The journey had been long, and the day had been full, when the party made camp for the night. Piker used to be a soldier, and so he taught the rest of them how to set up camp quickly, quietly, and (most importantly), efficiently. By the time the sun had fully set, the fire was roaring, the food was cooking, and the bedrolls were laid out. Ishwyn made a perimeter sweep while Goldrun stirred the stew pot, and then everyone sat down to eat.
After dinner, Nym strummed his lute a few times, but surprised everyone by abruptly setting it down beside him. “Sorry, guys. I’m just not feeling it tonight. Let’s do something different. Why don’t one of you tell us a story about yourself before we started traveling together?”
It was deathly quiet for a span between heartbeats, and in that moment, Erevan spoke. “Did I ever tell you all about how I came to be accepted by the elves?” he asked.
“Yeah, your father found you and brought you home. We already know that,” said Piker.
“No. That’s how I came to live with them, sure. But that’s not what I meant. The elves are notoriously xenophobic, and not even my father’s prestige or my mother’s reknown could have made them accept me or welcome a kucheri child into their society. That, I had to earn on my own.
“I was barely a teenager by human standards, but by elven standards, I was still a baby. I was a sickly child, much as I am now, and I had no friends. I could barely walk, and only then by using the special herbal tea my mother brewed for me. The elves are not particularly rambunctious, but even so, I could not play with the other children for risk of seriously injuring myself. I retreated to the world of books and imagination, and gave up all hope of ever ‘fitting in’ with the elves.
“I don’t know how she did it, but my mother convinced Maester Alluviel, the head librarian, to let me study and read in the library. He was dead-set against it. I know, because he made my life a living hell every moment I was in there. Access to the library was a privilege only granted to elves who had shown the most serious attitude and the most studious inclination. Most elves were denied entry, and no non-elf had ever been allowed inside the library.
“The deal that was struck between Maester Alluviel and my mother had me working in the library for nine days out of every tenday. On Tenthday, I could read in the library, so long as I never said anything or bothered anyone in any way. It was good enough for me. Tenthday is always slow anyway, because most people are resting from the work week. I knew I’d have the place mostly to myself.
“The elves don’t believe in using magic to transcribe or translate books. They believe there is already magic in the words, and they are wary of mixing magic. So, that’s mostly what I did during my work hours. I was a scribe, and I transcribed books by hand.
“What most people don’t know is that there’s a hierarchy among scribes. The most experienced and well-respected scribes get to work on the most interesting books. I was at the bottom of the pecking order, so the books I worked with were the most boring, obtuse, and mind-numbing books you can imagine.
“At the time of my story, I was transcribing “A Detailed History of Dwarven Digestive Parasites” by the famous elven anthropologist Kyn Dariel. It was a tome that wasn’t even half as exciting as it sounds. When Kyn Dariel said ‘detailed,’ he really meant it. It is, without a doubt, the most boring book ever written by an elf.
“Still, an elf wrote it, and so that meant that copies had to be sent to every library, both public and private, in the elven kingdom. I copied those words over and over again. I had roughly 50 copies piled up on the table near my cubicle, and I still had about another hundred to go.”
Piker interrupted. “The elves started respecting you because you copied a bunch of books?”
“Hardly. Have patience, my friend. I’m getting to that,” Erevan said. Then he continued.
“I had been working at the library for about 5 years at this point. On my Tenthdays, I liked to get up really early and go to the library immediately, so I could get as much reading in as possible.
“So one Tenthday, I got to the library before the sun had even come up. No one else was there yet, but the two bladesinger knights that always guarded the entrance let me in anyway. It’s a good thing, too, because as soon as I got inside, I heard a loud crash rise up from the basement where the rarest and most valuable books are kept.
“Now, as I have said, and as you all well know, I was a sickly child, and I had not yet learned any sword technique or fighting skills. I couldn’t even lift a weapon, much less use it in any meaningful way. But I wasn’t about to let thieves steal our priceless books, so I grabbed the only weapon I could think of, one of the books I had been transcribing, and quietly descended the stairs.
“As I inched closer and closer to the basement, I saw a monstrous shadow dancing in the torchlight. It was a huge, hulking shadow, bulbous and menacing. This was no mere thief. I didn’t know what it was, but I was determined to protect ‘my’ library.
“Each step brought me closer to my doom, but I took it anyway. The shadow grew larger and larger, and I started hearing strange sounds. ‘Chk Chk Chk. Chrk Chrk. Kriiiiitch. Chk Chk Chk.’ I gripped the book tighter against my chest. Sweat dripped from my hair. My breathing, always labored in the best of times, became even more shallow and quickened. I was sure that my heart was going to explode in my chest.
“Another step. ‘Chk Chk Chk. Chrk Chrk. Kriiiiitch. Chk Chk Chk.’ My leg gave out, and I almost fell, but I caught myself on the rail of the stairway. I heard the sound again: ‘Chk Chk Chk. Chrk Chrk. Kriiiitch. Chk Chk Chk.’
I breathed a silent sigh of relief, and took another step. The next one would place me at the foot of the staircase, and in the room with whatever was making that horrid sound. My nerves were shot. I was trembling all over, and my hands could barely hold my book. I took the final step, and prepared to look around the corner. I was only going to peek, but my brain was overdosing on fear, and I kinda lost control.
“Knees knocking together, I jumped out from around the corner with a loud ‘Yaaaaaaaaaaa!’ I found myself face to face with a large, green worm, about six feet long and three feet around. It looked up with me out of curiosity more than fear, and kept chewing. Chk Chk Chk. It swallowed whatever was in its mouth. Chrk. Chrk. It turned back to its meal, and ripped another page out. Kriiiiitch. It started chewing again. Chk Chk Chk.
“Shit. A Bandaari Bookworm. They’re not particularly dangerous, but they can eat dozens of books in an hour. I looked down at what it was eating. I screamed in horror. ‘Not Dalarius’ Treatise on Thaumaturgy,’ I cried. ‘That’s a one-of-a-kind masterpiece that is magically protected against any kind of copying whatsoever! You monster!’
“I threw my book at it, but it bounced harmlessly off of the fiend’s thick hide. Getting control of myself, I went over and picked up my book that I had personally copied by hand, and placed it under the beast’s mouth while gingerly picking up the half-eaten treatise. I went back upstairs, and grabbed a half dozen more of my books. I carried them downstairs, where the bookworm was finishing off the first one.
“I waved a book in front of its face, and then put the book a few feet closer to the stairs. When it was almost finished with that one, I laid down another one on the first step. Book by precious book, I led the bookworm up the stairs and outside, where the guards dispatched it easily enough.
“Dalarius’ Treatise was irreparably harmed, but at least it wasn’t completely destroyed. None of the other rare books were harmed, so the only loss was about a dozen copies of the most boring book ever written. If I hadn’t gotten there as early as I did, there’s no telling what kind of losses the library would have suffered.
“Maester Alluviel promoted me to Junior Sage as soon as he arrived on the scene. I was commended for my bravery, quick thinking, and dedication to the library and to elven culture. I was even invited to the palace, and I got to meet the king and queen. From that day forward, I have been liked and respected among the elves.”
Piker gave Erevan a nod of respect, and Ishwyn smiled her approval. Goldrun had already fallen asleep, but Nym was writing furiously in his journal. “Great stuff, man. Really great stuff.”