2nd Amitzas, once he found out, forbade me going outside alone again. Of course. But the weather was again wet, pounding across this little valley. Gannara came running this morning, to whisper to me that 2nd Joras had come back and he’d even bought another pack horse, just for the books. I went back up to the cavern opening with him and found 2nd Joras there, with a handful of Mahid already unloading.
The wind poured into the caves from the doors, full of water, as if it were bigger than the holes and squeezed itself into a more solid thing trying to get in. The rain’s cold droplets almost stung and I flung my arm over my face, my hanging sleeve pushed back against my cheek and neck, the satin resisting being soaked. Gannara, already wet through, went to grab the next bags just unstrapped. “Here, daifikas. These will break. If you break them I will beat you.”
Thank you Ser State the Obvious, I thought. Gannara had been handed a box he needed both hands to hold and it was as heavy as the book bags.
The bags were waxed leather so even if the horses were soaked, the books were safe. “Slave, I will take these.” I wanted to get all of the books down, out of the wet, and it was like a hunger, an ache. I wanted to read something new.
“You can tell Koren I will be in my cave with these,” I snapped at him. We traded a fraction of a grin between us.
The books were packed into the stiff bag like tightly fitting bricks and I had to work to get the first one out. The light of my lamp was dim and I drew it closer but Gannara said, “Wait! Look at these!” I got up to look over his shoulder where he knelt on the floor by the open box.
Joras had bought treasure. The box he’d given Gannara was full of tall wax, thick wax candles. I threw my fist up into the air as though I’d just scored a faibalitz goal, “Yes! Yes! Oh, Selestialis I am so sick of the dark!”
Gannara grinned at me dancing in place for joy over getting candles to read by. “So... let’s use some.”
We took a whole handful and stuck them on bits of the rock wall around the bed and lit every one, filling the rock space with warm, honey-smelling light. I smiled at Gannara and sat down on the bed, eagerly pulling books out to see what Joras had gotten.
Grain Logistics, Development of Arkan Bureaucratic Principles, vol. 1 through 4, abridged in one volume...vol. 5 through 12 also available, The Joy of Numbers:Accounting for the Imperium, Principles and Practice of Dominating Lesser Races... I stacked all of those kinds of books to one side.
The Histories and Analyses were all on the bottom. A tiny, hand-sized copy of Ilesias the Great’s Idylls. My breath caught when I saw it. I opened it up carefully. The onionskin paper was yellowed on all the edges. It was. It was out of the Great Library. The handwriting in it was Ilesias’s himself. I put my finger on a tiny discolouration. A water stain. This had been looted from the city. I was glad to be sitting down. This book was priceless. How had Joras managed to purchase it? It was Ilesias Aan’s own handwriting. How could he not realize? How could the book dealer not realize?
Did he think it was a fake? A copy? There had been a fad at one point to print books as if they were personally hand written. The Pages book editor had a couple of leads still from those but the rest had been melted down and made into new, non-script letters. Maybe that was it. “Gannara, I hate to ask you but could you ask Joras how much he paid for this bag of books? The one marked HC?” It had been moons since the sack and there would have been time, for all of the things taken and sold off and scattered to the corners of the earthsphere, for a book to come so far.
Joras must have bought this from one of the travelling book sellers, who picked up volumes from wherever they went.
I turned the pages, carefully, delicately. My eyes seized on a line “...my son, thees thoughtens are naught idyll. I has written thees in the field when I couldn’ta being thyr withen thee...”
It was like a sign, an answer to a prayer. Well, even Heirs were supposed to be divine. I couldn’t imagine the Aan Imperators all up in Selestialis looking well on me, but Sinimas I’d always felt was my friend. I might not be able to approach the Ten with my prayers but surely Ilesias Aan wouldn’t have seen this come into my hands from all those centuries ago, if he despised me.
“Minis? Joras said he bought the whole bag from a carter who had just bought from a group of mercenaries and had overstock. Five silver chains for the bag. He picked the smallest versions of all the books to fit more in.”
