The Citadel

I wrote this as the beginning of a collaborative story that never went anywhere. I’m not sure what I’ll do with it or where it should go.

As I approached the library, I glanced over my shoulder, relieved to see that nobody had followed me. If they had, I’d have never been able to talk myself out of the trouble I’d have never been able to talk myself out of the trouble I’d have been in.  As it was, just breaking curfew put me at risk of a prison sentence. I had to be extremely careful. Taking the curator’s key ring from my pocket, I cringed as it rattled in my trembling hand, convinced that even the mice would know I was there. I tried the only ornate key, one studded with an emerald. It slid effortlessly into the lock and the door yielded to my touch with a gentle “snick.” Taking a deep breath, I entered and made sure I carefully closed the door behind me.  The shelves reached to the rafters and cobwebs hung in clumps from the thousands of books that had been collected over the centuries. It was hard to imagine what the library had been like in its heyday, but considering it was over 1200 years old, it was in astonishingly good order.  The books silently stood alphabetical guard over their words as if some literary general had called a silent inspection.

                Scanning the spines of a few of the books that were at eye level, I realized the one I needed was in the back, perched somewhere halfway up the wall. There was a ladder leaning against the wall and the only light streamed in through the glass dome overhead. Once my eyes adjusted, I moved the ladder and found my book. Its cover was simple brown leather and a tie wrapped around its middle held it shut. The title was etched into the spine in simple block lettering and it occurred to me that its simplicity was a kind of camouflage. Cautiously descending the ladder, I tucked the book into my cloak and was leaving when I heard a whisper echo around the room.

                You are not prepared for what lies ahead.

                Wondering where the voice was coming from, I stepped back into the shadows, convinced someone had followed me. “Who are you?” I asked, trying not to sound as frightened as I felt.

                A friend.

                A cool breeze rustled through the room, stirring the sleeves of my cloak. I reached into my pocket to retrieve the book. The pages fluttered and fell away to one with the image of an old man. He was dressed like a peasant and was wearing a floppy hat. In one hand he held a sickle and in the other he held a sheaf of wheat, a symbol of prosperity. As I looked at the drawing, I could have sworn he briefly smiled at me.

                I blinked, startled. It couldn’t be….

                Could it?