Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Letters of the Eidolon Queen

The librarian at Crécy hated me.  It was, as far as I could tell, one of those instinctive things, like when you meet a dog for the first time and it snaps at you, or when you pick up a baby and it starts bawling.  With the dog you can usually befriend it with patience, calm and the occasional savoury treat; with the baby I've always found it best to hand it off to the nearest person with the comment that it needs changing, but with the librarian at Crécy I was at a loss.
He was handsome in a certain light, which he clearly understood as his desk was situated in front of the window in such a way as to present him at his best.  His profile was sharp, his nose a little too angular for any but a Roman I think, and his chin needed just a little more jut to it to make artists weep and bite through their palettes.  He dressed well, though obviously on a budget, and his hands looked cared for; long-boned fingers that delicately caressed books as he tended to them, flickered over the keyboard of his computer like a virtuoso pianist, and folded themselves implacably in front of his stomach, just below his rib-cage, whenever I asked for anything.
"I am sorry Mr. Debraun," he said, his voice soft, hovering just at the threshold of audibility, forcing me to lean closer to him than I felt comfortable with, "but that book has been borrowed by one of our patrons."  Or, "I am sorry, Mr. Debraun, but that book is currently off the shelves for repair.  Might I make a note that you'd like to be informed when it's available again?"  Or "I am sorry, Mr. Debraun, but that book is restricted and it would seem," and here he would make a point of calling up my details on the computer screen, "that you have not been granted privileges to view it."
I woke from dreams once or twice a month where he was stood just off to one side of me, one long-boned, delicate, hand gesturing to a burning bookshelf, saying in his quiet, unemotional, uninflected manner, "I am sorry Mr. Debraun, but I'm afraid we've decided to burn all these books rather than lend them to you."
So it was with a heavy heart that I looked at my writing and realised that to complete my argument I would need to refer to a book I didn't have a copy of in my study.  The Letters of the Eidolon Queen was sufficiently rare that I'd been beaten out of the bidding on the last three copies to come to auction, and there were known to be only eight or nine copies still around.  The British Museum was supposed to be carefully transcribing it so that they could make a limited re-publication run of it but the timescale for that was being measured in decades, and though my research could hardly date in that time my reputation would surely wane.  I put my favourite flat cap on, then took it off again, recalling the prim disapproval I'd received from the librarian when I'd tried entering the library wearing it.  Then I put it back on, feeling that if I were going to be turned down at least I could be defiant.  Then I took it off again.
When I arrived at the library I took it off and stuffed it in my pocket, my courage quailing at the last.  I tapped lightly on the door, and pushed it open.  There were twenty feet of muted green carpet between the door and the librarian's desk, and I could see him sitting there, gazing thoughtfully at the screen of his computer.  I nearly turned aside and went to the card catalogue, but I knew that even if I could find it there I would still have to come to him to request access to it.  It was far too valuable to be left on a shelf, even if all the patrons of the library were required to be members and undergo some fairly extensive background checks before being admitted.
The librarian looked up only when I had been stood at his desk for thirty seconds.  I stood in silence, fearing immediate rejection if I interrupted what he was doing.  He looked at me, unemotional as ever, and I swear that for a moment, for the first time, I saw a distant spark in his eyes, a trace of humanity I was sure he suppressed.  He folded his hands across his stomach, and I saw that two of his fingers on his left hand were bandaged together.  He saw me notice, and an eyebrow so immaculately presented that it had to have been combed just that morning arched fractionally.
"Your hand?" I said, forgetting what I'd come for.
"I am sorry, Mr. Debraun," he said, "but my hand is not part of the library's stock and so may not be borrowed."
"No, I meant, what happened to it?" I stuttered a little at the start, which he affected not to notice.
"A slight accident," he said.  "There are many things in a library that are more dangerous than a patron might realise.  Books can be astonishingly heavy, for example."
"Ah."  My small talk dried up, as did my mouth as I realised I now had to make my request.
"Um, I'd quite like to borrow The Letters of the Eidolon Queen," I said, struggling over the word borrow as my tongue stuck to the roof of my mouth.  "For my research, you understand?"
"I am sorry, Mr. Debraun," he said, and I was nodding already, scarcely listening.  "but that book may not be taken out of the library and may only be read while at least one librarian is present.  I can bring it to the Derleth Reading Room in fifteen minutes, if that suits you?"
I stared at him as what he'd just said sank in, and then I nodded, stammering my thank-yous.  As he walked away from me to collect the book I wondered just how dangerous it was if he was willing to let me look at it, and then I recalled that he hated me.

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