The Library

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  • Published: 27 Feb 2018
  • Updated: 27 Feb 2018
  • Status: Complete
The Great Library is over a thousand years old and has grown to the size of a city.

Jack is the youngest son of Master Carter, a member of the Council of Scholars.
Emily is an orphan without a penny to her name.
Both are Acolytes in the Great Library.

When a revered Master burns a book – a crime punishable by death – Jack and Emily are thrust into a world below the Library that they never knew existed. But even as they learn life changing secrets and work together to uncover the truth, their friendship is tested in ways they never imagined.

In the Library, knowledge is power and the powerful control it.

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11. The Black Flame

Jack blinked slowly, barely able to stay awake. It was hot and stuffy inside the classroom and Scholar Higgins was droning on and on in a monotone voice. Across the classroom, he could see Emily playing with her quill with glassy eyes. While Emily often lost interest within the first fifteen minutes of any class, being bored by a teacher was not something that Jack was used to. But the events of the past few weeks made everything dull by comparison. What was the point in learning about the history of the Library when he knew it was all built on lies? What was the point in learning how to make healing tonics and medicines when he knew that magic could do the job easily, if properly applied? What was the point in sitting in a boring class when adventures filled with Monsters and secret passages and magic awaited him in the Tunnels? While they had kept their distance from the section of Tunnels where that strange creature lived, the fact that it existed sent tingles down Jack’s spine every time he thought of it. If only he could get it confined, study it perhaps…

            Scholar Higgins cleared his throat and Jack shot upright, afraid he had been called upon or missed something important. But nothing had changed in the dull room and Higgins was still droning on.

            Scholar Young had insisted on them spending the entire day doing their mundane Acolyte work. That meant doing their chores, going to class and eating with the other Acolytes. If they kept spending so much time sneaking off to search the Tunnels, someone was bound to start asking questions and that was the last thing they wanted.

 

            Jack was just debating the merits of sneaking in a few minutes of sleep when a loud knock sounded at the classroom door. Scholar Higgins sighed, forced to break from his monologue.

“Enter,” he commanded with as much authority as he could muster. The door opened and, as one, the class swivelled their heads towards the visitor. It was a girl, dressed in the blue robes of an Apprentice. Her face was red with sweat and she seemed to have run most of the way. She bent over, eager to catch her breath and then looked up at Scholar Higgins, taking deep gulps of air. She was clearly embarrassed that she was so out of breath. When she finally stopped panting, she managed to give the message.

“I have a note for Jack Carter?” the messenger said wearily. Scholar Higgins nodded haughtily and pointed towards Jack who raised his hand to identify himself. The messenger pulled out a wax sealed envelope, handed it to Jack and left quickly, probably to find a drink of water. Scholar Higgins returned to his lecture and Jack studied the envelope.

His name was written on the front in a hand that Jack did not recognise, but when he turned the envelope over, all confusion as to who was sending him notes vanished. The seal belonged to his father.

Jack’s heart skipped a beat. Why was his father writing to him? It was rare that Master Carter ever called to see his youngest son and the fact that this was the second time in as many weeks that Jack had heard from him sent fear spiking through his veins. He looked up and saw Emily staring pointedly at him.

“My father,” he mouthed silently. Emily dropped her quill.

 

The end of the lesson couldn’t come quick enough. As Scholar Higgins and the rest of the Acolytes headed off to lunch, Emily pounced on Jack.

“What does it say?” she snapped at him.

“I haven’t opened it yet,” he responded sharply. Emily took a deep breath and steadied herself.

“Sorry, I’m just nervous,” she confessed. “Do you think he knows?”

“I don’t know,” Jack said quietly.

“Tunnels?” Emily asked after a moment of tense silence. Jack nodded and they hurried to find Scholar Young. Both of them had lost their appetite.

 

***

“What are you doing here?” was Scholar Young’s reaction when the two Acolytes burst into the small room in the Tunnels.

“My father sent me a note,” said Jack. Scholar Young gaped for a moment, all protest at their presence forgotten.

“Wh – what does it say?” he stuttered.

“I don’t know,” Jack told him, refusing to meet his eyes. “I haven’t opened it yet.” Silence fell once more in the room as the three of them stared at the envelope Jack had placed in the desk. Thoughts whizzed through each of their heads like hornets, each person thinking something different but equally terrifying.

