The thing man picked up his jacket and nodded, “Thanks, tell her it looks good.” He plopped down four copper coins on the counter and walked off. Douglas made sure no more customers were about to arrive then stepped into the back room.
“Oh, Douglas,” the wrinkled old lady he found in the back turned when he placed a hand on her shoulder, “Was that a new customer?” Douglas placed the four copper coins on the table. “Oh, was that Rick then? There’s one extra…” she handed all four coins back to Douglas, “It was your work, so you surely deserve it.”
Douglas wasn’t able to argue with Margaret… she couldn’t see well enough to read, or to sew really. She only managed to get by on her many years of practice with her fading eyesight. Even then, she couldn’t keep up with the work, and her hands couldn’t manage more than a few repairs per day. With the cost of thread, she barely made enough for food. When Douglas had first found the seamstress’s shop in the winding streets of the poorer section of Kheles he had been tempted to leave immediately after seeing the quality of the garments in her shop. Not that the stitching was bad… but the materials were. However, she did need an assistant, and she paid him honestly… if not well. He’d been earning a hundred times as much working for the Countess, or ten times as much for less work… but he couldn’t just leave Margaret on her own. Sometimes she fell asleep while working on a patch and he finished it for her. Not that he could sew, but magic would do just fine.
The rest of his time in Kheles was spent trying to find out as much about the Endless Library as he could. There were perhaps a dozen wizards who worked or taught there and up to a hundred students at once… all wealthy. That made sense, because even his father had been wealthy relative to the citizens of Pendle. It wasn’t possible to afford books at all without some measure of wealth, and wizards were capable of bringing in significant amounts of money if they found the right work. Douglas was pretty sure most of the money had come in before he was born, when both his father and mother could work… and they had fewer mouths to feed. His current understanding of how much it cost to live told him there must have been savings, or even more work he didn’t see his father doing… or both.
Getting back on track, some of the students and full wizards lived in the academy while some had homes in Kheles. Finding out just the basics took a month of sleuthing, since nobody seemed to know what the Endless Library was really like. Douglas had tried to approach some of the wizards to talk to them but they’d all brushed him off- and now the guards would chase him off if he went near the gates. Currently his only hope was an old librarian who regularly visited a tavern in the evenings. He only ever stayed for a drink or two, so Douglas had to get there at the right time. He managed to catch him just leaving. Douglas held up his slate, a sentence pre-written. However, he didn’t get to use it.
The librarian, Hagen Reed, waved him off. “No handouts.” Then he continued walking away.
Douglas was stunned for a moment before he erased what he wrote and added something new, running to catch up. “Do you need an assistant at the library?”
“Persistent, aren’t you?” the older man frowned for a moment before his eyes actually settled on Douglas’ slate. “So you can read and write can you?” Suddenly, he switched to speaking Vospian, “How good are you at it? Do you know Vospian?”
The change in languages momentarily threw him off, but Douglas quickly wiped down his slate, holding his slate as still as he could with his right hand, “I am quite proficient in Vospian as well.” He wrote it in Vospian, of course. That would get the point across better.
“Is that so? I suppose you can learn language well enough to know Vospian at your age. However, I don’t need an assistant.” Once again Hagen turned to walk off.
Douglas struggled to keep up with his pace and write at the same time, “I can work for a very reasonable price. Surely you don’t want to shelve all those heavy books yourself.”
Hagen narrowed his eyes as he looked at Douglas. “Hmm… there certainly is a lot of walking. I suppose I could let you try for a week. You won’t get paid a single coin unless I’m satisfied with the entire week.” Douglas nodded enthusiastically, but hopefully not too enthusiastically. “You can start tomorrow morning.”
There was one problem Douglas hadn’t anticipated. He couldn’t even get to the library. He wouldn’t even have a chance to explain himself before the guards chased him off. Fortunately, Hagen seemed to have realized Douglas couldn’t enter the grounds on his own. He saw Douglas approaching, and before the guards could even start to say anything to Douglas he spoke to them. “This is my new library assistant. He’s to be let in during the day.” The guards nodded, satisfied with their new orders. Douglas was glad he didn’t have to explain how he’d been banned from the area. “Come on then… actually, I don’t believe I have your name, young fellow.”
“Douglas Lynwood,” he wrote on his slate as they walked through the gates. It wasn’t long before they reached the door to the library- in fact, it was the first door they came to, though they walked a good distance along its outer wall before reaching the door which opened towards the central courtyard. Douglas looked around at the other buildings and towers… but honestly the rest of the compound wasn’t important.
Once they entered the library, opening one of the pair of giant doors that were each twice as tall as a man, Douglas was struck silent. Not that he could speak anyway, but he couldn’t even put thoughts in his head. It was so… huge.
Of course, he’d seen it from outside. The walls stretched up high, as tall as several regular buildings. He’d expected large amounts of open area but instead it was just bookshelves all the way to the ceiling. He couldn’t see how far back they went because the shelves started to twist and turn as they went deeper. However, Douglas could see how this place got the name of Endless Library. Just one column of shelves was probably more books than he had ever seen. The ceiling had glass windows that let in some light, but the whole place was rather dim as the early morning light trickled down from above.
After having given Douglas enough time to take in everything, Hagen took him past some of the reading tables set up in the front section to a pile of books. “Honestly, I should only be responsible for shelving new books… students are supposed to put their books back on their own.” He shook his head, “Then again, it’s better that some of them just leave them here… or they’d never get put back in the right spot. These particular books all go on the top row somewhere, and I just haven’t been bothered to get them back up there.” Hagen gestured to a ladder, one of many that were throughout the library, “Just climb one of those. One book at a time, if you would. They can’t afford to be dropped. You can bring a small stack with you but leave them at the base of the ladder.” With that, Douglas found himself going into the most magical place he had ever experienced… and that was even before he actually noticed the magic that suffused the whole library.