“Books hold the knowledge of the world. Never underestimate the power of reading. It is a gift. Show me an arch mage that can’t read and I will show you a fool.” Arch Mage Eldred Mortain, “Treatise on Enlightenment.”
In the town library, Alice Shawcroft was wheeling a trolley down an aisle towards author surnames beginning with “K” muttering to herself.
“Lazy no good wastrels. Take out a book and leave it on a table. Can’t be bothered to put it back. What is wrong with folk these days?”
She pushed her glasses back into position. Overdue tightening, as was an eye test, but she could still make the number plate of the car in front at traffic lights. Close up was still OK. Which was mighty fine for reading. A good thing that, considering her hobby was reading.
Alas putting away other people’s discarded books was not. In her mind there was a clear role for a library attendant and that was returned loans, sat on trolleys behind the official desk where transactions occurred, were legitimate. Those alighting on tables, chairs or trolleys scattered around the library were not.
These belonged to the lazy folk whose only ambition was to make Alice’s day filled to the brim with annoyance at trolling down aisles. In this case “K” searching for voids in the shelves requiring filling.
”What is wrong with folk these days?”
Extract from “Letters of The Amanuensis – The Librarian, Alice Shawcroft.”
Shelves spanned each wall. All encased in oak with intricate carvings of beasts and runes. The Amanuensis was becoming more certain each had deeper meaning than mere decoration.
It gnawed at him. So much inside this Keep was encrypted. deliberately so, in case of sacking. No persons outside the order could learn arcane secrets that could upset the balance of worlds.
Looking round he knew it had worked too. Overrun and nothing was missing. Not that he could be certain, but the room’s aura spoke in his dreams. Safe, it was safe.
What was safe though? This room, it’s books and secrets? Or something else, such as the Vault?
Frustration rippled through him. Master her was not, acolyte maybe. Learned yes, educated no. Long ago it had worked as a network of minds, each holding information passed down in time to the next abecedarian. Of the Vault, nobody survived. Of the Assassins, nobody survived. Of the Law Masters, none. Magi, Rune Lords, Healers…all had perished.
Yet here he was, an exception. Able to see through time and worlds, yet not knowing the Keep itself.
Travesty… a word becoming over familiar.
“Until the library burned down yes.”
“Exactly my thoughts, all those books lost. Some were irreplaceable.”
Was everything lost?
“Everything, not a single page left. It was awful.”
“I’m not sure, I think I’m blind.”
A blind librarian.
If she held knowledge of another Keep then it might fill in a missing link. He was a Scribe, The Amanuensis. She was a Librarian. A keeper and filer of books. He knew the knowledge to unlock all was here, just lacked the capacity to unlock it.
Rune Lore, it was all there and granted him much. What if…
Which world held your Library?
“World? I don’t know what you mean.”
Where was it?
There was a Library there?
“Was is the correct term. Hoisting Fengrave Borough Council Public Library.”
“Of course, knowledge is for everyone.”
Everyone? Even on matters relating to alchemy and arcane law?
“Of course. Our mythology section was surprisingly popular, especially with the local paranormal societies.”
“Oh yes, round here they are quite active. Very annoying when they never placed books back afterwards.”
Who are you Librarian?
Alice, you are not blind after all.
Dammit. The place again, Houghton Fengrave.
Alice Shawcroft, keeper of books in a hamlet living inside a corrupted black land. Disappointing. Hope turned to ruin. Alone in a Keep with locked doors and no way to undo them. Except in time, book by book until something is revealed.
He turned his gaze slowly about the room. Tome after tome, many layered in dust. One room of many. Of that he was now certain.
In front of him, at the desk, he glared at another parchment. Paranormal societies in that town. Crude, and yet overseen by something higher. Curious, not a municipal librarian either. The brothers three and the Monks of War.
On the outskirts of town Alice Shawcroft bent down to pick up “The Hound of the Baskervilles.” Not her pooch, but the Conan Doyle book that had somehow slipped off her coffee table.
Dogs she could not abide, all that hair getting everywhere, and muddy paw prints after walks in the rain. Chew marks on furniture as puppies. Definitely no hounds here, save for Sherlock Holmes in a crime that she had already read hundreds of times.
