Today's picture prompt (below) is a Photo by Max Langelott on Unsplash
This story follows on from yesterday's story: https://email@example.com/outwitted-a-little-bit-of-fiction-for-365daysofwriting-challenge
I hesitated before picking up the goblet of wine.
“Poison isn’t my style, dear brother,” she said, smiling. “If I had wanted you dead I could have had you killed weeks before you washed back up on our shores. And I have had ample opportunity in the intervening months. Drink and eat.” She reached over and snatched the goblet and drank from it, before returning it to my hand. Then she skewered a piece of meat from my plate with my knife, flicking it expertly into the air before catching it in her mouth. She sat back, chewing. “And we’ll get you a bath, too. You smell bad, little brother. Father would be turning in his grave.” She wrinkled her nose, and in that gesture - just for an instant - she looked like the big sister I knew as a child: my mentor, my protector, my hero.
I said nothing, but took a sip of wine, watching her as she dismissed the musicians and called for servants to fetch hot water, and warm the towels. My sister left, then, whirling out of the room with the same energy she had as a child.
The old man - Grevyl - remained. He stood by the door watching me as I ate.
I remembered the first day we met him. When we accompanied father to the library. It had been built in his honor, of course, and no expense spared. The king was grateful to our father - indebted to him, some might say - and he wanted to reward him. And he knew - contrary to my mother’s wishes - father would not be happy with lands and a title.
“I will build you a church for your books,” Father told us the king had said. “A place where you can worship knowledge. After all, in the end your god was far more helpful than mine.”
I stood in the great entrance hall of the library, blinking in the strong light, mouth open in wonder. Light seemed to cascade through the windows like water over the Great Falls and was intensified by the clean white marble that was everywhere, as far as I could see.
Mathilde stood next to me, her hand in mine, I remembered her smiling at me and saying, “You see little brother, if you work hard you will be rewarded.” Father must have heard that - perhaps she had said it for that reason - because he looked down at her and smiled. I remembered how proud he looked. I wondered what he would think of her now.
“Can we look at the books about monsters?” I asked. “Can we, father, please?” I remembered father laughing, and pointing to the top of the building. “If you can climb to the top, my son,” he said. “You will find what you seek!” I remembered being excited by that! I was like my father, and my father like the King: he had given me a quest and I would succeed!
“Go with him, Mathilde,” father said. “It is a long way and he might need help.”
“I will not!” I said, indignantly, pulling my hand from Mathilde’s and running towards the first staircase.
“Son,” my father called. “A wise man knows that needing help is not a weakness. But refusing help when you need it is!”
I continued climbing the stairs. But slowed enough that Mathilde caught up with me quickly. It was, indeed, a long way up. There were many floors and they were full of books, parchments and manuscripts.
“I didn’t even know there were this many books in the entire world,” I said to Mathilde. “There must be over a hundred!” She laughed and said that there were many, many more books than that. “More than a thousand?” I breathed. She laughed again and said, yes. Probably many, many more than that. As we continued our climb, I tried to imagine a number bigger than a thousand.
At last we reached the end of the stairs. This section was smaller, I noticed. An old man sat at a table, three large books open beside him, a large staff leaned against the table. He did not look up from his work, as we walked past him, continuing to scratch notes onto parchment.
Mathilde and I stood and looked at the rows of books. I pulled one of the shelf and looked at the cover. It no pictures of monsters, or anything else on it, and I could not read very well at that point. I opened the book. No pictures, just lots and lots of words.
“Where are the books on monsters?” I said, my voice full of disappointment. Quests should not be this difficult, I thought.
“You’re in the right place,” a voice said. I looked up to see the old man, leaning on his staff, looking down at me, smiling. Straight away I knew didn’t like him. There was something in the way he smiled. His eyes looked small and hard, and he looked angry, even though he was pretending not to be. Like the tutor, father had dismissed the year before, after he had caught him locking me up in the cupboard.
He reached up high and pulled a large book down. He opened it carefully and showed me a picture. It was of a large three headed lizard. I took the book from the man. Mathilde nudged me and whispered, “say thank you!”.
“Thank you,” I said, and took the book. I sat down and began to leaf through the pages, marvelling at the pictures of strange beasts and creatures.
“And what are you interested in, young lady,” the old man said.
“Oh,” said Mathilde, quietly. “Are there any books on magic?”
I looked up when she said this, and the old man’s smile seemed more genuine, this time.
“Oh, yes, “ he said. “Why don't you come with me.”