Scholar Young thought about the torture and execution that awaited him if Master Carter had discovered what they were doing. Emily wondered if her best friend would betray her if his father asked it of him. And Jack was asking the question he had been avoiding for weeks: Was his father really capable of murder? And if so, what did that make him?

Finally, Scholar Young cleared his throat. “Would you like me to read it for you?” he asked. Jack nodded reluctantly. This is what the letter said:

 

Jack,

 I have called for a family meal at precisely half past five in the evening. You will wear your best clothes and will need to come alone.

 I have noticed that, as a family, we have drifted apart. The death of your mother was a tragedy and it has affected us all deeply. It made us distant, and, as a result, I fear that the Carter family is fading. I have decided that the best way to get together again is to talk as a family.

Remember, best clothes and do not be late.

Your father,

Harold Carter.

 

 

            Whatever each of them had been expecting, it was not that.

“I just don’t understand!” exclaimed Jack suddenly. “Why would Father want to have a family meal? What could this mean? I don’t believe what he is saying ‘I think the Carter family is fading.’ It just feels like a lie.”

“I have to say, I’m not entirely sure, despite that, I advise you take caution and be careful who you trust,” Scholar Young advised. Unfortunately, Jack knew there was no way of escaping his father. Scholar Young was right. Jack needed to be careful who he could trust.

“I agree with Scholar Young,” added Emily. “I would be very careful but I don’t think you should worry. It doesn’t mean anything important.”

“Okay then, if you’re sure. Well I better be going to get ready.”

“Good luck,” whispered Emily. “Everything will be okay!” she beamed at him and Jack smiled back. Thank the gods; I have my best friend back!

 

***

 

As soon as Jack had changed, he set off on the handcar once again, dreading the near future of his family. He soon arrived.

When the Carters were seated, Martin instantly began to talk. Every time they were in the same room, he bragged about his ‘intelligence’. Though he knew that he had hardly any intelligence, he still continuously boasted that he was so much better than Jack was.

“I nearly got better marks than Thomas Fletchley, the best scholar in Medicine, he was so worried!” Martin bragged.

“Yes but you didn’t get better marks, did you?” Jack replied snidely. This happened all the time. Martin would lie, and Jack would correct him, Jack was tired of it.

“At least I don’t have an orphan girlfriend. I don’t know what you’re thinking, being friends with that mud stain. She ought to be jailed for all the things she does. Have you seen how short she makes her tunic? Apparently, she steals as well. The thief!” Martin said, practically laughing. Jack started to shake with fury. Emily, his girlfriend? Mud stain? Orphan? She was the opposite of a mud stain. An orphan, yeah, she was, but did it make a difference? She was his best friend.

“Emily isn’t a thief! If you must know, I give her some of my money so she can buy new shoes. She is not a mud stain either nor my girlfriend. So shut up!” Jack argued.

“Why don’t you shut up?” Martin replied vigorously.  He was starting to get angry too.

Meanwhile, Jack’s Father just sat there shovelling green peas into his mouth. It was as if he was powerless and he had forgotten how to talk. He was the sort of father who let his children get on with their arguing. Why should I interfere in their problems? he reasoned.

 

Jack and Martin continued fighting until they were both out of breath. They sat and glared at each other from opposite sides of the table until their father broke the silence by saying, “Are you done?” He looked up at them. The food on their plates was untouched. They picked up their cutlery and began to eat. They were still giving each other annoyed glances but other than that, the argument seemed to have died down. Their food was slowly disappearing from their plates.

 

 ‘’I think that’s me done, thank you Father, goodbye,” conveyed Martin as he strode swiftly out of the room. He shot Jack a hateful glance as he briskly gathered all his belongings and walked off to his work.

 The absence of speech kept the table quiet for mere seconds, until Jack got up to leave. His chair scraped the smooth, marble floor, which immediately alerted his father who gave him a harsh warning glare. Jack dropped back onto the seat. The sight of his father’s bitter stare was kept in his memories as a reminder to never irritate him, or there would be severe consequences.  

Jack wondered why his father had called for him. Martin had always been father’s favourite and he never had any reason to talk to his youngest son.

“Jack, you’re probably wondering why you’re here,” croaked his father, as if reading his son’s mind. Jack nodded.

“What is this Jack?” Master Carter asked sternly, holding up a piece of heavy parchment that Jack recognised with a sinking feeling.

“That’s my report, Father.” He had forgotten they were coming out, but there shouldn’t be any reason to worry. Even at his worst, Jack’s grades were easily the highest in the class. “I passed all my exams in flying colours,” Jack replied smugly.