The other thing she couldn’t abide was ageing. Aches and pains that grew out of youth into middle age and beyond. Another reason to be annoyed at lack lustre types that left books all over in the town library. Folk seemed to think it was her sole job to clear up after them and re-house them. Trolling back and forth alphabetizing author surnames and finding even more stuck back randomly in the wrong place.
It was agues that made her pause on her knees mid rescue of the tome on her floor. A twinge in fact, a knee that spoke up and grumbled. However, that took back seat to a sixth sense saying someone’s watching you.
Her hackles rose and she felt a cold settle, giving her goose bumps. That someone’s just walked over your grave feeling. Disquiet where the ticking of her mantle clock grew louder decrying how silent her home was. Subconsciously she turned her head to look over her shoulder. Nothing to see, but the feeling remained as time stood still for a few moments. Dancing on the edge of a blade waiting to see which side things might fall on.
A moment later the temperature rose and the sensation evaporated. How queer, she thought picking up the book and settling back into her armchair. Thoughts of the library took back seat.
Just to be sure, Alice went first to the back door, to check it was locked, and then the front door to do likewise. A peek through the curtains revealed nothing amiss so she scuttled back to her seat.
Her coffee, however, was cold.
Alice Shawcroft belongs in a book working under the title The Bequest. Still a WIP with five chapters or so to go. A project to be undertaken next after the A to Z is finished or comes unstuck.
I say unstuck because the Amanuensis is taking a stronger hold and requires fleshing out more. He is taking more time with each post now as I explore the potential back story. Gone is the narrator sat at a desk illuminated by two candles that never burn down.
Links with the fantasy story outside of Houghton Fengrave are stronger. This is the world of wights, The Black, wizards and magic. Houghton is in our world and these things are now mere myth and legend. We shall see how it bends in the next three posts.
As always, feel free to pass judgement in the comments section. All words are welcome.
Oh, I like Alice! I can definitely understand her annoyance with people who just pull the books out and leave them scattered around the library.
We read about the Amanuensis in 2022. Is Alice a part of the same chronicles? I think it’s quite awesome that you have a set of characters that just live such fascinating lives and are with you for years on end.
OMG, how on earth did you stumble on this one Sam? What you’ve found is the start of the Amanuensis as a concept. He was supposed to be an interviewer for this challenge going through characters and places from various manuscripts. Each one has a different view point on everything I wrote to this point. The Amanuensis grows with each one and begins the world build for what you saw in 2022.
Alice is part of a separate story The Bequest and Black Marsh. The main cast includes perhaps two of my favourite characters Adrian and Rowena. I’m pretty sure they appear in this challenge sequence too… Alice, as you might have detected, is slightly OCD.
The typos are manifest here I’ve just seen, but the A to Z is brutal time wise. I must go back at some point and tidy them up haha.
Houghton Fengrave as a place is definitely connected to the over arching story arc though. As are several characters that drop in. I believe under “Y” you first meet Yish in this too.
Thank you so much for this unexpected smile!
Forget replacing the book back to its place.. i don’t even think kids these days visit libraries!!
Great post though 🙂
Ha ha…Alice has issues heading at OCD. It’s not just the library thing. It’s goes everywhere with her. You’re right though. Kids and libraries are not that compatible. Mine look at them as relics from before the internet. Downloads on kindles are so cheap they reckon it costs me more in petrol and car park fees just to get the the flipoing library!
Ohh! I mean I’d still rather walk up to the library.. the touch and feel of the book plays a great part.. at least for me!!
That’s a reason I love walking round bookshops too. Sadly I’m not sure new generations would agree so much. It seems as time goes on fewer and fewer people regard them as useful. Shame in my humble opinion!
A definite shame!
Lazy patrons, eh? When I was a kid, the librarians always told us to never reshelve our books. We were supposed to leave them for the librarians.
Lol, yes I know that is often the case. Thing with Alice is she is OCD and has a different life outlook. This is just a snippet of her. It follows her whole existence. Things have a place to be and if they aren’t in it then she reacts against it.
These are actually characters from book manuscripts so I throw in a modicum of poetic license. Part of the problem with her is local kids know what she’s like and deliberately move books around and put them all over as a wind up!