Damien strode into the vestibule of the gothic style library and paused, shaking the cold rain drops from his cloak and tossing his wet hair, composing himself physically. The library vestibule was cold and silent apart from the steady patter of heavy raindrops drumming a primeval rhythm on the glass roof. Damien sniffed, his long sharp nose moving agilely as it analysed the faint smells of the ancient building. Finding no cause for further delay Damien progressed to the heavy wooden doors and raised his right hand as if to knock. Instead of knocking he allowed his hand to caress the deeply indented carvings of the oak door, the tree of life with its intricate branches and falling leaves, before grasping the golden handle and wrenching open the door. It creaked in protest but nothing more.
Releasing his inheld breath, Damien entered the main room taking in the sight he had so long envisioned but had hardly dared to believe in as a reality. The room was one vast repository of knowledge. Wooden shelves lined each wall from end to end and ground to ceiling. The interior of the room was thronged with more bookshelves of various sizes, an occasional individual reading table with deeply upholstered easy chair, and lamps burning steadily to light the way.
There were, however, no books.
The shelves were empty, the tables and chairs were useless in their loneliness. Only the lamps were as they should be – highlighting the missing, serving to enhance the feeling of absence.
Damien staggered to the nearest chair and slumped heavily into it. His heart was still beating hard but his eyes had misted over, he felt drained with the wasting sensation of anti-climax.
‘You expected something different?’
Damien barely moved at the interruption of his introspection, glancing briefly at the librarian then looking back at the flagstones.
The old woman shuffled slowly towards the centre of the room; this was her theatre and she was used to an audience. She was hunched over with age and wisdom, her fallen face pale but glowing with passion. Her clothes were poor but ornate, stitched closely with colourful embroidery of mystic symbols and meaningful phrases.
‘You think you are too late?’ The crone asked with a tenderness flanked with steel.
Damien shrugged and indicated the empty shelves.
The librarian laughed, a true laugh of abandon and mirth, but the laugh turned abruptly into a cough and she bent over until the wracking subsided.
‘Why do you laugh?’ Damien rose dramatically to his feet and moved on fleet and soundless feet over to the librarian. ‘What is funny about...this?’
‘There is nothing funny here.’ The woman replied, composing herself, taking deep breaths, a ghost of a smile on her thin lips. ‘Your reaction is funny. Your assumption that what you see is what you have most feared.’
The young man frowned impatiently, though he had nowhere else to go. He felt like shaking the old woman until she made sense.
She looked at him full in his weather beaten face, peering deep into his eyes until he felt a warmth in his brain and a calm enter his heart, then she turned away from him and walked quickly away towards a small, plain door in the side of the hall. ‘Come.’ She said simply. Damien followed without for a moment questioning her intentions.