It was a dark and stormy night. More precisely, it was a dark and stormy Wednesday night and I’d escaped to the weekly Chix with Stix gathering in the room behind the Library. Most of the time it’s the domain of the Several Annies who spend a year and a day here, assisting our Librarian, Iain Nicholas Mackenzie, and our Archivist, Liath ó Laighin, when she isn’t off on one of her voyages. On Wednesday nights, however, it welcomes anyone who wants to come and knit.
On this particular night one of the newer Annies, the one with the blue hair extensions, couldn’t seem to sit to her knitting. Finally she threw down her needles and got up to pace. (Well, she tried to pace. It’s hard to pace when you’re in stocking feet and you know there’s an invisible hedgehog around.)
‘Will you please sit down, Young Annie!’ snapped Iain Nicholas. ‘You’re making me drop stitches!’
‘Let her be, Iain,’ said Liath softly from her stool to the left of the hearth. ‘She’s reminding me of another night like this, long ago.’
Everyone’s heads swiveled to look at Liath. She seldom speaks at these gatherings, just knits away on those impossibly tiny needles, but when she does speak her stories are always worth listening to.
‘Yes, indeed,’ she said, as if to herself. We all strained to hear her, even the brownies stringing crystal beads on silk for her in the far corner. ‘It was a dark and stormy night like this one. The Building was much younger then, and even more on my side of the Border than on yours, if you get my drift.’ Indeed, no one who has ever dared look into Liath’s eyes can ever forget she is one of the Fey.
‘I had only recently taken up the position of Archivist here. The Librarian, Rónán Mac Airt, was by way of being a cousin of mine on my mother’s side. I had just returned from a voyage to Alexandria to visit the Great Library there, and I brought back with me three apprentices. ‘Interns’ you call yourselves now, but back then any trade worth having was learned through apprenticeships. At any rate, Annipe, Ana and Hannah all agreed to come for a year and a day to work with me and Rónán and learn what they could about libraries, and about our Library.’
Liath paused to check the tension on her work. ‘That cousin of mine wasn’t at all pleased that I brought them back, you know. He didn’t think he needed the help, for one thing. As if a few hundred thousand scrolls were a mere trifle for one man, human or Fey. For another, he wasn’t fond of humans. They were fewer in the Building then, and he avoided them as much as he could. And Annipe, Ana and Hannah were young, young in a way he’d never been or never could be. They laughed, you see, and they scattered hairpins all over the place, and some evenings they stayed too late listening to the Neverending Session and were hard to awaken the next day.’
The Annie with the extensions said, ‘But the Great Library of Alexandria has been destroyed for nearly two thousand years.’
‘And your point is?’ Iain Nicholas said frostily. She subsided back to the hearthrug where she’d been sitting since Liath began her tale.
‘Shortly after I brought Annipe, Ana and Hannah here, I was summoned on business by the King and Queen. When I returned a month or so later, I was shocked by the changes. No more laughter. No more scattered hairpins. No more time to listen to music. Rónán was working those three to death.’ She sighed angrily.
‘Every day, another impossible task. ”Catalogue all the hieroglyphic documents in alphabetical order.” ”Dust down the Akkadian tablets with a damp rag.” Such foolishness! And he’d taken away their individual identities, too, or tried to. He pretended he couldn’t tell them apart — even though Ana was a blonde Greek, Annipe a Nubian and Hannah a raven-haired Alexandrian Jew with the biggest brown eyes I’ve ever seen on a mortal — or pronounce any of their names. Just called them all ”Annie”. I was horrified. I also knew that if I said anything right away the situation would only get worse. I needed a plan.
‘Two evenings after my return, the girls furtively entered the Pub. We didn’t call it a pub back then, of course, but it was located where the Green Man Pub is now. At any rate, they knew they’d find me there, listening to the Session’s panpipes. I beckoned them to a table in the corner. When they joined me they all started talking at once. I signaled for some honey beer and let them rave.
‘When they wore down, two rounds later, I told them what we were going to do.’
Liath paused to do something complicated with the needles. Before she had finished, the brass carriage clock on the left of the mantle chimed. She looked up.
‘Sweet Mab, is it that late? I’m sorry, I’ll have to go. Did I not mention, Iain Nicholas, that I would be leaving early? A summons to Court.’ She gracefully swept her knitting into another of her tiny bags (and how it all fit in I have no idea) and was gone.
Late on Friday Maggie Pye, the resident corvid, did something odd — she brought a shiny bauble to the Library instead of appropriating one. Iain Nicholas accepted it from her calmly, turned it thrice widdershins and said, ‘Ah, a message from Liath. She has been detained on the Queen’s business, and will return when she can.’
To be continued. . . .