Another challenge from writeworld. I kept thinking of that line from the Mummy, and this fell out of my head.
“Do you have any idea what you just did?”
She dropped the book in a rush. She was certain that she had been alone.
The lead fighter of the expedition was shouting at her. If she hadn’t seen him in the room before, she did so now. He had hold of her upper arms and he was shaking her like a kitten.
She tried to answer him but had trouble with her teeth rattling in her head.
“Do you?” he demanded with another shake.
He almost threw her away from him. Her back hit the edge of the altar.
“I-it was just a b-book,” she stammered.
She didn’t like the tone in his voice. He sounded beyond angry.
“What did we come here for?” he demanded.
She didn’t answer. She hadn’t spent much time listening to the leaders of the expedition, it had all seemed like a grand adventure; nothing serious. A bit of fun. A way to get out of her tiny village. She was starting to think that nothing happening might be a nice thing right about now.
When she still hadn’t responded, he finally seemed to understand that she really didn’t know what she had done. “God’s blood! How old are you?”
“I have seventeen summers.”
“Seventeen.” He wiped a hand down his face and stared at the ceiling of the ruined chapel. He let out an enormous sigh; it sounded as if he had the weight of the world on his shoulders. He glanced at her suddenly. “Wait a second... you can read!”
“The ancient script?”
“No. But it isn’t or it wasn’t or whatever.”
That made his eyes gleam. “It looked like Common to you?”
“Yes. I could not have read it otherwise. I can’t read the old scripts.”
He rifled through the hidden shelf they had exposed after smashing the stone wall built in front of it. It had not concealed the cache of books from his experienced eye. He had gone to see if the noise had alerted any other members of the party.
He held the book out to her. “What’s it called?”
“A guide to wyrd.”
“Yes.” She sounded annoyed with him. Of course she was sure, the words were right there, in front of her.
She looked at his face.
“And this?” A second leather bound volume in her face
“Ah, I am not sure of the second word. A flowering?”
“Of what?” he pressed.
She suddenly understood.
“You can’t read them,” she accused.
He looked caught out.
“Ha!” she crowed. “And this is only Common.” It was rude of her to laugh at someone that couldn’t read, but he had frightened her and she was glad to be better than him at something; at anything.
“No, it isn’t,” he said quietly.
Her mouth hung open.
“This book,” He grabbed the first volume. “This is in a script made up of swirls and brushstrokes. This one,” He held the second volume. “Is written in tiny pictures. To me this word is a bird with a beak and claws... maybe a hawk? It does not look anything like a word.”
She took a shaky breath.
“None of these volumes are written in Common,” he added. “They are far older than that language for a start, and we also think that these books were hidden because they had a kind of magic of their own. They frightened people.”
“So they hid them?”
“Yes, I guess they were more terrified of what would happen if they tried to destroy them.”
She brushed the edge of one cover, still sitting on the shelf. “This one looks burnt.”
“Yes,” he agreed. “And this one has had some kind of chemical poured on the cover.” He flipped it open. “But the pages inside are unmarked.”
She caught a word or two as he flicked through the pages. “Warfare,” she said, before he asked her about the writing.
“Good.” He gave her a look. “This is written in a third language; made of pictograms and brushstrokes.”
“I wish I could see it, but they all look the same to me.”
“Whatever spell you read out-”
“It wanted to be read.”
“I think so. We found this cache relatively easily.”
She made a face; his version of easy was not one she agreed with. They had spent weeks, searching through ruined buildings all over the country.
She saw the final resting place; the broken stones, the musty air inside the ruins, the hidden store. “I would not like to be walled up like this.” She waved a hand at the cache to explain herself to him.
“Like the books were?”
“Oh, you might be.”
“Is that a threat?”
“Think about it, girl...”
It was the books that were precious, not her. “Oh, no!” She was the only person who could read them. If it was going to grant the knowledge to a second person, then it would already have done so. The symbols were meaningless to him. If the volumes needed her, then she also needed them. She also needed to educate herself. She was a valuable thing. The key to the knowledge.
He saw the realisation on her face. “Better get reading, eh?”
“Aye,” she said.
As they packed the volumes into a heavy wooden chest, that he had clearly brought for just such a purpose, she studied him. He had not come back with any other members of the party. He had intended to leave her here, after taking the books away. She was the youngest and stupidest of the group, or so he had thought. Now she knew things. It was their secret. He needed her to read and she needed him to protect her and to guard her. An uneasy alliance, maybe, but she had no fighting ability. She eyed off the warfare book. Maybe it contained more than just battle techniques. She certainly hoped so.
She decided to read that one first.
© AM Gray 2013