The Book of Areth
Clarissa stood, arms folded, as she regarded Mr. Burks fluttering adeptly through his craft's shop. She was amazed at how quickly he darted from place to place in the jumbled mess of the pieces he had made or collected over the years. His library of books, as well, was spread out anywhere there was a spare inch of table or workbench. The two small oil lamps hardly gave a decent amount of lighting in the room, for their glow was soft and unreliable. The big man growled irritably while he hunted the special item for which she had come. Clarissa was quite sure that he wouldn't have been troubled with the search he now embarked on if he had not been offered the unbelievable sum of gold that awaited the owner of the particular book she wished to obtain.
She moved carefully about the shop, looking casually at the cluster of books, making sure that none were overlooked. She leaned over one desk to examine an interesting work of art, like none she had seen before. It was the sculpture of a tree, a willow tree, and the glass was almost a perfect imitation in colors and texture. The tree appeared to be blowing in an invisible wind. On an impulse, she reached forward with one hand to brush against the vine-like branches.
"No! Don't touch it, fool girl!" Mr. Burks was watching her with wide eyes and a mouth to match. "Can't you see that it is an extremely fragile and valuable object? I would be much displeased if it were broken." He glared at her in a would-be-threatening fashion and continued on his search.
She scowled at his back. The Book of Areth was much more valuable than a pretty glass tree. Even the amount of gold she would pay him could hardly scratch the surface of its true worth. Whether he knew it or not, it was a bargain - for her. A book of real spells was a rare and powerful object of magic. The Book of Areth was the key to the most extraordinary spells, good and evil. Some spells, long ago forgotten, lay hidden within the pages of Areth. Only one with extensive knowledge of the Book could unlock its spells. There were no exceptions.
Clarissa had always found it ironic that the key of the spells was only accessible to a privileged society of scholars and mages. In fact, the Book of Areth itself had not been opened for at least one thousand years. A thousand years to travel from place to place for endless miles, leaving only faint traces of its ancient passage. Her search for the Book had lasted ten long years, only to end up in a common craft shop. Soon, she reassured herself, soon the Book of Areth would be opened once more.
The remainder of the tiring day was spent rummaging through piles of books of all sorts: scientific, mystical, fantasy…even Tad Copperhed, a favorite of Clarissa's from her childhood. How the man could afford to keep such a collection was troubling. Books were expensive, be they magic or not. And this man was just a common craftsman. Exhausted from poring over endless stacks of bound paper, Clarissa collapsed into a small, finely carved chair and watched, half asleep, as Mr. Burks searched on, seemingly tireless.
At last, after what felt like an eternity, the big man stood up, blowing the dust off of a very unremarkable, leather bound book.
"Ah, here it is, girl." he rumbled, "The Book of Areth."
She stared at the book. "But, that- that can't be it! It looks just like any other book. The Book of Areth is a book like none other. I heard that it glowed from the inside and-"
He waved his hand dismissively. "Old wife's tale…"
Clarissa continued as if she had not heard him. "-, the letters, Areth, were embellished with gold!"
To her great enragement and frustration, the great oaf smiled! Saying nothing, he wandered over to a nearby workbench and grasped the handle of a large knife. "You should never judge a book by its cover, little lady," he tapped the leather with a finger and gently set the Book on top of the bench, "because it is what's inside," he drove the knife in a sharp descent towards the book, "that matters." The knife slid just over the book, as if over a cushion of invisible steel, and the blade dug a full two inches into the hard wood of the workbench. He picked up the book and placed it in her outstretched hands. "It is upon you, now, to learn the secrets of Areth," he whispered. "I am its keeper no longer."
A sudden flash of light from within the Book sent them both staggering backwards in surprise. Clarissa blinked dumbly for a moment until her eyes focused again in the dim light of the room. Nothing had happened otherwise.
After a moment of silence, Mr. Burks looked up with an expression of utter confusion. He glanced around and looked Clarissa up and down as if it would help him take into account what he had been doing.
"Who are you?" he demanded.
