicked himself. They know who she is, idiot.
“And thank you, Master Khaliz OnAbiy, for doing this special seminar for our lucky students.” Khaliz bowed respectfully. “I hope,” she turned to look at the questioning student directly, “that they appreciate the knowledge you brought them and the hard work you and your colleagues do at the observatory.” The student blushed slightly.
Khaliz smiled to himself. “Yes, well, that is all, students. If you have further inquiries, we at the observatory would be happy to provide all that we know, so simply stop by.” He tapped the side of his nose. “Though try to do so at night, the view is much better.” He stepped around the podium and bowed to them all. “Jakh zannib taf biyam, your story will be long!”
The students bowed as well as they began to stand. “Jakhie ma tashasfif stat, yours will not end here!” They responded.
As the last of them stepped out the door, Khaliz turned to Tajani. “Thank you for stepping in there.”
“No problem at all, my friend,” she said.
“Students seem more and more concerned about the theological side of everything these days.”
“Courtly studies is popular right now,” Tajani said.
“Which is thanks to you in no small part, I might add.”
She nodded with a smile. Then she turned to the open window of the hall, looking out at the sky. There, the comet burned across the pale cloudless heavens, its tail a rainbow of colors. “The long-tailed star,” she said.
“Excuse me?” Khaliz joined her at the window.
“That’s what the old writings, the Courtly writings, called it. When it came last time. The long-tailed star, that burned across the sky.”
“And Yongit said little of it?”
“Yes.” She looked back at him. “It came during the height of the Enlightened Age, in the middle of prosperity and peace. A pretty thing, astronomically curious, but God himself gave it no mind. Theologically insignificant.”
“That wasn’t all that Yongit didn’t acknowledge,” Khaliz said carefully.
There was a pause.
“No,” Tajani said. “It wasn’t.” She kept looking out as the sun began to set. Khaliz stood slightly behind, watching the comet as well. The long-tailed star seemed to stand still, but he knew it moved impossibly fast, dashing surely and unwaveringly across the sky.
Tajani looked back at him. “I am going to start up my search again.”
“We all knew you would. Some of the Mikat even have bets on it.”
“I’m doing it now. I’ll make the announcement tomorrow.”
“Looks like I’m down forty talents, then,” Khaliz said. He turned to look directly at her, but she kept staring out the window. “But your scholarliness, I hope you don’t let this consume you. How long will it be before we’re at war again? This peace won’t last, and this…”
She held up a hand. “Don’t worry yourself, Master. I won’t abandon any of my duties as Master of the Library. I know the danger we’re in, and I’m needed here. Besides, I’m past the point in my life where I can just go traipsing across the desert.”
“Then what will you do?”
“I have a… contractor. She’s younger in years, so she’ll be doing the groundwork.”
“I’m guessing the Council won’t know who this ‘contractor’ is?”
“That would be correct.”
“That’ll ruffle a few older heads.”
Tajani laughed a light laugh. “That’s alright, the older heads are the ones I’ve had the most time to dance around.” She turned away from the window and started making her way to the door. “Besides, they’re the ones who voted me in all those years ago, they have no right to complain.” She looked back at him. “It’s getting late, I’ll be needed at the evening prayers. Thank you for these lectures, Master.”
Khaliz bowed. “Qisya shie mem ti!”
She bowed back. “Qisya shie ibnem zannib!” She stepped out the door.
“I hope you find our God,” he said.