I started laughing. “He... he picked the smaller editions to get a better deal?” I couldn’t stop laughing. “Oh... oh... look at this... this...” I showed it to him, eyes watering I was laughing so hard. “This one book is worth more than the whole cart, contents, horses and the bookseller himself!”
Gannara looked at it and then up a me, helplessly laughing. “Really?”
“Yeah. It must have come out of the glass case in the Marble Palace Library. It used to sit on a pedestal right in the middle.”
“That would be why someone took it. And its small enough to be tucked away in a pocket or a pouch.”
“Oh I am blessed. I want to hide it away next my skin but that wouldn’t be good for it. I know. I’ll put it in the silver cover with the Imperial book. That will keep it safe from fire and water both.”
“The fat guy showed me that. He threw the wrapped Imperial book in the bath and had a slave fetch it out with a towel wrapped around his hands.” I tucked the thin, tiny volume in with the Imperial book and put it all back under my pillow. Gannara shuddered at some thought.
“I don’t like my memories of those baths, that’s all,” he said to answer my look.
“Gannara, if you need to talk about it, to get it all out... that’s what the Haian says is good... I’ll listen. He was an evil man and you didn’t deserve anything that was done to you, even if they try and tell you that.”
He signed chalk.
I pulled the last book out of the bottom of the bag. I didn’t recognize it at first and leafed through it. Then I blew a giggle out of my nose, startled by one of the pictures.
It was a woodcut showing a number of almost men... men like monkeys and women with enormous breasts bulging under their shirts in the middle of a violent argument. People were struggling on the ground hands locked in each other’s hair, throwing chairs and swinging from roof beams, faces contorted with rage. The people were drawn so ape-like I was surprised they didn’t have tails. The caption under the picture said “Thee Assembly of Yeola-e in Session.”
Gannara looked up at my snort. “What’s so funny? Another priceless book stuffed in a corner?”
“No... Look, it was written almost the same vintage though. It’s a cheap re-print of Ordas the Elder’s ‘Journeys to a Far Distant Country.’ That country was Yeola-e. Look, he has women with beards... People with crystals for heads... trees that are cultivated for sword blades and bushes for crystals... He’s got this weird picture of someone floating in mid-air with a sword in each hand and he says... “Their sword masters can fly, using their long curved swords as a wing in each hand, flapping.” Here, have a look.”
“I can’t read it. I don’t know how to read Arkan.”
“You can look at the pictures. If this is what 2nd Amitzas thinks is ‘knowing the enemy’... and if someone wants to explain the new order by re-printing this..." I started laughing again and Gannara started hooting at a picture of sheep walking on their hind legs into what he said was a voting station.
“The caption.... hahaha... oh the caption ... hee hee...” I tried to calm myself down enough to hold the book still and read it. “The citizens are ALL allowed the vote.”
“Oh, oh, oh did you see? One of the sheep was a bearded woman. He couldn’t tell the difference between... between...” Gannara was just rolling on the rug, holding his sides. “His sex life must have been interesting!”
I flipped to the first stanza and stood up, reading aloud in my fruitiest, most unctuous I’m-a-SCHOLAR-forzak-it voice. “I, Ordas Juniras, Aytzas of the fyrst water, do solemly swear that thys treatyse ys factual, truthful and penned by myne own hand, by my hope of Selestialis. I penn this work that Arkco may know thee enlyghtened and sanktyfyed place whereyn they lyfe and thee horrors and benyghted blyght in whych thee rest of thee world suffers...” We were laughing so hard at that point that I sank to my knees next to him and we both rolled on the rug.
I was just catching my breath by the tail when Gannara grinned wickedly at me, flipped his hand up, chalk and said “Baaaaaaaaaa.” I lost it again. If I laughed any harder I’d pee myself but I grabbed my wind and voice and half sat up, showing him charcoal with my top hand.
“Boooooaaaaaarrrrruuuuuuu,” I bleated. That got him.