She took a small step forward to examine his hopelessly perplexed face. "Don't you remember?" Clarissa asked softly. "You were helping me find a book I needed to b-" She paused, suddenly thoughtful. "To borrow," she finished. Why not? It wouldn't do the man any harm to miss out on a bit of gold, and it would keep her well-fed and housed until she returned home. From the looks of him, he had been doing fine before he was offered the small fortune.
"What book would this be?" he asked skeptically.
She thought quickly, remembering the book that had caught her eyes earlier. "Tad Copperhed. I wanted to read it to my sister's little boy, for I dearly loved it when I was a child myself."
"Really? I suppose I could take a look to see if I have it here…"
"Ah, there's no need now! You have already found it for me." she said, giving him a quick glimpse of the Book's cover before stowing it snugly in a pocket within her thick gray cloak.
He looked down, more confused than before. "But, I don't seem to remember finding anything for you-"
Clarissa clapped the heel of her palm against her forehead. "Oh, that's right!" she exclaimed. "You had finally found it and were so excited to tell me that you bumped your head on rim of the workbench above the book." She pointed over at the workbench slightly askew from the table beside him.
That seemed to be an acceptable answer for him, although he still appeared to be a bit baffled by the situation. He made his way lightly around the clutter to show her to the front of the shop.
Clarissa took a last look around the place, smiling her thanks once more. Conscience winning the mental battle, she placed the bag of gold coins beside the charming glass tree as Mr. Burkes searched around hopelessly for his lost memory. He waved her out politely and she stepped into the chill morning air, shivering slightly at the occasional gust of icy wind.
"Must be old age.." he muttered, closing the door softly behind her.
Snow and gravel crunched loudly under Clarissa's travel-worn leather boots as she made her way to the center of the town. Crossbrooks was its name, according to Mr. Burkes and the few locals willing to speak with her. The relevance of the name, Crossbrooks, was easy to see, as the open, paved town square was cut into perfect quarters as two streams crossed each other through the center. Crossbrooks must have been built around the streams, so precisely, in fact, that the effect from above might be a large 'X'. She was unable to get much more information out of them after that. Her gray eyes were feared in the south, and some southerners went so far as to name all those with gray eyes evil. She had no great liking for such fools, either.
The wind was stronger there, in the empty square. Clarissa had to keep a grip on her cloak in order to keep it from billowing behind her with the howling current. Because she had given up trying to hold the hood as well, her raven hair flowed freely with the wind. A pair of cats sitting on a low wall glared at her cloak cautiously, and she had the strangest feeling they knew what was hidden beneath it.
The Drunken Bear was the only inn in Crossbrooks, and it was conveniently located on the west side of the square, grayish shingles sagging beneath the snow. Paint peeling off the exterior and a large crack in the sign swaying liberally in the wind above an old door which had seen better days itself, made the Drunken Bear an altogether unappealing place, but the inside was surprisingly crisp and well maintained. Making her way around to the back of the box-like inn, Clarissa found the stable, which was empty except for her gray stallion, Blizzard. The stablehand, a young boy by the name of Ben – also one of the few villagers willing to speak with her - had just finished saddling him as she stepped lightly into the musty stable yard.
Blizzard greeted her with a soft whicker and pranced a few steps closer to the gate. His gray coat shone from Ben's thorough brushing, and he seemed to have more energy than she had seen him exhibit in a long while. She patted his muzzle hastily before vaulting into the saddle. Fumbling with her money bag as Blizzard danced around anxiously, she leaned forward to give the boy a tip.
"Thank you, Ben. The next time I'm in Crossbrooks, I will know who I want to take care of my horse."
Ben, grinning broadly at the silver and the compliment, hurried over to open the gate. Without looking back, or sparing time for even a goodbye, she dug her heels into Blizzard's sides and they were off in a flash of gray and black. She had found the Book of Areth at last.
A.N. I wrote this a few years ago and even posted it on fictionpress before, but for fun I decided to give it a bit more body and put it back. I am not sure when I can write more of this story, as I am still focusing my energy on Welcome to Arenthia, but maybe someday...:)