I've been prevaricating long enough over this. I had a good long chat with Sue today about the plot to this and she said it seemed to be pretty good, though I'm still having trouble grasping it in my own mind. It's like trying to grab a soap bubble; I don't want to grab it too hard in case I pop it.
Anyway, I've written a couple of pieces of non-story stuff to get the characters better acquainted in my mind. The first is a short piece about Victor. He's old, he misses his wife, he's lonely and he's fed up of kids coming and standing on his roses. The second is a piece about young Trip, aged 6; he's quite advanced for a six-year-old in thinking, I guess, but that's ok. In the main story he'll be about 12, but this is how he ends up doing a job by choice that most others have to be ordered to do, namely working in the Library.
Victor grunted and spat into a flowerpot. There were tourists outside his house again, damned bastards, always wandering around and pointin’ at this and that. Damn it, they’d be in the rose bushes in a minute trying to see into his windows.
It was the same, day in, day out. No way around it, thanks to old man Hoff putting his name on the map. If that man hadn’t been village Elder, he’d have been staring down the point of a sword soon as cough. “Good of the village,” he’d wheezed on that frosty November morning, “We’re dying as a village. People will come if they know you’re here, Victor. They’ll come, and they’ll spend their coppers and silvers and golds in our inn and our shops and they’ll take our daughters off to better things.”
“Damn it, Loenn, I’m retired. I don’t want people comin’ here and starin’ at me. I just want to be with my wife and my roses,” he’d replied, but it had made no difference. ‘Victor the Victorious retires to Monk’s Retreat’ had run the headlines all through and land, and then it had started.
The old mercenary sighed and stuck his hands into the pockets of his brown corduroy trousers. He started to fiddle with the loose change in there, all the while watching the two young men outside. One was obviously trying to encourage the other to do something; the second seemed to need little encouragement before he dumped his knapsack on the ground and faced the house. Victor’s eyes narrowed as he watched, then, without taking his eyes from them, moved his hand to the doorknob.
The second youth took a short run up and vaulted over the three-foot high picket fence, then turned to wave at the first. Victor’s gnarled hand tightened on the knob, then with a savage twist he flung it open and reached out for the young man’s shirt.
The boy danced out of reach, glee turning to shock, and then he was back over the fence and running, his partner in tow. “And stay offa my land, you young rascals!” Victor shouted, then turned on his heel and stormed back into the house. The slam of the door nearly took it off its hinges.
He looked around the room. Despite the bright sun outside, it was dimly lit. Three swords hung on a rack filling most of one wall, maps and charts filling most of the remaining wallspace. The small table had a cloth on it, embroidered with flowers. There were flowers in the flowerpot. A rose sat in a slender vase on the centre of the table. It was the little things that reminded him.
Picking up the small framed portrait on the windowsill, Victor sat down in one of the straight-backed chairs. He gently placed the picture on the table and looked into the eyes of the middle-aged woman it depicted. The shadows lengthened around him and finally it became too dark to see. Victor grunted and stood up stiffly, then put his cloak around his shoulders and moved to the door. He took on last look around the sitting room.
“I miss you, Remira,” he muttered, his voice sounding old and weak in the muffled silence. Then he opened the door and slipped through it, closing it tightly behind himself. Kern would have his seat ready for him at the Hero’s Return, a meal on the stove and a brew on tap so he could while away the evening listening to the young tell each other lies and boasts. Just like he did every night.
“I don’t understand. We love the trees, don’t we?” Trip’s face wrinkled in confusion. Master Horn smiled, his eyes almost disappearing in a mass of wrinkles, and gently shook his head.
“Young one, we revere the trees, for all trees are part of the Arbour in spirit. The Arbour gave us life and this land which is full of bounty. It was here when we were born and it will be here when we die. But the Arbour, in its infinite wisdom, knows that we are only human. We need shelter and light, heat and warmth. We need wood, or we can’t survive.”
Trip rocked on his heels as he considered this. A hundred other things fought to intrude on his six-year-old mind but he resisted the urge to think about what was for lunch or whether blue was his favourite colour. A sudden thought struck him.
“Won’t we run out of trees? I mean, if we keep using them, they’ll all be gone. And the Arbour will be cross.” His eyes widened and he gasped. “We could plant new trees!”
Master Horn nodded and smiled wider. “Well done, Trip. Yes, we plant new trees. The Church of the Tree plants hundreds, thousands of trees every year to replace the ones used by people. We make sure that there will still be forests in years to come. And that, young one, is how we are able to run this place!” He gestured around himself. “This is the largest library in the world. Everything that has ever been written is here, or a copy.”
Trip’s mouth opened in wonder. “Everything ever written? You mean, everything?”
“As far as we know. Sometimes our monks come across things that we don’t have, and they send them back to us. Then we add them to the Library, filed away in their proper place.”
“But that’s what I don’t understand, Master. Books are made of paper, and paper is made from trees. Isn’t that a terrible thing to do?”
“You ask a lot of questions for one so young!” Master Horn ruffled Trip’s hair. “Soon be time to have this shaved off, Trip, mmm?”
“But isn’t it a bad thing to have all these books?” the young boy pressed. Master Horn pulled a face.
“Yes, I suppose it is. But like warmth and shelter, we need the knowledge in these books, and it’s far better to have just one copy of all of these than hundreds in the hands of the common people.”
After their lesson, Master Horn took Trip down to the Library itself. A huge structure, it dug down into the ground, an immense column of eight-sided walkways lined with shelves. Here and there monks walked, some quietly with books in hand, others purposefully with lists or small trolleys. They had walked through dozens of corridors before Trip gently tugged on Master Horn’s sleeve.
“Yes, young one?”
Trip bit his lip, then blurted out “I want to look after the books. When I’m older, I mean. If it’s ok, I mean.”
Master Horn looked down in surprise. “Really? My goodness, young one, that is quite a surprise. I mean, normally the monks don’t want to… I’m sure it would be fine,” he finished hurriedly.
“Books are made out of wood. All wood is the Arbour in spirit. All books must be made of the Arbour, then, and our job is to look after the Arbour. If all trees are the Arbour, all sorts of things must be too, including paper!” The boy nodded solemnly and looked up into his Master’s eyes, looking for understanding or acceptance. The old man was looking at him strangely, head crooked to one side.
“I have never thought of it that way, young one. We will have to see about getting you some work in the Library.” He could not help but smile in response to the sudden burst of joy on Trip’s face. He ruffled the boy’s hair again. “Now then, I think that was the lunch gong I heard a minute ago. Shall we go and see?”
Hand in hand, the master and the pupil walked off between the shelves.