Practical Exercise

“So to get a personal copy?” I asked.

“Standard book charge, against your university account.”  He pointed at a number.  Copying books in the library was cheap.  “The charge mostly goes to Ettore, or his house, anyhow. I think he’s still alive. Copying is a few minutes.”

The librarian started telling me about the library.  I finally got a question in.  “So does the New School have exactly the same books we do?” 

He looked thoughtful.  “When Dorrance and the New School  partitioned…that was thirty-seven millennia ago…an exact copy was made of the library.  Since then, whenever we buy a book, we send them a copy, and the other way around. Every so often, every few centuries, we reconcile our book lists.  Those lists are actually very complicated spells, not something you can copy.   Oh, wait, the split between Dorrance and the New School was over old manuscripts.  There were scrolls that all the Masters examined, and said were nonsense or pointless or written when no one understood magic.  They wanted to dump them rather than add a new wing to the library to store them…that’s expensive.  New School founders wanted to keep them and did, so they have those and we don’t.  Of course, they have rich patrons to support their school.  We keep accumulating these weird books, not very rapidly, so we have a new pile of them again.  They’re shelved under Exotica and Esoterica.”  I made a note to myself to see if I ever found that wing.

A few minutes later I actually had a copy of Ettore’s A Mathemagical Paradox.  A glance inside said that some day I would understand it, but that day was not yet.  I spent some time looking at other protected books, finally getting a copy of the protected book list.  If I’d asked for it first, I’d have been given a copy right off, but I hadn’t.   The ways of the Great Library are a bit odd.  

I prowled the building. I reminded myself to look for books on summoning paper.  They had to be here someplace. Master Courtenay had said the New School’s library was less well organized.  I had trouble imagining how that could be true. There seemed to be no records as to what was where.  That had to be wrong.  Finding the records must have been one of these little puzzles left in the path of students.  For the most part, volumes corresponding to a particular course of study were in a single hall, but not always. There was a Hall for Governance, a Hall for Theology, two Halls for Construction, several Halls of Medicine, and on and on and on.  There was even a Hall for History.  There did not appear to be a hall for General Magic. Then I discover that Halls branched. There were gaps between shelves, big support columns on each side,  wall behind, but if you went between the columns and skipped sideways you found yourself at the entrance to a sub-hall.  Sub-halls and sub-sub-halls often did not have the same focus as the main hall.  

Marchesi’s seven volumes on bone wands, very hard to miss in their glow-brightly-in-the-dark scarlet jackets, were scattered over four different halls.   The library would copy books for you, for a price.  The building also had vast reading rooms…much cheaper than buying books.  Some were open day and night.

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About George Phillies

science fiction author -- researcher in polymer dynamics -- collector of board wargames -- President, National Fantasy Fan Federation
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