“And what about this?” Harold turned the piece of paper to the ‘attitude’ side and pointed his long, bony figure to the ‘attendance’ section.

“Well Father, there must have been some misunderstanding. I have been to every lesson all term long and-”

“Don’t lie to me, boy.” Jack’s father leaned over the table and slapped his son, hard on the cheek, marking him. “No Carter every misses a chance to learn, you hear me! Have I given you no example but to skive lesson, and to frolic in the hallways when you know full well you should be studying! You have it easy coming from a family with wealth when there are children out there who have nothing. Do not take your fortune lightly.”

In the past, Jack would have quietly nodded and crept away to his room, but recent events had given him a confidence he did not know he possessed. He shot out of his chair and glared at his father.

“You treat your own blood with so much disrespect and arrogance that you will beat your own son?” Jack could feel a bruise forming on his cheek.

Master Carter glanced down at Jack’s bag and saw the tip of a reddening leather parchment. Jack’s father knew the books Jack should have been studying were died blue, not red.

“What is this?” He reached into his son’s woven bag a grabbed it curiously.

“Just some book Emily gave me to read. It’s full of fairy tales,” Jack murmured, regretting his outburst. If his father opened the book and saw that he had been reading about magic…

Master Carter thrust the book into Jack’s chest, winding him. “How dare you scorn all the Library offers you by reading such filth. First you are missing lessons and now this? You are no son of mine.”

“Good, I wouldn’t want to be the son of a murderer anyway!” Jack realised as soon as the words had passed his lips that he was going to regret saying them.

 

“What did you say?” His father’s face was reddening by the word.

“Um, nothing. Nothing at all,” Jack tried to smile convincingly and sat down.

“Yes, you did, you accused me of murder.”

“Only because it’s true!” Jack cursed his big mouth.

“You will pay your elders the deepest respect or you will not talk at all! Even if I did kill him you would never speak of it!” The room fell completely silent, neither of them dared have the courage to speak first. Finally, Jack could keep quiet no longer.

“I never said who you had murdered, you said him. I knew it, you killed Tiberius Crick. You’re a liar and a murderer, you go on about me not paying respect when you don’t even have the dignity to plead guilty to your crimes, you unholy piece of dirt!”

“Jack!” Harold Carter raised his voice to calm his son down. “I did it, there I plead guilty. However, you’re not going to tell anyone are you?” Master Cater stared at his son with such a devilishly malevolent glare that Jack’s throat began to dry, and his breath began to fade.

“He was, how do I say this? Obstructing mine and Master Rengyr’s progress, towards building the Library to become even greater than it is today, to revisit some older, less studied areas of the Library curriculum.” Jack knew the meaning of what his father was saying by the villainous glint in his eye that Jack was not going to be pleased with the answer.

“Would these ‘areas of the curriculum’ involve magic by any chance?”

“You’re a clever boy Jack, a very clever boy. And if you were an extremely clever boy, which I know you are, you would keep quiet about it.”

“And what if I didn’t? What would happen then?”

“I’m not sure you really need an answer to that question, Jack, do you?”

 

            Suddenly the candles on the dining table dimmed, and Jack noticed that the flames started to darken on them and soon they were a minute obsidian glimmer in the middle of the table. Jack stared at the flame in mute horror.

            “Yes, Jack. Magic,” grinned his father.

“Why are you doing this? It’s against one of the most sacred of laws, if you are caught you will be removed from your position and almost definitely executed,” Jack blurted, still feigning ignorance.

“You correct in the fact that I would be killed however, the laws are about to change my son. Not only are they going to change but we’re going to change them.”

“We?” Jack was puzzled by his father’s arrogance of the fact that he was definitely going to join him.

“Yes, we, you are going to help me. And you are going to be the heir of the Library, by my side, beginning a revolution against the democracy.”

Jack could not speak, only stare at his father in the dim light.

“I will teach you the arts, and you will join me,” his father continued.

“What about Martin?” Jack asked tentatively. “Is he part of this?” Harold Carter laughed.

“Martin likes to think he’s clever but I have never met someone so foolish. Except perhaps Master Crick.” Anger bubbled up in Jack at his father’s words, but he kept a tight leash on his temper.

“It’s all so-so sudden,” Jack stuttered, fighting for time. “Aren’t I allowed a while to think?”

“Of course, of course, but be quick the time for a rebellion is now.”

Jack got out of his seat and drifted away into the dark corridor, afraid for the future.

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