Sorcery of Thorns(7)

By: Margaret Rogerson

But sending her away would be like placing a grimoire among inanimate books that didn’t move or speak. The first time she had seen such a book, she had thought it was dead. She did not belong in an orphanage, whatever that was. In her mind’s eye the place resembled a prison, gray and shrouded in damp mists, barred by a portcullis like the entrance to the vault. Terror squeezed her throat at the image.

“Do you know why the Great Libraries take in orphans, Master Hargrove?” the Director asked at last. “It is because they have no home, no family. No one to miss them if they die. I wonder, perhaps . . . if Scrivener has lasted this long, it is because the library wished it to be so. If her bond to this place is better left intact, for good or for ill.”

“I hope you are not making a mistake, Director,” Master Hargrove said gently.

“I do as well.” The Director sounded weary. “For Scrivener’s sake, and our own.”

Elisabeth waited, ears straining, but the deliberation over her fate seemed to have concluded. Footsteps creaked below, and the office’s door clicked shut.

She had been granted a reprieve—for now. How long would it last? With the foundations of her world left shaken, it seemed the rest of her life might come tumbling down at any moment. A single decision by the Director could send her away for good. She had never felt so uncertain, so helpless, so small.

It was then that she made her vow, crouched amid the dust and cobwebs, grasping for the only lifeline within reach. If the Director was not certain that the Great Library was the best place for Elisabeth, she would simply have to prove it. She would become a great and powerful warden, just like the Director. She would show everyone that she belonged until even Warden Finch could no longer deny her right.

Above all . . .

Above all, she would convince them that she wasn’t a mistake.

“Elisabeth,” a voice hissed in the present. “Elisabeth! Are you asleep?”

Startled, she jerked upright, the memory swirling away like water down a drain. She cast around until she found the source of the voice. A girl’s face peered out from between two nearby bookcases, her braid flicking over her shoulder as she checked to make sure no one else was in sight. A pair of spectacles magnified her dark, clever eyes, and hastily scribbled notes marked the brown skin of her forearms, their ink peeking out from beneath her sleeves. Like Elisabeth, she wore a key on a chain around her neck, bright against her pale blue apprentice’s robes.

As luck would have it, Elisabeth hadn’t remained friendless forever. She had met Katrien Quillworthy the day they had both begun their apprenticeship at the age of thirteen. None of the other apprentices had wanted to share a room with Elisabeth, due to a rumor that she kept a box full of booklice underneath her bed. But Katrien had approached her for that very reason. “It had better be true,” she had said. “I’ve been wanting to experiment with booklice ever since I heard about them. Apparently they’re immune to sorcery—can you imagine the scientific implications?” They had been inseparable ever since.

Elisabeth covertly shoved her papers to the side. “Is something happening?” she whispered.

“I think you’re the only person in Summershall who doesn’t know what’s happening. Including Hargrove, who’s spent the entire morning in the privy.”

“Warden Finch isn’t getting demoted, is he?” she asked hopefully.

Katrien grinned. “I’m still working on that. I’m sure I’ll find something incriminating on him eventually. When it happens, you’ll be the first to know.” Orchestrating Warden Finch’s downfall had been her pet project for years. “No, it’s a magister. He’s just arrived for a trip to the vault.”

Elisabeth nearly tumbled from her chair. She shot a look around before darting behind the bookcase next to Katrien, stooping low beside her. Katrien was so short that otherwise, all Elisabeth could see was the top of her head. “A magister? Are you certain?”

“Absolutely. I’ve never seen the wardens so tense.”

Now that Elisabeth thought back, the signs from that morning were obvious. Wardens striding past with their jaws set and their hands clenching their swords. Apprentices forming clusters in the halls, whispering around every corner. Even the grimoires seemed more restless than usual.