Monday, 10 October 2011

The Derleth Reading Room

A few of the other patrons of the Library had mentioned the Derleth Reading Room, but usually only towards the end of the evening when we'd moved on from Eiswein and the seven varieties of Port to the exotic liqueurs, like Sangraal which is every bit as rare and intriguing as the name would suggest.  As the bar of the Seven Riders wavered around us, low-key hallucinations hovering in the corners and grotesqueries hiding under the tables, our conversations would turn to the things that we thought we'd seen, things that might have happened to us, things we'd not discuss with anyone else.  Evidence can be fantastically hard to come by when you're on the threshold of reality, and it was our experiences of things that scratched and tugged at the fabric of reality that had brought us to Crécy in the first place.  And also to the library, for which we were not only members, a source of income, and keen students, but also authors and procurators, depositors of things found in places that others would never see.
They keep it locked, was usually the opening line when the Derleth Reading Room was mentioned.  It's named for him, you know, HIM.  I'd suggested a few Derleth's the first time this had happened, and people had been too kind to laugh openly at me, but it was quite clear that when I knew who he was I'd also only be referring to him by a pronoun.
There are safeguards in there, would be the next thing.  People would adopt serious faces and nod in quiet agreement.  They won't let you in there without a librarian present, and only a senior one at that.  I'd had to ask about that, because I'd only ever seen two librarians in the library, one of whom hated me.  There was a tense moment then, as the people in the know considered if I was suitable for this kind of knowledge, and then they drank as one, six glasses lifted in unison and sipped from, then brought together in the air, clashing together, and I was accepted, if only for the evening.  The library, they explained, had a staff of twelve, and a librarian was assigned to every member.  If I'd seen two of the librarians, then I'd experienced a rare privilege.  And the librarian who hated me?  Of course, he was a senior librarian.
They don't keep books in there, would be the last thing they'd say, and then the conversation would change to something else, like the disappearance of the stone lions from the plaza (rumoured to all have stood up one night and walked away) or the death of all the gorillas in the zoo (rumoured to have been mauled to death by some very big and heavy cats).  Except one evening, Henrix had been particularly far gone on Sangraal and so he and I were the last to leave.
They do keep books in there, he whispered to me, his breath intoxicating and little golden flecks swimming in his eyes.  A very few, chained down in special cabinets.  There's nowhere else they can keep them, or they'd call out to their authors and demand to be returned.  He collapsed in a drunken heap after that, and I left him in the care of the stewards of the Seven Riders.


"The Derleth Reading Room is this way," said the librarian who hated me, appearing from off to my left where I could have sworn was nothing but a green expanse of carpet before the shelves containing common esoterica.  I followed him, noting that he wasn't carrying a book.
"I am sorry, Mr. Debraun," he said, his voice soft and uninflected, "but I'll have to ask you to leave you coat outside the reading room.  And perhaps also that shapeless piece of cloth you were wearing on your head before you arrived."
I didn't ask how he knew I'd been wearing my flat cap and submitted to his sartorial decisions with reasonably good grace.  After all, I needed access to this book, and getting access to the Derleth Reading Room would move me a little closer to the inner sanctum of the members of the library.
He held the door open for me, and I walked through.
Directly opposite the door, hanging on the wall and surely three times life-size was a portrait, and immediately I understood why no-one ever named Derleth and why I now, too, would be keeping that secret.  I averted my eyes, which were already stinging; tears were forming at the corners, and looked around at the rest of the room.  Behind me, the librarian closed the door.
There was a sage-green leather topped desk, behind which was a heavy wood-and-leather chair.  The desk appeared to have a number of lockable drawers in it, and I suspected that they'd all be locked.  The room was panelled in a dark wood I didn't recognise, but it had a warmth and shine to it that suggested it was polished daily.  The wall with the portrait hanging on it had no other furniture by it, but the two side walls of the room both had wooden chests, tables and cabinets positioned against them, with small ornaments atop them.  My eye was drawn immediately to a knife supported on a silvery stand; the unusual shape of the blade meant it had to be a Brinchev Kris.  I had one of my own, but I was still tempted to go over and admire the workmanship.  The wall with the door in it had a number of framed documents hanging on it, all hand-written, and all a little too far away for me to read now.
The librarian coughed softly and indicated that I should sit at the desk.  As I did so he produced a small brass key from a pocket and handed it to me.
"The third drawer on the left-hand side is now allocated for your use," he said.  "You will find paper, pencils, a soft eraser and four paper-clips in there.  You may use them as you see fit, except of course, that you may not write on the books or paper-clip things to them.  Supplies will be replaced as needed, and should you be asked for the return of the key, you will of course do so."
I nodded, accepting the key.
"As for the Letters of the Eidolon Queen," he said, walking to one of the cabinets, "Please take great care with this."
He laid his hands on the top of the cabinet and then moved them like a pianist, touching and pressing the top and sides in a complex sequence of movements.  Like a puzzle box, nothing appeared to happen at first, and then there was a soft click, loud in the silence of the Reading Room, and a drawer about two-thirds of the way up from the feet of the cabinet slid open.  There, on a bed of crushed velvet, was the Letters of the Eidolon Queen.

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