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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1. The Library

Emily Hart was slumped against one of the mammoth pillars of the Temple, clicking her tongue impatiently. A cold draft rippled through her hair. The pillars stood tall towering over her, reaching for the fluffy, white clouds above. She was tapping her sandals (which were practically falling apart) against the smooth, hard floor beneath, impatient. Emily was just about to go inside, when the last leather strap keeping the shoe on her left foot snapped. It did not snap slowly like when ropes snap; strand by strand, this just suddenly snapped. Emily huffed as tried to tie the ruff, ragged ends of her sandals back together.

Eventually giving up at becoming a cobbler, she went back to leaning against the pillars. Frustrated, she paced around the pillar, one foot bare. She hopped round to the front and gazed up at the ornate clock. Where is he? She asked herself.

Just as the clock bonged, marking the hour. Emily turned to go in, not willing to be told off just because her friend was late, when a figure hurried around the corner, tripping over his own feet as he ran. It was Jack.

“Where have you been?” Emily snapped. It was not like Jack to be late. He didn’t normally look this messy either. It looked like he had a bird’s nest on his head and he had huge bags under his eyes.

“I was up late studying,” he mumbled, wincing at her loud voice.  That was Jack for you, always studying, doing homework or general boring stuff.

“Yeah, well I’ve got just as much work as you do and I turned up on time,” Emily retorted. She was very good at back chatting; she practiced a lot on teachers. Just yesterday, she was sent to Master Dockerty for an ‘inappropriate comment’ as they had called it. “What were you studying, anyway?” Emily continued. “Learning how to be a dork?” She loved teasing Jack and it was better with him because he never got offended, he usually just laughed and they continued doing whatever they were doing. The clock bonged again.

“Come on,” Jack told her with a grin. “We’re going to be late.” Emily stared at the back of his head, mouth agape, as he walked away from her into the Temple. Sensing that Emily was not following, Jack called back, “Don’t you want to hear Master Rengyr’s lovely sermon?”

 

            Emily sighed and jogged to catch up with his long strides. “What’s he talking about today?” she asked him. Jack gave her a sly smile that smelled of trouble. “What?” she asked.  Emily hated the daily sunrise services.

“You’re going to love it,” Jack teased. Emily gaped at him.

“He’s not going to… Not the legend? Not again?”

It seemed that every other week Master Rengyr would drone on and on about the legend of how the library began. Both Jack and Emily could almost recite it by heart.

“When the Gods created the Lands,” Jack began pompously, “they gifted men the ability to learn and so-” Emily poked him in the ribs. Jack ignored her. “And so it was the sacred duty of all men to-”

“And it’s your sacred duty to shut up unless you want a black eye,” Emily told him. Jack laughed at her, but kept quiet. Though she didn’t look it, Emily could pack a powerful punch.

A line of acolytes trailed sluggishly into the inner sanctum of the Temple. Jack and Emily tagged on the end, earning a glare from their teacher, Master Dockerty.

“You’re late,” the teacher hissed.

“Sorry, sir,” Jack muttered. Emily just rolled her eyes. The acolytes filed into the four rows of marble benches reserved for them among the hundreds of Scholars and sat down, whispering among themselves or yawning as they waited for the service to start.

            Suddenly, Master Rengyr appeared at the pulpit at the front of the sanctum. His deadly eyes scanned the room, each row he glared at fell silent at the sight of his menacing appearance.

“Thank you all for attending today’s service,” said Master Rengyr, in a voice that carried to the farthest corners of the Temple.

“As if we had a choice,” Emily grumbled under her breath.

“Let us start our day with a prayer,” Rengyr announced. As one, the congregation rose and began to chant:

 

“Gods above who created us

And gave us the gift of knowing

We thank you.

Lead us through this day

As we seek to learn your wisdom.

Help us eradicate those

Who would hide your words from the light.

For from you all knowing and power and light does flow.

 Iezan.”

 

They all sat silently once again and, as Master Rengyr took a deep breath and began to preach, Emily stifled a yawn.

 

***

 

 Emily dashed into the dining hall, leaving Jack behind in her desperate rush for food. She needed the food as a relief from the awful, cruel service. She was pushing through everyone, the smell of hot, sloppy porridge luring her in. Even if it often tasted disgusting, it was better than listening to Rengyr. Emily forced her way through the long, long line. She started to think that the line was never ending. Acolyte by Acolyte, Emily started to get dizzy. She decided to stop were she was. She shoved her way through two other acolytes who harassed her for a while but soon stopped when she spat a curse at them.

            Finally reaching second to the front, she looked back, trying to spot Jack. He’s probably waiting at the back, she thought. He’s too polite for his own good. The porridge will be cold by the time he gets here.

“Here you go, love,” smiled the woman behind the counter, handing her a bowl of steaming, grey slop. Emily thanked her and headed for the table.

            When Jack finally appeared again, Emily was halfway through her breakfast. She regretted not waiting for him as he pulled out a small paper bag and poured a steady stream of golden-brown sugar onto his dull oats. The sugar – especially the brown kind – had the ability to turn dreary mush that passed as breakfast, into a meal fit for the Gods. Clumps of porridge dripped from Emily’s spoon onto the table as she stared at the sweet golden grains.

“Where did you get that?” she asked huskily. Jack shrugged, pretending to ignore Emily’s longing stare.

