Before my arrival, I had heard that there was a vast library at the palace that the courtiers were free to visit. The library, however, was not housed in the palace proper. Instead, it was housed in a building annex that lay at the end of a long gravel path, which wound behind the shrubberies to the west of the main building.
The last stretch of path was lined with free-standing white columns, and ended in a set of square concrete steps that led to a square granite building. Two spear-shaped feather trees stood on each side of the library door, but the building was otherwise unadorned.
Inside was none of the splendor I had expected of the palace library. Instead, dusty tomes were stacked on simple wooden shelves, which were shoved against bare stone walls. My heels clicked against the stone floor and echoed through the building.
Hope, who sat at a center table, looked up at the sound of my footsteps. He let the letter he’d been reading fall to the table, and smiled at me in greeting.
“She’s safe,” he said as I sat beside him. “For now she is safe, and she’s trying to stay cheerful. I suppose I should be content with that.”
“It’s only natural that-” I cut myself off before finishing my statement, that a father should miss his daughter. My own father’s words seemed to echo in my ears.
Hope leaned his cheek against his palm and regarded me with heavy-lidded eyes.
“You seem cross. Have I offended you, somehow?”
“No. I’ve just had a disagreeable interview with my father.”
Hope frowned. “What did he say?”
“Nothing important. We quarreled about my mother. He seems to think that I have no reason to miss her at all.”
I looked down at my hands, which were twisted together. “I’m sorry. None of this interests you.”
“Feel free to vent your frustrations,” Hope said. “I daresay I’ve burdened you with enough of my troubles.”
I sighed. “Well, he doesn’t matter to me anymore. He seems happy enough that I belong to you, now. He wasn’t even angry that I failed to answer his letter.”
“Your father spoke to me in passing last night. He called you his ‘gift’ to me. Does this strike you as odd?”
“No. When have women ever been anything other than chattel?”
At that moment, a faint cry echoed through the library. I sat up and looked around, but saw no one else around.
“Did you hear…” I said.
“- Nothing. I came here to find Bannon’s Western History, so I’ll leave you to your letter.
I left Hope and wandered among the bookshelves, walking in the direction where I thought the cry had originated.
I peeked around the edge of a narrow row and spied Miss Taris, who sat alone beside one of the few windows. She turned her head toward the sound of my footfalls, so I quickly shifted my gaze back to the bookshelves.
I saw a jumble of history and apologetics, piled in no particular order. I ran my finger along the spines, searching for Bannon’s history, and saw a titleless book with a picture of an eye printed on the spine.
I peeked at Miss Taris, but she had turned back to her book, so I reached out and took the book with the eye, grabbing two other random books to carry on top of it.
A high-pitched laugh caught my attention, then, so I hoised my books and moved back toward the sound. I peeked around the edge of the bookshelf toward Hope’s table and saw him standing with Lady Purity.
Lady Purity laughed and simpered and fluttered her fan, and Hope leaned forward and whispered something into her ear. Lady Purity fluttered her fan a little faster, and then took Hope’s arm.
The two walked toward the Library door. Hope turned his head as he walked and spotted me by the bookshelf. He winked, put his finger to his lips, and left.
My grip on the books tightened, and I rushed forward and dropped them on the table with a loud thump. I sat down and resolutely opened my book. After all, I had no reason to think about Hope’s exploits, just as he had no reason to think of mine.
I flipped a few pages, and began to read.
The Tale of the Brothers Smith
There once lived two brothers, Service and Fervor Smith. One brother, Fervor, was a hunter, and the other, Service, was a carpenter. One day, while hunting, Fervor came across a magic circle, inside of which was a book. Fervor, overcome with greed, stole the book. He could not read the book himself, so he took it to his beloved brother, Service.
Fervor and Service read the book, uncovering arcane secrets previously lost to time. They used these secrets to gain great wealth, and buy power and influence beyond their station. Fervor, true to his name, craved more money the more he obtained. However, as his Service read the book, and used the dark magic contained within to feed his brother’s greed, he began to change.
Fervor, distracted by the women and wine his new wealth could afford him, did not notice Service growing sickly and wan. Service aged at an unnatural rate, growing wrinkled and grey before his time. He grew thin and hungry, and yet could not eat. One day, when Fervor went to seek his brother’s help, he only found a pile of his brother’s clothes sitting where his brother had once sat. Service was no more.
Fervor sought frantically for the magic book he’d entrusted to his brother, but it was nowhere to be found. Having eaten away at Service, it, too, vanished. So Fervor, without Service to help him, lost his wealth, his health, and his loved ones. He died alone, wishing he had never reached beyond his station, and wishing he had acknowledged the value of his brother, Service.