It began as most things in university begin— with an email.
Reno was lounging in his room focusing on a biology course’s homework. Really, just studying the slides to a dreadfully boring lecture he had been exposed to a couple hours prior (the humanities classes in this place may be amazing but anything to do with STEM is laughable). On his laptop, a clunky piece of technology which singled him out as coming from a working-class family, he received the annoying notification: “SUBJECT: meet at the Technology Commons, 11:45 am for Homework Discussion. Tomorrow. Sender: Chad Imo”. Quickly looking Chad up on the university’s database of students, he discovered that he was a Junior. Not particularly interesting, if he was being honest, but at least he had a name to put to a face.
Since the class was a couple of days ago and Reno hadn’t even so much as glanced at the homework for the class, he figured that he should do some work. Opening the PDF attachments which contained his readings, he began by reading most of the introduction to a book called A Knight’s Own Book of Chivalry by Geoffroi De Charny. It looked to be a medieval manual on historical chivalry, as the title made clear. Axel had only assigned the scholarly introduction written by Richard W. Kaeuper.

 

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“I was a great knight, once. I was known far and wide. As with all knights worth their salt, I entered crisis upon discovering the great revelation. The Shadowets were just the tip; I descended into madness for a time as panicked over how to confront this great calamity.”

The introduction was longer than he initially bargained for and so he ended up reading only part of it in several sittings. Reno thought that he should at least read some of the actual primary text he be spending the semester reading, probing, and getting intimate with, so he didn’t want to exhaust himself on a scholar’s rant when he still had a dense Middle English text to take apart.
So, Reno had read about three-quarters of the introductions before he put it aside. He thought that it was rather dry. He had, of course, read dry material before due to his wide philosophical engagement, so it wasn’t anything to him, but still, it was a bit of a snooze fest. Kaeuper illustrated the core tenants of chivalry by providing detailed historical descriptions of Charny’s life. These were fine moments but they puffed up the introduction and made it rather longer than Reno cared.
After a few hours of rest and relaxation, and a not indecent amount of other homework, Reno went about in reading about half— give or take— of the actual piece of literature which was the focus of the course, Thomas Malory’s Le Morte Darthur, or “The Death of Arthur” for anyone who doesn’t read French. Because he had a handy audiobook to help with pronunciation, Reno was able to make quick progress of the antiquated spelling. Sifting through page after page of unfamiliar spellings, Reno knew that it would be this simple act of reading that would give him the most trouble in this class. Still, he reasoned that after a while it would be second nature to him, these odd spellings.
As for his thoughts on this seminal book… he was conflicted. On the one hand, though he enjoyed the seemingly high amounts of action contained in even the opening chapters, it was an action that could only be discerned by reading through the lines. One had to use their imagination to really render what it meant that some castle was being laid to siege by Uther Pendragon. One had to use their imagination on what it really meant or could mean, in keeping up with the running theme of the university, when knights dueled endlessly and the language blurred into redundancy. Above all, reading this text, even in translation, for he broke down in trying to read the original Middle English version after spending over an hour trying to make sense of the first few pages, was a taxing affair because a contradiction resided over the text; at once, there was both too much information and not enough. The narrative suggested grand arcs and quests and epic histories while the actual language suggested only curious glances into those histories. It was almost maddening, Reno reflected, because how little was actually showed by Malory.
Reno let out a heavy sigh. It was late. He needed some sleep. For tomorrow, there would be a group meeting and he would need to be at his top to re-engage this material once more. This semester was going to be long. And with that, he silenced his phone— perhaps the modern version of blowing out a candle— and climbed into bed, hoping his roommate wouldn’t hear him wank.

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