            Jack’s father (Master Harold Carter) was on the Council of Scholars. He held the position of ‘Master of Medicine’ and was one of the most respected and richest scholars in the Library. As a result, Jack always had the best clothes, the best shoes, the best pens and the best paper. He was in one of the nicest rooms, closest to both the classrooms and the dining hall.

In comparison, Emily was the lowest of the low. Abandoned in the Atrium, Emily had no idea who her parents were. Everything she owned had been provided by the Library. She shared a room with a dozen or more other girls and it took her fifteen minutes just to get out of the dormitory block. All of the other Acolytes had parents who would give them pocket money to buy things like sweets and fancy tunics. If Emily wanted anything, she would have to steal it or ask Jack to buy it for her – and Emily didn’t like asking anyone for anything.

 

People wouldn’t think that children from such different walks of life would ever meet, but Jack’s high status had alienated him from the other Acolytes and Emily’s natural distrust of people who were too smiley meant she didn’t have many friends. And so it was five years ago that the two children found themselves sitting on the only empty table in the dining hall. For two months they had sat together and not spoken a word. Then, much like this morning, Jack had taken out a paper bag and poured sugar over his porridge. Emily, who at that point had never tasted brown sugar, gaped at him. Noticing her, Jack had asked her if she wanted any. Emily had quickly replied “No, before snatching the bag out of his hand and dumping the whole lot on her breakfast. They had been best friends ever since.

 

Jack folded the top of the sugar over and began to put it away. A strangled noise escaped Emily’s throat.

“Sorry, did you want some?” asked Jack, trying not to laugh. Emily cleared her throat.

“Only if you want to give me some,” she replied. This was what she always said whenever she wanted something that Jack had. She was too proud to ever ask for it directly. Jack grinned and pushed the bag in front of her, ending their charade.

 

“Father gave me five silvers. He thought I deserved a reward for getting the highest marks in the Medicine exam last week,” Jack told her. Emily rolled her eyes, as she shovelled the sweetened porridge into her mouth.

“You should have seen Martin’s face when he gave me the money. He’s worried that father will ask me to replace him in the Council one day instead of him.”

Jack and his brother Martin had a love/hate relationship (more hate than love if you asked Martin) and the older brother was always trying to undermine Jack.

“Bon’d guwy aroud id. Wor dod eben a sorar ed,” Emily garbled through a mouth full of sugary oats.

“I beg your pardon?” Jack giggled. Emily gulped and opened her mouth to repeat herself when a drawling voice carried over the hall.

“With manners like that, it’s no wonder they want to kick you out of the Library, Emily!”

“Well, I’d rather have my manners than your face,” Emily shot back at a pockmarked girl two tabled over. A few people laughed and the girl flattened her fringe over her spotty forehead.

 

“Anyway,” said Emily, turning back to Jack. “You don’t need to worry about Martin. You’re not even a Scholar yet and you don’t even want to do Medicine.”

“But my father doesn’t know that,” Jack retorted, “He’d have a fit if he found out.”

Emily was about to reply when a bell clanged throughout the hall. A great thunder sounded as Acolytes got up from their benches. “Come on,” said Jack, standing up. Emily stayed sat down.

“I don’t want to,” she moaned. “Yesterday, Cook made me wash all the breakfast things twice because she said they weren’t good enough the first time.”

“Maybe if you stopped back chatting Master Dockerty they’d give you something nice to do,” Jack told her.

“I doubt it,” grumbled Emily.

“I’ll see you in class,” Jack said.

“If I survive the kitchens,” Emily replied.

“Sorry Emily, can’t hear you,” mocked Jack, already walking away. Emily scowled at him and went off to the kitchen to do her chores.

 

***

Jack arrived at the ancient and dusty room where they kept the logbooks. The room had crooked bookshelves and holes in the floorboards. He had been working there for so long it had almost become second nature how to avoid the creaks and nails sticking out of the floor. Jack sighed when he looked at the pile of logbooks that he still had to read through. He picked up one of the many heavy books that was sitting in front of him, thin freckly hands curving around the leather spine of the book.

The dust he had disturbed from lifting the book leaped into his throat, making him cough and splutter until he couldn’t breathe. Jack lifted the thick opening cover and revealed the illegible text.

 

            After what felt like hours of boredom, trolling through dates and names and numbers, Jack noticed something out of the ordinary. An ink splodge, which had not been there yesterday, in the top left corner of the page. A confused look spread across Jack’s face. How did that get there? He wondered. No one ever touched these books except for him and the other acolytes whose job it was to check which books had been borrowed and mark them if they had been returned. He supposed that one of the other boys could have spilled the ink, but they had their own books to check. Why would they open his?

He scanned the page and his confusion turned to bafflement. Yesterday, there had been twenty-three books listed on this page; eighteen returned, five still out. Today there were only twenty-two books listed; eighteen returned, four still out. Was it possible that someone had deliberately changed the logbooks? Surely not! It was forbidden. To alter or remove information from these books would break the second sacred law of the Library: No knowledge shall be hidden from sight.

            The punishment for such a crime was-

 

The slam of a book nearby jolted him from his thoughts. The other Acolytes were packing away. A glance at the clock by the window told him that if he didn’t move now, he’d be late for the second time that day. Hurriedly, he put the book away and left the room.

But still the logbook played on his mind as he walked down the glass-roofed alley on his way to lessons. Who in the Lands would alter them? Who would be mad enough? 

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