I was looking down the hallway when he appeared at my shoulder, silent as smoke.
‘Ah, the little mite — he’s fast asleep, holding onto his yarn for dear life. The room’s telling him Genji Monogatari — in the original court language, it sounds like — and I ‘d guess it was too much. Hmm? Oh, yes — learned it some while back.’ He smiled again, as though at some private joke. ‘But that story is hard to follow, even for me. I’m not sure I approve of it for Pix, but Robin says he needs to learn about such things sometime, and he’s a straightforward sort of boy — he’ll ask about things he doesn’t understand. I’d just rather he ask Robin.’ He his face was a little flushed. ‘Robin can explain — um, those sorts of things — much better.’
‘Hmm. Anyway, look at the patterns in the paneling here. That thing about the root makes some sense, doesn’t it? Because of the Tree, you see: it’s the First Tree, the Tree of Knowledge. What’s that? Tcha, that’s all much later, and more than half made up. I mean, look you — the Tree’s an ash — not much in the way of edible fruit, like. Oh, they’re real — they’re still out there in one of the gardens, wandering around without a stitch on and eating figs, perfectly content. Naming things — well, he does, but I would have thought he’d have run out of things to name by now — it’s been some time. I suspect he’s naming them more than once — his memory’s not too strong, I think. He seems a bit simple, when you talk to him. Oh, what the hell — they’re happy.
‘Anyway, this Tree knows everything. It’s a very helpful Tree, or it can be — Pix uses it for his lessons. But Pix seems to be able to get through to it better than most. There are rumors, I’m told, about this Library, and I hate to tell you how many eager scholars I’ve seen turn sad and dejected when the Library just won’t cooperate. The Tree will answer any question you want to ask, but the thing about trees, though, is you have to get their attention, and it’s not always that easy. And this is a very old tree, and a bit careless of ephemera — that’s what they call us, ‘ephemera.’ Maybe that’s why they gave up on having it keep track of the books.
‘Well, they have all sorts of ways to do that now, but none of them seem to work very well. Maybe if the apprentices could remember which alphabet they’re using. . . . There was talk at one point about putting in one of those electronic things, with the little guns with red lights in them, and bar codes on the books. I remember the Annies were very much for it, and inked bar codes on their arms — sort of like wearing a campaign button. (Funny things, bar codes — I don’t understand how they actually mean anything, you know?) I seem to recall there was some controversy about it. You might ask Iain about it next time you see him in the Pub.’ The eyes were all bland innocence, but his grin made me a little uneasy. ‘I know he always has a lot of ideas about that — he’s like to go on, though.’
‘Ah! Talk of going on, listen to me. I’d best go fetch the boy and be on my way. Robin’s making a special lunch for us in the Wood, just because, he says — and that’s the best reason, don’t you think?’
He ducked into the side room and came out with the boy held close, still fast asleep — a tiny little sprite, cradled in massive arms, dark hair all tangled curls, ball of yarn clutched tight to his chest. The big man held him gently as he looked across at me, a twinkle just barely sparking his eyes. And then, with a slight bow and a cheery “sayonara!” he made his way down the hall.